Young but very active company Fiio offers a rich and constantly updated range of desktop and portable devices, in this review we will introduce readers to one of them. Fiio E17 Alpen is a compact device about the size of an average smartphone, except that it’s a bit thicker: 96x55x15.2 mm WxHxH . The design leaves a pleasant impression: the case is made of anodized aluminum, small two-color OLED-display is informative and easy to read. Despite its pocket-sized size, the E17 has a built-in headphone amplifier and DAC with SPDIF and USB interfaces.
In addition to the display, the front panel has six buttons that control the volume, input selector, menu switching and parameter selection, power on the device and a key lock to inadvertently not disable the settings in your pocket.
Quite an extensive menu gives the user access to system information firmware version, total run time , HF/LF equalizer +/-10 positions , channel balance adjustment, three-step gain selection 0/6/12 dB . There are other useful features: sleep 10-90 minutes before shutting down , disabling USB charging, volume memorization and limiting maximum sound level.
On the bottom face of the case is an analog input, a mini-USB port and a service jack to connect the device to the Fiio L7 or E9 docking station. The Alpen can work as a digital-to-analog converter with these headphones, the signal from which is then fed to a more powerful dock amplifier.
A special switch on the right side of E17 is designed to work with the docking station, you can use it to select whether the Alpen sound settings will be relevant or not. On the top panel of the device there are a 3.5mm headphone output and a digital port.
With adapters the digital input can receive data via coaxial cable or optical cable both adapters come with the E17 . In the box with the device there are also other accessories: USB cable, mini-jack mini-jack cord, ring to “connect” Alpen with a player or smartphone, cloth pouch, protective film on the display.
What’s inside? The USB DAC of the device uses the popular Tenor TE7022L controller, the SPDIF reception is performed by the Wolfson WM8804 digital transceiver, and the digital-to-analog conversion is performed by the Wolfson WM8740 chip.
The USB part of the converter works with a resolution of up to 24 bits/96 kHz and does not require special drivers on your computer, the SPDIF converter shows full support for High Definition digital sound up to 24 bits/192 kHz .
The discrete volume control, designed for 60 steps, is based on the NJW1194 chip. Finally, the E17 output stage uses AD8692 and AD8397 operational amplifier chips. According to the designers statement the amplifier can work with headphones with an impedance of 16 to 300 ohms, providing 250 mW with 16 ohms load and 30 mW with 300 ohms load.
Even with the analog input from an iPhone as a source, the Fiio E17 improves the sound by an order of magnitude compared to smartphones’ own outputs or sound cards built into tablets or laptops.
And you can use high quality headphones, also with high impedance. For example, the E17 amplifier handles the Sennheiser HD650 quite well, although it certainly does not pretend to fully unlock the potential of these 300 ohm models. However, the capabilities and nature of the E17 device are better tested with “digital”: SPDIF or USB interfaces.
Playback Fiio E17 has a fairly smooth tonal balance, although the bass, compared to the top, is emphasized a little better. The scene is wide and the images are well separated in azimuth. In depth the virtual space is a little bit compressed, but a few echelons can be considered without difficulty. The sound of Alpen is energetic, quite fast and because of that contrasty, winding.
This style is great for voicing modern electronic music, with bass headphones for rock. However, the E17 is no stranger to classical music, jazz, and vocal genres it has natural basic timbres and overall sound clarity for performing these styles – the device captures the texture of the timbres quite clearly. Almost no remarks to E17.
But if you strictly approach the nuances, the E17 is not the most graceful overtone handler: there is little nuance in them, so the timbre palette looks slightly impoverished, and in the dynamics you can notice a slight agitated coloration of the treble.
Via USB-interface Fiio E17 plays just as good, but there is one thing: with the Windows XP drivers the maximum sampling rate of records does not exceed 48 kHz, but with Vista and Windows 7 WASAPI device does take records with a resolution of 24 bits 96 kHz.
PRICE: 7 570 Dollars.
The FIIO E17 Alpen is a miniature device of pocket-sized but very functional, with easy controls and useful settings. Despite the size, E17 integrated quite a powerful headphone amplifier, which can work with high-impedance models.
In addition the device with its capabilities is not expensive. On the combination of qualities FIIO E17 liked – this is one of the best portable options in its class.