Experiencing a Whole New World of Music with the Fiio E17K

Three weeks ago, I purchased this nifty little gadget:

Fiio-E17K-USB-DAC

Behold! It’s the Fiio E17K USB DAC (Digital to Audio Convertor) and Amplifier.

It’s an amazing little device that will change the way you experience music, and for that matter, any sound that comes out of your phone or computer.

Some of you may be wondering what’s the difference between a DAC and amplifier, and why this has both. You can think of the DAC part of the Fiio as a USB sound card, where it receives digital audio signals through USB from your phone, tablet, or computer, and reconstructs the audio signal in ways far better than what your computer or phone is able to do.

The amplifier portion is just, well, to amplify the audio signal. But of course, not all amplifiers are built the same. Some have a better bass boost, some are great at increasing the treble in ways that are very pleasant, while others are just terrible and do nothing but increase the overall volume, doing nothing else but to give you a false illusion that your music sounds better.

If you connect your phone, tablet, or computer to the Fiio via the Micro USB port, you will be using both the DAC and amplifier. Otherwise, you’d connect this from your device’s headphone jack or line out jack to the Fiio’s line in jack. In which case, you’d only be using the amplifier portion.

I’ve been using this every day for 3 weeks now. I’ve had it connected to my Macbook Air, my office PC, and even on my iPad (via a lightning to camera adaptor dongle), and it’s been amazing. The battery life is great too! You can listen continuously for almost 12 hours. What surprises me is that despite such a lengthy battery life, the Fiio is really light weight!

So far, I have to say that the Fiio E17K is the most amazing gadget that I’ve bought and used. Thanks to this, I’ve come to enjoy a whole new level of music. It is truly music and sound as I’ve never experienced before.

Let me share with you just how amazed I’ve been, from the perspective of someone who isn’t much of an audiophile.

By an amazing feat of engineering magic, the E17K is able to take in audio signals from your phone, tablet, or computer, and reconstructs the audio, making it sound as if you were there when the audio was recorded (provided you connect it via USB to make use of both the DAC and amplifier).

First, it reconstructs the sound stage so superbly well, that if you close your eyes while listening to music, you’ll feel like you are right there in front of the singers and musicians. You can hear the precise positions of the instruments and singers. As I write this, I’m listening to some easy listening music. The piano is on the right. The second piano is on its left. The harp is on the far left. The violin is beside the harp, on the right. The trumpeter is beside the main piano, on the left.

Yes, that’s how clear the sound stage is! I can pin point where the instruments and singers are!

If I were to listen to solo cello music, I can hear the four strings distinctively from each other (because the microphone is place right in front of the cello, very close to the strings. I can hear the two left strings on the left side of my headphones, and the two right strings on the right side of my headphones.

You don’t get good sound stage with most consumer electronics. If you were to listen to music from your phone or computer, it sounds as if all the instruments and singers were performing from the exact same spot: right in front of you. There’s no differentiation of left or right, and thus it is hard to pick out and pay attention to the precise musical/tonal qualities of each instrument/voice.

With the Fiio E17K’s amazing reconstruction of the sound stage, my music listening experience has changed. Of course, when I first started out with this, I felt weird not hearing the same instrument on both sides of my ears. But I quickly got used to it, and am now able to appreciate my music with the same appreciation I have with live music, but in the comfort of my own home or office, or even on the bus!

Second, the audio reconstruction is so amazing, you get to hear a lot of sounds that you don’t usually hear on your phone or computer. This can be both a good and bad thing.

The good thing is that you are now able to hear a lot of instruments in the background that you didn’t know were there. For example, without the Fiio, I wouldn’t hear the soft plucking of the guitar strings, or the soft tapping of the a cymbal. With the Fiio, these instruments are brought to live, and I can now hear them. In fact, listening to these songs becomes a surprise as I discover the presence of instruments that I didn’t know were present in those songs that I’ve been enjoying.

What’s great about this is you get to hear a lot of other things that adds greater pleasure in the listening of music. For example, I can now hear the scratching of the bow on the strings as the musician performs his solo piece on the cello. Done well, the scratching adds a degree of intensity that complements the music. Not only do I encounter the emotion and energy in the melody, but I also encounter the musician’s very own emotion and energy in the performance. And if I close my eyes, the sounds alone are enough to fill my imagination with the way the musician performs. Ah… It feels as though I’m watching a live performance!

But of course, when you begin to hear sounds that you don’t usually hear, there is a downside to it. Sometimes you end up hearing things that can annoy the hell out of you. I was once listening to a Gregorian Chant song. All was going well until I began hearing the sound of a mouse clicking in the background. At first, I thought that was coming from my colleagues in the office. But it sounded louder than usual. So, I replayed that portion of the song, and lo and behold, the mouse clicks were in the recording itself! Gosh… That’s annoying!

Some of my audiophile friends commented that this is one of those things we have to deal with from time to time. One of my friend’s dad is a sound engineer. And he likes to test the quality of DACs and amplifiers, by playing songs where you can hear the singer’s saliva splattering out of his/her mouth. If you can’t hear the saliva, it’s a bad DAC/amplifier.

Ah well, but for what it’s worth, I’ve not encountered saliva splattering sounds in the songs I’ve heard, and the mouse clicking in the background was just isolated to that one song. All this after listening daily to music for almost 3 weeks now. Not too bad I guess.

Third, the treble and bass is amazing. Oh, the bass especially has an amazing oomph to it, but not too strong that it can cause headaches or nausea. This is great for jazz music (and I loooooove jazz music) and techno (I enjoy some, but not all techno). What I really love is the sound of the contrabass plucking in the background. Every contrabass note pulses gently but firmly into your stream of consciousness. The oomph this device produces makes jazz pieces just so delightful to the ears and my mind! The treble is great too! The mids and highs are crystal clear, but not sharp. As you increase the treble levels, the highs increase in their audibility, but not in sharpness. It’s only with this device that I’ve since been able to draw a distinction between sharp and crystal clear. On most computers and phones, an increase in treble simply means an increase in the sharpness of notes, which can be quite unpleasant to the ears.

Of course, a device like this isn’t just limited to music. It makes watching YouTube and any other movie really great. The explosions, and sound effects, etc. Wow… It’s almost as good as watching a movie in a cinema.

Two days ago, I discovered that the Fiio E17K performs really well even if you connect it to large speakers. By large speakers, I mean the type used in halls and gardens. I had to prepare background music for a dinner function, so I had my iPad loaded with music, connected to the Fiio (via the lightning connector to camera adaptor (which is a USB port), to the USB to Micro USB cable). In turn, the Fiio was connected to the line in of a mixer, connected to large hall speakers. I also tested the iPad connected directly to the mixer and speakers.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Of course, with the Fiio, rich, vibrant music filled the entire garden. You could hear every single instrument distinctly. Without the Fiio, the music sounded rather blend.

Here’s my concluding remarks:

Before I had the Fiio E17K, I’d just listen to music on the go more to be entertained by the beats and lyrics. I never really paid much attention to each and every instrument or the quality of the singer’s voice because my phone/tablet/computer never allowed me such richness in the first place. I’d usually just pay attention to the lyrics of the song and eventually hate more and more songs as I discover how stupid or ridiculous some songs are (this is probably why I just listen to instrumental music most of the time).

But thanks to the Fiio E17K, listening to music has become so intensely pleasurable, an enjoyment in itself. I’ve since developed a new hobby: that of sitting comfortably on a chair (or lying on the bed), closing my eyes as the world goes by, while I enjoy beautiful music, and savour each and every single audible quality of all the instruments and voices. It’s intensely stimulating for the ears and mind, and it has been amazing. Truly, the Fiio has allowed me to experience music like never before.