-Decent holographic imaging
-versatile tonality (easy to enjoy)
-Realist not thin timbre
-Good bass and mids presence
-Smoothly crunchy treble that deliver enough sound info
-not very powerfull (45mw@32ohm)
-not the cleanest clearest sound
-average attack speed-timing-sustain
-no FIIO app support (so you need to use cable adapter to unlock high gain)
-impedance output of 1.5ohm
SOUND VALUE: 8.5/10
FIIO doesn’t need introduction, they’ve been around for more than 10 years and are a ”touch everything” audio company with very diversify products catalogue. For DAP to DAC-AMP to IEM to TWS IEM, FIIO have tickle every corners of entry level and high end audiophile product. Today I will review their entry level dongle from Jade Audio KA serie, the KA1, which sell for 50$ and use a saber ES9281C PRO dac chip which is compatible with MQA unlike it’s big brother the EA3 which use a ES9038 DAC chip. Let’s see if sound value is as high as the little price promise!
I don’t know why, perhaps because of similar look, but I was thinking KA1 would be as big as KA3 which isn’t the case at all. It’s super small and ultra portable ,2 times smaller than KA3. Otherwise it’s very same construction apart from the fact it doesn’t have a detachable cable and only have one 3.5mm se output.
Overall construction is quite good, it look sturdy, braided cable look solid enough too, im not afraid of dropping it and getting it broke at all and strangely it seem to get less warm than KA3 too.
Phone battery consumption is on the very low side, so their no worry about this either, it seem to be about 2 times less power hungry than KA3 in fact, and if we look at the specs, it state to use 60ma against 130ma power consumption for KA3.
This dongle is plug and play, no need to install anything.
The color change depending codec used, for those that find this interesting. Blue= ≤48kHz. Yellow=＞48kHz. Green= DSD. Magenta= MQA
Don’t forget to select higher bit rate in window and use exclusive mode on Musicbee or Hiby Music to get best sound possible.
One thing I would have love, is that the FIIO app work for KA1 too, and permit to choose both gain and impedance output. This would sure have change some of the drawbacks I underline in rest of this review. Alas, it seem to support everything but this new dongle. I hope this will change in the futur!
Don’t expect too much from the KA1 since it’s power output is similar to an LG V30 phone. At 45mw@32ohm, we would expect at least the KA1 to be the perfect buddy for all type of IEM but it isn’t the case since both very sensitive IEM or hard to drive IEM will don’t pair well.
The slightly high impedance output of 1.5ohm will perhaps create issue like hiss, distortion or tonal imbalance with very sensitive IEM, and for hard to drive like Tinhifi P1, their just not enough juice to drive them properly.
As well, this saber DAC chip have inner amplifier with it that is ”impedance adaptative”, so it will not deliver full power with anything under 64ohm. Since this doesn’t take in account IEM or Headphones sensitivity, this can affect dynamic of proper sound pressure level and overall loundness. To bypass this and get full gain, you can use a 3.5mm male to female cable adapter. It most be noted that this is not suggested for sensitive or easy to drive IEM since it can add hiss and micro-distortion to the sound too.
Important to note as well: if you connect the KA1 without IEM pluged in it, it will not be recognize.
OVERALL SOUND IMPRESSIONS
While we can say most of DAC-AMP have a rather neutral presentation, it’s rarely if ever a 100% flat line. The KA1 isn’t what I would call reference sounding, nor cold-neutral, since I always find ES9281C based dongle to have hint of coloration in tonal balance by adding hint of warmth in bass part and sligthly taming upper treble sharpness. It’s a well rounded tonality that avoid to sound clinical or too warm, a favorize natural timbre restitution and sens of tactile density. I perceive it as softed W shape balance were certain low, mid and treble presence are more focus, especially in term of rounded density.
Bass favor a warm slam instead of linear and clean extension, it’s not very texture and will not tame bass bleed issue of your warm IEM.
Mids are natural, gently bright and centered, a bit more lean than bass and treble, not the cleanest but offering good layers amount.
Treble is well detailed enough, yet not ultra crisp, snappy or sparkly, for ex, the KA1 stole some air and sparkle-decay which are otherwise inherent of my Final A8000.
Let’s begin by saying that limitation of power output do affect technical performance to some extend, in the sens that unlocking high gain to get more dynamic sound will affect slightly the resolution by blurring the edge a bit and lifting harmonic distortion of very busy tracks.
As well, the impedance output of 1.5ohm can create hiss and distortion with very sensitive IEM.
Otherwise, resolution is good, but not mind blowing, it’s not analytical or ultra crisp and both bass and highs seem a bit rolled off at bottom. Background noise floor is low, but not completly black and pure clean silence between instrument isn’t there. This doesn’t mean the KA1 sound dark or blurry or messy at all, just not very varied in dynamic amplitude nor ultra fast in attack sustain-release.
Attack timing tend to mix up a little in micro-dynamic. Transparency have bit of grain that affect precision of layering.
Imagin is quite good but not the most accurate since weighty impact of instrument attack add warmth veil and more their will be instrument hit, more it will make resolution gently blurred, softed.
Spatiality is a bit compressed here, is it because of low power output or just how the dynamic open? Can’t tell but it doesn’t feel very deep nor very wide or tall, more like a small intimate room with centered stereo presentation.
VS Audirect Atom2
Let’s begin by saying that the Atom2 is more powerfull with it’s 65mw output against 45mw for the KA1. As well, both use the very same ES9281AC PRO DAC chip, so their similarity is timbre and overall balance and performance, like high resolution and capable imaging, yet the KA1 feel thinner in every sound restitution aspect.
Atom2 have a more open and holographic rendering, fuller bass-mids-treble that are more balanced and cohesive too. Transparency seem a bit less focus than KA1, but dynamic have notably more notes weight and overall presence of instruments and vocal are more lively in amplitude, with presence that feel less static as the KA1.
Bass is a bit warmer, with weightier slam, less linear extension and dry presence than KA1. Biggest difference to my ears are how the mid range is restitute, for example with the track ”La Javanaise” from Elina Duni, her voice is notably nearer the auditor, wider and more immersive in presence, smoother too, fuller and lusher, this hit me as well as how texture is more emphasis with KA1 and treble more boosted so percussions of this tracks are in front of centered vocal, surrounding you in an unrealistic manner. KA1 extract more micro detail and have cleaner crisper airier rendering, so this make us think technically it’s superior yet naturalness isn’t as organic and balanced as Atom2.
Sound layers being fuller and thicker with Atom2, this stole some air on top, biggest different in quality here would be the bass which is more boosted in mid bass sub bass region so it tend to add hint of warmth tha benefit body of instrument and vocal by adding lower harmonic density.
Musicaly i find the Atom2 more appealing and fuller in timbre as well as less sharpened-boosted in treble. But it’s 30$ more and not as revealing as KA1.
VS TEMPOTEC HD V
Now, we have different DAC but from the same company, the HD V use dual ES9219C DAC and deliver more than 2 times higher power output with it’s 95mw@32ohm. Tonality wise, it’s more neutral with no notable boost in any region, here KA1 feel to have slight mid bass and upper treble boost, so we can say HD V is less bright and more organic in cohesion.
When I test both with low impedance IEM like Audiosense T800, KA1 create distortion and sound cutting, surely due to higher impedance output (1.5ohm). With the HD V, no issue and sound is still balanced while it become more wonky sligth V shape with KA1.
Going back to normal sound behavior, we can say KA1 is colder cleaner and thinner in timbre, it’s evident that the sound layers are thicker and more dynamic as well as better individually extracted with the HD V, so while static imaging is crisper with KA1 it can feel compressed in layering.
Precision and accuracy, while less holographic and more treble focus with the KA1, is slightly superior yet this does translate in a slightly more clinical and restrain in dynamic weight presentation, still, it improve spatial deepness and sens of air too. Here, HD V is hint wider but notably taller.
While i find tonality fuller, better balanced and more natural and enjoyable with the Tempotec HD V, KA1 proof to offer incredible technical performance and even higher resolution that will only struggle when moving sound layers need to be well articulated and extracted.
Still, for 10$ more, the HD V represent a better price value due to more than 2 times more powerfull output, better thick metal construction and changeable cable to connect it to android, ios or laptop.
VS FIIO KA3
Ok, let’s say it already, technical performance of KA3 are way above those of KA1, and this is the same for amping power which is near 6 times higher with it’s 240mw@32ohm balanced output. But is it translating in better musicalit? While their part of subjectivity in that aspect, their no doubt to my ears that the KA1 offer a smoother and more enjoyable musicality than brighter, dryer and notably more agressive KA3.
So while clarity is higher, imaging is more precise and spatiality is more vast and rich in sound layers, I don’t feel I listen to music with the KA3, more to severe monitor speaker with lotta gain in treble region. Sure, bass line are more textured and better separated, mids clearer in presence and more energic in attack and highs richer in sound info, but with a bright timbre to it that lack naturalness which feel more liquid with KA1.
Let put it simply, since these are so different in tonality, the KA3 will please the treble head and those hungry for fowards treble and details, I would choose KA3 for when I produce music while the KA1 when I want to enjoy this produced music.
The FIIO KA1 was a positive surprise to me, especially in term of sub-50$ sound value. Apart for limited power output, we can call this dongle a ”Jack of all trade, master of none” since the tonality is very easy to enjoy, deliver good enough resolution and technicalities and more importantly a timbre that is natural, dense, nuanced and musical.
If you find it’s bigger brother the KA3 too bright and analytical, this KA1 might be the answer for your music enjoyment since I do prefer this one myself too….apart low power output which to some extend is a shame and will affect competitivity of this product since no1 goal of a dongle is to deliver higher sound output (and quality) than your stock phone.
Anyhow, FIIO achieve to offer the cheapest dongle using the famous ES9281AC DAC which is compatible with MQA, and the sound quality upgrade from your phone is sure noticeable and justify a 50$ investment.
At the 35$ sale price right now, the KA1 become Highly Recommended from me.
PS: I wanna thanks FIIO for sending me this review sample under my request. Their no financial incitative, so this work is 100% voluntary and this free product will be given to somebody else because audiophile passion need to be share, not be self-interested.
You can buy the FIIO KA1 at 35$ sale price (a bargain!) right now from official Jade Audio store here: