Pros: Class A Portable, Excellent Sound, Elegant Design, Battery, Size, Power.
Cons: Weight, Instrument separation.
There haven't, erhm, been too many Class A portable amplifiers on the market, so introducing this as part of a group is quite difficult. The Lear FSM-2 V2 may be one of the only other ones I've heard of, and even then only fleetingly, and at more than double the price point of the B1. In terms of power, though, there has been a few budget amps that pack a punch, including but not limited to the Fiio E12 we all love at its price point.
So, the point? That Aune's B1 is quite interesting before we even start, by doing something almost nobody else had the guts to do – a fully portable class A amp, for all those that don't want to be glued to a wall outlet (anybody? Any takers? Well, me for sure). Yeah, you could go for the E12, but what if you're past budget-fi, and want to do justice for your more power-hungry headphones, and your X5/dx90/A&K player to boot? I was recently put in that situation, where I was blessed enough to be able to get both the AKG K7XX and the Shozy Alien. So then all I needed was an amp.
How hard could it be already?
Hard enough. I went through 5 or so amplifiers, the E12 the only one powerful enough in my opinion to drive the K7XX to a fuller sound (none had problems with volumes, but then again, volume isn't everything, right? Quality is the beast we're discussing here), and couldn't help but wonder if it was limiting the wonderful sound my other two pieces of equipment were capable of producing. So I jumped at the chance to get a B1, hoping that class A was what I was looking for, while also hoping power wasn't the only good thing the B1 was good at.
It's good alright. Very, very good. But more of that in the review. Let's begin!
I'm not a fan of this section in general, but while I'm at it, I am a fan of the B1's packaging. Nice an' simple, just the way I like it. Comes with a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, as well as an usb charging cable – standard, not a feared proprietary cable like Cowon's.
Tank certified, in my opinion. Much better built than the Schiit Magni 2 Uber I've owned, though that wasn't too shabby either. Made almost fully out of metal, and, although I have no idea how I know this, it feels like the metal is thick as well. No hollow-ish sound I've had when the components didn't exactly fit the case they were assigned to; the B1's case feels like it was made in Germany, ja? I would be afraid of dropping it though due to the fancy see-through glass, although through my rigorous tapping tests I've decided it's pretty sturdy as well. Don't drop this though – well, make that don't drop any of your audio equipment, unless it's created by Apple.
Speaking of the see-through screen, it gives this amp a look of authority. Man, I'm usually scared of anything see-through – it reminds me of the components inside and how they could break. But with the B1, I don't have this problem. It's really weird, I was expecting to treat this like a vase, but instead I'm treating it like a Swedish Volvo, carrying its own weight and build quality plenty. I've never seen a sturdier built amp around, even with the partial see-through screen, and that's saying something. The symmetrical led lights the amp gives when powered on is classy to the max. My initial impression when I took this out of the box was that I could probably convince my roommates it had a built-in wine flask.
The leather backing on the other side only confirmed my wine-flask theory. Soft and comfortable, this is another point for the B1's classiness.
The volume knob is the only thing that people may take up for debate. It is made out of hard plastic, not metal. Now before people start arguing that the E12 has a metal knob and thus better, I just want everyone to know that the plastic Aune used here is just fine in this case. The knob moves smoothly, and it doesn't appear to shake or wobble no matter how hard I try. So will it stay working for 3+ years? I couldn't tell you, but it seems well-built enough to stand the test of time, in my opinion. Although a diamond knob would have completed the classy setup, there's only so much you can expect for $200, you know?
My, they really had a wonderful designer when they made the B1; it looks like it just came out of fine dining, with no way to argue otherwise if I had even wanted to. It simply just looks really, really good all around. Sturdy and elegant, more well-designed than any other piece of equipment I ever handled. Well done, Aune, seriously. I just wish the volume knob could have been outta diamond/platinum, 'cause that's really the only thing that anyone could ever nitpick about.
Basically, Aune did well in this department. Not only is it built like a tank, they managed to add the see-through-glass/led-lights/leatherback for a classy, well designed look.
I've already discussed the knob, so moving on one side there's the power switch, current switch, and gain switch. On the other side there's the power indicator
button. All of the first 3 seems well done, and doesn't look like they would be switched on/off accidentally, which is what I was hoping for, especially given the fact that so many got it wrong in that regard. At the same time, though, they're also not hard to use if you try, albeit a bit on the safer/heftier side in that regard. I've been furious for a while that the E12's side buttons (gain, crossfeed, etc.) are meant to be used with a toothpick, and even when 3 inches from my nose is incredibly hard to use. Fun fact: I actually thought when I got the E12 that the buttons fell off and I was seeing the mechanics behind it. Like, yeah. So all I'm saying is I'm happy the B1's buttons are very useable.
The power indicator button works fine, and I'm glad Aune incorporated it, as it's a brilliant way to check and see how much battery is left.
As for the switches themselves, the power switch is self-explanatory, so I'll continue with the other two. The gain switch provides a 10db or so volume boost, which works well for the K7XX, but isn't a shocking jump, when using full-sized headphones. With IEM's, such as the SA7, it's a bit of a jump if you hit it by accident, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. The current switch goes between 20MA and 40MA, although even with power-hungry headphones like the K7XX I could barely hear a difference; I think the 40MA current provides slightly more authority to the sound, although the difference is so small I'd be more than happy if I had to live with only the 20MA. The reason why I'm saying this is because the battery gets halved (more on that later) when under the higher current, and many of you are probably wondering if it does well on the "low" current as well, for more portable uses. But fear not; both sound amazing, and the 20MA doesn't sound thin in the slightest. If I understood correctly though, both of them are class A currents, so there's no real "low current" here, only high and higher.
It is important to note that Aune strictly advises against switching the current when powered on, so many might nitpick with that. But to me, if it's not prone to accidents, and you have the foresight to keep Aune's warning in mind, there's nothing to talk about.
Let's take a step back and consider what current this lion is giving us. Fully class A. Now taking that, let's consider its battery life; 10 hours for the 20MA current and 5 for the 40MA. At first glance, this would make people recoil. But after you consider the wattage we're getting here, it suddenly turns into a gem. 13 hours on the Oppo HA-2? No problem, we'll get you a Schiit Asgard current in a portable package straight away.
Seriously, though, if you know what we're dealing with here, 10 hours should raise eyebrows. And especially since you probably won't even need to use the high-current when you go outside (unless you're using 300 ohm IEM's,) you'll only have to worry about the ten hour battery, not the 5 hour one. I'm usually not a fan of current switches, as they're usually an indicator that the low current is not enough, but with this I'm keeping it in low current and taking the 10 hours with me. Low current still powers my headphones like a boss. For a Class A, truly a remarkable feat.
*Now, I wish Aune told us whether the 10 hours is in low gain or in high gain, but I should be able to find out soon enough. Get back to you guys later on that.
Since this is a Class A, can you fry eggs on it, as with many other infamous Class A amps? (I'm talking to you, Schiit Asgard 2!)
No, and a big relief at that. I'm happy to say that when using it all of today, the Aune B1 only gets slightly warm, never hot to the touch. A potential issue that many were worried about, Aune seems to have found a good lid for heat control on this one.
Size, Weight & Portability:
Size is small enough and at a good size, being exactly the same size (L x W) as the E12, while being just a tad thicker. Weight, though, is quite hefty. Obviously it's liftable, but it may not be what you have in mind for your ultra-light setup. This is probably due to the components inside, so it's all for good cause. Just thought I'd make a mention that this is not a featherweight amp by any means, and as a class A amp I wasn't expecting it too. It should be great in backpacks and in inner coat pockets, but not in jacket/pants pockets, and definitely not while jogging. However, if you could get past the weight, portability is fine. Pictures:
Note: On the left is the Fiio E12, on the right is the Aune B1.
Amplification & Volume:
Volume is quite plenty, especially if you keep it in high gain. As far as amplification goes, my main IEM gains massively from high gain, while with the K7XX it's not that much of a difference. If I had to point it out, high gain gives more of an edge to things, which in turn makes it feel more refined. With my KRK KNS-8400 and the Bang & Olufsen H6, though, low gain is also quite fine, although high gain still has a *slight* edge. So it seems that the SA7 at 50 ohms is the only one who doesn't like low gain. It does beautifully on high gain, though, so there's nothing to worry about here. As I have said, volume is not a concern with the B1, and the B1 works fantastically with everything I've thrown at it.
As I'll mention later on, the B1 is way ahead of the Fiio E12, especially when it comes to detail retrieval, clarity, and overall balance, all of which I will discuss in the sound section. As for the Schiit Magni 2 Uber (from memory; I haven't had the Magni in a good month or two), the Magni 2 has absolutely no viable edge to my ears when it comes to power because let's remember yet again that the B1 is a Class A amp. So besides for the fact that the B1 is powerful and portable, the B1 sounds yet better to my ears; Detail and musicality probably being its winning factors, but really the B1 -portable or not- is a step ahead of budget-tier amplifiers to me. The overall sound of the B1 is more than I could ever ask out of the Magni 2 Uber, possibly excluding the soundstage, which may or may not have been better on the Magni 2 (I can't really remember all that well now). In all other respects, though, I'd pick the B1 any day.
When comparing the B1 to the Heir Audio Rendition 1 amp ($330) - by memory, it seems that the Heir wins by a small margin when paired with IEM's, as that's the only thing it's geared to do. However, the B1 is not lagging far behind, and definitely takes the cake when it comes to over-the-head headphones, whether they be closed back like the KRK's or open-back like the K7XX. It's not really a fair comparison to begin with, as there's no reason to buy a Class A amp just for IEM's. The B1 has a lot more going for it than the Rendition 1, unless your entire collection is built entirely of IEM's, like @ClieOS .
The B1 has a very black background, and there's not much hiss at all unless I strain my ears to hear it on the highest volumes with my IEM, and even then I'm not sure if I'm imagining things. So no worries for your IEM's here.
Here's the good part of the review, it's as good sounding as it is classy. Much of the E12, and it should be, at its price point. Much more controlled in the lower end, detailed in the highs, and overall balanced. Here's the breakdown:
Lows/Bass: Exactly where I want them, quantity and quality, like an iron arm. Doesn't overpower my K7XX's like some other amps do, and keeps everything quite even. I wouldn't call this lacking in bass though, as when the song requires it to pack a punch, it does very well. Details on the low end are done very nicely, no uncontrolled bass lows on the K7XX's anymore, which is more than I could ask for. The bass is very fast, which is the first time I've ever been able to pick that up on a piece of equipment, so I may be off or hearing something else there. I'd like to emphasize here that although I'm usually not quite impressed with the lows, the bass here really give definition and balance to the music.
Mids/Vocals: Vocals have no complaints from my end, especially when so many have failed me there. Guitars and other instruments are at its prime here, though. I'm savoring everything from the good ol' Sultans of Swing up to my OCRemix albums that came out last year. Chrono Cross's OST, when I played that game at 5 years old, doesn't fail me here either, which makes me smile. Overall, mids are a beast, and instrumentals are glory with this one.
Highs/Drums: I was expecting some kind of roll-off here, as what can be perfect? But, contrary to my expectations, highs are as crisp and detailed as they come, without being bright to my opinion. Not emphasized, but with a strong presence, as they should be. I should remind everyone again that the B1 is very balanced, so it should go without saying that the highs don't overpower anything, or even feel bright. I just came from a treble roll-off amp and my ears don't feel fatigued at all, even after 3 hours, if that helps. The highs sure are precise, though.
Coloration: None. Sound is very natural, and is as good as your source DAC/DAP, so however that's supposed to sound you'll get it.
Tonality: A warmer sound, though at no time muddy; the B1 stays extremely detailed for its price even with its warmth. It creates a very inviting and comfortable sound that you just want to sink into, though sacrificing a big soundstage.
Soundstage: Well-defined, although I do have to say it's a tad on the smaller side, due to the B1's warmth; but within the presentation it gives, it remains very 3D-like. I'm left satisfied, and frankly I'm fine with the way it is. Coupled with a big soundstage from the K7XX, it stays comfortably large, albeit not huge. With the KRK KNS-8400, it has no indication of being small though. So whether you want to use this with open-back headphones or closed-back ones, they'll both sound wide enough for leg room.
Imaging: Well done; whatever the soundstage may lack, the imaging more than makes up for it. The components of the song are all around you, not only front and center, and I can tell where everything's placed.
Separation: The separation would be the only non-strong point of the B1, if I had to pick one. The B1 is more of a musical amp than an analytical one. As such, components tend to blend together musically than staying completely separate where you can pick them out. However, due to the nature of the B1, this helps the amp stay musical and the music flow. This isn't an analytical amp though, as I'll mention soon.
Frequency shape: Flat, but doesn't have a flat-ish sound. Every part of the spectrum is lively. Does that make sense?
Detail: Very detailed in highs, mids, and lows, I'm proud to say. I'm quite pleased with the amount of detail it presents overall. Detail is definitely one of the B1's strongest points.
Accuracy: It's hard not to love the accuracy the B1 provides, especially given its detail. Sound is fast and on point to my ears, and being both very accurate and detailed just makes the B1 a deadly competitor and a king in this department.
Balance: Also great; I wouldn't have imagined that the sound sig could be the way it is without having something boosted in some way. But I have to say, the balance of this amp is near perfection, especially compared to the amps I've tried before. Definitely makes my K7XX and KNS-8400 sing.
Coherency & Flow: A very musical amp, this is the type that makes you want to sit back on your couch and sink in. It doesn't sound unnatural though, and doesn't blend in together too much. It flows just right to me.
Reveal Factor: The B1 is quite revealing, something that's going to be coupled with any very detailed amp, I'm afraid. To illustrate, I was a bit shaken when I was hearing recording mistakes in my songs I had no idea existed, even with any of my other amps. However, feed it quality stuff, and it's very rewarding.
Immersion Factor: I have to mention that this isn't a very analytical amp in the sense that it sucks you in, so don't expect to be paying attention to every little detail, because in the end, you're going to space out and have to rewind. That's why reviewing this is so darn hard; I have to listen to each song 3 times until I can finally pay attention to how good it is. That's the immersion factor to you.
Sound Summary: It sings. That's the best 2 words I can use to describe it. You won't be analyzing your music anytime soon, as the B1 will invite you in and shut the door behind you, until you realize you're not doing much analyzing and rewind back 3 songs later. Very musical, detailed, and 3d-like presentation, all the while keeping a steady coherency and flow that won't leave you disappointed. The most important part of this review -the sound- the Aune B1 excels at, especially given that it's a portable amp.
Value & Conclusion:
The B1 is a serious threat to other amps, even just given it's features, which, let me remind you once more, is fully Class A in a portable package. Yet Aune didn't stop there; the B1 excels at sound given its price range and looks wonderfully classy to boot. Quality heating control, and battery life is very decent given its specs. Size is in a great form factor, although the B1 is on the heavy side. Almost all definite positives, while having very little that there's not to like.
I would recommend this completely to those who don't want to be glued to wall outlets while powering heavy voltage-needy headphones at home, and also want an extremely potent portable amp for their daily travel with portable/closed-back headphones. For those looking for a sole IEM amp, I'm not sure why you would look at a Class A amp to begin with, but hey, it does well with those too.
All in all, the Aune B1 really packs a punch given everything it has going for it. If I had $200 to spend on a portable amp that could double for desktop headphones, I'd most certainly buy the B1 in a heartbeat. I couldn't find anything wrong with it if I tried.