FiiO E17K Alpen 2 Amp/DAC Review

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FiiO E17K Alpen 2 Amp/DAC Review

A lot of people I talk to are confused about DACs.  Hell, I was confused about these things until I found the FiiO E17K Alpen 2.  Now, thanks to the simple and intuitive design, as well as the obvious improvement in sound quality, I can safely say:  buy this thing.

First off, why an Amp/DAC Combo?  If you’re using a headphone with a high nominal impedance – let’s say 600 ohms – you will definitely need an amplifier to overcome the resistance of the circuitry.  If you want to fine-tune the way your headphones sound, you can consider a DAC for that.  And if you want to do both, you look for a combination of an amp and a DAC in a single device – hence the E17K.

In my own case, the headphones in question were the MEElectronics M6 Pro.  If you aren’t familiar with this headphone, it’s one of the best budget IEMs out there on the market right now.  It comes with extra removable cables, and it has a wealth of ear tips, including comply foam tips and some good ‘ole flanged tips.

However, there is one drawback to this headphone that I have personally experienced, and that would be a lack of detail in the lower end.  Of course, the mids and the highs are phenomenal.  And in most critical situations where I am monitoring audio, I could probably excuse some lack of detail in the low end.  I mean, it is still a $49 IEM, so how harsh can I be?   But there was still a desire to get a better, more enjoyable listening experience out of these headphones.  I also harbored a sneaking suspicion that the earphones might have had a higher impedance, so the combined amplifier was more than enticing.

Enter the FiiO E17K Alpen 2, and I my bacon has been saved.

The Alpen 2 allows for easy adjustment of bass and treble, as well as some gain and balance control.  There’s also the option of using a coaxial cable for input.

Amplifying the bass and lowering the treble yielded a more-than-pleasant sound. Combined with the noise-isolation from the in-ear design, and a snug fit from the triple-flange ear tips that came with the M6 Pro, it’s hard not to compare the sound to over-ear headphones that generally cost $249 or $300.  But with the DAC I can adapt the sound to different applications, opting for “flat” when I’m editing audio and switch over to “dynamic” when I want some oomph and pizzazz in my commuting soundtrack.

The overall build of the E17K is fantastic as well…brushed metal, with a snazzy LED user interface and some cool blue light around the buttons.  As others before me have mentioned, this device could benefit from a faster scrolling wheel, but in the broad scheme of things, this is hardly a deal-breaker.

So, is it for you?

If you’re thinking of an upgrade, but love the headphones you currently have (or think they could just use a little tweaking), the E17K deserves your consideration.  Think of this amp/DAC as the little black box that makes good headphones sound better and great headphones sound FREAKING AWESOME.  

Of course, all of this hinges on the headphones in question.  Sometimes there’s just no saving a really bad headphone.  In which case, pass on a DAC and look at a replacement pair of headphones.

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