Fiio E17K – Alpen 2: A Good All-Round Starter

Disclaimer: Fiio is a site advertiser and sent me the E17K free for review. The E17K retails for $139 on Amazon.com

 

box HFN Lieven round kader

 

Fiio has been very busy with updating their product line. They first improved the E10 and E11 and now they have launched the “K” version of the famous E17, which was especially known for its DAC part.

Where Fiio in the beginning had a warmer and more bassy sound, they now are a lot more clear and detailed sounding. It wouldn’t be Fiio if there wasn’t some sort of Bass Boost function implemented. Different here is that there is no unique bass boost button, but you can increase or decrease bass (and treble) in the menu via the scroll wheel.

I received the E17K a while before it was in the shops, I think it was around November. Due to an overly full review planning I didn’t get to the E17K till early January. Only then to find out I just couldn’t get it to work. After some back and forth emailing with Fiio I finally got the E17K to work. Turned out the USB cable was faulty and of course that was solved quickly. From then on it was extremely easy to use the E17K.

The E17K Inside

The original E17 was received quite well by Mike when he reviewed it back in January 2012. At that time the E17 was partially using the same components as the E10, and it still does that today.

Out went the Tenor TE7022 USB receiver and WM8740 DAC chip and in came the SA9027 USB Receiver, together with the PCM5102, OPA1662 as low pass filter and OPA1642+LmH6643 for the Line Out. The upgraded E10K uses the same Tenor receiver and PCM5102 DAC chip. Over USB that means the E17K can handle 96kHz/32bit and 192/24 over Coax (PCM). The E17K is able to handle DSD as well but you’ll need to install the Asio Drivers and SACD plugin in Foobar.

The E17K has a digital volume control and balance, bass and treble can all be modified in the menu just like the 0-6-12 gain setting. Mike will be glad to see they kept the Treble EQ, he really loved that in the old E17. The E17K’s battery (>1500mAh) takes about 3.5 hours to charge via micro USB and that’s quite long but it does deliver 15h of listening in return. Of course the device charges when it’s being used as USB DAC.

Gone is the old docking station the first E17 had, in the future docking will have to go through the micro USB port. Like so many other companies, Fiio also decided to leave out the optical input in the updated version but I personally can leave with that decision. In return there’s now DSD and 32/96. A lot of other people weren’t too happy with this decision though.

The E17K Outside

The E17K is still small. It weighs only 110g and measures 140.1 x 62.2 x 12.8 millimeters. I think it looks quite good. Build quality is typical Fiio: Aluminum + plastic. I mean that in a good way however and I never had any reason at all to complain about Fiio’s build quality. My E10’s, I have 3, take quite the beating and they keep working as if nothing happened. If there was anything I could change on the E17K it would be the screen (so 90’s) and the plastic volume wheel. Then again for the price these things are selling there really is nothing to complain about. The User Interface/menu and scroll wheel, actually work quite well together. It’s not a difficult UI and menu options are limited but using the scroll wheel is very easy and it is very responsive. Sometimes it misses a click but I can live with that. The E17K is a lot easier to work with than the first version was: the scroll wheel with click function makes navigating through the menu a whole lot easier and more user friendly. A big improvement.

The lay-out of the unit couldn’t be simpler: 3.5mm headphone out + Line In/Out + Coax in on top. Volume wheel and menu navigation on the left side (the wheel can be “clicked” to select menu items) and power / Input selector on the front right below the screen. That basically means there now are less buttons on the front of the device compared to the original E17. Design wise it does look a whole lot better to me. “Slick” would be the right word to describe the updated E17K. Both the Line out and the 3.5mm headphone out work simultaneously, and that’s something a lot of you who use it at home in combination with powered speakers in example will appreciate as you won’t need to switch cables all the time.

Sound

The E17K can be used as USB DAC, DAC/AMP or just as an external AMP with your source.

USB DAC

When used as “DAC only” with the line out connected to my desktop amp, the E17K delivers a clear and reasonably neutral sound. Gone is the warmer sound of the “older” Fiio gear but you now in return get a more linear sound with moderate bass (for Fiio). The DAC section of the E17K is identical (sounding) to the E10K’s DAC section and we quite liked that one.

It continues after the click

Fiio E17K – Alpen 2: A Good All-Round Starter
4.2 (84.17%) 48 votes

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650.

95 Comments

  • Reply March 3, 2015

    dalethorn

    I greatly appreciate the review, but some of the wording tends to diminish the item and say “well, it’s not so good but it’s OK for the price”. That’s the impression I get. I take a different view of this little gem. Compared to what I had just 3-4 years ago it’s really great and improves my laptop sound a lot, and even if there are competitors that sound as good or better for the price, the E17k has real magic given the overall quality, sound, and form factor. I love it.

    • Reply March 3, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      That’s exactly what I wanted to come out really. For the price it’s quite nice but it’s nothing spectaculair wen comparing to other gear. Better than the onboard sound card? For sure.

      Like I said, to me the E10K is still King

      • Reply March 4, 2015

        Chris

        Hello !
        I bought the Sennheiser HD8 DJ and would like to buy a DAC/Amp for less than 300$ which i will use for my laptop AND my android device (for now Galaxy S3) so it must be easily portable. I would appreciate, as it is the case for my HD8, a big quality bass device. Which DAC would you prefer ?
        Main concern : the sound quality!!!

        • Reply March 4, 2015

          dalethorn

          I don’t think I can answer your main question, but I would suggest caution – when I’ve had limited power using a small DAC/amp like the FiiO E17 or the Microstreamer etc. on a computer, the bass always seemed lighter than with amps like the Portaphiles or the Zen Head. I think that will especially be true with a phone. So check the power specs closely, the headphone impedance, and especially the headphone impedance curve.

      • Reply March 6, 2015

        Pokersound

        Hi.

        I have the E17 and I’ve been very happy with It but I woul like to have a more refined sound.

        Do you know something about the new OPPO HA-2?

        My set up is S5 with UAPP – E17 and Yuin PK1.

  • Reply March 3, 2015

    Venci

    hi, is there a notable difference in the DAC section of E17k and E07K ?

    • Reply March 3, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      No, the E07K uses an older Wolfson Dac Chip: WM8740. Very musical and smooth, warmer sound. The E17Ks DAC is more detailed and clearder. Read the review? 😉

      • Reply March 3, 2015

        Venci

        Thanks !

        I checked the review, but didn’t found e10k / e07k comparison.

        • Reply March 3, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          That’s correct but both were compared to the E17K 🙂

  • Reply March 3, 2015

    M.Daniyal

    I don’t think it’s very fair to compare a $139 device to nearly $300+ devices.Obviously a device that costs that much is expected to perform much better.

    • Reply March 3, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Well yes and no, that’s not always true. Fiio always delivers top quality for the price, I just don’t feel the E17K gets the most out of it because of the amp section, Fiio could have made it even better than it already is. (like the superb E10K which I find better than the E17K)

      • Reply March 3, 2015

        dalethorn

        Hopefully FiiO is reading this. If they did make a better amp in this form factor I’d trade off my E17k and order the new one.

  • Reply March 3, 2015

    Jerry

    Lieven, does the channel balance control still only attenuate up to about 50% of the volume? This is what the E17 does and it drives me nuts as (depending on resistance) some headphones are still not balanced for me with my assymetrical ear canals… Ideally, once the slider is set all the way in one direction, the other channel should be dead silent, but its not. Thankfully, it is possible to bypass this and set balance on the PC, but I don’t always use the E17 as a DAC for my PC… How is the E17K in this regard? I’m quite happy with my E17 and wouldn’t consider getting the E17K unless they fixed this issue.

    • Reply March 3, 2015

      dalethorn

      The E17k goes 10 db each direction, which is literally 10 times softer on the opposite side. Popular media has 10 db as apparently “twice as loud”, but experienced listeners can tell that it’s ten times.

      • Reply March 4, 2015

        Jerry

        In other words, it is still not ‘true’ balance controls (like what Rockbox has for example). I guess there is therefore literally no reason for me to consider the E17K over the E17 then, considering I quite like the warm tonality of the original.

        • Reply March 4, 2015

          dalethorn

          Good points. Even though the E17k would seem to contain a DAC that spits out analog (that’s what a DAC does, yes?) to the amplifier, the controls are all digital, so those are being processed/implemented before the digital to analog conversion, i.e. entirely in or before the DAC itself. Now when I use Foobar2000 with its controls and Foobar’s output goes through the USB to the FiiO E17k DAC, I have live tone controls via the equalizer in Foobar, and more live tone controls via the E17k – all live at the same time. The good news is that they’re not all analog so they’re not reducing the quality of the signal due to double-amping or whatever. Hopefully since the music player controls on the computer and the FiiO controls are both digital, they aren’t reducing the quality of the signal, i.e. they’re “out of the circuit” when turned off or set to zero values. Hopefully.

  • Reply March 4, 2015

    Yubin Peng

    I am interested in how it compares to the c5d? since they have same dac chip

    • Reply March 4, 2015

      dalethorn

      Not promising for the C5D given the Headfonia review, which calls the amp ‘congested’ and “not something I would use as an amp only”. So I’m curious if anyone could get a new production C5D and compare them, to see if they improved, or if Mike’s sample was just off-spec.

      • Reply March 4, 2015

        Yubin Peng

        but he described it congested comparing to the amp of c5

        • Reply March 4, 2015

          dalethorn

          Yes – C5D to C5, but when he says “not something I would use…..” that’s pretty much the same story as the E17k. So they probably sound different, but saying one is better than the other wouldn’t be convincing to me. You’d really need to try them out. I wouldn’t use the E17k amp (Aux input) with the iPhone 6-plus because its amp is at least as good as the E17k already, but the E17k amp will improve all of the iPods I have, as well as older iPhones.

          • Reply March 4, 2015

            Headfonia_L.

            If I had to choose I would pick the C5D in the end but the E17K is pretty close for $100 less. so if you’re on a budget I wouldn’t hesitate to go for the E17K

            • Reply March 5, 2015

              Yubin Peng

              Thanks man, Ima gonna go for the C5D

        • Reply March 4, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          I didn’t compare the E17K to the C5(D)

      • Reply March 4, 2015

        Headfonia_L.

        I didn’t call the E17K’s amp congested though, Dale

        • Reply March 4, 2015

          dalethorn

          I know that. I said that Mike said it about the C5D.

          • Reply March 4, 2015

            Headfonia_L.

            Who’s that Mike guy again? 🙂

            • Reply March 4, 2015

              dalethorn

              Ha! Well anyway, I’m gratified to know that you can report the performance of these DACs and amps separately to some extent, but it’s disappointing to know that any popular DAC/amp combo has unequal components inside. I’d happily pay a little more to get a better amp in that box, but I’m glad the DAC is as good as it is.

    • Reply March 4, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      The E17K’s DAc is nice, like I said, the C5D’s dac is also nice. The C5D’s amp does sound better than the E17K, but if you’ve read anything you’ll know that Mike and myself prefer the original C421 over the C5 and the C5D. The big advantage they have though is the digital volume control. The C421’s pot was quite noisy and unbalanced, but it sounded best

  • Reply March 4, 2015

    riodgarp

    are you tested the amplification section with m2m cable into line in port?

    • Reply March 4, 2015

      dalethorn

      I used the iPhone6-plus Lightning port to Apple adapter (Lightning to 30-pin adapter) to the FiiO LOD-3 cable to the Aux input. I also have the older iPod Touch 30-pin which doesn’t require the Apple adapter. Either way it bypasses the i-device volume control, but I can’t say that it’s a true Line Out from the i-devices. The amp seems just OK that way, but from a computer USB it really comes alive. I suppose Lieven uses a real Line Out to the amp.

  • Reply March 4, 2015

    Andy

    Hi, I know it seems unfair to compare portable rigs & desktop rigs but I’m curious how well E17K competes with Schiit Magni/Modi 2 since the price difference between them isn’t really big? Thanks.

  • Reply March 6, 2015

    Bramantio

    dac section is identical with e10k 2nd gen? then it would be better to buy e10k rather than e17k if i only use it as dac?

  • Reply March 9, 2015

    Patrick.C

    Fiio is really busy with improving there already good products.

    I for myself have the predecessor e17 alpen with the stationary qugir. After this review it looks like I don’t have to worry about soundquality. They’re similar and maybe with the stationary dac my opinion could change. Nonetheless nice review guys, hope to see more.

    Regards Patrick

  • Reply March 14, 2015

    willy vlyminck

    Didn´t you try to use it in combination with the X! ? If yes, does it make a worthwhile difference?

    • Reply March 14, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      What X do you mean Willy? X1? Anyway, I haven’t tried the combo, I always used my Picollo as an amp on the LO

  • Reply March 14, 2015

    willy vlyminck

    Sorry Lieven, yes the FiiO X1

  • Reply March 20, 2015

    Andrisa Prihartana

    I’m in the market for new DAC/AMP or AMP only, I will pair it mainly with my Phone Xperia Z, or maybe future FiiO X3, and using some IEMs and Headphone (Noble 3, ATH M50x, HD 558). Does E17K is a good pair, I’m confused on which one to pick between E17K and E12A, or is there any good combination under $200.

    • Reply March 20, 2015

      dalethorn

      E12a – enough power for the headphones, low noise for the IEMs. FiiO amps are great quality.

      • Reply March 20, 2015

        Andrisa Prihartana

        Thank you dalethorn, one question though, so I don’t really need the DAC then? for my Phone or FiiO X3

        • Reply March 20, 2015

          dalethorn

          Don’t know about the phone. iPhones won’t work with the E17k DAC, but there may be a possibility with your phone. Using the E17k with the X3 would be wasted, because it doesn’t improve anything. If it did change the sound it would be for the worse. Personally I would never piggyback a medium-price or low-price DAC/amp onto a portable music player like the X3. There is a possibility to use a phone at home with a good DAC/amp, but most of the time you end up with a terrible kludge, trying to get hi-res files onto the limited memory, using custom software – too many possibilities to predict the performance, and mostly bad. Keep your stuff simple with better gear.

          • Reply March 20, 2015

            Andrisa Prihartana

            Okay then, it seems that I will settle for E12A, thanks Dale, I almost forgot can I use E12A with my laptop by the way?

            • Reply March 21, 2015

              dalethorn

              The E12a isn’t a DAC, so you would need to add a DAC to the computer then plug the E12a into the DAC. If you do that, be sure to use the very best cables possible, and the shortest cables as well.

          • Reply January 21, 2017

            Jeff

            Listening to the E17K with my iPhone 6Plus through the lightning connector/adapter as I type this. 48K 16bit without touching anything.

            • Reply January 22, 2017

              dale thorn

              Things have gotten better for iPhones. The big trick for the E17k is to set the FiiO’s USB Charge off. The E17k sound is good, but I get a bit cleaner sound from the DragonFly Red. The Red costs more of course, and is newer technology.

  • Reply March 21, 2015

    Natra84

    Hi guys I just bought E17K and I must say I am disappointed this makes hissing noise with my IEM do you guys have any recommendations for portable amp/dac at this size that does not make hissing noise with IEM.

    • Reply March 21, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I am very hiss sensitive and have very sensitive monitors, yet I never had any hiss.
      What IEM are you using?

      • Reply March 21, 2015

        Natra84

        shure se215

        • Reply March 24, 2015

          rafazafar

          getting an se215 to hiss requires some pretty bad amp haha. Are you sure you didnt get a lemon unit? 🙂

      • Reply March 22, 2015

        Natra84

        But can you recommend any amp/dac that is more warm sounding then the fiio e17k and that is dead silent.

        • Reply March 22, 2015

          dalethorn

          Are you using the low gain (-6 db) setting of the E17k?

          • Reply March 23, 2015

            Natra84

            There is no -6 only 0 / 6 / 12

            • Reply March 23, 2015

              dalethorn

              Zero would be low gain. Are you using zero and still getting hiss?

              • Reply March 23, 2015

                Natra84

                Yes

              • Reply March 23, 2015

                Natra84

                yes

                • Reply March 23, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  I don’t know personally of any no-hiss amps, but Lieven and Nathan do.

                  • Reply March 23, 2015

                    Headfonia_L.

                    Picollo, E12A, Duet, Vorzuge, etc. there are so many

                    • March 23, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      I assume if they chose the E17k that they wanted the DAC also in that little box. I don’t think the E12a plus DAC would be anywhere near as convenient, and the Picollo with DAC must cost an arm and a leg, so that narrows it down, huh?

                      BTW, I was listening with the E17k yesterday as an analog amp to an iPod using the P7, and I thought it was just too bright. Maybe that’s a source of the hiss.

                  • Reply March 29, 2015

                    Natra84

  • Reply April 11, 2015

    Jin Y

    So you’re saying if I want the DAC function only, then I can go for E10k directly?

  • Reply April 14, 2015

    Satish Bhat

    I want to use this unit with MacBook pro or with a pc that has a decent audio card. Any comments? Mainly I want to try both DAC (with PC) and amp with Mac pro…

    • Reply April 14, 2015

      dalethorn

      I have Mac and PC and the E17k – works very well. For about the same price though you’ll get better sound with some of the mini-DACs like Dragonfly-2, Microstreamer, etc.

      • Reply April 17, 2015

        Satish Bhat

        Many Thanks! I will try

      • Reply May 22, 2015

        Bogdan Popa

        And cambridge audio.dac magic xs?

  • Reply April 14, 2015

    deva

    Overall SQ wise which will be superior, X3 SG or E17K ???

  • Reply May 12, 2015

    vicontte

    Hello. Is fiio e17k or fiio e10k better then audinst HUD mini in sound department? I’m going to use it with 60 ohm takstar headphones at home as dac/amp. Which one would you recommend?

  • Reply May 22, 2015

    Bogdan Popa

    would this dacamp be suited for dt880 250ohm? I would connect this to a fiio x3 also with a pair of kef m200 iems. i also have a micromega mydac so do you think for home use i could maybe get a amp and plug it into the dac? is this better then e10k in sound quality?

  • Reply November 16, 2015

    DAC amp

    Hi,thanks for your nice review,but how it compare to the audioquest dragonfly v1.2.

    • Reply November 16, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I have the Dragonfly but haven’t had time yet to compare both. In all honesty I don’t use the Fiio at all so I can’t remember

      • Reply November 16, 2015

        DAC amp

        Hope you can have time to compare it,I have listen the e17k one time not bad,still better than any mobile phone.

    • Reply November 16, 2015

      dalethorn

      The Dragonfly 1.2 is better on a laptop computer, but the E17k works with portable devices like iPhones.

      • Reply November 16, 2015

        DAC amp

        I mean the sound,but the fiio coaxial all function really extract me.

        • Reply November 16, 2015

          dalethorn

          The E17k will not sound as good whether coax or USB input.

  • Reply December 24, 2015

    Ivan Liew

    Planning to get X3ii pair with E17K Alpen 2…
    Whats your opinion guys??

    • Reply December 24, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I don’t immediately see the gain

      • Reply December 25, 2015

        Ivan Liew

        Can you recommend some others that around that price range? Thanks man

        • Reply December 25, 2015

          dalethorn

          I think he means why buy a lower quality player and a separate lower quality DAC/amp? Maybe buy a better player with more power that has a better DAC inside, and skip the separate DAC/amp.

          • Reply March 14, 2016

            eaglesgift

            I think he means the DAC/amp in the X3ii is already very good so what’s the point of buying a separate DAC/amp for this DAP?

            • Reply March 14, 2016

              Headfonia_L.

              And this as well if your budget isn’t bigger than an X3SG

              • Reply March 14, 2016

                eaglesgift

                I’m still using an old Sansa Clip+ so I’m guessing that any of this equipment (an X3ii, or the sound from my PC through the E17k) would represent a significant upgrade in SQ for me?

                • Reply March 14, 2016

                  dalethorn

                  I don’t know that your PC would be better with the E17k – some sound cards are not too good, but others are better. A Dragonfly v1.2 is much better than a E17k, and costs the same. Then there’s the headphone….

                  • Reply March 14, 2016

                    eaglesgift

                    OK, understood. Thanks very much for your feedback.

                    • March 14, 2016

                      dalethorn

                      It doesn’t make any significant difference with my typical low-impedance headphones

          • Reply March 14, 2016

            Headfonia_L.

            This!

  • Reply March 29, 2016

    BrexBrexBrex

    I want to upgrade my e07k (I love warmer sound) so this e17k is not an option for me?
    Can you recommend some portable dac/amp for upgrade from e07k 😀

    • Reply March 29, 2016

      dalethorn

      For warmer one of the portable tube amps would probably be best, depending on your source, your DAC, your music….

  • Reply July 25, 2017

    aztec

    Want a Dac/amp to use with my iPod touch in my minivan. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    • Reply July 25, 2017

      dale thorn

      The DragonFly Red is good, cheap enough ($200), very small and easy to put anywhere. To me the logical next step would be the Mojo, but there are many choices at that level. Note that if you’re driving a headphone with a high impedance, especially with a large impedance spike in the bass, the DF Red could run out of volume on some music in those cases.

  • Reply November 14, 2017

    trance

    H 🙂

    As were are almost in the end of 2017, which budget DAC would you recommend the most?
    I don’t think I need a portable one because I own a HTC 10 device… I just need one for my PC (using on board audio)
    I own a harman kardon sound stick 2 speakers & HD598 headphones.

    Options are: E17K (98$) , E10K (75$), Q1 (58$) or AudioQuest – DragonFly Black (94.50$)

    Thanks 🙂

    • Reply November 15, 2017

      dale thorn

      The DF Black should give better sound, but it’s quite different from the E17k, to name one example. The E17k has its own power, but needs to be recharged.

  • Reply November 14, 2017

    Lieven

    I’d go for the DF for sure!

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