Sound stage width/depth and detail levels are good. They are what you can expect at this price level but they’re not spectacular either when comparing them to let’s say the more expensive Resonessence Labs HERUS or the Cypher Labs Picollo DAC. The Texas Instruments PCM5102 DAC certainly isn’t bad but I do feel I am missing some musicality, detail and “air” in the E17K when comparing it to the higher end models on the market.
Instead of a warmer sound you now get a close to neutral sound with a touch of warmth in the mids. Treble is very easy and soft on the ears making the DAC part sound quite musical. Sound is fairly centered but it beats my internal sound card by a few miles. I’ve been mostly using the E17K as a DAC only in combination with my Beyerdynamic A20 amplifier at the office, and I think the DAC is the strongest part of the unit.
I consider the Fiio E17K as an entry level unit and a lot of people who buy the E17K will be using it as a DAC/Amp combo with their laptop and headphone. The E17K is ideal for headphones between 16 and 150Ohm but even my 250Ohm Beyerdynamic T90 plays quite nice on the E17K, something I didn’t expect. For the price the E17K performs well as a DAC/Amp unit.
The amp part of the E17K is dead silent and even my most sensitive monitors don’t hiss or anything. There’s no ground noise either and I find that quite impressive as a lot of more expensive units don’t always manage to get that right. Then again, these exact same monitors do pick up floor noise on Fiio’s latest, the X3 Second Gen DAP.
Power wise there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Sure you won’t get your Sennheiser HD600/HD650, Audeze LCD2 or Hifiman HE560 to sound their best but you will be able to drive them. Changing the gain on the E17K is very easy and for the harder to drive headphones I applied the +6dB gain setting. I actually never had the need to use the +12 dB setting.
As a DAC/Amp the E17K performs quite well but at the same time I do feel the amp part of the E17K isn’t up to the same level as the DAC is. In my opinion, the amp is holding back the unit a little and it could have sounded even better with a different, wider sounding amp part.
There isn’t a lot more I can say about the amp part that I haven’t said in the above part already. The amp section of the E17K isn’t bad but it surely isn’t spectacular either. If Fiio would have used a better sounding amp section, the E17K would have been a lot more impressive. I actually prefer the amp section of the E10K over the E17K’s but more on that below.
As said, the E17K can’t compete with the more expensive units such as the HERUS and PDAC. These units have a larger and deeper sound stage, retrieve a lot more detail/timbre and they sound more musical with more body. I do also find the E17K DAC to have less bass than the Herus has and especially the mids on the E17K have less body.
Fiio’s sublime E10K uses the same DAC part as the E17K and I personally can’t hear a difference when using the Line Out on both units. Sure the above mentioned units sound better but the DAC part of these Fiio units is quite good.
The old Stoner Acoustics UD100 is more musical and has a warmer sound with bigger bass and more air but it can’t handle the sample rates the Fiio can. The E17K has the better precision and more detail with more quality bass. Overall the E17K has more timbre than the UD100. The Stoner Acoustics UD120 can’t do DSD like the E17K does. In the UD120 review I already stated it sound wise performed more or less at the same level as the Fiio E10K and so it’s no different here.
If you read my Herus review again you will notice I wasn’t the biggest fan of the headphone out. That however doesn’t mean the headphone out isn’t good, I just think the Herus works better as a DAC. Compared to the E17K, the Herus as an amp is clearer and wider sounding with more air and detail. It however misses the smoothness the E17K has but it does have more treble extension.
Cypher Lab’s PDAC is warmer sounding with more body, air and bigger bass. It has a bigger sound stage width and depth. The weird thing is I actually like the amp section of the E10K more than I like the E17K’s. The E10K has more body and delivers a warmer, more bodied sound with great musicality. For pure desktop use, I prefer the E10K over the E17K, it’s cheaper and –to me- has a better sound.
Fiio’s first E17 sounds more aggressive and more forward. I however can appreciate how the first E17 sounded but it does have less detail overall. The new E17K is also a bit smoother sounding. Fiio’s E07K offers a dual headphone out and sounds very clear and smooth with the Wolfson chip. While the E07K sounds very good and very musical (I love it), the E17K beats it in technicalities.
I haven’t really found one specific headphone I particularly loved with the E17K but if I had to choose one it would be the Philips Fidelio X2. In general I would suggest easier to drive low impedance headphones with a larger sound stage or IEMs. The E17K is dead silent so there would be no problem doing that.
The E17K is a very versatile entry level unit. For only $139 you get a device that can function as Amp, DAC/Amp, or just as a DAC at home and on the go. The E17K certainly is better sounding than its predecessor and with a better UI and button layout it has greatly improved. Sound wise however you still get what you pay for but having said that it certainly is a good unit as a first venture into higher end audio. If you are planning on just using it at home as a DAC or a DAC/Amp combo, I suggest you have a look at the cheaper, and to my ears better sounding, Fiio E10K.