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FiiO A1 Micro Headphone Amplifier

Rating:
3.22222/5,
  1. Killcomic
    Extremely portable and underpowered
    Written by Killcomic
    Published Jun 3, 2019
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Itsy bitsy, portable, 12 or so hour battery. recharges in no time, will not create a mini black hole in your living room while the middle of you favourite game show.
    Cons - Not a lot of power, no auto turn off, useless as a missile defence system.
    The Fiio A1 is an insanely small portable amp. It weighs less that a fly’s fart and it uses about as much space.
    Priced at only AUD $49, it’s probably the cheapest audio equipment I have.
    So what is it good for?
    It’s an amp. It increases volume and that’s it. It doesn’t increase audio resolution, tighten bass, massage your feet or make the little man playing music inside your phone keep up with the beat better (no matter what ‘What Hi-Fi?’ Says). All it does is amplify the signal, because it’s an amp and that’s what amps do.
    So, does it do it well?
    Yes... and no.
    As you might imagine, such a tiny device doesn’t have a lot of power. Don’t expect to suddenly be able to use some 300 ohms set of cans that your phone wasn’t able to drive. No, this is to simply provide a little extra oomph where it’s needed.

    Case study:
    The Audio-Technica MSR7 is not difficult to drive, however, I could never get enough volume out of my phone. The A1 served its purpose beautifully here delivering rich, powerful sound whereas before it struggled.
    This is what the A1 is for, to provide that little bit of extra power, and for the price (and size), you couldn’t reasonably expect anything else.
  2. Headzone
    Fiio A1 - an Ultra Portable Amp
    Written by Headzone
    Published Oct 27, 2016
    1.5/5,
    Pros - It's tiny.
    Cons - lacks warmth, some frequencies smoothed over (digital volume control to blame?)
    If I was using this with consumer headphones, I would just rate it 5 stars. It has a nice design, good battery life, quality aluminium enclosure, comes with several cables, power button 3 stage-eq, three different clips to attach it to your clothes, volume control and lastly it boosts your volume.

    EQ
    It's nearly useless. Makes the sound slow and bloated. I loved the flashing light and smooth buttons. I bet it is good on some bass light headphones, like Superlux HD668 though. It may also work differently on headphones with different impedances.

    SQ
    Bass: Lacks authority
    Midrange: I feel there is a bit of distortion lurking somewhere.
    Highs: Slightly glossy

    accuracy, coherency, timing, all that stuff is lacking, maybe because of the digital volume control.


    TLDR; I wanted to like it, but it didn't manage to sound good enough. (Not with 80ohm DT770's that I reviewed them with) You could have different result with easier to drive headphones. I really hope FiiO tries to improve the sound quality, because it is already very promising. Maybe another version with just a gain switch instead of volume control.
    1. tdubya
      I agree with your assessment on this device being a smartphone gadget. I found that it did help my smartphone's output, but not significantly enough to justify me carrying it around. I've since returned it and am shopping for a proper DAP to replace my stop-gap usage of a phone.
      tdubya, Oct 27, 2016
    2. Headzone
      Mind you I reviewed with this with my laptops output to me it sounds better than my smartphone though. With a better DAC it could possibly perform better, but it is clear the SQ isn't good enough to warrant buying another device with it.
      Headzone, Oct 28, 2016
  3. chef8489
    Great little amp if on a budget and dont need a lot of power.
    Written by chef8489
    Published Sep 28, 2016
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Very compact and great construction.
    Cons - Not enough power for high impedence earphones and no notification when max volume.
        As a music lover who prefers a portable means of listening to music, you might eventually discover that your device can't provide enough power for your IEMs, headphones, or earphones to reach their full potential. In situations such as these, you have three options. You can upgrade your source(dap), add a portable amp, or add an amp/DAC combo. Until recently, there weren't many DAPs (Digital audio players) to choose from. You basically had Ipod and Creative, and shortly thereafter, the Microsoft Zune., so upgrading your source wasn't a realistic option, This meant you had to add an amp or an amp/dac combo. There really were not any options for a dac/amp combo at this time, so this just left the amp as your only feasible option. Now that you decided you needed an amp, you really only had two options. You could build a CMoy for a pretty reasonable price, or you could buy one of the few expensive ($200-500 USD) production units available from a niche manufacturer. For those of us that were not that skilled with circuitry we spent a lot of money purchasing amps. Around this time frame the saying “Welcome to Head-fi. Sorry about your wallet” came about.
     
       2007 saw the emergence of a Chinese company called Fiio, whose mission was to provide quality audio equipment at affordable prices. They started production with a series of portable headphone amps, which included the e3, e4, and the e5. With everything else on the market being so expensive, many audiophiles refused to take them seriously including myself, but Fiio was undeterred. They stayed true to their mission, and continued with research and development. In 2011 I was contacted by Fiio's own Sunny Wong who asked if I could please review one of their newer amp models. I was quite skeptical, as up to that point, I had only used high-end portable amps. Giving it some thought, I agreed to write an objective review.
     
      Soon after, the Fiio e11 Kilimanjaro (www.head-fi.org/products/fiio-e11/reviews/5887) arrived in my mail box and after putting it to the test, I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, the Kilimanjaro was a much better product than I expected. It opened my eyes to new possibilities, and I have since become a fan of Fiio amps. They are a company that isn't “above” listening to their customers and enlisting the help of this community. As a result, they continue to make significant leaps in function and design. You still get a great price, but each new product feels more “premium” than the one before it.
     
    This beings us to the present. Fiio recently announced that they needed reviews for an amp that was designed to replace for the e5. Needless to say, I was on board from the start.
     
                 Packaging
    The A1 arrived in retail packaging straight from Fiio in about 3 weeks. The packaging is a fairly small clear plastic hanger with the amp displayed nicely and black accessory package with “A1” in bold red. It is very simplistic and cost effective, yet would attract your eye if hanging on a hook at the local shop. Inside the package you get the amp, a short 2.75” 3.5 to 3.5mm interconnect with right angle TRRS, long 30” 3.5mm to 3.5mm straight TRRS interconnect, USB to micro USB charging cable, and two clear plastic belt clips. For the price this amp retails for (27.99 Amazon) it is quite a nice package of accessories.
     
    Please forgive the pictures. I am without a decent camera at this moment.
     
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    Specs
      
         Fiio sent the silver version. With my experience of the past Fiio amps, I was expecting a fairly small amp. This did not disappoint. It is about the size of an Ipod shuffle. Measuring in at 42mm x 40.7mm x 9.4mm and 20g makes for a nice micro portable amp. The top of the amp features the power button, volume + and – buttons, and the 3.5mm headphone out. The bottom you get the 3.5mm, line in, and the micro USB charging port. The power button has a RGB LED that turns green when fully charged, red when charging, red flashing when low power, blue when on, and blue flashing when changing modes. The A1 is capable to driving 16-100Ω headphones at ≥ 78mW, and it can amplify a frequency range from 10Hz-90kHz. Fiio chose a 160mAh battery that should charge in around 90min and last for around 13 hours with a 32Ω impedance load. This is all pretty impressive on paper, but how does it really perform?
     
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       My testing platform is from the Ipod classic 7th gen, Fiio x1, Chrome book, Asus tablet, and Dell notebook. I used the AAW Q, AAW Nebula Two, Westone 4, Sennheiser hd439, Westone es60, and InEarz p450s. My music was an eclectic selection of genres in bit-rates from 256kbps Aac and mp3 to 24/96 flac. Majority of it being in 320 and flac.
     
    Performance
     
       I was quite pleased that in the standard mode there was not much coloration to the sound from the source. The is a slight bump in the warmness, but its not bad at all. With the first bass boost activated it gives a nice bump for the bass without affecting the highs too much. When you go past the first setting into the second and third things change. You start to get bloat into the mids and a bit of muddiness on two and severe bloat and bass blends right into the mids on three and treble is all but lost.. I just don't think they needed a second bass boost setting much less a third.
     
       They decided to use a digital volume control with an increase and decrease buttons. They work well, but you have no idea where you are in the range of the amps capabilities. There is nothing to let you know when you reach max volume except that there is no more increase in volume. I feel they could have added an audible beep or something to give warning as to prevent someone from trying to keep increasing the volume past max. For the majority of my Iems I found it provided enough volume. With the Ipod I feel it improved the sound stage slightly over the internal amp and gave it a more pleasing sound. With chrome-book it was a vast improvement over the stock hp out. I am still on the fence on whether the x1 benefited from the x1 yet and I feel the amp in the Pioneer is far superior. It was just not worth it to pair the pioneer with the a1.. When I tried full sized cans, I found the a1 struggled. The hd439 is fairly low impedance, but it still struggled. Its not surprising as they struggle with most players using the hp out. Low impedance iem's performed quite well and sounded really good.
    Conclusion
     
       For the most part I was quite pleased. For the price I think it is hard to do better. I do feel they should leave off some of the bass boost and add an audible signal for volume control, but at 30.00 its a heck of a buy. I think it would pair really well with something like an ipod nano or shuffle. It would allow the owner to upgrade their iem's to something better that the nano or shuffle can not drive very well. If you are using a larger portable player I think you would be better off spending a bit more on the new Fiio e11K Kilimanjaro 2. It will provide as much power as you need for most anything.
     
     
    Update. Speaking with some other reviewers, despite Fiio saying it has three bass boost settings the third setting is actually a flat attenuation mode. The following was borrowed with permission from Brooko in his review http://www.head-fi.org/products/fiio-a1-micro-headphone-amplifier/reviews/15718
     
    Please visit his review to view the graphs and measurements he did. It is a great review.
      Brooko likes this.
  4. themanisingh
    Its good, affordable Amp with some limitations
    Written by themanisingh
    Published Sep 10, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Small, Cheap and Truely portable
    Cons - Only three presets, just amp for volume and No auto on/off
    This is my First Amp bought for my Beyerdynamics Earphones So bear with me for my first review here. 
     
    I liked the small size of this which is very portable to carry around with you and this product is value for your money as long as you use it at upto 60% volume. After that every earphone is difficult to use because of very loud sound from output and with headphones you will feel bass which is good but than disturbing loudness.
    it was good to use it but i dont wanted to loss my hearing using this so stopped because i felt that this is just increasing the volume tried it with sennheiser HD 280 pro And audio technica ath-m50x but same increase in volume and loudness.
    led indicator is difficult to see and check in which preset i'm .
    biggest con of this i felt is no auto On/Off. i guess that why battery didn't served well to me.
  5. ryanjsoo
    Perfect On The Go Companion - With Comparisons to the Fiio e6 and JDS Labs Cmoy BB
    Written by ryanjsoo
    Published Apr 16, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Infinitely portable, Clean sound, Low output impedance and noise, Solid Build, Many accessories for the price
    Cons - Amp isn`t super strong, Status LED can be hard to view, Doesn`t pass through remote commands, Muddy eQ

    Introduction –

    The Fiio A1 is the successor to the wildly successful Fiio e6, an entry level headphone amplifier that was intended for use with smartphones and smaller iPods on the go. Both are extremely compact and hyper portable (measuring about 4cm in length and width) and both provide a nice boost in volume and quality over most smartphones. 

    [​IMG]

    The A1 retails for same $30 USD RRP as the e6 and is widely available from local audio retailers at this price. It follows Fiio`s new naming scheme with the A3 (e11k) marking the next step up in performance. The relatively low price point, portable size and added features of the A1 create a very accessible gateway into the audio hobby.

     

    Accessories –

    The A1 has similar packaging to the e6, it`s simple, premium enough and protective which is what matters.

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    The clear exterior shows off the much improved build of the A1 as well as a few specs and authenticity code. The A1 slides out on a molded plastic tray and a dark cardboard box underneath holds the papers and cables.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


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    The A1 actually comes with a lot of accessories considering the price. The box contains:

    1. The A1 itself
    2. 3.5mm interconnect cable (straight plug)
    3. Short 3.5mm interconnect cable (right angle plug)
    4. Micro USB cable for charging
    5. 2x top plates with mounting clip
    6. Top plate without clip

    [​IMG]

    I`m not sure why the A1 doesn`t come with the much more compact interconnect that the Q1 came with, even the short cable is too long for use with my nano. The flat Q1 cable is much more pliable, Fiio should really sell it separately.

    [​IMG]

    That being said, the short cable is pliable enough and the longer interconnect is great for use with laptops and speakers. The top plate clips work similarly well, similar to the clip system employed on the e6 but a little more sturdy. They simply snap onto the top of the A1; though the matte black finish of the amp without any cover is nice enough if you happen to lose the clips. Fiio also include a top plate without a clip if you want to stack the A1. They seem well secured and small ridges on the top of the A1 hold the plates firmly.

    [​IMG]

    For stacking, I use a tab of Scotch reusable double sided tape. It`s the perfect size and works admirably. The tape is washable and reusable with a pack of 16 costing just under $5 AUD and I find this to be a more minimalist approach than command strips. It would be interesting if Fiio could include a tab of remove-able tape with their newer amps in the box though it`s hardly essential.

     

    Design –

    The e6 had a compact design that worked well with small devices such as iPod nano`s. However its glossy plastic housing lead to EMI issues with smartphones and the housing was an absolute fingerprint magnet.

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    It`s amazing that just a few years later, Fiio can provide an EMI resistant, sand-blasted aluminium housing and superior audio performance at the same price. The A1 has corrected all of the issues listed above whilst retaining the features of the e6. Whilst it shares the same dimensions as the e6, subtle upgrades to the design of the device improve the look and feel tremendously, the rounded edges for instance really compliment the curved design featured in the majority of flagship phones and “i” devices.

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    Instead of the sliding switch on the side, the A1 now has three buttons on the top. Not only do the individual volume buttons of the A1 work better than the slider on the e6 they also feel much sturdier. The buttons are well placed and it`s easy to navigate in your pocket using the headphone plug as a reference. That being said, the e6 did have a better system for indicating eQ with a small LED on the face that changed colour to denote function. The A1 has only a single blue LED mounted behind the power button to indicate changes. It looks nicer and more minimalistic for sure, but it is functionally awkward. The light is quite dim and for a device intended for on the go use, I often had issues seeing the LED in bright areas. The LED lights up when turned on, flashes once every few seconds for Bass boost 1, twice for Bass boost 2 and three times for low gain mode.

    [​IMG]

    This approach takes some time getting used to, but you can pretty much just leave it in your pocket and listen to the changes In sound, they are quite pronounced. Neither the e6 or A1 have any issues with accidental button presses, but the A1 should be less susceptible. The A1 has a nice texture and is grippier to hold than the e6, especially when stacking. For example, the slick finish of the e6 can be hard to hold when stacked Nano 7g, but the A1`s more aggressive finish is grippier than the Nano`s own finish.

    [​IMG]

    The A1 has gold plated jacks to prevent crackle and I didn`t notice any pop when plugging in/unplugging headphones. Given its emphasis on portable use, it would be great if the A1 had 4 pole jacks to pass through remote signals, but none of my devices responded to remote commands even with a 4 pole interconnect. The Fiio logo is also now laser etched into the housing to resist fade, very nice. Whilst the aluminium is thoughtfully finished and resistant to markings, I did notice that the matte black plastic does get quite easily scuffed and dented. At $30, Fiio had to cut corners somewhere and luckily, the plastic is covered by the plastic top plates so they are well protected during daily use.

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    The A1 is another well designed device from Fiio, it is small enough to let hang, but add a tab of remove-able double sided tape and the A1 becomes a stacking champ. It is so small and light in fact, that you could probably leave it permanently attached to your phone. It also doesn`t get caught on my pockets like my bulkier e17k and the low weight means that stacking bands aren`t necessary.

     

    Sound –

    The sound isn`t so flawless, producing quality that is good, but just good. That`s actually quite a statement, because amps don`t really get much cheaper than the A1, even generic amps on Aliexpress. The A1 is a sizable improvement over the e6 but it`s not an evolution. Where I felt that the e6 always had an underlying warmth, the A1 provides a much cleaner sound that is closer to my JDS Labs Cmoyy BB. I usually prefer a warmer sound, but the A1 is undeniably better, it is more resolving, perhaps a bit more powerful and also more transparent. The low end in particular is much tighter.

    It is slightly warmer than my Cmoy equipped with the very neutral sounding LM4562 but it is close, I really like the sound. It`s not as good as the Cmoy quality wise, but it is so much smaller whereas the Cmoy isn`t really portable at all. The Cmoy has a big advantage when it comes to details, refinement and soundstage, it is perhaps even better than the A3 and more expensive to boot, so this is not the fairest of comparisons. Still, the A1 manages to sound much more refined than the e6 and it`s probably one of the best sounding micro amps out there.

    Apart from that, the A1 has plenty of volume for iems, a tad more than the e6. The gain is quite low, ideal for line-out and iems, the noise floor is similarly low but still noticeable; just a little more than my e17k which is much improved over the e6. The A1 starts to struggle when driving my Oppo PM3`s and B&W P7`s, it`s just enough for portable headphones but still worlds better than my stock Nano, there`s far more voltage but perhaps lacking current.

    On a less positive note, I heard a slight darkness to the upper mids that I didn`t quite agree with and the soundstage is quite intimate. Switching back and forth between the inbuilt amp in my e17k and the A1, using the DAC in the e17k in both instances, the e17k sounded far more spacious and the whole composure of the sound really comes alive as a result. It`s very sobering listening to the A1 in comparison, but at the same time, it provided a big boost from my Nano 7g and 3g and my iPod touch 4g for just a 5th of the price. The A1 doesn`t have the most composed high end but the midrange sounds nice and smooth. The bass performance is also great, relatively tight and enjoyable. It adds a nice punch to my W30`s and more extension as opposed to my HTC M8 which has a high output impedance. The A1 will work well with devices with strong DAC`s and weak amps like iPods whilst more powerful sources will experience far less benefit.

    The eQ`s work well, they add more body to the bass, mainly sub-bass this time around but it still has a bit of that muddy sound that the e6 had. eQ1 works well but eQ2 has the same bass boost + reduced highs profile as the e6 which is simply too muddy for me. It`ll work well with bass deficient gear such as portable speakers but for any decent earphone or headphone, steer clear. The A1 also retains the same low output impedance as the e6, <0.2 ohms which is superb for multi-armature monitors. Both THD and SNR are also great, better than any flagship smartphone and in practice I found this to be true.

     

    Verdict –

    While other reviews state that the A1 has limited uses, I believe that it just has more unorthodox uses than more versatile amps such as the A3. It`s limited output power and small size make it better suited for iPod Nano`s and low end smartphones rather than flagship phones. My HTC M8 for example will provide the same top end volume as the A1. But what the A1 brings to the table is a much lower output impedance, less hiss and distortion as well as a cleaner sound in general. It has a few eQ`s that work well to an extent, but not nearly as well as those on the e17k.

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    For general consumers, the A1 will work a treat and you will get appreciable differences; but for audiophiles, it is easy to see why the A3 is more appealing. Overall, the A1 is a well-designed, quality product from Fiio that marks the entry point into headphone amplifiers. It will be a great way for buyers to test whether they really need an amp or not and is a convenient device to have around the house as a backup. It also makes for a great gift for a more audio conscious friend/relative. The A1 is the perfect companion for your smaller DAPs, working well for travel and even sports.

     

    Accessories – 9.5/10, The A1 comes with plenty of quality accessories. I wish Fiio would provide more devices with the ultrashort, flat interconnect cable of the Q1, but having both a long and short aux cable enables more versatile functionality. Would be good to include a tab of reusable double sided tape.

    Design – 8.5/10, The build exhumes quality on a whole, from the attractive, sturdy aluminium housing to the well-marked, receptive buttons on top. The device is easy to operate and the digital volume control has many fine steps. The battery life is plentiful, I easily met Fiio`s 13hr claim. The power button LED indicator does not work well for me however and the A1 would benefit from an added status LED. The matte black plastic is easily marked but the included plastic covers prevent damage.

    Sound Quality – 7/10, The less powerful, low gain amp section of the A1 provides plenty of current to make iems and some portable headphones sing. It still has plenty of volume for portable use and home users will appreciate the low noise floor. Much improved over the e6 overall, the clean sound synergizes with pretty much every source and headphone. The eQ`s are not fantastic but get the job done in a pinch. The soundstage is very intimate and not really improved over most sources, in fact it can shrink the soundstage in some cases, this is my biggest gripe. Otherwise the amp has a tight, punchy bass performance and smooth mids complimented by slightly unrefined highs.

    Value – 8/10, The A1 feels very premium despite its price. It is compact and versatile, providing a nice boost in sound quality over most stock amp sections. It comes with many accessories and is widely available at Fiio`s RRP.

    Verdict – 7/10, The A1 is an attractive device that compliments portable players well. It is very minimalist and with intuitive features. The sound quality leap once again depends on your source, but it will provide a great upgrade over iPod Nano`s, etc. The low output impedance and noise floor is perhaps its biggest asset, the A1 sounds very clean and the improvement to the sound of armature based earphones can be drastic. The A1 has a few eQs built in for good measure but I didn`t find them to work too well, the first bass boost setting is perfectly listenable but the second is far too muddy.

    This review was taken from my blog, please have a look for guides and more reviews like this, thanks for reading:

     https://everydaylisteningblog.wordpress.com/

      williamclarkonet likes this.
  6. Brooko
    FiiO A1 – Good value, but limited uses
    Written by Brooko
    Published Apr 8, 2016
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Size, price, hardware EQ options, accessories, battery life, low output impedance
    Cons - Amplifier is relatively weak
    fiioa110.jpg
    For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images​

    INTRODUCTION

    Playing around with the FiiO A1 over the last few weeks has taken me back a few years to when I first joined Head-Fi. My first amplifier back then was the FiiO E7, and naturally I was hugely proud of my new stack (iPod Gen 4 > lineout > E7).  And I marvelled at the changes – the increased clarity, detail, and soundstage! Over the years, I’ve come to realise that the perceived benefits at the time were mostly because I wasn’t volume matching at the time, and most of the improvements I was hearing were simply due to the fact that I was listening louder with the amp.
     
    Fast forward five years, and I’m much more aware of how we process sound, and how perception can alter what we think we hear.  For a long time I didn’t carry an amp once I’d learned the difference between what I could actually hear, and what I thought I was. But in the last year I’ve started using one again (when necessary), and there are some superb low cost amplifiers out there – check my reviews for the E17K and Q1 for a couple of low cost options.
     
    FiiO has been a pioneer in introducing affordable amplifiers – particularly for music lovers who may be starting on their journey. And one of the great things about their entry level options is that you can experiment whilst still on a reasonably tight budget. One of their most popular amplifiers for this subset (beginning audiophiles) was the E5, which later upgraded to the E6.  The A1 is the third iteration of this popular micro amplifier – so how does it stack up, and is it worth it?
     
    ABOUT FIIO
    By now, most Head-Fi members should know about the FiiO Electronics Company.  If you don’t, here’s a very short summary.
     
    FiiO was first founded in 2007.  Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned Head-Fiers as being low budget “toys”.  But FiiO has spent a lot of time with the community here, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt our ideas, and grow their product range.  Today, their range includes DAPs, portable amps, portable dac/amps, desktop dac/amps, earphones, cables and other accessories.
     
    FiiO’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.
     
    DISCLAIMER
    The A1 portable amplifier that I’m reviewing today was provided to me gratis as a review sample.  I have made it clear to FiiO that I still regard any product they send me as their sole property and available for return any time at their request. But I thank them for the ability to continue use of the A1 – for follow up comparisons.  The FiiO A1 can be sourced from Amazon for approx. USD 30.
    FiiO's A1 product page
     
    PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.
    (This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review).
     
    I'm a 49 year old music lover.  I don't say audiophile – I just love my music.  Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up.  I vary my listening from portables (including the FiiO X5ii, X3ii, X7, LP5 Pro and L3, and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD).  I also use a portable set-up at work – usually either X3ii/X7/L3 > HP, or PC > E17K > HP.  My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1, Sennheiser HD600, and AKG K553.  Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
     
    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock.   I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock.  I am particularly fond of female vocals.  I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences.  I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.
     
    I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent.  I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue.  All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences.  I am not a ‘golden eared listener’.  I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 49, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays).
     
    For the actual listening part of this review I used the FiiO A1 in situations I would imagine beginners might be looking for insight / amplification. So I paired it with my iPhone 5S, with the FiiO K1 and with the FiiO X1 and M3.
    This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience.  Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
     
    FURTHER NOTES
    1. FiiO are in the process of rebranding/renaming their portable amp line up, and some of it does get confusing. A few years ago, they actually listed a small desktop speaker amp as the A1 – so if you see different references for it, just be aware that this review is about the micro amp.
    2. Volume matching was done with a calibrated SPL meter and test tones (1 kHz) when required for comparison.
    3. Frequency response and distortion measurements were taken using a relatively cheap Startech USB soundcard. I combined this with a licensed copy of the ARTA measuring suite. The soundcard has a calibration adjustment applied – so that it measures dead flat from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
     
    WHAT I WOULD LOOK FOR IN A BUDGET PORTABLE AMP
    I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I would imagine beginners are looking for in a budget portable amp. This is useful to remember when looking at my reasoning for scoring later in the review.
    1. Genuine portability
    2. Good battery life
    3. Easy to use
    4. Low output impedance
    5. Reasonable output power
    6. Some form of bass boost
    7. Value for money
     
    PORTABLE AMPS I’VE OWNED IN THE PAST
    1. Previous = FiiO E7, E11, GoVibe Porta Tube, Headstage Arrow 12HE 4G, Beyerdynamic A200p
    2. Current = E17K, Q1, IMS-HVA, iFi Micro iDSD
     

    THE REVIEW

    PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
    The FiiO A1 arrived in FiiO’s cheaper retail packaging – a clear, red and black plastic retail display box measuring 87 x 153 x 19mm. The A1 is displayed clearly through the clear plastic upper section. The rear of the package has some specs and other information in English and Chinese.
     
    fiioa101.jpg fiioa102.jpg
    The retail package front
    .... and rear

     
    Opening the outer cover reveals a plastic inner tray housing the A1, and a black and red accessory box.  The accessories include:
    1. 2 clear plastic clips and one plastic top (no clip)
    2. 1 x short (7cm) 3.5-3.5 mm interconnect cable with right angle jacks (FiiO’s L8 mini to mini)
    3. 1 x long (75cm) 3.5-3.5 mm interconnect cable with straight jacks
    4. A USB to micro-USB recharging cable
    5. Warranty and instructions
     
    fiioa103.jpg fiioa104.jpg
    A1 and accessory box
    Rear of the box

     
    The inclusion of the 2nd clip is a smart idea – just in case you end up breaking one. And the top without a clip is a nice finish for those who prefer not to use a clip. The inclusion of two interconnects is a good choices as well. The shorter one is ideal for pairing closely with a stacked portable source, and the longer one if paired with the A1 on a belt (while the source is safely in a pocket), or if used with a laptop, and you need more space/reach.
     
    fiioa105.jpg fiioa106.jpg fiioa107.jpg
    A1 accessories
    Longer interconnect
    Short interconnect and USB cable

     
    The amazing thing with the accessories is how much you get for the extremely low starter price.  FiiO always seems to deliver very good accessories at the lower price points. The entire package is practical, covering everything you would initially need for the A1.
     
    TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
    The tables below list most of the relevant specifications for the A1.  For the purposes of this exercise I have also included comparative information on Brainwavz similarly priced AP001 amp, and because I discuss it later – FiiO’s A3 amp.
     
    Specification
    FiiO A1
    Brainwavz AP001
    FiiO A3
    Approximate price
    USD 30.00
    USD 25.00
    USD 60.00
    Dimensions
    42 x 41 x 9 mm
    38 x 38 x 13 mm
    91 x 56 x 13 mm
    Weight
    20g
    16g
    92g
    Output Impedance H/O
    <0.2 ohm
    Not stated
    <0.2 ohm
    Max Output Power @ 16ohm
    78 mW
    Not stated
    450 mW
    SNR
    >100 dB (A weighted)
    Not stated
    >105 dB (A weighted)
    THD-N
    0.05% (1 kHz)
    Not stated
    0.004% (1 kHz)
    Adjustable Gain
    2 settings (2nd = -5 dB)
    N/A
    -3.8dB/11.7dB (15.5 dB)
    Bass Boost
    Yes – 2 levels
    N/A
    Yes – 2 level
    Max Output Current
    50 mA
    Not stated
    92 mA
    Peak Output Voltage
    4.52 Vp-p
    Not stated
    8.6 Vp-p
    Battery Capacity / Life
    160 mAh / 13+ hours
    120 mAh / 12+ hr
    1400 mAh / 16+ hr
    Recharge Time
    < 1.5 hours
    ~ 2 hr
    < 4 hr

     
    BUILD / DESIGN
    The FiiO A1 is rectangular shaped with a central aluminium alloy body, and hard rubber/plastic top and bottom panels. The edges are nicely rounded, and the top is recessed to allow fitting of the plastic clip. At the bottom left is a micro USB charging port, and bottom right is the auxiliary input.
     
    fiioa108.jpg fiioa109.jpg fiioa111.jpg
    The front of the A1 & view of the bottom ports
    Rear of the A1
    Headphone out and volume+ EQ buttons

     
    On the top panel from left to right are the on/off/EQ button, volume down and volume up buttons, and the 3.5mm headphone out port.  This port is gold plated and very snug (headphone jacks are well captured). In the centre of the on-off/EQ button is an LED light.  This light indicates the functions of the A1 – glowing red when charging, blue when in operation, and green when charging is complete. When in operation, the blue LED is solid blue for the default setting, flashes slowly one pulse (continually) when set to EQ1, two pulses when set to EQ2, and three pulses when set to EQ3. If the light is slowly pulsing red, it means that the battery is almost depleted.  Very easy to follow and understand.
     
    fiioa113.jpg
    fiioa114.jpg fiioa115.jpg
    FiiO A1 - a look inside
    Very tidy PCB
    And a look at the opposite side


    Internally the A3 is very neatly laid out, and for amplification uses the TPA6130A2 amplifier chip. For the gain and bass boosts this is complimented with 74HC4052PW+OPA2322AID.
     
    HEAT / POWER
    There is no heat build-up at all with the A1 even under load, and this is probably due to the output being relatively weak.
     
    The digital control seems to consist of around 50-60 steps – with the low increments being around 1.5 dB.  The last 30 steps seem to be about 0.5 dB each. I ran a full level signal through my sound card to measure total volume under loopback, and this gave me a measurement of close to 147.5 dB.  I then added the A1 at full volume, and this increased the output to approximately 152 dB – or a total gain of 4.5 dB. FiiO actually publishes their measurements at a shade under 4 dB so it is nice to know we’re in agreement.
     
    In real terms this means at full volume we’re not even doubling the volume level – so FiiO’s advice of recommended headphones in the 16-100 ohm range is probably pretty close.
     
    fiioa117.jpg fiioa118.jpg fiioa119.jpg
    A1, M3 and X1 - output matches size
    Size comparisons
    Stacking indications

     
    As another test, I used my FiiO X1 (100 mW into 16 ohms), plugged in the 320 ohm VE Zen 1 earbuds (which the X1 actually drives pretty well at around 50% volume), played an Amber Rubarth track (definitely not a victim of the loudness wars), and dropped the volume to 40/100 to simulate a weak source. Then I added the A1 at full volume, and the increased amplification was very slight. And the issue with this is that my iPhone at 80% power will actually handle the Zen 1 by itself quite nicely. With the FiiO X1 the same track needs about 50% volume, and even the FiiO M3 (50 mW into 16 ohms) does passably well at 50% volume (30/60).
     
     
    Now this is driving a load that FiiO wasn’t aiming at anyway – but it doesn’t negate the fact that most sources nowadays have no issues driving headphones in the 16-100 ohm range anyway. So where does this leave us with the A1 – if its primary use as an amplifier is negated? Well I’m pleased you asked actually – so let’s take a look in the next section.
     
    OTHER FEATURES / EQ OPTIONS / THD
    The A3 does have a few nice little tricks which makes it worthwhile.  The first of these is its very low output impedance – which means it is an ideal solution if you have a source with high output impedance and headphones with low impedance (imbalance in damping ratio).  The ideal damping ratio is greater than 1:8 – so this is where the A1’s very low 0.2 ohm impedance can help. This rule of thumb isn’t always the case – but it’s a good guide, and can help if you have headphones which will change their frequency response if damped incorrectly.
     
    The second area the A1 can really help is if pairing with another device which does not have volume control. The K1 which I will review in the near future is a very small and cheap DAC/amp from FiiO – but it has no volume control.  Pair the A3 with the K1, and you will have quite a nice combo for effectively controlling the sound from your laptop or tablet. And if you’re out and about, and find it handier to control the volume of your DAP (presumably safe in your pocket or bag) by the use of a small device which clips onto your belt – then the A1 may become your new best friend.
     
    fiioa123.jpg EQ1.png EQ2.png
    Volume control for the FiiO K1
    EQ measurements
    Close ups of EQ curves

     
    But the biggest feature the A1 has is its built in EQ. This works in 4 distinct stages.  The first or default provides around 4 dB gain above your source output – and it is essentially pretty flat with a very slight roll-off in the sub-bass (this is well under 0.5 dB so it’s negligible – you won’t notice it).  Going to bass boost one adds some gradual warmth beginning slowly in the mid-range and gradually rising through the mid-bass to culminate in a +4bB rise from 100 Hz down. The second boost setting is quite cleverly implemented.  This drops everything from about 2kHz forward down by 3 dB, and then raises slowly back to 0 at ~ 600 Hz, and then slowly raises the mid-bass and sub bass to the + 4dB level.  This adds a lot more bass, but by dropping the upper mids and treble, it does it unobtrusively so that it minimises the chances of clipping. The third “boost” setting is actually volume attenuation.  It returns to the default flat signal, but drops the signal down by -5 dB. This is handy if you have very sensitive IEM’s or headphones, and need to attenuate the signal to allow yourself more headroom, or finer control on volume. One more push then returns you to the default setting again.
     
    volume.png A1thdat300hz.png A1thdat1khz.png
    Volume steps 0.5 dB
    Distortion and SNR measurement 300Hz
    Distortion and SNR measurement 1 kHz

     
    But what about the amp itself – is it clean?  And the answer to that is yes.  FiiO have implemented this pretty well.  The distortion plots I measured actually show similar SNR at around 100 dB and THD between 0.01-0.02% and THD+N at 0.02% as well.  FiiO showed theirs as being 0.05% (higher than my recordings) so I’m wondering if they took their readings with bass boost engaged.  Anyway – the A1 measures very clean, and more importantly also sounds very clean.
     
    BATTERY LIFE
    FiiO rates the play time on a full charge at around 13 hours, and recharge at an extremely low 2 hours. I managed to get 12 hr 42 min and 13hr 23 min with the two full attempts I made.  Both were under load – the shorter of the two measurements was actually with my q-Jays. Recharge time is indeed an extremely rapid 2 hours.
     
    SONICS AND PERFORMANCE (COMPARISONS)
    So how does it sound? If you’re looking for me to comment on bass, mids, treble – you’re reading the wrong review.  I’ve already shown how it measures pretty much perfectly flat with no EQ added, so nothing is boosted. If I compare with a very neutral amp like the E17K, I’d say the A1 leans very slightly toward the warm side. Not soupy warm though – just a little tinge.
     
    So what about imaging and sound-stage?  Well that is a combination of the miking of the recorded track and the response of the headphones you use.  The A1 won’t change this. So that’s why I don’t comment on it. So what can I do? How about a little comparison with a similar device (Brainwavz AP001) and FiiO’s own A3?  Let’s see how the A1 performs against the competition? For this section I volume matched each amplifier using test tones and a calibrated SPL meter.  I also used the Dunu DN2000J – for its low impedance, high sensitivity, and very revealing nature.
     
    FiiO A1 $30 vs Brainwavz AP001 $25
    Both the AP001 and A1 show very similar size, weight and cost.  The major differences are in feature set and control over the sonic signature. The AP001 has no volume control, no EQ, and the only extra feature it sports is the dual headphone out sockets (nice if you want to share – but you have to have similar headphones as your partner though).  Its output is practically the same as the A1’s at full volume. The other thing with the AP001 is that its bass boost is permanently engaged – so it has a very warm signature. So if you engage the first bass boost on the A1, you are essentially getting the same signature as the AP001 – and that is where the A1 is just so much better. You get the choice of EQ and the variable volume control which makes a huge difference. The AP001 has its uses and for $25 it isn’t a bad device.  But the A1 for an extra fiver is miles better.
    fiioa121.jpg
     
     
    FiiO A1 $30 vs FiiO A3 $60
    The A1 is a lot smaller, about a quarter of the size, but in reality the A3 is the easier to stack with most DAPs (matching size). With the A3 you have a true gain control, the analogue pot, and the 1 stage bass boost (which is more subtle than the A1’s boost). The A1 will give you more colouration options though, and this will suit some people. But the real difference is in the driving power.  The A3 has almost 6 times the power output – which makes it a truly useful amplifier. For the extra $30, I personally think it provides better value – and if you have an extra $10 on top of that you should read my Q1 review as well.
    fiioa122.jpg
     

    VALUE & CONCLUSION

    I’ve now had the FiiO A1 for close to four months, and to be honest, I’m not really the intended audience for a device like this – although I can see its merits.
     
    The A1 is a nicely sized micro amplifier with a good build, very good included accessories, and let’s face it, possesses a cool gadget look about it. Its strengths lie in its good measurements (pretty clean signature), ability to tailor the sound with added warmth and bass boost, low output impedance, and its battery life and fast recharge time.  It makes a great companion to a device which doesn’t have volume control (like FiiO’s K1 amp/DAC), and the ability to clip onto a belt whilst keeping your source tucked away in a pocket will appeal to some.
     
    Unfortunately though, it is fairly low powered and if you don’t value its EQ features, as a pure amplifier it really doesn’t have a lot going for it apart from its price. For those wanting to add it to some of FiiO’s cheaper DAPs (M3 or X1), my advice is don’t – it isn’t going to add anything other than the hardware EQ.
     
    For the beginners who are looking to experiment with their first amplifier, and really value bass boost (but aren’t comfortable with using a software based graphic equaliser) – then there is very little risk with the A1.  It genuinely sounds good, and has some nice features.
     
    But if you are looking for something to boost ear or headphones that need more power – spend a little more and opt for the A3 or Q1.  To me they represent far better value. Three stars
     
    fiioa120.jpg
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Brooko
      Personally - I'd suggest going to the FiiO A3 or Q1 - they simply have more power. Unfortunately I don't know the xperia.  If it has a weak amp, the A1 may help a little - but its pretty weak on amplification itself.
      Brooko, Oct 23, 2016
    3. basefi
      i plan on pairing this amp with my luxury & precision L3 since it lacks bass and the EQ is limited. will this work well by boosting the bass on L3? i listen to bass heavy genres (hiphop, edm, house..)
      basefi, Dec 5, 2016
    4. Brooko
      @basefi - have you tried simply using the "bass" preset EQ on the L3?  its actually not too bad, and definitely boosts the low end.  Might be the easiest option.
      Brooko, Dec 12, 2016
  7. thatonenoob
    [PMReviews] Fiio A1 - An Ultra Portable Amp
    Written by thatonenoob
    Published Feb 7, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Good Battery Life, Solid Form Factor, Decent SQ
    Cons - Weaker Gain, Crackling, Mediocre Bass Boost
    FIIO'S A1 AMP

    Good3.jpg
     
    << Fiio M3 DAP                  
         Review Index   
                               Samson Z55>>

     
    INTRODUCTION

    So Fiio’s on a bit of a budget audio mini-device roll right now.  First, the M3 –a solid DAP that’s no bigger (and heavier) than a large Lego block.  Okay, slight exaggeration but you get the point.  Now we have the A1, Fiio’s revamped version of the extremely popular E06 budget portable amp.  I’m fairly certain by now that most are familiar with Fiio.  But for those who’ve somehow missed out on it, Fiio is a Chinese company that focuses mainly on portable audio gear and is known primarily for its highly successful budget offerings.  The A1 itself hasn’t been released yet (it seems to be in pre-release stage) as the E06 is still up on the website.   I do believe that there are prototype models bundled with the EX1 earphones are on sale right now through their web store, so if you’re keen on getting those two together there’s always that option.
     
    Before I go further, I’d once again like to thank Sunny @ Fiio for making this happen.  My usual disclaimers apply.  I’m neither an employee nor an affiliate of Fiio.  The photos in this review were taken by me and I do reserve the rights to them.  Feel free to drop me a PM at any time if you have questions concerning the review and the media inside.  I’ll be happy to answer.

     
    SPECIFICATIONS

    Incomplete as I only have Fiio's PR specs.  
     
    OUTPUT POWER:  70 mW @ 32 ohms
    THD: < 0.01% (1 kHz)
    SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO: "Over 100dB"
    BATTERY: 160mAh, rated for 13 hours.
     
    PACKAGING / INCLUDED ITEMS

     
    Good2.jpg
     
    The A1 comes in a quaint see-through plastic box with the usual blister packaging.  Even more basic than the M3 but it’s definitely price-appropriate.  Included is an amp, charging cable, two 3.5mm to 3.5mm headphone jack wires, a charging cable, and a spare plastic clip (which can be replaced with spare plastic cover).  Glad to see that Fiio took into account the likelihood that users would break the plastic clip.  I for one know that I’ve broken more than my fair share of pen caps.​
     ​
    BUILD/ DESIGN QUALITY
     

    Good4.jpg   Good5.jpg
     
    It looks like an iPod Shuffle.  Especially with its new metal closure, there’s no denying the obvious resemblance between the two.  And that’s a good thing.  The A1 cuts a svelte figure amongst other portable amps and weighs just 20 grams.  Apple users will be especially happy to find that it complements their existing devices remarkably well.  Starting from the top, we find the 3.5 mm port, volume control, and power button.  A black band on the top is where you slide in the detachable plastic clip (or plastic cover if you’d prefer).  On the bottom is auxiliary in and charging port.​
     ​
    The three bass boast functions on the A1 are accessed by pressing the power button and seeing the appropriate series of flashing lights on the power button’s indicating LED.  I personally shy away from bass boast, but for those needing just a little extra bass response on IEMs there is always this option.  ​
     ​
    Moving onto the numbers. The A1 has “up to 70mW output power at 32 ohms”. THD is stated to be only 0.01%.  The S/N ratio is stated to be “over 100”.   The A1’s battery clocks in at 160 mAh and has over 13 hours of playtime.  Haven’t had the chance to drain the amp to that point but I don’t doubt its long battery life.  The volume control comes in at 64 volume levels, which is pretty nice.  Better than the 12-step volume control found on most phones at any rate.​
     ​
    BUILD/ DESIGN QUALITY


    Good7.jpg
     ​
    I’m going to start by saying that the A1 is a budget portable amplifier that’s the size of a small sticky note.  A very small sticky note. It’s job scope is fairly clear – amp harder to drive IEMs and portable headphones.  In that respect, the A1 does a decent job.  It gives a fairly clean amp gain that'll drive most IEMs to fairly uncomfortable levels. With headphones however, the A1 is less impressive as the amp gain simply isn't that substantial.  EDIT: Yes, it will drive some to uncomfortable levels, but move a bit out of the portable range and the A1's limitations becoming increasingly obvious.  When pushed to its limit, the A1 suffers from distortion and loss of control over sound– but that isn’t exactly surprising. The A1 does well when double-amped with the average smartphone, much more so then one would expect in fact.  The bass boost is a fun feature to play with, but I found some of the modes excessive and heavy handed.  One annoying thing is that there is crackle when you plug it into your devices (my iPod touch responded particularly poorly).  You’re going to want to plug in first, and then turn on the A1.​
     ​
     I do suspect that the A1’s enticing price is going to make this one of the first go-to amps for budding audiophiles, so let’s try and address a few common questions here. ​
     ​
    “I just got a pair of DT880s 600 ohms and I need something to amp it because the volume is really low.  Can I use these?”  Unfortunately, the A1 isn’t going to be able to do that.  You could scrape by with low-moderate volumes with 300-400 ohm cans depending on their sensitivity, but there’s going to be significant loss of control and resolution, and you should probably save up for a more dedicated amp/DAC. ​
     ​
    “Will these improve the sound quality of my existing headphones?”  If you need more volume or control on portable pieces –go ahead by all means!  Will it make your music sound better –depends, but I’d suggest a DAC, especially if you’re trying to get more out of your existing source material (which makes the biggest difference).  Perhaps one of Fiio’s Amp/DACs might be the solution you’re looking for.​
     ​
    For those with dedicated DAPs, you probably don’t need the A1.  I found that adding the A1 to my DX50 was redundant, as the DX50 can already drive my portable gear to very comfortable levels with solid control.  The A1’s sonic qualities compared to that of most dedicated DAP built-in amps is also debatable.  But if you’re on the go with a weaker smartphone, this is a small everyday carry piece of gear that you can pick up for almost nothing.​
     ​
    FINAL THOUGHTS

    Good6.jpg  
    The A1 is a small, ultraportable amp that does a good job at providing extra juice to IEMs and portable headphones.  If you’re looking for an amp that looks very elegant with an extremely small footprint (and a correspondingly small price tag) and don’t need significant levels of amp gain, then the A1 is the right device for you.​





    1. InternPrimas
      So it's good enough to run with a pair of headphones that go at 26 ohms?
      InternPrimas, Oct 28, 2016
  8. twister6
    Audio micro gadget with a bass attitude
    Written by twister6
    Published Jan 31, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - micro-size, good battery life, EQ/sound effects (bass boost), accessories, cheap
    Cons - weak amplification, no auto power-off, hissing with sensitive headphones

     
    I would like to Thank FiiO for providing me with a review sample of A1 in exchange for my honest opinion.
     

     
    Lately FiiO has been showering us with lots of new releases, some brand new while others are refresh or updates.  After covering a number of their new products in my recent reviews, I was a bit hesitant to commit to another one until I saw A1 pictures.  I’m a sucker for cool looking gadgets, and considering a ‘legendary’ status of E6 which A1 suppose to replace, I decided to give it a shot.  4+ years since its introduction, FiiO E6 is still among the best sellers on Amazon.  But times have changed, where personal audio players and smartphones went up in sound quality and output power.  Even so I never used E6, in my opinion it was probably intended to be smartphone and mp3 players companion.   So let’s take a closer took to see what I have found after spending some time with FiiO's new micro audio gadget.
     
    Unboxing.
     
    Similar to recently introduced K1 usb dac/amp, I found A1 packaging to be revealing with a clear see-through plastic box.  With some products such plastic packaging could feel cheap, but here it was just perfect to show off the actual product size.  The emphasis here is on “micro” size, only 42mm x 40.7mm x 9.4mm and a feather light weight of only 20g including the detachable clip.  We are used to packaging with artwork images out of scale where you never know how big the actual product is, while here you get a chance to see the real thing from the front and the back.
     
    Once you remove the form fitted small plastic tray where A1 resides in, you can get to the accessories box which slides out easily with all the bonus goodies inside.
     
    fiio_a1-01_zpsmszk7m2c.jpg   fiio_a1-02_zpsl5d0f3j9.jpg
    fiio_a1-03_zpsbqclbre3.jpg   fiio_a1-04_zpsrl473zch.jpg
     
    Accessories.
     
    Here you will find a warranty card and a detailed user guide, usb to micro-usb charging cable (charge only, no data pins are connected), two sets of 3.5mm cables, and extra detachable transparent plastic frame/clip.  USB cable is required only for charging, thus FiiO used a power only cable which doesn’t have to be of the highest quality, but you can obviously use any of your own micro-usb cables.  The cable is marked “charge only, not data cable”, so make sure you don’t rip that label off, forget about it, and later end up pulling your hair trying to sync your phone with a laptop or when can't copy files from your DAP.
     
    The included 3.5mm line-in cables are a short inter-connect with right angle connectors and a long cable with straight connectors.  Short IC cable will be useful if you are planning to keep A1 closer to your source, and with a longer cable you can keep A1 remotely away while taking advantage of a clip mount.  I have a little trick for those who want to piggyback A1 to their phone or DAP, discussed later in the review.
     
    Also included are 2 bonus plastic clear attachments, one spare frame with a clip (in addition to the one already mounted on A1), and one plastic frame without a clip.  It’s a great idea to have a spare clip in case if you break one, but I’m not quite sure about the purpose of a clipless frame, though it does look good when assembled.
     
    Overall, considering a budget price of under $28, it was great to see a complete set of accessories.
     
    fiio_a1-05_zpsmxeeqrje.jpg   fiio_a1-06_zpsnthwy0lv.jpg
    fiio_a1-07_zpswd0zxfka.jpg
     
    Design.
     
    I already mentioned about micro-size dimensions of this little guy.  But regardless of its small size, it's actually packed with a few nice features.  A1 itself is wrapped in an aluminum shell with plastic pieces covering the top and the bottom.  At the bottom you will find a gold plated reinforced AUX IN input where output of your source goes in.  Next to it is micro-usb charging port to charge its internal 160mAh LiPo battery.  This little amp is self powered, meaning it doesn't draw any power from the attached source, and the internal battery should last at least 13 hrs of continuous play.  I have been using it on and off for a week, and looks like there still plenty of power left.  Unfortunately, I didn't find Auto Power-off feature which would have been good to prevent battery drain when not in use.  Unless it gets activated while idling for many hours, the power didn't turn off by itself.
     
    There is no precise battery indicator, but the built in LED light inside of multifunction power button will guide you when power is getting low.  This brings up to the top of the unit where you have this power button with a tri-color LED built right in it, Volume +/- buttons next to it, and a gold plated reinforced Headphone Output port.  According to FiiO, volume level adjustment is in 64 steps, where you can adjust one step at a time by clicking corresponding button or pressing and holding for continuous adjustment.  Just a note, due to close proximity of Volume buttons to HO port, with some thicker headphone jacks I had a hard time accessing Volume+ button.  Also, holding both +/- volume buttons resets A1 (followed by red/blue blinking) and turns the power off.
     
    Multifunction power button is cleverly designed with built-in tri-color LED indicating various states and functionality of A1.  While charging the light is solid red, when charging is done it turns green.  In normal operation state light will be blue, and if it's red/flashing - battery is low.  Solid blue light indicates the Power On and no effects are selected.  Pushing power button once, makes this Blue light flash once every 2sec indicating "BASS1" setting.  Pushing it one more time, makes Blue light flash twice indicating BASS2 setting, and pushing one more time takes it to BASS3 setting with three Blue light flashes.  One more power button push, and it cycles back to No Effects setting with a solid Blue light.
     
    Based on my measurements and audio analysis confirmation, I found BASS1 to boost sub-/mid-bass and also to boost lower mids, BASS2 keeps the same boost as BASS1 and in addition rolls off the upper mids/treble, and BASS3 functions as a low gain setting where it actually attenuates/reduces volume.  I was able to confirm that BASS3 setting brought output of A1 down to a level equivalent to HO output of the actual source, thus negating the amplification effect.
     
    Though I typically don't take audio gadgets apart, I was tempted to remove 2 philips screws from the bottom plate to see what's inside of this micro module.  In addition to 160mAh battery, I found a very compact and well laid out printing wiring board (pwb) with AUX IN and HO ports aligned on one side and other ICs placed on the component side of pwb, including a hefty ceramic surface mound capacitor between 3.5mm ports.
     
    fiio_a1-08_zps2lzlpmpa.jpg   fiio_a1-09_zps6odeo0ve.jpg
    fiio_a1-10_zpsfsff1e8t.jpg   fiio_a1-11_zpsuzwmnoll.jpg
    fiio_a1-12_zpsm6brq1in.jpg   fiio_a1-13_zpsnfnfpbpp.jpg
    fiio_a1-14_zpsl0tambcq.jpg
     
    Under the hood.
     
    fiio_a1-24_zpsd4tigosr.jpg   fiio_a1-25_zpsp34co8e3.jpg
     
    Sound analysis.
     
    For sure, A1 looks cute and priced very reasonably, but how does it sounds?  I found overall tonality to be warmish and smooth, with a signature close to neutral, leaving the actual sound shaping to BASS1/2/3 settings.  There was a little bit of EMI crackle interference every time I connected A1 to my Note 4, but it was only during the first seconds and I didn't experience it afterwards.  Regarding the noise floor, with average sensitivity headphones I didn't hear too much problems, BUT with my sensitive multi-BA CIEMs, like ES60 - noise level went through the roof.  A1 is definitely NOT suited for a sensitive headphones pair up.
     
    Regarding the actual amplification boost, I didn't find a lot of a significant improvement.  You can definitely hear the overall level of output to go up and it varied between different IEMs and full size headphones.  But in my opinion if you are getting A1 with a purpose to provide a noticeable volume boost for your headphones - it's  not that impressive when it comes to amplification gain.
     
    But regardless of that, I put it through a test comparing a few of my headphones to hear how it sounds straight out of my Galaxy Note 4 versus Note 4 + A1.
     
    - Zen 1.0 (320 ohm) - not much of an improvement in overall sound quality, but typically I have to push my N4 closer to the max volume level where it starts to distort, while with A1 there was no distortion.
     
    - EL-8C (planar magnetic) - a little more bass and more body in mids, doesn't make it louder, but smoother at max volume.
     
    - PM-3 (planar magnetic) - a touch more clarity, but otherwise not too many changes.
     
    - DN2000J (8 ohm) - adds body and cuts down some high frequency harshness, surprisingly great pair up.
     
    fiio_a1-19_zps28bfys3i.jpg
     
    Attachment to Note 4.
     
    When we see a small gadget, some automatically assume it will be easy to attach it to your phone or DAP, but it's not always the case.  For example, you can take advantage of A1 clip and use a typical audio-mount rubber band to attach this micro amp.  Or, here is another solution if you use re-stickable double sided tabs that cost about $3-$4 for a whole set.  Don't expect a permanent super-glue attachment, but as long as you are dealing with a flat surface - it does the job!
     
    fiio_a1-16_zpsruijd1rv.jpg   fiio_a1-17_zpsixgz0wmi.jpg
    fiio_a1-18_zpssjhh866d.jpg
     
    Another interesting pair-up I wanted to test was with FiiO M3 DAP + A1.  I took advantage of the same re-stickable tabs to stack them up together - worked very well considering both have a smooth flat surface (unlike my Note 4 case).  This stack up looked really cool when I used FiiO's micro-size 3.5mm inter-connect from Q1 accessories.  But in reality I didn't find any sound improvement since M3 is pretty good to begin with.  One thing I found to work GREAT was BASS1 boost which automatically added body to my brighter/thinner headphones.  Also, using external amplifier can in theory extend battery life of your source.
     
    fiio_a1-20_zpszzivkfll.jpg   fiio_a1-21_zpsq1tvmm1q.jpg
    fiio_a1-22_zpspzdlyctb.jpg   fiio_a1-23_zps7q5t3eie.jpg
     
    Since I was already going through Q1 accessories, I figured to compare Q1 amplifier to A1.  As USB DAC, Q1 has a higher gain boost, while as amplifier only the High Gain is much lower.  Still according to Q1 spec with AUX IN the gain is 4.5dB in High Gain setting.  In comparison to A1, Q1 had a little more power, was a touch brighter but not by a lot, and the sound was a little more dynamic.  With that in mind, I can assume that A1 actual gain is somewhere close to 3dB.
     
    For the reference, this is how A1 looks next to Q1 and K1.
     
    fiio_a1-15_zpshhquiqhq.jpg
     
    Conclusion.
     
    I have mixed feelings about A1.  It definitely looks like a cool gadget, has a nice micro-size design, uses quality build material, comes with a complete set of accessories, and relatively cheap.  Also, it has a few sound shaping EQ presets to boost the bass.  But as amplifier it's rather weak, and also doesn't play nice with sensitive headphones.  Plus, I was surprised that auto-power off didn't kick in.  In my opinion, this is not necessary a must-have audio gadget, and I want people to have realistic expectations about what it can and can't do.  But at the same time, it can be a golden tool if you are dealing with brighter signature headphones where you want to reduce the revealing harshness - no need to deal with your DAPs EQ. Plus, in some cases manufacture reduce HO output level when in EQ mode (to reduce clipping when adjusting bands).  With A1 - you don't need to touch your audio source or customize EQ.  Here you just click EQ/effect to cycle to your preferred BASS# setting and will even get a little boost in output while slightly extending battery life of your source and reducing high volume distortion.  Also, A1 could improve sound quality of your old smartphone converted for DAP use.
      Brooko, d marc0, x RELIC x and 3 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. plath
      You say that the A1 doesn't work well with sensitive IEMs but you say it goes well with the DUNU-DN2000J?
       
      But don't the specs say that the DUNU is more sensitive than the Westone? IDGI.
       
      2000J: 8 ohm impedance, 102 dB per mW
      ES60: 46 ohms impedance, 118 dB per mW
      plath, May 1, 2016
    3. twister6
      @plath : DUNU has less impedance, sure.  But they are not as sensitive in comparison to ES60.  But as you know, it's all a combination of output impedance of your source, output power, and impedance and sensitivity of your headphones.  Still, regardless of these spec numbers, I would never use ES60 with A1.
      twister6, May 1, 2016
    4. plath
      Yeah I'm just curious because I'm interested in the DUNUs with my phone, but I can't be sure there won't be any hissing. As the recommended impedance of the Fiio A1 is 16 ohms.
      plath, May 2, 2016
  9. BloodyPenguin
    Micro Power!
    Written by BloodyPenguin
    Published Jan 27, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Great Value, Solid Build, Easy Use, Nice Power to Size Ratio, Long Battery Life, Bass Boost
    Cons - Might Start People Down the Slippery Slope of the Audiophile world
    --
     
    Introducing the FiiO A1 Micro Headphone Amplifier.
     
    P1060223EDIT.jpg
     
                                           - All photos taken by me -
     


    *Backstory*

    Set the time machine to September 23rd, 2011. That is the day I ordered my first FiiO product from Amazon, the E6 Headphone Amplifier. At that point I had been a member on Head-Fi for exactly 43 days. Little did I know that this little E6, would start me down the rabbit hole that is the Audiophile world. I had bought the E6 at the same time I purchased a Alessandro MS1 to use via my iPod Nano. It was a trio made in heaven and I was quickly hooked.
     
    GradoLabsListening.jpg

    December 15th, 2012 I replaced the E6 with the E07K DAC/Amp. I ended up gifting the E6 to my cousin who wanted them to pair with his Sennheiser HD 598. As the years have gone by, I have always missed the portability and easy use of the E6, though I was happy to know it was in a good home, still getting lots of use.

    Fast forward to January 25th, 2016 and I find myself holding FiiO's new little A1 Headphone Amplifier in my hand. My audiophile expedition for the last 5 years had finally come full circle.
     
    P1060231EDIT.jpg
     
     

    **Disclaimer: The A1 was provided to me from FiiO in return for an honest review.**



    *What's in a Name?*

    I just wanted to quickly point out that this is not related to the old FiiO A1 Mini 2x14W Class-D Digital Audio Amplifier. As the old A1 was discontinued and FiiO has re-organized its naming rules as it now has a new structure.
     
    P1060260EDIT.jpg
     
     

    *Relevant Specifications*

    - Up to 70mW output power at 32Ω;
    - Only 0.01% THD
    - Over 100dB S/N ratio
    - Internal 160mAh rechargeable Li-poly battery;
    - Less than 15μA standby current; over 13 hours play time
    - No power draw from connected devices, e.g. smartphone run time is unaffected.
    - Charges via standard micro USB port
    - 64 volume levels + mute for volume fine tuning via separate volume + and – buttons.
    - 3 bass boost options and effects bypass option available to satisfy different listening preferences


    *Price*

    $27.99 USD: That is all it will cost to buy a FiiO A1 when it is released. It is a great value for AMP that is able to drive some sensitive products up to a 32ohm output.



    *Packaging*

    FiiO knows how to pack their products well. Even at this price point, you feel like you are getting something special with the A1 displayed so nicely through the clear box. It was hard for me to fight the urge to not to just rip it open and play with the toy inside. I had to be patient and take photos first.

    P1060218EDIT.jpg
     
     

    *Contents*

    - FiiO A1 Amplifier
    - 2 Removable Clips
    - Clear Top Cover
    - USB to Micro USB Charging Cable
    - 2 x 3.5mm Connecting Cables (One Long, One Short)
    - User Guide
    - Warranty Card

    P1060244EDIT.jpg
     
     

    *Build*

    FiiO has come a long way since the E6. While E6 has a simple and functional design, the A1 is most definitely a step up in overall quality and build. The A1 comes in a anodized aluminium chassis, that is both good looking and built tough. It has to be built this way, as FiiO knows that the A1 is going to take a beating. It is a device that will be constantly on the go. The aluminium helps to keep the internals protected from eventual drops and bangs. Buttons are easy to memorize and have a premium feel to each click.
     
    P1060255EDIT.jpg
     
    P1060254EDIT.jpg
     


    *Use/Testing*

    The FiiO A1 is well paired with devices needing a little more power for some more sensitive and power hungry products. For my testing, I used the Puro IEM500, as it desires a little push to get the most out of its dual drivers.

    With the 3.5mm input/output, setup is quick and easy with no issues with compatibility or installed software to worry about no matter if you are using a computer, tablet, phone or any other device you are playing your audio from.
     
    P1060253EDIT.jpg



    *Function*

    Volume is controlled easily with separated [+] [-] inputs with 64 levels for use.

    The FiiO A1 also has the added ability to change the bass response with three bass boost options. Going back to the Puro IEM500 I used for the main testing, I found that the A1 very successful pushed the drivers to product a deeper, yet controlled bass feedback. While using the strongest second setting, the Puro IEM500 produced lows that while thick and lush, never became distorted. The bass boost is a feature that works simply and very effectively for those wanting more presence down low.

    *Note, as @twister6
     was nice enough to post in the comments the third setting is:  "actually a signal attenuation (down)" and not a bass boost.

    The A1 makes good used of its LED light that is embedded within power button. It gives quick and accurate feedback to what setting you are using:

    - Green light: indicates full charge;
    - Red light (lit): charging
    - Red light (flashing): low power
    - BASS OFF;Blue light (lit): A1 is on with bass boost off
    - Blue light (flashing once every two seconds): A1 is on with bass boost 1
    - Blue light (flashing twice every two seconds) A1 is on with bass boost 2
    - Blue light (flashing thrice every two seconds) A1 is on with bass boost 3
    - Red and blue light flashing thrice together: Factory reset, volume reset and power off.
    - Hold both volume buttons at the same time until the red and blue LEDs blink together thrice; this resets the volume and EQ settings and turns off the A1.
     
    P1060240EDIT.jpg
     
     

    *Battery Life*

    I can't confirm or deny FiiO's 13+ hour battery life, all I know is that after a full charge and accidentally leaving it playing through my charging cellphone over night, that the A1 was still going strong (and is still going as I write this and use it).
     
    P1060235EDIT.jpg
     


    *Sound*

    FiiO does well with sound bypass and the A1 is no exception. The A1 shows very little signs of any colorization from the original source. There is a slight hint of warmness, but other than that the A1 says true to its input. The A1 will only change the sound signature with the use of the aforementioned bass boost settings.

    I tested the FiiO A1 with multiple devices. Never did I hear any added hissing, pops or static while in use. If anything, there even was a small amount of smoothness that is brought on by the added power.
     
    P1060258EDIT.jpg



    *Overall Thoughts*

    The FiiO A1 is a great amp for anyone looking to take that first step to upgrade eaphones/headphones that may need a little more power. It is also a wonderful introduction to FiiO products for those new to the higher quality audio world.

    The A1 can take a harder to drive product and really make it sing. With my Puro IEM500, I found that this little A1 Amp had just the right amount of power for me to get the most out of it.

    At less than $30, it is really hard to find any faults with the A1. It does so much for so little. For any Cons at this price point, one would really have to be nit picking or trying to compare it to something that costs a lot more. You get every pennies worth with the A1, an easy recommendation from me.

    I just warn those new to Head-Fi and higher quality audio to watch your wallet. The A1 will open it and might urge you to spend more.
     
    P1060239EDIT.jpg
     
    P1060237EDIT.jpg
     
     
     
    Get it? Micro Machines with a Micro Amplifier. [​IMG] [​IMG]
    --
      m1ku, sledgeharvy, trellus and 3 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. groucho69
      This excellent review has caused me to purchase. Of course you know that I hate you...my wallet especially hates you.
      groucho69, Oct 10, 2016
    3. groucho69
      DAMN! Fantastic pairing with my Bejie S5. Who would ever think that inexpensive could be this good?
      groucho69, Oct 12, 2016
    4. Lifted Andreas
      Can I use it with my laptop while plugged in?
      Lifted Andreas, Jan 15, 2017