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Fiio is known for their high resolution audio players, desktop audio amplifiers and some remarkable portable DAC/Amplifiers. The Alpen 2 is one of those portable devices representing an excellent cost/performance balance.
The design is clean, industrial and elegant. There are no superfluous curves or excessive buttons. This is one of the few portable DAC/Amplfiers with an OLED screen, and a really nice one, I should say. Fiio made the right choice by using a monochrome screen which is perfectibility readable in both indoors and outdoors.
As opposed to previous generations, there is a multifunctional wheel which responds to both presses and turns. It’s very intuitive and allows for swift movement through the device’s menu. However, since the top of the wheel sits almost flush with the device, turning the wheel can be a bit of a challenge depending on how you are holding the device.
Did I say it’s portable?. The device is really small and slim. You can see a comparison picture with the iPhone 6 above and here is another one side by side with the Creative Sound Blaster E5 (my current favorite portable DAC/Amp).
With regards to I/O ports, the Alpen 2 is provided with:
- USB port for both charging and input audio into the device (micro USB port).
- 3.5 mm output headphone jack.
- Digital (High resolution) audio input. Unfortuately it’s coaxial and not optical, which limits the device’s versatility.
- 3.5 mm dual in/out jack.
Fiio includes several items in the package: the device itself, a coaxial cable, a 3.5mm to 3.5mm plug small cable, charging/USB cable, silicone pad and black rubber bands to attach the device to your audio player or smartphone.
The silicone pads are for placing the device on top of a flat surface or on top of another device so that it doesn’t get scratched (or it doesn’t scratch other devices). There is no rubber feet or rubbery surfaces beneath the device. It’s basically a chunk of slippery aluminum with some sharp edges.
The Fiio Alpen 2 is made out of polished aluminum, which makes it very lightweight and sturdy. There are not plastics used and, as indicated above, the OLED screen is clear, bright and provides excellent contrast.
The quality of the included accessories is not exactly top notch. The nylon case feels a little cheap and the cables are a bit thin. However, it should be pointed out that not all manufacturers include as many accessories as Fiio has. They even included a couple of screen protectors.
One of the main advantages of using portable DACs is that you can connect your player via USB instead of the traditional 3.5mm audio plug. This allows to transmit the full digital audio signal to the DAC/Amplifier device so that it can be decoded into an analog signal and sent to the headphones.
However, the Fiio Alpen 2 is not recognized by the iPhone as an external device when connected through the USB/lightning port. That’s a huge disadvantage for iPhone users as it defeats the purpose of carrying around a portable DAC/Amplifier. The device can also take the input from a regular 3.5 mm audio jack, but at the time of this writing, most smart phones (including iPhone 6S) don’t allow transfer of lossless audio that way.
That being said, the Fiio Alpen 2 was instantly detected by a Mac and I was able to use it as an external DAC. I also tested it with a couple of PCs (USB connection) and it worked flawlessly. Sound quality is really good, bass and treble can be adjusted on the device itself, as well as gain level. Fiio recommends that the device be used with headphones with impedance between 16 and 150 ohms which is rather limiting. I tried it with some over-ear headphones with higher impedances (250 and 350 ohms) and it worked ok (not great, as I had to crank up both gain and volume).
The Fiio Alpen 2 retails for $139. I think that’s a bit on the expensive side for this type of device. Although they included several accessories and the performance is good , the inability of using the USB port on certain devices (iPhones and iPads) and the lackluster performance with high impedance headphones will have many looking somewhere else. However, if you use relatively low impedance headphones/IEM (and there are some excellent options, like these or these) and you are OK using the 3.5mm headphone jack, this portable DAC/Amplifier may be a good option.
Ease of Use
Using the Alpen 2 is pretty straight forward. Navigating through the menus is intuitive and well laid out. Inputs and outputs are clearly indicated.
Fiio claims the battery life to be above 15 hours. However, I was able to get a maximum of 12 hrs. Definitively not a bad performance but below of the technical specs.
The Fiio Alpen 2 has a rating of 4.3 stars out of 69 reviews on Amazon. This rating has been accounted for when coming up with the Quarks Rating.
The Fiio Alpen 2 has a rating of 5 stars on Adorama. I hesitated to consider this rating when calculating the Quarks rating as there is only one review at the time of this writing. However, reviews of this device do not abound on Internet and the ones I read on reputable sites are more or less aligned with this figure.
- Good construction.
- Very portable.
- Bright OLED screen.
- Nice design with multifunction wheel makes it easy to go through the menus.
- Digital audio input.
- No rubber feet (but included silicone pads).
- Sharp edges.
- Mini USB connection instead of USB.
- Digital coaxial connection instead of optical input.
- Multifunction wheel almost flush with side edge, which makes it difficult to operate under certain conditions.
- No way of transmitting USB audio from an iPhone (not recognized by device at the time of writing).
- Not recommended to feed headphones with impedance so above 150 ohms.