Heya there! I'm getting to know the audio world and, despite not being sure if I'll be investing much in the future, I am extremely eager to get started. Recently purchased an ATH M-50 (I know, reportedly no longer king, other stuff out there, but for me it's still worth tasting the somewhat legendary set ^^), to pair up with mainly my Asus N56VZ laptop (occasional Ipod), and am now looking into external DACs / AMPs.
My starting budget is very modest, even if only to truly taste improvement over the years. I'm not looking for something in the X dollar price range, as much as I am looking for value. I'll be as happy with a 50 dollar gadget as I'll be with a 150 one, so long as it's great value (upwards of 150 is very unlikely though). However, the last thing I want is to spend 50 dollars on something that will do nothing for me :p
Been doing extensive reading on the FiiO line and I've a lot of interest and therefore questions to the more savvy, experienced ones!
Portability is a nice bonus but not mandatory at all. I'll be using it mostly with the laptop, charger-powered. It would be cool to be able to lend it to my GF who uses her Ipod virtually all the time, but it isn't a deal breaker by any means.
First, just how much better would you say the DAC on the E7 / E10 / E17 are when compared to my standard RealTek integrated sound card? Considerable SQ / soundstage (?) / etc improvement, or?
Second, I realize the M50s need no extra driving for volume. But would the Amp on any of the FiiO (including E9 and E11) be a considerable upgrade in SQ, even if only through features such as boosts? I also very much like the idea of, with the new amp, having the ability to later buy higher impedance cans with higher impedance and drive them well (or at least decently).
Third, the E17 costs about twice as much as the E10. At first I guessed it was only because the E17 was portable, but been reading otherwise, that it is overall better sounding and more versatile. What is your experience with this, and impression on the value of each? The E17 seems beautiful and extremely impressive, the reviews are amazing, but I really don't want to dish out twice as much for roughly the same performance.
Fourth, is the loose-jack issue of the E10 that much of an annoyance? It is reported so often it gets me wondering. And then people also complain about cracks and pops, which get somewhat better with MUSB to MUSB cable adapters, and foiling, and whatnot, but bad build quality would definitely be the biggest deal breaker to me.
Lastly, is the E9 / E9K amp that much better than the ones on the other models? Since it's much bigger, docks the E17 (however rendering its amp useless) and costs ~100 USD on its own. Would E9+E17 be any good value? Would they add anything to low impedance headphones?
That's it! I know it's a lot of doubts but I just really want to get off on the right foot with this. I'll also probably be buying in the US and bringing it to Portugal (so much cheaper abroad) where I live, so returns and warranty is basically out of the question, which is why I worry so much about durability and reliability.
Thanks for your help!