Lotoo Paw S1 USB DAC/AMP Review: Top-Tier Sound In Compact Package
If you are an audio enthusiast like I am, you are already familiar with Lotoo. After all, they are the brand behind the ultimately famous Lotoo Paw Gold digital audio player. Apart from the flagship Paw Gold, the brand has multiple successful players like the Lotoo Paw Gold Touch, Lotoo Paw 6000, and more. Last year, Lotoo announced its debutant Portable USB DAC/AMP, the Lotoo Paw S1. It adopts an AK4377 DAC chip with an independent OPA1622 chip, supports high-resolution 32bit PCM and DSD128 signal decoding.
I know the market of Type-C DAC/AMPs is on the rise for their ease of use directly with their smartphones. But I personally always preferred using high-resolution digital audio players over USB DAC/AMPs as I am not comfortable in using my smartphone for music(with all the notifications disturbing in between). With all the praise the Lotoo Paw S1 was getting and also its premium brand image, I was intrigued to try out the PAW S1. Luckily I was approached by Concept Kart(Lotoo’s Dealer in my country), they asked if I would like to try the PAW S1, With all the praises around, how could I deny it. So here it is with me since the past week where I used this primarily as my main source of music with my Samsung S6 Lite.
Lotoo Paw S1 was provided to me as a part of the review tour for about a week. I am not paid or affiliated by anyone(Lotoo or Concept kart) to write positive or negative about the device. All impressions in this blog are completely my own based on my own experience with the device. If you are based in India you can buy the Paw S1 from Concept Kart from the link below.
If you are an international reader, Lotoo Paw S1 is available with HiFiGo shipping worldwide. You can buy it from them from the link below(No link is affiliated).
Unboxing & Accessories:-
Lotoo Paw S1 comes in a small black box with an image of the device printed on the front along with the Lotoo branding logo. On one side we have the S/N no, on the other we have its technical specs printed in English and Chinese languages. We also have features printed at the back in multiple languages. Upon opening the packaging we get a direct glimpse at the Paw S1 sitting firmly in its foam cutout layer. Below this layer, we have some documentation(User Guide, Warranty details, Stickers, and firmware instructions), a USB Type-C to Type-C connector cable, and a USB Type-C to USB type-A connector. I also got a Lightning cable with the Paw S1 that is packed separately in a polybag to use with my apple devices.
>Lotoo PAW S1.
>Type-C to Type-C connector cable.
>Type-C to Type-A connector.
>Lightning connector cable(available separately).
Design, Build Quality, & Functionality:-
Lotoo is a premium brand and this is reflected in its products. Once I got to try a Lotoo PAW 6000 at a friend and that device was built to last. Same can be said about the PAW S1 here. It is a brilliantly built device that has an OLED display right on the front, an fn(function) key and two navigation keys on the side, a 3.5mm single-ended and a 4.4mm balanced headphone output ports at the bottom. The Type-C connector port is located at the top of the device. The Paw S1 itself has a rich matte finish that looks simply elegant and beautiful.
The OLED display looks fantastic, it shows different features such as active gain mode, volume level, and active bitrate too. The Fn(function) key allows the user to navigate through three menu levels, the first will allow you to change volume, the second level has EQ presets, and the third allows the users to change the gain mode. To change any settings on any level we use the navigation keys.
My chain for this review is either iPhone 11 with a lightning connector or its Samsung S6 Lite with a normal Type-C connection.
Lotoo Paw S1 has a very organic sound reproduction. It doesn’t color the output in any possible way(using EQ presets does affect the sound will get to that part later in this review). The output is presented on a dead silent noise floor with great clarity. Lotoo Paw S1 paired to a normal smartphone/Tablet like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Lite that I have, turns the connected device into a high-resolution musical source. It supports decoding for high-resolution PCM and DSD files(I Used UAPP on my Galaxy Tablet).
I won’t go deep into Lower-end, Mid, or Treble presentation as the Paw S1 has a fairly neutral and natural sound. But I would like to discuss the synergy of different IEMs and Headphones I paired with the Paw S1 for this review. So we will begin with Kinera’s entry-level beauty, the Kinera TYR.
Lotoo Paw S1 & Kinera TYR:-
TYR is an entry-level bullet-shaped single micro-dynamic IEM from Kinera. It is fairly easy to drive, can be powered straight off the S6 Lite too. Then why do we need the Lotoo Paw S1 here? Well for starters most of the devices don’t have a 3.5mm port right!! But the main difference here is the fact that with the Lotoo Paw S1 the synergy is super good. The background noise is non-existential. Like literally a blank space where we get to hear every single detail with great clarity. Apart from the dead silent background, Paw S1 also brings out a better, refined sound with the TYR. The sub-bass here with the TYR is extraordinary for its price. Great pairing.
Lotoo Paw S1 & NiceHCK Lofty:-
NiceHCK Lofty, the pure BE diaphragm flagship from NiceHCK is a great set. Straight out of S6 Lite, the Lofty has an intimate, kind of muffled presentation. But Paw S1 brings the best out of Lofty with an open stage feel, cleaner background, better bass depth. Lofty itself has a fantastic bass response but it surely needs a good and clean source to sound its best. Lotoo Paw S1 can easily act as that required extra punch of power that helps the pair perform at its peak. The bass response here is just heavenly!!
Lotoo Paw S1 & NiceHCK EBX21:-
EBX21 is a fantastic pair of earbuds. EBX21 can be driven fairly easily straight off a 3.5mm jack but it does take benefit from a better source. The best part of EBX21 is its natural tonality in vocals and mid-range, Lotoo Paw S1 holds on to that and presents the users with clean sound output. A brilliant synergy between these two!!
Lotoo Paw S1 & Vision Ears VE8:-
VE8, the ultimate flagship from the house of Vision Ears. It is one of the most detailed sets I have heard to date. While it is very easy to drive, it benefits from a better source in terms of layering, transient response, and producing a wide sound field. Vision Ears VE8 is quite a sensitive pair. With the Lotoo Paw S1, the multi-BA set performs amazingly well. It doesn’t feel underpowered or lacking in any department, it’s like a match made in heaven. Bass, fast deep & thumpy, Mids, rich & accurate, Treble, smooth, non-fatiguing, and an overall natural & organic tuning.
Lotoo Paw S1 & Hifiman Sundara:-
Sundara is a planar driver headphone while its impedance and sensitivity ratings say it can be driven easily, the Hifiman Sundara is fairly hard to power. It takes some extra juice in bringing out a powerful bass response. With the Lotoo Paw S1, I tried it with its stock 3.5mm cable, single-ended connection, sadly the Paw S1 wasn’t enough for it. Even though the headphone output is at an adequate listening level at 85/100 volume on high gain mode, it misses out on extensions at both ends. Though I must say, Sundara takes a lot of juice out of my desktop amp to sound its best. I am pretty sure Paw S1 will nail Sundara with a 4.4mm cable, sadly I don’t have any 4.4mm cable for the headphone with me to check. Don’t worry I have to put Topping NX4/xDuoo XD05 Bal behind M3X for Sundara too!!
In terms of SQ alone, PAW S1 easily rivals up to mid-range DAPs like the Shanling M3X that I own. It sounds so clean and organic that I lost track of time listening with the Paw S1. Where it lacks, I can say it lacks some extra juice with it. It is more than enough to power any IEM/earbuds in the market even low power requiring HPs will be good too, but when it comes to high-power taking HPs like the Sundara using a balanced 4.4mm cable is suggested by me for a better experience.
While the Paw S1 didn’t support MQA decoding straight out of the box, Lotoo recently released an upgrade to add MQA decoding functionality to the Paw S1. I have reviewed the S1 on its stock firmware.
Difference Between 3.5mm & 4.4mm Outputs:-
On my last day with the Lotoo Paw S1, a friend of mine sent me Soranik ION 2S IEM with a balanced 2.5mm cable with 2.5mm-4.4mm and 2.5mm-3.5mm connectors. I noticed two main differences between the 3.5mm and 4.4mm connections, firstly the output power is slightly better with the 4.4mm balanced port. The same IEM that takes 50/100 volume on low gain mode via 3.5mm single-ended connection takes about 35/100 in the 4.4mm for a similar output level. Secondly, the output via the balanced 4.4mm connection port is cleaner in terms of background noise. Tuning & clarity is identical with both the connections.
The best thing with the Lotoo Paw S1 period!! Lotoo has inbuilt multiple presets of EQ that users can use very easily. They bring drastic changes in the sound. EQ presets include Classic, POP, Rock, Techno, Dance, Headphone, Jazz, Full Bass, Far Field, Near Field, Dental, Sweet, Brighter, Radio, Movie, and Game. These are just not there to name, one will notice drastic changes in the sound like for example, with the Pop mode I felt the vocals got more upfront and forward.
Power Drain off the source:-
As well all know USB Type-C DAC/AMPs are mostly dependent on the connected source for power. I don’t notice a heavy drain with my tablet during my usage with the Paw S1. Surely it was a bit faster than normal drain(around 10% in about 1.5 hours)but hey I was using Sundara on it at high-gain mode so that’s acceptable. I won’t say Paw S1 drains a lot of power off your connected device.
Lotoo Paw S1 Vs Shanling M3X: The Ultimate Battle Between A Portable DAC/AMP and a Dedicated Music Player:-
M3X surely has better driving power as compared to the Lotoo Paw S1. Volume matching, VE8 sounds 30/100 on the low gain in M3X and 50/100 high gain on Paw S1. Both have a clean background with a natural tone for vocals and instruments. The best part is both the M3X and Paw S1 have an organic tonality. In terms of dynamic, transient response I can say both the M3X and Paw S1 are quite identical. It’s really amazing to see a 200$ DAC/AMP competes well with a DAP priced almost double its price.
Final Words For Lotoo Paw S1:-
I went into the Lotoo Paw S1 eyes closed with zero expectations. I don’t like using Type-C DAC/AMPs with my smartphone, in fact, I don’t like using my smartphone for music purposes. But Lotoo Paw S1 has changed my thinking, my views for portable DAC/AMPs. Its tonality, its clean approach, its highly detailed signature make it worth the asking price. The Lotoo Paw S1 SQ is easily comparable to DAPs priced almost double its price, and that’s a huge thing for a compact device!! I who never liked using USB Type-C DAC/AMPs is now considering to getting the latest Lotoo Paw S2.