It’s only normal that you for only $30USD don’t expect a lot from the A1. Yet when using it in normal position (no bass boost and 3.65dB gain), the sound is easy to like. Bass even without boost, has good body and the overall signature of the amp is on the warmer side. Bass isn’t the tightest though but overall the little A1 is quite balanced. Sound stage wise the A1 isn’t the strongest as width and especially depth aren’t that special. Compared to amplifiers 10 times its price (duh!) it’s lacking detail, separation and layering but for a $30 amp, it just delivers a fun and easy to listen to reasonably balanced amplified sound for weak sources and ear/headphones that just need that little bit more.
You immediately hear the elevated bass kick in on the first bass boost setting (+2.7dB). Besides changing the bass level, it doesn’t really impact the sound apart from the slightly more forward vocals. Bass body now is bigger and it still isn’t the tightest. It doesn’t really run over in to the mids yet but it’s close. If you need more bass than on the normal setting, the EQ1 setting most likely is the one you’re looking for as is most dynamic and “correct”. With bass heavy head/earphones such as the Urban Vinyl Classic, bass even on Bass 1 setting is too much already, but that’s personal preference.
On Bass 2, bass gets boosted by 5.2dB. You can immediately hear the bigger bass which also seems to reach lower. You will however also notice the mids being reduced a little, together with the lower treble, giving the A1 more of a v-curved sound that just doesn’t sound as clear and dynamic compared to the normal and Bass 1 setting.
Using Bass 3-setting reduces the bass with 5.2dB. I didn’t expect this from Fiio as Fiio in the old days always liked its bass. This setting clearly is for those using a very bass heavy headphone or earphone in the first place. Not only does bass gets reduced the body of the mids also decreases, giving the A1 a thinner and dryer sound signature. I’m not a fan of this setting.
Combos & Comparison
Ideally you would pair up the Fiio A1 more with budget IEMs and easy to drive bigger sized headphones. I don’t really see CIEM owners who have just spent between $500 and $3000USD use a $30 amplifier. I’m not the biggest fan of universal IEMs and earbuds and yet my collection seems to get bigger by the month. Here are some tests
A few weeks ago I looked at the original VE Monk which in the meantime has been replaced by the Monk+. M+, according to Lee from VE, is an improved version of the sublime Monk where you get a little less bass and more detailed and forward mids. In general the new + version sounds more balanced but on the A1 the bass in setting 1 already is pushing it while setting 2 completely loses control. The Monk just isn’t the most ideal earbud to pair with the A1. Its brother the 150Ohm Asura 2.0 is thinner sounding with a neutral tuning and I quite like how it sounds without EQ. However on the first bass setting, the A1 is giving the Asura more body down low and it makes 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. The ZEN 2.0 from the same company has an impressive 320Ohm impedance and it on paper shouldn’t be a match for the Fiio A1. In reality I quite like how it sounds with the A1 on both neutral and EQ setting 1 but I’ve heard the ZEN sound a lot better, even straight from the L&P L3.
The A&D D2 from Lendmeurears is a new over ear IEM with good bass body to start off with and I only like it without EQ on the A1, it just doesn’t sound right with more or less bass. The original Trinity Delta has three different filters and still I don’t like its sound signature. Setting 1 on the A1 however smoothens it out a bit and the extra bass makes it more enjoyable. On setting 2 it actually sounds even better (with the silver filter in both cases) and it’s the first time I haven’t felt like unplugging the Delta within the first 3 minutes.
Switching to the full sized headphones, the 18Ohm Hifiman Edition S was developed to sound perfect straight out of your phone or portable player and while the volume has to go up a little the A1 manages to drive it perfectly. Except for the negative bass boost, I like all the settings with the Edition S with setting 1 being my favorite
The Urban Vinyl Classic at 84Ohm requires the volume to go up even more but the A1 still pulls it off. The Classic is a bass heavy to start from and it without EQ and on setting one sounds best, really bass heads will probably opt for setting 2 here. I doubt anyone will go for setting 3.
Compared to the Stoner Ruby the A1 is a league below. Ruby sound wider and deeper with better layering and detail. It also has an overall clearer presentation. For a miniature amp it performs very well but then again it costs three times the A1, if you can still find it. I’m sorry to say so, but compared to the other still available Fiio amps, the Fiio A1 logically is the least detailed and refined amplifier. The Fiio E17K and E10K are my favorites, but the Fiio E12A is also extremely good with IEMs and full sized headphones and then there of course still is the E11K. Fiio has so many great budget gear.
The A1 at $30USD is mostly about giving oompf to underpowered phones even though that happens less with the more powerful sources on the market. If you do need an amp and you’re on a low budget, the A1 can be that first amp that will show you what an amplifier can do to achieve good sound. Or you can get the A1 for the different EQ settings it has, especially when you’re looking to add bass to bass light ear or headphones.
For little money you get a well built and small amplifier with a couple of simple but effective EQ functions that mostly impact the bass. I’m not the right person for an amplifier in this range but we all remember that first budget amplifier we bought that started it all. (For me it was an iBasso T-something). I like the fact that Fiio is making budget stuff that offers good quality for money. If however you’re really looking to improve sound quality I’d look at some of Fiio’s other amps like the E12A, E17K and E11K which are quite good.