FD1 Unboxing and Accessories.
This DAC/amp arrived in a thin rectangular box with just a basic square outline of FD1 that reminded me of a small DAP. Had no idea what to expect, but the packaging box itself was quite thin, suggesting that FD1 will probably be on a thinner side as well. And indeed, it was. Besides the FD1, you will also find what Hiby refers to as “magic sticker” reusable sticky gel pad that grips to anything and was provided to attach FD1 to R2 or any other digital source. Despite its crazy grip, you can still remove it without a problem or any residue, and when it starts to lose its “sticky” effect, you just rinse it with water and let it dry to become “fresh” again.
Also, besides manual and warranty card, Hiby included a comprehensive set of USB interconnect cables. A very short Type-C cable has L-shaped usb connectors with one labeled “Hiby” which supposed to be connected to R2 or any other digital source and another one without a label going to FD1. Also, a short Type-C cable with straight usb connectors, one labeled “Host” which supposed to be connected to R2 and the other labeled “Hiby” going to FD1. And the 3rd USB cable with Type A to Type C cable to connect FD1 to your computer for use as USB DAC.
FD1 Design and Under the hood.
FD1 is probably one of the first small USB DAC designs where the manufacturer put extra thought into usability, not just the sound quality. There are way too many pigtail adapters, convenient to use with phones that don’t have 3.5mm jack anymore, or more common usb-stick DACs dangling of usb-c interconnect cable. Nobody really thinks how their product is going to be attached to a smartphone or to a DAP to make it more convenient to carry.
The size of FD1 is 61.5mm x 61.5mm x 9.5mm, nearly matching the outline of R2, and the weight is 71.5g. It is not heavy, though you do feel some heft in your hand when holding this flat square aluminum alloy “coaster”. That flat square shape makes it unique and convenient to use with the included sticky pad to attach to most surfaces, such as your phone or your DAP. Plus, you have either angled or straight connector short usb cables to choose whichever one will have the cleanest connection in your setup.
Inside, you got a more common dual ES9118 DAC, along with a dual crystal oscillator, and similar 32bit/384kHz and DSD128 support as R2. But unlike R2, besides single ended 3.5mm port (also supporting cables with a wired remote), you also find 2.5mm balanced output, with ports (3.5mm and 2.5mm) located on either side of usb-C port, something you have to keep in mind when connecting the cable so you don’t block the headphone output in use. Plus, you get a tri-color status LED. But there are still more interesting features.
When you look closer, you will find a peculiar switch between 1.0 and 2.0 corresponding to USB1.0 and USB2.0. As many probably aware, these types of USB DACs are easily recognized by Android/iOS and the latest Win10 machines, but sometimes not recognized by older Windows 7/8 or early Win10 builds, requiring additional drivers. The switch makes it compatible with older machines so no driver is required. The only drawback with “driverless” USB1.0 setup, it will not support DSD.
Another very useful feature you will find on FD1 are Play/Pause and Volume +/- buttons. Some USB DACs do feature volume control, but hardly anybody has Play/Pause remote control. Just think about it, you have external audio interface connected to your phone and every time you want to skip or to play/pause the audio you have to turn the display on, go to the app, and find playback control touch buttons. Here, everything is under your fingertips. Single click to Play/Pause and double or triple click to Skip Next/Prev. And you don’t need to look for volume buttons on your phone either, volume could be controlled straight from FD1.
I tested FD1 with my aging Galaxy S9 smartphone, Hiby R2 DAP and some other DAPs, and my Thinkpad T480s Win10 laptop. With all these sources I was able to control playback and volume remotely from FD1 and directly from the source. Plus, the sound was nearly identical regardless of the source.
I do completely understand, playback and volume controls are physically impossible to implement in usb-dac dongles and usb-dac sticks are small as well. But for those manufacturers who already implement volume control, why not take it one step further with play/pause? Either way, I’m glad Hiby thought of it. The convenience of FD1 attached flat to the back of my phone with an addition of balanced output and full remote playback and volume control is priceless.
FD1 Sound Analysis.
In my sound analysis of FD1, I found its tonality to be a little brighter than R2 by itself, especially noticeable in mids where R2 sounds smoother and warmer, with a fuller body. But overall sound performance is similar when comparing R2 vs FD1 3.5mm. But when switching to FD1 2.5mm, the perception of the soundstage gets wider and the background sounds a little bit blacker.
When tested with R2 and Odin (balanced termination) and compared to a few other USB DACs, here is what I found.
FD1 vs iBasso DC01 – brighter tonality of DC01 creates a slightly more open airier soundstage with a little better imaging. DC01 is noticeably brighter in comparison, with crisper treble, while FD1 is smoother, warmer, more organic in tonality. That is pretty much the biggest difference in sound. But functionality is on a whole different level. DC01 gain is high and without volume control I had to keep R2 volume at 6, and there are no playback or volume controls on DC01, while FD1 has more flexibility with independent volume control and play/pause/skip. Also, DC01 has some hissing with sensitive iems. Pricing between these two is similar.
FD1 vs Hidizs S9 – a little wider soundstage of S9 is also due to perception of its more revealing tonality. Not as noticeably different as DC01, but S9 is brighter, being a more revealing tuned DAC/amp while FD1 will be smoother, warmer, more organic in tonality. Both offer 2.5mm and 3.5mm outputs, but FD1 has independent volume and playback controls. Furthermore, S9 is more expensive.
FD1 vs Lotoo S1 – this is probably not exactly a fair comparison since S1 is a higher end DAC/amp that cost 3x as much, but their tonality is not too far off actually. Both have a smoother and more natural tonality, though S1 has a better resolution and also wider soundstage. Both have single ended and balanced outputs and volume control, while FD1 also has the advantage of a playback control. Of course, price should be taken into consideration.