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.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was provided by Sunny @ Fiio for the purposes of this review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Fiio. All media rights are reserved.
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.
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.
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.
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.