Fiio K3 (2021)

General Information

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FiiO New K3 32Bit/384kHz DSD256 ES9038Q2M USB DAC HiFi Headphone Amplifier

Description
Two USB AUDIO modes
Flagship-grade PCM 384k/DSD256 decoding
RGB indicator light
Dual headphone outs, dual digital audio outs DAC volume control
Elevate your computer with powerful decoding

Just connect the new K3 to your computer via USB to instantly upgrade to high-fidelity sound, and enjoy your music the way it was meant to be heard. Equipped with an XMOS USB receiver chip, the new K3 is capable of decoding up to 384kHz/32bit PCM and native DSD256 - the same as many DACs costing much more. The new K3's dual crystal oscillators ensure that any digital audio signals being fed into the DAC are exactly correct for further enhanced sound quality.

Great "core" improvement
The new K3 employs the flagship portable ESS DAC, the ES9038Q2M. Compared to the AK4452, the signal-to-noise ratio has increased by 14dB and distortion has reduced by 13dB. The circuit design implementing this DAC has been optimized for a low noise floor and clean sound.

*SNR increased by 12%
*Distortion (THD+ N) reduced by 12%
High-performance, low distortion op-amp
The ES9038Q2M DAC is matched with the mature OPA926op-amp in a re-optimized LPF circuit for lower distortion and higher resolution.

Not obsolete with brand new tuning
Compared to the last generation K3, FiiO has noticeably improved on various performance indicators and overall sound quality, so you can get immersed in your music even more easily.

Simply reliable USB power
The new K3 adopts the modern USB Type -C input interface for a more reliable and stable connection, including that of power. However, care to ensure an uncompromised power supply doesn't stop there - the new K3 implements overvoltage protection (OVP) and a double -filter circuit to ensure power supply stability, while the digital and analog audio circuits each get their own power supply to greatly reduce crosstalk.

Low and High gains ADC volume control
The switch for high and low gain meets your listening volume needs of delicacy and large dynamics. Plus an ADC volume control, the user is able to smoothly adjust the volume to a more accurate and finer degree, allowing the new K3 to be used with headphones of all kinds of sensitivity to really make your songs, games, and movies come to life.

Tiny round goodness in the palm of your hand

The all-aluminum black body has been painstakingly CNC-machined, anodized, and sandblasted to ensure that the new K3 feels robust yet perfectly textured for a great feel in your hands. Combined with its small size, you can easily take the new K3 wherever you need to.

Two modes for many situations
Sometimes, you may not have access to a device that can connect to the new K3 via USB Audio Class 2. In these situations, you can go to USB Audio Class 1 mode with just the flick of a switch.
* Using the 2.0 mode requires downloading and installing the FiiO USB driver.
*After switching USB modes, you need to either turn the new K3 off and on, or unplug and plug in the USB cable.

A distinctly cohesive tactile audiovisual experience

The volume knob, with 45 notches etched onto its surface and perfectly sized to allow easy one-finger operation, is designed to perfectly blend in with the curves of the new K3 body for a distinctive touch. Next to the volume knob is an RGB light that indicates what kind of digital audio is being input to the new K3, visually confirming what you are hearing in your music.
*48kHz sampling rate and below – Blue
*Above 48kHz sampling rate – Yellow

*DSD - Green
Different connection options for different scenarios
Connect it to a desktop computer
Use the driverless 1.0 mode for business trips
Make it a digital turntable connected to an external decoder
Connect it to a speaker, using the New K3 as a DAC

Dual headphone jacks
Being optimized for indoor desktop use, the new K3 is equipped with both 3.5mm single - ended and 2.5mm balanced headphone jacks. Both outputs have audio jack detection, which means that when headphones are inserted into the balanced out, balanced boost automatically kicks in resulting in about a 50% output power increase compared to the single ended out.

Line out connector
The 3.5mm line out is driven directly by theOPA1612 op-amp, to ensure as little sound quality reduction as possible. The line out output is also adjustable with maximum power output up to 2Vrms, to ensure compatibility with a wide variety of active speakers and external amplifiers.

*When using the line out, please disconnect any headphones.

Coaxial and Optical
The XMOS USB receiver chip in the new K3 directly converts any USB audio input to digital signals output via the coaxial and optical connectors, allowing you to connect to speaker systems, amplifiers, or other external decoders.

*The volume knob does not control digital output volume. The New K3 can output digital audio signals up to 192kHz and DSD64 over DoP. Please adjust the settings of the device you are connecting the NEW K3to if the device does not support the digitally output format.

Specification
Model: new k3
Dimensions: 70x58x22mm
USB: Type-C
USB driver-free switch: Yes
Volume knob: ADC analog volume knob
Gain: L/H
Bass boost: 0/+6dB
Line-out: 3.5mm
Headphone out (SE): 3.5mm
Headphone Out (BAL): 2.5mm
Coaxial out: RCA for 192kHz/24bit, supports DSD64, DOP
Optical out: Up to 96kHz/24bit
USB chip: XMOS XUF208
Audio DAC: ES 9038Q2M
AMP chip: OPA926*2
Output power (PO): 120mW (32Ω)
Output power (BAL): 200mW (32Ω)
PCM: 384kHz/32bit
DSD: Native DSD64/128/256
SNR (PO): 121dB
SNR (BAL): 120dB
SNR (LO): 121dB
THD+N: £0.002%
Frequency response: 20-80kHz (-3dB)
Electrical level (line -out): 1.9Vrms
Output impedance: 16-150Ω
Indicator light: RGB
*Recognized by computer when connecting via USB-Blue
*Unrecognized by computer when connecting via USB- Red
*Sampling rate£ 48kHz-Blue
*Sampling rate>48kHz-Yellow
*DSD-Green

Latest reviews

Dsnuts

Headphoneus Supremus
Fiio K3 2021. Newest K3 using ES9038Q2M
Pros: Small form factor, USB-C plug n play. Good power to drive most headphones up to 300Ohms with plenty of headroom. Very good sound quality using a ES9038Q2M and two OPA926 for amping. Low noise floor with clean dynamics for a clear clean sound out of your computer or laptop. Able to listen up to PCM:384Khz/32bit and DSD64/128/256 with a driver download. Easy upgrade to the drab no dynamic sound of your laptops and computers. Perfect companion for much better fidelity for everything media related. Single ended 3.5mm and balanced 2.5 Much more power. Bass boost that adds 6dbs of the stuff with a flick of a switch. High and Low gain for more sensitive pairings. Fantastic sounding for IEMS. Perfect for movie watching. Coaxial and line out for more versatility. Price to performance ratio.
Cons: USB-C cable is stiff and memory prone.
Fiio K3 ( 2021)
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Fiios line of K devices are made for indoor use mostly for your computers and laptops. The K3 was one of their most successful products for a good reason. Their ease of function and sound quality with a very friendly price means enthusiasts around the world would rather listen to their music and sound through a K3 device instead of the basic onboard sound of your computers.

Portable dac/amps aka the sound cards are a thing in our hobby. We all use computers and some use it exclusively for their music but the onboard sound is not so optimal for music listening. Laptop manufacturers include a very basic way of listening to your music on your laptop which is mostly handled through realtek software. For occasional video watching, zoom calls and playing some games, it is functional but nowhere near what it could be due to hardware limitations.
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Hence the need for better sounding/ performing external dac/amps to pump out the sound. My first experience with an external dac amp was my meridian explorer back in 2013, and I still own that unit today. It has provided years of music listening and a much more acceptable sound vs the onboard stuff. Fast forward to today and while there are a lot of options for the external sound card. Fiio has always had a way of improving the sound experience for your computers.

Their previous K3 was a big seller for them so naturally an improved K3 model sees some foundational upgrades that might make you consider one for your laptop or computer. Fiio always seems to improve upon established designs regardless but everyone knows of the AKM fire that saw the decline in use of their AK DAC chips. In response to the shortage of AK chips Fiio has opted to use a very reputable ES9038Q2M DAC chip with a combination of a newer XMOS decoding and the addition of a mature OPA926 for amplification promising lower distortion and higher resolution to the sound.
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In comparison to their previous AK4452 chip used on their older K3. Signal to noise ratio sees an increase by 14db with a decrease in distortion at 13dbs. What you're getting is a lower noise floor and a cleaner sound. Signal to noise is increased by about 12% and the distortion decreases to about 12% from the previous AK chip implementation. That, my friends, is an upgrade.

Standardly disclaimers the K3 was provided by Fiio for my evaluation and report. If what I wrote here applies to you and your use case scenario for such a devise. You can look up and get yourself one at their Aliexpress page here.
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There are several design advancements that make the K3 a well engineered sound card for your computer. USB type C, an overvoltage protection with a double filter circuit for power supply stability. Analog and digital portions get their own power supply to reduce crosstalk. ADC volume control for a smooth volume pot without any type of imbalance. Next to the volume wheel is a colored RGB with 3 colors, blue, yellow and green that indicates what type of music file you're listening to. Two modes of USB functionality: type 1 where you can listen to 24bit-96Khz audio with a simple plug n play or using downloaded software enjoy up to 384khz/DSD 256 decoding in type 2 configuration.

Use case scenarios are as follows:
Obviously to make your computer sound legit. Hook these up to your laptops or computers for much improved sonic quality. This will enhance everything that has to do with sound coming from your computers. It is as simple as that. You can hook this up to some external speakers for better speaker performance. Use the single or coaxial or optical out to mix with different amplification for different tunings with different power levels depending on how you want to use the cards DAC out performance.
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Using a single 3.5mm out and balanced 2.5mm out also has a few external switches that enhance the ability of the K3. Low and High gain. Low gain for your sensitive earphones and easy to drive headphones. High gain for more power and for more demanding headphones. Bass boost which was rated at 6dbs of the stuff. I will be testing with various earphones and headphones.

My personal use case scenario is to use the K3 as a burn in station and sound testers for my earphones and headphones I review. Thus far I have used my old Audinst MX2 on one of my laptops as a burn-in station but I figure it is about time I got a bit of an upgrade. It is my most used DAC/AMP by far but it is good to have an alternative, hopefully an upgrade in sound in the process, something a bit more modern. I will test out how it performs for gaming, another hobby of mine and of course how well it does with a variety of headphones and earphones.
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Sound tuning on the K3 is mostly a neutral tuning but has a bold clean large sound foundation The amplification stage adds a whole bunch of dynamics with a natural expansion of stage and presence. I was very surprised with the very low noise floor and technicalities to the sound signature. Its clean background makes for some excellent imaging and detail for anything media related. I noticed it has a great deep bass end, this is without the bass boost. Mids that are thrown out with a smooth even tone and has very good imaging that helps with vocals. Its clean low noise floor that is dead silent to explosive dynamics is optimal for movie watching which becomes very engaging. The sound that is pumping out of this tiny card was not just a minor bump from the onboard sound. It is substantial.

Needless to say the sound production of the K3 was impressive out of the box. Let me put it this way. No way, no how a laptop manufacturer and I don’t care how expensive your laptop is. Will throw in a ES9038Q2M and a OPA926 for your sound to process out of. Compared to the onboard sound out of my ASUS SCAR G733 laptop with dolby sound. There is really no comparison. There is a clear sound upgrade from my laptop especially when listening to music. So the dolby processing out of my laptop is using software to mimic 3D sound but it uses the onboard sound out of the laptop. For onboard sound it is not bad. You will certainly hear your games and music well but the difference is very noticeable. The K3 is playing your sound at a different level. Its clarity, definition, bass and power is clearly separated from the onboard stuff.

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Then I tested music out of mediamonkey and my flac and mp3 files.
Music would be the primary reason why you would want to upgrade to something like the K3. The only knock on the unit is that I am fairly certain for more demanding headphones the K3 will struggle but using my Beyer DT1990 pro and Amiron Homes which both are rated at 250 ohms. I had no issue cranking out the sounds out of the K3 in balanced mode even in single ended was enough to power the DT1990 pros in high gain with volume to spare.
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I doubt you're gonna need more power especially if you're using IEMs and standard headsets up to 300 Ohms. For most applications using your standard headset or IEM the K3 will provide plenty of power and a clear increase of fidelity for whatever you're listening to. The compact K3 is performing like a champ with everything I throw at it. The sound quality was constant without any type of interference, just pure clean dynamic sound. Not once did I hear an inkling of interference, a crackle, a pop or any type of external noise that would interfere with the pure sound ability of the K3. It is a simple plug and play that makes this card a nice upgrade for any computers lack luster onboard sound.
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Using one of my most sensitive IEMS the CA Solaris need no introduction. The output in both single ended and in balanced is less than 1 ohm with a very low noise floor so the Solaris produces a clean clear sound using the K3 with no hiss that I can detect that detracts from hearing with your more sensitive monitors. It sounded just as dynamic and clean as I have ever heard these earphones play. The K3 will be an easy recommendation for folks that demand better sound quality out of their computers. The K3 is highly versatile even using sensitive earphones, especially for folks that use a big variety of headphones and earphones.

Movies: Tested with Blade Runner 2049
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Movies much like how games are produced sees plenty of impact for the sonics. It is your personal THX especially with the bass boost. Watching something with a dynamic soundtrack like Blade Runner 2049 is the perfect tester for a sound card. I have a 5.1 set up for my TV set at home I use and while it is not exactly surround sound.
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The immersive factor is cranked up due to the nice higher end sound production out of the K3 and here is where I feel bass boost is very acceptable and gives that personal theatre experience. When used with their FH5s large spacious sound and full bass. This gets you into your movies astoundingly well. Again there is no comparison just how much better your media audio will sound using the K3. Your choice of headphone or earphone here appies. On that longer 2+ hour commute or flight, I can’t think of a better way to shut the world out and get into some movie watching to pass the time.

Gaming:
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As good as the K3 is for movies. What it does for gaming alone makes it worthwhile.
Playing an older favorite of mine Diablo 3. Its sound has an atmospheric sound design that emanates but using the K3 your sound is very immersive with directional cues adding powerful sound effects. Its the sound design gives one of the most surround type effects as it sounds like your right in the game. Impacts of sound effects clearly stand out and any type of little details from the sound is heard easily. Again using the Fiio FH5s.

DOOM Eternal.
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This action shooter is a tour de force when it comes to sound design. Yes it's got gore and copious amounts of violence. Which the K3 actually enhances the sound effects to match its pure graphic adrenaline action fueled fast paced design. I have to admit it is difficult to go back to the onboard sound after using the K3 for DOOM Eternal. Directional cues also apply and I can clearly make out when foes are coming my way and where in the stage they are making sounds, the sound design and dimensional accuracy is uncanny using the K3. Dolby has nothing on the sheer impact and grunt of the guns being fired. The impactful weapon sounds and the effects of splatter and dismemberment of the monster that makes for a smile inducing entertaining good time. I will say if you're into your first person cinematic shooters. K3 is a must own.

Finally Cyberpunk 2077
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Much like the sound design for Blade Runner 2049. This game has a sound design that is AAA in design and the sound immerses you in an entirely different world. Its sound design and game design is one based out of the movies as you live the life of a mercenary for hire and all the typical trappings of a futuristic cyberpunk mythos. Guns blazing with action and driving sequences that enhance the sounds of the engine and even music tracks that blair on the radio is that much more realistic. Again as good as you think the sound design is. You don’t know what you're missing till you have a nice sound card representing the sounds you're getting in a AAA title like Cyberpunk. I encourage my fellow audio geeks and gamers to invest in a little sound card like the K3. It will transform how you play your games. Think about why you play these games in the first place. Get yourself a K3 and hear what the designers of these games want you to hear as well as play. It will make you appreciate your favorite games that much more.

Well there you have it. My time with the K3 most definitely made me realize just how lame your onboard audio is on your computers. As good as the latest 8 core processors and an RTX3080 throwing out the graphics on your laptops. Does the sound do that smooth gameplay justice? The unfortunate answer to that is no.
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For music listening. No need to spend a whole lot to get better music out of that same media laptop. The K3 performs with its clean low noise floor. Powerful clean amplification that will easily drive most headsets and any IEM with volume to spare. This is exactly the type of sound device your computer needs. Why not treat yourself with a much more acceptable and substantial upgrade from your onboard sound?
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In the end not only is the K3 very easy to use device, it is a must own for media fans. It will transform how you hear out of your computers if you haven’t already. The K3 is an easy recommendation for folks that use their computers for travel and even better at home. It will be a reliable excellent sounding card for you If you get into your computer media. Plug it in. Throw your favorite earphone or headphone and push play. As always, thanks for taking the time to read. Happy listening.

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Dsnuts
Dsnuts
That depends if you want something that is portable and can be stacked with your phone or if you want a dedicated desktop dac amp. The K3 is more for computers. Q3 is more if you want to carry it with you for better sound out of your phone it was made to be stacked with a phone being a source out.. Both have their uses but you gotta figure out what your use case will be.
Dany1
Dany1
@Dsnuts Honestly, i just want to hook it with my Pc and only use it on desk. The new K3 has ES 9038q2m chipset. So i was wondering if that would be better than the Q3. Since the New K3 2021 released just recently and Q3 is an year older.
Dsnuts
Dsnuts
Go with the K3 I haven't heard the Q3 but you just answered your own question. Plus it is cheaper.
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