Fiio E10k Olympus 2


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I’ve long been critical of Audiophiles discussing the merits of DAC’s and headphone amps and i’ll be honest I truly thought on board PC audio was at a point where they were basically null and void – and while I still think some of the higher end boards would be pretty close my recent experience with the Fiio E10k proves to me that a notable listening improvement can be made by using a dedicated headphone amp and DAC.

The Fiio E10k is tiny – like really really small, you don’t really get the sense of scale till it’s sitting in your own hands.  Doesn’t matter though as the unit is built solidly and comes with little rubber feet that keep it surprisingly planted on your desktop.  It’s not heavy nor does it have a large base so you can put it just about anywhere, though with the volume control and the bass booster switch you’ll probably want it somewhere within easy reach.

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The E10K interfaces with your computer or mac (works with linux too!) via a micro USB cable and it’s entirely plug and play – no drivers required.  Simply plug it in, plug your headphones in the front of it and hit play, it’s a very simple to use device.  I haven’t tried it with an android device – but reportedly Viper4Android provides suitable drivers for use within Android too, but you need to use a player that you select the sound output with – so perhaps something to think about with an Android HTPC to get decent audio out.

The E10k also features Coaxial out as well as a standard 3.5mm line out also for connecting speakers – though with my limited testing the bass booster and volume knob only work with the headphone out.

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Speaking of the controls – the volume control has a nice solid feel and the rubber feet keep it stuck to your desk while you adjust the volume with the knob, it all works suspiciously well despite the small size, I’m glad to see the Chinese manufacturers are starting to actually try and use their products in the real world before shipping them as we’re starting to see the kind of thought put into western designs – exciting times.

There is a bass booster via a small toggle switch next to the volume control, it adds a small but noticeable amount of bass to the sound at little to not cost in sound quality – great feature for those with headphones lacking a little bass.

The sound quality is excellent and an instant improvement over the on board sound on my motherboard.  I was astonished at the marked improvement given my skepticism of the audiophile community given that one of the bigger complaints seems to be the micro USB not being easily replaceable with a gold plated USB cable, I don’t think some of them know how digital cables work.

On the sound I noticed improved sound stage and clarity over the on board instantly – It was like a cloudy filter was removed from the music and everything just sounded clear and bright.  I have my E10k pared with my Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X’s and it’s truly night and day comparatively.  The AD900X is a bit light in the bass department for my tastes also – the built in bass booster adds just the right amount of bass without distorting the music – winner!

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The E10k was an absolutely essential purchase in my book, it’s extremely versatile too with the line outs meaning I can pair it with a set of speakers also for great versatility.  At the very worst it’s a fantastic cheap sound card and there is a good chance i’ll pick one up for my HTPC to output to a set of self powered speakers using the line out functionality.

Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X

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For the longest time I’ve been wanting to upgrade my sound situation, I consider myself to have a decent ear when it comes to quality audio ,but I don’t have the big budget like many audiophiles seem to have.  Finally I had the opportunity to get hold of a decent upgrade and after weeks of research I settled on the Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X.

The AD900x is the big brother of the popular AD700 and AD700X models by Audio-Technica that have long been the mainstay of the relatively affordable audiophile quality headphone recommendation across the internet.  I’ve heard the AD700 and was wowed by the sound stage and the comfortable headband – though the bass was lacking and not up there with what I wanted in a headphone.  After some research I discovered the newer X models have added a little more bass and the 900X had a little more again as a slight expense to the sound stage so it seemed like a no brainer to shell out of the 900x model.

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The AD900X is a beautiful set of cans, I really love the minimal design, they truly look understated and purposeful like proper audio equipment should look.  It’s a big improvement over the early AD700 model with the silver plastic and purple cups, the black is modern though maybe looses a little on personality points.  Audio-Technica does get a little heavy on the plastic for the (especially Australian) pricing though and as far as I can tell only the cups are made of the metal with the rest plastic which does give me some concerns about the long time durability.  They do appear to have simple construction and i’d like to think that the more flimsy parts such as the wings have replacement parts available – though I’ve not investigated this.

They’re extremely comfortable and actually one of the biggest selling points for me was the wing design.  Such a small part of the headphones actually touch your head and they’re so light you can barely tell they’re attached.  As a whole the headphones themselves are extremely light yet don’t have a cheap feel, Audio-Technica has done a great job getting the balance right and they feel as though to simply float on your head.  I’ve been able to test these for many hours continuously and I’ve yet to be bothered with any discomfort.  The open design appears to allow air to flow throughout the cans keeping your ears cool where closed designs do not.  There is a caveat though – you do absolutely need a big head to wear these or they’ll fall off your head at the slightest provocation, they really are designed for the boof heads among us.  My partner whose head is quite a bit smaller than mine was unable to wear these without holding them the entire time so be wary – for me they fit fine and i can head bang to my hearts content with them staying firmly planted on my head.

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Sound quality is amazing.  I’m absolutely blown away at the clarity and the sound stage compared to anything I’ve owned before – though at Australian pricing they’re a full 200 dollars more expensive than other headphones I’ve owned in the past.  I’m not especially well versed in audiophile language but the separation of instruments is fantastic and adding depth to my favorite genres – in a lot of music i’m familiar with I’m hearing things I’ve never heard before which surprised me since it’s not like I’ve been using apple ear buds in the past.  The sound stage makes the music feel like i’m listening to it from a set of speakers in a acoustically sound room rather than blasting right at my ears.  More than once I’ve gotten goosebumps from how intense and amazing things can sound in a similar way that great live music makes me feel.  I can’t say that they’re perfect though as despite the upgraded bass from the older AD900 model the AD900x still lacks (for my tastes) some of the extra kick that appeals to me – though I’ve been able to remedy that issue with a headphone amp/DAC (fiio e10K).  The bass out of the box however is tight and punchy – but it wouldn’t win any awards with those who need heavy bass.  As a side note – if you’re a fan of progressive metal or post rock style music these sound incredible, Mogwai is quite the experience with some quality headphones and Sigur Ros feels and sounds out of this world, wow!

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Would I recommend these?  Absolutely – I’m in love the AD900X headphones as they have firmly reignited the flame I have for music but also finding new music – I just can’t take these off my head.  If you’re in the market for an affordable set of high end head phones I don’t think you could go wrong with the AD900X from Audio-Technica.

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