Home Amp/DAC Comparisons FiiO A3 Amp Review & Shootout [E10K & Q1]

FiiO A3 Amp Review & Shootout [E10K & Q1]

by Stuart Charles Black

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Big shout out to FiiO for sending me these units! I’ve really come to appreciate the value and quality that they provide for such a fantastic price.

Updates:

  • 6/20/19.
  • 6/29/19. Added Shootout Video and Images.
  • 5/18/20. Article Cleanup.

3,198 word post, approx. 4 min. read

Article still needs:

  • Comparison Chart

Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!

Before we get into the FiiO A3 Amp Review + Shootout with the E10K & Q1, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..

You’ve come to the right place!!

Table of Contents

Click to navigate the article!

Introduction
Specifications
Build
Features & Usage
Video Review
Photo Gallery
Ergonomics
Sound
Final Word

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!


Introduction

By now I’ve had quite a bit of first hand experience with many different types of Amps and DACs.

To my regular readers and friends, it may seem like I’m beating a dead horse. But it’s even worse. This horse isn’t just dead; he’s been rotting on the side of the road for months – tattered, smelly, and fly infested to the max. He doesn’t even really resemble a horse anymore. He’s just a big pile of slop. Wait, when’s the last time you saw a dead horse on the …

Nevermind.

You know what I’m about to say. Most amps and DACs sound roughly the same and I’ll stand by it for as long as necessary.

Why?

Because it’s true. Ever thought about why so many new companies are sprouting up wanting a piece of the pie? Because there’s a huge market for it right now. There’s thousands of options at your disposal. Nearly everyone is looking for an Amp or DAC to improve the quality of their music. Not only that, but even someone who’s found something isn’t satisfied. They want more. It’s a disease. What is a USB DAC?

The disease of more. The disease that’s taking over society. Nothing is ever good enough.

Most of the newer comments and emails I get asking for help come from those who bought something but just can’t enjoy it. They need an upgrade.

“I really like what I have but there’s got to be something better.”

You fiend.

It’s easy for me to sit here and put those people on blast because I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be able to reveal this truth, given how much I’ve heard.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter. None of it. Just buy something. They all sound great. FiiO amps in particular have an enormously good price to performance ratio.

The extra detail you’re getting with a Chord Mojo or something more expensive is like +0.000001 fraction of a percentage more than you’re already getting.  That didn’t even really make sense but you get the idea. Woo! I feel better now. My purchase is justified.

The differences between headphones are much more significant. The law of diminishing returns is apparent in headphones, but it’s even more prevalent in Amps and DACs.

At the end of the day, I’m scarred for life. I’m a part of the problem. I want more too. I have 6 amps in front of me right now but in the back of my mind I’m always saying something to the effect of:

“Well I really like the million and one amps I have now, but there’s got to be something better. I’m sure if I just keep chasing the imaginary unicorn I’ll catch it one day. Or a Neematoad.”

This is what you look like searching for the perfect amp. Kahloo Cuckoooo!

Anyone remember the show Doug? First ever episode. August 11th, 1991. He tries to bag a Neematoad but Roger was playing a prank on him because there’s no such thing as a Neematoad but there actually was because Porkchop dressed up like one to get back at Roger for messing with Doug but there really actually wasn’t a Neematoad because Neematoad’s don’t exist alright? Just like the perfect amp.

You like run on sentences? Me too.

Neematodes however? Yes, they do exist. They’re small parasites that either feed on the outer surfaces of plants or burrow in soil. They’re in fact so tiny that you would need a microscope to actually see one!

Now that I’ve sobered you up a little and given a lesson on Neematodes, let’s get into the specifications of the A3!

FiiO A3 Headphone Amplifier

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check eBay! | Check Ali Express!
  • Input: 3.5mm Auxiliary.
  • Output: 1/8″ (3.5mm) stereo headphone
  • Volume control: ALPS potentiometer.
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Power Output: 270 mW @ 32 Ohm, 450mW @ 16 Ohm.
  • Output Impedance: <0.2 Ohm. What is Output Impedance?
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.004% at 1,000 Hz.
  • Charge Time: 4 Hours.
  • Weight: 3.2 Oz. (92g)

Check out the total list for the FiiO A3 – Portable Headphone Amplifier over at B&H Photo/Video!


Build


FiiO E10K vs. A3

It helps to use the E10K as a buffer to compare these two. The E10K comes in at 79 grams vs. 92 for the A3.

Though the E10K has a great build for about $75, it does feel cheap in comparison to the heftier A3. Holding an A3 in your hand feels substantial and it does happen to be a bit cheaper with regard to price.

On the E10K, the potentiometer is larger and it’s situated to the right of the unit’s face. On the A3, it’s smaller, and in the middle.

I prefer the larger knob on the E10K because it’s a bit easier to turn and get a hold of. I like big knobs and I cannot lie. The A3 is still fairly intuitive though, so no worries there.

Size wise, the A3 is slimmer and sleeker than the fatter looking E10K. While the E10K is taller, it’s also more narrow in width and not quite as long as an A3.

Both have the bass boost on the front of the unit, but the E10K’s is on the left of the volume pot while the A3’s s to the right and towards the edge. Also, the off position is to the right on the A3 which is a bit awkward at first. So you flick left.

On the E10K it’s to the left. You flick right.

The headphone jack on the A3 is at the back left, while the E10K’s is on the front left. I haven’t had any issues with this so far, but I thought it was strange at first to hook up. I was looking around for the jack for a second or two.

Both have a line out, but the A3 just calls it auxiliary. It’s basically the same for all intents and purposes. More on that in a bit!

The A3’s gain switch is on the front left, again, towards the edge while the E10K’s is on the back of the unit next to the line out jack.

FiiO A3 Amp Review

Both have micro USB input on the back as well.

Both the E10K and A3 have a brushed aluminum finish that is resistant to fingerprints. For me this is a Godsend because I can’t stand smudge marks on my amps. The E10K does feel a bit rougher when you slide your fingers over it, while the A3 is smoother. Both are black and you can see little white lines spanning the length of each.

When you turn the A3 on (by turning the dial), a little blue light appears on the back of the unit. When it’s flashing, that means it’s charging. Solid blue indicates a full charge.

On the E10K, you turn the volume knob and the blue light appears on the front instead. It’s larger as well. Both make a satisfying click when you turn them on, but the A3’s is a bit louder.

Consider this excerpt about the A3’s light in Sonic Elevation’s informative FiiO A3 Review:

“Unfortunately, the LED doesn’t change color when you’re running low on battery. When you power it on, it turns blue. When it’s close to dead, the LED is still blue. Since there’s no clear way to tell when it’s running low, it can be a slight inconvenience. There’s nothing worse than your music player stopping out of nowhere while you’re jamming out to your favorite song.

If this happens to you, keep in mind that you won’t be able to keep listening as you’re charging the device. You’ll have to go without until it’s fully charged again. If we had to point out a single major flaw, we think this is it. Although the 16 hour battery life is usually more than enough – having to wait for a few hours while it charges is pretty inconvenient.”

FiiO A3 vs. Q1

But wait, there’s more!

The Q1’s build is even better than the A3, albeit by about 8 grams. The Q1 comes in at an even 3.5 Oz. (100g).

It’s ever so slightly slimmer than the A3, and the longest out of the 3. It’s also a hare wider than the A3. On the front we’ve got a volume pot to the left which is not numbered like the other 2.

The pot is either just about the same size as the A3’s or a smidgen smaller (kind of hard to tell).

On the left side of the unit, there’s the 3.5mm headphone jack as well as a balanced 2.5mm jack. This is the main difference between the Q1 and the others. You can use the Amp/DAC with balanced headphones or balanced cables (requires mod with standard headphones).

The Q1 also has a line out jack on the front which supports DSD as well. We’ll get into all that more in depth a bit later!

On the back of the unit, the same micro USB slot appears, as well as a gain switch and bass boost. The difference with these is that they are much harder to adjust, and are flat and circular. The gain switch and bass boost on the A3 (as well as the E10K) are super easy to flick because they kind of protrude out and resemble tiny sticks.

Now that build is out of the way, what about features & usage?


Features & Usage


The biggest difference between the A3 and the E10K is that the latter is bus powered only, and does not have an internal battery. This explains why it’s lighter and feels cheaper, even though it’s build is still very good.

The A3 uses an internal rechargeable battery and thus is a bit heavier.

Don’t be fooled by the weight of the E10K; it can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ like Mick Foley (Mick was fat though). Sorry, Mick. Still love you.

We went over features a bit above. Both have a gain switch and bass boost but they are situated a bit differently.

The best feature of the E10K as far as I’m concerned is the line out jack. It’s come in handy so many times for me when I needed just a DAC to pair with a headphone amp like the JDS Labs Objective 2.

The A3 is just an amplifier by contrast.

FiiO A3 vs. E10K

FiiO A3 vs. E10K vs. Q1

E10K as a Converter

Also, some DACs only have coax and Toslink capabilities. If your computer doesn’t have those, you can use the E10K to convert the signal from USB to coax and then connect the other DAC to the E10K.

So it would look like: E10K from PC/Laptop via USB > E10K via coax out > other amp that has coax in > to headphones via 3.5mm or 1/4″.

There’s a reason why I recommend the E10K a lot. It’s like an all purpose tool for very cheap, and sounds incredible!

FiiO A3 vs. Q1

Right off the bat, the Q1 features DSD support, and also has a balanced 2.5mm jack for use with balanced headphones.

In theory, DSD provides better sound quality because it takes 1 bit and samples it millions of times per second. But does it actually sound better? No. That DSD file is basically the same as a 24-bit/176kHz. A standard DSD file is the equivalent of a 24-bit 88kHz file. So when people yammer on and on about DSD and how it sounds better, just slap them in the face like Batman.

What is DSD?

Check out Cambridge Audio’s great post on What is DSD?

The A3 doesn’t have DSD support, but who cares. It doesn’t matter.

The A3 does not have a balanced 2.5mm jack, but who cares. It doesn’t matter unless you have balanced headphones. 99% of people who buy the A3 won’t have balanced headphones because they won’t have a high impedance, low sensitivity headphone that may come with balanced cables.

Other than that, both have a gain switch and bass boost, but the Q1 cannot be used as just a DAC. The exact same method that worked with the E10K as a DAC paired with the A3 or Objective 2 did not work with the Q1.

Something to keep in mind.

Video Review & Shootout

Photo..

Photo Gallery

Click to see them in action!

FiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp ReviewFiiO A3 Amp Review

How about ergonomics?


Ergonomics


Ergonomics is a measure of efficiency. Hence the clock. I’m so abstract!

FiiO E10K vs. A3

Power Output

The E10K provides 200mW into 32 Ohms, while the A3 pumps 270mW into 32 Ohm.

Both the A3 and E10K provide enough power with a headphone like the HD 600 given you have the gain switch on.

I get tired of people who say it’s not enough. Did you even plug the headphone in and try it?

No?

Then stop writing blogs talking about how it’s not enough. That or do better research.

I find the volume knob with gain on to be plenty loud at around 5-6 on the E10K (out of 8).

On the A3, between 3-4 nets the desired effect. This makes sense when you consider the A3 provides 70mW more power. I can math!

The HD 600 requires around 20mW to perform optimally, so not that big of a deal really. Yeah it’s 300 Ohm and will resist a bit, but it’s definitely one of the “easier to drive” headphones in the entry level audiophile category.

  • Impedance is a measure of resistance. That’s it. People online try to make it complicated and end up sounding like they have no idea what they’re talking about. Higher number = headphones will resist the power fed into them.
  • Sensitivity is a measure of efficiency. How efficient is the headphone at using the power it receives? Low number = not efficient. High number = efficient.

This is a bare bones rudimentary way of looking at it. I consider Sensitivity a better indicator of whether a headphone needs an amp or not, but both are important.

Learn more:

FiiO A3 Amp Review

FiiO A3 vs. Q1

The only real gripe I have with the Q1 is the whole 7mW of power into 300 Ohm. Yikes. Luckily, most users who are in the market for this headphone amp won’t really be using it with higher impedance models like the 600, and if they are, they’ll probably be using balanced headphones. The Q1 out of the balanced 2.5mm jack provides 220mW into 32 Ohm, so similar to the A3 and E10K. Smack dab in the middle actually.

  • A3: 270mW into 32 Ohm
  • Q1: 220mW into 32 Ohm (balanced)
  • E10K: 200mW into 32 Ohm

Fortunately for us, it still works pretty well with gain on. I’m listening now with the HD600 and it sounds fantastic.

What a perfect time to talk about sound.


Sound


FiiO E10K vs. A3

Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the sound of the A3 and E10K is very similar. It’s an incredibly clean, neutral signal with perhaps a bit of extra emphasis on the treble.

I find the E10K to be a bit grainy in comparison to something like an Audioquest DragonFly, but the differences are very subtle.

The A3 has a similar character, but sounds a tad less grainy and instead comes across as very very sterile and clear. For the price, it’s ridiculously impressive.

I have a hard time believing this thing is roughly half of a Benjamin. It sounds that good.

In comparing the 2, I find the A3 to be ever so slightly cleaner sounding that an E10K. It’s squeaky clean actually.

With Alina Baraz and Galimatias’ Pretty Thoughts (FKJ Remix) The E10K sounds a bit raspier by comparison, but it’s a small difference.

Both have a clean signal overall, with plenty of thump and impact even out of a headphone like the HD 600. Rad!

FiiO A3 vs. Q1 vs. E10K

Right off the bat you’ll notice the Q1 has a warmer tilt to it, while still retaining all of that fine detail.

Again, these differences are incredibly subtle, but they’re still apparent. The Q1 comes across as the laid back stoner in high school who really didn’t care much about anything except smoking pot. Oh wait that was me. Lol. The Q1 is a nihilist.

“No Donny, these men are cowards.”

  • If I could sum up the A3 and E10K in two words: Crisp and detailed.
  • If I could sum up the The Q1 in 2 words? Pothead. Okay that’s one word.

Also apparently there’s a difference between a stoner and pothead. A stoner is stoned all the time basically. A pothead kind of has some semblance of a productive life. Probably smokes on the weekends or after work to numb the pain.

That’s all I got.


Final Word


For phone users, the FiiO Q1 is a fantastic investment. I was admittedly a bit harsh on it at first, but I’ve since come to really love this thing.

It provides a smooth warmth to the music but still sounds incredibly detailed and revealing. It’s pretty versatile as well with DSD support and the 2.5mm jack, and can also be used on your desktop if you wish.

SEE IT FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

CHECK THE PRICE ON ALI EXPRESS!

Between the A3 and E10k is a tough decision. The E10K is a bit more intuitive and doesn’t need to be charged, but also cannot be used with your phone. The A3 provides a bit more power and sounds a hare better by my estimation. In the end, I think since we already have a phone option above, the E10K wins out slightly.

SEE IT FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


Well that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this FiiO A3 Headphone Amp Review + Shootout with the Q1/E10K.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

Marvin, what do you make of all this? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

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10 comments

Gary July 27, 2019 - 6:34 pm

Hi Stu,

Good work as always.

I’m confused though – I thought the A3 was an amp only?

If so, can you really compare it to E10k or Q1, which are I understand DAC/amps?

An associated thought too – you say that you feel DACs and amps are roughly the same. I’d agree (within my limited knowledge), having trialed:

– Dragonfly red
– Chord mojo
– Cambridge audio Dacmagic plus
– Audiolab Mdac mini

The differences are pretty subtle IMO. You can hear nuances but I personally didn’t find much that was hugely distinct.

I tested by listening to particular passages of certain tunes (which might have, for example, sub bass or hi-hats or something idiosyncratic like cleverly layered vocals or quirky wah wahs – anything that caught my ear and/or sounded exposed) and writing down how I perceived the sound.

Which brings me to my point – from what I’ve read, it’s not just about the DAC but everything around it. So, is it possible that a good amp makes as much or more difference than the DAC (functionality aside)?

I personally felt i could hear (positive) differences with the mojo, compared to the others above (in my list). It’s bloody expensive though.

My lasting memory of all my tests was that I was kinda captivated by the mdac mini but for some reason wondered if that was more to do with the amp than the dac. It was punchy and exciting, as well as having a clarity which exposed detail, missing from my onboard mobo DAC.

Is there a way to separate & quantify the two (amp vs dac)?

I suppose you could line out, where possible, and use with a common very high quality amp and speakers?

Also, I’ve had a scan but couldn’t see how you set things up to actually test? For example, what was your source equipment and how did you connect to the e10k, A3, Q1 etc.? And what if anything did you do about bit perfect output?

Sorry – was kinda thinking out loud. Sorry if I’ve made any technical blunders.

Cheers,

Gary

Reply
Stuart Charles Black July 30, 2019 - 5:29 pm

Hey Gary!

Thanks so much brother!

People are searching for the differences between these 2 amps via my research, as they likely do not yet know if the A3 is an Amp/DAC. So in that sense I’m providing that information as well as all the technical/cosmetic differences.

Perhaps a good amp does make a difference, but I’m of the mindset that it’s more about the headphones and the source file above all else. That’s just my opinion though and I could be wrong.

Glad you said that about the Mojo as I thought the same thing. There’s been some hate for the Mojo of late and I’m not sure why. Audio Science Review did a nice write up about it but to my ears it still the best I’ve heard. You can read it here: Review and Measurements of the Chord Mojo DAC and Amp.

There was some good dicsussion about the overheating issue, and shadiness in general with Chord but I still say it’s head and shoulders above the rest and I’ve demoed 24 Amp/DACs at the time of this comment.

Again, just my opinion but it seems you share the same sentiments.

My go to is to use the line out as you said with something like an E10K or K3, and then pair with various amps. It’s fun and you don’t need much besides an interconnect cable. It’s a great way to compare. As for line out with speakers – I haven’t really done that yet.

For testing I’m running Tidal with Master files (24-bit/96kHz) mostly, or FLAC and also listen with Spotify. I got rid of all my CD’s and as you know Apple did away with iTunes for the most part.

As for connections, I think I mentioned that in the video. Take a gander!

Also let me know if you have any other questions.

-Stu

Reply
Alex July 27, 2019 - 8:46 pm

Hey Stu,

I am always in doubt about buying a dac and amp. I would like to, but then again it is for my phone and having 2 gadgets in my trousers is not comfortable IMO. Owh boy i want hifi sound on the street, these things I read about, these are the most demanded dac amp I read about in my country, cool you have those.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black July 29, 2019 - 2:15 am

Hey Alex! Which is most demanded? The M50x may not need one power wise but will benefit sound wise. I suggest the FiiO K3. It sounds fantastic.

Reply
Alex July 30, 2019 - 8:25 pm

Hey Stu,

In Netherlands and not 1 specific model (fiio) but here owh yeah…

But here there are more sold like onkyo just not that popular. By the way most people of course just have a phone they do not care about flac.

They also have no headphone, Netherlands is doing difficult about headphones. Headphones for outside are used by a certain group.

You are not being called crazy, people accept you, they even like you, but you know you are one of those who are wearing a headphone so do not expect on every corner a person with headphones.

So a dac is used by a certain group, friends are getting introduced so they are sold. You understand that headphones are combined with dac.

Why I am in doubt I have a powerbank, samsung galaxy s5 and my trousers are filled.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black August 3, 2019 - 2:47 pm

Interesting Alex! So only a certain demographic of people can have headphones? I guess I’m not understanding. From what you’ve said it seems like a lot of people have a DAC but no headphone. So what’s the use in that case?

And what did you mean by that last sentence: “Why I am in doubt?” You run the M50x with the Galaxy S5? I can see why you wouldn’t want to add more into your pocket. I still have my S5 but it’s broken. I loved that phone. Had it for years before it just busted one day from a light toss onto a soft shirt in the gym. I didn’t even toss it onto a hard ground. I had the Otter Box on it and it endured many falls. I thought it would last forever. I may actually try and get it fixed someday.

Reply
Gary August 2, 2019 - 12:23 am

Hi man

Some thoughts, clarifications and just responses:

Review

So, the review is basically an amp vs amp shootout?

You do refer to the A3 as an amp/DAC at the beginning, though I believe it’s only an amp.

Amps
As an audio noob, it was my understanding that the easiest way to improve hifi sound (talking separates really here) was to get a better amp and loudspeakers. I guess my comment “… it’s not just about the DAC but everything around it” (i.e. the sum of the parts) was hinting at this.

Perhaps though, I’m missing the point and it’s really about the loudspeakers and the amp is just the ability to drive them? I thought a great amp will reveal more though?

Mojo!

You’re right. I REALLY liked the mojo.

I had to look at my notes to understand what I valued about it but also why I returned it.

I’ve had lots of issues with running the DACs I’ve tried with Windows. Virtually every one has misbehaved in some way. The Cambridge audio driver is the exception and worked flawlessly.

I read somewhere recently there is a benefit of running class 1 audio USB devices (might have been a selling point for the audioquest dragonfly)., as they don’t need (additional) windows drivers. Yes, you tap out at 24/96 but I wonder whether class 1 is likely to run more easily / is more likely to be trouble-free (see my driver comments above & below).

However, one might wish to have a WSAPI or ASIO driver (if one can hear a difference). I can (subtle but definite).

Here’s a good explanation regarding class 1 vs 2. I don’t have a mac, so maybe for apple users, all this USB driver stuff is academic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMcsVj6icZI

Anyway, the mojo had a weird setup and the driver configured itself as a digital out (rather than speakers).

In actual use, the mojo didn’t play an audio sweep properly that I use to make sure the equipment plays at the correct sample rate. It cut off part of it.

This also happens to the first couple of notes of every track I played (not only are they cut off but even if you return to the beginning of the track, they still get excluded). This was reproducible using different audio players (foobar, AIMP).

IMO the chord ASIO driver simply does NOT work properly – it doesn’t always successfully take exclusive control of the audio device. This means (although it just shouldn’t happen) another piece of software can sometimes send audio through, which causes horrible audio corruption.

HOWEVER, during normal playback, the sound the mojo produces is just better! It’s more detailed, expressive & more satisfying than any DAC I’ve tried (which is not many though – single figures). It’s balanced too. It’s not like the treble is overly bright or anything. It’s just neutrally ‘bigger’ or ‘more’ or something. Can’t describe it.

Frequency rendering is broader too (e.g. lower frequency bass).

Tightness and control is just awesome as well.

There’s a track by an artist called pole folder. It’s called “before it all changes”. The opening of the track has the hugest soundstage and pulsing, panning synth sounds. On the mojo (and I was doing A B testing), the presence, openness and pure suspense of the music was palpably more significant than the other DACs I was comparing the mojo to.

To give you another example of the detail thrill, I was listening to a different track which had rim hits (drum) in it. It honestly sounded like it was happening in my room! It was extraordinary!

So, even at £400 AND the seemingly flaky drivers, I was STILL thinking about keeping it.

I just couldn’t quite justify the expense – for that money, it had sadly to be trouble free.

I also felt uncomfortable about the battery life. I’d be stuffed with any DAC that needs an internal battery to function and then conks out because I forgot to charge it or something.

Cobalt – mojo rival?
As an aside, one website (hifiplus) said of the new dragonfly cobalt that it was getting into mojo territory. I wasn’t that impressed with the dragonfly red (it was definitely ok and an improvement on my mobo DAC but didn’t really sound much more than my phone DAC), so at 57% more money (basically £100 more), I’m really wondering how much more audio pleasure the cobalt will deliver.

E10k with a phone.
You say that you can’t use it with a phone. How come?

I’ve found some people claiming it does work with phones but you need an OTG cable.

Having said this, I had a bit of a mare getting the dragonfly red to work with my S8, until I found that there was a firmware update for it. Also, I had significant issues with the MDAC mini and horrible (phone) battery drain. Yes, I know the MDAC mini has a battery – my research indicates that not all OTG cables are made equal AND audio equipoment manufcaturers don’t always use OTG pin conventions.

Separate DACs and amps
Just looking at your line out, e10k, pair with various amps. You just get a kick from having a mess of audio kit, don’t you! 😀

Cheers,

Gaz

Reply
Stuart Charles Black August 10, 2019 - 1:44 pm

Hey brother! Sorry for the late reply. My responses are in bold 🙂

============

Hi man

Some thoughts, clarifications and just responses:

Review

So, the review is basically an amp vs amp shootout? I suppose you could put it that way. People are searching for the difference as they likely do not know that the A3 is just an amp. So it’s both yes.

You do refer to the A3 as an amp/DAC at the beginning, though I believe it’s only an amp. Ah nice catch. That was a typo. When I first received the A3, I was doing research in trying to figure out if it was a DAC as well. Some said it was so it was kind of confusing at first. I forgot to go back and edit that when I found out it was just an amp. Thanks for pointing that out!

Amps
As an audio noob, it was my understanding that the easiest way to improve hifi sound (talking separates really here) was to get a better amp and loudspeakers. I guess my comment “… it’s not just about the DAC but everything around it” (i.e. the sum of the parts) was hinting at this.

Perhaps though, I’m missing the point and it’s really about the loudspeakers and the amp is just the ability to drive them? I thought a great amp will reveal more though? This is a tough call. Initially my thought was that mostly the Amp just amplifies the signal from the DAC (which is true). The DAC in my mind is the more important aspect as it’s responsible for the conversion itself. Good DAC chips are fairly common however. I’d have to talk to someone over at Audio Advice about the importance (or lack thereof) of the actual amp portion – If it makes a difference, and if so, how much. Thank you for shedding light on this!!

Mojo!

You’re right. I REALLY liked the mojo.

I had to look at my notes to understand what I valued about it but also why I returned it.

I’ve had lots of issues with running the DACs I’ve tried with Windows. Virtually every one has misbehaved in some way. The Cambridge audio driver is the exception and worked flawlessly. Interesting as I didn’t have any issues with the Mojo running Windows 7. I’ve since gotten a new laptop with 10 so I will have to report my findings once I get a chance to demo it again. Cambridge Audio is great.

I read somewhere recently there is a benefit of running class 1 audio USB devices (might have been a selling point for the audioquest dragonfly)., as they don’t need (additional) windows drivers. Yes, you tap out at 24/96 but I wonder whether class 1 is likely to run more easily / is more likely to be trouble-free (see my driver comments above & below). Class 1 is great. The FiiO K3 also has the option to run 1.0 and it was a breeze. I just plugged it in and it was ready to go. Like the DF, it also taps out at 24/96 but there’s the option for higher sample rates with the separate driver download (a breeze to set up through FiiO’s website). Is higher than 24/96 that much better? It’s debatable. There’s an obvious difference making the jump from 16 to 24, but the raging hard on about DSD lately has kind of gotten on my nerves as some of these sample rates that are “DSD164” for example, are sample rates that can be reproduced by formats that are not DSD. So it’s overrated hogwash in my opinion. What is DSD?

However, one might wish to have a WSAPI or ASIO driver (if one can hear a difference). I can (subtle but definite).

Here’s a good explanation regarding class 1 vs 2. I don’t have a mac, so maybe for apple users, all this USB driver stuff is academic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMcsVj6icZI I will take a look at that.

Anyway, the mojo had a weird setup and the driver configured itself as a digital out (rather than speakers).

In actual use, the mojo didn’t play an audio sweep properly that I use to make sure the equipment plays at the correct sample rate. It cut off part of it.

This also happens to the first couple of notes of every track I played (not only are they cut off but even if you return to the beginning of the track, they still get excluded). This was reproducible using different audio players (foobar, AIMP). Funny, I have this issue in Tidal where the first part of the track gets cut off. Super annoying. I have to go in and rewind it. I have no idea what that’s about. This happens with pretty much every amp though so I’m thinking it’s a Tidal issue.

IMO the chord ASIO driver simply does NOT work properly – it doesn’t always successfully take exclusive control of the audio device. This means (although it just shouldn’t happen) another piece of software can sometimes send audio through, which causes horrible audio corruption.

HOWEVER, during normal playback, the sound the mojo produces is just better! It’s more detailed, expressive & more satisfying than any DAC I’ve tried (which is not many though – single figures). It’s balanced too. It’s not like the treble is overly bright or anything. It’s just neutrally ‘bigger’ or ‘more’ or something. Can’t describe it. This is exactly my sentiment. You can’t really explain it but you know it’s there – especially with me as I’ve demoed so many different Amps & DACs.
Frequency rendering is broader too (e.g. lower frequency bass).

Tightness and control is just awesome as well.

There’s a track by an artist called pole folder. It’s called “before it all changes”. The opening of the track has the hugest soundstage and pulsing, panning synth sounds. On the mojo (and I was doing A B testing), the presence, openness and pure suspense of the music was palpably more significant than the other DACs I was comparing the mojo to. This is what I experienced in the opening of a track by an artist named Elohim I believe. Her voice was so huge and there was so much width and depth to the sound it was almost indescribable. The intimacy and presence was palpable. You could almost touch it with your finger or something.

To give you another example of the detail thrill, I was listening to a different track which had rim hits (drum) in it. It honestly sounded like it was happening in my room! It was extraordinary!

So, even at £400 AND the seemingly flaky drivers, I was STILL thinking about keeping it.

I just couldn’t quite justify the expense – for that money, it had sadly to be trouble free.

I also felt uncomfortable about the battery life. I’d be stuffed with any DAC that needs an internal battery to function and then conks out because I forgot to charge it or something. Agreed. I mentioned this in my Chord Mojo vs. Hugo 2 comparison IIRC.

Cobalt – mojo rival?
As an aside, one website (hifiplus) said of the new dragonfly cobalt that it was getting into mojo territory. I wasn’t that impressed with the dragonfly red (it was definitely ok and an improvement on my mobo DAC but didn’t really sound much more than my phone DAC), so at 57% more money (basically £100 more), I’m really wondering how much more audio pleasure the cobalt will deliver. I love the DF Red and do think it’s one of the best. Detail retrieval, Soundstage, warmth, enjoyment. It’s all there in spades. I’m going to do a comparison to the Cobalt very soon if I can get my hands on one. I reached out to Audioquest and they said they are backlogged because of demand. Hopefully I can get one from Audio Advice soon. Really itching to try one out.

E10k with a phone.
You say that you can’t use it with a phone. How come? I think you actually can with some sort of adapter. In my FiiO K3 vs. E10K comparison I linked a USB Type-C to USB 3.1 Gen1 Female Adapter Cable. That will work with the K3 but the E10K would need something different as it’s micro. The reason it’s not a great idea for long term use is that both are bus powered and don’t have an internal battery so they end up sucking the life out of your phone’s instead.

I’ve found some people claiming it does work with phones but you need an OTG cable.

Having said this, I had a bit of a mare getting the dragonfly red to work with my S8, until I found that there was a firmware update for it. Also, I had significant issues with the MDAC mini and horrible (phone) battery drain. Yes, I know the MDAC mini has a battery – my research indicates that not all OTG cables are made equal AND audio equipment manufacturers don’t always use OTG pin conventions.

Separate DACs and amps
Just looking at your line out, e10k, pair with various amps. You just get a kick from having a mess of audio kit, don’t you! ? Haha yeah. I don’t really mind it as much as other people I guess. I guess I’ve come to love wires in some sick way LOL. You can’t beat the convenience of a DF Red on the go though. I also loved my HA-2 when I had it because it was a fairly compact, organized set up.

Cheers,

Gaz

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Alex August 6, 2019 - 7:01 pm

Hey stu,

it is possible that my english is not 100%

In the netherlands headphones are not popular, most people just use chat or facebook, you of course expect the music people, they are here like in america.

The people who listen to music are maybe 70%(of the music people) the little earphones and maybe 30% headphones. The 30% is divided in 2 different users. The fiio listeners and the listeners of the phone dac. That looks like a small number of people who uses headphones (portable dac).

That number is bigger then you think. I hope my english is better.

Stu, that’s not nice, broken, I hope you can fix it. Yes you have to be careful I know I have my 3rd galaxy s5, so you are not alone with bad luck.
Yeah I am afraid that 3 gadgets in my pocket …..lol i am 80% satisfied the galaxy s5 running the m50x. What do you use at the moment for outside?

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Stuart Charles Black August 10, 2019 - 2:16 pm

Ah okay. No worries man! Your english is pretty decent considering it’s not your native language!

To be honest, I’ve sold most of my headphones. Out of the 12 or so I had, the only ones left are the HD 600 and SHP9500. I still have the HD 201 but only because no one has purchased it yet. The only reason I bought that one was to do a comparison to the HD 206 but I still haven’t decided if I want to do an article/video.

I got rid of everything else though, lol. I just really needed the money but also I found most of them to just gather dust most of the time. The only real time I used them was for comparisons and stuff. I have pictures of them all and I know mostly how they sound so there was no real reason for me to hang on to ’em.

I’ve actually been purging a lot of unnecessary crap out of my apt. as well. Sold off a lot of my stuff and I continue to do so. It’s so liberating!

Where do you live in the Netherlands? I would highly suggest de cluttering if you haven’t already. It’s such an amazing feeling.

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