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FiiO Q1-II Portable USB DAC/Amp for iOS Devices

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Youtube review: http://youtu.be/EDq-9pRtfBA
 
 
Sources: iPhone XsMax, iPad Pro 11-inch, Oppo HA-2se/DragonFly Cobalt DAC-amps, AudioQuest DragonTail USB-C.
 
When I first read about the FiiO Q1-II, I ignored it, having other premium portable iPhone-compatible DACs on hand. I understood from various reviews that it was "OK", i.e. good for the $99 USD price - about the same as the AQ DragonFly Black. My impression of the DF Black was a slightly grainy sound compared to the DF Red and the Oppo HA-2, and my impression of the Q1-II is better insofar as being relatively clean and clear. Listening to 44/16 and 44/24 WAV tracks on my iPad Pro, using a short Micro-USB to USB-A cable coupled to the AQ DragonTail USB-C adapter, driving the highly detailed Grado White headphone, I hear nothing less than good distortion-free hi-fi sound.
 
$99 USD is quite a bargain for a well-made DAC/amp with the Q1-II's features, as long as it sounds good under typical listening conditions, which it does by a comfortable margin. FiiO optimized the Q1-II for iPhones, such that it doesn't draw power from them during playback. It does draw power from the USB-C iPad Pro, much as it does from USB-C cellphones, but the amount of power draw isn't that significant for me.
 
I didn't compare the Q1-II to the DF Cobalt or Oppo HA-2 directly, but several long listening sessions have convinced me that the Q1-II will be satisfactory for hi-fi listening, with the possible exception of critical listening where the user knows precisely what to expect from the better DACs under those conditions, playing specific music tracks that yield the maximum expected critical detail. One issue when using a fairly bright headphone like the Grado is with music tracks that have a bit of edginess or hardness in the upper frequencies - these tracks may sound slightly more edgy than with the DF Cobalt, but your mileage will vary there.
 
In any case, I'll recommend the Q1-II straightaway for these users:
1) Audiophiles needing a small portable DAC for all listening except as stated in the paragraph above.
2) Those with good enough hearing and experience to appreciate the difference the Q1-II offers compared to having the headphone connected directly to their phone.
3) Those who won't hear the differences immediately, but who trust FiiO to build into the DAC what they say they build in. Don't place any unusual trust in my review, since the music you play and many other factors could net out the differences. Do read as many reviews as possible, focusing on the best-respected reviewers of portable audio gear, especially DACs and headphone amps.
 
The following tracks were selected from my review of the Grado White headphone, as that headphone has the most detailed reproduction of the headphones I've reviewed in 2019. The Grado review represents its sound when using the DragonFly Cobalt, while the music tracks below represent the Grado's sound using the FiiO Q1-II.
 
Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Soundtrack to a hand-painted color movie. A terrific variety of sounds that show off the excellent audio qualities of the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Muse - Madness: Strong detailed bass line with mass vocals. Clearly delineated by the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Mylene Farmer - Desenchantee: French vocal over a driving beat. Very enjoyable with the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Robyn Hitchcock - Autumn Is Your Last Chance: Acoustic/electric guitar with compelling vocal. Pure class as reproduced by the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Samantha James - Amber Sky: Reverberant instrumentation and ethereal vocal. Dreamy stuff that sounds amazing on the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Satchmode - Best Intentions: Atmospheric vocals over a detailed tight bass line. Exquisite reproduction by the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Sneaker Pimps - Underground (Nellee Hooper Mix): Slow-paced club music with female vocal and subtle bass impacts. The bass in this track will be fully appreciated only in a quiet listening spot with the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Soliquid - Shibuya (Paul Keeley Remix): Eight minutes and 50 seconds of heavenly beats and awesome musical synth effects as heard with the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Stones and Bones - Love Lockdown: Ibiza 2014 track with a very spacious atmosphere, modest bass impacts, and a bit of contrapuntal vocal. Outstanding on the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Susanne Sundfor - Accelerate: High-ambiance noise with subtle bass impacts and reverberant vocals. The WH1/Q1-II makes this track come alive.
 
Three-11 Porter - Surround Me With Your Love: Pleasant male-female vocal mix against a big-ambiance backdrop. Lush presentation by the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Visage - Fade To Grey: Atmospheric and reverberant recording supported by a luscious synth line. The WH1/Q1-II plays this perfectly.
 
When Saints Go Machine - Love And Respect: Super-energetic music with reverberant vocal counterpoint. Strong bass impacts delivered cleanly by the WH1/Q1-II.
 
Yaz - Situation: Bright pop-EDM music from the past with a nicely detailed bass line. Played exquisitely by the WH1/Q1-II.

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