I recently purchased my first dedicated headphone amplifier: a FiiO E10 USB DAC. I found that FiiO had a vendor forum on Head-Fi.org, and FiiO representatives were gathering feedback about a new guitar headphone amp they were developing. When they offered to ship review units to guitarists, I took them up on the offer. Full disclosure before we get any further: FiiO has provided this review unit to me at no cost.  I’d like it even if it wasn’t free, and would buy it to keep it.

The FiiO G01 Guitar Headphone Amplifier

The FiiO G01 Guitar Headphone Amplifier on my small mixing board,

The FiiO G01 is a small, metal box (70 x 47 x 23 mm) with 3mm headphone and “aux in” jacks, a USB Micro-B connector for charging (USB-A-to-USB-Micro-B cable is included), a power switch, and three dials for Drive, Tone, and Volume. It features a pop-out 6mm instrument jack that, when retracted, fits snugly in a recessed area. It has an LED that indicates power and/or charging state.  There are black silicone bands around it that act as bumpers, and another set of red bands was included in the package.

The G01 is powered by an internal battery that’s charged over a powered USB connection. I plugged the included USB cable into an Apple AC adapter to charge the G01. I’ve used the unit for about 1.5 hours and haven’t had to recharge it yet.

I’m primarily a bass player, so I first tried the G01 with my Fender Geddy Lee Jazz Bass. I usually play through a SansAmp Bass Driver DI with a little overdrive; I found the Drive control on the G01 to be a bit powerful on the bass.  I only used it a little bit.  The Tone control acted on the higher frequencies; I dialed it in to about halfway.  Unfortunately, there are no numbers on the dials – they would be useful as one might use the G01 with different guitars or want to practice with different settings for multiple types of music.  The adjustments must be made by ear alone.  The sound I got out of a pair of connected Sennheiser HD203 headphones was pleasing, and I practiced for a while, forgetting that I wasn’t playing through an amp or DI.

I connected the Aux In to two audio sources for testing: a Google Cr-48 Chromebook playing songs from Google Music, and a iPod Nano.  There are no controls on the G01 for that input, so level-setting must be done on the source.  It was easy to dial in a nice blend of bass guitar with the music for practicing.  I practiced along with songs for about 30 minutes at a time during the review, and didn’t ever feel uncomfortable with the sound.

My father-in-law brought over a guitar he built with neck and bridge Carvin “Allan Holdsworth” pickups, and I used the G01 with it.  The guitar had all the pickup mode selections available, so I was able to play in many different modes (single-coil, double-coil, neck only, etc.).  I thought the clean sound was impeccable.  I’m not an electric guitarist (when I play guitar, it’s acoustic), but I cranked up the Drive setting to the max to see what kind of a sound I could get out of the G01.  It was a pretty pleasing overdrive with a bit of distortion that sounded neat cranking out some of the metal riffs I know.  I can see electric guitarists liking the G01’s sound.

In summary: I’ve never been in the guitar headphone amp market, but now I see the utility of the devices.  I recommend you check out the FiiO G01 before you buy anything else.  I’ll be incorporating headphones into my practice regimen now, which should allow me to practice at odd times where it’s not practical to play thorough my amp.  I can also see it being useful for the traveling musician to use during downtime.

Check out my set of G01 pics out on Flickr.

I cross posted this at Head-Fi.