Fiio/Jade Audio KA3 Dac/Amp

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100+ Head-Fier
FiiO KA3: Value for Good Performance
Pros: - Neutral sound
- Slight improvement to vocal presence
- Open, airy treble
Cons: - Possible poor pairing with some headphones/IEMs
Source side setups, for KA3 and others for comparison:
  • Samsung S20 FE + KA3 / Apple USB-C dongle / Stouchi dongle (cheap dongle from Amazon)
  • iPad Pro 12.9" 2018 + KA3 / Apple USB-C dongle / Stouchi dongle
  • PC + SMSL SU-8S + Drop THX AAA One
  • iPhone 7 Plus + Apple Lightning dongle
  • Tin HiFi T3 Plus, Hifiman Sundara, Sennheiser HD560S, Audio Technica ATH-A700
Music Source: MP3 ripped from CD (44.1 kHz, 160-230 kbps)

Music Player:
Android: Hiby Music App in direct USB mode, because Apple USB-C dongle has low volume in Android USB output. When compared to Apple USB-C, I used 48 kHz sampling rate, as that is max Apple dongle supports. When compared to my desktop setup, I used 192 kHz.
iOS: Apple Music
PC: iTunes

KA3 settings: Low impedance mode, Low gain, Sharp Roll-Off Filter, Single-ended. I cannot hear any differences in the various filters. I chose Sharp Roll-Off Filter as that is the default. Plus, on my desktop DAC (SMSL SU-8S), I'm using same or similar Linear phase filter.


  • Power: I have no issue on power, even with low gain and using single-ended connection
    • On Samsung S20FE, at 40% volume, I can drive to loud volume on Sundara. I typically use around 25% volume. HD560S has 120 ohm impedance, which is highest impedance headphones I have, but HD560S is quite sensitive. Also no issue driving HD560S. And definitely no issue with Tin HiFi T3 Plus. (Note: This is using Hiby music app using USB direct mode, which is louder than Android's built-in USB output.)
    • On iPad, also no problem with power on the same headphones/IEMs.
  • Tonality: It is well balanced. Not much change to tonality. Some enhancements to mid presence and treble.
  • Bass: Good bass. I don't hear much difference in the bass using KA3 vs other DAC/Amp.
  • Mid: Vocals is more forward and has more presence than other DAC/Amps.
  • Treble: Some treble emphasis. It is open, airy, and sparkly. And this adds to the soundstage openness. I don't hear any sibilance. (See note below on pairing).
I often hear about pairing, but I didn't believe in pairing previously, because I never experienced any positive or negative pairing. Until I listened to Audio Technica ATH-A700 with KA3.

ATH-A700 is V-shaped. It has boosted bass. Vocal is thin and recessed. Treble is not really noticeable and not bright. When A700 is paired with KA3, it was not pleasant. Vocals are piercing and thin. Cymbals sound bright, metallic, harsh, and very abrasive. I couldn't believe it. I had to try it multiple times with other sources and swapping headphones to make sure there is no issue with either KA3 or ATH-A700.

There are some online reviewers that disliked KA3. If I only used A700, I would agree. There is definitely poor pairing in this case. I suspect potentially same issue on those negative KA3 reviews.

On my other headphones (Sundara and HD560S), KA3 sounds very good. Both are neutral headphones. HD560S is a tad bright. KA3 didn't change the tonality. Good bass, some vocal presence, and open/airy/sparkly treble. Very pleasing.

My main purpose of getting KA3 is to use it with IEM. My Tin HiFi T3 Plus is also v-shaped. Unlike A700, I have no issue with T3 Plus with KA3. In fact, I find that KA3 actually elevates T3 Plus. KA3 strength is where T3 Plus is weak. This IEM is a bit lacking in mids, due to its v-shape. And soundstage is just passable. KA3 adds to the vocal presence and make vocals feel more forward; plus bring out a bit more open soundstage.

Comparison with my other DAC/Amp:

SMSL SU-8S + Drop THX AAA One: This desktop setup is very open and airy, even more so than KA3. Due to the openness, sometimes I think vocals seems a bit more recess than KA3. But after more A/B I cannot say for sure. Most of time, I like the desktop setup more because it sounds a tad more dynamic and sparkly with the openness. Then there are other times I prefer the KA3 because it feels a bit more intimate with more vocal presence. I'm quite pleased with KA3 value and performance. At $75, it is very close to the desktop setup that cost $300.

If I have to choose, I still have to go with desktop setup. At 80-90% of my normally listening volume, desktop already sound rich and full. On KA3, when volume is low, it does not sound full. I need to crank up close to 100% of my listening volume to feel the music. So the enjoyable listening range is more limited on KA3. I'm not sure if this is due to the amp, power, or the source (PC vs phone).

Apple USB-C and Lightning dongle: No comparison. Apple dongles sound thin; treble lacking. KA3 vocals sound rich and full in comparison; treble is open and sparkly. The differences are significant. I know Apple dongle is cheap ($10). But it sounds like it is $10.

KA3 is great value at $75. With my limited setup, KA3 compares very well between desktop setup to KA3. Then KA3 blows the $10 Apple dongles away in sound quality. In a vacuum (by itself), KA3 sounds great.

Deciding factor is to compare KA3 versus other similarly priced dongles. Unfortunately, there are not many KA3 reviews out there; not to even mention reviews that compare to other dongles. This thread probably has the most comprehensive comparisons on KA3.

If we just look at other dongles that utilize the same DAC chip ES9038Q2M, KA3 is a good value at $75 and cheaper than others:

  • Hidizs S9 Pro (same DAC chip ES9038Q2M, more power, but also pricier at $110-120)
  • E1DA 9038D (same DAC chip ES9038Q2M, was $100, but sold out and not readily available at present)
  • Shanling UA2 (same DAC chip ES9038Q2M, $85)
  • Reiyin DA-Plus (same DAC chip ES9038Q2M, $77 Aliexpress)
Plus, would be interesting to see comparison versus other dongles with different DAC chip, in the similar price range:
  • iBasso DC05 (dual ES9219C chip, $70)
  • HiBy FC4 (ES9218 chip, $70)
  • Hidizs S3 Pro (ES9281C chip, $70)
  • Tempotec Sonata HD V (dual ES9219 chip, $50-$60)
  • Tempotec Sonata HD III (ES92198 chip, $50)
  • TempoTec Sonata E44 (dual CS43131 from Cirrus Logic, $90)
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iPhone 6 > KA3 > 4.4m out > Meze Rai Solo (Spinfit tips)
Very nice pairing.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: -High resolution
-neutral analytical
-crisp imaging
-hall like soundstage
-powerfull amping
-3.5se and 4.4mm bal output
-price value
Cons: -neutral analytical=not the most musical
-lean dynamic
-not the cleanest background
-a bit rough and thin (bright) timbre
-device can get quite hot

TONALITY: 7.8/10

doesn’t need intro, but let say they launch alot of new products lately including numerous DAC-AMP solutions. From budget dongle to flagship DAC-AMP, FIIO just can’t stop producing great audio decoding device. Today I will review one of them, under the more budget minded Jade Audio products line, the FIIO KA3, a ultra portable DAC-AMP dongle with an high end ES9038q2m DAC chip and dual independant amplifier, with single ended and balanced output.
Sound like a deal enh? Let see in this review what it worth!



The KA3 has a black aluminum body and is quite light. Its edges are a little sharp, which is unpleasant under the fingers and could even scratch the skin inadvertently. Connectivity is solid and secure. The USB-C port seems gold-plated as does the balanced 4.4mm port. There is a small light that lights up and lets you know what type of codec rate you are decoding. This type of light metal can get hot sometime.



Since their no buton, you must use FIIO app to control the options. You have high low gain and impedance level choice, which is very nice. You can choose to turn off the color light. Still, at they end its very minimal.


Their no EQ but you can choose between 7 low pass filters, which will inflict lightly on dynamic range presentation. Goal is to be used with other music player app. Sure, company like Qudelix put the bar high in term of DAC-AMP control app, so I hope FIIO will get inspire by it.
For firmware update, don’t forget to give a look there:


Very impressive for the size and the price, the 240mw@32ohm amping power can drive near everything up to 300ohm, and push the loundness very high. For the dynamic, it doesn’t translate in extra timbre or extra weighty in attack, but a wide airy spatiality and more overall spacious sound. The KA3 can even drive the Sennheiser HD820 to ear damaging level, and it will sound very open and detailed, yet perhaps a bit thinner in timbre and lighter in bass impact. Anyhow, this is to say that you don’t need to be afraid of lacking power with the KA3. As well, you can choose low or high gain (+6db) with FIIO APP. Another very welcome feature is the fact you can choose impedance output too, so you can use the KA3 with sensitive IEM too.



(Pairing: Final A8000, Hisenioor T2U, BQEYZ Autumn, Hifiman Sundara, Sennheiser HD820)

To note: KA3 can decode bitrate up to 32bit/768khz-DSD512, making it among most capable ultra portable DAC-AMP in that regard.


Neutral, gently bright and analytical, with an emphasis on rendering clarity without being too sharp. The sub-bass is flatter than the mid bass. The KA3 delivers an energetic sound but not too cold or aggressive. It’s fast and excited, it favors textures and micro details more than the body and relief of the instruments. Their a monitor-like feel to the overall musicality, which is sharp and vivid in treble presentation.


The resolution is amplified, the attack is very fast and controlled, the dynamics seem a bit compressed and lacking in articulation and varying degrees of amplitude. The highs stand out a bit more from the sound spectrum than the rest, creating a sens of distance. Attack isn’t very weighty, dynamic a bit flat which rarely make vocal or instrument jumping at you with a lively presence.

BASS is punchy and tight, yet not very thick nor heavy in impact. The rumble is tamed a bit, as well as resonance of the impact. Dynamic heft is smoothed we can say, yet their enough minimal energy to make the low end enough presence, since it’s clean, transparent and have good definition in term of sound image without physicality.

MIDS are leanes’t part of the spectrum, clean, clear and higly resolved and transparent, their a hint of extra crispness to them making violin and electic guitar more dynamic in attack. Texture is nuanced with realist timbral balance that doesn’t extract too much high or low harmonic details. What it lack is dynamic weight (again) and energy in amplitude, since the piano notes lack both weight and natural resonance gradiency. Nonetheless, piano is ultra clean and well resolved, yet not fully sculpted in a 3D like spatiality. Vocal will sound just a bit distant, especially in term of immersive emotionality connected to a projection that embrace the listener, here we don’t feel at 1M from the singer, more like 10M. So, we can say mids are a bit cold-analytical.

TREBLE is the must energic and lively and diversify in amplitude part of the spectrum, as if their an extra current boost in there, or dedicated amping section for highs only (hum). Fowards, yet adding air and openess to spatiality, the highs are very generous in details but not harsh, as if a bit smoothed in edge. I wouldn’t call them super brilliant and sparkly, they sit in middle of dryness and snapyness. As well, they can extract background noise of music, being on the extended bright side of analytical, this will be even more so at high gain (balanced output).

SPATIALITY is quite wide, tall and deep, making it a bit hall like per moment,

IMAGING is one of the highlight of KA3, due to high level of resolution, transparency and sound info details, we can easily spot instrument positioning with good space between each of them. In fact, i use the KA3 for mixing some time, in pair with Hisenior T2U and result is great, again, it confirm a ”monitor-like” sound presentation from this marvellous dongle.



VS FIIO BTR5 (dual ES9218DAC-240mw@32ohm BAL-120$)

The resolution is clearly superior with the KA3, but offers a more intimate presentation, less wide and open in spatiality. The tone is also drier, less polished at the top of the spectrum, less analog-natural. The attack is more biting and articulate. The spatiality is deeper with better instrumental separation but more compressed sound layers. The BASS is more punchy but less warm and stretchy, it sounds less high in the sub-bass as well as cleaner and less invasive. The MIDS are more centered, clear and put forward in well-defined presence, the BTR5s having a wider presentation, open and veiled. The TREBLE are more pointed, less polished in the roundness, more incisive and quick to push forward micro details. The BTR5s seem more organic and cohesive, darker too, less analytical. Technically the KA3 is superior on all levels except width of field, the BTR5s have a more analogous and mellow tone, with bass warmth that serves as a binder. On the amplification side, the two should be equivalent with a balanced output power of 240mw@32ohm, but the Hifiman SUNDARA test shows that the KA3 is sometimes unstable when it requires sustained power, which creates unpredictable distortion when the dynamic Note that the BTR5 has a Bluetooth receiver, as well as a battery that has less influence on the consumption of the smartphone’s battery. Also, unlike the KA3, the construction is more refined and there are control buttons as well as a screen.

(dual CS43131 DAC-175mw@32ohm-70$)

So, the E44 have slightly lower power output, but it’s doesn’t translate into a lack of dynamic energy, which in fact is more weighty and lively in amplitude projection than KA3. This is surely due to dual DAC used that perhaps permit lower crosstalk.
(Indeed, I just check and E44 crosstalk is about 3 times lower.)
This doesn’t mean E44 sound clearer, but that dynamic is better articulated and sound projection perhaps more free since attack of KA3 is notably more retain and blend. In other words, high resolution of E44 doesn’t feel forced, while with KA3 it does, with extra grain that amplify brighness reveal.
Bass of E44 have bigger slam and warmer, fuller timbre, in fact here the timbre is very different, more natural and pleasant with E44, yet less amplify in texture and ”digital transparency”. Mids is where the KA3 show it’s more artificial tonality, it doesn’t open in wideness as much as E44 and make instrument like saxophone and some vocal notably more dry and thin and rude in realism. Finally ,treble is brighter and more agressive with the KA3 as expected, it have less natural brilliance and sparkle as well as resonance than E44.
Hum, here, the clear winner is Tempotec E44, even if technically it isn’t as ”frontal”, the dynamism is more coherent, hefty and fluidly articulated in contrast of amplitude than flatter colder more clinical sounding KA3.

VS Xduoo Link2 Bal (dual CS43131-LM49720 amp-150$)

Here we have near opposite tonality, the KA3 being notably brighter, crisper and more analytical, whith thinner dryer timbre and lighter bass with sub bass roll off. While amping power is suppose to be near the same with 240mw@32ohm for the KA3, it doesn’t translate in same sound openess and loudness, as well, with the Sundara KA3 will make distortion at max volume which isn’t the case for the Link2.
Technically, imaging is crisper and more accurate with KA3, so i will use this one for music production and mastering instead of less accurate Link2.
For music listening and enjoyment, their not a single doubt Link2 is more appealing and natural, spatiality is less compressed, way more open and tall, though a bit less clean and deep than KA3.


Their alot to love about FIIO KA3 apart it’s extremely competitive price; the amount of balanced output power, the extremely revealing yet not agressive tonality, the sturdy built, it’s care free compatibility with any device, but for it’s musicality, it will be hit or miss depending of your expectation and preference. For me, as a part time music producer, the FIIO KA3 act like a ”monitor dac-amp” in the sens it’s lean analytical sound presentation show me everything that is is good or bad in my music.

If you seek for the budget DAC-AMP with highest resolution that put details retrieval and crisp imaging in first plan, I don’t think you can get this level of technical performance with most other dongles.


PS: I want to thanks FIIO for the review sample. I’m not affiliated nor pay to write this review and my impressions are 100% honnest and subjective as always.
You can order the KA3 from this official seller:

for more honest audio reviews, give a read (and subscribe?) to my ''No Borders Audiophile'' audio blog here:


Reviewer at hxosplus
Reference sound / Budget price
Pros: + Absolutely linear frequency response
+ Yet very enjoyable and musical
+ Extra powerful and muscular
+ Dead silent
+ Crystal clear
+ Open and spacious
+ Can drive most full size headphones with ease
+ Balanced and single ended
+ 768KHz/32bit PCM and DSD512
+ Windows, Android, Mac and iOS compatible
+ FiiO Control application for further customization
+ Good build quality
+ Easy to replace detachable cable
Cons: - No MQA decoding (if you care)
- No hardware buttons (if you care)
- Slightly increased power consumption
- A little bulkier than the competition
- Lighting cable is an extra
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for my honest and subjective opinion.
I only covered import fees and tax.
The retail price is €99 and you can buy it using this not affiliate link


The FiiO KA3 is the company's first USB DAC/amp dongle to run without an internal battery like the BTR5.
A little late to the party but better late than never.
The KA3 is a co - branding between FiiO and the sister company Jade Audio.


Design and build quality

The KA3 is a DAC/amp dongle featuring a USB type C input with a detachable cable and dual outputs with a single-ended 3.5mm jack and a balanced 4.4mm one.
The provided cable is of good quality with aluminum plugs and strain reliefs at both ends.
A full sized USB adapter is included inside the box.
I always prefer the detachable cable system which may add a little bulk but it is easier to replace a broken cable or use a longer one when it is needed.


The compact unit is made from aluminium alloy and it is quite compact, measuring 56x20x12mm and lightweight, weighing about 17.5g.
It is not the most compact when compared to the competition but the housing is a little larger because it houses some extra electronic components as we are going to discover later on.
Build quality is very good and the unit feels sturdy and durable.
The design is pretty industrial with a ribbon pattern at the edges and a discreet, circular RGB led at the top of the one side.
The LED will flash between yellow, blue and green according to the input sample rate.
48kHz and below is blue, above 48kHz is yellow and green for DSD.



The chip used to do the decoding is the familiar ES9038Q2M from ESS that is to be found in much more expensive, full sized DACs.
The chip is configured in a dual mono operation for a fully balanced output.
In most USB dongles (especially at this price bracket) the usual practice is to throw the DAC/amp chip inside the case and just add the input and output plugs.
Not here though since FiiO has gone a step further to include some extra electronics, hence the larger body.
There is an extra USB port processor, dual crystal oscillators, independent power supplies with high quality capacitors and two extra op-amps to boost the power output.
The maximum supported sampling rate is 768KHz/32bit PCM and DSD64/128/256/512


Power output

The power output is rated at full scale 4V and 2V under 300Ω load that translates into roughly 240mW/32Ω and 130mW/32Ω from the balanced and the single ended outputs respectively.
Interestingly enough the KA3 is very capable at driving 16Ω loads with a stable power delivery of 120mW from both outputs when most of the competition will hit current limit and enter protection mode.


The KA3 is plug'n play compatible with Android, Windows, Mac and iOS devices although the limited power supply of iPhones may cause it to mute at the higher volume setting.
The user must download the Windows drivers for DSD playback and to separately purchase the lighting cable.

FiiO Control application

The KA3 is compatible with the FiiO control application (only available for Android) that allows for some extra configuration of the unit.
The user can enable or disable the RGB indicator, choose between low and high gain, optimal headphone impedance between low and high, select one of the seven available low pass filters and read the online manual.


Firmware update

After finishing the review, a newer firmware update has been released.

Updated on 2022-01-24

Changes and improvements about new firmware are as follows :

1.Added memory function for turning indicator light off; (You could switch indicator light option between Turn off(until device restart) and Turn off(always) via Android version FiiO Control APP. Turn off(until device restart):Turn off the indicator light for now and turn it on again after the device restarts; Turn off(always): Keep turning off the indicator light until the setting changes.)

2.Added dynamic power policy adjustment function; (With this enabled,the system will dynamically adjust the power policy according to the playback sampling rates,so when playing tracks with lower sampling rates, the power consumption and heat generation will be effectively reduced.

3.Added hardware mute switch function; (The device is embedded with a hardware mute switch, which can mute the impulsive sound that occurs when switching between tracks of different sampling rates. However, when the mute switch functions,it will also make a slight pop sound. You may choose to enable or disable it according to your preference.)


Sound impressions

As per usual practice I left the unit playing music for about 100 hours prior to listening tests.
I have started with entry level iems closer to the selling price of the KA3, like the FiiO FD3 or the DUNU Titan S but later on the high quality of the sound performance made me to switch to much better earphones like the FiiO FD7 and full size headphones like the Sennheiser HD660s rising as far as to the Focal Clear Mg.


Well, this was a spoiler so let me cut straight into the chase, the KA3 is an absolutely stellar performer with a sound quality to match and has become my reference DAC/amp dongle, surpassing much more expensive models like the THX Onyx and the EarMen Sparrow.
Yes it is this good thanks to the perfectly linear frequency response, the crystal clear and dead silent background, the ultimate transparency, the processing precision, the musical presentation and the excellent power delivery.

Super powerful

Speaking of power, the KA3 was no slouch in driving with authority and some headroom left, larger headphones like the Sennheiser HD660s, the Focal Clear Mg or even the power hungry HiFiMan Sundara.
I have never reached above ¾ of the available volume range and I would rank the KA3 as the most powerful and authoritative USB dongle at this size.


Back to the sound

The KA3 has some stellar dynamics with highly convincing swings between rise and fall, done with a desktop-like manner.
With great power reserves, it always sounded surprisingly effortless and muscular for such a small USB powered device.
The bass is deep, full bodied and weighty, yet controlled, tight, clear, precise and perfectly layered.
Sound is fast and agile, with great decaying characteristics.
Midrange is neutral with well sculptured notes, finely articulated voices and a colorful instrumental sound palette.
Timbre is mostly natural sans a few spots of digital glare in the higher registers but still the KA3 is quite coherent and homogeneous with a convincing tone colour that is never too artificial.
No matter the music and the headphone used, it always sounded musical and highly engaging.
Treble is full of energy, sparkling and detailed but not analytical, precise and extended but not bright or harsh.
Of course you should always remember that the KA3 is extremely transparent and precise so it will present your music with ruthless honesty so bad recordings will sound bad and vice versa.
The same principle applies to earphone matching, the KA3 will not impart its own character and the sound signature will be mostly determined by the earphone itself.
With all the headphones used, I liked the soundstage capabilities of this little DAC a lot.
Sound was always open and spacious, mostly extended in the width rather than the depth although not absent of some layering and imaging was precise and correct.
I didn't miss a lot and I remained very satisfied with the holography of the imaginary soundscape.


The new reference

After some extensive music listening, using various earphones and headphones I ended in preferring the KA3 over my previous references, the THX Onyx, the EarMen Sparrow and the Violectric Chronos, that all of them cost double the money over the KA3.

Vs THX Onyx

The THX Onyx is as good as it gets from its single ended output but it gets surpassed by the balanced output of the KA3.
Sound is quite close but I found the KA3 to be more muscular, slightly more musical and open sounding without sacrificing in transparency.
Still the THX Onyx ranks among the best single ended USB DAC dongles with a slightly different form factor and MQA decoding capabilities, so I can see many people going for it although the KA3 can do up to 768KHz/32bit PCM and DSD512.
If you don't care about balanced output and you need MQA then the THX Onyx still reigns supreme.

Vs EarMen Sparrow

The Sparrow is as good as it gets but it is still susceptible in picking electromagnetic interference even after the cable upgrade.
(I don't know about the new mkii edition
Power wise both units are in the same ballpark but I still find the KA3 better in handling full sized headphones.
Sound quality is top notch although the Sparrow is somewhat less musical and a little more cold - blooded and distanced, more analytical and better suited for the reference crowd and detail junkies.
On the other hand it sports a 2.5mm balanced output so it is more compact than the KA3 and can do MQA although the KA3 supports 768KHz/32bit PCM and DSD512.
If size and appearance is a priority then the Sparrow fits the bill will top notch sound quality, extra power and MQA decoding.

Vs Vioelectric Chronos

Regarding the Chronos, the excellent sound performance is undisputable but the lower power output limits it mostly for iem use.
Of course it is Made in Germany, build quality is top notch and appearance is luxurious but decoding is limited to 32bit/384kHz and DSD256 without MQA.
I would still rank the Chronos as the supreme iem master with top notch sound quality and the lesser power consumption among the contenders.


Lastly the KA3 is the only one among them to offer some fine tuning through the FiiO control application.

In the end

Maybe FiiO was a little late to the party but oh boy, they have made a hell of a shuttering entrance.
Their first USB dongle is a rather ambitious project with a performance to match.
It is pretty clear that FiiO did their homework, studied the competition and decided for a different approach regarding the engineering, something that in the end clearly paid off.
Don't let the low selling price fool you, the FiiO KA3 is easily among the best (and much more expensive) DAC dongles in the market and has become my new point of reference.
Give it a try and you might feel the same.

Test playlist

Copyright - Laskis Petros 2022.
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Well, let's hope so because without the power limit, it can drive them pretty well.
Drive tin hifi p2?
I don't have it but I don't see why it shouldn't be able to drive it.
It drives the Sundara with ease, from the balanced output that is.