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.
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