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FiiO KA3 Review: A truly compact and versatile device

Despite the active development of the bluetooth receiver segment , portable DACs / amplifiers with a wired connection to the sound source are also in demand and their range is developing and expanding. More recently , FiiO has released an even smaller DAC / Amplifier FiiO KA3 after upgrading the E10K-TC and  K3s .

Moreover, on one side of the packaging, FiiO is listed as the manufacturer, and on the other – a subsidiary brand of Jade Audio. I think that this is not so important, the main thing is what is inside? This review will be devoted to the answer to this question.

FiiO KA3 specifications:

  • DAC Chip: ES9038Q2M ESS Saber;
  • Output power: unbalanced output – 130 mW (32 Ohm), balanced – 240 mW (32 Ohm);
  • Sampling rate: 768 kHz / 32 bit / DSD512;
  • · Headphone output: 3.5 and 4.4 mm;
  • · Connector for connection to a sound source: USB-Type C;
  • · Built-in battery: absent;
  • · Dimensions: 56x20x12 mm;
  • · Weight: 17.5 g;
  • · Overall length (with cable): 110 mm.

Considering the modest size of the KA3, it even surpasses the aforementioned FiiO E10K-TC and K3s in some technical characteristics.

Packaging and equipment

They did not overthink the packaging, but took as a basis the design of the box of the previously released updated FiiO BTR5 2021 bluetooth receiver . All the same black cardboard, the same image of the device on an integrated circuit, and the same angularly sharp font. The KA3 pattern is made in gloss and shimmers, which looks elegant and beautiful. Hi-Res Audio certified in the upper right corner. On the title side and on the left side of the package – the FiiO logo, on the back and on the right side – Jade Audio.

The main contents of the box are covered with instructions with a minimum amount of information – tips for getting started quickly. KA3 is placed in the foam protection layer, and below in a small cardboard box there are accessories for it. There are, in fact, only two of them, but they are packaged separately: a USB type C – type C cable and an adapter from type C to USB typeA. The advantage of the cable is that it is removable, and some disadvantage is its length (about 9 cm). This length was enough to connect to a smartphone, but it was not always convenient to use it with a laptop.

Design and ergonomics

 

With its rectangular shape, FiiO KA3 resembles a lighter with vertical lines along the edges. The body is completely metal. All faces, except for the ends, are black. FiiO KA3 and the maximum supported sampling rates are printed on the top side in white. Additionally, on the upper side there is a circle-shaped indicator that changes color depending on the signal sampling frequency (see below for more details). On the underside are the Jade Audio, ESS (DAC manufacturer) logos and a small gold Hi-Res Audio sticker.

At the bottom there is a type C connector, on the top there are headphone outputs: standard unbalanced 3.5 mm and balanced 4.4 mm. There are no controls on the KA3.

The FiiO KA3 is far from being the most compact DAC / amplifier. It was inconvenient for me to use the KA3 on the go with a smartphone, it is better to give preference to a static scenario. During the work, there was a heating, the KA3 became warm, but not hot in any way. The only shortcoming in ergonomics for me was the short bundled cable. For example, if you use a laptop on a stand, then the DAC is already sagging. Solution – Since the cable is removable, you can replace it with a longer one.

Functionality

As I said, FiiO KA3 does not have the ability to control from the device. In theory, everything should have been simple – connected to the source and it works. The KA3 connected to Android smartphones without any problems, but it took a little tinkering to get it working in Windows 10. I previously had the FiiO Control Panel utility installed, which, when connecting such FiiO devices for the first time, detected them automatically and there were no problems with sound.

This did not happen with the KA3, I had to go to the FiiO website and look for an answer. It turned out that for KA3 it is proposed to download and install a separate driver for Windows  . At the same time, it is indicated that the Macbook does not need such a driver. In addition to such a hitch with the first connection, there were no more problems during work.

Another “trick” of some FiiO DACs / amplifiers was usually the need to correctly connect the cable, according to the arrows printed on it, but poorly visible. Only the cable connected in the direction of the arrows from the source to the DAC produced sound; otherwise, there was silence. The KA3 cable, fortunately, lacks this feature – a connection in any direction carries sound.

A color indicator is located separately on the KA3 case. There are three color modes in total: blue – 48 kHz and below; yellow – 48 kHz and above; green – DSD. In my case, only after installing a separate driver for Windows, the KA3 began to play sound and change the color of the indicator.

This DAC / Amplifier does not have a built-in battery, and when the KA3 was working with a smartphone, the battery drain increased noticeably. The sound volume is adjusted on the connected sound source.

Sound

 

The little  FiiO KA3 claims uncompromising audio quality and improved HiFi architecture. Of course, this is not an “everything and everyone killer”, but for its class the KA3 is good enough. The KA3 has a neutral pitch with good resolution and natural sounding. It is advisable to test the KA3 with your own headphones, since the KA3 manages to convey the character of their sound well. The KA3 has a lot of power output. With in-ear monitor , it coped was observed with no problems, background noise. Also, the KA3 did not give up in front of the full-size ones. For example, the 150 Ohm Sennheiser 660S worked very well with this little strongman, and there was still some headroom.

 

Low frequencies  play tight. Their speed is not a record, but the bass plays clearly, prominently, energetically and with sufficient depth. The sounds of bass guitars and double bass are reproduced realistically. Perhaps, for someone for electronic or dance music, the amount of bass may not be enough.

 

The mids  are delivered solid and weighty. Instrument sounds are conveyed naturally, vocals are natural. Details are drawn, but rather macro-detail is preferred. Acoustic instruments play lively, the emotional component is presented to a sufficient extent. All this, in addition to the timbre richness, gives the sound melodic.

 

High frequencies They are very good for a device of this class. The high-frequency range is fed outlined. The HF sound is bodily, not harsh. KA3 tries to saturate the music with airiness. The sound picture is wide, the depth of the stage is present.

Comparison

For comparison, I chose several models of a similar form factor and a similar price range from other manufacturers.

iBasso DC04

This is the fourth generation of the famous DC series. The DC04 features a non-detachable cable and a single 4.4mm balanced headphone output. The size of the DC04 is significantly smaller than the KA3. The sound of DC04 and KA3 is quite different. Assertiveness, weight, detail, emotions – these are the words I would like to describe the sound of a miniature device from iBasso. DC04, like a wave, covers the listener with music, completely pulling into this process. It is advisable to listen to DC04 first in order to evaluate the comfort of its presentation. KA3 gives more volume, the sound is more balanced and sustained.

XDuoo Link 2

Of the options selected for comparison, this is the largest device that has physical buttons: a volume rocker, playback control, add bass and stage increase. There is only one headphone output, 3.5 mm. The Link 2 sounds more driving and energetic than the KA3. Link 2 is able to emphasize the low and high frequency ranges more, which does not always benefit naturalness. KA3 sounds more neutral and calmer.

Shanling UA2

The DAC / amplifier from Shanling, like KA3, has two headphone outputs: unbalanced 3.5 mm and balanced 2.5 mm. The UA2 cable is also removable, but with a fabric braid. In this case, the difference in sounding for me turned out to be more of a gustatory and genre one. Comparing KA3 and UA2, it is worth paying attention to the overall dynamics of the feed. UA2 sounded less energetic, but with a wider stage. Although this is all subjective.

Conclusion

High technical characteristics, compact metal body, choice of headphone output (3.5 and 4.4 mm), balanced and musical sound, reasonable price. The FiiO KA3 is just such a versatile device.

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