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Fiio E17 does not seem to make a difference to audio experience

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

After careful reading of numerous reviews, I decided that a good way to improve my music listening experience on my Lenovo X220 laptop was using a Fiio E19 DAC.

I use Sennheiser CX870 in-ear earphones and I have an AKG K172HD lying around that I don't use as I own nothing to drive it properly (Impedance: 55 ohms).

I received an E17 today and expected at least a marginal improvement in terms of the sound being less "cramped together on a small band". I suppose this is what is referred to as a wider soundstage. I mostly listen to classical music, hardrock and (progressive) techno. The sources I use are mostly FLAC files.

I played a variety of tracks through my laptop's DAC and through the E17 and I cannot say that I hear any difference (at all!). The E17 seems to be functioning normally.

Now, I seriously consider the option that I don't know what I'am talking about in the sense that there IS a difference but that I just cannot discern it due to my ears being "immature".

The trick then, I assumed, was to use the E17 for a while and then to switch back to my laptop's DAC. No difference for me. Given the amount of people that note a considerable difference and that explicitly mention that they are completely new to audio tuning, that seems odd to me. In addition, having the laptop at maximum volume and using 12 gain and +10 bass on the E17 (and the E17 at volume level 25) the AKG's barely produce any bass. This is how they always behave when they are underpowered.

As for the CX870's: they always were pretty heavy on the bass. I simply don't hear any difference with them. The E17 basically allows me to add loads of bass - without really doing anything about the soundstage.

Is my E17 broken (or did I miss a setting?), are my earplugs and headphones unfortunate picks or is it just my immature ears?
 

post #2 of 13

How long have you had the E17 ? 

 

Also how broad has your testing been ? For example have you been using it exclusively on computer or have you tried it on your games console for movies music and games as well ?

 

You should be aware that audio on console appears to be a total different experience than it is on computer especially when an outboard DAC is used. I know how weird that sounds but I can't argue with what I'm hearing from my equipment when hooked up to one or the other. There's an obvious difference. Must be something to do with the media players used or something I don't know....

post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your reply Thommohawk.

 

I received the E17 today. I have played with it for quite a few hours now. I don't own any game console. I've also tested the E17 on a Sony NWZ-E443 music player and I cannot discern any difference using the CX870's directly in the device versus through the E17.

post #4 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by antcore View Post

Thanks for your reply Thommohawk.

 

I received the E17 today. I have played with it for quite a few hours now. I don't own any game console. I've also tested the E17 on a Sony NWZ-E443 music player and I cannot discern any difference using the CX870's directly in the device versus through the E17.

 

Give it a few days. When I first got the E7 and E9 combo I was hard  pressed for differences - and at one point I was disappointed - but stick with it and try it with different things and what have you but basically give it time and it'll slowly reveal it's qualities to you. It doesn't hit you like a hundred bricks immediately anyway. But on my experiences now having had the E7+E9 combo for almost a year now I can't believe how I couldn't tell a difference before. 

 

Other things  to look out for are playing blu ray movies - the audio quality on them are amazing. Just the perfect platform for such equipment as this.

post #5 of 13

I don't know if the X220 has the same on-board audio as my Lenovo T510 laptop, but if so, the built-in DAC and amp actually seem to be quite good!  This might be why you are not noticing an improvement by bypassing them with the E17--they may be on fairly equal playing field to begin with.  I don't bother with even an amp when I listen through my laptop.  Now, my Dell Vostro desktop at work is another story, it sounds dreadful without any help, so I've relegated my old iBasso D-Zero DAC+amp unit for use at work.  Helps quite a bit. You would likely need to go up a few levels (i.e. spend several hundred bucks) to get beyond what you have now.

 

On the other hand, you can't expect mirages for soundstage with IEMs or closed headphones (I'm pretty sure the 172's are closed, right?--I could be wrong).  So maybe your expectations are unrealistic?

post #6 of 13

There is a chance you have a better than normal computer DAC.

 

Listening for a few hours really isn't enough to determine anything.  There are poeple on here who wait months before they write a review.

 

You are using efficient headphones that were built assuming people wouldn't be using an amp so the better amp may not be helping you too much either.

 

I think the e7 is pretty low end but even it was a noticeable change from my computer sound card.  I may be getting the e17 today so can't comment too much about it yet.
 

post #7 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by antcore View Post

After careful reading of numerous reviews, I decided that a good way to improve my music listening experience on my Lenovo X220 laptop was using a Fiio E19 DAC.

I use Sennheiser CX870 in-ear earphones and I have an AKG K172HD lying around that I don't use as I own nothing to drive it properly (Impedance: 55 ohms).

<snip>

Is my E17 broken (or did I miss a setting?), are my earplugs and headphones unfortunate picks or is it just my immature ears?

 

Lenovo X220 has a very good quality HDA Intel with headphone amplifier. It can reasonably drive 55 Ohm headphones, but not certain BA IEMs.

 

CX870 are easy to drive IEMs, high sensitivity, 32 Ohm, almost flat impedance. X220 can drive them fine, E17 is overkill.

 

E17 has approx. 150 mW available at 55 Ohm, maximum. That's enough for 115 dB SPL with these (107 dB/V @ 1kHz) -  and since you're halfway in volume then you're probably aiming for 110 dB.

I'm pretty sure AKG K172HD are lacking in bass by design and you're comparing them to a source with bass boost or high cut.

X220 can also drive them as well as they can be driven.

post #8 of 13

While you may have bypassed your laptops DAC you may not have bypassed the windows sound system and that is why you are not hearing too much difference.

 

You didn't say what media player you are using but if it is capable of giving you a direct digital stream, completely bypassing Windows audio processing, then you should change to that. I use JRiver MC17 and with that I have the option of changing my output setting from 'direct sound to any of the following:

 

ASIO, WASAPI or, my favourite, Kernel Streaming.

 

This makes a significant difference to the SQ and your Fiio will be able to take advantage of this. If you rely on WMP for your media then you will have to download and install a plug in for any of the above. I know that JRiver comes with these already installed and there are other media players that will do otherwise.

 

The computer audio forum has quite a bit of information about this.


Edited by holden4th - 6/29/12 at 7:21pm
post #9 of 13

antcore, it is my opinion and the opinion of the current body of scientific research that amps and DACs are mostly overrated. You really only need one if you're getting audible noise, or not enough volume. There is no such thing as "underpowered" if you're comfortable with the volume you get, and have enough headroom for the peaks on quiet recordings. Or you can get an amp/DAC if you need whatever additional features they might offer, like connectors, coloration, bass boost, a boost to the ego, etc.

 

(Of course I'm generalizing. There's always situations where a new or different amp is preferable, but this probably isn't one of them)

 

If you aren't hearing something now, I wouldn't wait around and hope you'll convince yourself that there's a difference down the road. This is what I did with the uDAC I bought, and I still kick myself for not realizing sooner that it did nothing good. If the differences aren't large enough to be obvious right from the get-go, that money would be better invested in headphones, which DO make a difference. I recommend you either return or resell the amp and recoup your loss, or save it for a time when you get new headphones that do need the power.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by holden4th View Post

While you may have bypassed your laptops DAC you may not have bypassed the windows sound system and that is why you are not hearing too much difference.

 

You didn't say what media player you are using but if it is capable of giving you a direct digital stream, completely bypassing Windows audio processing, then you should change to that. I use JRiver MC17 and with that I have the option of changing my output setting from 'direct sound to any of the following:

 

ASIO, WASAPI or, my favourite, Kernel Streaming.

 

This makes a significant difference to the SQ and your Fiio will be able to take advantage of this. If you rely on WMP for your media then you will have to download and install a plug in for any of the above. I know that JRiver comes with these already installed and there are other media players that will do otherwise.

 

The computer audio forum has quite a bit of information about this.

Bit perfect does not make a significant difference to the sound quality. You would be hard pressed to find any real audible difference in most situations.

 

Either way, Windows 7 (and Vista) sound is bit perfect when system volume is maxed and set to the correct sampling rate, if there are no other sounds playing. If you are getting significant differences, you:

  • Don't have it set up properly
  • Are not volume matching
  • Have some sort of seriously faulty system
  • Are hearing imagined differences due to your own personal cocktail of cognitive biases

 

Probably the latter more than anything. It's something every human suffers from, no matter what they tell you.

post #10 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all your responses. I think that the X220's sound quality is not at all improved by the E17 and I'm returning it. My next employer (I don't own the X220 and I'm switching jobs) uses Apple "Macbook Air" laptops. I hope that that device also has a decent DAC.

I don't use Windows. I use herrie, vlc or Rhythmbox on linux. I am unsure what role pulseaudio (still) plays when an external DAC is used, tough.

I also have to conclude that the AKG K172HD was a very poor pick in hindsight. Very weak, unclear and they lack bass almost completely.
 

post #11 of 13

Really, there are about 3 cases where you actually *need* a good amp.

First is many balanced armature IEMs - the combination of low and high output impedance will make short work of many amplifiers and cause audible coloration when not driven properly.

The second is very low sensitivity and/or high impedance headphones - here most simple amplifiers might run out of power and be too quiet.

The third is converse, very high sensitivity and/or low impedance IEMs - here many simple amplifiers might be noisy, some may run out of current losing bass.

 

See this: http://en.goldenears.net/index.php?mid=KB_Columns&document_srl=1389

 

The argument about high impedance source being closer for high impedance is only partly true - what you need is relatively "flat" power output.

Most real headphone amplifiers specify power into given impedance - this number should be falling according to square root, giving equal voltage.

 

E17 according to the specification (which is only semi-trustworthy) is 0.25 W into 16 Ohm, 0.03 W into 300 Ohm. This translates to 4V at the bottom and 3V at the top.

However, the Li-Ion cell used has maximum of 3.7V and there are some drops in the circuitry, so I suspect the lower end power is slightly overrated or measured off USB.

(I didn't see any boost converters in it.)


Edited by AstralStorm - 6/30/12 at 12:34pm
post #12 of 13

It should also be noted that how and if someone can tell the differences apart varies from person to person based on many variables of which experience, if they know where to look and other variables can effect if they can heart a difference at all.

 

but yes, give it a few days. Do this:

Use the E17 exclusively for two days,

Go back to your PC out for two days....

 

Apple computers currently use Cirrus Logic DAC's that are implemented well with a nice warm amplifier. It is the best mass produced DAC and amplifer combo out on the market that is easily recognized. I made it specifc as sure, there will be a computer that is from ASUS model afjfjasdlfjsafjfj series number ajfjsfjklj part number afjsdfdjlajfdf sold for a limited time in a specific store that may do better but really......... they are the only company that consistently makes a computer with a good DAC and amplifier that has decent parts that comes STANDARD with the computer and entire series.. Prove me wrong...no really. I would like to know who else has a consistent series that has this.

 

They aren't the best and aren't superior to the E17 (I did testing for a week) and are actually..easily differentiated in my opinion(Mac's are overly warm with a higher THD and a bit more noise)

post #13 of 13

Just got my e17 yesterday and I can tell an immediate difference on my DELL XPS 14bwith JBL sound system (using foobar wasapi). But the XPS does have a lot of processing and it's overly bass emphasized so there's nothing neutral about it.  It's not a huge change in the grand scheam of things but it's immediately noticeable which is a large change in the audiophile world.  Haven't tried any other headphones or done much with it - I'm liking it so far.  I also have a lot of hi-res music that my laptop wont play without an external DAC (though come to think of it, I haven't listened to any of it yet).
 

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