FiiO i1-Portable DAC for Apple Lighting Port

When you connected a nice headphones to your smartphone or iphone, you may be told that the sound quality just so-so, because the audio circuitry .

Probably, you may have been advised to use other portable music playing and sound improving devices like MP3, outboard DAC/amps, Chord Mojo, iFi Audio and MFi rather than your Smartphone’s music playback.

But the truth is that each of these options has some drawbacks that make them not to be a good alternative for the smart phones. For example, you may require an amplifier to improve the sound of a DAP, but this terribly affects portability. Besides, with some models of DAP, you will not be able to access Google Play Store, making it impossible for you to get streaming services such as Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify and Tidal while on the go.

Another issue with DAPs is that they have a lower battery run time when compared with Smartphones. Only batteries of a few models of DAP can last as long as that of a Smartphone.

Outboard DAC/amplifiers are also good sound devices.

Chord Mojo and iFi Audio micro iDSD Black Label are typical examples of outboard DAC/amps that can be connected directly to lightning port or microUSB of a Smartphone for sound enhancement. But it is also not a good device to go about with because of its weight and size.

Over and above this, you can only connect to Smartphone with rubber especially if you want to hold your phone with one hand. You cannot answer your calls with such a connection. Besides, the rubber straps will affect screen clarity and brightness.

Consequently, there is a need for a more portable and sound improving device that can work well on Smartphone. FiiO i1, is a good example of a pair of headphones that delivers good sound when hooked up to a Smartphone.

The way out

Featuring in-line DAC and headphone amplification, FiiO i1 is designed to deliver about 32 Ohmic resistance to any headphone from which it obtains a maximum power of 15mW.

However, the strong selling point of the device is not its impressive power performance but on the quality of its sound.

According to its specification, Fiio i1 has output impedance that’s less than one Ohm. It is designed to be connected to iOS directly with a cable of 80cm long attached to its one end. The device comes with a switch which is used to increase and decrease the volume and also to control the basic playback. The extreme of the device contains a cylinder of 9cm height and 4.5mm diameter. The Nuvoton Technology’s NAU88L25 chip which performs a number of functions such as execution of D/A conversion and headphone, digital audio extraction, iOS device handshaking, MFi authentication is enclosed in the headphone socket of 3.5mm.

Fiio I1 DAC headphone amp

From the Nuvoton website: “The NAU88L25 is an ultra-low power high performance audio codec designed for headphone or headset application in Smartphone, tablet PC, Chromebooks, laptop, game controller, Bluetooth headphones and other portable devices. It includes one I2S/PCM interface, one high quality stereo DACs, one mono ADC, a Class G stereo headphone amplifier, and industry leading advanced headset features.”

To be able to update your firmware with i1, you have to install FiiO Controller app. Once you connect the device to an iPhone 6S Plus, a pop-up menu for the installation of app will appear. However, you can ignore this if you don’t want firmware update. The device operates at 48kHz but according to information on its packaging, the capacity is likely to be increase with future updates.

Well, what is the bottom line ?

The strongest selling point of this device, as far as I am concern is its ability to connect to streaming services such as Tidal Hifi. This feature is more helpful to me as a music fan than hi resolution support. The streaming services make it possible for me to have access to a large selection of music. You are only required to have internet connection to be able to download these albums. You don’t need any SD cards to play your favorite music.

I utilized two in-ear monitors, the Noble Audio Katana and Campfire Audio Andromeda to compare the sound quality of iPhone 6S Plus and i1 for a week. Orbital’s Blue Album played received greater dynamic immediacy from i1. It gave superior layer separation to Before and After Science of Brian. With it, the imperfections of FSOL’s My Kingdom dissipated.

Sound amazing? Well, it has happened

Put differently, the iPhone delivers an inferior, less lively and flatter sound output when compared with i1 which offers better defined, undiluted, detailed and airy sounds.

But one may argue that i1 has similar functionality with AudioQuest DragonFly Black and even notes that the latter can be connected to any PC/Mac through a USB Port while the former cannot be hooked to a USB port.

You can answer phone calls with Fiio i1. It has an inline cylinder equipped with an internal microphone which has an input that has a Nuvoton chip encoding. FiiO i1 comes with a shirt clip in case you want to keep the device on your breast pocket during a ride.

FiiO is powered by the host device just as it is the case with Audioquest Dragon Black. And it also has a low energy consumption rate and thus, it does not have any significant impact on the battery runtime of iPhone 6S Plus. Connecting i1 to my phone did not deplete the battery power to cause me to recharge my phone more often than I used to do.

Fiio I1 portable dac headphone amp

When I juxtaposed the sound quality of i1 and the AudioQuest Dragon Fly Black, I made the following observation.

  1. FiiO i1 has a lower output power than AudioQuest Dragon Fly Black. At 50%, robust SPLs are realised from the Noble Audio Katana but with FiiO, the robust SPLs will be realised at 15% which is about two to three clicks from zero.
  2. The bass or low end offered by i1 is the least weighty when compared with that of Robust SPLs from the Noble Audio Katana. This difference is particularly discernible on the DJ Hell’s Car’s laser-guided downbeat techno played on the standard Final Audio Sonorous III.
  3. With FiiO i1, we are able to be more informed about its basic presentation through the circumaural Finals.
  4. AudioQuest piece delivers softer and warmer sounds. Given this, it is more tolerant of Spotify’s lossy encoding particularly with recordings that have less magnificent soundings such as the premiere of The House Of Love on Creation.

So, if you prefer superior sound quality, you should opt for DragonFly Black. But if you want an MFi certified portable audio that is more easy-to-store which works without an adaptor, FiiO is a better option for you. You should also choose FiiO, if you want something that comes with inline controls and that you can use to make calls. The device is also a better choice for people that put premium on sounds as it delivers a better sound than iPhone.

FiiO fans will not be surprised with this conclusion because the company has become renowned with their high quality DAPs and DAC/amps designed to be connected to Smartphone. The Chinese company stands out with the production affordable sound improving devices for the man on the go. They do not compromise with quality. Although, i1 does not deliver the best sounds, it is far from being the most physically unaccepted device. After all, audio-curious consumers are not only driven by sound quality.

However, there are still a few consumers – mainly those that connect to hi resolution audio – that prefer a DAP. Most consumers will still go for a second or even a third device in order to get the benefit of portable audio with superior sound quality. We learn this from Pono.

The Pono Player delivers impressive sound quality. Despite the fact that Neil Young, a well known personality, preferred this device which increased its popularity among consumers, it still fell through. A second device which resembled Toblerone also did not win the consumers’ admiration because of its shape. Given that consumers now put premium on their pockets/bags, we must place form and functionality side by side.

Fiio I1 headphone amplifier

Considering that with a pair of headphones, music enthusiasts enhance the sound quality of the music they already have, the functionality of a pragmatic compact audio depends on the devices they will be used on. This refers to the long battery run time and superior UX of a Smartphone. With i1, FiiO offers great choice to iPhone Users.

Conclusion of Fiio I1

No review gives comprehensive and detailed information about a product because the reviewer is constrained by time and lack of access to all available products. This is also the situation we found ourselves in the writing of this review.

So, I have exhausted all I observed about Fiio i1. People who have used this device or an MFi/Lightning in-line DAC/amp with similar features and are willing to talk about them can share their experiences on the comment section.