A portable DAC/amp’s ability to drive IEMs with an absolute silent background is mandatory for me. Thankfully the Lotoo does that. Even if the market has definitely shifted towards In Ear Monitors in the recent years, there is a field of consumers who would still want to use the DAC/amp with portable headphones.
In my opinion a manufacturer has to achieve both to create a product that has the best versatility. It doesn’t have to drive headphones like the Diana V2 or HE1000se in my opinion, but easier to drive headphones should be able to be used with the PAW S1.
In this segment we will find out how the PAW S1 behaves with two of my favorite IEMs and two portable headphones I own. Let’s start with IEMs.
In Ear Monitors
Driving In Ear Monitors really shouldn’t be an issue for any DAC/amp nowadays. And as I mentioned before, the PAW S1’s background is super silent. Which is a big relief to me. When I am on my commute I usually use CIEMs as they let me listen at lower volumes, unless of course I am in the process of reviewing another IEM at the moment.
Let’s have a quick look at how the S1 pairs with the A18t and the Anole VX. I have used the low gain setting for both.
64 Audio – A18t
The A18t is a precision instrument. It cuts like a surgical knife and offers one of the highest resolutions in any CIEM I have. Many IEMs have made their way into my apartment, but the A18t has always kept its place in my personal top 3. I am using volume setting 23 and the balanced output. The M20 module is installed in the A18t.
The PAW S1 infuses a mild warmth and some extra body into the A18t, that gives it an overall fuller presentation, but especially in the lows and mids. You get the incredible precision of the A18t coupled with a lightly warmer sound.
Instruments have great accuracy and separation. The A18t manages to bring out the absolute finest of information of the PAW S1. The stage is very well organized and kept in place with impressive control. It doesn’t matter if it’s a full blown orchestra or just a small piece band, the A18t renders them all with precision. With the PAW S1 you get a stage that reaches wide and deep. Every instrument is carefully placed in the room with pin point imaging and superb separation.
Mids are fuller and richer with the PAW S1 than on other DAPs. However, there still is enough air in the mid-range to not make vocals and instruments sound too thick and saturated. It’s a natural sound that doesn’t have much coloration in it.
Treble is fast and energetic with the typical tia extension. For my taste treble could be a dose richer and even softer. But there’s still enough room for the highs to not become sharp and harsh. All in all it’s a very enjoyable and exciting pairing in my opinion.
qdc – Anole VX
The Anole VX is one of the monitors I absolutely enjoy on all fronts. It has a very natural sound that’s full and detailed. On top I can alter the bass/mids/treble by flicking a switch. With the PAW S1 I used volume setting 25 on the balanced output.
With this pairing you get a wonderfully meaty sound that’s organic to the bone. Lush and full mids coupled with high resolution and fine texture. The bass sounds natural and has good body and weight. It’s not the fastest it can be, but the extension and resolution is very nice here. I especially invite you to try out Queen’s iconic “Another One Bites the Dust”. The bass riff is simply superb sounding with good dynamics and density.
One key strength of the Anole VX has always been the vocals for me. Hardly any other monitor can grab my attention in this section like the qdc. With the PAW S1 vocals sound lush and rich, but they can almost become too thick with this pairing for my taste. Instruments sound very natural but again with extra body and weight. One thing I’m missing with the VX x S1 combo is air around the musicians. For some extra vocal clarity I usually enable the mid-forward setting in the VX. That always helps.
Treble is energetic and clean. There’s no sharpness or sibilance I could find here. The Anole VX can often be pushed over the top in the lower treble with the wrong source. The PAW S1 thankfully isn’t one of those.
With the PAW S1 you’ll get a well spread stage, that is stretching in good dimensions in width and depth. The scenery will take place in between your ears though, as everything is kept closer. Imaging, resolution and layering are all very well achieved. The same can be said about micro detailing and rendering in my opinion.
Full sized headphones
Driving full sized headphones right is a task many portable DAC/amps and also DAPs fail. Just because something gets loud enough, doesn’t mean it’s driven well in my opinion. It is all about the amplification circuit and implementation of the components.
A product like the PAW S1 doesn’t need to drive my heavy-weight planars, but it should handle headphones that fall in the portable category. Like the Shinola Canfield and Aeon 2. So let’s see how the S1 handles them.
Shinola – Canfield
The Canfield is a headphone that sees most of its ear-time on my girlfriend’s head. I only use it when I need to check something for reviews. Like now. It has a rated impedance of 41 Ohms and a sensitivity of 115dB/mW. I used volume setting 60 on the single ended output in low gain.
The Canfield is a consumer oriented headphone, that has bigger bass and an overall thick and warm to dark sound. With the PAW S1 you get exactly that and then some. Bass is there at basically all times, but it’s not annoyingly forward. It still doesn’t overshadow too much mid-range clarity to become dull.
Mids are recessed and seated behind bass. Vocals sound a bit distant but overall aren’t lacking in emotions or air. It’s just that the bass really pushes them back. If the lows were a bit less forward I think this could work quite well actually. The track “My Lovely Man” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers would be a very good example for that. Flea’s bass line and the drum kicks of Chad Smith are pushing Anthony Kiedis’ voice far into the background.
You get an energetic upper mid-range, where e-guitar crunches come with power and agility. Unless they are covered by the omnipresent bass of the Canfield. Treble overall is laid back, but lower treble hits can sound a bit hard edged.
DC Audio – Aeon 2 Closed
The Aeon 2 is one of those portable headphones that require quite some juice to come alive. It has an impedance of only 13 Ohms and a sensitivity of 92dB/mW. I used the high gain setting and volume 55 on the balanced output to reach my desired listening level.
With the Aeon 2 x PAW S1 pairing you get a fast sounding bass, that reaches deep into the sub-bass areas. It doesn’t sound overly forward though. You get good body and weight in the lows. There is also nice resolution and texture.
Mids are thicker and bigger with the Aeon 2. Vocals sound relaxed and a bit laid back. But there is surprising levels of air in them. Instruments are full and rich, with good body and texture. The resolution is also quite good. The mid-range still is colored towards a warm and thick sound. It has an organic character that gives the impression of having meat on its bones.
You get a moderately well spread stage that doesn’t go too wide or deep really. The Aeon 2’s ability to keep its structure is also rather low, when things get busy you can tell the DC Audio headphone struggles. But that isn’t the fault of the PAW S1. Treble is neutral in richness, has decent extension but lacks a bit in providing micro details.
One of my biggest issues with the Aeon 2 is its weakness in instrumental separation and imaging sharpness. The PAW S1 also can’t cure that. You get a narrower organized stage, where musicians appear close to each other. The background also isn’t as dark as I’d like it from a planar-magnetic headphone.
Still the Aeon 2 is definitely not an easy to get headphone, but the PAW S1 does a very good job at getting it to its best. I have heard the Aeon 2 sound a lot less enjoyable.
The last page is all about Comparisons and Conclusion! Jump here.