Lotoo, a well-known digital audio player (DAP) manufacturer decided to release its first USB dongle – the PAW S1 – to provide an alternative to current choices in the market.
Lotoo is definitely not a stranger for those who have been in the audiophile community for a long time. Lotoo is a professional audio equipment manufacturer founded in 1999. The initial focus of Lotoo was on professional radio station system integration. With the portable audio market blooming with Apple’s iPod launch, Lotoo decided to embark into the DAP market.
A fact that cannot be denied is that Lotoo has the top-level professional audio technology R&D team in Asia. And with their long experience in this industry, they have never failed to fulfill the community’s needs in audio quality.
Beginning with the iPhone 7, a trend of the audio jack removal in smartphones grew. With this design change, the need for USB dongles increases significantly. More and more audio gear manufacturers like iBasso and xDuoo started to design USB dongles which help consumers to solve the issue of headphone jack absences.
Lotoo decided to join the force to provide alternatives to audiophiles when choosing a decent portable DAC/Amp for mobile – which improves the sonic performance from ordinary dongles provided by phone manufacturers. How different is Lotoo’s first PAW S1 compared to major manufacturers who are already in the market for a long period? We will take a look in this article!
- Neutral sound signature
- Supreme build quality
- PMEQ/ATE setting
- 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output
- Powerful output power
- Firmware updates
- Usable on plenty of platforms
- Picky OTG cable
- Mobile data interference
Lotoo PAW S1 comes with a small packaging. The photo and model name are printed on the box. Turning to the side of the box, users can read the technical specifications from there. At the back of the box, Lotoo listed down some of the unique selling points for PAW S1.
Opening the cover, the Lotoo PAW S1 is lying securely in the box, with foam around it to provide good protection against shock while transporting. Underneath the PAW S1, there is user guide and warranty information. Users are advised to read the user manual before using the PAW S1. It will guide you through the setup procedure and settings.
After all the paperwork, users can find a USB Type-C to USB Type-C OTG cable. This can be used for Android smartphones or the latest iPad or MacBook which are using USB Type-C. For those who are using an older computer like my 6 year-old Asus laptop, a USB Type-C to Type-A converter is provided in the box.
For iPhone users, you can get a USB Type-C to Lightning cable from Lotoo while ordering the PAW S1. I would highly recommend this particular cable because I realised some of the OTG cables don’t work well with PAW S1, including Apple USB Type-C to Lightning cable.
- Supported format: PCM 32k-384kHz, DSD64 and DSD128
- Frequency range: 20Hz – 20kHz
- Screen: OLED 128 x 32
- Weight: 27.1g
- Signal to noise ratio (SNR): 123dB on 3.5mm and 122dB on 4.4mm
- Max output power: 70mW/ch @ 32 ohms for 3.5mm and 120mW/ch @ 32 ohms for 4.4mm
- THD+N: -106dB for low gain and -108dB for high gain
- USB port: USB Type-C
- Noise level: -118dBu for 3.5mm and -114dBu for 4.4mm
- Size: 66mm x 22mm x 13mm
- Digital analogue converter (DAC) chipset: AKM4377
Design and Build
Similar to Lotoo’s latest release of PAW Gold Touch and PAW 6000, the PAW S1 has a black aluminium body, which gives it a classic and sturdy feel. On the front side of the dongle, there’s a screen – which is rare in USB design. This makes PAW S1 to be special compared to other dongles.
From the screen, users can obtain information like volume, gain mode and equalizer mode. When powering up other dongles, which typically don’t come with screens, I normally will turn the volume to zero, to ensure it does not damage my eardrum accidentally if the volume is too high. I don’t have this issue with PAW S1 because I can gauge the volume from the number provided on the screen.
Moving to the bottom of the dongle, there are two audio outputs: 3.5mm TRS unbalanced and 4.4mm TRRRS balanced output, from Pentaconn. This is another unique selling point for PAW S1. This is my first dongle that comes with dual audio output. The balanced output can provide users with a lower noise floor and higher output power. I’m always after balanced output and this implementation really won my heart.
Why struggle to choose between balanced and unbalanced audio output when you can have both? I think this could be a new tagline for Lotoo in publicising their PAW S1.
At the top of the dongle, there is the USB Type-C input port. Simply use the provided OTG cable and connect the PAW S1 to your devices – be it computers, smartphones or tablets, PAW S1 can work flawlessly, without a need for a driver or application.
It works well with all of my devices (Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android). The only issue I experience is that PAW S1 is picky with the OTG cable. Not all OTG cables can be recognized.
There are three buttons on the side of PAW S1. These three buttons can be used to adjust a series of settings – PMEQ/ATE mode, gain mode and volume control. The volume control can be adjusted by pressing the plus(+) or minus(-) button. For gain mode and PMEQ/ATE adjustment, press the “Fn” key to enter the desired adjustment page, and use the plus(+) or minus(-) button to toggle up or down on the page.
PAW S1 can be connected to gaming consoles like PlayStation, XBox and Nintendo Switch, too. Simply press and hold the “Fn” while connecting it to the gaming console. Your gaming console should recognise it immediately. To obtain a better result, set the ATE to “Game” mode. Sit back, relax and game with high quality music from your gaming console.
This shall be the most interesting section for this article. To analyse the sonic performance of PAW S1, I paired it with my iPhone XR, Asus laptop and MacBook Air 2020. Theoretically speaking, as long as the file used on three devices are the same, the sound quality should not change much when all are hooked to PAW S1. Tested and proven, all three devices provide consistent findings.
I paired it with multiple in-ear monitors (IEMs) to obtain a more reliable analysis. Here are the IEMs I used while analysing the sonic performance of PAW S1:
PAW S1 offers a very low noise floor on both 3.5mm and 4.4mm audio outputs. With sensitive IEMs like Campfire Audio, the background is silent without music playback. I am glad with this performance because I experienced noises on iBasso DC02 when the music playback paused.
One flaw I experienced while pairing it to my iPhone XR – whenever I am on my mobile data, there will be a noticeable signal interference on PAW S1 whenever music playback is paused.
Sound Signature and soundstage
The sound signature of PAW S1 is neutral, having a slight touch on the warmer side. It reminds me of my Lotoo PAW 5000 mkII. In terms of sound signature, they have similarities from various aspects. The presentations from PAW S1 have a meaty and full body. Musical notes are flowing smoothly to the audiences’ ear canals.
The soundstage of PAW S1 is above average. Despite the notes presented with a fuller body, it doesn’t extend too much, ‘causing the stage to be congested or saturated. They are in the sweet spot, between lean and fat. During the reviewing period, I didn’t experience muddiness because of congestion from the PAW S1. It can handle different genres well.
The lows of PAW S1 is meaty, with a more obvious presence due to the slightly warm sound signature. On dynamic driver powered IEMs like the IE400 Pro, the sub-bass has good rumbles to bring in a good amount of excitement while listening. For basshead audiophiles, PAW S1 can definitely offer you with sufficient power, bringing your current “bassful” IEMs to a whole new level.
Despite having a deep and rumbly sub-bass, it’s well-controlled by PAW S1. The decay is speedy, minimizing the chance of bleeding of bass towards the mids. This maintains the high precision and accuracy in PAW S1’s presentation. While listening to ItsFit Fusion, the slightly shy mid-bass has been boosted a little, yielding a smoother transition from lows to mids. This is definitely one of the recommended pairings.
The mids are having warmth from the lows, resulting in a lively and emotional vocal presentation. The mids are organic and natural with the warmth. There is a good amount of air and space in the mid frequency. Campfire Audio IO received numerous negative comments on its inorganic mids. Pairing it to the PAW S1, the IO mids turn more neutral, with better body and decent dynamic.
The separation between instruments and vocals has been done well by PAW S1 too. Another con in IO is the separation. It can get messy when the track gets complicated. With assistance from PAW S1, the staging and separation improved. The position of each instrument can be recognised more easily with PAW S1 in the combo. Despites having warmth from the lows, the mids do not become sluggish. It still maintains a high resolution in terms of fidelity.
The highs are well-extended in PAW S1. It has a good amount of space and air injected to the presentation, preventing the treble from being too stiff. Pairing the NXEars Basso, which has slightly bright highs to the PAW S1, the highs seem to be “tamed” by the warmth from the lows and mids. PAW S1 is definitely a good savior for those who have lower tolerance towards the bright highs.
The treble performance is neutral and realistic. Cymbals are sounding crisp, without harshness or fatigueness. The decays have been handled well by the PAW S1 too. The treble does not get distorted while extending to higher frequencies. The notes slowly fade off and disappear. This maintains a clean and neat overall presentation with low level of distortion. The high quality treble improves the overall fidelity as well, making PAW S1 a great contestant in the USB dongle competition.
The Lotoo PAW S1 is a good addition to Lotoo’s current lineup, especially in this era where the demand for USB dongles is high. For those who are looking for a reference-grade USB dongle, the PAW S1 is definitely the best choice. It comes with dual audio outputs, which is rare in USB dongles. Despite additional audio outputs being implemented, the form factor of PAW S1 remains small.
Besides the audio outputs, the PMEQ/ATE setting on PAW S1 is definitely another unique selling point. It can address your needs under different conditions, be it gaming or watching movies; tt’s not only a USB dongle for casual music listening.
PAW S1 is a great success as the first USB dongle from Lotoo. It addressed the majority of the needs for audiophiles. By connecting it to your smartphone, it can be considered as an alternative for DAP choices. There are still some flaws such as picky on OTG cable and interference of mobile data signals, or else it would be perfect!