In this article we review the FiiO KA3 DAC/AMP. The Fiio KA3 is priced at just €/$89,99 Euro/USD.
Disclaimer: The FiiO KA3 was sent to us, free of charge, by the brand in exchange for our honest opinion.
Founded in 2007, FiiO is one of the biggest companies in the audiophile world, thanks to an extensive range of (usually) affordable but (mostly) excellent products. IEM, headphone amps, DACs, and obviously DAPs, they did it all and did it well. So much that when a new player comes out, it usually becomes the benchmark that other brands have to refer to, like the FiiO M11 Plus or the Q3.
But, this time, the brand is coming back to its root with a small, USB-Key sized DAC, that reminds me of the first FiiO E5 and E3, labeled the FiiO KA3. A model even more portable, and affordable, embedding a whole new “optimized HiFi audio architecture”.
A quick word about Jade audio
FiiO sent us some reference about Jade audio, here is a copy:
“Jade Audio” is a subsidiary brand of FiiO Electronics Technology Co., LTD. It is a stylish, technological, and youth-oriented brand aiming to provide high-quality yet cost-effective audio products with an excellent listening experience for the younger generation all around the world. The entity’s Chinese name is derived from “翡声” (Fei Sheng), meaning “the sound of Jade”. The name “Jade Audio” conveys our mission towards providing consumers with a crisp and pleasant listening experience while maintaining audio fidelity
Design & Build Quality
If not as small as the K3, the FiiO KA3 dongle remains supremely portable. End to end, the KA3 is just 56.3 mm long, 20.2 mm wide, and 12mm thick. To those measurements, you can add the USB-C cable, or USB-C to 8-Pin if you’re using an iPhone like me. Thanks to that, the DAC can easily be carried in a jean’s pocket, a jacket, or simply stick to your phone if you’re ok with QI-wireless charging.
Entirely made of aluminum, the FiiO KA3 looks and feel much sturdier than many of its competitor. From afar, you could easily mistake the DAC for a rugged USB-Key. Also, like most USB-DAC, it is made of two parts: the body itself, working as a protective case and thermal radiator, covered on each side by gold-toned plates.
Like every product recently released by the brand, the FiiO KA3 is absolutely flawless in this regard. Black anodized aluminum, golden plated 4.4mm Pentaconn output, screw-less design, everything looks and feels nice to grasp. It feels almost as premium as Maktar’s X2 Lightning Dongle, which was absolutely exquisite with its matte-black tubular frame, but the KA3 is approximately three times cheaper, so I’m okay with that.
And, above all, this is one of the sturdiest devices I reviewed recently. By mistake, I stepped on it, after it fell from my pocket, and the FiiO KA3 came back completely unscathed: no scratch, no impact, nothing. Impressive!
All in all, it’s a very solid piece of work, and it really gives a good impression.
Comfort and Specifications
The FiiO KA3 is extremely simple to use.
You plug it into your phone, insert your headphone jack, and you’re good to go. There were nos issues with my iPhone 13 Pro Max + TC28i + USB-C cable + KA3, or with my MacBook: each time, the FiiO KA3 was immediately recognized by the source, and music came out almost instantly. On Windows, I had to wait a minute, until the OS got the right driver but after that, it worked flawlessly.
Unlike NuPrime’s Hi-mDAC – but like every other USB-DAC – there are no volume controls on the KA3: everything has to be done from your source directly. Thankfully, for Android users, FiiO has an app that allows fine-tuning such as balance, volume, or digital filters. Nothing for iOS users, alas…
On the go, it’s a pleasant device to use, and the dual headphone output is a true blessing, Like the EarMen Sparrow, that allowed me to test various headphones, even when I forgot my adapters. Just note that if the Sparrow packs a set of 3.5mm + 2.5mm plugs, the KA3 chose the 4.4mm Pentaconn standard, for its balanced output.
Last but not least, you can spot a LED ring on the upper side, indicating the current sampling rates:
- blue for files up to 48kHz
- yellow for files above 48kHz
- and finally green for DSD files
Like the Fiio K3S, at the heart of the FiiO KA3, you’ll find the almighty ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M.
A DAC advertised as a high-performance 32-bit, 2-channel audio D/A converter with Quad DAC+ technology. And, as a SOC (system on chip) this chip also comes with its own headphone amplifier, analog volume control, and output switch, so brands like FiiO can focus on tuning.
It’s a good DAC, with good specs, as you might see:
- up to 32bits / 768kHz PCM decoding + DSD512support
- 130dB SNR and 121dB DNR
- ultra-low power consumption (1.5mW in standby mode)
- HyperStream II DAC architecture
- 64-bit accumulator and 32-bit processor
So nothing new under the sun… or so I thought. If you dig deeper, you’ll see that FiiO is introducing a whole new architecture for its first “Jade Audio” DAC, with “uncompromised audio quality with a carefully engineered multi-chip audio circuit”. In fact, if the ES9038Q2M is the most important chip onboard, FiiO gave the KA3 a few more chips to output the best possible sound, like a next-generation USB Port Processor, or low-noise, high power capacitor.
The big plus remains the ability to output a true balanced signal from the 4.4mm Pentaconn plug, and not just a mirrored signal. Power isn’t massive, but the FiiO KA3 can still manage to output a solid [email protected], or [email protected] (half of that in single-ended mode). Impressive numbers, nonetheless, considering the size of the DAC and the fact that the only power supply comes from the USB port.
For the nerds out there, here are the full specs.
- Type: USB DAC
- Model: FiiO KA3
- Chipset: Sabre ES9038Q2M
- Frequency range: 20 – 40 000Hz
- Compatibility: PCM up to 32bit/768kHz – DSD up to DSD512
- SNR: 121dB / 122dB
- THD: < 0.0008
- Output: < 0.5dB
- Size: 56.3mm x 20.2mm x 12mm (cable included)
- Weight: 17.5g
- Socket: USB-C
- Price: €/$89
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