First off all I'm a believer that good / great audio is not necessarily expensive. That being said I have a bunch of money tied up in the hobby.
I got into computer audio a couple years ago and primarily run Logitech Media Server off of various devices. I'm aware that streaming my content may not provide the greatest possible sound however I'm willing to forgo that to have access to the massive catalogs available and I've no time to rip my hundreds of CD's to some format or another.
Along with computer audio comes the DAC and I have a bunch of them, most of them what you'd call cheap. HiFiMeDIY USB, Nuforce UDAC2, UDAC2SE, ODAC.
Oddly enough i'm a huge fan of the HiFiMeDIY DAC. But this is about my new Fiio E17. I read enough positive things about it to warrant giving it a shot.
Start of review........
Unboxing. The fit of the box was so tight I thought I'd never get it opened. Really tough to pull the cover off. It's like it was vacuum packed, the harder I pulled the more it sucked back in. I prevailed and was delighted to see it was in a nice protective pouch. Great for the laptop bag. To my dismay the battery was dead on arrival but 15 or 20 minutes of USB charge finally got it started. The first thing I hooked it up to was my MacBook Air via the USB. No problem detecting the device and immediately was listening to music.
Just prior to opening the new Fiio I was working on a JDSLabs CMOYBB Altoids tin headphone amp kit. I had it hooked to a HiFiMeDiy DAC via the Mac and I was blown away with the sound. Headphones are Sony MDR-V6.
Comparatively the Fiio E17 sounded pretty thin and not as musical. I'm thinking "Great. $40 worth of homemade amp and cheap DAC sound better than $140 of this " but to be fair this was only a quick listen and I was listening to Apple Radio which sounds way different to me than my Logitech Media Server streams from my Raspberry Pi plus DAC combo.
This is not to say it sounded bad, it didn't. Clarity was well, crystal clear, there seemed to be a heck of a soundstage like I had not heard out of my Sony MDR-V6's before. But it lacked that punch that the CMOYBB and DAC gave me. That's all. Both sounded great but clearly different.
Decided to roll it into another system. This time I hooked it to a Bottlehead Crack with Sennheiser HD650's. It is sourced from a Raspberry Pi.
Very first thing I noticed was there was no volume at all. Didn't think I could drive this rig with this small amp. After fumbling around in the menus I managed to find the gain settings and I set it to 12dB gain. Then turned the volume of the Crack all the way up and I'm back in business. It gets as loud as I want it to get and then some. I should also say that I have ordered the Fiio EO9K dock for it which of course is a stronger amp.
Okay this E17 is a much more synergistic component in the Crack / HD650 rig. It was a tiny bit lacking in treble I thought so I bumped treble up a hair and it's sounding just like I like it. Going through my favorites now to see how it works out. My typical test library consists of Dave Brubek Take Five, Sarah Vaughn Key Largo, Diana Krall The Girl in The Other Room, Tony Rice Unit (anything by Tony), Greatful Dead Reckoning, etc.
So far I feel this is an improvement over my Nuforce UDAC2SE which was feeding this system previously and a DAC I dearly love.
I'm real happy with this purchase. Fit and finish are beautiful. The screen is nice and I had envisioned the DAC auto detecting what music stream you are playing and displaying it. Not so. I had to set my Audio Midi Setup to 24/96 on the Mac to get it to reflect the proper settings and then I listened to some 24/96 FLAC recordings I have. Real fine.
Again the soundstage is really sweet. Feels like the music is flying around in my brain and not just coming in my two ears. Haven't really experienced a decent soundstage with the HD650's yet.
For $140 I'm not sure how you can go wrong with this purchase. Is it the greatest DAC or Amp in history? No. Is it great though? Yes.
I haven't had time to hook it up via optical to my Apple TV but that's probably next. Will be real nice having a DAC that I pump the TV out to my Dynaco ST70, Bottlehead Foreplay preamp and LS3/5A loudspeakers. To heck with surround sound. I only have two ears.
Pick up a Fiio E17. I don't think you'll be disappointed. You might have to find the right system for it, but you won't be disappointed.
Edited by Deterministic NL - 5/3/14 at 4:14am