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

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.

DAC/AMP:

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.

AMP:

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.

Comparisons

DAC

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.

AMP

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.

Headphones

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.

Conclusion

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.

Fiio E17K – Alpen 2: A Good All-Round Starter
4.2 (83.45%) 58 vote[s]

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

97 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 June 19, 2018

        Daniel Fagen

        What is the best type of connectivity to take advantage of the amp and dac of the Fiio e17k going through my LG Stylo 3 Plus phone?

        • Reply June 20, 2018

          dale thorn

          I don’t have it here now, so I will try to remember. You probably need a USB cable, one end to your phone and one end (MicroUSB I think) to the E17k. In the Android world, it’s usually called a OTG cable.

          I remember for Apple devices you had to go to the menu and turn off the charging setting so the Apple phone would work, but I don’t know if that’s necessary for non-Apple phones. Just try it either way.

  • 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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