Pros: Dynamic sound. Good soundstage and separation. Powerful, yet IEM-friendly. Class A amp. Good aesthetics.
Cons: Plastic volume knob and switches don't fit overall aesthetics. Class A switch not recessed. No case / pouch or bands.
I love it when manufacturers listen to feedback and respond quickly with positive changes! Take Aune, for example. I was lucky enough to take their B1 portable amp for a test drive earlier this year (LINK to review). It was a really good amp, but I wasn't exactly enamored with the sound signature and pointed out a few things I thought would improve the user experience. I know some of my fellow Head-Fi'ers pointed out similar opportunities for improvement. After the review I returned the B1 to its owner, and I honestly didn't think much about it - just went on with my typical Head-Fi life as usual. I mean, there's no way Aune would make the suggested changes so quickly, right? Well, I was recently contacted by my good Head-Fi friend @hakushondaimao about a revised B1 which took care of many of the nitpicks I had with the original B1. He asked if I'd like to try it, and I said "Yes, of course I'd like to try it!" So here I sit with the Aune B1 2016 Version. I'm actually listening to it right now in Class A mode with my HiFiMan HE400 as I type up this review. So what do I think? Read on to find out, but for you impatient types I'll just say that Aune is 95% of the way there. My most glaring nitpicks were addressed, and I've discovered a newfound appreciation for the B1's sound. All they need to do now is slap on some higher-quality switches and volume knob, and I'll give this baby top marks!
Before we start, here's a bit of information about Aune from the About Us section on their website:
As Ao Lai Er Technology's high quality HiFi brand, Aune has been devoted to developing and producing desktop, portable and car audio products. Founded in the year of 2004, Ao Lai Er owns the largest Chinese audio technology website - HIFIDIY.NET and high end audio brand TITANS. HIFIDIY.NET has 700 thousand members. It's always been a platform for the most advanced HiFi technology communications and practice. We gained lots of experience from the long-term accumulation, and have released hundreds of kits and parts from independent R&D, which are well received around the world! Aune team is a group of audiophiles who only pursue the best. We use our products in daily life and we love each and every one of them! Superb sound is Aune's goal; great user experience and satisfaction is what Aune pursues. We are striving to make Aune one of the world's famous audio brands in the future!
In order to design a world-class audio products, aune include the formation of an excellent R & D team of professional designers at home and abroad, has a number of strong, serious and responsible work of professional and technical personnel in our team, as well as a love for music professional audio career employees, 100 percent have a college, doctoral, master's degree or above. The most important thing is that they have strong technical strength, for the sound development of a range of products, from the cd drive, speakers, amplifiers, decoders, and even the future of the player home audio and video so you can design the perfect product, and can get the industry the affirmation and recognition of consumers!
I usually like to provide link to a few reviews I found interesting, but I couldn't find any specifically for the new version. So, I think this is the first review this little guy gets. hopefully I do it justice!
LINK to Aune B1 website, now updated for the 2016 version.
LINK to the dedicated Aune B1 thread.
I was provided the B1 2016 Version as a review sample. There is no financial incentive from Aune in writing this review. I am in no way affiliated with Aune, and this is my honest opinion of the B1 2016 Version. I'd like to sincerely thank @AuneAudio for providing me with the opportunity to take the new B1 2016 Version for a test drive!
I'm a 43 year old father who loves music. From electronic (Autechre, Boards of Canada) to modern/minimalist composition (John Cage, Philip Glass) to alternative rock (Flaming Lips, Radiohead) to jazz (John Coltrane and Miles Davis) to metal (Behemoth, King Diamond) to classic rock (Eagles, Rush), I listen to a wide variety of genres and artists.
My portable music journey started with the venerable Sony Cassette Walkman and then progressed to portable CD players, minidisc recorders (still have my Sharp DR7), and finally on to DAPs like the Rio Karma, iRiver IHP-1xx, iPod 5.5, iPhones, and the newer crop of DAPs from Fiio and iBasso.
I typically listen with IEMs from my ever-growing collection from budget to mid-fi. Less often, I grab a pair of full-size cans. Recently, I've been listening a lot with the FLC 8S (LINK1, LINK2 + review coming soon!) and Sennheiser MOMENTUM In-Ear (LINK to review) IEM I have n for testing, as well as my good old HiFiMan HE400. I do have a lot of other gear, though. You can always check my profile for a reasonably up to date gear list.
As with a lot of people my age, I've got some hearing issues. I've got mild tinnitus and suffer from allergies, which often affect hearing in my right ear. I'll admit it, I'm not blessed with a pair of golden ears. That said, I've been listening to portable gear for a long time and feel confident in assessing audio gear. I just wanted to be transparent up front.
Aune's B1 page has a lot of information, so I'd suggest you look there for complete details. I'll list some of the important specs below for you, though.
Recommended Impedance: 16 - 300 Ohm
Output Impedance: 3 Ohm
Typ THD+n: <0.0008% @ 1kHz, 600 Ohm, -0dB
SNR: >124dBA @ 600 Ohm
Flatness: +/-0.15dB @ 10Hz - 20kHz
Crosstalk: <110dB @ 1kHz, 60 Ohm
Output Power (Class A): 25mW @ 16 Ohm / 50mW @ 32 Ohm, 100mW @ 300 Ohm
Gain: 5dB Low Gain, 15dB High Gain
Current: 20mA A/B, 40mA Class A
Power Supply: +/-9v
Battery: 4000mAH lithium battery
Battery Life: 10 hours A/B, 5 hours Class A
Dimension: 65 x 110 x 18 mm
Price: $200 MSRP
PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES
As usual, I'll cover packaging and accessories in pictorial format below.
Classic clean Aune packaging. I wouldn't expect anything less!
B1 (2016 Version)
BUILD & ERGONOMICS
Again, I'll walk you through the new B1's build in pictorial format, commenting on what I like and what I think could be improved along the way.
The front has 3.5mm input and output jacks and the volume knob. On the original B1, plugs slipped in smoothly without clicking in place. On the B1 2016 Version, they still slip in smoothly but I do get a click right at the end. The volume knob is still the same disappointing plastic, which feels cheap compared to the metal knobs some competitors use. But on a positive note, Aune responded to criticism that it was difficult to quickly and easily set the volume by painting on a volume indicator dot. Despite not being up to the overall quality and aesthetics of the B1, the volume knob has very smooth movement and allowed for easy fine-grained volume adjustment. So while not all of my concerns with the volume knob were addressed, the most critical concern was. Good job, Aune!
By the way, this is the only visible change made to the B1. All other changes are circuitry-related, and I'll go over those later.
The only thing on the back is the micro USB port used for charging the B1.
Just the battery indicator LED here. Push the small, flush button, and the number of times the LED flashes indicates the charge level. I would've preferred three or four LEDs instead of just one that flashes, but it gets the job done. Maybe next time...
Here we see the Gain, Class A, and Power slider switches. As with the volume knob, these plastic sliders don't fit with the rest of the B1's aesthetics, but at least they don't feel wobbly like the ones on the original tour B1 I tested. I think replacing them with metal switches would fit much better with the overall aesthetics and feel more solid. I'm disappointed that Aune didn't switch to a flush Class A switch with the B1 2016 Version. While I'd like to see this change made to all of the slider switches, it's particularly important with the Class A switch since it isn't supposed to be operated when the B1 is powered on. I'm hoping these changes are made in the next generation.
Here you see two windows showing off the internals and two green LEDs that light up during operation. Although I'm still not a huge fan of the green lights because they can be distracting in dimly lit environments, I do have to admit that the design is growing on me. I wasn't a fan the first time around, but I've found that some things take time to appreciate.
On the bottom are the two black synthetic leather pads. I quite like the look on the back with the white lettering on the black metal and black leather pads. Very nice, and functional, too as the pads serve to protect the B1, as well as any surface you lay the B1 on, from getting scratched. No need for those little silicone feet with the B1!
VS. Original B1 in Silver / Red
Here's a picture of the original silver/red B1 on the left and the black B1 2016 Version on the right. I'd like to strongly suggest that Aune use higher-contrast writing on the silver/red version. The current writing is very low-contrast and is hard to read unless in a well-lit environment. This is too bad, as I otherwise really like the aesthetics of the silver/red version!
VS. FiiO E12A
How big is the B1? Here's a picture from my original review showing that it has the same footprint as the FiiO E12A but is about 1.5X thicker.
Luckily for all you B1 lovers out there, Aune didn't alter the basic sound signature of the B1 with the new 2016 Version. I'm lucky enough to have both versions in house right now, and I don't think there's much difference between the two with respect to sound signature. If anything, I hear just a tad tighter bass and more definition up top, but it's certainly no night and day difference. Just a subtle difference I notice as I switch back and forth between the two. So, what is the sound signature? Well, when I first heard the original B1, I felt it was mid-centric. In between then and now, I've been very lucky to have listened to a lot of amps, DACs, and DAPs, and I've come to the conclusion that I was used to gear that had colored sound signatures. You know the type. Emphasized low end with a bit of sparkle added up top. Fun to be sure, but not neutral. Now that I've gotten to play with a lot more gear, I can really appreciate what Aune has done with the B1, both the original and the 2016 Version. This isn't the mid-centric amp I thought it was back when I first heard it. Instead, it's a neutral, transparent amp with very nice soundstage, separation, and imaging. Ok, so why the new version, then? I mean, I haven't shown you much in he way of differences so far, right? Ok, ok, let's get down to business!
Aune implemented some really nice changes in the 2016 Version that I'm really happy with.
Lower output impedance. 3 Ohm for 2016 Version vs. 10 Ohm for the original version. That's a nice change right there. It's not less than 1 Ohm, but it's a lot better than before!
Channel imbalance is improved. I retested this with the FLC 8S IEM (11 Ohm, 107dB/mW). With the original B1, I got channel imbalance at low listening levels. I could see myself listening with the FLC 8S at these levels in a very quiet environment, so this was disappointing. With the 2016 Version, I only got channel imbalance at very low listening levels. These were lower than I'd actually listen at, so I wasn't bothered by this.
Less powerful Low Gain. I marked the original B1's volume knob with a dot in the same position as the one on the 2016 Version and volume matched with a 1kHz tone at comfortable (80dB) and loud (90dB) listening levels with the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear (18 Ohm, 118dB/mW). At 80dB, I was at 9 o'clock with the original B1 and at 10 o'clock with the 2016 Version. At 90dB, I was at 10 o'clock with the original B1 and at 12 o'clock with the 2016 Version.
Those changes all make the B1 2016 Version a better choice for you IEM lovers out there. Nice!
What didn't change was the high gain. Using my HE400, I'm able to set the volume knob on both the original B1 and the 2016 Version to the same spot and have comparable listening levels. Using them with the High Gain and Class A settings, 9 o'clock is a low listening level, 10 o'clock is a nice comfortable listening level, 11 o'clock is a loud listening level, and 12 o'clock is louder than I need, but I can see some of you listening that loud. So those of you who love using the B1 with your full-size cans won't be disappointed with the changes at all. This also made me happy. It's nice to have one portable amp that can handle both sensitive IEM and power-hungry full-size cans without blinking. Good job, Aune!
I found the battery life estimates Aune provides are very good. It could go about 8-10 hours in A/B mode and 4-5 hours in A mode.
The Aune B1 2016 Version took me by surprise. First of all, I really appreciated the sound much more this time around and am upgrading my rating for it accordingly by a half star. I'm really pleased that Aune slipstreamed this improved version into production so quickly. Very commendable responding so quickly to customer feedback and providing a better user experience for IEM lovers like me. That gets you another half star over the original, Aune. All that said, I do feel there are still some improvements to be made. Replacing the plastic volume knob and plastic switches with metal components would not only fit the overall aesthetics of the B1 better, it would also make it a more solid piece of gear. I also still feel that using multiple LEDs for the battery indicator would be an improvement over one blinking LED. And at this price point, there's really no excuse not to provide a case or pouch of some sort to protect the B1 on the go.
Thanks again to @AuneAudio for giving me the opportunity to give the B1 2016 Version a listen. Your ability to produce products with great price to performance ratio and a willingness to quickly respond to critical feedback has gained you a fan. Keep up the good work!
For those of you who made it this far, here's a sneak peek at an upcoming review or two...