FiiO KA5 Review
FiiO KA5 Review
The FiiO KA5 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 FiiO KA5 is $129 and you can order it from FiiO.eu
The FiiO KA5 is the brand new flagship USB DAC dongle by the brand which seems to be an updated or better a slightly different version of the FiiO KA3.
The most notable difference is the inclusion of a tiny OLED screen which, except for displaying sample rate and other useful information, is also used for navigating into the settings without the need to connect with the FiiO control application.
The FiiO KA5 FiiO utilizes dual CS43198 DAC chips that provide decoding for high-resolution audio signals including PCM up to 32-Bit/768kHz and native DSD256.
Furthermore for powerful output and serious amplification, the FiiO KA5 comes equipped with dual independent SGM8261 AMP chips delivering up to 265mWPC/32Ω of clean power through the balanced port.
Even with the single ended 3.5mm output it provides up to 122mWPC/32Ω, plenty to power most earphones.
The circuit utilizes a 6-layer immersion-gold PCB as well as high performance, ultra low noise op-amps.
The FiiO KA5 also includes three physical buttons for controlling music playback, adjusting the volume and navigating through the menus.
Furthermore, except for the dual headphone outputs, the FiiO KA5 now includes an S/PDIF digital output (shared with the 3.5mm port) which transforms it into a mini digital UBC to S/PDIF converter.
Appearance and build quality
The FiiO KA5 is not that bigger than the KA3 and it is also made from aluminum but it is more luxurious looking because of the front and rear tempered glass surfaces.
Despite the extra OLED screen and the buttons, the increase in weight is minimal, the FiiO KA5 weighs 19g, only 1.5g more than the KA3.
Build quality, finish and overall construction are excellent.
The FiiO KA5 comes bundled with USB type C to C and lighting to C cables and a USB type A to C adapter so you don’t need to buy anything else except for a 3.5mm to S/PDIF cable in case that you need one.
The only thing missing is a protective case, even a plastic one like that of the BTR5.
User interface and operating system
Besides the FiiO control application which is only available for Android devices you can now use the local operating system to configure the KA5.
This is very good news for iOS and PC users because all the features of the KA5 are available “in situ” and you don’t have to rely on an Android device in order to configure it.
You can use the multifunction and the two volume buttons to access all the available features through the OLED display.
The buttons can be operated as follows:
Multifunction button: short press once to play/pause music,short press twice to turn on/turn off the display, hold for 2s to activate/exit the settings menu.
There are two operation modes available for the volume buttons.
Mode A: Volume+ button: short press once to increase the volume for 1 level, hold for 2s to play the previous track, page up on the settings menu.
Volume- button:;short press once to decrease the volume for 1 level, hold for 2s to play the next track, page down on the settings.
Mode B: Volume+ button: short press once to play the previous track; hold for 2s to continuously increase the volume, page up on the settings menu.
Volume- button: short press once to play the next track, hold for 2s to continuously decrease the volume, page down on the settings menu.
At mode A the volume has 120 steps of adjustment and at mode B there are 60 steps.
The other settings are:
- GAIN: select high or low gain.
- FLT: digital filter, 5 filter levels are available.
- VOL-CTL: volume level control, 120 levels for A mode, 60 levels for B mode.
- DAC-OM: DAC output mode, ClassH and ClassAB modes are available.
- SPDIF: after the SPDIF mode is enabled, you will get the S/PDIF signal through the 3.5mm port with an adapter cable
- ADJ-L/R: channel balance settings of the left/right channel.
- H-DEPOP: display whether the hardware mute switch is on. You can set whether the hardware switch cuts off the output.
- DIMMER: dimmer setting of the display.
- ROT-DISP: rotate the display. It can be set to rotate 180 degrees.
- OFF-DISP: the display can be auto-locked if there is no activity, and the time control can be chosen from 1 to 60 seconds. “NVR” means Never.
- HID-KEY: choose the A/B mode of Volume+ and Volume- buttons.
- VERSION: firmware version display.
- RST-DEF: restore default settings.
FiiO Control application
All the above mentioned functions and parameters are also configurable through the FiiO control application which is only working on Android OS.
Power output and associated gear
The FiiO KA5 has two output modes, class AB and H, that differ in the quiescent current.
Compared to that in class AB mode, the quiescent current of the device will be about 8mA lower in class H mode so the KA5 will operate slightly more efficiently.
Switching between the two operation modes I wasn’t able to detect any audible differences but your mileage may vary.
Thanks to the extra amplification op-amps, the KA5 is quite powerful and didn’t have any problem into driving full sized headphones like the Sennheiser HD660S or the Focal Clear Mg while it was silent enough for use with very sensitive IEMs like the Hidizs MS5.
During the listening evaluation I have also used the FiiO FH7S, the Penon Vortex and the ISN H30.
Generally speaking, the KA5 is well shielded against EMI but sometimes a hiss was audible while streaming from a cell-phone.
The KA5 was burned for about 100 hours before listening
The FiiO KA5 is absolutely fantastic sounding without any noticeable and worth mentioning drawbacks, this is a perfect example of how good the USB DAC dongles are becoming, successfully bridging the gap with entry level DAPs.
The frequency response is ruler flat but the sound character is balanced, natural , engaging and musical while maintaining excellent transparency and source fidelity.
It is not a secret that I am quite fond of the CS43131/43198 DAC chips when well implemented and the FiiO KA5 is definitely a good example of high quality engineering.
All digital filters sound good but my favorite is the last one that mimics a NOS impulse response as it is the most analogue and organic sounding.
The sound is characterized by its natural timbre and a great sense of realism while digital glare is almost absent or at least barely audible.
The KA5 is not artificial or sterile sounding, on the contrary this is a harmonious DAC that can resolve plenty of tonal variety and offers a multi shaded reproduction of complex music like the following recording featuring favorite tunes of Jean-philippe Rameau.
On a technical level, the FiiO KA5 is certainly up to the task with an impactful and well controlled bass that is also multi-layered, well defined and full bodied.
The KA5 has fast transient response and excellent clarity throughout the whole frequency range with an evenly voiced and precisely articulated mid-range and a resolving, fine sounding treble that is devoid of sharpness and brightness.
This is not the most detailed and analytical sounding DAC, there are others that offer deeper detail retrieval, like the FiiO KA5, but still you can hear pretty much everything or at least as much as is needed in order to feel the atmosphere of the recording venue.
It pairs well with every transducer, no matter how it is tuned, and is suitable for listening to all kinds of music from electronic to classical.
With the KA5 source and headphone matching are pretty irrelevant and shouldn’t bother the potential buyer.
The soundstage is truly amazing, pair the FiiO KA5 with an opening sounding earphone, like the Hidizs MS5 and you will be rewarded with a vast and holographic soundscape that is also characterized by the precise imaging and plenty of dimensionality.
As is always the case with inherently balanced circuits, the single ended output of the KA5 is really good but you must use the balanced in order to get the maximum power output, better headroom and dynamics, more open soundstage and higher quality technicalities.
Compared to the FiiO KA3
(For the comparison the short delay sharp roll off filter was used in both devices.)
If you think that the KA3 is surpassed and made obsolete by the KA5 then you better think twice because it still holds on its own with sonic virtues that are going to be welcomed by a lot of users.
The KA5 has the more natural timbre and it is smoother, calmer and more relaxed sounding compared to the KA3, which is a little more aggressive and raw with a sharper treble and a touch of brightness but without over exaggerating as to make it sound unpleasant and harsh.
The KA3 has also faster transient response, it is more transparent and cleaner than the KA5 while it is definitely more dynamic and impactful.
So leaving aside the various functionalities and talking sound only, the two brothers offer different sound signatures and it is not about being better or worse, the KA3 is still very competitive with its own flattering temperament.
In the end
The FiiO KA5 is truly amazing and highly recommended not only for its solid sound performance but also because it offers plenty of functionality and user configuration options that are easily done thanks to the OLED display and the hardware buttons.
For just $129 this is another great hit for FiiO that continues to teach masterclasses to the competition.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2023.
Pros: + Stellar sound performance
+ Balanced and musical sounding
+ Timbre realism and minimum digital glare
+ Low noise floor
+ Powerful and impactful
+ Low power consumption
+ Plenty of configuration options
+ Can be configured through the local OS without the need of an application
+ Multi Platform compatibility
+ Spdif output
+ OLED display and hardware buttons
+ Lightweight and compact sized
+ Excellent build quality
+ A lightning cable is also included
Cons: – A few instances of cellular antenna interference
– A carrying case would be welcomed