Today we’re checking out the S1, a budget DAP from a relative newcomer to the scene, F.Audio.
The S1 is a feature rich digital audio player (DAP) with a unique design, a large battery, lots of features, and some great sound quality to back it up. Let’s take a closer look.
Thanks to Penon Audio for providing a sample of the S1 for review. All thoughts within this review are my own and do not represent Penon, F.Audio, or any other entity. No financial incentive was provided.
At the time of this review the S1 retailed for 59.00 USD: https://penonaudio.com/f.audio-s1.html
What I’m looking for:
When it comes to portable amps and DAPS I take a pretty casual approach. If you’re looking for an in-depth look at this thing with measurement graphs going over THD, sine waves, etc. you’ll want to look elsewhere. None of that matters to me, nor do the components inside that make the device tick. All I really care about is ease of use, how well it can drive my headphones and earphones, and if they still sound good to me plugged into it. Great battery life is a bonus. This review will be mainly my subjective experiences with the S1 and how it has served me over the last few months.
Specifications (pulled from Penon Audio):
Size: about 80 * 50 * 15mm (W * H * D)
Weight: about 20g
Screen: 0.91 inch OLED screen, resolution 128 * 64
Headphone jack: support 3.5mm plug headphone
AMP Interface: Support 3.5mm Line in input audio source amplified ,which by the headphone port output
USB / charging interface: can charge / data transfer
Suitable headphone impedance: 16Ω ~ 120Ω (flat-head 300Ω)
Audio formats: DSD: DSD64, DSD128, DSD256 (DSF, DFF);WAV: 192kHz / 24bit; FLAC: 192kHz / 24bit;
APE: 96kHz / 24bit;ALAC: 192kHz / 24bit;m4a: 192kHz / 24bit;WMA, AAC, MP3, OGG
Operating temperature: -5 to 40℃
Supports: MP1, MP2, MP3, WMA, WAV, APE, FLA, AAC, M4A, OGG, 3GP, ALAC, DSF, DFF
WAV: PCM (8BIT, 16BIT, 24BIT) MS-ADPCM (4BIT) IMA-ADPCM
Sampling frequency: 8KHZ ~ 192KHZ
APE: C1000 (Fast), C2000 (Normal), C3000 (High), C4000 (ExtraHigh), C5000 (Insane)
Bit depth: (16BIT, 24BIT)
Maximum bit rate: max 9.6Mbps
FLAC: (Level0, Level1, Level2, Level3, Level4, Level5, Level5, Level6, Level7, Level8)
Bit Depth: (16BIT, 24BIT)
Sampling frequency: 8KHZ ~ 192KHZ
Maximum bit rate: max 9.6Mbps
ALAC: Support bit (16BIT, 24BIT) Sampling rate: 8KHZ ~ 192KHZ Maximum bit rate: max 9.6Mbps
DSF / DFF: Support DSD64, DSD128, DSD256
Packaging and Accessories:
The S1 arrived without packaging. The only included accessory was a microUSB cable.
Build and UI:
The S1 has a sturdy, metal-framed build with acrylic panels used for the front and rear. Fit and finish is excellent with a a neat font used for the branding. Ports for input (to use the amp feature), headphone output, USB, reset button, and SD Card slots line up flawlessly. There is a hidden LED indicator to the right of the top or + button that contains two separate LEDs. The top LED is orange to denote the device is on. The bottom LED is blue and denotes when Bluetooth is on. They share the same tiny viewing widow so you have to tilt the device to see them both when they’re on.
The buttons for interfacing with the S1 require a bit more pressure than you may expect to depress, but they reward you with a solid “thunk”. This extra pressure is a good thing because there is no lock button to prevent accidental presses with the device in your pocket. In my many months with this device, I can’t recall a single time where I pressed a button by accident.
If there are any flaws, it is in the use of acrylic for the front and rear plates. While I keep mine in a felt bag when going mobile, others who are less careful may find the S1 very easy to scratch. Acrylic isn’t the most resistant of materials.
The S1 contains a comparatively large 1,300mAh battery which give the device a marathon length 35 hours of play time. Comparatively you say, B9? Yeah. The Xduoo Nano D3 has a 950 mAh battery. The Shanling M1? 950 mAh too. The HiFiMan Megamini makes due with only 500 mAh. As you would expect, the S1 lasts longer than all of these. Charge time isn’t unreasonable either. I couldn’t find an official charge time anywhere, but it seemed to top up from empty in around 2.5 hours in my experience.
The S1 has a teeny little screen, within which the excellent GUI resides. The home screen contains icons for your music, a file explorer, settings, and that’s it. The music icon is essentially what is listed as ‘now playing’ on most devices. Explorer lets you scroll through all the files on your device. Settings contains the bulk of the S1’s functions and is quite in depth with nine base options that branch out.
There’s not much to say here since the layout it logical, unlike the MegaMini with it’s nonsense organization, and navigating throughout is extremely quick, unlike the overly sluggish Nano D3. I prefer the basic five button layout compared to something like the Shanling M1 which uses both buttons and a scroll wheel.
My only major qualm is that there is no dedicated back button. From the now playing screen, holding the centre button for two second is needed to go back to the menus. Once in the menus, you press left and right to go back and forth throughout them. The learning curve is exceptionally short and it’s a nice device to interact with, especially because it is so quick. You press a button and you get a response nigh instantly.
This was a feature I was quite looking forward to, but alas, it was not to be.
First off, the moment you turn Bluetooth on it goes straight into the pairing mode, one that isn’t announced as it simply shows which earphones you already have linked, if any. There is a small LED indicator on the front of the device (which you can turn off in the settings if you want) that lights up blue when Bluetooth is on.
While pairing with a new device, it’s pretty much a crap shoot as to whether or not your device will be picked up, often necessitating turning Bluetooth on and off numerous times. Once you eventually get connected, the connection strength isn’t fantastic with easily forced dropouts, nor does the sound quality cut the mustard. Music sounds compressed and lacks dynamic range with noticeable roll off at both ends.
The S1’s Bluetooth feature seems more like it was added in to satisfy a feature list rather than be a viable way to enjoy your music. The lack of any information anywhere about the S1’s Bluetooth support, except that it has it, lends strength to this argument. Thankfully, Bluetooth is an option and not something you’re forced to use.
*There is also a “Car Mode” but I don’t have Bluetooth in my aging 2008 Ford Fusion SE, so I didn’t have the chance to test it.*
The first time I used the S1 as an amp I was taken aback at how much the sound quality degraded. What I didn’t realize was that you needed to have the source device’s volume set extremely low, relying on the S1’s 32 volume steps instead. This was experienced with the following devices acting as a source, and the S1 as an amp; LG G5, Shanling M1, Walnut V2S, HiFi E.T. MA8, HiFiMan Megamini, and my ASUS FX53V laptop. Once I figured out the device volume needs to be quite low (around 1/4 of max output in most cases), the S1 worked fine, but was less apt at increasing volume output and more adept at neutralizing and decolouring a device’s base signature.
As an amp, the S1 is merely satisfactory. I recommend sticking with the Walnut F1 or something from Topping for your budget amping needs. That said, if you have the S1 already it doesn’t need an amp. It’s headphone output is plenty juicy enough to run even the HiFiMan Susvara planar headphone pretty comfortably.
The S1 is reasonably neutral and uncoloured with a mild mid-bass lift when compared to other devices like the HiFiMan MegaMini and XDuoo Nano D3. Where those are somewhat warm and bassy, and bright and lean respectively, the S1 shows little of these tendencies and simply lets your earphones sound as they do. Should you choose, you can shuffle around frequencies via the limited but useful 5 band EQ with adjustments at 62, 250, 1k, 4k, 16k. You can adjust up to 9dB in +3dB or -3dB increments. Smaller steps would have been nice.
Some devices come across a little congested. Not the S1. The Havi B3 Pro I sounds appropriately large and spacious, with the somewhat limited depth I expect. The Auglamour RX-1 sounds intimate like it should. Imaging is stepped nicely channel to channel with great layering and separation. Due to the S1’s raw, abusive, power, particularly easy to drive and/or sensitive earphones might have their feelings hurt and display some static, such as the Astrotec Delphinus 5, Fidue A85 Virgo, and the Alpha & Delta D6.
The S1 isn’t perfect, but I’ve yet to come across any DAP that is. As it stands, this is right up there with the Shanling M1 as one of my favorite and most used devices because what it does right, it does very well. Interfacing with the S1 is intuitive and quick, the design is interesting and attractive (obviously very subjective), and it sounds great with tons of power for driving demanding gear (the most important aspects).
Yes, the Bluetooth feature feels like a tacked on afterthought and the amp function could have been better implemented, but those are not extras, not primary functions. While disappointing I can live with the sub par performance in those areas since the S1 excels everywhere else. Highly recommended to check this one out if in the market for a budget DAP.
Thanks for reading.