Fiio E17 USB DAC and Portable Amplifier Review
Fiio are one of the biggest brands in the industry regarding audio enthusiasts. I say one of the biggest because although they are no household brand along with the likes of Sennheiser, every real audio enthusiast will have had an item of theirs along the way even if just one of their extremely cheap interconnects. They are generally a budget company that concentrates on amps and DACs and has a great reputation for them.
Well this is there current flagship USB DAC and portable headphone amplifier. It boasts a lot of features, a great looking design and to compliment this a cheap price at around £90. Anyway I am going to be telling you all about it now so lets skip the small talk and get on with this review.
Lately Fiio have had so problem with counterfeits of their products (another sign they are a big company) so they have established a method to let you distinguish if your Fiio product is real so I though as I am doing a review of this product and this a brand new feature, why not give it a try and let you know how it worked. First you scratch (like a scratch card) the Fiio scratch query next to the barcode and you will get a 20 digit number. You then have to take this over to the Fiio website and enter it in. After you input it, you get a little smiley face to confirm it is genuine and if we get a sad face then that is not good. It worked smoothly and is handy to confirm if yours is real or not quickly.
You do get a nice bunch of accessories inside the rather low profile packaging, in fact I would go as far as saying that they spoil you. First off the amp comes in a nice little velvet pouch so that you can store it somewhere safe. First off we get some nice little screen protectors, you know like the ones that you can get for your phone and just stop scratches. It was really welcome because I had not idea that the E17 would come with these and I will not complain that you get them.
Secondly as one of the many things this can do is be a portable amp, you get two rubber bands branded with Fiio so that you can easily connect your DAP (whatever it be) to the E17 and so that they stay together.
As the E17 has so many features and inputs/outputs we get some adapters including a Coaxial one and a RCA adapter.
Fiio are kind enough to also include one of there interconnects (mini to mini/3.5mm to 3.5mm) so that right out of the box we can get rocking with this as an amp. Also we need to charge this and connect it to USB so we also get a USB to mini USB cable.
Lastly we get some little rubber feet which is for if you intend to use this solely as a desktop USB DAC which I have not decided too do so I have not given the feet any use yet but if this was your aim for the E17 then they would really be great.
Design and Features:
Well where do we start on this section, I really do not know as there is so much. I will highly recommend watching my guide video for all of the features as it will make a lot more sense.
Basically one of my favourite things about this is the OLED screen because it makes something that could be complicated, simple. On the edges of the E17 we have a mini USB input, AUX input and the Fiio dock for use with the E09K on the bottom, on the side we have a LO bypass for use with the E09K and on the top we have a Headphone out, SPDIF input and finally a reset button. Then on the face of the E17 we have On/exit button that turns it on with a click and off when you hold it. It has a blue ring around it when on, purple when charging and both when doing both. It also acts as the exit or back button when in the menu. I will get back to the menu in a second but the other buttons are input, which cycles through the input options you have with this device (Auxillary, USB, Coaxial and Optical) that is a nifty feature. You then have a hold switch that works like the lock switch on the iPods and disables all of the devices buttons. You then have the menu button that takes you into the menu. In the menu you use the + and – buttons (which otherwise control volume) to navigate through the menu and then select options once in the menu.
In the menu you have the following options:
· System – This is where you can go back from your settings to the default ones.
· Treble and Bass – You can EQ up and down 10 db each way. However the bass distorts after adding very little and is only really usable at 2 or 4 db. Treble is a little better however but gets sibilant when you hit 6 db with most earphones.
· Balance – This is a cross feed setting in which you can send the music to a specific channel until it is pretty much either just right or just left.
· Gain – This is the gain setting and you effectively have a gain of 0, 6 and 12 which as you can guess is super handy as they can work with al ranges of headphones.
· USB CHG – This is whether you want the device to charge when using it as a USB option. I have this off as although it may be in my head, I think it sounds best when off.
· Sleep – This is where you can choose if you want the device to auto sleep and you can choose a time up to 90 minutes in increases of 10 minutes or just have it off.
· Max Vol – This basically means you can set the maximum volume of the device, maybe in case a younger in the house gets there hands on it et. Quite a nice feature.
· Vol Mem – Lastly you have the option for it to remember the volume you last had it on whish is great when using the same headphones again etc.
That is the main feature of the amp itself. You can also hook this up to Fiios E09K desktop amplifier to make a nice desktop set up but I have not got the E09K so I cannot comment on this.
What I really love about this is the amount of inputs however as this thing can hook up to such a wide range of set ups because of this, be it in you full hi fi rig, speaker rig, desktop headphone rig or even you portable rig, the possibilities are endless.
This section is where I say if it will happily suit any portable device or computer that you throw at it.
Starting with portable devices, this has a low amount of EFI so that you can use it with your Smartphone’s in confidence of now huge amounts of interference but you will get the very odd bit. The size of this is smaller (and thicker) than most smart phones so you will also be able to comfortably sit this next to any Smartphone that you may have and also most portable players, just not the smaller ones like my mini iPod Nano 3G.
As for computers this will work with both Mac and PC with ease and is as simple as plugging into the USB port and selecting it as an output. So yes do not worry if your computer will be able to connect with it!
Size and Portability:
While this is easily a fully portable headphone amplifier, it is on the larger side of things. I say this because the other amps that I have are a lot smaller in some cases but also a tiny bit bigger in other cases. The main concern with this devices size is the depth as it is almost double as deep as my iPhone 4 and I do see this as being a problem as it does really add some bulk to the rig. It really does depend how portable you want you it, if you want something ultra portable with a small player then you will want another option but if this is a pairing with the likes of Smartphone’s, as they tend to be a bit bigger. At the end of the day though it is portable.
As for the actual size here is how it measure:
Height - 9cm
Width - 5cm
Depth - 1cm
With the variety of gain options I had some higher hopes in what this could driver so I stuck it on 12 gain and powered it up with my 300 ohms Sennheiser HD580. So yes it could get them to loud listening levels but it is clearly not good powerful enough to driver these correctly (a phrase I am getting used to saying) but I have seen worse jobs been done. But at the end of the day you should not be thinking of buying this for you’re powerful hard to driver headphones. However as a DAC feeding into my Objective 2 and with the HD580’s it was awesome!
I actually was hoping for this to be absolutely perfect because of the gain options. Obviously with a sensitive IEM or likewise, the 12 gain option obviously hissed but the 6 were very silent and on 0 there was dead silence. I mean I paired these with the Shure SE535 that are known to be prone to a nice little hiss and they were as good as dead silent, very nice work here!
When I first opened this up (you will see from my expression in the unboxing video) I was instantly amazed by the build and overall quality of this amp. I cannot fault the build, everything is flawless, solid metal, the 4 screws are rather hidden and you get a screen protector. I do not think the worlds strongest man could do much damage to this. Nice work here Fiio.
The overall sound of this is very similar as both a DAC and an amp. However it works better as a DAC than an amp by a long way. Its sound is just over the border of neutral on the warm sound. The slight warmth does have a hint of a mask over the sound if I am being very picky and this stops there from being close to a great transparency but it is not bad either. The sound is however very un-fatiguing and smooth and will really not ever be thought to be harmful. Soundstage does take a bit of width and depth extra but it is far from something to really write home about.
The sound compared to other portable amps I have is that it ends up sitting pretty mid park. Personally I would take it any day over something like the digizoid Zo that is way to bassy and muddy and this is a lot more transparent and neutral and nowhere close as coloured. On the other side of the scale however, my smaller hippo cricri sound so much more transparent and it over neutrality and un-coloured tone make sit a much more enjoyable experience and it is not only cheaper but I will say again, cheaper.
As for against any other DACs, I was really impressed with how it sounded over the Audioengine D1 that was so much more coloured and also darker in presentation. However the DAC in the Hippo cricri+ has the upper hand for the same reasons that the amp did.
Now I will compare to the Terra Player that I really do not have a lot of hours with but will use it as a reference. It is jitter free as far as I can tell, no distortion and what must be close to flawless neutrality and transparency. This really does bring out the presence of some distortion with it and the warmth also. However even when comparing the too, I still found the Fiio to sound un-fatiguing and smooth though and I think that is a great thing.
Lastly when synergy comes to mind, with this being rather neutral, it is actually not too picky but it does really shine with a slightly bright IEM like the Fischer Audio DBA-02 as the touch of warmth really fills up the sound nicely and they really compliment each other.
We have something that is beautifully well made, beautifully simple and can be used by anyone and does not sound bad either. Okay it is far from the best in the price range on size alone and size for that matter, the hippo cricri+ is smaller and sounds better, but the overall package from Fiio makes it in my eyes a very good product.
This is a thing of beauty!
I do not think that the images i have so far uploaded really do this device justice so check these out ;)
Edited by Swimsonny - 10/10/12 at 10:51am