Disclaimer: The unit goes for around $30USD on the web but Fiio sent us the Fiio A1 free of charge. Fiio also is a website advertiser.
The Mini A1 Amp
Fiio’s latest Fiio A1 mini amplifier continues the Fiio tradition of making small budget portable amplifiers. The Fiio E6 which Mike reviewed back in December 2011 is one of the Fiio A1’s predecessors. Just like with any Fiio unit, these budget mini amps are incredibly popular with those who have a small budget and with those taking their first steps in better portable audio. Mike called it “An amplifier for the masses” and just looking at the build quality and features, it probably was the most mainstream-ready portable headphone amplifier in the market. They’re small, well build and packed with convenient features like USB charging, EQ and bass boost. Fiio will always be connect to the bass boost function they always seem(ed) to implement, even if they lately have stepped a bit away from that direction. Most important, these mini amps are priced so low that nobody has a right to raise objections about the price/quality ratio. The question is though if these miniature amps still have a lot of value as smartphones and portable players now all have stronger outputs than several years ago.
The tiny Fiio A1 has a metal sandblasted aluminum alloyed chassis and for the price I honestly expected it to be a full plastic enclosure, so that was a nice surprise. First thing you notice when you hold the packaging is how tiny the new Fiio A1 is. It actually measure 42 x 40.7 x 9.4mm and weighs only 20gr which is pretty incredible. Luckily it has a clip to keep it “in place” because you wouldn’t notice dropping it.
The Fiio A1 has a digital volume control and it uses Alps Microswitches for sensitive and reliable operation. Next to that the main feature of the Fiio A1 is it’s EQ and it actually has four different EQ modes:
- Flat – The LED on the power button is continuously blue and gain is 3,65dB
- Bass 1 – The blue LED blinks once every 2 seconds and bass is boosted by 2.7dB
- Bass 2 – The blue LED blinks twice every 2 seconds and bass here is boosted by 5.2dB
- Bass 3 – Blue LED flashes 3 times every 2 seconds but in comparison to setting 2 and 3 the bass here gets reduced with 5.2dB
It’s quite funny to see that Fiio chose to implement a bass reduction, it certainly was something I didn’t expect in a $30USD mini amp as most people simply seem to buy these mini amps for the bass boost.
When the blue LED starts flashing red it is time to recharge the battery by micro USB. The LED will turn red when the unit is charging and one it is charged it will turn green. The battery inside the Fiio A1 is a Lipoly battery of 160mAh that lasts about 13hours (on 32Ohm), which is rather impressing. Then again, the A1 doesn’t have a lot of other features draining the battery. Fully charging the unit takes under 90 minutes. The unit comes pre-charged as well.
The Fiio A1 has a remarkably low output impedance of under 0.2Ohm which makes it complementary to high impedance sources and sources without volume control like the Stoner Acoustics AD100/UD120. The amplifier chip inside the Fiio A1 is the TPA6130A2 if I’m not mistaking, together with the 74HC4052PW＋OPA2322AID for the bass boost functions. See the table below for all of the Fiio A1’s specs.
The actual price for the Fiio A1 on Amazon.com is $27.99USD and €29.99 in Europe, making this Fiio’s cheapest unit. The next in line K1 amp/DAC which is $39USD and the A3 which is going for $59.99 in the States and €79! in Europe.
Packaging & accessories
I’m a fan of Fiio’s metal boxes where many of their units came delivered in, even the amplifier modules for the X7 come in a nice box but the A1 like the Fiio K1 comes in a simple plastic see-through packing with the amp on top and a small box with all the accessories below. For ± $30USD you do get quite the number of accessories:
- One 7cm 3.5 to 3.5mm interconnect with 90° jacks (I use these all the time)
- One long 75cm interconnect with straight jacks (which I never seem to use)
- A standard USB to Micro USB charging cable
- Documentation (warranty, instructions, …)
- Two extra plastic clips
For some reason I always seem to break the kind of clips the A1 uses, so I was happy to see they supplied two extra clips for the clumsy people like me.
Build Quality & Lay-out
As said, I didn’t expect Fiio to make an aluminum $30USD mini amp but like all the latest Fiio products, their build quality is really good. The only thing that is less “carry- or bag proof” is the transparent removable plastic clip with which you clip it to your shirt or pants. Plastic easily brakes when folded over its limit and Fiio seems to know that as they have added two extra clips in the box.
Apart from that the Fiio A1 seems like it can take a beating. The top of the unit is the most important place of the amp and from left to right it features the on/off switch with incorporated LED, volume up, volume down and the 3.5mm single ended gold plated headphone out. On the other side we logically find the gold plated 3.5mm line-in and the micro-USB port for charging. On the front there’s only the Fiio logo and on the back is the transparent clip. A very basic unit design wise.
One remark: I do think the buttons are really close next to each other. The – and + key are like 3mm apart and the + button is right next to the 3.5mm headphone out, that can be annoying when your headphone/earphone uses a big connector. Oh and the blue LED could have been brighter.
Looking at the numbers and the size of the unit, it’s obvious that the A1 wasn’t developed to power big full sized headphones but IEMs. It of course also manages to power the easy to drive headphones like the Koss Portapro, HD25, Urban Vinyl Classics, Hifiman Edition S, etc.
Smartphones and portable players now all have stronger outputs compared to several years ago, so I see the Fiio A1 more as a unit to use as a very first amplifier combined with powerless phones or older portable players. That is unless you’re planning on using the A1’s EQ settings, which is what I think most of the users nowadays will use the Fiio A1 for.
Sound, on page two, after the click