Reviews

Review: FiiO Q1 Mark II, FiiO F5 & FiiO F9

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-03

FiiO Q1 Mark II: presentation

For less than ?100, what is the FiiO Q1 Mark II USB DAC and headphone amplifier really worth? Is this DSD compatible DAC designed to work with iPhones and Android devices a miraculous piece of equipment or a low-grade product?

FiiO is a Chinese manufacturer known for their expertise in the field of audiophile DAPs. The brand has also made a reputation for itself by releasing excellent devices on a regular basis, including the FiiO X5 Mark III and FiiO X7 Mark II. The FiiO Q1 II portable DAC and headphone amplifier inherits the Asahi Kasei AK4490 converter from the renowned FiiO DAPs. This converter, known for its smooth sound restitution, is paired up with a powerful headphone amplifier capable of driving headphones with an impedance rating as high as 150 Ohms (beyond this rating, the volume level might not be sufficient).

FiiO Q1 Mark II: for which configurations?

If your smartphone or tablet?s headphone output is not powerful enough, the FiiO Q1 II?s line input will boost its performance. The integrated amplifier is particularly powerful and lets you attain higher sound levels. If the sound quality of your smartphone, tablet, or computer?s headphone output is unsatisfactory -because of permanent background noise, for example- the FiiO Q1 Mark II can be connected to your iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone?s micro-USB, Lightning, or micro-USB C port to process the digital signal directly from the source. The FiiO Q1 II?s USB input is also compatible with Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

Refined touches: the input gain and low frequency EQ can be activated via two small switches.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-07

The FiiO Q1 Mark II DAC and headphone amplifier features a dual headphone output, line input, and line output.

FiiO Q1 Mark II: battery powered

When connected to a smartphone, the FiiO Q1 Mark II doesn’t drain the phone?s battery because it is powered by its own. FiiO announces an autonomy of 20 hours, which we didn’t verify, but the Q1 II did keep up during an 8-hour listening session. In addition to preserving the smartphone?s battery life, this feature ensures audiophile grade performance thanks to the noise-free electric current provided by the integrated battery. Note that the current supplied by the USB port of a computer is affected by interference.

SVDHIR_201507_980x260

FiiO Q1 Mark II: Hi-Res Audio

The FiiO Q1 Mark II is Hi-Res Audio certified, which means its DAC can handle HD audio signals superior to 24-bits/96 kHz. It actually handles much higher-quality audio stream, and the maximum supported resolution is 32-bits/384 kHz. DSD format is also supported up to DSD256 (11.2 MHz). These are the Asahi Kasei Velvet AK4490 converter?s specs. This chip is not only lauded by DAP manufacturers, it is also used for home theater receivers and Ultra HD Blu-ray players. The FiiO Q1 Mark II combines the AK4490 with an XMOS USB controller.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-06

The FiiO Q1 II features a bass boost switch.

FiiO Q1 Mark II: accessories

The FiiO Q1 Mark II portable DAC comes with a carrying case, a lightning to USB cable, a USB A to micro USB cable, a short mini jack to mini jack cable, and 4 fastening straps (to attach the device to a smartphone).

FiiO Q1 Mark II: test conditions

We listened to the FiiO Q1 Mark II with a computer running Linux Mint and two Android smartphones (Lenovo P2 running Android 7.1 and Honor Note 8 running Android 7). In order to ensure bitperfect transmission (without resampling), we installed the HibyMusic app which allows all audio signals, including DSD, to be sent directly to an external DAC. The Q1?s DSD LED lights up to confirm that the function is activated. We listened to the Q1 using FiiO F5 and FiiO F9 earbuds. We also used Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 and Plantronics BackBeat Pro headphones.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-10

The FiiO Q1 II boasts a relatively slim design. Its announced autonomy is 20 hours (line input).

FiiO Q1 Mark II: listening impressions

The restitution is smooth and clear, and the energy is evenly distributed. If we had to findone drawback, we would say that the Q1 lacks extension in the lows, which can be compensated for by activating the bass boost function. The Q1 makes up for the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7?s slight harshness and even brings extra depth to the soundstage. The transient response is excellent across the whole spectrum, which makes for an analytical and realistic listening experience.

We observed a clear difference between CD quality files (16/44) and HD tracks (24/192) with our Android smartphone.

Our impressions were confirmed by the Plantronics BackBeat Pro. The lows could be beefier, but the mids and highs are smooth and clear. When the integrated amplifier is activated (this is a Bluetooth model), the performance of these excellent headphones is magnified thanks to the exceptionally smooth and precise signal transmitted by the FiiO Q1 Mark II. Our experience was a bit more lukewarm with the FiiO F5 and FiiO F9 earbuds (see below), but this is due to their particular sound signature.

Fiio-q1-ii

The FiiO Q1 II (portable DAC and amplifier), FiiO F5 (earbuds on the Q1) and FiiO F9 in the background.

FiiO Q1 Mark II: for which headphones?

With 2×190 mW into 32 Ohms, the FiiO Q1 Mark II can reasonably drive high-impedance headphones. We paired it up with the Sennheiser HD660S (150 Ohms) without feeling that the amplifier was reaching its limits or that we should adjust the input gain. We can easily imagine that the FiiO Q1 Mark II would have no issue driving a wide variety of hi-fi headphones. The bass-boost feature is also a precious asset.

FiiO Q1 Mark II: conclusions

What we liked:

  • The smooth delivery
  • The 24/192 and DSD compatibility
  • The dual line input and USB port
  • The iOS and Android compatibility
  • The integrated battery (which helps preserve the smartphone?s autonomy)
  • The bass-boost function

What we would have liked:

  • More energy in the infra bass (it is often necessary to activate the bass-boost function)

The FiiO Q1 Mark II portable DAC and headphone amplifier is highly recommended with computers, smartphones, and tablets, combined with any type of headphones with an impedance rating inferior or equal to 150 Ohms. Such a smooth and precise sound restitution, which gets even better with HD audio files, is often exclusively obtained with more expensive models. This is nothing short of an excellent deal.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-00

One of the FiiO F5?s earbuds.

FiiO F5: presentation

The FiiO F5 in-ear headphones are fitted with 14 mm titanium transducers and have a frequency response of 20 Hz – 40 kHz, which earns them their Hi-Res Audio certification. Their impedance / sensitivity ratio ensures compatibility with any type of source in addition to the ability to offer high sound levels.

The particularity of these headphones is that they come with two detachable cables: one unbalanced cable with a 3.5 mm mini-jack connector (and an integrated microphone for phone calls) and one balanced cable with a 2.5 mm mini-jack connector for compatible DAPs. The FiiO Q1 Mark II portable DAC and headphone amplifier features a compatible output. The cable is fitted with MMCX connectors for the earbuds.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-09

The FiiO F5?s protective case.

FiiO F5: accessories

Accessories include a plastic protective case, a 1.2 m long cable with 2.5 mm mini-jack connectors, a 1.2 m long cable with a 3.5 mm mini-jack connector and microphone, and 6 pairs of silicone tips.

FiiO F5: listening impressions

Although the FiiO F5?s transducers are made of titanium, a material known for ensuring optimal results with high frequencies, our expectations on this particular aspect were not met during our listening session. This is probably caused by a substantial sensitivity peak in the frequency response curve (in the mids), thus overshadowing the highs. The overall restitution is highly energetic, the lows are satisfactory, and the mids are detailed, but these qualities are not enough to make up for the sound coloration. The soundstage lacks breadth, and replacing the unbalanced cable with the balanced cable doesn’t change a thing -it only boosts the overall volume. The result of this sound coloration is that all tracks sound identical. The tonal balance and the energy in the lows are more suitable for watching films and series on a smartphone.

FiiO F5: conclusions

What we liked:

  • The detachable cables
  • The energy of the sound message

What we would have liked:

  • More authoritative highs
  • A broader soundstage
test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-02

The FiiO F9 headphones

FiiO F9: presentation

The FiiO F9 headphones are a 3-way, closed-back model. They are fitted with 3 drivers per earbud. Their sensitivity rating makes them compatible with any smartphone, tablet, or computer. The FiiO F9?s specs are conventional -a high sensitivity rating of 106 dB/mW and a low impedance rating of 28 Ohms- and are ideal to listen to music at high volume with any smartphone or DAP. Its frequency response of 15 Hz – 40 kHz earns the FiiO F9 its Hi-Res Audio certification. FiiO is transparent about  disclosing its headphones? frequency response, and we can observe that the sound level at 40 kHz is 20 to 30 dB less than the level of audible frequencies.

FiiO F9 courbe de réponse

FiiO F9: balanced armature explained

Balanced armature transducers are small drivers which are particularly efficient in the mids and highs. Initially used for microphones, they ensure a particularly subtle sound delivery. The FiiO F9 is fitted with two of these drivers in addition to a standard dynamic transducer. The F9 is thus a three-way model featuring a passive crossover filter, just like a speaker would.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-05

The FiiO F5 and FiiO F9?s MMCX connectors.

Balanced armature drivers stand out from standard drivers because their coil is not directly coupled with the cone, but connected to it by a very thin rod instead. This technology enables the use of a much lighter and more responsive cone. Because it is lighter, this membrane can vibrate a lot faster, which results in a more precise restitution of mids and highs.

On paper, it sounds like an ideal solution. In practice, using three drivers comes with its fair share of difficulties due to reverberations inside the shell and the need to filter the three drivers. Efficiently decreasing the level of the bass driver in the mids and highs -frequency ranges covered by the balanced armature drivers- is not an easy task. Because the bass driver of in-ear headphones is smaller than a tweeter, it has a tendency to naturally reach high frequencies. In short, three-way headphones may seem like an ideal configuration, but are extremely difficult to master.

FiiO F9: accessories

The FiiO F9 headphones come with two detachable interconnect cables: an unbalanced cable with a 3.5 mm mini-jack connector (and integrated microphone for phone calls) and a balanced cable with a 2.5 mm mini-jack connector. Moreover, two types of earbud tips are provided -a set of standard tips and a set of tips optimized for bass frequencies. How can tips enhance the restitution of low frequencies? Simply by reducing high frequencies using a  surface which limits their diffusion. Don’t expect thundering bass with the optimized tips, but attenuated mids and lows instead. That being said, being able to ever so slightly adjust the restitution of earbuds without using a screwdriver or soldering iron is definitely a plus.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-08

The FiiO F9 headphones and their accessories.

FiiO F9: listening impressions

The FiiO F9 headphones are clearly superior to the FiiO F5. Their behavior in the lows is comparable but the mids and highs are a lot more present and detailed. The sound signature of the balanced armature drivers is easily identifiable, the restitution is clear and energetic, and the soundstage is spacious. The sound coloration is a lot less noticeable than with the FiiO F5, probably thanks to the dynamic transducer. The delivery is lively, believable, and benefits from solid lows. Don’t expect astonishing subtlety and smoothness, but the sound is more than satisfactory for the price. We used the balanced cable with the FiiO Q1 and it didn’t add much to the experience, except for an increased sound level.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-04

The FiiO F9 comes with a selection of silicone tips.

FiiO F9: conclusion

What we liked:

  • The spacious soundstage
  • The tonal balance
  • The two detachable cables

What we would have liked:

  • Less emphasized and less colored mids

The FiiO F9 is a lot more pleasant to listen to than the FiiO F5. The soundstage is much more open and benefits from a convincing sense of scale. But the promise of subtle highs and open mediums made by these three-way headphones is not completely upheld. Nevertheless, there are no comparable headphones featuring such technology in this price range.

Among these three FiiO products, the FiiO Q1 Mark II portable DAC / headphone amplifier truly rocks the house. For less than 100?, it is unmistakably the best of its category and features an analog input as well as a USB port compatible with iPhones, Android devices, and computers.

test-fiio-q1-mkII-fiio-q5-fiio-q9-12

This post is also available in: French

About the author

Tristan Jacquel

Tristan est rédacteur chez Son-Vidéo.com. Passionné de musique, d'acoustique et de high-tech, il réalise notamment les tests matériels pour notre blog.

Donnez votre avis !

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.