Fiio/Jade Audio KA3 Dac/Amp

General Information

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Latest reviews

NymPHONOmaniac

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
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TONALITY: 7.8/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8.6/10
CONSTRUCTION: 8/10
SOUND VALUE: 8.5/10

FIIO
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!

CONSTRUCTION​



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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.

FONCTIONALITIES

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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.

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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:
https://www.fiio.com/newsinfo/593089.html



AMPING POWER


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.



SOUND IMPRESSIONS​

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(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.


TONALITY

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.

TECHNICALITIES

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.

COMPARISONS​

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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.

VS TEMPOTEC E44
(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.



CONCLUSION​

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:https://hifigo.com/products/fiio-ka3


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

Ichos

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
outputs
+ 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 FiiO.eu.

Introduction

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.

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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.

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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.

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Technology

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

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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.

Connectivity

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
Last edited:
Ichos
Ichos
Well, let's hope so because without the power limit, it can drive them pretty well.
X
Xefiro13
Drive tin hifi p2?
Ichos
Ichos
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.

OspreyAndy

500+ Head-Fier
FiiO/Jade Audio KA3
Pros: -
- Well balanced neutral and natural timbre, clean and crisp
- Mature & polished dynamics
- Clean background with zero floor noises
- Works great up to 300 Ohm load
- Great technicalities
Cons: -
- Weak for a 2 Vrms rated dongle
- No MQA support
- No hardware volume adjuster
- Slightly higher battery drain than the next competitor

Review Date: 18 January 2022​

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SPECIFICATIONS

DAC: ES9038Q2M
FiiO Control App (Android
Weight: 17.5g
Size: 56.3mm x 20.2mm x 12mm
USB port: Type-C USB
Earphone port: 3.5mm
Balanced output port 4.4mm
DSD64/128/256/512
System firmware and Bluetooth version can be upgraded via USB
Sampling rate indication: Blue ≤48kHz, Yellow >48kHz, Green =DSD
Channel balance
PO: <0.004dB(32Ω/THD+N<1%)
BAL: <0.046dB(32Ω/THD+N<1%)

Recommended Headphone Impedance
16~300Ω(PO)
16~300Ω(BAL)
Maximum supported sampling rate 768KHz/32bit

SE 3.5mm Output Power (2 Vrms)
120mW (16Ω,THD+N<1%)
130mW (32Ω,THD+N<1%)
14mW (300Ω,THD+N<1%)
7mW (600Ω,THD+N<1%)

BAL 4.4mm Output Power (2.7 Vrms)
120mW (16Ω,THD+N<1%)
240mW (32Ω,THD+N<1%)
56mW (300Ω,THD+N<1%)
28mW (600Ω,THD+N<1%)



Test Equipment


Headphones:
  • FOSTEX T40RP MK3 (Magnetic Planar, 50 Ohm, 91db Sensitivity)
  • Beyerdynamic DT880 (Dynamic Drivers, 600 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)
IEMs:
  • Etymotic ER4SR (Single BA, 45 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)
  • TRN VX Pro (8 BA + 1DD Hybrid, 22 Ohm, 106db Sensitivity)
  • TIN HiFi T3+ (Single DD, 32 Ohm, 105db Sensitivity)
  • Shure KSE1500 (Single Electrostatic 200V, KSA1200 Energizer)
Earbuds:
  • VE Asura 3.0 FE (Single DD, 155 Ohm)
  • VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ (Single DD, 320 Ohm)
Sources:
  • Windows 10, Foobar 2000 (Native USB Drivers)
  • LG V50 ThinQ (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
  • Sony Xperia X Compact (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
  • Tidal Masters (via UAPP)
Comparative Reference DAC/Amp:
  • iFi ZEN DAC V2 + ZEN CAN Stack (15.1 Vrms)


LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING

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FiiO KA3. FiiO entered the ever growing Dongles scene with this neat and solid looking device. A partnership effort between FiiO and Jade Audio. Look at it from one side and it is FiiO KA3, flip it over and it became Jade Audio.
As with what is quite common nowadays, FiiO/Jade opted to use the proven and tested ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M DAC. A very versatile DAC chip that can be found among some of the best performing #donglemadness counterparts.

Build, Functions, Usability​

Minimalism is the theme for KA3. CNC machined aluminum body with flat black powdercoat. The construction suggests that KA3 is built to last. Solid, firm and spartan exterior with just a hint of elegance with two end caps both end anodized in flat gold. Admirably beautiful in its own way. Not forgetting the USB cable that came in twist braid setup which I find equally beautiful, finished in gunmetal hue.

The other prominent physical feature of KA3 is the single indicator for source resolution. Blue for ≤48kHz PCM, Yellow for>48kHz PCM and Green for DSD

KA3 does not have any hardware volume adjuster. But it does offer options for fine tuning of volume on Android via FiiO Control App. Which also provide the means to adjust the desired Hi/Lo Gain, Channel Balance, Device Volume and Lowpass Filters.
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Endurance wise, KA3 scored 5 hours 30 minutes from 100% to 1% on my Sony Xperia X Compact (Android 8, 2700 mAH Battery, Airplane Mode), running UAPP bitperfect mode in High Gain with TRN VX Pro. KA3 fell short 30 minutes from matching the mileage clocked by Cayin RU6 and iBasso DC05 of which both scored 6 hours. But this is still better than CEntrance DACport HD which only managed 3.5 hours.
With prolonged usage, the aluminum body of KA3 will emit mild heat which I find quite common among many Dongles. But definitely less heat than Hidizs S9 Pro or A&K PEE51.

Sound Impressions​

Before I proceed any further, it’s worth to mention that the entirety of my impressions are done on Apodizing Fast Roll-off or Slow Roll-off filters. I use Apodizing Fast for matching with natively warmer sounding partners and Slow Roll-off with natively bright sounding IEMs/HPs. These filters, they don’t actually alter the sound. They influence the temperament of timbre handling. This is similar to what can be found on Shanling UA2 and E1DA 9038D – a built in feature of ES9038Q2M which allows user to adjust the effective filters. Not all ES9038Q2M provide access to this. Hidizs S9 Pro, Audioquest Cobalt and REIYIN DA-Plus runs on fixed filters with no user configurable options provided. Being able to adjust the filters is something I find very useful and with FiiO providing proper app for it, makes the whole experience even better.

KA3 is a very well tuned ESS based Dongle. Tonal balance hovers closer to being analogue with slight hint of organic warmth – warm for a normally bright sounding ESS DAC. For example, KA3 has better sense of organic warmth when compared to Hidizs S9 Pro or E1DA 9038D, both of which are ES9038Q2M as well. I would place KA3 alongside Shanling UA2 and Audioquest Cobalt on the same segment for tonal approach (another two with ES9038Q2M). This interpretation of timbral and tonality presentation can mean differently for different listener. To me it means KA3 is geared to please those appreciating their music smooth, resolving and crisp, without any element of fatigue especially for those dreading the notorious ESS Sabre Pinna glare. Not an easy thing to achieve, so I will give credit to FiiO and Jade Audio for keeping it naturally balanced sounding on KA3 tuning. I have been enjoying my time with KA3 polished and highly resolving dynamics. While being warm, it is still admirably resolving and transparent. I would even say that the level of maturity exhibited by KA3 equals Questyle M12 and REIYIN DA-Plus (both being 5 Stars performers).
Dynamic range frequencies presentation of KA3 is nothing short of amazing. Mids exhibited great texture, imaging and well rounded density, vocals remained transparent to the nature tonality as per intended, Treble very polished with natural sounding sparkle and air, it is detailed, crisp as it is smooth. Bass with great extensions and rumble, it is fast, tidy, natural and believable, Bass decays truthful to the capabilities of the paired partners.

I get the very best of results from the pairing of Shure KSE1500 and TRN VX Pro. The fidelity level produced were simply mind blowing with succinct articulation of details and tonal balance that makes it hard for me to pin down as being warm or bright – a sound spectrum that is so very well balanced and addictive. Shure KSE1500 is without a doubt among the most resolving IEM in existence and will exhibit every single aeons of the source characteristics. With less than competent partners, KSE1500 will reveal all the weaknesses that exists in the the feed. KA3 thankfully is almost free of any worrying artifacts that the KSE1500 would have already picked up. So does the TRN VX Pro to a certain degree, being slightly finicky with source pairing, the VX Pro can sound odd with some dongles, but with KA3 it sounded amazingly articulate to my ears. What pleases me the most, of how forgiving still KA3 with Lo-Fi recordings. It is already great with Hi-Fi stuffs from Diana Krall, Alison Krauss and Sinne Eeg, but to my surprise it also sounding equally amazing playing Toilet-Fi quality Black Metal recordings from the likes of Burzum! Anybody familiar with Burzum will know how appallingly piercing and peaky Burzum is. With Varg Vickernes wailing and shrieks full of misanthropic vocals, recordings as if they were done inside a basement toilet. Yet I am enjoying the sound immensely and not getting my eardrums singed bloody. So yes credit to KA3 for being able to handle both Hi-Fi and Lo-Fi.
Technically KA3 exhibited great prowess too. Especially on the projection of soundstage. Unlike most other ES9038Q2 implementations, or most ESS DACs for that matter, KA3 is admirably wide and spacious with soundstage. It is free from the tall but narrow feel as can be observed from the likes of Shanling UA2 and E1DA 9038D. Imaging and resolution being sharp and crisp. Separation lines all laid out neatly in their own space. KA3 has the speed to avoid getting congested or compressed. Macro and Micro details equally great, the more resolving the partners the better the resolution. Spatial positioning however seems to be average at best, it is definitely not sloppy or fuzzy, but just lacking a tiny bit of precision and clinical sharpness. But this also mean it has smoother approach to imaging. KA3 is also a very tidy and clean sounding source, I have not heard any hint of floor noises even with the most sensitive IEMs in my possession.

Synergy wise, I already mentioned that KA3 pairs amazingly well with Shure KSE1500 and TRN VX Pro, KA3 also pairs great with TIN HiFi T3+, Etymotic ER4SR and VE Asura 3.0FE. The caveat being, best to re-tune the filters to suit the partners. T3+ will shine the best with Apodizing Fast Roll-off, ER4SR and Asura 3.0FE with Slow Roll-off filter. Once the filters are set, the results are equally satisfying. This flexibility offered by KA3 is something I find very valuable and useful in actual practice. It must be noted, that to reset the filters, the KA3 must be released from the hold of UAPP USB handling so that FiiO Control can implement the change. Best to disconnect, connect, allow FiiO Control exclusive access (deny UAPP), change the settings, exit, disconnect and then re-connect to allow UAPP to resume. Yes I know it is tedious but it is something that does not need to be done frequently……unless you are as insane as I am with so many variant of listening devices.

Driving Power​

As part of #donglemadness 2022 standard procedures, driving tests with two of my most difficult to drive Headphones. My desktop stack of iFi ZEN DAC V2 + ZEN Can (15.1 Vrms) used as a reference to ascertain how close KA3 able to drive those two juggernauts. With the ZEN stacks providing 100% experience, this is how KA3 compares:

FIIO KA3 4.4MM BAL (HIGH GAIN)

  • Fostex T40RP MK3: 50% (Vol 98/100)
  • Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Ohm: 40% (Vol 100/100)
The percentage being indication of how close KA3 to that iFi ZEN Stack. Of which the criteria for comparison as follows:
  • Listening loudness (proper level)
  • Dynamic transients and density
  • Headroom spacing and staging
  • Imaging strength
  • Details articulation
I must admit that the biggest letdown for KA3 is the absolute driving power for demanding partners. KA3 is simply unusable for DT880 600 Ohm and borderline useful for T40RP MK3. It just doesn’t make sense to expect KA3 to drive anything above 300 Ohm. I get disappointing results too from VE ZEN 2.0 (320 Ohm).
However! KA3 will not be heavily penalized for this shortcomings, FiiO legitimately mentioned that KA3 is optimized for anything up to 300 Ohm and I wholeheartedly agree with that. In fact the results I get from the 155 Ohm VE Asura FE 3.0 solidified my findings on where the sweet spot is for KA3, keep it below 300 Ohm and all will be great!

VERDICT​

0116222155_hdr.jpg


FiiO KA3 is an amazing unit. Use it sensibly within the limit of up to 300 Ohm and I can attest that the flexibility of KA3 will not fail to impress. The general theme for KA3, being organic sounding yet very technically competent. The overall presentation well balanced end to end with dynamic range. KA3 is free from any element of being edgy or granular. It is as polished as can be expected from a well tuned ES9038Q2M.

The biggest appeal to me, KA3 surprisingly competent at being an AUX source for my No.1 IEM, KSE1500. That one element alone could have earned KA3 a 5 Stars rating but alas #donglemadness is all about pushing it to the max in all areas. And what’s holding back was the limit of KA3 driving power. Otherwise it would have been a total success for KA3.

Best Pairing: Anything below 300 Ohm, highly flexible​

#donglemadness
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Nellie75
Nellie75
Great review. Based on your recommmendstiojs, I’m going to try slow roll off with my DT1990Pros and Sundaras. I am an iPhone user but have an android device with the Fiio control app. I can make settings changes and assume that those are still set when not connected to an android device, but maybe I am wrong.
X
Xefiro13
Drive tin hifi p2?
OspreyAndy
OspreyAndy
@Nellie75 and @Xefiro13 . No, KA3 as noted is a weak 2 Vrms dongle. You want to drive magnetic planars properly better choice would be something like xDuoo Link2 BAL, Colorfly CDA M1, Cayin Ru6, CEntrance DACport HD, Ovidius B1 or even Hidizs S9 Pro, but just not KA3

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