For this review, I chose to pair the FiiO KA2 with the FiiO FD7 and FF3 (review incoming) plus my usual Beyerdynamic’s DT700 Pro X. Those have been my top choice in this price range since their launch now, and the FiiO shall be the perfect pocket companion on the go. Regarding the FF3, it’s more out of curiosity, as I’m not too fond of earbuds usually.
As for the source, I kept my MacBook and iPhone, and used ddHiFi converters to connect my Beyer – even if FiiO prohibits balanced to unbalanced adapters on the spec sheet. For the files, I mainly used Apple Music and Spotify, as I ended up using the KA2 almost exclusively on the go, or in the train.
So, how does FiiO latest USB-DAC fare, compared to its bigger brother, the KA3 and little sibling, the KA1. Quite well actually.
First of all, the FiiO KA2 is many times more powerful than the KA1 – even a bit too much if you ask me. Plugged in my iPhone, with the FiiO FD7 for IEMs, I nearly popped my eardrum since volume level 5/10 on the KA2 is roughly equivalent to volume level 15/10 on the KA1…
Compared to the KA3, the difference isn’t as fierce. If I was completely blown away by the KA3 sheer power, the FiiO KA2 feels like a slightly scaled down version, at least in terms of power output. That said, there’s still more than enough current to drive any portable cans, or any IEMs you could have.
In case you haven’t listened to any of the modern FiiOs, you’d be surprised to find out that the previous mid-focused signature is now gone. The FiiO KA2 displays a slight high-mids emphasis, like most Cirrus-Logic DAC up to this date, but the brand kept the wide sound stage and a surprisingly good layering, especially now that you only get the balanced option. In fact, even if the brand ditched ESS on this one, the signature remains completely FiiO-like.
Paired with the FiiO FD7, the combo gives you the perfect balance between accuracy and linearity, a mix that should accommodate 99% of the listeners. And if bad recordings are not welcome, compared to the FiiO K3 and KA3, the new KA2 is much more forgiving – even if not as lenient as the KA1, who let through almost any track. Paired with the DT 700 Pro X and DT 900 Pro X it might appear a tad too dry, but personally, this sounds just right for my ears.
Again, with the right headphone/earphone you can spot each instrument and each singer with ease and there is no channel imbalance to ruin the experience. It’s precise, dynamic, and never harsh, even with bad recordings – but good recordings are just amazing. I tried a few well-recorded tracks, like Dance Naked Under Palmtrees – Mo’Horizons, or Baby I’m A Fool from Melody Gardot, and the FC4 sounded even better.
Compared to the EarMen Eagle, which I still use to this day, there are various improvements, and no real drawbacks: better dynamic range, sharper upper-range, wider soundstage, and a lot more power. It’s still a bit short to drive my the old Audeze LCD-X – whereas the HiBy FC4 / FiiO KA3 or iBasso DC06 could – but that remains truly impressive for something that cost less than $70.
As promised in the product sheet, the KA2 absolutely dead silent, even with sensitive IEMs like the FiiO FA9 or my Unique Melody Maestro. To be sure, I tried various sources to check if EMI shielding was okay too and 99% of the time, I was pleased to hear the same pitch-black background. The only time I heard some parasites was when my phone had to catch up with the old edge bandwidth, but that only occurred once or two.
Compared to Apple’s own dongle, this is a (obviously) a big improvement. The same can be said when opposed to ddHiFi’s TC35i: better dynamics overall, better bass control, cleaner high-mids, even with small earbuds like the FiiO FF3. Even compared to the ddHiFi TC44A, the small 4.4mm dongle from the brand, the improvement was significant, and I had to get the TC44C so that ddHiFi could take the lead once more.
Last but not least, I even tried a few games, plugged on my Steam Deck through the USB-C port. And frankly, on the go, this was one of the best gaming experience I got for a long time – even compared to devices like the Chord Mojo. The combo small-size + plenty of power combined with the dual Cirrus-Logic DAC precision completely immersed me in games like Control, where the music and sound design make 50% of the ambiance. Kudos FiiO !
All in all, a surprisingly good DAC, especially in this price range.
Highs: just on the spot, with a slight emphasis. The KA2 doesn’t avoid the classical upper-mid boost, but doesn’t push any harshness either. It’s a slight boost, just enough to magnify the smallest details, helped by the raw power of the device fortunately, and electro tracks such as Here We Go from Jay Lumen were perfectly rendered.
Mids: open and linear. Vocals and acoustic tracks were an easy job for the KA2, even more once paired with a good IEM like the FD7. The soundstage is wide, male voices are poised and women’s voices are naturally put forward, immersing you in the music.
Bass: dry and fast. FiiO completely nailed the low end on their last models. The FiiO KA2 never lost composure and always offered a solid bass, whether paired with IEMs or headphones – unless you go high-end For the price, it’s utterly impressive.
Filling the gap between the KA1 and the KA3, the FiiO KA2 feels like the natural solution for anyone seeking an affordable, balanced USB-DAC dongle. It’s as small as the first, nearly as good as the latter and can fit almost any pocket, or bag, without compromising on the sound quality.
Once again sound quality is surprisingly good, build quality is praise-worthy, and the conception design makes it the perfect companion for your smartphone, whether you’re an Android or iOS user. So, if you can go balanced, and can push a little more money for a DAC than the 40 bucks needed for the KA1, go for the KA2, it’s better on every aspect. A sure choice!