Sound Impressions

Tonality

Tonally the Q1 is warm to neutral with a relatively natural sound that is cleaner and slightly brighter than the D-Zero MK2 from iBasso and a step up from the E11k. It has a very nice pace and musicality to it with decent detail retrieval and a little sparkle in the top end that is relatively extended but never feels strident or terribly sibilant. The timbre on the Q1 is actually quite pleasing and relatively realistic and easily outmanoeuvres the Creative E range which sounds positively unnatural in comparison. Bass (non-boosted) is snappy and full sounding, vocals are smooth, sibilant free and easy to listen to though slightly lacking in detail and texture.

I did not find the Q1 as neutral as the E18 or the FiiO X3/5ii, nor do I find it as expansive or resolving but I do find it to sound rather non-digital and almost analog/organic in many respects which I rather enjoy in many my amps at no matter what the level is. The Q1 pot balance is excellent with only the merest hint of channel imbalance typical of most analog pots when on next to zero volume and a highly commendable black background at this price range. This is a mature sounding portable amplifier that pairs really well with hard rock, pop, plenty of EDM genres (Benny Benassi sounded great actually).

Matchability

You can strap the Q1 to most DAPs and Smartphones either via the Line out or the OTG if you happen to have a compatible Android smartphone or a camera connector setup for iGadgets such as the iPhone or iPad. The smaller 3.5mm IC is fairly flexible and I had no issues with connecting to the DX90, the FiiO X3ii and FiiO X5ii despite their different line-in/aux input positions.

I can also confirm no issues at all with HibyMusic on my Sony Z Ultra using an OTG to the Q1 (Android 5.1.1) and gleefully I also have native music and video apps support also so much like the E18. FiiO products seem to work rather well with Sony smartphones.

Powerwise the Q1 does just fine with both sensitive IEMs, portable headphones around 32ohms and gleefully does a decent job of driving the HE400s. That bass boost of the Q1 fattens out nicely on the HE400s giving an added touch of fullness on a headphone not really known for it slamming bass. It won’t command the full potential of the HE400s in terms of imaging and soundstage but it more than adequate for driving capability.

Comparisons

Q1 vs D-Zero MK2

There are very few (non-FiiO) portable amp/DACs in this price range but perhaps the closest both in look and feel and price is the iBasso D-Zero, especially the MK2 released at the end of 2014.

DSC00674

Build & portability

Both have very similar physical dimensions with the D-Zero sporting a more regular rectangular box form factor than the hip flask shape of the Q1 and coming in slightly thinner and more compact also. Battery life of both is impressive but the Q1 beats out the D Zero during DAC use by 15 to 10 hours total playback time though the D-Zero MK2 has a bewildering 120 hours playback as an amp only compared to the Q1 with just 30 hours rated. I still can’t get over that quoted iBasso figure and whilst I have not been actively counting the D-Zero MK2 can go on for days and days without need to charge. Both can charge during playback also.

Features

Both are amp/DACs and work just fine on plug and play with both MAC’s and PC’s. OTG is supported by both though iBasso is more upfront about their support and have thrown in an OTG cable whereas FiiO have declined with the Q1. Both have functionality to the back and front with clean flush button free left and right panels. I do prefer the more physical volume pot of the Q1 to the protruding volume dial of the D-Zero. Both are relatively easy to manipulate but I found the Q1 volume control just that bit more accurate and smoother whereas the D-Zero MK2 felt a bit too jumpy in comparison.

DSC00676

Tonality

Sound wise I found the Q1 to be brighter sounding than the D-Zero MK2 which sounded warmer by comparison though I would not term the Q1 as really that neutral or bright. Both have warmth, just the D-Zero MK2 sounded that bit warmer. The Q1 has a bit more sparkle and clarity in the top end, a cleaner and slightly more forward vocal presence and a blacker background when compared to the D-Zero MK2. Some people might prefer the MK2’s slightly softer lower treble reproduction, especially for synth and percussion but for my tastes the Q1 edged it in terms of upper midrange and treble performance.

In stock mode the D-Zero MK2 perhaps edged the Q1 in terms of bass quantity and slam but I preferred the tighter snappier and cleaner bass of the Q1 in terms of quality and coherence. Throw on the bass boost though of the Q1 and it’s a much more even competition with the Q1 bass quantity and body considerably raised and thickened. I am not a fan of bass boosting in most circumstances but it’s an option if you want it and it does help thicken things up considerably with thinner sounding IEM’s and headphones.

Power

The Q1 had the lower noise levels and blacker background between the two with sensitive IEM’s performing slightly better on the Q1 especially in high gain mode. BA designs such my trusty Westone W4 suffered from a higher level of background hiss than the Q1 and channel imbalance was just slightly more obvious at low volumes also.

FiiO Vs FiiO

Price

Of course the Q1 is not the only FiiO portable DAC/Amp in existence and the Q1 itself replaces the older E07k and sits right behind the E17k and the E18 and slightly ahead of the desktop based E10. That’s a complicated matrix of options right there and doubtless will give pause when selecting which one is the right one for you. Pricewise the E18 is the most expensive of all the options, followed by the E17k with the Q1 right at the bottom so if you are on a really tight budget the Q1 makes a lot of sense.

DSC00677

Features

The E17k and E18 have a few extra features also such as the digital display on the E17k, the official OTG iOS and Android support on the E18 and coaxial/SPDIF support on both. DAC wise the E18 and the Q1 top out at 24/96 using USB with the E17k going that bit higher at 32/96 but sharing the exact same DAC chip as the Q1, the PCM 5102. The E17k and E18 can go up to 24/192 PCM via their coaxial outputs which the Q1 does not share. The E17k goes one bit further than either the Q1 or the E18 by supporting DSD decoding using ASIO plugins which the older E18 and Q1 do not.

Battery

Battery wise the Q1 is the longest performing unit of the three with 15 hours using the DAC and 30 hours on amp only. The E17k comes in at just half of that longevity at 15 hours but the E18 is very competitive at 25 hours amp and 12 hours using the DAC, albeit with a much larger battery than both of them at 3500mAh compared to 1400 and 1500 respectively for the Q1 and E17k. Don’t forget also the E18 can double up as a power bank for your mobile device which the other 2 cannot.

DSC00678

Sound

(DX90 and Westone W4, Hifiman HE400s tested on line out)

On flat EQ and without any adjustments the Q1 is very competitive indeed in comparison to the E17k. The E17k still edges ahead with a slightly smoother and more resolving treble performance and superior imaging and once you start adjusting that treble and bass EQ in the E17k it starts pulling away in terms of flexibility over the Q1 which retains only a bass boost option. Still it’s an impressive performance from the Q1 given the price difference.

The E18, out of the 3, is probably the most neutral by a shade and projects a slightly bigger soundstage and better dynamics of the three. However, without the boost options, the E18 bass performance is slightly flatter than the Q1 which has a bit more slam than the E18. The E18 vocal performance was also a bit more refined and smoother than the Q1. For me, the trade-off is a slightly flatter bass signature for an airier grander sound stage, a slightly more refined and expansive midrange and a more neutral signature with the E18 over the Q1. Given the E18 still sells for $160 the Q1 still presents a very interesting value proposition if OTG compatibility is fine for your smartphone and you are on a tight budget.

If it is the highest resolving FiiO you want then the E17k has the edge over the other two. If it is the widest possible support for OTG and mobility with the most powerful amp and a more neutral signature then the E18 might just be the right choice though it is starting to show its age in terms of codec capability. If the budget is key and you want the longest possible battery life with a competitive sound that’s really not that far behind either the E17k or E18 then the Q1 should provide an excellent option.

DSC00673

Final Thoughts

So the Q1 replaces the E07k. I get that, the E07k just looks like a lesser E17k and it’s not unique enough from the E17k to stand out as a serious option. The E17k just does most things better. The Q1 on the other hand gets it just right for me at the price. Gone are unnecessary extras such as the LED screen and in comes a better sounding more robust pocketable unit that competes very well indeed with the E17k and E18. Those strapping an E11k might want to consider upgrading to the Q1 also. It just feels that bit more evolved and mature sounding as well as having a good DAC thrown in for a few bucks more.

The build quality is excellent, the features are just right and the stackability with the FiiO DAP range, DX90 and the AP100 is perfect. Throw on a few apps on Android and you have OTG for just about any Android device and if you are a Sony guy then good news it works native also. That is a very flexible solution indeed for $69.99. There are very few weaknesses that I can think off for the Q1. Yes it’s only 24/96 and won’t do any sort of DSD decoding and yes OTG is not officially supported. However this is a starter upgrade and for the ‘on the go’ guy looking for a really long battery life cycle and natural and snappy sound signature the Q1 will fit the bill.

Price: $69.99

Links: http://www.fiio.net/en/products/44/parameters

Price:$69.99: http://www.sonicelectronix.com/item_100817_FiiO-Q1.html

Technical Specifications

Model Name/Number Q1 Color Available Black
Weight 100 g Dimensions 97mm x 56mm x 13.1mm
Audio Input Micro USB/3.5 mm Jack Headphone output 3.5 mm stereo jack
Volume Control TOCOS Potentiometer Bass Adjustment Yes
Recommended Headphne Impedance 16~150 Ω (Recommended) Power Input DC5V 1A recommended
Battery Capacity 1400 mAh Battery Life >30 h
Output Power >190 mW (32 Ω/THD+N<1%)
>75 mW (150 Ω/THD+N<1%)
Charge Time ≤ 4 h
THD+N <0.005% (1 kHz) Output Impedance < 0.3 Ω
Frequency Response 20 Hz~20 kHz SNR ≥107 dB
Input Sensitivity 4.3 V (GAIN=L)
1.5 V (GAIN=H)
Max Input Level >4 Vrms
Crosstalk ≥75dB(1 kHz) Channel Imbalance 0.2 dB
Gain AUX IN:-7dB/4.5dB
USB IN:-3.5dB/8dB
Bass Adjustment Range 0/5dB
MAX output voltage 7.2 Vp-p MAX Output Current >75 mA
1 2

About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • imbasaurus

    Hi Marcusd how does it pair with X1? lost my E11k and planning to use this as replacement. or i am good with just X1?

    • headfonics

      I think the amp is an upgrade on the X1 amp, little bit cleaner and more neutral. I would grab the Q1 and pair it for now, even on analog, rather than replace the e11k

  • Paul

    Hi, thanks for the review. I like neutral and very detailed sound – do I have any better options under $100? I think this one might be too warm for me…

    • headfonics

      Its not that warm to be honest, but for a DAC/AMP under $100 this good thats very hard to find. The original iBasso D Zero Mk1 is quite neutral to bright almost – have you tried that?

      • Paul

        Hmm, can’t find that one for sale… I could only find Mk2, but that’s already above my budget 🙁
        Anyway, I think the Q1 is just what I’m looking for – I don’t need much warmth or bass, I just want the sound to be detailed and a big soundstage. I couldn’t find anything as good below the $100 mark, except X1. But since the Q1 appears to have about the same quality, is cheaper, and also doubles as DAC, it wins hands down. Thank you for helping me choose a source, it’s really important to me.

        • headfonics

          No worries, post your impressions when you get it.

          • Paul

            Hi, so I haven’t bought this yet, as I didn’t really have the time to go to that shop (the only one that sells FiiO here), but I have considered another option, the E10k. As far as I know, there is no direct comparison that has been made between these two, but some people are saying that the E10k has superior quality. I know it doesn’t have a battery, but if it’s a significant quality difference, I could just get an externally powered OTG cable and a “lipstick” charger. Do you know anything about how these two would compare? Thank you for helping me, I really appreciate it.

  • Fèlix Mirano

    Hey, I just got this and I’m a little dissapointed so far.
    I’m using my V-MODA M100’s and the sound improvement seems to be of only 25% with the Q1’s.
    I was looking for something that would make my headphones sound like a big concert hall or like a banging club with a lot of sound and a bit of bass.
    However, the Q1’s isn’t able to do that for me.
    The sound did improve when I used this app called DFX enhancer, which makes the Q1’s sound 35% better.
    Overall, I’m not really satisfied with it and I think I might just return it to amazon.

    • headfonics

      Hi Felix

      Yeah the M100 might not be the best match, especially if you are thinking of puishing the sound out a bit and producing a slightly more layered approach. Have you tried the iBasso D14?

      • Fèlix Mirano

        I have not, but I looked it up and it’s out of my budget at the moment.
        I’m going to give the FiiO E12 Mont Blanc a try.
        Hopefully with them my V-MODA’s can much louder than with the Q1’s.
        I’ll update back when I buy the E12’s.

        • headfonics

          The E12 is still quite bottom heavy and I am not sure its the best fit either for what you are looking for but if you can try and return then go ahead. My preference would be an E12a actually, its more articulate in the mids and treble and more linear than the E12.

  • MJLav

    The simple solution to the silicone pads is to simply stick one on with double sided tape on the side that will contact your phone. This is not rocket surgery.

  • Swaroop Anil

    Any idea how this pairs up with Audio Technica ATH-IM02?

    • headfonics

      will give it a go this weekend

      • Swaroop Anil

        Would you also be able to suggest a decent budget DAC/AMP for the IM02 since it’s very picky?

        • headfonics

          What kind of budget are we looking at here for a DAC/AMP?

          • Swaroop Anil

            ~$100. Did you try the Q1 with IM02? How was the combo?

          • headfonics

            Damn I keep forgetting about testing this – bear with me for a short while longer, maybe tomorrow.

          • Swaroop Anil

            sure… but while you are at it, could you also test it with the E17k? I like my IM02s but they tend to get a tad too bright at times causing listening fatigue. Looking for something which can address these little quirks while enhancing the SQ. Thanks in advance…!!!

          • Swaroop Anil

            Hey there… I know it’s been a while. I hope you had an opportunity to test im02 with the Q1. Please share your experience. Also it’d be great if you could suggest a few more options for IM02

          • headfonics

            Yeah it sounds ok and other options should be an e12a and e17k if these are in your budget.

          • Swaroop Anil

            Could you please point out the differences between the 3 options? I won’t be having an option to return the product once I buy it. So want to be sure.

      • Hey, any chance that you played around with this? I’ve got a Creative E5 and I’m not sure how well that will pair with the IM-02s, been thinking about picking up the Fiio Q1 for them.

        • headfonics

          The E5 has a slightly harsh top end that wont mesh well with the IM-02 though it is more resolving than the Q1 tonally, the Q1 might be a better fit.

          • Thanks a million for the response, I’m probably going to have to pick up a Q1, then. I like my E5, but I bought it early on into the hobby, and wishing I had gone with some different choices instead. Seriously appreciate your response, looking forward to when Santa delivers my IM-02!

          • headfonics

            You are welcome and have fun 🙂

  • Bharath Yelavatti

    how does this power beyer t51i..connected to iPhone 6+..? Does this add lot of clarity and boost.. from what i am listening… ?

    • headfonics

      Never listened to the beyer t51i nor do i have an iphone 6 🙂 but going on basic principle the answer should be yes as the q1 amp is better than the iphone amp.

  • Lvnatic

    Will the q1 have any impact on the sennheiser momentum 2.0 over year? I’m mostly looking for punchier bass and volume increase. I’m using them on an iPad air 2 and galaxy note 3.

    • headfonics

      Yup it will be an upgrade powerwise than the note and ipad internal amp.

  • ninja

    Hello, will the Q1 work with windows phone? I’m using Nokia Lumia 920 and I want to buy this dac/amp.

  • Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    If we compare only the sound quality with other dac / amp and daps of fiio , with which it shares more similarities ?

  • Nigel Youell

    I have a pair of Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones. My main use is on airplanes watching movies on my iPad (3rd gen with old style connector). I need a clearer louder sound. It would seem that the Q1 has a better DAC than my iPad so I would like to take a digital audio signal from my iPad into the Q1. Can I do this and what cables do I need? Also do I need a specific version of IOS?

    • headfonics

      The QC15 with active noise has a dark and veiled sound period, the Q1 on the ipad will certainly be an improvement but there are still limitations and you wont really change that signature. I had the Q3 back years ago, great isolation but the shelved down treble and muffled mids where hard to adjust to.

  • Ballog

    If possible could you compare the Q1 to the Shozy Lancea or Cozoy Aegis (or Astrapi)?

  • Aysêynârys

    the plates on the top and bottom are definitely plastic

  • Dario Padula

    Hi there, Thanks for your review!
    I have a sony NWZ-15 with a pair of yamaha EPH-100 and i’ve some problem with volume (too low), so I was wondering which DAC/AMP should I get spending a maximum of 200 euros, is the Fiio Q1 a good option in this price range or should I get something else?
    Thanks in advance

    • headfonics

      The Q1 is good but if 200 euros is your budget i would suggest going up a notch to the IBasso D14 which is far superior.

      • Dario Padula

        Thanks for your reply!
        Do you think that with D14 would be a good portable-set? or should i upgrade my earphones too(in order to enhance the amp and the dap)?

        • headfonics

          ah the never ending upgrade syndrome – upgrade one bit you then have to upgrade another bit until whammy! You spend 500-1k without blinking 🙂 D14 is an excellent mid-fi amp and DAC for me personally. I would tread cautiously on upgrading your earphones. Enjoy the system first then demo and see if it is worth it.

  • Millo Muniz

    Please excuse my ignorance, as far as the E17 supporting DSD… and the Q1 not, how will that affect the sound quality since I do “stream” music from a “hifi” digital streaming service; (Tidal). I currently use the A3/E11k with my android phone as a source and am looking to maximize the sound from my AKG K182 “mid-fi” headphones. I understand most aftermarket DACs’, by default, produce better sound than comes from an cellphone, but how much better would the E17 sound incomparison? sound stage? clarity? I’m thinking of taking the next step up and don’t mind spending a bit extra to get there. On another note, any advise on some really good sounding headphones/earbuds? Currently considering the Hifiman RE-400’s, Fiio EX1’s, OneMore’s “dual” or “triple” driver IEM, and any other’s in that general category… maybe even the Flare audio R2a’s, ect…

  • Alexandre Magalhães

    I would like to empower the bass in my V moda M100, this Q1 could improve the bass for the motherboard sound card of an windows laptop and an Galaxy S6 ? If not, any suggestion to amp that could get all the bass that the V moda can deliver?

    • BoyBalastog

      Because the Q1 is a DAC as well as an amp, plugging it by USB to your laptop would bypass your on-board sound entirely, since DACs act as external sound cards. I can’t speak much for how the Q1’s generally warm sound signature would affect the V-modas, but I use my Q1 with headphones that’re on the brighter side, and it balances out well. Effect on bass isn’t extreme, if that’s what you’re looking for, but in my experience it does add some subtle but well-controlled extra punch to the low-end even with bass boost off. From what I can tell, the bass boost can add further volume to the low frequencies without affecting the rest of the frequency range, but I personally don’t use it. Regardless, a dedicated DAC-amp is a good upgrade for the usually inadequate on-board audio on most devices and the Q1 is a great portable starter for the price.

  • Indrajit Mishra

    HI i am planning to buy a Fiio q1. Fiio q1 dac section states that it can play music upto 24/96. But if i use fiio Q1(as an amp only) with Fiio x1 then will the x1+q1 combo play 24/192 files on my x1 ?

    • headfonics

      Yes since all you will do with the Q1 is amplify the signal. The X1 will do all the decoding.

      • Indrajit Mishra

        Thanks

  • Delefrate

    HI, thanks a lot for your (excellent) review. I’m new to this and here in Brazil everything comes very pricy, so I’m considering the Q1 to pair with Samsung S7 to pull my AKG 240 studio. I know my headphone isn’t exactly the best musical choice, but it is what I got now, and I lack bass at it. Have you heard such combination or something similar? Any other recommendation? Thank you so much!

    • headfonics

      Take a look at the Q1 Mark 2, its a supersedes the older Q1 first gen and is just out.