Mids are very clean with the new K3s and the presentation is reference-like. The mid-range is quite colorless with a true-to-recording approach. Instruments and mids are precise and transparent with great definition. Of course, the air and space are not great with the K3s but that’s not fair to its asking price. Transparency in particular is fabulous with this device and it gets the job done regarding clarity and resolution. I simply can’t find any weakness in the mid-range for the price.
The tonality is also very close to reference studio speakers as it doesn’t add any coloration or fun to the sound. I guess that’s also the quality of the 9038 chip. Instruments sound supremely clean in particular, and thanks to the device’s excellent background, you can pinpoint every instrument. Not like some mid-range or high-level DACs but you can easily do it for sure.
The treble would depend on the headphones you’re going to use of course, but the new K3 performs great in this region as well. Highs are well-defined with moderate sparkle and smooth nature. However, that doesn’t mean the treble is too conservative. There’s good extension and sparkle on top with nice definition and detail. Just like the mid-range, there’s great clarity and transparency here.
The treble has a very good resolution as well. There’s also great control here, as I haven’t heard any sibilance or ear-piercing treble, even with something like the SA50, which is a picky CIEM with an aggressive nature in the lower treble region. Even that one sounded smooth enough to listen to it for long periods. I really liked the treble performance of the K3s, for being smooth but very detailed and well-defined altogether.
The sound-stage of the new K3 is quite good for the price, but it’s not very wide or deep. Considering the price range, this was expected. So in terms of layering and sound-stage, this is not the best device you can get. But can you get a wider and deeper sounding DAC for this price? I think that would be quite difficult. Nowadays even USB dongles cost this much if not more, so I think the staging is quite good.
The stereo imaging is marvelous and the positioning is excellent. I also liked the dynamism of the device as it has great attack and PRaT. There’s a very good balance too, as I think it plays quite close to the reference, except the bass response which is just a bit lifted but that provides a good listening experience with popular genres.
The new K3 has great background blackness as well. The device has an excellent noise floor too. I tried quite sensitive IEMs but couldn’t hear any noise, even on high gain. The output is powerful as well. The 2.5mm BAL out is more powerful than the SE one, but even the SE is quite sufficient. Maybe FiiO could’ve added a 4.4mm connection but maybe that’s because of a size limitation.
Comparison with E10K TC
FiiO also sent me the 2021 version of the E10K, a legendary device from FiiO with subtle improvements. Compared to the E10K, the K3 has a sleeker and more modern design language and I think it has a bit better build quality too. The E10K represents FiiO’s legacy in that regard. The K3 also has more features with the 2.5mm BAL output, optical output, and USB 1.0/2.0 switch.
Sound-wise the new K3 has a wider and deeper stage, better attack and dynamism, and better transparency. Overall it sounds more atmospheric with better layering and I think it has a more musical and better-defined mid-range. There’s more bass quantity with a more powerful slam and rumble as well. Switching to the E10K feels a bit cramped in comparison, but you might like its neutral bass a bit more of course. But it doesn’t sound this dynamic and attacking overall. I think the K3s is a better all-rounder with movies, gaming, and music, whilst the E10K is simpler with more basic tuning.
The new FiiO K3 (or K3 2021 as some call it) is a wonderful device with a great DAC chip and features. It has a sleek modern design, plug & play function, and tremendous sound quality for its size. These are great qualities for the ones who are looking for a tiny device to use with laptops and PCs. I’m very impressed by the sound quality, especially in terms of technical performance. The sound presentation is reference-like except for the bass response, and the performance regarding transparency and resolution is marvelous.
I strongly recommend the FiiO New K3 to anyone who’s looking for a laptop companion. If you want to improve your music experience compared to the onboard DAC chips of your PCs, this is the way to go. I don’t think any laptop can give you this type of fidelity overall. An easy recommendation on my part.