Anyone on a budget looking to wade into the world of portable headphone hi-fi should take a good Pei Mei stare at Fiio. In the audio community, the upstart brand is known for providing unbeatable value, and their latest E17 Alpen USB DAC Headphone Amplifier ($140) is no exception. Boasting inputs for mini USB, AUX, Optical and Coax, the solidly-built black slate measures roughly the size of an iPod classic, while packing a DAC capable of running up to 96KHz over USB input or up to 24bits / 192kHz via optical. Just incase that’s Greek to you — note that both inputs are well within the range of typical 16bits / 44.1kHz CD or iTunes tracks. There’s no need to fret over power either, since the Alpen can dish out 227mW (16-ohm)), 215mW (32-ohm)), and 35mW (300-ohm)) respectively. The E17 also packs both bass and treble EQ controls for dialing in your personal sound preferences, which is pretty much unheard of for typical amps.
On the move, the E17 can draw power via USB or run for up to 15 hours on its internal Li-ion battery with some intelligent management of the onboard OLED display. Just like its E7 predecessor, the E17 will also easily dock with Fiio’s E9 desktop amp to create a great home office audio solution. In short, the Alpen will vastly improve sound quality for iPhone toting road warriors who desire more from their music, for less than the cost of a monthly Starbucks habit.
Editor’s Note: Those on a truly shoe string budget should also give the Fiio E10 a serious look. While it lacks an OLED display, an integrated battery, and has some minor sacrifices in sound quality, it packs most of the internal components of E17 for just $85
Buy Now: $140 (Available April 1st)