You could be forgiven if you thought FiiO has been all about the DAPs over the last few years when in actual fact the portable amp is what gave FiiO its name and for many years was their bread and butter to the aspiring budget audiophile.
Things have been a bit static over the last year or two as the X series gathered momentum with only the E series being revised and upgraded and the D series falling back a bit. Well now comes a brand new letter, the Q, and out of the blue the Q1.
Normally you get a bit of advance notice on any new FiiO units due out but this one landed on my desk a few days after the FiiO team said: “Hey what about the Q1?”. It’s a much shorter PR cycle this time and the Q1 is already out on the shelves.
Of course, recently you would have seen their line-up due out over the next few months and it is very exciting indeed with the X7, M3 DAP and an all-new dock for the X Series DAPs all due out. The Q1 comes in at the lower end of the scale at $69.99 and is DAC/Amp much in line with the form factor of the old E11 and E11k series amps, but of course with a DAC thrown in.
Given the price, it is clearly targeting the first time upgraders and possibly pitched as a direct competitor to the iBasso D-Zero Mk2 which retails slightly higher at $120.
What You Get
The Q1 comes in much the same package as the E11k and E17k with their new slim pack white cardboard sleeve housing the unit box and accessories. The Q1 external packaging print contains almost very few details about what the DAC or Amp can do, the unique selling points which the X series had save for dimensions, output power, color, and S/N specs.
No mention of the DAC decoding, battery life, and bass boost. Now, this not altogether new as the E series has a similar approach but personally I would like to see FiiO be a bit brasher in their packaging print and point out what the Q1 can do, much like what Creative did with their new E Series which screamed features.
Inside you get a few new things plus some usual things alongside the unit itself. The same old is the USB Cable and rubber straps, always a requirement especially with a built-in DAC in tow. But new things are very interesting indeed.
The first is doing away with the little rubber feet and switching to a silicone mat. I am in two minds on this. I love the silicone feet, to be frank, and considered it vital to prevent scratches but I understand that it might be challenging given the flask form factor of the Q1 and having a curved base.
But the silicone mat for me is a bit cumbersome to carry around all the time unless permanently sandwiched between the Q1 and whatever source you are working with, such as maybe a FiiO X3ii. If you are stacking it works a charm, if you are not it’s just one extra thing to think about.
The second big addition is just brilliant and that is the super short IC that I know our local groups have been buying in bulk from JDS LABs over the last year or so.
The FiiO short IC is a 3.5mm to 3.5mm one-inch cable and the build quality is vastly more robust than the JDS version which I mothballed recently due to the fear of it snapping if any tension was applied. Short IC’s such as this need to be strong and the FiiO one is just that.
The benefits of a short IC are clear. That small profile keeps your whole stack clean and free of entanglement making headphones and IEM insertion a breeze and packing the stack a piece of cake. Thank you FiiO for throwing this one in as stock and please do this from now on, it is a very welcome addition.
Build Quality & Features
The Q1 itself is very reminiscent of the FiiO E11k with a touch more premium finish at the front and back with silver brushed metal faceplates. The hip flask form factor which the E11k took its cue from is much more in evidence with the Q1.
The Q1 is also plastics free, sporting an all-metal body that should give it ample protection when strapped to RF heavy devices like mobile phones. The top and sides are free of buttons, switches and LED lights with only the front and back plates housing all the functionality.
The front panel also acts as a protector panel to a very nicely crafted medium-sized analog pot right in the middle. The pot also doubles up as the power on/off with a very reassuring click-based resistance switch when turning it round from the zero or off position.
It’s a little bit flatter and less protruding than the pots on the E12 and the E18 but the grip is solid and easy to manipulate. To the right you have the on off LED light and a 3.5mm jack output for the IEM or headphone of choice and to the left you have a solid looking bass boost switch
At the back, you have a micro USB port that acts as both your charger and DAC interface. The choice to charge or use as a DAC is controlled by a switch on the far right of the rear panel. To the far right of the rear panel, you have a lineout/line-in 3.5mm jack port and the high/low gain switch.
The Q1 utilizes a Texas Instruments PCM5102 DAC chip for decoding purposes and a Maxim MAX97220 for amping. The PCM5102 is a very cost-effective DAC solution that is easy to implement and integrate. It needs very few components to make it work and only needs a single 3.3V supply so the choice seems logical for the price of the Q1.
It can handle up to 96kHz/24bit decoding on most major codec outputs from compatible digital sources with a reasonable 190mW load into 32ohms.
Eagled eyed readers will note that the amp used by FiiO here is the exact same Maxim MAX97220 used by Creative in their budget E1 amp we reviewed last year and an amp module often favored by Creative in their gaming hardware.
The Q1 is rated as suitable for headphones and IEM’s from 16-150ohms which is consistent with the FiiO X5ii and X3ii rated power handling for cans and IEM’s.
The battery is a 1400mAh li-poly battery which, on paper, puts out a class-leading 30 plus hours of playback time. That is a very handsome performance indeed for a 1400mAh rating. Now with the DAC in full swing, I suspect those numbers will drop a bit especially if your tracks are all 96kHz/24bit and the bulk of the 30-hour rating is amp only.
Indeed the rating drops to 15 hours with a DAC. Even so, that is way ahead of many similar units such as the Creative E1 rated at 25 hours and the Creative E3 at 17 hours for pure amping. It even outperforms the 1400mAh in the E11k which is rated at 16 hours.
The iBasso D Zero MK2 DAC is rated at 10 hours when using the DAC which is 5 hours less than the Q1 but note though it has a 120 hours rating using the amp only compared to the Q1 rated 30 hours which is out of this world.
OTG and DAC
Just for the record, the Q1 does not officially support OTG but with a number of apps, it will indeed function with OTG digital audio such as HibyMusic or Onkyo. The Q1 also does not come supplied with an OTG cable but understandable given it does not officially support it.
Second quick note that unlike the XMOS powered DAC’s of the X series the Q1 is just a simple plug and play DAC with a PC which saves a lot of time downloading drivers.