Originally published 3/13/19.
- 6/29/19. Added Shootout with the A3 and E10K and some images.
- 9/12/19. Article Cleanup.
- 12/2/19. Article Cleanup.
- 3/28/22. Article refresh/revisit.
Big thanks to the folks at FiiO for sending me this demo unit!
Before we get into the FiiO Q1 Mark II Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
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Table of Contents
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I’ve demoed a lot of amps at this point, and the differences in sound between them are pretty subtle. For the most part, something around $100-200 is going to be just fine for the majority of people and I stand by that wholeheartedly.
There are some amps in higher price ranges that get my highest endorsement (The Chord Mojo is a fine example), but by and large you’re not going to be able to tell a huge difference between most solid-state Amps and DACs below that price range.
People like to make being an audiophile this hugely complicated thing when in reality it’s just not. The Law of Diminishing Returns runs rampant in this hobby, and prices get ridiculous fairly quickly.
There’s also just way too much out there and at this point, it’s becoming a prick contest. There, I said it. Don’t really care anymore.
Find a good combo of Headphone + Amp + Source (Like Spotify) that isn’t going to leave you panhandling at your town’s busiest intersection, and call it a day. Lol.
Anyways, let’s get into the FiiO Q1 MK II and find out if it’s worth your money!
The Q1 feels substantial in your hand and is heavier than my favorite budget desktop, the FiiO E10K.
It feels slimmer, sleeker, and longer, length and width-wise. It’s roughly the size of a deck of cards.
The volume potentiometer feels incredible to the touch and very solid.
This doesn’t feel like its price would indicate. The problem with it is that when the Q1 is laying on your desk, it’s very hard to just turn the volume because the unit is not raised up.
I have to take the Q1 with my left hand, then turn the volume up with my right. A minor nitpick but should be noted if you’re used to units like the Magni, Objective 2, or even the E10K is much easier to adjust the volume.
Yes, the rubber foot will help elevate the unit so you can more easily turn the knob. But: It’s still cumbersome and still more of a chore than I would like. The unit still tends to move around a bit much when you’re adjusting the volume with the rubber foot in place.
With the E10K + those really great adhesive buttons on the bottom that enable the unit to stay securely in place, I can put my pointer finger on top of the unit, thumb to the left side, and use my middle finger to adjust the volume fairly easily. This is especially great at night when all the lights are off and you can hardly see. 😛
In any event, all of the switches and jacks on the unit feel good as well. It seems like great care was taken into designing the amp/dac as well as using high-quality materials.
BUILD SCORE: A-
Features & Usage
Right off the bat, it comes with:
- Lightning cable for use with your Apple products/iPhone, etc.
- 3.5mm interconnect cable for use with your Android phone.
- Micro USB cable for use with your Laptop/PC.
- 4 Rubber Bands.
- A Drawstring Carrying Bag.
- A Silicone Base Pad or Rubber foot.
There are a few options at your disposal here. On the back, you’ve got a micro USB slot for your laptop, a gain switch, and a bass boost.
On the front, there’s a 3.5mm jack for your headphones, a 3.5mm line out with DSD compatibility, and a 2.5mm jack that you can use with balanced headphones/cables.
If you have an Apple phone, just use the supplied lightning cable that comes in the kit. If you have an Android, just use the 3.5mm interconnect that also comes with the kit.
It’s a good length and sounds great regardless. Here are a few images of the Q1 paired with my LG phone:
The DAC chip here comes in the form of an AK4452, which is capable of supporting 32-bit, 384kHz files as well as DSD256. Related: What Is DSD In Audio?
The Battery is an 1800mA, which lasts an average of 10 hours. This does not draw power from your phone when plugged in so that’s nice as well. Just make sure to charge it via it’s micro USB cable.
Bass Boost and Gain
I enjoy both the bass boost and gain switch. The bass boost is done very tastefully, but unfortunately the gain will have to be on full time with this unit unbalanced. This is my biggest complaint with the Q1 overall. It just doesn’t have enough power.
7mW into 300 Ohm to be exact, and 75 into 32. That’s. really. meh.
A unit like the Oppo HA2 provides 30mW into 300 Ohm and is extremely versatile. It’s also discontinued and costs a lot on the second hand market but it was a staple in my studio for quite a while before I eventually sold it. Out of all the products I ever sold, I miss the HA-2 the most.
Still, someone looking to buy a Q1 will likely be more of a casual listener than an outright audiophile. Even so, with the balanced 2.5mm you’re getting around 220mW into 32 Ohm.
The E10K for comparisons sake provides 200mW into 32 Ohm unbalanced and I’m able to drive both the HD600 and 650 fairly easily.
- Related: How to Choose a Headphone Amp!
Aside from all that, there’s another complaint I have.
The location of both the gain switch and bass boost are kind of cumbersome to get to when you’re in the middle of a heated music listening session.
In addition to that, both switches are entirely too small. So not only do you have to reach around back to get to them, but it’s fairly difficult to even flick either of the switches.
On the E10K, the gain was on the back and the bass boost was on the front. However, both switches were the perfect size and super easy to flick. This is because they stuck out so you could easily get your finger on it.
On the Q1, the switches are flat as a pancake, round, and small. Just not an ideal combination in my estimation. I found myself turning the unit around and using laser like focus just to switch on the bass. I have pretty big hands and fingers, so that didn’t help either.
On the plus side, using the Q1 with my phone was a pretty fun time. I took a trip down to the beach with mom in January of 2019, and used the provided rubber bands and 3.5mm interconnect cable provided as I didn’t have an Android OTG.
FiiO kind of made this more geared towards Apple users.
I mostly used the unit with the Tin Audio T2 which made a pretty sweet combination regardless.
Being that the T2 is low impedance and high sensitivity, it worked very well with the low power output of the Q1.
As I mentioned before though: The gain had to be on full time, and it took turning the volume most of the way up just to get it loud enough. In fact, you likely won’t hear anything until the knob gets to around 2 o’ clock, which was quite a shock.
I suppose I’m used to units like the JDS Labs Element with lots of power at this point in my listening “career”. Lol.
So all in all, the power dilemma plus the annoyance of the switches brings the score down a bit.
FEATURES & USAGE SCORE: B+/A-
My Video Review
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Shootout with A3 and E10K
Also did a video shootout with a couple of other FiiO offerings! If you’re interested, here’s the article: FiiO A3 vs. Q1 vs. E10K
Click to see the Q1!
The sound of the Q1 is pretty warm and smooth. I really enjoyed it.
It’s hard to actually describe the sound of an Amp/DAC since the differences between them are very subtle. Related: What is a USB DAC?
Fortunately, when using other amps to compare it becomes more clear.
The E10K as well as the A3 are both going to sound more sterile, perhaps a bit crisper and brighter than the Q1.
The A3 being the cleanest and most neutral sound (E10K is a bit grainy at times, but it’s not noticeable unless you have other amps to buffer).
The Q1 is a very warm, smoothed over sound that makes you want to kick back and relax. It’s really quite lovely!
It also makes a great pair with the Sennheiser HD 600 because it tends to tame down the somewhat annoying 3k area of the 600.
Even so, you’re still getting loads of subtle details in the mix. I was finding myself stunned at how clear everything was. The Q1 really makes phenomenal use of air and spacing, to the point of you rewinding the track and catching subtleties in the music that you never heard before, even with tracks you’ve grown accustomed to!
I think the Q1 is a fine choice for someone with low impedance, high sensitivity headphones. However, if you ever plan to upgrade it simply won’t work nearly as well in my opinion, at least as far as using it unbalanced.
I did get a chance to A/B test it against an E10K and it does sound smoother, warmer, and a bit more musical than the more sterile sounding E10K.
That Amp/DAC is amazing in it’s own right and I’m not knocking it at all. It does sound a bit rougher around the edges in comparison to the Q1 MK II.
I wouldn’t call the difference huge, but I was surprised that I could hear an audible difference in the way the music was presented to me. I felt like the E10K was more detailed but at the same time a bit more brash. I would liken the difference between these 2 to the relationship between the colder sounding HD600 and the warmer, more lush HD650 which tends to smooth out the rough edges in music.
If you’re looking for the perfect budget desktop solution under $100, the E10K is awesome and sounds fantastic.
With the balanced 2.5mm on the Q1 you’re getting more power, but it’s an inconvenience for the average person. Most people aren’t going to want to purchase a separate set of balanced headphones, or re-cable their headphones after they’ve already invested in the Amp/DAC.
Also, nowadays more and more companies are abandoning 2.5mm in favor of 4.4, so there’s that as well.
I just want to be able to quickly and easily plug my headphones in and get a fantastic sound with plenty of headroom. With the Q1 as is, that’s not entirely feasible.
Still, the Q1’s sound is rather impressive for the price, and it deserves high marks indeed here.
SOUND SCORE: A
I’m going to give the Q1 a B+/A- today.
I like the fact that I can use it with my phone and have it as a desktop amp. It’s built very well, and has some nice features and connections. It’s pretty versatile in that you can use it with your PC/Laptop, iPhone, or Android.
The downsides in my opinion are lack of on-board power without the need to use it balanced, the location and size of the gain/bass boost. The fact that I’m not hearing music until around 2 o’ clock on the dial is a problem, regardless of the other port. It’s also quite awkward to turn that volume knob, so a few points were docked for ease of use.
In revisiting this article, I found the Q1 has shot up in price and looks to be discontinued.
I will keep a close eye on it and update as needed, but for now I probably wouldn’t recommend it anymore at its current price.
If you are looking for an all-in-one solution, I’d look to the newer Q3 as it’s more affordable and supports DSD512, 32-bit/768, and THX if you care about all that.
Well that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this FiiO Q1 MKII Headphone Amp/DAC Review.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the “mark” on something? Haha get it! Because FiiO Q1 Mar.. nevermind. Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
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Would you purchase this given its pitfalls? What do you think about the newer Q3? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..
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