FiiO BTR1K review: no headphone jack, no problem

“FiiO’s BTR1K Bluetooth Amplifier and DAC is an affordable option to replace Type-C to 3.5mm dongles, while getting better sound output”

Of all the smartphones I’ve reviewed, I have always had a soft spot for devices from LG’s stables. The Korean giant is quite possibly the only smartphone manufacturer which designs its devices with audiophiles in mind. However, if your current daily driver isn’t an LG flagship, then chances are it lacks the good ol’ headphone jack. Now, if you’re like me and resent using the dongle, then I have some good news for you.

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Recently, audio giant FiiO launched the BTR1K in India, a Bluetooth amp and DAC which lets buyers listen to their favourite wired earphones wirelessly. I managed to get my hands on a unit and after testing it for over a week here’s what I make of it.

Design and I/O

Here’s the thing – audiophile or not, I know most buyers would think twice before buying the FiiO BTR1K if it’s bigger than a thimble. On that note, the FiiO BTR1K is extremely compact, and therefore, the unit won’t take any space in your pockets or the backpack. In fact, the size and the shape of the FiiO BTR1K reminded me of Apple’s iPod Shuffle, which is one of the tiniest music players you could get your hands on back in the day. What’s more, the BTR1K features a clip towards the back which you can use to attach it to your jacket or shirt, thereby ensuring the unit doesn’t dangle in your pockets when you’re out and about or in a gym.

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As far as the materials used for the construction are concerned, the FiiO BTR1K employs a two-piece housing, with the top of the device composed of metal while the base makes use of plastic. The construction on the unit is top notch and during my time with the device, I didn’t come across any wobbliness in or around the chassis. That said, I would’ve liked for the unit to come with sweatproof certification, as it would’ve made using the device in the gym that more stress-free.

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As for the I/O, the FiiO BTR1K ships with a USB Type-C port at the bottom, meaning you can charge it using the same cable most modern-day smartphones ship with. The device features a volume rocker towards the side which also doubles up as a track skip button along with a multi-function toggle which can be used to force the device into pairing mode or play/pause a song. There’s a toggle to turn the device on or off positioned towards the front, along with an RGB LED indicator which interestingly, changes its colour to denote which audio codec is being used to relay the songs from your smartphone over to the BTR1K. Therefore, if it’s not violet, then you’re probably using Apple’s AAC or SBC codec and not Qualcomm’s aptX HD.

Performance and battery life

As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, the FiiO BTR1K isn’t just a Bluetooth transceiver, but a full-fledged DAC. Consequently, not only does it make your wired earphones wireless, it also enhances the IEM’s sound signature and amplifies its sound output. To do so, the device makes use of a high-performance AK4376A DAC which offers a 32-bit bit-depth, thereby giving buyers 4,294,967,294 data points (since a 32-bit register can store 2^32 values) to play with. 

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Now, you don’t have to tell me that the audio files recorded in 32-bit will be ginormous in size (up to 70-80MB), and will be overkill unless I don’t pair the BTR1K with excellent, high-quality IEMs. Well, despite that, I could notice a perceivable difference in 24-bit, 192KHz FLACs, as well as music, streamed directly from services like Apple Music and Spotify.

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To my ears, the unit lifted the low-end output ever so slightly and made the beats ‘slam’ a tad bit harder. The mid-range was left untouched for the most part, but the highs sounded relatively cleaner too. For instance, power chords in The Killers’ Mr Brightside didn’t come across as a garbled mess when I listened to the song on the Beyerdynamic Beat BYRD which had been paired to the FiiO BTR1K. It’s noteworthy that the BTR1K also amplifies an IEM’s sound output, and the Beat BYRD got uncomfortably loud with the volume set to max on my phone and the Bluetooth DAC.

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Unfortunately, try as I might, I couldn’t get the unit to function as a USB DAC. I scoured the interwebs searching for a solution, used the BTR1K on both a MAC and a PC but to no avail. What’s more surprising is that the brand claims that the BTR1K doesn’t need any special drivers when connected to a laptop for it to function as a USB DAC. I’ve reached out to a representative from the company for more information and I’ll update the review as soon as I get an answer.

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As for battery life, the FiiO BTR1K lasted me a full six hours off a single charge. That’s quite the number, and it’s not too far off from the company’s eight-hour claim either. What’s more, thanks to the presence of a Type-C connector, I was able to top up the BTR1K’s battery without much fuss.

Verdict

The FiiO BTR1K retails in the realm of Rs 4,000 and for the price, I feel that it’s a solid buy. Not only is it a great dongle-replacement, but it also betters the quality of the songs you listen to as well. We’re headed to an era of jack-less smartphones and I feel that the BTR1K is a must have in every smartphone user’s arsenal.

Editor’s rating: 4 / 5

Pros 

  • Compact and lightweight 
  • Bluetooth DAC works as advertised 
  • Great battery life

Cons 

  • USB DAC feature doesn’t work 
Photos by Raj Rout

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