The Upgrade: Fiio E17 “Alpen”

fiio_e17_10

As me and Lieven were talking at the end of 2011, we both agreed that the Fiio E10 was the biggest surprise of the year. Everybody was busy making USB DACs with built in headphone amps, and all of a sudden the E10 came out seemingly out of nowhere and gave us a price/sound combination that we haven’t seen in a very long time. It was somehow akin to the Grado SR60 of the old days. The E10 was such a big hit, not only because it was loved by everyone, but it happened to be very affordable at the same time. The success of the E10 was so phenomenal, the first thing I thought of when I heard about the E17 “Alpen” was, “can they beat the E10’s success”?

The Alpen was built to be a much more complete product than the E10. The most significant addition was the ability for it to serve as a portable headphone amplifier. With batteries built into the Alpen, you can unplug it from USB and take it for a spin together with your Ipod. The E10 was limited to the USB DAC/Amp functions, and the E11 amplifier only to amplification purposes. The Fiio E17 Alpen does them both, and obviously this is a good thing. In addition to that they also added features such as coaxial and and toslink digital inputs, making it one of the most affordable DAC with complete digital inputs.

A lot of features for the money, but I didn’t want to be distracted with the features. To me, it all comes down to the sound. They can make a 10-in-1 device, and the bottom line is still about the sound. Heck it can be $50 and still I’m not going to recommend it to my readers if the sound is not right. Because after all the initial hype and enthusiasm are gone, and there are newer products in the market with bigger and better numbers, all that’s left is the sound, the way it does music.

Enough crap, let’s get down to the meat. If you are an E10 owner, I need to apologize because the next paragraph is gonna hurt.

 

Now I’m really sorry to say this because I know a lot of you just bought the E10 and it would be nice to be able to sit down and chill for a while without having to worry that there are better things out in the market already. In this aspect, I think you really should blame Fiio, not me. My job as a reviewer is to tell you guys how a certain box sounds, and in the case of the Alpen, it’s clearly better than the E10. Awwww, sorry guys.

Not better in this or that, good in certain aspects but less so in others. It’s better, no matter how you look at it, even ignoring all the added features. The reality is that if you think the E10 sounds good, then the E17 is going to be a clear upgrade. Identical tonality and sound signature means that if you like the E10’s sound, the E17 does bass/mid/treble exactly the same way. The bonus is that with the Alpen, the bass is punchier (awesome!), tighter (awesome x2), soundstage is wider, and the midrange is clearer. What is there not to like?

Along with the release of the Alpen comes in a few questions that begs for a comparison between the it and other products in this price segment. I will try to do the comparison but if I miss anything, feel free to ask on the comments section.

E17 versus E7

Not even close. Aside from the improved features and specs, the E17 also blows the E9 out of the water. There is no comparison here. Tonally, the E7 sounds thin on the mids and lows, and the soundstage is not that impressive. If I can add something, also put congested mids into the list of the E7 features. The E17 on the other hand has a much bigger soundstage, and a more likeable tonality. Good full mids, good bass, spacious sound, all around musical.

E17 and E9 pairing

Pairing with the E9 desktop amp unit, you get a bigger sound with better dynamics and dynamic range. However, I don’t think the sound signature works out to be that good. It robs the E17 of the sweet full midrange and in return gives you a somewhat unpleasant and recessed mids. Yes, bigger sound and more power, but sorry I’d rather have my midrange back. In my opinion, the E9 better left paired with the E7, while the E17 better be left on its own (at least until Fiio comes out with a newer version of the E9).

E17 versus Audinst HUD MX1

Tonally they are a bit similar with their dark and warm sound signature. Technically the E17 is very good, but the Audinst is still better, though the difference is now closer than it was compared to the E10. The Audinst has been a long time favorite of mine, due to its simple design, affordable price, and overall good sound quality. However, this time the E17 again shines due to the way it does midrange: full, clear and sweet (don’t we all love full, clear and sweet sounding midrange?). The Audinst’s midrange is not as bad as the E7 and the E9 (or both of them combined), but it’s still not as good as the E17 or the E10’s midrange.

 

Continue to the next page…

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  • Guest

    is it possible to pair e17 as a DAC and C421 as amp? how will it be & how to do it? 

  • zaynel

    is it possible to pair e17 as a DAC and C421 as amp? how will it be & how to do it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Windsor-McGilvray/728850109 Windsor McGilvray

    Hi Mike. I’ve been enjoying using the Lavry DA10 and stock cabled Audeze LCD-2 rev.2 pairing for many months now, and though I enjoy it, I often want to hear more upper treble extension from it. To solve that problem, I’ve been thinking of getting an E17 and using its treble adjustment feature to increase the treble levels. Do you think that the LCD-2 would be wasted on the E17?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Why not just apply some EQ on your computer? I think it would be a shame to not use the DA10.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Windsor-McGilvray/728850109 Windsor McGilvray

        That makes sense, Mike. I forgot about iTunes EQ, so I’ll give it a try when I get back home. I had an amazing night of listening last night. After briefly trying the M50 with the DA10, which I hadn’t really done before, I then switched to the LCD-2 and was almost immediately realised I was in a state of audio nirvana. :)

        There’s a really good sounding live album I recommend if you’re into really well played electric jazz/fusion/funk or good sounding live albums (though not quite of the quality of ‘Jazz at the Pawnshop’). It’s ‘Live (And Very Plugged In)’ by the Dave Weckl Band. :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Alright Windsor, let me know how that works out. I’ll keep an eye for the Dave Weckl Band CD. :)

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Windsor-McGilvray/728850109 Windsor McGilvray

            Interesting results with the EQ so far, Mike.

            I’ve used Audio Hijack Pro and a parametric EQ to adjust the stock-cabled LCD-2’s frequency response so that from 1k is a straight line that descends 6db to 20k. I did that because I read it was the optimal frequency response for a headphone. I also EQ’d a thin 7.5 db drop at ~7.5k, which is a resonance that occurs in human hearing that can colour the sound of what we hear when wearing headphones.

            Anyway, the result is a brighter sounding LCD-2 that gives a clearer window to the music with less resonance and body than the default LCD-2; the new EQ makes the original sound lush and boomy in a pleasantly coloured way that can sometimes sound a bit veiled. 

            The new EQ setting gives instruments less body than with the standard LCD-2, but it’s a sound that’s certainly not lacking in body. The sound is full and more revealing of treble details, as if going behind the veil of the standard LCD-2 sound. Treble details are more emphatic without sounding harsh, except on some recordings that distort. I find that such distortion is usually masked when the LCD-2 has no EQ applied to it. 

            The standard LCD-2 sounds fine and is a great headphone for various reasons. It’s also nice to have an alternative sound setting thats handy for when I want to hear some extra treble detail (though at the expense of some of the the thick and smooth character of the standard LCD-2). I’ll switch between the two settings some more and see how it goes. :)

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Yes I can certainly imagine how that sounds. The 7.5dB drop at 7.5K seems a bit too much though, isn’t it? Besides if you are eq-ing up to 6dB at 20K, wouldn’t that dip at 7.5K be a little too intrusive?
              What version of the LCD-2 is this?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Windsor-McGilvray/728850109 Windsor McGilvray

            Hi Mike. I’m using the LCD-2 rev.2 and I find the 7.5k frequency cut doesn’t sound too intrusive because it’s very narrow width. However, I’m currently using just the flat line EQ I described, without the 7.5k frequency cut, and with fresh ears this morning, music’s sounding really good!

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Alright.. I would not recommend the dip in the 7.5K. From my experience I’ll try to make my EQ curve as smooth and as linear as possible.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Windsor-McGilvray/728850109 Windsor McGilvray

          Currently listening to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings.’ It’s some great spiritual/religious-themed music, even though the recording occasionally distorts slightly when Aretha hits the high notes. :)

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Windsor-McGilvray/728850109 Windsor McGilvray

            And to bring things back on topic with my original post, I may still buy an E17 for travel/portable purposes. :)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Powerstar98 Franklin Jawara Lee

    Hi mike. I have a problem with my E17. Every time I plug it into my computer it does not switch from 48k to 96k, it stays on 48k. Than when I plug my Coax to the computer into the E17 it does not go up to 192k, it stays on 48k. What could be the problem?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      For the computer:
      You need to set the computer to 96K.

      I dont’ understand the other question. Coax to the computer into the E17?

  • Swbf2cheater

    Not sure if this would improve the sound quality as a source over the E10 when comboed with the Hisound Studio V.  For pure soundstaging purposes, its unclear if there really are any budget amps and usb dacs that are anywhere near with it to be used with the new Philips Fidelio L1.  I run into the problem of congestion with near every set up, which is not a problem when the Studio V is used as my amplifier.  Its very spacious and airy compared to most every portable amp I’ve ever used.  Again, not sure if the E17 would make a difference over the E10 in my case.  Any thoughts, Mike?  I didn’t want to dish out $ for a spacious home usb dac as well as a spacious amplifier which really dont get SPACIOUS unless you are looking at the Burson 160, Graham Slee solo III or the Beta22.  Which all in all are overkill for my L1.  Ah, why couldn’t I win that super lottery we had recently ? :P

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry so what’s the question? 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SQZXVVO7GS3SGOKV6IYRU2SFOY breaking t

    And what about Fiio E17 vs HRT Headstreamer ? which one sounds better ? I am about buying one of them, in features E17 wins for sure, but, how is in sound quality ? thanks !

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I still haven’t gotten the Headstreamer, sorry. 

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/SQZXVVO7GS3SGOKV6IYRU2SFOY breaking t

        Ah Ok, I can not wait for your review of the Headstreamer, I am wondering also if both of them, the HRT and the E17, are able to move the AKG K701 properly, I guess so but not 100% sure, thanks

  • Fakhri GenericMav

    hmm, how about comparing HRT MS2 with E17 (DAC section), can it be consider on par or MS2 is more superior?  

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The HRT is still better.

      It goes like this: E17 < Audinst < HRT MS2 (dac only)

  • Mr. Ertai

    Hi Mike, how would you compare E17 to iBasso’s D4 in terms of:

    1) sound quality – particularly bass and midrange, and
    2) as a DAC
    3) soundstage / presentation

    I don’t have any headphones that are difficult to drive, so amping is not an issue for me.

    Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      D4 is a really old DAC right? Wolfson WM8740/1 if I remember correctly.
      Sorry haven’t really compared the two of them.

      • Mr. Ertai

        Ok  no worries :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Yap-Tien-En/1096539898 Yap Tien En

    Hi! Mike,

    Is it wise to add an USB to SPDIF Converter with my E17?
    How good is E17 when running 24/192?

    Thanks! 

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I don’t think it’s worth it. Plus when I tested the E17 the USB is better than the S/PDIF. I think 24/96 is good enough. I rarely use 192 even on DACs that support it. The good sounding sample rates to my ears are 88.2 and 96. Sometimes 176.4.

  • chris campagna

    what is the best way to hook the e17 up to a computer?  usb?  coaxial? or optical (with toslink cable)

    I have a pair of dt770 waiting for a boost!

    Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Chris,
      Go with USB.

  • Long Nguyen

    Hi Mike, I see you have also experienced with TinyTubeDac, how would you compare E17 with TTD, about DAC and AMP

  • Fabio_Rocks

    Got It! 120 EUR shipping included :D

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

       where did you get it from?

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    No aux in is only in. For line out you need to purchase a line out dock device from Fiio.
    I haven’t tried it with that particular speaker, but logically it should be better yes. Although if you’re using it for speakers, the E10 may be more convenient as you don’t need to purchase the separate dock device.

  • lcamtai

    Hi, Mike.

    What do you think about Fiio E17 + HD598? I need a smooth, warm mid and a soft treble but an average bass too.

    Furthermore, at least an average 3 dimensions (width, depth and height) to enjoy instrument.

    Do you think Fiio E17 can accomplish that? Thanks Mike for reading this comment.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The C421 amp would give you the mids, soft treble and bass that you want, with the 3 dimensionality as well. For the DAC you can use the E10 or the Hifiman HM-101 to save money. If you want to stay economical, change the C421 to a JDSLabs CmoyBB.

  • Sigve Skurdal Skagen

    Hi Mike!

    I’m looking for a portable amp/DAC to use with my laptop and my Beyerdynamic DT770 pro (iPod support is only a bonus), and I’m currently torn between the E10 and the E17. I have read your reviews and have come to understand that the E17 is better than the E10 in almost every way, but is the difference really worth the money? Here in Norway the E10 is 150 USD and the E17 250 USD. I listen to everything from dubstep to jazz, but I must say I have a weakness to powerful bass.

    I’ve been looking around many websites, and your reviews was clearly the most helpful. If you have the time to help, I would be very grateful.

    Keep up the good work!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sigve,
      That is a bit of a difficult question to answer, because the E17’s bass is clearly better but it’s your money for the purchase and I don’t really know if it’s going to be worth the money to you. By the way the prices are really expensive there, is it possible to find a local Norway brand that’ll perhaps give you more bang for the buck?

      • Sigve Skurdal Skagen

        The reason they’re so expensive here, is because Norway taxate everything. So a Norwegian brand would cost around the same (I don’t think such a brand exist’s anyway). I decided to buy the E17, and I’m really glad I checked Amazon before i bought it in Norway. Amazon.co.uk = 167,13 USD, Norwegian retail store = 312.61 USD :D

        Thank you for the quick answer!

  • LaCroix13

    Hello Mike, enjoyed reading your review, but would you say if the E17 a significant upgrade or a marginal upgrade for an owner of E10, assuming that portability is a plus but not a must? Or am I better off going straight for something better(and more expensive) like the O2 Amp + DAC? 
    Thanks in advance! Any advise will be much appreciated. :) 

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The difference is there, but if you can afford something better like the HRT MS2 then I would suggest going with that.

  • Khloe85

    Hi mike
    I recently purchased the HD650 and need an amp/dac for it.
    I want to go for the HA160D and am saving for it so in the meantime I need a cheap n cheerful amp for the HD650.
    The Fiio E10 costs around 80-85$ and the E17 is listed for more than 200$ on both ebay and amazon so my question is, is the E17 really 120$ better than the E10 in terms of sound or should I go for the E10?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      More than $200 for the E17? That’s quite steep. What you can do is get the E10 and add a separate amp like the Cmoy.

      • Khloe85

        Thanks.
        How about something from ibasso??

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike
          • Khloe85

            Thanks mike.
            Bought the HD598(impulse buy, love the beige) with the E10 sounds pretty good.
            I came across the Arcam rPAC USB/Headphone DAC while looking for a portable Amp, it comes with asynchronous USB & a Burr-Brown DAC chip-set and 138mW headphone amplification, all for 249$ .
            Will you be reviewing it???

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Hi Khloe, sorry no plans for the Arcam for now.

    • Fabio_Rocks

      Avoid The Fiio E17 to drive the Sennheiser hd 650. I own both and even if I reach good loudness level the sound lacks punch and impact. Not Recomendend for me. For the same price (or a little more) of the Fiio e17 there are much better DAC available like the Music Streamer. For the AMP even if on Headfonia is not Recomended a lot of peoples like The Objective2 because is cheap (150$) and has a lot of power that can drive 600ohm cans. Cheers:D

      • Fabio_Rocks

        Sorry I want to add just one thing, the previous comment was made setting the gain to 0. Setting in the middle on 6 the sound is very different, there is more punch and impact and  now the sound is better. So if you are on cheap (like me) the Alpen is a good starting point. Cheers!

  • thinh4u2

    Hey guys, I bought a D2000 recently and paired with my Xonar DG it sounds nice but a little fatiguing.  What do you guys recommend for it?  I was thinking about getting the Fiio e10 or e11 and pairing it with my xonar?  I’m a little tight on budget right now, so I would love to get the best bang for my buck (so if its like very slightly better but x2 the price, i would rather go for the lower – but if its a very noticeable difference…then i’d have to think lol)

  • thinh4u2

    Hey guys, I bought a D2000 recently and paired with my Xonar DG it sounds nice but a little fatiguing.  What do you guys recommend for it?  I was thinking about getting the Fiio e10 or e11 and pairing it with my xonar?  I’m a little tight on budget right now, so I would love to get the best bang for my buck (so if its like very slightly better but x2 the price, i would rather go for the lower – but if its a very noticeable difference…then i’d have to think lol)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      First I need to know why you find the current pairing fatiguing. Treble issues?

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

    I’m a little confused this seems like a positive review and you seem to think the E17 sounds pretty good but the E11 is a better amp (smoother, more refined) but then in the <$100 amp review you said it was the grainiest and least refined. Are those other sub $100 amps really that good?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Eric,
      You do realize that the E17 is a DAC and an amp?

      • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

        Yes I do but I’m really only interested in the amp I would probably use the DAC but a portable amp is more important to me right now. The reason I’m looking at the E17 is the multiple levels of bass boost. I was also looking at the E11 but you said it was the worst sounding amp in the under $100 shootout.

        I guess Il just ask you what amp should I get? I have DT 770 80ohm’s, SRH 840’s and Denon AH-D5000’s and I’m going to eventually get HE-400’s or DT 990’s for open cans for IEM’s I use SE215’s. I’m a bass head and usually listen to screamo/heavy metal but I also listen to punk, pop, electro and dubstep and some classical and strings or mixtures of those like symphonic metal with strings in it or rock with techno parts.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          That’s a lot of headphones and a lot of different music.

          Try the ALO National? It’s a good all rounder amp. Or for slightly less try the C421 amp.

          http://www.headfonia.com/the-sequel-alo-audio-the-national/

          You can read a comparison between the National and the C421 on that link above.

          • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

            I want something with pretty punch/impact-full, well extended bass so I think the National would be better. I looked at the ALO RX also but its out of my budget. Is there anything in the $2-$300 range with a bass boost? I really wanna get the E11 or E17 for the bass boost but I would like something better. The C421 has a single bass boost but in the review you said the bass was pretty soft? Also I have been suggested the Headstage arrow but I’m afraid it will be to dark.

          • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

            I want something with pretty punch/impact-full, well extended bass so I think the National would be better. I looked at the ALO RX also but its out of my budget. Is there anything in the $2-$300 range with a bass boost? I really wanna get the E11 or E17 for the bass boost but I would like something better. The C421 has a single bass boost but in the review you said the bass was pretty soft? Also I have been suggested the Headstage arrow but I’m afraid it will be to dark.

          • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

            Damn double post and no delete, but anyway I just relized the new Arrow has a treble boost also. Do you think that would be a good choice? I like its form factor going with my iPod touch. Also I can see paying $300 for it for all the features it has.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              I think the National would be a good fit.

              The Headstage Arrow 3G is a good amp if you’re looking for bass boost, but the 4G with the treble boost actually sounds dryer than the 3G…

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    It’s very good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jorelle04 Jorelle Marquez

    Wow. This made me go WOW over the e17. I never had any experience with any headphone amps, nor do I know anything about DACs, I just entered a new world here.

    Okay here’s my question, I have a Shure SRH550dj, do you think this will enhance my headphones? Thanks sir! (Nevermind the question I posted on the other topic as I got stunned by this e1)

    • http://www.facebook.com/jorelle04 Jorelle Marquez

      Upping my question..

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry for missing your question, Jorelle. I’ve tried the 550DJ headphone and I don’t think you need an amp for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/oskari.mikkola Oskari Mikkola

    Hi guys. Im new to the whole headphone/amp scene so few days back I figured E17 should be a good one to start with and I ordered it (had a low budget also).

    Now I started having some serious second toughts about E17 since the amp is not that powerfull and I’m going to use it with Sennheiser HD 650 (which I also ordered a few days ago). Can it power up the HD 650 even nearly enough? and what do you think of the combo? Quess I need an upgrade during the summer when I get some cash. Too bad I didn’t think of this before the purchace, doh.. I’m glad if it makes even a little difference, so that I didn’t buy it in vain. Ofcourse I can still use it as a portable with my phone and such.

    Also interested in the iBasso PB1 & DB1 amp/dac combo with balanced recable. Maybe even PB2 & DB2? What do you think of those, couldn’t find any articles from you about those awesome pieces.

    Thanks plenty, hope I get some answers and personal experiences shared here. Thanks in advance!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Oskari,
      The E17 is more than powerful enough for the HD650. In the old days, amps tend to be lower in power and the HD650 was considered to be difficult to drive. These days, even the tiniest amps have plenty of power for the HD650.
      I have not written about the DB1 & DB2 DACs, but you can read my review of the PB1 and PB2. Just click on the Ibasso Tag on the Tag Cloud section on the bottom of the page.

  • MSquared

    I’ve been thinking of upgrading my DAC, but I was hoping to do it on a budget.
    I’m currently using the Fiio E10 and was debating between the E17 or Audinst MX1. While I definitely enjoy the midrange that the E10 has brought forward, I’m left wondering what improvements the MX1 offers over the E17 and E10.
    I’m not sure I’d need the portability that the E17 offers being that it’d mostly sit at my desk, but I do like the E10’s sound and a refined version of that is appealing to me.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The Audinst will give you a better DAC quality than the E17, so you would feel a bigger upgrade to the Audinst.

  • http://www.facebook.com/josh.lu.52 Josh Lu

    Mike, would you say that the e17 is a clear upgrade from the e10 when used purely as a dac?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Yes, mike has said that several times already ;)

      • http://www.facebook.com/josh.lu.52 Josh Lu

        Oh. I know that the e17 is a much better amp/dac combo, but wasn’t sure if it was much better as a stand alone dac

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Josh,
          It’s better both as an amp and as a DAC (standalone).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003992054760 Copper David

    Hello Mike,
    I would like to improve the sound quality of my ipod classic (160G), will E17 do a good job? Which is a better choice E7, E10 or E17?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/herman.gulseth Herman Erik Arff Gulseth

    I just stumbled over your site, and I really love your reviews!

    I’m considering buying an amplifier, and I’m currently stuck between the FiiO 17, and the Fiio 11. I am to use them with an Ipod classic 160 gb/my macbook, and my Akg k 272 hd headset. Which one would you recommend, or are there any other products out there that might be more suitable? I mostly listen to jazz, but also compose using a Sibelius 7.

    I also wonder if I would benefit from using a amplifier when playing piano while using a headset (a Clavia nord Electro 3)?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Herman,
      The Piano, I really am not sure since I’ve never tried the K272 out of a piano.
      With the K272 I think the Fiio E11 would be enough. You’re not going to use the DAC function of the E17 anyway.