-hall like soundstage
-3.5se and 4.4mm bal output
-neutral analytical=not the most musical
-not the cleanest background
-a bit rough and thin (bright) timbre
-device can get quite hot
SOUND VALUE: 8.5/10
FIIO doesn’t need intro, but let say they launch alot of new products lately including numerous DAC-AMP solutions. From budget dongle to flagship DAC-AMP, FIIO just can’t stop producing great audio decoding device. Today I will review one of them, under the more budget minded Jade Audio products line, the FIIO KA3, a ultra portable DAC-AMP dongle with an high end ES9038q2m DAC chip and dual independant amplifier, with single ended and balanced output.
Sound like a deal enh? Let see in this review what it worth!
The KA3 has a black aluminum body and is quite light. Its edges are a little sharp, which is unpleasant under the fingers and could even scratch the skin inadvertently. Connectivity is solid and secure. The USB-C port seems gold-plated as does the balanced 4.4mm port. There is a small light that lights up and lets you know what type of codec rate you are decoding. This type of light metal can get hot sometime.
Since their no buton, you must use FIIO app to control the options. You have high low gain and impedance level choice, which is very nice. You can choose to turn off the color light. Still, at they end its very minimal.
Their no EQ but you can choose between 7 low filters, which will inflict lightly on dynamic range presentation. Goal is to be used with other music player app. Sure, company like Qudelix put the bar high in term of DAC-AMP control app, so I hope FIIO will get inspire by it.
For firmware update, don’t forget to give a look there:
Very impressive for the size and the price, the 240mw@32ohm amping power can drive near everything up to 300ohm, and push the loundness very high. For the dynamic, it doesn’t translate in extra timbre or extra weighty in attack, but a wide airy spatiality and more overall spacious sound. The KA3 can even drive the Sennheiser HD820 to ear damaging level, and it will sound very open and detailed, yet perhaps a bit thinner in timbre and lighter in bass impact. Anyhow, this is to say that you don’t need to be afraid of lacking power with the KA3. As well, you can choose low or high gain (+6db) with FIIO APP. Another very welcome feature is the fact you can choose impedance output too, so you can use the KA3 with sensitive IEM too.
(Pairing: Final A8000, Hisenioor T2U, BQEYZ Autumn, Hifiman Sundara, Sennheiser HD820)
To note: KA3 can decode bitrate up to 32bit/768khz-DSD512, making it among most capable ultra portable DAC-AMP in that regard.
Neutral, gently bright and analytical, with an emphasis on rendering clarity without being too sharp. The sub-bass is flatter than the mid bass. The KA3 delivers an energetic sound but not too cold or aggressive. It’s fast and excited, it favors textures and micro details more than the body and relief of the instruments. Their a monitor-like feel to the overall musicality, which is sharp and vivid in treble presentation.
The resolution is amplified, the attack is very fast and controlled, the dynamics seem a bit compressed and lacking in articulation and varying degrees of amplitude. The highs stand out a bit more from the sound spectrum than the rest, creating a sens of distance. Attack isn’t very weighty, dynamic a bit flat which rarely make vocal or instrument jumping at you with a lively presence.
BASS is punchy and tight, yet not very thick nor heavy in impact. The rumble is tamed a bit, as well as resonance of the impact. Dynamic heft is smoothed we can say, yet their enough minimal energy to make the low end enough presence, since it’s clean, transparent and have good definition in term of sound image without physicality.
MIDS are leanes’t part of the spectrum, clean, clear and higly resolved and transparent, their a hint of extra crispness to them making violin and electic guitar more dynamic in attack. Texture is nuanced with realist timbral balance that doesn’t extract too much high or low harmonic details. What it lack is dynamic weight (again) and energy in amplitude, since the piano notes lack both weight and natural resonance gradiency. Nonetheless, piano is ultra clean and well resolved, yet not fully sculpted in a 3D like spatiality. Vocal will sound just a bit distant, especially in term of immersive emotionality connected to a projection that embrace the listener, here we don’t feel at 1M from the singer, more like 10M. So, we can say mids are a bit cold-analytical.
TREBLE is the must energic and lively and diversify in amplitude part of the spectrum, as if their an extra current boost in there, or dedicated amping section for highs only (hum). Fowards, yet adding air and openess to spatiality, the highs are very generous in details but not harsh, as if a bit smoothed in edge. I wouldn’t call them super brilliant and sparkly, they sit in middle of dryness and snapyness. As well, they can extract background noise of music, being on the extended bright side of analytical, this will be even more so at high gain (balanced output).
SPATIALITY is quite wide, tall and deep, making it a bit hall like per moment,
IMAGING is one of the highlight of KA3, due to high level of resolution, transparency and sound info details, we can easily spot instrument positioning with good space between each of them. In fact, i use the KA3 for mixing some time, in pair with Hisenior T2U and result is great, again, it confirm a ”monitor-like” sound presentation from this marvellous dongle.
VS FIIO BTR5 (dual ES9218DAC-240mw@32ohm BAL-120$)
The resolution is clearly superior with the KA3, but offers a more intimate presentation, less wide and open in spatiality. The tone is also drier, less polished at the top of the spectrum, less analog-natural. The attack is more biting and articulate. The spatiality is deeper with better instrumental separation but more compressed sound layers. The BASS is more punchy but less warm and stretchy, it sounds less high in the sub-bass as well as cleaner and less invasive. The MIDS are more centered, clear and put forward in well-defined presence, the BTR5s having a wider presentation, open and veiled. The TREBLE are more pointed, less polished in the roundness, more incisive and quick to push forward micro details. The BTR5s seem more organic and cohesive, darker too, less analytical. Technically the KA3 is superior on all levels except width of field, the BTR5s have a more analogous and mellow tone, with bass warmth that serves as a binder. On the amplification side, the two should be equivalent with a balanced output power of 240mw@32ohm, but the Hifiman SUNDARA test shows that the KA3 is sometimes unstable when it requires sustained power, which creates unpredictable distortion when the dynamic Note that the BTR5 has a Bluetooth receiver, as well as a battery that has less influence on the consumption of the smartphone’s battery. Also, unlike the KA3, the construction is more refined and there are control buttons as well as a screen.
VS TEMPOTEC E44 (dual CS43131 DAC-175mw@32ohm-70$)
So, the E44 have slightly lower power output, but it’s doesn’t translate into a lack of dynamic energy, which in fact is more weighty and lively in amplitude projection than KA3. This is surely due to dual DAC used that perhaps permit lower crosstalk.
(Indeed, I just check and E44 crosstalk is about 3 times lower.)
This doesn’t mean E44 sound clearer, but that dynamic is better articulated and sound projection perhaps more free since attack of KA3 is notably more retain and blend. In other words, high resolution of E44 doesn’t feel forced, while with KA3 it does, with extra grain that amplify brighness reveal.
Bass of E44 have bigger slam and warmer, fuller timbre, in fact here the timbre is very different, more natural and pleasant with E44, yet less amplify in texture and ”digital transparency”. Mids is where the KA3 show it’s more artificial tonality, it doesn’t open in wideness as much as E44 and make instrument like saxophone and some vocal notably more dry and thin and rude in realism. Finally ,treble is brighter and more agressive with the KA3 as expected, it have less natural brilliance and sparkle as well as resonance than E44.
Hum, here, the clear winner is Tempotec E44, even if technically it isn’t as ”frontal”, the dynamism is more coherent, hefty and fluidly articulated in contrast of amplitude than flatter colder more clinical sounding KA3.
VS Xduoo Link2 Bal (dual CS43131-LM49720 amp-150$)
Here we have near opposite tonality, the KA3 being notably brighter, crisper and more analytical, whith thinner dryer timbre and lighter bass with sub bass roll off. While amping power is suppose to be near the same with 240mw@32ohm for the KA3, it doesn’t translate in same sound openess and loudness, as well, with the Sundara KA3 will make distortion at max volume which isn’t the case for the Link2.
Technically, imaging is crisper and more accurate with KA3, so i will use this one for music production and mastering instead of less accurate Link2.
For music listening and enjoyment, their not a single doubt Link2 is more appealing and natural, spatiality is less compressed, way more open and tall, though a bit less clean and deep than KA3.
Their alot to love about FIIO KA3 apart it’s extremely competitive price; the amount of balanced output power, the extremely revealing yet not agressive tonality, the sturdy built, it’s care free compatibility with any device, but for it’s musicality, it will be hit or miss depending of your expectation and preference. For me, as a part time music producer, the FIIO KA3 act like a ”monitor dac-amp” in the sens it’s lean analytical sound presentation show me everything that is is good or bad in my music.
If you seek for the budget DAC-AMP with highest resolution that put details retrieval and crisp imaging in first plan, I don’t think you can get this level of technical performance with most other dongles.
PS: I want to thanks FIIO for the review sample. I’m not affiliated nor pay to write this review and my impressions are 100% honnest and subjective as always.
You can order the KA3 from this official seller:https://hifigo.com/products/fiio-ka3