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Robust and Versatile

A Review On: FiiO E09K

FiiO E09K

Rated # 45 in Desktop Amps
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
kleefurd
Posted · Updated · 2425 Views · 12 Comments

Pros: Reasonably priced and sounds quite good for its price. You get what you pay for.

Cons: Headroom could be more. Hot signals cause distortion. Power supply could be built in. Wall warts are irritating.

 

Source :
Optical Out from MacBook Pro (Retina model)
iPad Mini Retina (USB)
Prism Sound Lyra 2 (Analog out to AUX IN on E09K)
Playstation 3 RCA analog audio output into AUX IN on the E09K)

Headphones :
Westone W40
Sennheiser HD25-1
Beyerdynamic DT1350

Songs listened to : (320kbps mp3/AAC or Lossless)
"Eden" - Hooverphonic
"Set Fire To The Rain" - Adele
"Money" - Pink Floyd
"Shine On You Crazy Diamonds" - Pink Floyd
"Shiver" - Lucy Rose
"Teardrops" - Massive Attack
"War Pigs" - Black Sabbath
"One" - Metallica
"Monkey Wrench" - Foo Fighters
"There is no if" - The Cure
"Yellow" - Coldplay
"Stan" - Eminem
"Rap God" - Eminem
"Orinoco Flow" - Enya
"May it be" - Enya (LOTR Soundtrack)
"Fields of Gold" - Sting
"Billy Jean" - Michael Jackson
"Bring me to life" - Evanescence
"Feel good inc" - Gorillaz

This is my set up on the desktop. The E17 Alpen and the E09K Dock. I found it very interesting that different inputs results in different sounds. The USB DAC is pathetic in my opinion. It sounds harsh and that "cold digital sound" did not work for me. But surprisingly, connect the set up through OPTICAL INPUT on the E17, things sounds a lot better. Smoothed out the harshness and details starts becoming cleaner/clearer. I believe that would be the best way to use this set up. (Purely a personal observation).

The dock itself is mentioned by all the reviews above to be good for general purpose use. Enough power to drive most demanding headphones (JBL comes to mind, but only audio professional will get the joke). I believe the analog output is pretty well implemented. I found it to have more mids than the output from the E17, especially when AUX INPUT (on the E09K) is used, for example, when connecting a gaming console directly to the E09K so that your insomniac session of gaming will not wake up the household). Cables plays a part in "sculpting the sound" so experiment with different RCA cables when using the AUX IN on the E09K. (I find that Mogami cables somehow thins down that mids making it more pleasant). Testing with a through bypass channel strip confirms the heavier mids presence.

What I really love is that big volume knob, feels pretty good for a product this reasonably priced.

Not the best sounding desktop dock in the market, at that price (if you are using it to drive headphones through USB connections), there are some pro audio solutions that does a better job at the same price range. But this is all personal. I like the fact that with the E17 Alpen, the E09K becomes a very interesting multi-tasking amp. And depending on how you set it up, on the various inputs, you get different tonal qualities which makes me happy.

I would recommend this for those who need something powerful enough to drive their headphones, but not ready to splurge thousands of dollars on a high end set up.

- - -

Further observations (thanks to member StratocasterMan for the discussion) which made me listen more closely to the E17 + E09K combo. 

When I A-B listened to the output of the Combo (in bypassed and double amping mode) and checked the source autdio through a Prism Sound Lyra 2, the lack of headroom becomes quite obvious and quite severe. I think this is something that FiiO have to eventually address in their future designs. I have downgraded the rating for the E09K to a 3 star. It is truly an entry level product.

Understanding basic gain structure (or gain staging) will yield a cleaner sound. This is an old sound engineer's thing when we had lower resolution ADDA converters in the early days of digital recording.

Ease off the output from the computer, and bring up the volume on the E09K and NEVER EVER run it in high gain mode, in my humble opinion, the best way to use the E09K to drive your headphones. Maybe I should try to borrow a pair of HE-600 to test what happens with power hungry cans... though I think those who owns high end headphones will likely own those better quality tube amps to drive their cans.

I cannot honestly call this product "good sounding", at the very best, "bang-for-the-buck, versatile headphones amp for the masses".

One of those things you throw into your luggage for business trips so that you can still enjoy music when you are away from home, and not worry that they get stolen, or damaged.

12 Comments:

Note : I no longer use the E17 Alpen on the go. That has been replaced by the TEAC HA-P50B which does an excellent job. I need a iDevice - USB connection instead of analog audio connection which cause some loss of details and coloration.
I have the FiiO E17 and E09K combination myself. I have a couple of comments. One is that you should mention what headphones you used for your review. That would give the reader insight into what you're hearing. I use my E17 / E09K with Sennheiser HD 650 and Audio-Technica ATH M50.
 
I'm also confused about your comments about using the AUX input. If you mean using the AUX input on the E09K, well, that is for other RCA sources such as a CD player or something. If you are using the AUX input on the E09K, you aren't using the E17 at all. Maybe that's not what you meant, but I don't understand what you did mean. If you're using the AUX input on the E09K, then you're not using the E17 as a DAC in that case. So what are you using as your source when you use the AUX inputs?What gear are you connecting to the AUX input on the E09K?
Thanks for the note.

I used a Westone W40 and Beyerdynamic DT1350 for the listening.

With regards to the AUX IN, that is only possible with using RCA to the dock since the AUX IN on the E17 is located at the bottom of the E17, so while docked, there is no way to connect an AUX IN source. Unless there is something I do not know.

Hope this clears things up a little.

And yes, the AUX IN on the dock makes the tone a little mid heavy for some reason, especially on my Sennheiser HD25-1. Which is quite irritating.

I find the best results is through Optical In connection through the E17, docked. E09K "dock in" selected, set at a "hotter level" (I set mine to OPT 50) and attenuate using the big knob.
I'm still confused. If you are plugging something into the AUX in on the E09K, you are bypassing the E17 completely. You are then only using the E09K to amplify whatever is plugged into the AUX in. You say it has more mids when you use the AUX in. In that case, you aren't using the E17 at all. You are using another source completely. So what source are you using? A CD player or Blu-Ray or another DAC or something?
I have another comment. Have you experimented with the Line-Out / Bypass switch on the E17? In one position, the controls on the E17 will still affect the sound when docked. (For example, you could adjust the bass or treble higher or lower and it would affect the sound, even though your headphones were plugged into the E09K, and not the E17) I believe in this position, you are "double-amping," which usually isn't desired. If you move the the switch to the other position, then the E17 controls will no longer affect the sound of the E09K. I think this is the position that switch should be in. In that way, the E17 acts only as a DAC, but it does not amplify the signal before it gets to the E09K. It doesn't "double-amp" it. Try moving the Line-Out / Bypass switch on the E17 to the other position and see what results you get when your headphones are plugged into the E09K.
The review is focused on E09K primarily. That is why the "bypass".

The source sending signal into the E09K is a Prism Sound Lyra (ADDA converter) and PS4 (RCA output) testing only. 

Yup. Used that bypassed mode.

 
Okay. So you are listening to a completely different source into the E09K that way. It should sound completely different, because you are now listening to a PS4 instead of the E17 DAC.
Note : I actually prefer the double amp-ing sound. In bypass mode, it sounds so thin, like a Genelacs monitor sound. I hated that voicing, so in double amping mode, optical in, it sounds a lot more closer to the actual recording that I hear in the studio. Which is why I like the E17 and E09K a good ranking for versatile sound.
You are listening to a game console feeding the E09K, right? You are plugging a PS4 game console into the E09K headphone amp?
One of the things I tried to do with the E09K... yes, plugging the RCA output of the game console into the AUX IN of the E09K.
I'm sorry, but I think you are very confused about how to hook things up! You are comparing amping a game console and double-amping an E17 / E09K combination. Neither of those is a valid choice!
I think it is communication. I am not comparing that. The game console connection is one of the things I have tried (to make it convenient to game without disturbing family members who might be reading a book or simply wants to watch TV).

The hook up was

MacBook Pro -> Optical -> E17 (bypassed and not bypassed, with flicking that recessed little switch by the side of the E17 with a pointed object) -> docked ->headphones.

I prefer the sound not bypassed. This is purely preference.

There is no right and wrong and which sound is better. Personal preference is personal preference, they are as diversed as music genre or an argument on what is the best guitar tone (which I believe you are familiar with). Some like their guitar connected to a DSP unit and DI-ed into console and some likes processed in a computer, output via DI to an amp and mic-ed, some are good old all analog guitar-effects-amp-mic. So this is a matter of preference.

Non bypassed, the tones sound fuller, and bypassed they sound like a Finnish speaker brand that I absolutely hate.

That is pretty much my set up and tests. Double amping might be wrong in theory, but it sounds better than in bypass mode. And that works for me.
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