The Middle Child
Pros: + Stellar sound performance
+ Excellent technicalities
+ Musical and engaging
+ Crystal clear and transparent
+ Wide open presentation
+ Compact sized and well made
+ Low power consumption
+ Compatible with the FiiO Control app
+ Lighting edition also available
+ Budget friendly price
Cons: – Less powerful than the competition
– Not that full bodied
– Doesn’t support MQA
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the KA2 is $59.99 and you can order it from here.
FiiO is so well known among the headphone community that there is no need for an introduction.
Let’s cut it straight to the chase, the FiiO KA2 is the latest installment into the company’s series of ultra compact USB DAC dongles without a battery.
First came the flagship KA3 (review) followed by the entry level KA1 (review) and now the series is completed with the KA2 that sits right in the middle.
Both previous models are based on ESS DAC chips but for the KA2 FiiO have opted for dual CS4313 in an optimized balanced architecture.
The output of the KA2 is delivered on a 4.4mm balanced jack connector with a maximum power amplitude of 2.2Vrms or 153mW at 32Ω load.
Of course dual CS43131 can do much better like in the Moondrop Dawn which outputs 4Vrms and 230mW at 32Ω but it seems FiiO have decided to run it more conservative in order to lower the power consumption and make the KA2 iPhone friendly.
The KA2 can play high-resolution audio streams, up to PCM 32bit 384kHz and DSD256 without MQA decoding while it is compatible with Android, iOS, Windows and MacOS.
There are two versions available, one with a type C USB cable and the other with a Lighting.
Build quality and appearance
The design of the KA2 resembles that of the rest of the family with an industrial looking, rectangular shaped body that has an all metal construction with a black and gold color scheme.
Build quality is excellent and the finish looks durable and scratch resistant.
There are no hardware buttons and the short USB cable is permanently attached to one side of the unit.
The cable is of good quality, it has an aluminium plug and strain reliefs at both sides.
A ring-shaped RGB status indicator LED that is located at one side of the chassis lets you instantly know the sampling rate: Blue is 48kHz or below, Yellow is above 48kHz and Green is for DSD.
The KA2 is very compact (40x15x12mm) and lightweight (12.3) making it suitable for use on the go while hanging from your phone.
FiiO Control application
The KA2 is compatible with the FiiO Control application that allows you to easily adjust various parameters like the gain setting between high and low or choose one of the five available low pass filters.
I don’t own very sensitive IEMs but with everything else I tried the KA2 had an inaudible internal noise floor and was well shielded against electromagnetic interference.
The KA2 is not very powerful and can’t keep up with some of the competition, the Moondrop Dawn can dish 230mW/32Ω and the iBasso DC06 even more.
Power was more than enough for all the IEMs I used, like the FiiO FA7S and Meze ADVAR while the Sennheiser HD660S got pretty loud but somewhat lacking in control and grip.
Sound performance is really excellent, the KA2 is musical and engaging with excellent technicalities for the category and on par with all the competition I have tested so far.
The overall sound signature is a little more musical and natural sounding than the ESS based KA1.
It much resembles that of the Moondrop Dawn but FiiO have managed to squeeze a little bit more in overall technicalities.
The KA2 is clear, clean and open sounding with great transparency and excellent detail retrieval.
Frequency response is absolutely linear, the sound signature is balanced with a convincingly natural timbre, especially with the NOS low pass filter selected, which is my favorite one.
Sub bass extension is great, the bass is impactful, fast and dynamic with impressive control and outstanding layering.
The presentation is weighty but not that full bodied, the KA2 is a touch leaner than the Dawn but very dynamic and well defined.
The mid range is expressed with plenty of clarity and excellent articulation, dense harmonic saturation and a wealth of colorful overtones.
Treble is extended, highly resolving, just a bit forward but still smooth and controlled without inducing any fatiguing brightness while it doesn’t sound too artificial or digital.
For testing I have used the same album by Alison Balsom as in the Moondrop Dawn review.
It has a few pieces that combine a lot of high pitched instruments together with her glowing trumpet solos.
Nothing sounded out of tune, piercing or harsh and while there was some extra treble energy, the overall frequency response was perceived as very coherent.
The KA2 is more agile than the Dawn, it decays faster and has higher levels of energy.
You lose some fading naturalness but you get rewarded with a youthful and high spirited sound.
The soundstage is well expanded and spacious with plenty of air and good imaging.
Compared to the Moondrop Dawn ($70)
This is another, dual CS43131 USB DAC dongle with similar functionality and is a touch more powerful than the KA2.
It can do 230mW at 32Ω and the max output voltage is a full 4Vrms but it draws more power from the host device.
You can use the Moondrop LINK application to configure the gain and select between the five available low pass filters but the FiiO application is more polished with a better designed user interface.
The FiiO PCM decoding is limited to 384kHz instead of 768kHz but it is Apple friendly.
Both devices sound almost identical with the most subtle differences if any.
The FiiO KA2 is slightly more aggressive and bolder, a little more agile and treble forward with a faster decay.
Still quite natural and engaging with a convincing timbre is just a bit more lean – dry sounding and more detailed than the Dawn, with a hint of extra upper treble enthusiasm.
Another thing of notice is that the Dawn offers better dynamics and control over full sized headphones.
You will be hard pressed to choose the one over the other, I suppose the FiiO will better suit people who like their tunes a little more exciting and technical or want to save $10 while the Dawn will be the better choice for acoustic instruments and timbre enthusiasts.
Thus said, both of them are a welcomed addition to their ESS siblings that have lately flooded the market.
Compared to the FiiO KA1 ($49.99) and KA3 ($89.99)
The main differences between the KA2 and it’s two other siblings comes from the use of the Cirrus Logic DAC chip which offers a slightly different kind of sound signature.
It is a touch more natural and organic sounding than its ESS counterparts, more forgiving to poor quality recordings but slightly less technical.
Of course the KA1 is not that powerful as the KA2 and it also sounds less refined and engaging with a leaner and brighter sound profile.
On the other hand the KA2 is less powerful than the flagship KA3 which also has the benefit of both single ended and balanced outputs.
The KA3 is also the more mature sounding DAC with desktop-like qualities, a larger scale presentation, shear dynamics and greater technicalities.
As always with FiiO, there is an honest price to performance scaling but if funds and earphone plugs allow then I would skip the KA1 for the KA2 while if funds and bulk are not an issue then I would choose the KA3.
In the end
The FiiO KA2 is an excellent USB DAC dongle with stellar sound performance and great build quality.
Not only when positioned inside the FiiO DAC dongle family where it successfully bridges the gap between the KA1 and the KA3 but in the whole USB dongle scene where it easily counts among the best sounding examples in the sub $100 range with great sound for the size and the price.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.