＊Attention：This English version is written by machine translation of the Japanese review article.
Here’s a brief introduction to the FiiO KA5. It uses dual CS43198 DAC chips. And for the first time, it has a display and control buttons. Other practical and rich features include H-DEPOP, button mode, etc. In this review, it will be paired with earphones and compared with dongle-type DAC/Amp from other companies and the FiiO Q11.
Quick conclusions are as follows. This is a middle-end dongle-type DAC/Amp and is by far the most functional in this price range. The sound quality is also excellent. Especially for dongle-type DAC/Amp, which are difficult to differentiate in terms of sound, the KA5, with its superior functionality, seems to be the most viable option.
- Practical functions abound
- Improved pop noise, almost none.
- No white noise
- Clean, slightly glossy vocals (with a bit of density)
- Non-aggressive high frequency
- Relative resolution and soundstage are sufficient
- No need to choose earphone compatibility
- Low-frequency control is a little insufficient.
- Not enough in comparison with W2-131 and FC6 (see below for details).
~ Following is a detailed review. ~
First, let me introduce the specifications. Despite its feature-rich specifications, the KA5 is reasonably priced at about $130. Therefore, If focused on functionality, there is no dongle-type DAC under $200 that exceeds KA5’s capabilities at this time.
Other FiiO dongle-type DAC to which the KA5 belongs are the KA1, KA2, and KA3. FiiO’s first dongle-type DAC was the KA3, which was released in 2021. Therefore, FiiO is a latecomer in this product category. And this KA5 is FiiO’s top-of-the-line dongle-type DAC at the moment.
A quick comparison table has been prepared.
|Year of release||2023||2021||2022||2022|
|Maximum output||SE 122mW|
|Cable||Detachable||Detachable||Not detachable||Not detachable|
|FiiO Control APP||Support||Support||Support||Support|
The following is a bulleted list of the main features and specifications.
- DAC chip “CS43198”
- 3.5/4.4 output
- On-board OLED display and control buttons
- 13 different settings including HID button mode, hardware mute (H-DEPOP), etc.
- UAC 1.0 support for game consoles such as Switch
- FiiO Control App support
- Maximum output of 265mW (32Ω, balanced)
- Signal-to-noise ratio 124dB (32Ω, single-ended)
- Noise floor <1.8μV (balanced)
- Output impedance 0.35Ω(balanced)
- THD+N ＜0.00037%(32Ω, balanced)
Included with the FiiO KA5 is the following: unlike the Q11, the USB A is a conversion adapter. Still, a Lightning cable is included, and all necessary accessories are present.
- KA5 main unit
- Type C to Lightning
- Type C to C
- Type C to A conversion adapter
- Manual and other documents
Design and function
The design largely follows the shape of the KA3, to which the KA5 adds a new logo design, an OLED display, and control keys on the side. The size is also almost the same as KA3. It is also a compact dongle-type DAC that is similar in size to the HiBy FC6 with only 3.5mm. The leather case is sold separately, and I am concerned about scratching the angular body without the case.
Next is the functional aspect. Almost all the features necessary for using a dongle-type DAC are included. In particular, the hardware mute switch (H-DEPOP), DAC operation mode, and HID button mode have solved the common complaints about the dongle-type DAC.
Briefly explained, H-DEPOP can eliminate POP noise at the start of a song. DAC operation mode allows you to choose the operating power. HID button mode allows you to set the song selection and volume control method.
However, some may find it difficult to handle at first sight because of the abundant functions available for KA5. Once you get used to it, there is no particular difficulty. And every function has options, allowing users to set their own preferences, such as turning them on or off. These factors, as mentioned earlier, should eliminate many users’ dissatisfaction with the dongle-type DAC.
The FiiO KA5 is closer to the midrange and has a bit of gloss on vocals; it has the crisp taste characteristic of CS DAC chips, but this slight gloss on vocals is the point where it is a good listening experience. As mentioned later, I think KA5 is more compatible with earphones than the Q11. The sound itself has no peculiarities throughout, and it does not select earphones. Therefore, it can be used with earphones that you often listen to. On the other hand, the low frequency range is not well controlled, and depending on the earphones to which it is matched, it may sound a bit blurred. However, this is acceptable because it does not cause the bass to dominate and destroy the overall sound. And on the noise side, the problem of pop noise as well as white noise has been eliminated.
Next is a comparison review of the FiiO Q11 with the dongle-type DAC I have on hand.
This time we used the FiiO FH9 to compare with the three dongle-type DACs and portable amplifiers shown in the photo. Please note that this review was conducted by using earphones that are prone to show the weak point to make the difference easier to understand, so it may vary depending on the earphones you listen to.
The difference between KA5 and Q11 is quite small. It is difficult to notice the difference without actually comparing them side-by-side. The Q11 is superior in terms of lateral expansion of the sound stage and low-frequency control. On the other hand, the KA5 has a softer sound than the Q11, vocals have more luster and a little more density. This provides the KA5 with a point of listening comfort. Therefore, the Q11, depending on the earphones with which it is paired, may seem flat and tasteless, but the KA5 does not. Therefore, when listening with earphones, regardless of the combination, KA5 seems to be a better match.
Of the several dongle-type DAC I have personally purchased, I have yet to find one that surpasses the W2-131; the KA5 fared quite well, but not well enough to make me give up the W2-131. The reason for this, simply put, is that the W2-131 has controlled bass and a more expressive . (*An assumption that is not to be misunderstood.We are comparing the KA5 to the W2-131 here because the KA5 is good enough when compared to dongle DACs under $200. )
In terms of sound balance, the KA5, Q11, and W2-131 are similar, with a sound that is a bit closer to the midrange; the W2-131 has less midrange component and seems more neutral. If we were to put them in extreme order, KA5 > Q11 > W2-131 in descending order of midrange component density.
In terms of noise, the KA5 is comparable to the quality of the W2-131. Pop noise has been unavoidable with FiiO’s products in the past, but KA5 has eliminated it. Overall, I did not notice any noise.
First of all, the premise is that HiBy FC6 has difficulties on the noise side. In this respect, KA5 has no such concerns whatsoever. Therefore, those who are sensitive to noise should immediately choose KA5.
In terms of sound, FC6 is closer to the lower midrange, while KA5 is closer to the midrange; FC6 is denser and has a more moist and glossy sound than KA5. The FC6 is therefore more enjoyable to listen to. This is more so than W2-131. However, FC6 has a strong individuality, so you need to choose the earphones you want to use with it. In this respect, KA5 is more versatile. Also, compared to the FC6, the KA5 is not significantly inferior, and the KA5 also has a sound that is enjoyable enough to listen to.
FH9 is an all-around, highly complete earphone. It can be used with any DAP or DAC in particular, and can be used with anything to deliver a high quality sound.
The pairing of KA5 and FH9 is not particularly uncomfortable, and the slightly glossy vocals of KA5 are a good match. Also, although the KA5 is more in the midrange, the FH9 brings the bass forward, making it more enjoyable to listen to. However, there is a disadvantage in that KA5’s low frequency control is weak and the bass sounds a little boomy when listening to it with FH9.
The FiiO FA9 is an analytical earphone. Therefore, the sound balance of the KA5 is determined by the impression heard on the FA9. On the other hand, the FA9 does not create ups and downs in sound, making it tasteless and uninteresting depending on the DAP/DAC with which it is paired. However, with the KA5, a point of listening satisfaction is created in the vocals, so I feel that it is a very good match with the FA9. You can hear the vocals without the low and high frequencies getting in the way. The bass does not feel uncontrolled as it did with the FH9. However, it is a combination that is difficult to feel a speed.
With VE4.2(Vision Ears)
The VE4.2 is a sharp earphone with a V-shaped balance. The low and high frequency are harder to control, so choose the DAP/DAC you pair them with. The ability to control the high is often confirmed with this VE4.2.
The KA5 has less control, but the high frequency just barely don’t sting. This pairing produces a lively sound, but the low frequencies are not dominant due to the KA5’s balance toward the midrange. The KA5 also gives a sense of speed when listening to rock music, making it enjoyable to listen to.
Although there are some factors that are a little inferior when compared to high-end price ranges such as W2-131 and FC6, considering the price of $129.99 and abundant features, it is the king in price ratio. Furthermore, the sound is easy to handle without any peculiarities, and we felt that with this reasonable price and abundant functions, this product could gain a considerable share of the market. If I am asked which is the best dongle-type DAC, my answer will be KA5. This because I think everyone will be highly satisfied with the product, both in terms of price and sound.
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