While technically not a requirement for music playback, a headphone amplifier is a nifty upgrade for any serious audiophile. In this Fiio a1 portable headphone amplifier review, we’ll take a look at the Fiio A1, a portable, digital headphone amplifier that enables even cheaper headphones to sound better.
Unlike many headphone amplifiers, the Fiio A1 doesn’t use a separate power supply. Instead, it uses its rechargeable battery for both powering the amplifier and delivering power to the headphones. Keep reading Hooke Audio’s article; we will show you all details about this device.
Fiio A1 Portable Headphone Amplifier Reviews
- Weight 20g (incl. belt clip)
- Audio Input Standard 3.5mm Port
- Drive Ability 16-100 Ω (recommended)
- Battery Capacity 160 mAh
- Output Power ≥78mW（16Ω / THD+N＜1%)
- Output impedance: ≤ 0.2 Ohms
- THD+N <0.05% (1kHz)
- Frequency Response 10 Hz-90 kHz（-3dB，Input: 300mV）
- Input Sensitivity 1.05Vrms（Vol=Max）
- Crosstalk ≥65 dB
- MAX Output Voltage 4.52Vp-p
- The first bass boost setting (+2.7dB)
Fiio A1 Portable Amp Pros and Cons
- Really good Build quality and ergonomics.
- Impressive battery life.
- Improves the overall audio experience.
- A very basic unit was design-wise.
- Convenient features
- Lacks elevation of volume threshold.
- Certain presets on the A1 don’t seem necessary.
Design and Build Quality
The Fiio A1 is a relatively simple device. There’s the front face with a power button/electronic volume control button, an on/off switch, and a status blue LED light to indicate how much battery you have left.
There’s also a tiny antenna to let you know when your big full sized headphones are correctly connected.
The back of the unit has a short micro USB charging cable Documentation, 3.5mm headphone output( one short, one long), and an RCA output. The included remote is just a little nub with a microphone on it, which can be used to control volume control and playback from your phone or other devices.
You have 3.5mm jack input on one end and output on the other. You also get a micro standard USB port for charging the A1. On the other side, there are three buttons and a golden 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Fiio A1 is the third generation E5 portable micro USB amp. It feels almost like the Fiio unit has made a complete circle in terms of design. The A1 is a far more similar design to the E5 than the E6. It is 4g heavier overall than the E6 and 10g lighter than the E5.
FiiO also went back to the roots with their materials in this series. The Fiio A1 marks a return to a metallic (aluminum), much like the E5, and dropping the all-plastic, lighter look and feel of E6. The A1’s stiffened up a lot, but the weight was only 4g less than the plastic E6.
Its form factor is closer to the E5 than it was with a return of a smoothed, rounded chassis instead of the E6’s squared design. It is physically more like the E5. The old E6’s transparent removable full plastic enclosure is still attached, but this time it runs centrally and vertically rather than at an angle.
Durable Design The A1 utilizes a sandblasted aluminum-alloy chassis for a durable, modern appearance and comfortable handholding. A transparent removable back clip adapts the A1 to different usage scenarios Plug-and-Play With higher-fidelity output than smartphones
The A1 has a significantly low battery than its predecessor, the E6. Its capacity has been reduced from 1800mAh to 1350mAh.
I initially thought this was due to needing to account for the lower efficiency of the DSD-B11S. Still, it turns out it is due to what FiiO calls dual input power design, wherein the primary power input is an internal 2A charging circuit.
As a result, the battery life of the A1 appears to be better than that of the E6. I have taken several photos and several hours of music playback on a single charge.
Packaging & Accessories
It was a pleasant surprise to find a decent accessory set for $30 microamps, which FiiO has done with every E6 and E5. You get two x 3.5mm IC cables. One is a correct angle jack, and the other is the straight jacks. These are great for desktop or stacking.
Also included is a 1/4″ stereo to dual 3.5mm adapter. This is something you will need if you want to use the A1 with headphones.
Tonally the A1 is warm to neutral, clean sounding but with a tiny peak and a very slight touch of glare in the upper mid-range and lower treble.
The A1 mini amps as most people simply seem to buy these mini amps for the bass boost. It has a slightly more robust bass than that of the E6. With most music genres, you will hear the midbass, sub-bass, and ultra-low bass just fine.
That doesn’t mean the A1 sounds slow. The bass does not boom, nor is it boomy. It is well controlled and tight, articulate and fluid. It has a nice feel to it as well.
Vocal control is average with a touch of sibilance but certainly more present than on my BB Passport and slightly more forward and engaging than the E6.
The treble has some brightness to it, again not so, but it does have a touch of glare. It is never uncomfortable, though.
Overall, the A1 is pretty balanced tonally. It will not introduce any significant amount of coloration at the source but will certainly work wonders with some weak smartphone amps using slightly less efficient IEMs or headphones.
BASS EQ 1
The EQ setting for bass light headphones on the A1 has a refreshing vibe that creates a soft richness to its deep tones.
Subbass, the rumble created by low bass 1 notes, is enhanced but not obnoxiously boosted.
BASS EQ 2
The Studio EQ setting further enhances the deep bass tones and brings a bit of extra refinement to the upper bass, resulting in slightly smoother overall tones without any added graininess.
The low-mid bass 2 response is slightly boosted but can also become a bit boomy at times. The bassline is a bit more prominent, and even the amplifier modules, it can be challenging to keep a steady sound output level for a smooth reproduction.
BASS EQ 3
This one is not called Bass 3. It doesn’t even affect the bass. This is a duplicate of the E6’s EQ modes. It allowed you to lower the signal by a few dB to sensitive IEMs. To give you more control over the volume, this will enable you to adjust the volume control. It’s very flat, much like the stock signature without EQ.
The power button does double up with some EQ modes, as is the legacy of this micro amp right back to the E5. We have our gain options. So let’s go through this one by one, see what the differences are.
So here we have clean for a very classic vintage type clean. It has got a bit of bite to it, so you get that excellent crunchy sound when you play through it.
This time it seems FiiO has dropped the whole lowering of the gain option to prevent clipping that was an option on the E6.
This is very much in line with the Master or HiFi E6, where you could lower the gain. So it’s got a bit of an effect on this sound signature, but it’s not quite as noticeable as some people thought it would be.
The A1 satisfies your need for more sound quality and quantity Electronic Volume Control The A1’s volume buttons are made of Alps microswitches for sensitive and reliable operation four eq modes. The A1 provides Flat, Bass1, Bass2, and Bass3 EQ modes, switchable simply by briefly pressing the power button, allowing you to adapt the clean sound output to your earphones.
Although it is pretty tiny, this amp is still much more potent than most smartphone amps. I got more juice, staging, or dynamics from higher impedance IEMs like the Noble 4C (30 ohms) and Savant with A1 plugged into my BB Passport.
The relative gain is approximately 3-4dB so that you will hear the benefits on an average feature or smartphone rather than any particular DAP. These mobile phones are now far more capable than the little guy who first saw the light in 2008.
However, the A1 better portable audio amp will not function well with high noise levels and IEMs with high impedance. This is even at EQ 3 levels. The Campfire Jupiter, Shure SE846, and Ultrasone Tio IEMs with remarkably low output impedance or high SNR ratings hissed continuously.
Additional hiss was also detected on the RHA T10 and Noble 4C. IEMs like the Fidue A65, even at a low budget price, still produced some hiss. I found the Obravo ENIB-5A universal IEM that avoided hiss. It is a planar IEM and requires a lot of juice.
If you are looking to pair an IEM with a high-quality microphone, you recommend that before purchasing.
However, portable headphones are a different matter. The A1 sounded great with budget headphones like the Don Scorpio Dolphin (16 ohms) and 116db SNR levels.
This is true for the AKG K553, UBSound Dreamer, and V-Moda XS. They have decent amplification and no noise. However, on the first bass setting, the A1 is giving the Asura more body down low and it makes it more musical. On setting 2 the mids get a bit too recessed for my taste, the negative bass setting certainly isn’t an option on the Asura
I found the A1 small budget amplifier combined with powerless phones and a low-impedance portable headphone like the ones mentioned above. IEM’s are slightly more compatible if noise levels aren’t a problem.
FiiO amps may have intended it to be this way, given the dominance of IEMs attached to smartphones. However, the A1 portable amps will struggle for recognition and sound quality better than many good DAPs. Smartphones are the target market, even for its $55 M3 DAP.
Combos & Comparison
The budget mini amps Fiio A1 should be paired with smaller, more affordable IEMs or, more significant, more accessible to drive headphones.
A $30 amplifier is not something I see CIEM owners who only spent $500-USD 3000. I wouldn’t say I like universal IEMs or earbuds, but my collection keeps growing. These are my tests.
A few weeks back, I was able to see the original VE Monk. The Monk+ has since replaced it. According to Lee from VE, M+ is an improved version of the Monk, with a bass reduction boost and more detailed and forward-looking mids.
The + version sounds better overall, but the bass boost functions on the A1 are already too strong. Setting 2 loses its control completely. The Monk is not the best earbud to go with the A1. The 150Ohm Asura2.0 is a thinner, more neutral-sounding earbud.
I like the way it sounds without any EQ. However, on the first bass boost function setting, the A1 is giving the Asura more body down low and it makes it more musical.
I find the mids a little too low on setting 2. The ZEN 2.0 by the same company boasts a remarkable 320Ohm impedance, which on paper should not match the Fiio A1.
It sounds excellent with the A1 set to neutral or EQ 1, but the ZEN is a much better sounding option, even from the L&P L3.
Lendmeurears’ A&D D2 is a brand new over-ear IEM that has a good bass body. It sounds better without the EQ modes of the A1. Even though the original Trinity Delta had three filters, I wouldn’t say I like its sound signature.
The A1 setting makes the sound more pleasant and smoother. It sounds even better with the silver filter in both cases. I’m also astonished that it took me less than 3 minutes to unplug the Delta.
The 18Ohm Hifiman Edition S is full-sized headphones. It can be used with any phone or portable device. While the volume must go up, the A1 will still drive the headphones perfectly. The Edition S has all settings I like, except for the low bass boost. My favorite scene is 1.
The Urban Vinyl Classic at an 84Ohm volume needs to be increased, but the A1 does the job. The Classic is more bass-heavy and does not have EQ. If you want to hear the best bass performance, setting one will do. Setting three is unlikely to be preferred by anyone.
The A1 is a league lower than the Stoner Ruby. Ruby sounds broader and more complex due to its better layering and detail. The overall presentation is more straightforward.
It is a tiny amp, but it performs well. However, it costs three times as much as the A1, if it’s still available.
The Fiio A1 is, logically, the most basic and refined amp among the remaining Fios. My favorites are the Fiio E17K, E10K, and E12A.
However, the Fiio E12A works well with full-sized headphones and IEMs. The E11K is still available. Fiio offers great gear at a very affordable price.
This is an ideal solution for audiophiles and media consumers who want to enjoy good audio quality. It’s great that there are many different connectivity options available for it.
The battery is also perfect. It’s not quite as good as the MobileEQ, but it still can get you through a very long day out and about.
If you need a headphone amp and you’re on a low budget, Fiio’s cheapest unit, A1 with sandblasted aluminum alloy chassis can be that first amp that will show you what an amplifier can do to achieve a good sound stage. We hope that our Fiio a1 review can help you learn more about this headphone amp.