Shout out to my good friend Luke Wagoner in providing the NX4 for demo purposes!!
Hey guys! Before we get started, check out Apos Audio. They are a great up and coming distributor with a phenomenal looking website and excellent customer service. They also offer free shipping, the lowest price guarantee, a 2-year warranty, and a 30-day return.
12/4/19. Added Photos. Article clean up.
12/17/19. Added Video Comparison.
2,714 word post, approx. 4-5 min. read
Article still needs:
Stu’s written notes
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!
Before we get into the Topping NX4 vs. FiiO Q1 Review & Comparison, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
Power LED: Blue light (lights red to indicate low battery)
Charge LED: Light red when charging, light green when charge is complete
DAC LED: Blue means valid connection and playing PCM format, red means playing DSD format
Dimensions: 4.3 x 2.7 x 0.6 in (11 x 6.8 x 1.4 cm)
Weight: 5.2 oz (148 g)
How about build?
Build & Design
The Topping NX4 weighs in at exactly 5 Oz. on my scale, or 147g. The Q1 is a bit lighter at 3.6 Oz., or 101g.
The builds of both are very solid, with the Q1 MK II being a bit more narrow by contrast. Both are roughly the same height, with a slim, compact form factor. Each resembles a deck of cards in size.
The volume pot on the front of both is situated in roughly the same spot, but the NX4’s hearkens back to the Oppo HA-2’s volume knob with that sand paper type grip. The Q1’s has a similar grip, but has that red ring around it with a circular white dot to indicate where you are on a clock.
The NX4 also has a dot but it sort of blends in with the amp in a darker silver color.
On the Topping, the “NX4” is engraved in the middle, and it says “DSD (Direct Stream Digital)” near the back where the micro USB slot is located. “Topping” is written right above the Volume pot on the NX4 as well. Both volume pots double as the on switch.
On the Q1, you’ll see the “FiiO” logo appear near the front, and it’s a bit easier to read. The only other words that appear are the “Hi-Res Audio” logo near the back of the Q1 MK II.
On the front of the NX4, we’ve got a standard 3.5mm jack, a Line Out jack, bass boost, and gain switch. On the back there’s a micro USB port for charging, and one for connection to your PC or phone via the provided Micro USB to Micro USB cable. Also provided is a small micro USB cable for your PC.
While we’re at it, let’s take a look at what’s in each box:
Micro-USB to NX4 DSD
Type-C to NX4 DSD Cable
USB charging cable
Q1 MK II
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.
Warranty and Instruction Cards.
On the front of the Q1 MK II, there’s the standard 3.5mm jack, a balanced 2.5mm jack, and a 3.5mm jack compatible with DSD.
The back of the Q1 MK II contains the bass boost, gain switch, and micro USB slot for connection to your PC.
The power light is also situated a bit differently. On the NX4, it’s right over top of the gain and bass switches. On the Q1, it’s right next to the volume pot (left).
All of the connections, switches, and knobs feel great on both. The difference is that the gain and bass boost on the Q1 is a bit irritating to switch on and off because:
It’s on the back and sometimes you’ll have to turn the unit around to get to it.
The switches themselves are round and kind of flat. They are sometimes difficult to switch on and off.
The NX4 makes it easy because they are on the front and resemble the little sticks that were present on the FiiO E10K. They are a lot easier to get to, and to flick on and off.
With that, let’s get into features & usage..
Features & Usage
Both of these can be used with a separate amp via the line out, both support DSD, both have a gain switch and bass boost, both are Amp/DAC combos, and both have the standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
The difference is that the NX4 does not have the balanced 2.5mm jack. Depending on your needs or what you have on hand, it may or not matter. I personally do not have balanced headphones or balanced cables so it’s not really a big deal.
The DSD light on the NX4 is also on the back, so to verify you’ll have to turn the unit around and play a DSD file to make sure it works. It will turn Red when a DSD file is playing.
On the Q1, it’s on the front.
A few other quick things to mention about the NX4:
The power LED light (on the front) will be blue. It will light red to indicate a low battery. Once the battery is dead, music will stop. No warnings, buster.
The charge light will turn red when charging, and will switch to Green when finished.
The DAC light on the back will be blue to indicate you’re playing a PCM file. It will turn Red when playing a DSD file.
With that, how about Ergonomics and Power? Which of these provides more?
When I first reviewed the FiiO Q1 MK II, I dogged it quite a bit for it’s lack of power out of the unbalanced jack.
Since then, the amp has grown on me considerably, as I’ve come to realize that power output specs are a tad overrated sometimes. I’m able to comfortably drive an HD600 with the Q1, but I wouldn’t rely on it for anything less efficient than around 300 Ohm/97dB Sensitivity. It really just makes the cut, but does get plenty loud enough with gain on paired up to the 600’s.
The HD600 technically requires around 20mW from an amp, for clarity’s sake.
Here are the numbers out of the Q1:
Unbalanced Headphone Jack:
Output Power 1: >112 mW (16 Ohms / THD+N <1%)
Output Power 2: >75 mW (32 Ohms / THD+N <1%)
Output Power 3: >11 mW (300 Ohms / THD+N <1%)
Balanced Headphone Jack:
Output Power 1: ≥240 mW (16 Ohms / THD+N <1%)
Output Power 2: ≥220 mW (32 Ohms / THD+N <1%)
Output Power 3: ≥45 mW (300 Ohms / THD+N <1%)
As you can see, it pumps a bit more into the balanced jack.
Conversely, the Topping NX4 is rated for anything 12-300 Ohm, and powers an HD600 with relative ease.
Maximum Output Power for the NX4:
293 mW @ 32 Ohm
114 mW @ 300 Ohm
The Topping is simply more powerful than the Q1 here. If you’re looking to use less efficient planar magnetic headphones like HIFIMAN’s Sundara, 400i, etc., or really inefficient dynamics like AKG’s K240, K701, K702, etc., then the NX4 is what you’ll want to invest in. What is a Planar Magnetic Driver?
It’s going to have a much easier time driving various types of headphones, but I probably wouldn’t rely on it full time for anything over 300 Ohm. That said, sometimes specs don’t tell the whole story.
A great example is when I was somehow able to drive an AKG K240M (600 Ohm) out of an E10K to semi-listenable levels. It wasn’t at all the most ideal pair, but it did get loud enough and that’s the main takeaway.
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Click to see the NX4 in action!
FiiO Q1 MKII
All of that’s well and good, but how do they actually sound in comparison?
This is a pretty easy comparison, as the sound profile of both the NX4 and Q1 is fairly different.
The NX4 is definitely more of a sterile, neutral, and colder sound. It’s very crisp and balanced sounding. It reminds me a lot of what you get with any of JDS Labs’ offerings; very true to the source and clinical without being harsh or fatiguing.
The Q1 is the opposite; it’s got a warmer tilt to it, and sounds very laid back by contrast. I wouldn’t call it gooey like a tube amp, but it’s kind of a cross between a solid state and tubes. You’re still getting some really nice detail, but it’s definitely more relaxed and lush sounding.
An Amp like the Q1 MK II pairs very well with an HD600 because it kind of tames down that forward mid-range issue. Still, I’m listening now with the NX4 and HD600 and find the pair to be exemplary together.
The bass boost on the NX4 provides some nice extra weight and impact, but doesn’t get in the way of the overall soundscape.
Likewise, the Q1’s is very good as well, providing an extra 5.4dB. Overall, I think the NX4 handles the bass boost a bit better. Sometimes it feels as though the Q1’s boost is a bit much, sounding a tad more bloated by contrast.
With the NX4, what you hear is what you get – it’s very true to the source but sounds infinitely crisp and snappy. With an Output Impedance of less than 0.4, you’re getting consistent sound output across many different types of headphones and Impedance loads. What is Output Impedance?
I particularly loved the crisp, bold flavors on The Fugees’ “Ready or Not.” Ticking the bass boost switch adds some wonderfully full bodied sound that really snaps with the HD600. Ricrardo Robecchi agrees:
The bass boost switch adds a significant amount of sub-bass thump, especially in the lowest frequencies. It helps bass-shy headphones or gives an additional serving of punch and depth to neutral sound signatures. Using relatively bright headphones such as the Venture Electronics Monk Lite, the difference is night and day: the bass boost gives the sound depth and body that would otherwise be missing. The effectiveness and the end result of the bass boost is ultimately dependent on the headphones and on the listener’s taste; technically speaking, anyway, it is a good implementation that does not generally make bass overpowering and bloated, but it just adds to what is already there.Ricardo Robecchi, Soundphile
The Roots – Things Fall Apart (1999). Extremely crisp and hard hitting album from start to finish.
John Coltrane – Blue Train (1957). Tidal MQA. The song Blue Train @ :44 sounded like a knock at the door. Very good depth to the image. The whole album provided a really good Soundstage overall.
Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac (1975). Tidal MQA. Stevie Nicks’ Landslide starting @ 1:35 sounded incredible. So much detail and intimacy. The guitar really came alive. Tears were had.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (2015). The NX4 rendered the esoteric album beautifully considering how much there is going on.
Fugees – The Score.“Ready or Not” + Bass Boost sounded extremely full bodied with loads of flavors and aromas. Like Folgers.
The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Tidal MQA. The detail present in this album, particularly “Day in the Life” (my favorite Beatles track) was astonishing. I’ve never heard the song quite this revealing. Clarity was unreal, with the middle section being especially noteworthy. After the lyric “I’d love to turn you on” you can actually hear someone counting, as the song crescendos back into the next verse, which I have never heard in all my time listening to this track. There are many more examples of micro detail present that really tie the song together as well. It was an immensely enjoyable listen from start to finish. Is good you like!
So what’s the final word?
The biggest difference between these 2 amps are:
Overall sound portrait
If you’re planning on powering more demanding headphones and/or prefer a more neutral output, the NX4 is your homie.
If you’re more of a beginner, don’t need as much power for your less demanding headphones/IEM’s, and like a warmer/more laid back vibe, the Q1 is your boy. Also of note is the fact that the Q1 pairs up very well with IEM’s like the Tin Audio T2. Roughly $150 will get you a spankin’ good time. I used this pairing on a trip to the beach and it was really loads of fun.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.