Contributed by Smit Patel

Fiio have recently released increasingly priced products from their X5 DAP to their E-series of portable amps; a far cry from their mantra of affordable entry-level offerings. It came as a surprise therefore, that their latest DAC/amplifier emerged from out of the blue to pay homage to Fiio’s original philosophy. Touted the Fiio Q1, the device represents a new generation of DAC/amplifiers which is part of Fiio’s ever growing expansion in the audiophile market. At an entry price of $69, the Q1 implements a well-built unique metal chassis accompanying a high quality DA conversion and amplifier module.
Fiio Q1
Fiio Q1

The amplifier is able to drive a decent range of IEMs and even headphones with a moderately decent output power of 190 mW. The portable form factor makes it suitable for commutes and long distance travelling however the lack of an OTG support makes it fall short of complete versatility. 


Box and design

The Fiio Q1 comes in a standard white box with a picture of the device embedded within a circular ring. Inside, the amp rests in a velvet pouch and is accompanied by the USB charging cable along with two elastic bands and a small interconnect. Also included are plastic pads to prevent the Q1 sliding around a hard surface as well as instruction manuals on how to operate the device. Although not the most inspiring packaging, it does the job in including everything in as small a box as possible. 

Fiio’s signature design shines valiantly through the design language of the Fiio Q1 amp. The black anodized chassis is smooth to the touch and bordered by a brushed aluminium finish. The amp weighs in at 100 grams and thus has a small footprint in an audiophile’s ecosystem.


Build & Features

Front
Fiio Q1
Fiio Q1 front

On the front of the new Q1 there is a bass switch which increases the quantity of low frequencies within tracks. This is quite an interesting feature that certainly does its job in bringing out the lows from bass-light IEMs and headphones. Next to this is the potentiometer which is fluid and has much less resistance than the Cloud Nine Amp. As well as acting as a volume pot, the potentiometer can also be used to power on and off the Q1 with an LED showing the power status of the device; blue for when the device is turned on and purple for when the Q1 is charging. Finally a 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on the far left of the front panel. As mentioned, the design of the front panel is very elegant with its brushed aluminium finish that certainly makes it look like a premium product. 

Fiio Q1 side

Back

On the back panel, you have a 3.5mm lineout and a low/high gain switch adjacent to that. On the middle of the device, there is a micro-USB port and finally a switch to enable charging of the device. Luckily, unlike the PlusSound Cloud Nine, the Fiio Q1 allows the Q1 to be charged while in use. 

Internals 

The Fiio Q1 utilises Texas Instruments PCM5102 DAC chip which claims to offer low distortion, excellent dynamic performance and enhanced jitter rejection. The sound output spews out sample rates up to 96 kHz /24bit which is very decent for its price. The amp IC is Maxim’s MAX97220 which like the DAC chip is said to lower distortion and noise.
Fiio Q1 side
Battery
The greatest option is the ability to charge devices whilst playing without affecting performance. This gives unlimited power as long as the device is connected to the source which is useful in its practicality. On paper, the Li-poly battery claims to last 30 hours on normal usage; however, I have experienced slightly less than this at around 20 hours. Though with even this amount of battery life, I am still happy as long as the charge lasts a full day.

Sound quality

Tonality
What is immediately transparent from the Q1 is that it draws upon a pitch background that works with the majority of sensitive IEMs. There is very little audible noise to be discerned when the high gain switch is utilised and thus the claims of low distortion can be confirmed as being true.

The Q1 offers a neutral sound that does lean towards that of an analytical signature. There is a good sense of detail that this DAC/Amp is able to extract from tracks which is surprisingly good for its price range. Transients become more well-defined as the overall dynamics are tighter and faster paced than competitors.


Bass is well accentuated with good low frequency extension. It is definitively tighter and crisper than that of the PlusSound Cloud Nine bass which has more of a musical tonality about it. The bass boost switch serves its function in nicely helping to round out some bass light headphones and IEMs though the difference is certainly not night and day. With that said, it certainly helps to add a bit of warmth to clinical or colder sounding sets. With the HiFiMAN HE-400S, the bass boost function certainly helped to draw even more quantity in the sub-bass department which helped the 400S to sound fuller and more versatile. 


The midrange of the Q1 is natural and presents a crisp and thinner note presentation compared to the Schiit Magni amp and PlusSound Cloud Nine. Although not the most spacious of amps, the Q1 offers a decent amount of headroom enabling headphones with higher resistance to shine in their element. This amp would not really be suitable for extremely high impedance headsets such as the HiFiMAN HE-6 or the Beyerdynamic T1. 


The treble region, like the midrange, is crisp and presents with a thinner note presentation compared to both the Schiit Magni and PlusSound Cloud Nine. It is well extended and carries sufficient amount of sparkle to make this region of the frequency spectrum carry more attack and forthrightness.


Comparisons

In comparison to the Schiit Magni 2U + Modi 2U, the Fiio Q1 presents with a smaller headroom with less fluidity. It is certainly by no means a knock-out though as I am still surprised at the value you get with this small device. The levels of detail extraction are fairly similar with the Schiit stack of course presenting it in a more expansive soundstage.

The musicality of the PlusSound Cloud Nine makes for a starker contrast to the precise Fiio Q1 amp. Whereas transients are often softened with the Cloud Nine, they are instead accentuated in the Q1 making for an edgier performance. The Cloud Nine beats the Q1 in soundstage performance though the treble is not as well extended.


Conclusion

Overall then, the Fiio Q1 amp is the best value for money USB DAC/Amp I have ever experienced. It is quite surprising how Fiio were able to get the price as low as they have for the amount of functionality that this new Q-series device has. The build quality is excellent and a real testament to Fiio’s ethos in this audiophile industry. The device is able to drive up to around 400 Ohm devices with a decent headroom, though as mentioned it does not really possess the power for picky headphones. Needless to say, this amp is quite impressive for its size and form factor. The option to charge the device while in use enables an unlimited power supply for the Q1 and the bass boost feature is a nifty tool to increase low-end extension. There is very little to fault in this device for its price. In absolute terms however, there could be the obvious improvement of a greater soundstage compared to higher-end products. Perhaps the use of a native USB OTG functionality would also make the Q1 an incredibly useful device for smartphones on the go. However, there are certain apps that one can use to make this into a reality. For $69, you really cannot go wrong with this product and it is an excellent entry level product for any budding audiophile into the world of hi-fidelity.  

Rating

Build: 9/10
Sound: 7.7/10
Functionality: 9/10
Overall: 8.0/10

Where to buy?

Fiio: http://www.fiio.net/en/stores
Lazada: http://ho.lazada.com.ph/SHDbZ1

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