Fiio A1 Portable Headphone Amplifier—The Most Popular Headphone Amplifier

Whenever we are considering portable hi res music players and portable headphone amplifiers, the first brand that springs to our mind is Fiio. Do you agree ?

The Fiio A1 is portable headphone amp which can enhance your music listening experience on your smartphone for a very low budget. When Fiio first entered the market, they made a name for themselves by their small, portable and quite affordable headphone amps that delivered nice results. This is a modern evolution of those early designs.

fiio a1

These amps are designed to enhance your music listening experience from any smartphone or any other source such as a consumer grade MP3 player. Most of these devices have other design priorities, such as for a smartphone optimal software experience and low power take a front seat instead of quality sound output. Hence, the DACs and amplifiers included in most smartphones are mediocre and low power. The Fiio headphone amp can help you alleviate the disadvantage of an inferior amp. This is especially useful if you are using a higher impedance headphone or an inefficient IEM. In such cases, the phone’s built in amp will be too anaemic to drive the headphone or the IEM to an acceptable volume. Sometimes, even if you turn up to full volume to get an acceptable volume, some frequencies such as bass are not properly reproduced. An external amp, such as the Fiio portable amp can provide enough power to drive headphones with up to 100 Ω impedance.

 

portable headphone amp

Design and usability

While Fiio’s earlier amp designs were made of plastic and had fiddly controls, Fiio has listened to the user feedback and improved on their earlier designs. The Fiio A1 portable amp has a rounded aluminium body, with only the sides and the clip made of plastic. Compared to earlier plastic designs, the aluminium build gives the product a more premium look and feel. Despite the improvements in build quality, it retains its small size, measuring just 42mm x 40.7mm x 9.4mm and weighs just 20 grams.

The front of the amp has Fiio branding, and the back has attachments for clips. On the top, there is a 3.5mm headphone out, volume up and down buttons and an on/off button with a multicolour LED. On the bottom, there is 3.5mm AUX input and micro USB port.

The LED indicator on the power on/off button is the only indicator of any kind. It blinks red when the battery is low, stays steady red when charging and switches to steady green when charging. It also indicates when the amp is switched on and what mode it is in.

The amp has a built-in 160 mAh lithium polymer battery that lasts up to 13 hours, but expect less if you are using high impedance cans or blasting music at high volume. It charges up in about 90 minutes.

One downside is that it will not be able to pass through signals such as play/pause from the button on your headset. Hence, you need to keep reaching for your phone to access media controls.

portable headphone amp

Technical Specification

Weight20g (incl. belt clip)Dimensions42mm x 40.7mm x 9.4m
Audio InputStandard 3.5mm PortHeadphone OutputStandard 3.5mm Port
Drive Ability16~100 Ω (recommended)Power InputDC 5V/0.8~1A (recommended)
Battery Capacity160 mAhBattery Life≥13 h (32Ω loaded)
Output Power≥78mW(16Ω / THD+N<1%)Charging Time≤90 mins
THD+N<0.05% (1kHz)Output Impedance≤ 0.2 Ω
Frequency Response10 Hz~90 kHz(-3dB,Input: 300mV)SNR≥100dB (A-weighted)
Input Sensitivity1.05Vrms(Vol=Max)MAX input Level1.35Vrms
Crosstalk≥65 dBChannel Imbalance≤ 0.2dB
Gain3.65dBStatus LEDYes
MAX Output Voltage4.52Vp-pMAX Output Current50mA
EQ ModesBass1: 2.7dB bass boost
Bass2: 5.2dB bass boost
Bass3: 5.2dB bass reduction
MCUMSP430
Headphone AMPTPA6130A2Sound Effects Module74HC4052PW+OPA2322AID

Sound quality

The Fiio A1 portable amp has three modes which determine the sound signature. You can switch the mode it is in by holding the power button, and the led indicator indicates the mode it is in. If it glows a steady blue, it is in default mode, if it blinks once every two seconds, then it is in 1st bass EQ mode, if it blinks 2 times every two seconds, then it is in 2nd bass EQ mode and if it blinks 3 times every two seconds then it is in 3rd bass EQ mode.

The portable amp does not change the sound signature much in its default mode. The sound signature remains close to the one produced by the original source, the amp just adds a touch of warmth to the sound. Bass response is also normal and the entire frequency range is appropriately represented, except the fringes. It also gives a slight improvement in the soundstage for most smartphones. The effects are more noticeable if your audio source had a particularly weak amp, to begin with. The portable amp will compensate for that without colouring the sound much.

However, if you wish to colour it and add some bass, then you can switch it to the bass boost modes. In the 1st bass EQ mode, the amp just boosts the lower frequencies. This mode can also be used to add liveliness to some boring headphones with a neutral and flat frequency response. This mode does not disturb the other frequencies by much. However, if you are a bass head, then you may appreciate the 2nd bass EQ mode. In this mode, in addition to boosting the lower frequencies, the amp also attenuates the mid and higher frequencies. Everyone may not appreciate this mode since the lower frequencies completely overpower all other frequencies. The 3rd bass EQ mode, even though it is called a bass EQ mode, just drops the power of the amp for use with sensitive IEMs.

portable headphone amp
Pros

√ The design is compact and the build quality excellent

  It has a decent battery life which charges back to full quickly

  Boosts volume significantly

  Improves clarity and imaging

  Maintains the sonic signature

Cons

 Unnecessary equaliser modes

You may not see much improvement if your music player or phone has pretty good audio output already

Conclusion

If you regularly listen to music on your smartphone or a consumer quality music player, then the Fiio A1 portable amp is a viable option to enhance your listening your experience. This will especially show significant improvement in your listening experience if you are using good quality headphones or your audio source has a weak amp. The ease of use, decent battery life and a price tag under $30 are good reasons to purchase it as well, in addition to bump in audio quality.