I am not going to try and tell you otherwise about Aune. They are another one of the many Chinese companies that are trying to make a mark on the worldwide market. I have no problem with that and wish more companies from this area of the world gave us westerners some attention because they have so great products and sometimes they are selfish with them, just look at Japan with FitEar! I had seen Aune around but it was only until I got to check out their products at High End Show in Munich that I decided it was time to try some of their products. Now Aune make it obvious on their site that they are a digital audio company at heart (having been so for nearly 10 year, back before digital was the popular format it is today) but that hasn’t stopped them making the all analogue B1, portable headphone amplifier. The B1 comes in at $199 on their online store and £139 of eBay so it fits in a very competitive chunk of the portable scene, with a lot of models having a similar price tag.
A Peek Inside
At the High End Show there is a LOT going on and it easy to miss stuff, when you look back at the show it’s frightening how much you miss and for something to grab your attention it needs to stand out and that’s exactly what the B1s design does. Look at my current two favourite portable amps, Leckerton’s UHA760 and the Vorzuge Pure, both sound great but are about as mundane and generic to look as it gets, had they been at Munich, I may well have missed them both. That’s just how life goes and it wasn’t the case for Aune. The amp certainly has quite an interesting design, with a leather like finish on one side and then on the other side we have the real kicker. There are two glass panels that give you a look into the guts of the amp, illuminating green when switched on. Obviously it can’t all be great and for some reason they have put made in china, the website and some approvals (and a freaking bin with a cross through it) in bold underneath. They sort of take something away from a very clean and unique looking amp, if they have to exist on the amp print them tiny on the bottom or something, out of sight and out of mind, instead they are always there, gnawing away at my sanity….
Now the amp is quite simple in options although it does have one switch that is a little bit interesting. The B1s biggest feature if you will is the fact it is all Class A, something normally associated with bigger and gruntier gear. You also have the ability to switch between two static current options for it, with a lower 20MA setting and a higher 40MA setting. Just above that we have the gain switch that lets you choose between 5 and 15dB and below is the power switch. As I have said this an amp that lives only in the analogue domain so we only have a 3.5mm single ended input and output, both of which flank the volume pot. Finally on the left side we have another, less ordinary ability and that is a little button that when pressed, has a LED pulse to let you know how much longer your amp is going to run for.
Other than the soft fabric of the faux leather panels and the glass windows, this amp seems to be all metal, which does account to its hefty 230g weight but does make it incredibly solid as an amp, it’s a lump and I like that. That being said even though they sit in a small recession on the side, the switches are a bit slippery and don’t take a lot of influence to move and while I can live with accidently switching my amp off, I’m not someone who like accidently turning up the gain 10dB with sensitive earphones, my ears are my livelihood and anything that could jeopardise them worries me. However I have tiptoed and not managed to blow my ears up just yet, I just wouldn’t mind a little more resistance. The clunkier switched of my Bakoon seem like a dream in comparison. The same goes for the volume pot, its also doesn’t take a lot of energy to move it and if we had to rate the knob feel, it is not going to sit among my favourites due to it being quite jolty. It also has the ability to get onto the toasty side, maybe causing a sweat patch in your pocket, but the key thing there being I am happy with it in my pocket. Despite its imperfections it is a well built amps, although grab a cleaning cloth to keep the glass looking pretty.
Class A Power
Looking at the specs like most amps it reckons it can driver impedances between 16 and 300 Ohms and like usual, I pay little attention and have little care to what the specs claim. For power we don’t get all the numbers but we do get a rather impressive 100mw into 300 ohms. Before we even start to talk about how it does with headphones, I want to talk about how it handles my favourite method of on the go listening, IEMs. I still get amazed how much portable amps neglect IEMs, which was just the start of our love for the Leckerton because that’s it main goal. The Aune does good and bad, lets start with the good news. It is wow silent, no hiss, no hum, dark background, IEM listening is unaltered… for the most part. Which takes us to the bad news, the low gain, is too high, substitute +5dB to -5dB and I think I might be getting rather excited. What doesn’t excite me is only being able to use 10% of the volume pot with most of my IEMs, with the 100 ohm Kennerton Algiz being the lone exception. Now it hasn’t stopped me, but don’t expect fine listening level tunings, or any quite listening without channel imbalances. Now for IEMs the gain wasn’t the only oversight because this also has an output impedance on the higher side at 10 ohms. Ideally for IEMs we wants 2 ohms or less, so this is a touch high and does have the ability to skew frequency response or over dampen bass. This all being said, I honestly haven’t found any horrendous matches out of my CIEM collection, from the models I have of course had the chance to try with but of course, I just can’t confidently say that it wont change some major characteristics of your IEM.
When you plug in some big headphones and you feel the energy that the amp can put out you do wonder how it can still manage silence with IEMs. Take the 300 ohms Sennheiser HD800, I’m running the amp in low gain (another sign that low gain is too high) and I’m getting a well bodied and capable sound. Obviously we are getting the limitation of the amp itself shine through although we will get to them later but all in all the signature of the amp actually plays nicely with the HD800, its no Bakoon HPA-01M but at the price it provides some of the key HD800 selling points coming through. Also worth noting that when using high impedance headphones and harder to driver planar magnetics it is worth switching up the class A output to 40MA. It’s a subtle difference but I feel we get a touch more authority in the sound. Sadly though it also takes a solid 8 hour battery life to much more like 5. Regarding the ZMF Blackwoods, I found the amp showed some signs of difficulty for the first time, stepping up to high gain but not providing ultimate bass extension or dynamic ability. The sound was still controlled and clear though and done better than even the hiss fest that is the ALO RX MK3-B in balanced and unless you have a Shanling M3, I don’t see any DAP that could do with out the addition of this juice box if you are to power some planars and can’t afford a Bakoon. Its not perfection but at the price it is darn impressive.
Basking in the Sunlight
That’s one way of summarising the sound of these. We have the warmth of the sun and that causes you to feel all relaxed and mellow, no aggression exists, you’re not erratic, you might come across a little soft but that’s ok, its easy living. An odd metaphor I know but that’s how this amp comes across. The B1 definitely has a sound signature in mind and that’s one that just isn’t ever going to give you too much of anything. Don’t let my odd sentence confuse you into thinking this is a super warm amp, instead it just seems a touch week in the rumble area and is a bit spongey and gooey in the mid-bass, a little soft on impact with a decay that isn’t rushed. Don’t get in mind that this is a bassy amp, that’s something like the iQube V5, which is also a few steps ahead in warmth. The speed with this amp is a bit on the slower side, but that’s the only real technical disadvantage I am hearing along with the potential for a little better extension either side. Because of the speed everything is a bit slow on decay and we also have instrument separation that sometimes gets a little mumbled and could present space a bit more freely. Comparing to more expensive amps that is the biggest difference, it isn’t quite as tight, precise or clear, but sometimes on less complicated tracks the difference is much less obvious.
Paired with the PWAK120-B
The midrange is thick and bodied, still not rushed on decay and you end up with a smooth and bold midrange. You get a rich timbre, that arguably isn’t 100% natural but doesn’t sound off in the slightest, instruments are just a bit on the softer side, again another reason why this is such a pleasant listen. Moving onto the treble and it has no recession what so ever, it is clear and isn’t in the slightest overcooked, so don’t expect any sense of unwanted sharpness although it won’t be taming any headphones that suffer from sibilance. Like the bass I do unfortunately notice that extension is not endless, but it isn’t disrupting my listening at all. The soundstage seems to do well on a horizontal plane although sadly doesn’t back it up with as impressive depth, but there is enough space and it doesn’t sound congested, which is the main thing, especially when I am used to such space on my HD800s.
All in all we have a sound that leans to a bit of warmth and generally sounds soft but full. While due to its instrument isolation, it feels a little step behind stuff like my Vorzuge and Leckerton, other than it does more right than wrong, which I can’t always expect at this price, just look at them awful Sybasonic amps I got and couldn’t even bring myself to review, this is light years ahead. Ok maybe my Vorzuge has better bass depth and hits harder throughout and my Leckerton has more information up top, is clearer and also has much more details shining through and then you realise they are both a hair above double the price, I think Aune are showing some impressive value and with discrete class A circuitry have a great sounding amp one that warrants comparisons with the very best in this category of products.
How About an IEM Edition?
I use three portable amps on a regular basis and each one has a big reason. You have the Leckerton UHA-760 and Vorzuge Pure which are both very silent (760 edges ahead) and offer me neutrality with the former and big dynamics and lushness with the latter. The third amp is my Bakoon and that’s for harder to driver stuff, such as my closed planars because it does so at such a high technical level. When you look at this it comes close to being a great IEM amp but comes up short but does have a great ability with harder to driver stuff. Maybe that’s its place in the market and if you want something you can pocket and give you juice for your cans, this is going to be your best option under £200 (closed can brilliance would be this paired with a ZMF Headphone, try and convince of better value elsewhere), I am confident in that. For me though I wish this had better IEM ability and I truly want to see Aune bring out a version of this amp with under 1 ohm output impedance and much lower gain, while keeping the quiet and impressive discrete circuitry because while dead quiet, I cant bring myself to recommend this for IEMs, even though I am enjoying my Heir 10.As with it as I write this. For the rest of it I am happy with what Aune have done with this amp, putting some time into both the external and internal design to make this a great performing and stunning looking portable piece of electronics and if it just had less gain, this would have grabbed our Great Value award, but as it stands, we just aren’t there… yet!