The wireless tech world is coming and there’s no stopping it. On the audio scene, this has resulted in every company shifting development into wireless headphones. And a critical effect of this has been the omission of the 3.5mm audio jack from many of today’s flagship smartphones. But when talking strictly on audio quality, wireless headphones still have their work cut out for them. So the reluctance to give up the “old” way should be completely understandable.
So what to do then? Well, Fiio has come up with a good way to have both – keep your beloved wired headphones while also enjoying the freedom of wireless audio. This Synopsis sums up with the Fiio BTR1 Wireless DAC is all about.
Fiio is well known and respected in the audiophile community, having probably the best bang-for-the-buck audio devices on the market. The BTR1 is no exception, as it sounds great and will only set you back $50. It’s tiny and lightweight, like it should be for this kind of use case to be practical, and its build punches above its affordable price tag.
- Small footprint and lightweight
- Playback controls
- Good looking and sturdy build
- Great sound for the size of the unit
- Lower-end AptX wireless codec, not higher fidelity AptX HD
- Bluetooth v4.2, not the newer 5.0
- Learning curve – many functions baked into the few buttons
What it’s like to use
- The BTR1’s design is simple but effective, as it should be. It’s a little thicker (11.5 mm) than we’d like but it’s a lighter weight (20.5 grams) than the footprint suggests. As a reference, it is really similar in form to a USB flash drive.
- Being only $50, we expected the unit to be entirely built with plastic, but a significant portion of the casing is actually Aluminum. However, from a top view, you can see that it’s a really thin metal layer. A glossy plastic cap fills the narrow metal cross-section (which is where the 3.5mm headphone jack is located).
- The opposite end has a small section with smooth plastic, which contrasts nicely with the ridged texture of the metal. Down here is another port – microUSB for charging.
- You’ll also find a nicely-sized volume rocker on the side.
- We like how Fiio incorporated a robust clip on the back of the unit, even though it makes it slightly thicker. Attaching this thing to your shirt or jacket makes the headphone wire less obtrusive when on-the-go and more of a “wireless” experience.
- The basic Bluetooth function of the BTR1 is intuitive. Hold the primary, circular button for a few seconds to power on/off, or press it during playback to play/pause. At the first boot up, the device is in search mode. Simply find it in the mobile device’s Bluetooth settings and that’s it.
- Fiio did the right thing with the volume control – unifying it with the Bluetooth volume setting on the mobile device, instead of having it independent (where you’d need to manage it separately). However, the only drawback of that is that you can’t get fine volume attenuation.
- There’s a small LED towards the bottom of the front, with simple blue or red colors. It flashes blue and red when it’s searching for a device to pair to, blinks blue when it’s paired and playing, and red when the battery is low. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to check battery life on the device itself (not even a vocal indicator when you power it on), but you may be able to see a battery gauge in the Bluetooth settings of your mobile device if it’s supported (on iOS and some Android smartphones).
- There are more functions in the BTR1 than meets the eye, but a learning curve comes with that. You switch tracks by holding either of the volume buttons, re-enter pairing mode by holding the power button for 5 seconds from an off state, and reset the device by holding both volume buttons at the same time for 5 seconds.
- The BTR1 also has a microphone and functions (baked into the power button) for taking calls.
- On last function you can get out of the power button is a “sound effect” feature that Fiio built in. Double tap the power button during playback and a green LED at the center will light up. It’s unfortunately just a one-setting, custom EQ by Fiio, and doesn’t let you select from different presets or customize it. But it does sound nice. Essentially it boosts the low-end a bit and makes a fuller and more 3D-like sound.
- The 205 mAh battery in the BTR1 is said to reach 8 hours of playback and we can attest to that. Range and reliability of the Bluetooth connection is also admirable – we didn’t have any dropouts with any positioning of our smartphone to the BTR1. And despite the device not supporting the newer Bluetooth version 5.0, you can pair the BTR1 with two devices at the same time. Great job Fiio.
- When seeing the size of the BTR1, we really weren’t expecting much from a sound quality perspective. But since this Fiio we’re talking about and the fact that DAC is produced by AKM (well-known audio chip manufacturer), we were curiously optimistic. The BTR1 also supports the aptX wireless audio codec, which doesn’t technically transit a “high res” bitrate but matches the “high quality” cap provided from most streaming music services.
- Fortunately, we were immediately blown away by the sound. No, not because it’s the best reproduction we’ve heard, like that of full-on portable DACs or high-end DAPs like the Fiio X7 II, but because how much this tiny thing punches above its weight.
- It’s a well-rounded sound. It’s full and engaging quality is carried throughout the spectrum. We weren’t expecting things to sound so balanced and refined.
- Bass isn’t super powerful but it’s enough to capture your attention. Again, the sound signature is pretty flat. So the mid-range isn’t pushed back and as appreciable as the rest (which helps the fullness and impact of the overall sound). The treble is also beautifully articulated.
- Overall, it’s not the most detailed, deepest, or clearest reproduction you’ll hear, but it’s enough for considerable enjoyment and for pushing some of the extra fidelity that higher-end headphones are capable of (a step up from a standard DAC in a smartphone). All the sounds are notably separated and distinct. This goes along with soundstage and dynamics – not the best out there but is another area this tiny DAC punches above its weight.
- A concern with these compact Bluetooth audio devices are hiss. It’s hard to keep the wireless interference down, and sensitive low impedance often end up audibly picking up the noise. Fortunately, Fiio managed to maintain the same low impedance support in the BTR1 that they do in all their other players. The lower limit is headphones with an output impedance of 16 ohms, but we even tried the super sensitive, 9 ohm Shure SE846 and could barely hear noise. Job well done.
For $50, we weren’t expecting much from the Fiio BTR1. But it left us impressed. You’re getting a a lot for your money here. It’s a tiny, lightweight, and well-built device that not just allows you to continue using your treasured wired headphones in a wireless age, but it manages an exceptional DAC (for the size) that gets you better sound quality than a standard smartphone DAC would. Battery life is also at a healthy 8 hours, and there’s aptX support for transmitting suitable fidelity.
If you’re transitioning to a new non-headphone jack smartphone, or just want the convenience of wireless audio, then the BTR1 DAC is a no-brainer.
Also See: Fiio X7 Mark II HiFi DAP Synopsis