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One of the first products that helped Fiio gain worldwide popularity was the E5, a small headphone amplifier. This small, inexpensive device dramatically improved the sound quality of the devices at the time and allowed you to get more out of your favorite headphones. Several years later, a new successor appeared, the FiiO A1.
The FiiO A1 is a small headphone amplifier, a device enclosed in a slim aluminum case with a built-in battery. The case features a sandblasted finish and a removable transparent clip on the back, which can be used to hang the device on your clothes. Apart from these factors, the biggest selling point of this product is, of course, its low price; the FiiO A1 is a cheap amplifier that costs around $25 to $30, which is comparable to the price of budget headphones.
FiiO A1 Budget-friendly Portable Headphones AMP Review
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Amplifier circuit: TPA6130A2 | Microcontroller: MSP430 | Sound effects module: 74HC4052PW + OPA2322aid | Input: 3.5 mm (stereo) | Output: 3.5 mm input (stereo), 3.5 mm output (stereo) | Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16-100 ohms | Output power: ≥ 78 mW | Output impedance: ≤ 0.2 Ohms | Frequency range: 20-20,000 Hz | Signal-to-noise ratio: ≥ 100 dB | Crosstalk: ≥65dB | Battery: 160 mAh (13 hours) | Charging: 1.5 Hours | Drivers: Dynamic | Weight: 20g
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Fiio has established a tradition of packaging its budget products in clear plastic, and the A1 is no exception. In the box, in addition to the amplifier itself, we find a USB charging cable, a 3.5 mm cable (one short, one long), a spare clip, and a plastic headband without the clip, the user manual, and a warranty card.
There is a clip in the box that holds the amp in place, but it’s plastic, so if it breaks, you can always use the clip that comes in the box. If you don’t need the clip, you can leave it unplugged.
The A1 portable amp is as simple as possible. FiiO A1 is a small, flat, rectangular case with dimensions reminiscent of the E6. This time, most of the box is made of sandblasted silver aluminum, with the amplifier circuit built in one piece. The black plastic panel is flat, while the aluminum panel has rounded corners. The overall dimensions are 42 x 40.7 mm and 9.4 mm thick. With the clip attached, it weighs only 20 grams. Having said that, the A1 is minimalism through and through. The workmanship of the small portable amplifier is very good – especially compared to the E6 made of easily scratched plastics.
On one side, there is an audio input and a MicroUSB slot for charging. On the other side, there are three buttons and a golden 3.5mm headphone jack. The jack is sensibly placed so you can plug in your smartphone or pocket player from the bottom and your headphones from the top.
The controls are simple, with two buttons for volume control and the primary control with LEDs on the side. The volume control is precise and has an accurate scale. Press and hold the button to gradually increase or decrease the volume. You don’t have to worry about accidentally blasting music too loud.
The main control knob has several functions. Pressing and holding the button turns the A1 on and off. A quick press toggles the equalizer settings. There are exactly three settings, and when one of them is activated, the LED starts to flash intermittently. The number of “flashes” corresponds to the number of selected modes. The same indicator also shows the status of the battery when charging or discharging; the A1 can be used for up to 12 hours on a single charge, which isn’t bad; unfortunately, the A1 doesn’t have an automatic shut-off function in case you forget to turn it off, which would be nice if it did. In any case, this cheap amplifier only needs an hour and a few minutes to fully charge.
Let’s return a bit and discuss the three different listening modes.
- Bass Boost by 2.7 dB
- Bass boost and Treble Attenuation: gives a 5.2dB boost to the bass.
- Transparency mode, the amp just lets the sound pass through without boosting it or changing it in any way.
In the first mode, the A1 corrects some obvious errors but nothing extravagant. The overall sound is fuller and more saturated, which is the best result among the three options. On the other hand, it brings powerful bass and appeal that enhances vocals but supports a narrow soundstage.
The second option for the bass experience is less successful: it is not very clear, obscures everything, and exposes the shortcomings of the equipment it operates with. It is more for bass lovers, and, like the third preset, it blurs the overall picture and makes the sound distant and unclear.
The A1 helps when your smartphone or the small audio player doesn’t have enough power. It powers more demanding earphones and helps with certain over-ear headphones. However, you cannot expect huge power gain or success in driving high impedance headphones with low power. That said, the A1 is small, but it gave many headphones a slight kick during our testing.
The FiiO A1 offers a very smooth but almost neutral sound in terms of sound quality, as you would expect from a FiiO product. It also keeps the bass to a minimum. You can feel minimal warming and a slight narrowing of the soundstage. On the other hand, there is no noticeable loss of resolution or dynamics. The soundstage is good, and the slight narrowing of the soundstage results in good depth; the A1 presents instruments in a more rounded manner. The emphasis is on width and depth rather than the height of the soundstage. Separation and presence levels are true to the source. The result is a direct, detailed, and clean sound. As a result, this affordable portable amplifier can power undemanding equipment with high volume without compromising sound reproduction, but that’s all. The contribution to improving the sound’s quality is so subtle that it’s barely noticeable.
Not surprisingly, the sound of this amplifier is simple. It’s not designed for high-end audio players. Nor is it a device for high-end headphones. In other words, you can’t listen to the Sennheiser HD 660 S via a smartphone. Its only function is to compensate for sound when your smartphone’s circuitry can’t handle high-impedance headphones. In this case, the A1 restores the headphones’ sound to normal, making them sound like they should.
Even with headphones that your audio player handles well, the A1, a cheap amplifier, will make the bass sound a little rougher. This amp will soften the mids and help improve the overall musicality.
We found the FiiO A1 to be a compact, incredibly affordable, and well-built device. The build quality and ability to power standard in-ear monitors and headphones are impressive for a budget amplifier. In terms of functionality, not all presets work in the same way, and not all are successful. However, the Fiio A1 still manages to combine ease of use, build quality, sound quality, and affordability. The size of the unit and the long battery life make it an ideal travel amplifier.