Home Amps/DACS FiiO Q15 Review: Assessing Features, Performance, and Value at $400

FiiO Q15 Review: Assessing Features, Performance, and Value at $400

by Stuart Charles Black
Published: Last Updated on
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

Today we’ll review FiiO’s Q15 and determine whether or not it’s worth a purchase – discussing things like build, features, versatility, power output, and more. 

By the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll know if it’s right for you, and if it isn’t, I’ll steer you in the direction of something that is.

Deal?

Cool.

Let’s dive in.

FiiO Q15

Price: Check Amazon!

In The Box

FiiO Q15

Cloth Carrying Bag

Short USB-C to USB-C Cable

Long USB-C to USB-C Cable

Silicone Pad

2 transparent silicone binding rings

USB-A to Type-C adapter

Quick Start Guide

Warranty Card

FiiO Q15 Review

Empty Nuka Cola Bottle and thrift store vinyl not included.

At A Glance

  • DAC: AK4191EQ+AK4499EX
  • USB: XMOS XU316
  • Bluetooth Decoding: QCC5125
  • MQA: Yes, full decoding.
  • Gain: Ultra High Gain (In Desktop mode, Power in port connected with QC power) /Super High/High/Medium/Low gain mode
  • FiiO Control: Supports settings through the app
  • Sampling rate display: Cyan: 44.1kHz/48kHz, Yellow: 88.2/96/176/352.8/384/705.6/768kHz, Green: DSD64/128/256/512, Purple: MQA
  • Channel Balance: <0.2dB
  • Max sampling rate: USB DAC: Up to PCM 768kHz/32-bit, native DSD512 // Coaxial decoding: Up to PCM 192kHz
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: ≥ 123dB
  • THD+N: <0.0004%
  • Noise: PO – <3µV, LO <1.6µV, BAL <4.8µV

For a full table of specs, click here.

Introduction

FiiO Q15 Review

FiiO’s Q15 is another portable DAC in their Q line that acts as both a DAC and Headphone Amplifier – effectively enabling you to listen to your music on the go, at your desktop, in your underwear, etc.

It can be used wired or via Bluetooth which adds a nice element of flexibility to the overall package.

Build

The Q15 feels incredibly durable; and is certainly one of the most well-built portable products I’ve tested.

It’s rugged, angular, and feels incredibly solid in your hand, but it’s also pretty long and somewhat DUMMY THICC.

Girth and length? What more could you ask for?

FiiO Q15 Review

FiiO Q15 ReviewFiiO Q15 ReviewThe glass running vertically collects more fingerprints than a crime scene investigation, but the Full-color IPS display more than makes up for this.

All in all, the Q15’s build is certainly one of its greatest strengths, and I have absolutely no complaints.

Front Panel

Connections include a standard 3.5mm headphone output on the left and a 4.4mm jack on the right.FiiO Q15 Review

Back Panel

From right to left: Desktop mode (On/Off), two USB-C jacks, a Coaxial Input for use with TVs, CD Players, and anything else that outputs Coax, and lastly there’s Phone mode on the far left.

FiiO Q15 Review

The right side contains your power button, Play/Pause, and next [previous track buttons.

FiiO Q15 Review

FiiO Q15 Review

Battery Life/Charge Time

It’s important to note that both USB-C jacks can work for charging, but the “Power In” cannot be used for listening.

The port marked “USB” supports PD fast charging.

PD (Power Delivery) fast charging in a DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) refers to the ability of the DAC to support rapid charging using the Power Delivery standard.

When charging the battery via the USB-C slot, turn off both desktop mode and phone mode (back switches).

The port marked “Power In” supports PD and QC3.0 fast charging.

When charging the battery via Power In, set the Desktop mode switch to OFF.

Phone Mode

If you don’t want the Q15 to drain the phone’s battery, set Phone Mode to ON.

When the switch is set to OFF, the phone will charge the Q15.

Desktop Mode

When the desktop mode switch is set to “ON”, the Q15 can be used as a decoder.

In this mode, the battery of the Q15 can not be charged.

When the switch is set to “OFF”, desktop mode is disabled.

For desktop mode, just flick the switch to ON and make sure the cable is plugged into the slot labeled “USB”. Fortunately, you can charge and listen at the same time by flicking the switch off.

For Phone mode, flick to ON and make sure it’s connected to your Phone via the supplied short USB-C to USB-C Cable – or Bluetooth.

Features

FiiO Q15 Review

The hybrid desktop/portable Q15 contains dual power supply modes, featuring a Qualcomm QCC5125 Independent Bluetooth chip that supports hi-res codecs like LDAC.

Its 1600mW of output power ensures you’ll be able to drive pretty much any headphones you have lying around, and trust me, I would know all about that.

I have upwards of 20 here (completely unnecessary) and I’d be comfortable driving any of them with the Q15. More on that later, so hang tight.

The unit also boasts an XMOS 16-core XU316 and supports up to 768kHz/32-bit PCM, DSD512, and full MQA decoding.

If you’re interested in why I don’t care much about DSD/High PCM, click here.

That said, the unit has a 5-level audio circuit with 5 gain levels and a 15-way digital-analog power supply in addition to overheating/over-voltage/DC protection + a comprehensive software and hardware battery protection mechanism.

If you were curious, a 15-way digital-to-analog power supply provides clean and stable power to various components of a DAC, resulting in improved signal quality, enhanced dynamics, and reduced crosstalk.

Distributing power to different stages of the digital-to-analog conversion process ensures stability, reliability, and flexibility in the DAC system.

This architecture allows for precise power delivery, minimizing distortion and interference while optimizing the reproduction of audio signals for a more accurate and enjoyable listening experience.

Now, does that mean it “sounds” better than the other 10+ DACS I have lying around? We’ll get into that as well.

Ease Of Use

I like the fact that they made it super simple to use with a phone, but I would have liked to see a USB-C to Lightning adapter in the package – similar to the one iFi includes with their Go Link.

Since I have the Go Link here, I was able to use its adapter (pictured above) to get up and running, but FiiO should absolutely rectify this glaring omission and accommodate Apple slobs such as myself.

The other issue is that the setup is pretty bulky and stacking your phone + Q15 together can be a bit of a pain.

Sure, it technically works, but to use the short cable, the DAC must face away from you.

FiiO Q15 Review

FiiO Q15 ReviewFiiO Q15 ReviewThis means you’ll be adjusting the volume backward and won’t be able to see anything on the DAC since your phone will be covering it up.

That said, you can also keep the dial in one position and adjust it via your phone, so that’s an option as well. FiiO has a setting for this and we’ll discuss it in a bit.

Now, if you want the DAC to face forward while stacking, you can use the longer cable here so it will reach around back, but it adds a lot of unnecessary bulk.

FiiO Q15 Review

My method is to just have my phone and the DAC side by side which is an okay compromise, but I wouldn’t personally use this as an on-the-go setup unless listening via Bluetooth.

Your mileage may vary here, but I find these types of setups to be incredibly annoying; as the headphone jack/volume control is towards the back and pretty inconvenient.

FiiO Q15 Review

Thankfully, Bluetooth setup is a breeze and you’ll be connected in less than 5 seconds.

My advice?

Use a wire if you’re going to be sitting down with your phone and DAC in one place, or employ the rubber bands and use it via Bluetooth if you think you’ll be moving around a lot.

Functionality

To get started, long press the power button on the side to get it fired up.

Now short press the volume knob in and rotate it to scroll between USB, Coaxial, and Bluetooth. Press again to accept.

FiiO Q15 Review

To return to the main menu, simply long-press it.

From the main menu, long press the volume knob to call the settings menu.

FiiO Q15 Review

FiiO Q15 ReviewFrom here, rotate the knob to switch between different settings and short-press it for confirmation. Long press the volume knob for about 2s to return to the previous page.

The settings menu includes the following:

  • Gain (Low, Medium, High, Super High)
  • SE Output: LO (Line Out) or PO (Pre Out)
  • BAL Output: LO (Line Out) or PO (Pre Out)
  • LO Volume: Fixed Level or Adjustable
  • Max Volume: 5 dB increments from 20 to 120 (i.e. 20, 25, 30, and so on)
  • Ultra High Gain: Auto Enable or Manual
  • Filters: Fast, Slow, Mini, Mini Slow, Super Slow, Low Dispersion
  • Dimmer: 1-5 (5 being the brightest)
  • Screen Timeout: 15s, 30s, 1min, 2min, 5min, 10min, 30min
  • Idle Time: OFF, 2min, 10min, 30min
  • Rotate Screen: Default, 90°, 180°, 270°
  • U-AUDIO: UAC1.0, UAC2.0
  • PEQ Mode: OFF, JAZZ, POP, ROCK, DANCE, R&B, CLASSIC, HIP-HOP, USER1, USER2, USER3
  • Language
  • Factory Reset
  • Version
  • Telec

As you can probably tell, there’s some neat customizability within the unit.

You’ll likely find the Rotate Screen feature incredibly useful as it enables you to use the DAC with the front panel and the screen both facing forward instead of having to read the screen upside down. 

FiiO Q15 Review

Much better.

Sound

If you’re familiar with my blog/YouTube Channel, you’ll know that I don’t recommend DACs based on sound because, well, most of them “sound” almost identical with only one real exception (in my opinion of course): the ESS Sabre chip. 

That said, the Output Impedance plays a big role in whether or not the DAC portrays the sound of your source file and headphones as neutral or not.

Yes, other factors such as Signal-To-Noise Ratio, Total Harmonic Distortion, Crosstalk, and Dynamic Range also play a role, albeit a smaller one in my opinion.

Just always remember that your source file is the main indicator of how your music ultimately sounds.

With the Q15, you can expect a clean/neutral backdrop and plenty of power, so no worries there.

I tested out a large chunk of all the headphones I have here and I’ll list out what it took to achieve comfortable levels; i.e. not too quiet or overly loud.

Remember, we’re not trying to blow our eardrums out, yeah mate?

Note: The Q15 goes up to 120, but surprise surprise, you can adjust this too as mentioned earlier. I used medium gain. 

FiiO Q15 Review

Make sure the output is set to PO and not LO (Line Out) when you’re listening to headphones.

  1. HIFIMAN HE400se: Around 80/120
  2. HIFIMAN DEVA: Around 70/120
  3. HIFIMAN Arya: Around 65/120
  4. AKG K702: Around 70/100
  5. OneOdio Monitor 80: Around 75/120
  6. Sennheiser HD600: Around 70/120
  7. Sony MDR-V6: Around 65/120
  8. Sony MDR-7506: Around 65/120
  9. HarmonicDyne G200 (4.4mm): Around 55/120
  10. Gold Planar GL2000 (4.4mm): Around 60/120
  11. Philips SHP9500: Around 55/120
  12. AKG K240M (600 Ohm): Around 85/120

Remember: this is only on medium gain. You have an additional 2 stages to work with.

FiiO Q15 Review

In short, the Q15 is hyper-powerful and if it can easily drive my K240M on medium gain, it can drive anything.

Please, for the love of God don’t overthink it!

As promised earlier, does it “sound” better than the other DACS I have here?

Nope.

I’m in no way claiming that the internal improvements companies make to their product line aren’t important or noteworthy. All I’m saying is that 99.9% of the time these things are NOT audible to the human ear no matter what some audiophile weirdo (who can hear the grass growing) tells you.

And that’s that.

Working Modes

As alluded to earlier, the Q15 supports 3 working modes:

USB

This is for connecting mobile phones or PCs via USB.

For decoding, you’ll need to install the driver when connecting the Q15 to your PC.

Click here for the driver link and just follow the prompts. 

Coaxial

This connects to any device with a coaxial output. Examples include TVs, CD players, Soundcards, DAPS, Media streamers, gaming consoles, etc.

Bluetooth

When switching to this mode for the first time, the DAC automatically enters pairing mode while the Q15’s screen displays “Pairing…”.

Just wait for it to pop up in your phone’s Bluetooth settings and you should be connected in a matter of seconds.

In subsequent uses via Bluetooth, the device auto-reconnects to the last connected device.

Note: The Q15 does not support voice calls through Bluetooth.

Button Functions:

  • Force into pairing mode: Long press the Play/Pause button for about 3s.
  • Manual reconnect: Short press the Play/Pause button when the device is disconnected.
  • Clear Pairing: Long press the Previous track+Next track buttons for about 3s at the same time.
  • Play/Pause: Short press the Play/Pause button.
  • Previous track/Next track: Short press the Previous track/next track button.

Before we give a final verdict, let’s quickly recap some things I liked and disliked about the Q15:

What I Liked:

  • Built to last like Duralast. I love how it feels in my hand and find myself playing with it a little too much (Oh, Behave!)
  • Functionality/Ease Of Use. There are plenty of modes to play around with and the unit is very intuitive/easy to use. I also like how you’re able to charge/listen at the same time on desktop with a simple flick of the switch.
  • It’s pretty versatile. You can use it with your PC, phone (BT or wired), or with anything that outputs Coaxial. It’s also a decoder which is cool and plays nicely with Tidal.
  • Balanced. The inclusion of both 3.5mm and 4.4mm is nice to have.
  • Very powerful. This is pretty important to me, and the Q15 is no slouch when it comes to driving anything you may have lying around.
  • Accessories Package is pretty good. You’re getting a Cloth Carrying Bag which feels nice, and a bunch of other stuff mentioned earlier.

What I disliked:

  • The unit is bulky and cumbersome to use. While very durable and aesthetically pleasing, if I’m going to use a DAC with my phone, I need it to be much smaller and more convenient.
  • Price. Yes, it’s versatile, but it’s not worth $400 when I can invest in another of FiiO’s powerful units for way cheaper.
  • No USB-C to Lightning Adapter. This will be a fairly big deal to Apple slobs, and I’d advise FiiO to include one of these in the package. If you’re going to market a product meant for desktops and phones, how on earth is this not included? A good chunk of people use an iPhone so I’m at a loss here.

Final Verdict

FiiO Q15 Review

With all that, is it a sound investment? Do I recommend it?

My main concern is the fact that the Q15, to me, is simply too bulky/cumbersome for any sort of serious portable use. 

That said, I do think it’s a perfectly feasible desktop option and the fact that you can use it over Bluetooth makes it fairly valuable.

It’s built like a tank while looking and feeling quite incredible.

I’m sure FiiO did this on purpose to make you swoon over the darn thing. Handling it is akin to like when you were a kid and slept with your new baseball glove or something equally as ridiculous.

Overall I think it’s a good product and has some nice features, but I’m not shelling out $400 for it. No-siree-bob. Not after demoing over 65 of them and knowing the truth.

If it’s me, and I need both a desktop solution and a portable option, I’m getting the K11 and a Go Link for less than $200 total.

You could also simply opt for FiiO’s BTR5  or BTR15 as a nifty all-in-one (Bluetooth, etc.) for a lot less money than the Q15.

The Q15, while a perfectly serviceable DAC, is something that you simply don’t need at this price point and in this current overcrowded market.

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this FiiO Q15 Review and came away with some valuable insight.

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

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

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Would you still purchase the Q15 against my advice? 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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6 comments

Abe January 31, 2024 - 8:42 pm

I laughed when you said DACs all sound about the same. They certainly do not. You must have damaged ears.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black January 31, 2024 - 9:03 pm

I laughed when I read your silly comment. You keep hanging on to your lil placebo effect and I’ll remain rooted in reality. Outside of Output Impedance, there is no “sound” to a DAC lmao. That’s called… the music and your headphones. xD

Reply
CJ February 18, 2024 - 12:23 pm

May I ask why Fiio Q15 is not recommended for $400, but iFi xDSD Gryphon “worth the money” for $559?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 19, 2024 - 12:21 pm

CJ,

Thank you for the heads up and good catch; I need to fix that. There are a lot of articles and I’m constantly updating/adjusting recommendations and that slipped through the cracks. Gryphon is solid but yeah overpriced. A lot of iFi stuff is trending in that direction, actually.

I do generally like FiiO products over other companies because they provide excellent value and make solid DACS without overcharging for them. That said, the Q15 is kind of an exception here and I personally don’t see much use for it/wouldn’t purchase one for myself.

The BTR5 functions just as good as an all-in-one and is still my top portable option. If you don’t want that, go for something like a K11 for desktop and Go Link for mobile if you don’t need a lot of power.

Hope that helps! Let me know.

-Stu

Reply
Jay February 23, 2024 - 7:43 am

Crummy review. Clearly this cat has terrible ears. Almost as bad as his photography and lighting.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 23, 2024 - 1:21 pm

What was crummy about it? Also extrapolate on your stance because it’s clear there’s a disconnect between people who place emphasis on the “sound” of a DAC vs. people like me who attribute sound differences to the headphones and source file.

Reply

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