[[Fiio E17 DAC/Amp (ALPEN) + Fiio E09K Desktop Amp (QOGIR)]]
Hi Head-Fi community! I just wanted to start off and say that I am fairly new to posting on this forum but I have been lurking here, reading and learning for quite some time. Please bear with my if I'm making some mistakes here! =p I figured it was finally time for me to contribute now that I actually have some equipment and good stuff that's actually worth noting. Thanks to all of you for all the help and guidance along the way, helping me start my head-fi/audiophile journey! =]
Okay, now let's get to the reason why I'm starting this new thread. Before I just recently bought my first "desktop amp" or "portable amp," if you will, I did a bunch of searching on Google and on Head-Fi for more information. I knew I wanted to start with something on the cheaper, less pricey side of things, so I turned to the trusty company that got me started. I owned (and still own) a Fiio E11 which I bought after much research on what to buy as my first portable amp. I needed something to power my Klipsch S4's because I wasn't satisfied with the sound coming from my iPod, lacking bass and all. As I developed and got my new Sennheiser HD598's relatively recently as well, I found that I needed a desktop or table-top amp that would be the best bang for my buck and that I could still take traveling with me. I am in China now and will go back to the U.S. in 6 months so it needed to be portable.
Anyway, back to my point. I did a lot of searching online for what I needed and I found most of what I wanted. However, I found that the pictures department was a little lacking. I personally like seeing pictures of equipment taken personally by the owners to see what they're really like as opposed to looking at equipment on a blank background. It's hard to find quality pictures for a lot of these types of equipment in threads or reviews. I have a feeling it isn't entirely because people are too lazy to take the time to take some pictures, but because we are all usually too excited about tearing open and setting up our equipment that we forget to! =p I can't blame you!
But for those who care, here are some personal pictures for your enjoyment! Some of them aren't as great of quality, as they are unedited iPhone 4 photos, so sorry about that! =/ As I continue to update and edit this thread, I'm going to post first impression information as well as a short review. I haven't seen a dedicated impression and pictures thread for the E17/E09K together specifically yet, so I thought this would help as well! I'm the best audiophile maniac out there, but I probably do have a few things to say about the product (from a noob standpoint at least). Below, you'll also find some links for other threads to get those of you unfamiliar with the products, started!
Just delivered and cracked open!
Side by side.
Let's start with the E17, shall we? Simplistic, practical, and protected.
Everything normally comes nicely wrapped in plastic and the E17 is inside the carrying pouch (plastic removed). The pouch is way bigger than needed for just the E17, but I'm assuming it is like this so you can also fit your source/player into it too.
Here, inside the manual, is a nice breakdown of what exactly comes in the box. The manual is pretty helpful and includes a lot of nice diagrams, notes, instructions, and specs. Languages include English, Korean, and Chinese of course.
LED screen, Volume +/-, Menu, Input, Hold, Power/Exit, and the Lo Bypass on the side that can be accessed with a pin or mechanical pencil tip.
The back with the word "Alpen" and a nice, solid looking finish with brushed aluminum and that cool screwed on look (it's cool to me lol).
The top, with the SPDIF jack (compatible with the adaptors included) and 1/8" headphone jack.
The bottom, with the USB port, dock connector, and AUX-In jack.
First time powered on. Didn't last more than a couple seconds though before I had to charge it. -_-
Now for the E09K. Emphasis on the K. I've seen some other reviews or previews with the E9, but not the E09K! I love this box in particular. The parts come in two boxes inside: the smaller is for the accessories and the larger is for the amp.
Great looking stuff.
Here are the accessories first. A few things to note here. The wire for the power adaptor was thinner than I expected but it does the job. Another thing is that the USB wire is nicer and thicker than the one you'll find bundled with the E17.
Here's the front with the Dock/AUX switch, giant (and very nice, ALPS potentiometer) volume dial, and 1/4" headphone jack.
The minimal top, with dock connector and cushion.
The back, with power, USB-In, Gain Hi/Lo switch, Pre-Out, Line Out, and AUX-In. I love the little rubber nub covers that come with this to protect the plugs!
The plugs are also all gold plated.
Set up and ready to go for a first listen.
A closer look and size comparison with my 15" Lenovo laptop.
A different angle and a little closer. Sorry for the quality of these. They look really good on my phone haha.
Let me know what you guys think down below! =]
I don't really think the pictures do this thing or the E09K justice, so apologize for the quality of the pictures, not the product.
When you first look at the box, aside from the extra colors, this thing looks and feels like a solid Apple product (I mean that in a good way). The cardboard is sturdy and the weight feels just right. You know you're holding something expensive in here. The cover also slides off the top with no real fuss to reveal the product underneath. However, once inside, it looks a little messy in my opinion. The velvety carrying case was a nice touch and a pleasant surprise, but the bagginess of it that I mentioned before, made it look a little messy. Lifting the case out, you'll find a pack of silica gel and the manual with TWO screen protectors under it. This part really impressed me that they even included custom cut screen protectors (with peeling instruction labels) for that shiny LCD screen. The fact that they included TWO was really thoughtful. Flanking the velvet pouch on the right and bottom are the USB wire/2 silicone bands/6 rubber feet and 2 SPDIF port connectors, respectively.
Opening the button on the velvet pouch, you'll find the E17 in a plastic sleeve, snuggled loosely inside. First impressions of the weight of this thing told me that this was a nice piece of technology in my hand. It isn't too heavy at a little over 10oz but it certainly is noticeably heavier than my E11 which has a plastic body as opposed to aluminum. Running your hands over the buttons, you'll find that they're solid and have nice tactile feedback, not too heavy and certainly not cheap feeling. The gold plated ports and shiny brushed aluminum just looks luxurious and high-end. While many other amps and DAC's I've seen look great with their sleek matte finishes, I think the E17 does look original and high-end in it's own right. Pressing on the back and sides, the unit feels really sturdy and solid, unlike my E11 which feels much flimsier in comparison (although that is sturdy in it's own right).
The unit I received barely had a charge and would power on for literally only 1 second at a time, flashing the Fiio logo, USB 20 status, and Bye-Bye, all within that time. After plugging it in for about an hour and a half or so, I just turned it on to adjust my settings. The screen looks great and really professional looking. I actually prefer my audio and analog equipment to have knobs and look more "serious" than an MP3 player (reminds me of a Sandisk or something), but I have to say that Fiio did a good job on this nonetheless. I can understand why there isn't a volume pot considering all the features on it, and since I am mostly using this paired with the E09K, I'm not so upset. The menu is relatively easy to navigate but it does require a few minutes learning curve, especially that Power button that doubles as the Menu Exit button (you hold the Power for 3 seconds to turn it off, so don't worry). Everything is easily accessible and the adjustments are pretty self-explanatory.
As for the sound, I'll get to that in the review section. I was actually so excited to dock it all together with the E09K that I didn't listen to it by itself as it's own USB Amp/DAC. =p I'll give my impressions and review on the sound as I spend more time with it.
The box for the E09K was definitely my favorite of the two. While it does not come with the same hard cardboard as the E17, I do love the blackboard/blueprint looking design on the outside because of how different it looks from other Fiio products! Inside, you'll find the two white boxes shown above with their contents wrapped or sleeved in plastic. Nothing too exciting in the smaller box except the nice inclusion of the larger USB cable. I must say however, that I was quite disappointed with how flimsy the cord for the power block was. It is extremely generic and doesn't look like it would stand up to too much handling. I mean, I know it is meant to be on a desk most of the time anyway, but if I am to take this traveling, I'll definitely have to take more care of the wire. This definitely isn't a deal breaker though, as I said it is mostly sitting on my desk anyway. What I did like was the fact that you could interchange the plug type depending on your country, so you don't have to lug a completely different block around if you're traveling. The block comes with the standard two-prong used in the U.S., China, and possibly elsewhere. It was also nice to see extra rubber feet included (there are already 4 placed on the bottom for you).
Now to the main piece. In the second, larger box, you'll find the E09K itself. It has a great solid feel but it weighs lighter than it looks. The surrounding body is the same type of brushed aluminum that you found on the E17 but with more of a matte finish. The front and back panels are screwed on and share the more shiny, brushed aluminum finish as the E17 body. You immediately feel that you have a really nice, complex piece of machinery in your hands as you're holding it, careful not to drop it.
The front panel is gorgeous, and since I love working on cars, I really appreciate these small details to aluminum pieces like this. The giant, spun aluminum knob quite nice and looks great on the tiny package. I quite like that they put a full sized knob on this midget device - I really think this looks great in a weird sort of way. Additionally, the fact that there is only a 1/4" port emphasizes this is for more serious headphones, and I'm certainly not plugging in my Klipsch's into it. I'll leave those to my E11 or E17 separately. On to the back. I won't go into what ports there are because you can see them in the pictures above. What didn't like was the fact that the USB cord didn't sit flush with the back panel of the amp, but it's actually sticking out almost a millimeter. This is no big deal again, because it'll be sitting on a desk, but it just doesn't look flush. I'm not really sure why they didn't just make the connector shorter to sit flush. The switches for Input on the front and Gain on the back are solid and feel nice and sturdy. My favorite part of the back however, was the inclusion of the little plastic nub covers for each of the gold-plated ports. I am comfortable knowing that these ports will stay protected and dust-free since I probably won't be using them for a while.
Now, connecting the E17 and E09K together. Once placing the E17 into the dock, there is a solid connection. However, instead of sitting completely flat against the base, there is a tiny bit of wiggle room tilting left and right. It's a minor annoyance for me, as I'm a little OCD about these things, but it should be okay for most people. Who knows, maybe different models are a little more secure? I just don't want it to feel like it's going to snap out, but I guess that's the trouble with anything docked like this portrait-wise. Plugging it into my Lenovo Ideapad V570 running Windows 8 now, was as simple as anything. You still have to choose the device as the main sound output and adjust the supported sample rates. But, every time now that you plug it in or turn it on (the E17 or E09K), Windows will automatically select the SPDIF device and adjust your computer system volume to 100%. Works flawlessly every time. I don't know if this is just a Windows 8 thing or Windows 7 thing, but I know people have had to take more steps on XP or on Mac OS X when they do this. It's a really nice feature that I'm glad was thought through when designing the operating system. This doesn't really have anything to do with Fiio probably, but I just wanted to let you guys know.
Once you click on the large volume pot in front of the E09K, the E17 powers on as well and the ring around the power button turns a beautiful blue and red, synced looking ring. The pictures I tried taking couldn't capture it. I also turned on the Lo-Bypass on the E17 because I don't really care for the EQ or Bass Boost right now, and plus it's a pain in the ass to control and adjust the volume on the E17 while in the dock. If you don't turn Lo-Bypass on, and want to control volume with the E09K's volume pot, you actually have to crank up the volume on the E17 first so that it matches the max potential for the volume pot. I'm not going to be EQ-ing or anything for a while on the dock, so the Lo-Bypass is staying on. Remember to also switch the front switch to Dock In before you start!
There is one thing that irks me about the docking however. The E17 sits at a slight angle on top of a small dock connector that seems kind of flimsy. It does not sit deeply or snugly enough for me to be comfortable and reassured about it not breaking the connection if I moved the device across my table. There is also some wiggle room from left to right while it is docked. I don't think these small problems are unique to my unit because it does seem like it is supposed to sit like this. I just worry about loosening the connection if I jiggled it too much. If you are one to use the EQ buttons on the E17 while docked to the E09K, you would need to be careful not to push too hard or put too much pressure as to not break it off of the dock connector. Just be careful while you're moving this thing or using the the buttons. I wish it was connected more securely in terms of the dock or another method.
Sound Quality and First Listen
I still haven't gotten to much time to really listen to much of anything yet, but I can say that I am pretty impressed with the E09K/E17 combination so far. Definitely an upgrade from my E11 amp through my iPod. Sampling a bunch of high quality, live performances and some of my favorite artists, the sound upgrade is immediately noticeable. The instrument separation through my Sennheiser HD598's is furthered even more as compared to my other amp or just through my laptop headphone jack. The lows are tighter and feel much better now and the highs have a more pronounced sparkle, coming further towards you instead of sometimes lingering in the background. The mids and vocals on tracks like 'Hurts Like Heaven' from Coldplay's Live 2012 are brought forward and more comfortable to listen to even at lower volumes (I used to have to raise the volume to make it sound more realistic). Finally, I noticed that the sound was a little warmer and inviting as compared to the E11 which seemed more cold and analyzing. Don't get me wrong, I would like my equipment neutral anyway so that I can pick out sounds with as little bias as possible, so the E11 is still good. But the docked combo definitely added a little more life to things like live concerts and acoustic performances (which I think need a little warmth anyway).
I'll report more on sound as I get the chance, but this is all I have for now! See you guys soon! =]
After getting a good listen and comparing between the E11, I finally have some final thoughts on the E17. I've mostly used this with my computer as an Amp/DAC and very briefly as purely an amp with my iPod Classic. To get the easy part over with first, I just have to say that as just an amp with the iPod through an LOD, it sounds very similar to the E11 in it's clean and simple presentation. I guess this is what people are talking about when they talk about the "Fiio" sound. That being said, I think that the E17 does have a slightly fuller sound that happens to be a little less "clinical" and straight forward than the E11. Otherwise, there is very little difference between the two in my opinion, despite people saying the E11 is a better amp. They both have bass boost and also gain control. I keep my E11 at Low Gain and my E17 at 6db because that is what they are both set at as default. If you move the E17 to 0db gain, it sounds almost exactly if not exactly like the E11. Regardless, they both put out plenty enough clean power for the range of headphones you are supposed to be using with them. (Sorry for the switching back and for between the model numbers, I know it may be a little hard to follow haha).
Now, the E17 as an Amp/DAC through my USB port on my laptop. I didn't realize that this would change the sound and quality so much until I tried it! I'm really glad that I did decide to invest in this. The DAC cleans up so much of the music (320 mp3's, FLAC, ALAC through iTunes and Foobar2000) and the amp continues to provide sufficient power for my Sennheiser HD598's. Now I know what half of you are going to say...the 598's don't need an amp and won't benefit much from it. That's where you'll be surprised. The Fiio cleans up so much of the sound and makes every aspect of your music tighter. For those of you who are worried about the lack of bass with the 598's, they will still be lacking (on 0 bass boost of course), but the Fiio absolutely tightens up the bass and makes it punchier and more accurate. The soundstage is widened to further reach the potential of the soundstage that these headphones are known for. Playing classical, instrumental, live, vocal, etc. music, I notice more of a sense of airiness and spaciousness that the line out of my laptop could not provide. The DAC and power of the amp really help to bring out the full potential of the headphones. I spent 95% of the time leaving the adjustable settings on their defaults and the device was perfect for me. I don't like messing with EQ too much and prefer to hear the sound straight, but for those who do like to mess around, there are quite a few options for the audio as well as other goodies like a sleep timer!
In terms of value alone, this small powerhouse is well worth it and should be extremely desirable for most audiophiles on a budget or who are in need of portable power. The E17 gives you an option of whether or not you want to charge while plugged in with the USB and yes, of course you can listen to the amp while it is charging, unlike the E11!
Now, for those of you in need of more power or just want a stable desktop amp...
I decided to get this as a full package both because I wanted a dedicated desktop amp with an analog volume pot and in case I needed more power in the future (which I did...read on). The E09K does not disappoint as a partner to the already great E17. As I mentioned before, it provides even more clean and usable power. No, my headphones don't need that much to power them, but remember, it's not all about how loud you can crank them however quickly. It's about how much power you have behind them to accurately drive at all volume levels. Imagine a relatively strong guy curling 100lb dumbbells. Imagine that he'll be able to curl them continuously over 10 minutes with relative ease. However, a giant would more easily and accurately maneuver those same dumbbells if given the chance. This is the difference between a smaller portable amp like the E11 and the E09K/E17 combo.
Yes, I could crank my E11 very loudly, at deafening levels, but it did not provide the same tight response at almost all ranges of volume as the E09K does. I say "almost" because there is a delay at the beginning of the volume pot (at around 8 o'clock) that doesn't provide much full sound as if you turned it past 9 o'clock. The sound does come alive at 9 o'clock though, don't get me wrong. You'll get all the accurate response from the combo while still maintaining a low volume if you need it. In things like Hans Zimmer soundtrack songs, alternative band live performances like the Killers, Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, Keane, and Fun., female vocal tracks like Adele and Sara Bareilles, or symphonic Joe Hisaishi, you'll get all the details at all volumes with a good set of headphones. I'm mentioning these particularly because those are tracks I would use to look for accuracy and response in my headphones as well as my amps. You should be able to pick out details more clearly as they are more healthily separated and clean. As a solid state amp, the Fiio suits my tastes perfectly in it's neutral presentation paired with my analytical sounding HD598's (the reason why I love them, but the same reason why others hate them).
As for the extra power, it depends if you need it or not. Or if you need or want a desktop amp. I am actually grateful because although the E17 or E11 could drive my new Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 250ohm's on Hi-Gain, I much prefer using them on my E09K on Lo-Gain as it is plenty. I don't want to get too into the Beyers as part of the review because I want this to be as straight forward as possible with the 598's, but it is good to know that my investment will power my new mid-fi headphones to come if I do so choose. I'm sure powering the HD600/650, D2000, or HE-400's will be no problem for the combo. The Beyers did need to be turned up higher than the HD598's in terms of listenable volume on Lo-Gain, but I hardly could move it past the 12 o'clock mark at that. The loudest I could go comfortably on Hi-Gain was about 10:30. I also wanted to add that the neutral presentation that I mentioned before is also what I wanted for the V-shaped sounding DT770's that are already warm enough for me.
I should also mention that I have been using the LO-Bypass option on the E17 docked because I wouldn't be using the EQing options anyway, but you are sure welcome to use them as you please. Do note though that you have to turn on the volume on the E17 itself when not in LO-Bypass mode to make the volume pot on the E09K usable. I was a bit confused at first but I figured it out =p
In terms of value of just the E09K, I think it's really good. I wouldn't say great though, just because there are more powerful amps out there that other people may prefer and that I haven't tried yet for about the same price or a little more. However, the ease of use with the E17 or E07K if you already have one, is phenomenal. It's honestly a plug and play system with my Windows 8 PC. I can't say for anything else because I haven't tried though. The thing just works really well and is super easy to use and understand. It comes with a great manual if you have any questions as well!
As you can probably tell, I love my purchase and I'll definitely be keeping this around for a while. The detail and power that this combo adds to my equipment is just wonderful and just what I needed as a beginner head-fier, audiophile, and music lover. If you can get the combo for a decent price, you really can't go wrong if you're like me and need portable and space-saving audio for the time being.
In terms of value together, given that I got the package for about $220 USD here in China, I think that the combo is off the charts. Yes, there are other Amp/DAC combos that cost about as much and may be slightly better such as the O2 Amp and DAC or the Schiit Magni and Modi stack, but in terms of usability and functionality, I think this beats them all. I can use the E17 by itself as a portable unit with my iPod or laptop on the go. I can use the E09K as solely a pre-amp (Pre-Amp/Dedicated Line Out) or as an amp with a different DAC. I can obviously use them together. All in one tight, solidly built package that I won't be too afraid to transport anywhere (although I will still be scared because I'm paranoid about my electronics haha).
As much as people bash Fiio products sometimes, it's hard to beat the versatility and build quality of something like the E17. It may be made in China, but like Hifiman, they are honestly a hard working company with their users in mind. Just look at the communication between the representatives and head-fiers in this forum. It's nice to see people there take charge and turn the image of Chinese products around.
Please let me know if I should add any more details you guys want to know about! And feel free to ask me questions! I'll be glad to help to the best of my ability! I'm a newbie around here so cut me some slack if I got some terms wrong, but I am learning! =] Happy listening and sorry about your wallet!
Edited by bngbox - 11/18/13 at 7:35pm