For the new breed of headphone enthusiasts, the goal remains portable enjoyment on par with what they have at home -- something we purveyors of quality entertainment everywhere can endorse wholeheartedly.
But the reality is that most mainstream playback devices -- read laptop computers, smartphones, and tablets -- simply aren't up to the task of driving high-quality headphones to their potential.
Sure, you could always invest in a dedicated digital audio player, but unless you go for something esoteric it might not sound any better than your phone, and in any case it won't help you when you want to watch a movie. And who wants to carry around a redundant device anyway? So you stick with your favorite device — but the stack of high-end DACs and headphone amps that it'll take to bring your phone's output up to audiophile spec'll set you back some serious cash.
Until recently, that is.
Enter the FiiO E17 ($139), the flagship of the Chinese firm's line of high-value personal audio accessories. Resembing an iPod by way of Darth Vader, the black anodized, aluminum-bodied E17 offers a host of tools for bettering your on-the-go audio experience at a near-unbeatable price point. It's got a high-rez DAC (which you can use it via USB or optical or coaxial S/PDIF from your computer), along with a robust headphone amplifier which includes tone, gain, and (rare for a portable device) balance controls). An OLED display keeps you informed about what the E17's up to. It's an incredibly versatile little device — and it sounds good too, with enough power on tap to make your Sennheiser HD-650, HiFiMan HE-500, and other tough-to-drive headphones into viable portable options.
If that's not enough for you, the E17 can also function as the brains of your desktop system. Via a docking connector, you can use the E17's DAC to feed the the E09K desktop headphone amp ($129), which will provide all the current you might need for home listening. And you can pick up both units for significantly less than you'd spend on many comparable portable headphone amps alone. Now that's a bargain.
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