Greetings!

Today we’re checking out the A1from HIFI Walker.

HIFI Walker makes a wide variety of products, everything from DAPs, to smart watches, to fitness trackers. I first came across the brand when a link to the A1 was dropped in a thread here on Head-fi, catching my attention because of the shells used. I’ve tried a number of earphones featuring similar shells over the years, from brands like NarMoo, Accutone, and Tin Audio, and have always enjoyed the solid ergonomics and quality construction on offer. While all the other brands crammed dual dynamics (10mm + 6mm) into their variants, HIFI Walker’s slightly more compact take on this design keeps it simple with a single 9.2mm dynamic per side. They did a great job of it too, because the A1 is a-okay straight out of the box.

Let’s take a closer look.

Disclaimer:

Thanks to HIFI Walker for sending over a sample of the A1 for review. The thoughts within are my own and do not represent HIFI Walker or any other entity. There was no financial incentive provided to write this review.

At the time of writing the A1 retailed for 47.99 USD: http://www.hifiwalker.com/HIFI-WALKER-A1-High-Resolution-In-Ear-Headphones-Earphones-Earbuds-Noise-Attenuation-Headset-with-Remote-control-and-Microphone_show5.html

Source:

For at home use the A1 was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp with my Asus FX53V laptop sourcing music. For portable use it was paired with an LG G5, LG G6, Shanling M1, HiFiMan MegaMini, or HiFi E.T. MA8, all of which easily brought it up to listening volume. The A1d oesn’t need amping in my experience, playing perfectly well straight from a phone or DAP.

Personal Preferences:

I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer examples of signatures I enjoy.

Specifications:

  • Driver: 9.2mm dynamic
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz-70,000Hz
  • Sensitivity: 110+/- 3dB @ 1KHz/1mW
  • Impedance: 16ohm +/- 15%
  • Rated Power: 2mW

Packaging and Accessories:

The A1 comes stored in a fairly large cardboard box. The face is entirely covered by a large sticker. Printed on this sticker is a high quality image of the A1 along with common items like branding and features. In the bottom right corner is a familiar site; the bright yellow and black Hi-Res Audio logo. Outside of that sticker, the box is featureless save for HiFi Walker logos on the sides printed in silver foil.

Lifting off the lid of the box you find the A1 nestled in a foam cutout with extra tips and the cable wrapped neatly below and covered with an angled cardboard sleeve. On the sleeve is a sticker with a bar code you can scan to download a copy of the A1’s user manual. Lifting out the foam reveals another cardboard insert. Beneath this? Nothing. 3/4 of the box is empty. Seems a bit wasteful, but I suspect this same box is used for other products in their catalog and to save on tooling a new package they just re-purposed it. In all you get:

  • A1 earphones
  • Single flange ear tips (s/m/l)

For almost 50 USD I would expect a little more since the included tips are as basic as it gets. A simple carrying case or bag would have been appreciated.

Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

The A1’s shells are made from aircraft-grade aluminum and are put together quite well. Fit and finish is really clean with well-cut knurling. There are slender aluminum bands, color-coded to left and right channels, that are both useful and attractive. The nozzle is covered with a fine mesh that lets you peer down inside to the drivers within.

The cable uses a dense TPU sheath with a matte finish. These cables have been excellent in my experience. Tough and tangle resistant, but with a tendency to remain semi-coiled if left stored for any length of time. Strain relief is excellent at the earpieces with 12mm long rubber protrusions protecting the cable from bends. There is no relief at the in-line mic. Relief is present at the y-split, but only on one end. Leading up to the ear pieces you get a handy chin cinch instead. The simple straight jack is extremely compact and is also amply protected via a 9mm long rubber relief.

When it comes to comfort the A1 is wonderful, The basic, barrel shaped housing is rounded off leading into the nozzles so there are no sharp edges or hot spots to cause discomfort. They’re also exceptionally light weight. Just pop them in your ears fuss-free and wear them cable down or cable up. Either way works just fine, though cable up wear will help reduce cable noise. The nozzle is 5mm at it widest too, which is more or less standard. Great for tip rolling!

Isolation is simply okay. It is pretty much spot on average for a vented single dynamic earphone. You’ll have to raise the volume when walking around outside or in any other noisy area to compensate for noise bleeding in. They’re passable for transit use, though I recommend installing some foam tips if you have them lying around since those tend to sop up a lot of unwanted noise.

Inline Mic:

The inline remote is something I’ve seen before on a few other products. Build is fine, made from relatively durable feeling plastics. Buttons are easy to find and depress with a satisfying click. It all works well with my LG G5 and G6, controlling volume, skipping through tracks, answering/ending phone calls, etc. Good stuff.

The mic. Wow. The quality of the mic on the A1 vastly exceeded my expectations. One of the bullet points on the front of the box is; “Capture rich, full-bodied sound from the mic.” That is 100% accurate. I took a few recordings and made a couple phone calls and the result was always the same. My voice sounded full and clear with lots of detail, and my callers were impressed. I didn’t have a chance to test it in windy weather, but other background noises were cut out quite effectively so I have a good feeling these will handle wind pretty well. If not, I’ll update the review later on. These have one of, if not the best, inline mic I’ve used to date and will be finding themselves a permanent home as my new portable for phone calls

Sound:

The A1 doesn’t bring to the table a unique signature. Nope, it’s v-shaped, but darn does it ever do it well for the price. Upper treble is quite exaggerated giving the A1 lots of energy up top. Without EQ or mods, these will certainly not be for the treble sensitive. For me, that’s fine. I don’t mind boosted treble, especially when it’s as clean sounding as it is on the A1. It’s quite well controlled and tight without a lot of spashiness or any grain. The level of elevation also gives the earphone quite an airy and well-spaced feel to it as I noticed when running through Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Cymbals on “Beat It” are crisp and clear with good texture and definition.

The mid-range is certainly not as prominent as other aspects of the A1’s presentation. Upper mids especially are dialed back, but thankfully, the way the A1 is tuned this isn’t really an issue. Peaks elsewhere are in the upper treble and lower bass which essentially leaves the mid-range alone. Mid-bass bleed is virtually non-existent and sibilance is avoided, unless already in the track. For example, avoid The Crystal Method’s “Grace”. Running through Aesop Rock’s discography, I did find his vocals quieter than would be preferred at times, such as on None Shall Pass’ “No City (prod. by Blockhead)”, where his vocals fell in line with the deep bass lines and just behind the sprinklings of guitar and scratching. They were only slightly more prominent than the occasional background vocals.

Bass presentation is right up my alley with a dialed down mid- and upper-bass region in favor of rumbling sub-bass. It’s fairly quick and well textured, easily taking on the rapid, crunchy bass present on most tracks throughout The Prodigy’s discography. Upper bass is elevated just enough to give the A1 some warmth and a solid weight to it’s presentation, though I wouldn’t call it thick sounding.

Sound stage is airy and well separated with good depth and solid layering, but isn’t particularly large in general. The airy treble and set back mids really help make use of the space available for instruments to play. While there were a few instances I was caught off guard by sounds off in the distance, for the most part the A1 doesn’t play any mind games.

Overall I find the A1 to be a satisfying performer with accurate timbre and clarity that stands above most of what you get in this price range. I can see some finding the treble a little overbearing, or the sub-bass a bit much, but as we’ll see in the next section, those items can be addressed with some very simple mods that pretty much anyone can apply with ease.

Modding:

Otto Motor over on Head-fi.org wrote a wonderful review of these earphones which included lots of useful information on easily modding it for better performance. If you’re interested in this earphone and enjoy modding, definitely check it out; https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/hifi-walker-a1.23236/reviews#review-20704. Note that these mods were found elsewhere on the web so credit goes to the original modder.

I gave those reversible and easy to apply mods a go with both micro and transpore tape. The cloth micropore tape was not to my tastes. While it did even out the treble and make the A1 considerably more balanced, I found it was at the detriment of some clarity, texture, and sub-bass emphasis which to me simply wasn’t worth it. Placing some plastic transpore tape over 1/3 of the nozzle produced a sound that was closer to stock, retaining the awesome sub-bass presence while still dulling the treble. Clarity and texture were left mostly untouched.

Select Comparisons (A1 stock):

Accutone Pavo: The Pavo has a more balanced presentation with additional mid-range presence. The A1’s bass and treble both offer up greater extension, detail, and texture. The Pavo’s mid-range lacks the A1’s clarity. The Pavo actually sounds quite similar to the A1 with micropore mods in place. The Pavo plays on a wider stage but lacks the depth of the A1 and comes across more congested on busy tracks. It also sounds slower, unable to tackle quick tracks with the same effortlessness as the A1. If you don’t like modding or EQing your earphones, or are particularly sensitive to treble, the Pavo might be the better option. Otherwise, the A1 is technically superior out of the box with a higher performance ceiling, especially once you start applying mods.

In terms of build, they are nearly identical with the Pavo being ever so slightly larger to accommodate the 10mm bass driver and 6mm mid and treble driver. The Pavo’s cable is glossy, but is otherwise the same. Isolation is ever so slightly better on the Pavo. Comfort is basically the same since they are near identical in shape.

Tin Audio T2: The T2 is one of the few neutral-leaning earphones in it’s price range. This frequency balance stands out when a/bing it with the A1, particularly in the mid-range which is much more prominent on the T2. I found the A1 slightly more clear and detailed with a crisper, snappier sound to it. The A1 has better treble extension, though it’s not as smooth and even as the T1 and as such is more fatiguing. Bass on the T2 rolls off earlier and isn’t quite as textured, though it is slightly better controlled and less subject to bloom on overly mid-bassy tracks. The A1 has a deeper, wider sound stage, though it’s imaging isn’t quite as precise, nor does it show off the same layered presentation. Separation is equally as good.

When it comes to physical qualities, they’re both excellent in their own ways. The T2 is build like a tank and has the advantage of removable cables, though they’re using the potentially problematic MMCX connector type which wears out fairly quickly. The A1 is lighter and more ergonomic, with slightly better isolation, and is much more comfortable to wear during longer listening sessions.

Final Thoughts:

HIFI Walker has themselves an under appreciated gem with the A1. In stock form you get a well-tuned v-shaped signature that’s rife with clarity and detail. Spend a minute cutting up and applying some tape, and you’ve now got yourself a really balanced, realistic sounding earphone that isn’t common in this price range. All of that is set within a simple but versatile barrel shaped housing that’s extremely durable, fairly attractive, and attached to a tough cable. You also get the benefit of one of the best inline mics I’ve come across, regardless of price. The packaging and accessories are sub-par, but most people care not about that soo…. Yeah. Anyone that enjoys a well-tuned single dynamic that doesn’t break the bank should be eyeing the A1. This earphone is flat out good. And if you enjoy modding or eq’ing, bonus! This little in-ear takes it well.

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to HIFI Walker for the chance to experience this quality earphone.

– B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Some Test Tunes:

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)

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