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.
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)
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.