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Bought a Fiio Q1 ii, it's no better than my laptop?

  1. brandobean
    Hi folks,

    New poster here but longtime audiophile and audio professional (let's put it this way, I swapped the capacitors in the crossover of my Celestion home speaker for added transparency).

    Anyway, I wanted to improve the sound of my HiFiman HE4xx headphones which I'd been driving from the headphone out of my Huawei Matebook laptop. I prefer a warmer sound so folks recommended the Fiio Q1 mk ii. I've had the device for a week and am not at all impressed.

    After about 20 hours switching back and forth between the laptop out and that of the Fiio, I can say, there isn't much improvement, and in many ways, I think it's a step DOWN.

    In this case, while there is slightly more openness in the treble, it's also a bit chalky sounding, especially in the lower treble, the exact frequency range that can sound especially metallic with streaming compressed content like Spotify streams (though still present on higher bitrate audio).
    It's not "fatiguing" per se, but it's not sweeter or more clear either.

    It also appears to lack the weight and solidity of the Huawei headphone out.
    In short, the lowest octave appears to be rolled off or, something... it just doesn't boogie.
    I tried adding the bass boost from the amp but that's TOO much bass and it sounds thick and congested.

    I certainly don't MIND the sound from the Fiio... and it might be a good solution from those trying to get decent sound from an iPhone, but for my intended purpose, It's not meeting my needs.

    So I turn to you geniuses for advice:
    - Is it unreasonable to expect better sound quality than a laptop at $100?
    - Would another model suit me better? (especially if it has bluetooth!) or do I just return the Fiio and give up.

    thanks my auditory heroes!
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2019
  2. buke9
    Is it unreasonable to expect better sound quality for $100 and I say yes. To except leaps and bounds better and anything other than some incremental difference you are not going to get it sorry. Have no idea about Huawei stuff as the phones are banned in the US as they are said to have malicious code in the firmware so can’t comment on them. The other thing is you are not going to find a big difference on $100 dacs some may be a bit better but I think you would have to have some really good headphones to tell the difference.
    tomb likes this.
  3. mattiav
    I’m guessing you’re running the HE4XX out of the SE output? That’s a mere 75 mw- not a whole lot to drive the very inefficient HiFiMan Planar. High gain on my balanced out DX220 is a major difference from my phone, but we’re talking a ton more power. The SE output on that is still merely OK and only a bit better than my laptop (MacBook) or iPhone for the HE4XX despite the fact even that is more powerful - these Planars need a good bit more juice, IMO.

    A balanced cable may be a start to getting you in a decent direction with the Q1mkII, otherwise (particularly if you’re streaming lower res stuff) I’d consider putting 100 bucks towards a JDS Labs Atom headphone amp for a single ended solution.
  4. brandobean
    You may be right, it might be a power issue. It's just odd that the headphone out of my laptop has more juice than a dedicated headphone amp? I don't remember my iPhone 6+ having much trouble driving these phones either (though I've now got a sadly jack-less iPhone XS).
    I've heard the Atom is good for the money, but wouldn't I just be using the huawei miniplug out INTO the input of the Atom, essentially going through TWO amp stages? How could that sound much better than the huawei by itself which honestly, is pretty good?

    I suppose one could try the Element or one of their combined USB DACs w/ amplifier. That triples my price though.
  5. brandobean
    Interesting observation! It seems to fly in the face of about 400 threads worth of enthusiastic recommendations for various $100 products on this site...but I hear that with my ears as well. Well, I guess if I extended my budget to $160-200, what does that get me? Ideally I'd like, at that price point:
    1) bluetooth support
    2) USB DAC/Amp combo
    3) nice to have: Ability to have miniplug output, that switches OFF when headphones are plugged in.
  6. Magicman74
    Topping D10 to Topping NX3's, run you about $130ish, WAY!!!! better then the Fiio, I've always thought Fiio was over rated ...No power and just ok sound

    I recommended the LT1364 be swapped into the NX3 but was told to try N5532, It is a perfect chip replacement, you can drop one in the D10 as well. I'm not a fan of BB chips...set you back about $3
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2019
  7. tomb
    Unfortunately, that's a perfect example of a small, incremental change while expecting noticeable results. I like buke9's reply up there. You already have a pair of headphones that are very efficient in the HiFiman HE4xx. That means they perform well without an amp. In such a situation, you'd have to have a very good DAC and/or amplifier to really notice a difference. You may already be "cursed" with a PC that has a much better audio capability than normal, too.

    Bluetooth will do nothing but degrade the sound. A DAC/amp combo will also imply compromises that may not be much of a benefit over the PC. Miniplug is also going away from maintaining good sound, because the contact surface is so tiny, leading to corrosion, wear and scratching sound or dropouts.

    I'd stick with the headphones but be patient about investing in more electronics, unless you are prepared to shell out several hundred or more. Even then, you will have to be careful with whether it makes a difference. If you can, take your headphones with you to places like an audio store or better yet, a headphone meet. That might give you more of an idea of what you need.
    buke9 likes this.
  8. buke9
    +1 on a meet
  9. mattiav
    By what measure is the HE4XX easy to drive? It’s low impedance but it is not anywhere near ‘efficient’ in my book - 93db. The relative difference in performance via balanced out on my DX220 was significant compared to my far more efficient Meze 99 Classics (103db). It gets loud enough but it does no sound particularly great out of my phone...
  10. JP the Elder
    I have three favorite usb dacs that you may find useful:
    NuPrime micro dac $179 on Amazon
    Geek Out v2 is se or balanced from lhlabs.com

    I eventually stopped listening to those when I found the Chord Electronics Mojo. Audioadvisor.com has a demo on sale for $419.

    Hope this helps
  11. tomb
    For a planar, it's absolutely stupendously efficient. I think HiFiman just wants to sell more amps. Tyll measured it at 0.13mW for 90dB. If you accept the estimate of a doubling in power for every 3dB, it's actually almost 100dB at 1mW. That's a fairly efficient headphone, certainly not inefficient enough to cause any issues.

    I suspect there's more going on between your Meze and He4xx with the DX220 than just balanced operation.
  12. mattiav
    Interesting. Learned something today, thanks! I don’t have any other planars to compare with so I was basing this on my small sample size and he numbers on the box. Is it perhaps the better voltage/current swing yielding better dynamics? I have noticed a significant difference with the better amps in the two DAPs I have (DX220 and Echobox Explorer) vs. my iPhone 6s Plus - even single ended, and volume matched, with the pretty sensitive IEMs I have. All are loud enough out of the phone, but lack extension and detail - all with the same source material (Tidal). I’m not familiar enough with the technical aspects of amp design to really understand why..
  13. surfgeorge
    I am another Mojo user, and I've had the FIIO Q1 MKII before.
    The FIIO was a slight improvement over phone or Laptop, the Mojo is playing in a different world.
    After I bought the Mojo I replaced my old $3500 DAC in my main system with a used Chord 2Qute. Much better.
    I tried other sources and still keep returning to the Mojo. Highly recommended

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