a bass player's perspective on the inexpensive FiiO G01 Headphone Amp
I posted this review at Amazon where the device was purchased. I thought it might be useful to some fellow players looking at possibly picking up a cheap headphone amp.
If you want me to cut to the chase, here's the short version: it's a great little device, rechargeable, decent low-end response, and at a touch over 30 bucks, should probably be in every player's arsenal. It's just too nice to be able to sit down in the living room with my bass, connect this guy, and jam a bit without disturbing my girlfriend (or neighbors).
I'm also going to take the headphone out and record a clip or two with the amp and compare it to the relatively neutral sound of the instrument through my Apogee Jam DI so you can get an idea of the sound signature of this amp.
Anyway, here's the full review:
My girlfriend bought me this little devices as a Christmas gift. It's a powerful little headphone amplifier with a really nice design and MOST of the features you'd want in a small, easy-to-use package.
Let's start with the good:
I'm a bass player and I live in an apartment. I practice with headphones often. Sometimes I use my computer as a practicing aid, recording clips with garageband and using a DI to connect my instrument to my 2008 MacBook. I also use the headphone output on my larger amplifier (a Genz Benz shuttle). There are pros and cons with each. The computer, while portable and useful for recording, lacks the output power to drive larger headphones, and can be a tad cumbersome. You need cables between the bass and the computer, to the headphones, and usually a power brick for the laptop.
The amp solution is better in terms of flexibility - the high-powered headphone out can drive even the most demanding headphones to deafening volume, the eq section is extensive, and the sound is very clear, but it's even less portable than a computer.
The Fiio G01 is a great solution. It fits in the gig bag, plugs directly into the instrument, so the only cable I have to worry about is between my headphones and the amp. It's output is more powerful than the one on my MacBook, making it easier to drive headphones (with some limitations, I'll get to that in a minute). The amp is rechargeable, a HUGE plus, and even better - it recharges via micro-USB. If you are like me, you probably already have a bunch of USB chargers and micro-usb calbes (for your phone, kindle, tablet, etc), so you can charge it just about anywhere. It includes a cable, but no AC adapter, though, so if you don't have one available, you'll need to get one or plug it into a computer. The battery lasts a good long while and there's an LED indicator to let you know when it's low, when it is charged, etc. Very nice touches.
There's an AUX in that can be used to mix in music or a drum machine or what have you. This feature is absolutely essential for someone like me. When I'm seriously practicing, I'm nearly always working on learning a song, and if an amp lacked this feature, it would be absolutely useless for practicing by myself - which is how most musicians spend the majority of their time practicing, anyway.
The sound quality is very solid. The amp has it's own "tone", to be sure, but it's a pretty useful one in my opinion. One issue some other headphone "guitar amps" have problems with is reproducing low end, making them unsuitable for bass. This guy sounds a lot like plugging directly into a PA. On clean settings, the lows are deep and the highs are very present. The tone knob seems to both boost and cut highs, with neutral somewhere in the middle, allowing you to get more clarity or warm up your sound. If I were to criticize any part of the clean sound signature, it would be that the sound might be a tad "scooped". The midrange is a little understated, but the tone is eminently usable and would likely appeal to a great many guitarists and bassists.
So, that's the good. Now some of the limitations:
First of all, the description states that this amp can drive high-impedance headphones. While technically this may be true, I found that with my relatively middle-of-the-road 63 ohm HD 280 Pros, I could barely get usable volume on the cleanest setting. Adding a bit of drive upped the volume considerably, but this also changes the tone slightly. I find that even with low impedance headphones, you almost always want to dial in a hint of drive just to get a bit more volume.
Fully overdriven, you could probably deafen yourself with just about any cans. But on the clean setting (drive turned all the way down), you'll want high-sensitivity headphones.
Next, the (over)drive - it's okay, but not amazing. The distorted tones are worth having, but most people (especially guitarists used to tube amps) will likely find the sound a bit sterile. Dialing in a touch of drive gives a volume boost with minimal coloration. Increasing the drive continues to boost volume, increasing the saturation of the sound. Fully turned up, the sound is pretty fuzzy. Thankfully, adding overdrive doesn't suck out the low frequencies.
Lastly, there's a battery-saving feature that causes the amp to turn off after a few seconds of silences, and it immediately turns back on as soon as you start playing again. This is great in theory, but there are a couple of problems with the implementation. First of all, the sound cuts out far too quickly in my opinion. If you are playing a song and are resting for a measure or two, the amp WILL turn off. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the second issue - when the amp turns back on, there is a noticeable (and unwanted) distortion in the sound. When the amp reengages, there is an unpleasant crackling in the sound. This immediately goes away if you turn the amp off and back on again, but it is annoying and forces me to either switch the amp on and off every time I pause, or to keep tapping on the strings with my left hand to prevent the battery-saver from kicking in and turning the amp off. It is possible my unit is defective, but so far the issue hasn't been a big enough pain to warrant exchanging it.
So, overall, 4 out of 5 stars seems fair. There's really no other product on the market that works so well for what I need for such a reasonable price. I'd probably give it 5 out of 5 if it weren't for the battery-saver issue.
Genz-Benz Owners Club #276