Review: Fiio A1 Amp – Budget Fi

Sound

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.

EQ

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.

Fiio A1 3

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.

Fiio A1 1

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.

Fiio A1 7

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

15 Comments

  • Reply June 14, 2016

    dale thorn

    It’s amazing that they would release this, but then, people like me are fascinated with how much can be done with small amps like this. The K1 (with DAC also) was surprising in how it improved iPhone bass a little, although it didn’t do anything else, but a really good deal for $40. I’m a big fan of FiiO.

    • Reply June 14, 2016

      Lieven

      We all love fiio for what they’ve done for the market 🙂

  • Reply June 15, 2016

    Barun C

    Its nice to see FiiO still sticking to their roots of the audio enthusiast beginner market. This reminded me of the FiiO E5 I used to use when it came out in 2011 or something for $19 or something.

  • Reply June 15, 2016

    Barun C

    BTW, what happened to Disqus?

    • Reply June 15, 2016

      Lieven

      Disqus is an absolute mess that reduces your site’s loading speed to zero. As we’ve been optimizing the site, Disqus had to go. Especially as they didn’t reply to a single message

  • Reply June 19, 2016

    ks

    Could this amp drive my Fostex TP50RP Mark III headphones?

    If no, could you suggest a cheaper alternatives by FiiO or others?

    • Reply June 19, 2016

      dalethorn

      Cheaper, no. And you should get more power for a planar.

    • Reply June 19, 2016

      Lieven

      No it won’t drive your T50P and even cheaper, like Dale said, is impossible

  • Reply October 27, 2016

    Hugh

    I think K S may have meant the cheaper end of the market, rather than cheaper than the A1; i.e.in the same price range.

    I just bought the A1 as my first portable amp, having mulled over but ultimately never buying an E6 since about 2011. It beefs up my cheap Android phone and $5 buds in a very impressive way.

    One apparent shortcoming is its battery life. I don’t know how many ohms I’m asking it to deal with, but after 45-60 minutes on ‘flat’, at full volume, it starts to produce less and less sound. I may need to set my phone to max. volume and use the A1’s volume controls instead of doing the opposite, i.e. demanding full power from the A1 and using the phone’s volume buttons.

    Thanks for this review. It was accessible enough for this audio luddite to understand (mostly).

  • Reply November 4, 2016

    Robi

    Will it make any difference to my old v-jay?

    • Reply November 4, 2016

      dale thorn

      There are many variables, such as the source you have now.

  • Reply May 24, 2017

    venkat

    senior citizen. moderately hearing impaired due to old age. find difficult to TALK on mobile phones (nokia asha 210). the voice from other end is low and sometime garbled. I have a budget bt headphone which can be connected with line-in cable and made a wired headphone. will this headphone amplifier Fiio A1 help me. somebody remarked that this amplifier cuts off the mic in the mobile phone. if so it is not going to be helpful to me. I am not greatly interested to hear music through the mobile phone. so the frequency problem of sound (bass treble etc) is not relevant. but the voice from other end must be loud and clear and my voice should be loud and clear at the other end. apologise for a detailed question.

    • Reply May 24, 2017

      dale thorn

      This FiiO amp is not a good bet. The best solution by far is to get a more sensitive headphone so that it plays loud enough to hear with your phone. And some headphones are *much* clearer than others, with more output in the treble.

  • Reply July 13, 2017

    Brian Foster

    I wish I could hear from someone who has used this with the Monoprice 8323.
    Those are in my opinion a near perfect budget headphone but they could use more bass.
    I use them with bass boost on my old Sony Discman and they sound great.

    I’ve been looking for something to run them through to boost the bass a little.

  • Reply December 29, 2018

    charlyarg

    Great review thanks. I’m quite the addict to these fiio units (I have the E12, the K1, the Q1 and X1/X1II players) as they’re still affordable even with the high dollar rate in my country. We even have a local fiio store with great support! I’ve just bought the A1 to try to solve my problem with my new Moto G5+, a lovely budget phone but with an awful sound. I previously used the K1 on my Nexus 6P and it was the glory, but it died on me and the K1 can’t seem to get usb audio from the Moto G. Excuse to buy more fiio. Looking forward to the BTR3 next year.. if it’s anything close to the K1 in sound I’ll bite the bullet and go wireless!

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