Pros: Solid build
Small and portable
Well accessorized (even comes with a lightning adapter for our Apple brethren)
Independent volume control with fine volume steps
Neutralish without colouration
Good technical chops for the price
Class-leading power output - can even drive difficult transducers akin to desktop amps
Does not get overly hot
Compatible with Fiio App to explore filters, lighting and other options
No hiss with fussy IEMs
Cons: Output impedance on the higher side may not synergize well with fussy low impedance IEMs
Big power on tap does contribute to some battery drain on phones
- DAC chip: dual CS43131
- Op-amp: dual SGM8262
- Dimensions: 56.3 x 22 x 10.5 mm
- Weight: 18.5 g
- Supported audio formats: up to 384kHz/32bit, DSD256
- USB connector: Type-C USB 2.0
- Ports: 3.5 mm (single-ended), 4.4 mm (balanced), 3.5 mm coaxial out
- Output power (single-ended): L+R ≥170 mW +170 mW (32 Ω/THD+N＜1%)
- Output power (balanced): L+R ≥ 550 mW + 550 mW (32 Ω/THD+N＜1%)
- SNR (single-ended): ≥123 dB (32 Ω/A-weighted)
- SNR (balanced): ≥ 122 dB (32 Ω/A-weighted)
- Noise floor: PO＜1.7μV (A-weighted); BAL＜3.1 μV (A-weighted)
- Output impedance (single-ended): ＜1.7 Ω (32 Ω load)
- Output impedance (balanced): ＜1.8 Ω (32 Ω load)
- THD+N (single-ended): ＜0.0005% (32 Ω)
- THD+N (balanced): ＜0.0005% (32 Ω)
- Tested at $75.99 USD
The KA13 supports various file types and sampling rates:
DSD DoP: 64/128
DSD Native: 64/124/256
It is also compatible with the Fiio Control app (on Android devices), where one can play around with settings such as digital filters, change lighting options and SPDIF outputs. On Windows 10 and above, the KA13 is plug-and-play, with no need for installation of additional drivers.
Other than the KA13 dongle, these are included:
- 1 x USB-A to USB-C cable
- 1 x USB-C to USB-C cable
- 1 x lightning to USB-C cable
The accessories are pretty generous. Many dongles do not include lightning adapters, so our Apple users out there will be chuffed to note that Fiio has included one here. Basically other than legacy phones that use micro-USB ports, most other Android and Apple phones and laptops should be covered in terms of compatibility.
Fashioned from CNC metal, the KA13 comes in a sleek rectangular body. Consumers can opt between a silver or black hued variant during ordering.
The design is quite futuristic looking, with a large "X" carved onto the chassis.
This DAC/Amp is sturdy and robust, no complaints from a build point of view. Measuring 56.3 x 22 x 10.5 mm
and weighing in at 18.5 g, it is small and extremely portable.
There is a anti-scratch glass panel on the top of the dongle, where one can see an LED light, which changes colours depending on the file format/bit rate:
- Blue: 48 kHz and below
- Yellow: Above 48 kHz
- Green: DSD
On one end of the fuselage, we have the 3.5 mm (single-ended) and 4.4 mm (balanced) ports. The 3.5 mm port also functions as a 3.5 mm coaxial out.
On the opposite end, we have the USB-C port for powering this baby.
On the side, we have the volume controller, which also functions as a skip track button if held longer. Once a firmware update is applied, the KA13 boasts of an independent volume controller, something that even higher-end dongles like the Questyle M15 do not have. The volume steps are quite fine, unlike some other dongles that have too wide steps.
Also on this side panel, is the KA13's secret sauce - the desktop mode ("D. mode") button - which we will talk about in the following section.
I tested the KA13 with a few Android phones and on Windows laptops and PCs. Apologies, as I am not an Apple user, I can't vouch for their performance with Apple devices.
This dongle is quite neutralish; it doesn't overly colour the frequency response and lets the connected transducer do the colouring. There is good sub-bass and upper treble extension. Timbre is quite natural without being overly sterile, though note weight is a tinge on the thinner side; one can play with the filters on the Fiio app to perhaps adjust this area to your liking.
The KA13 is quite technical for a sub-$100 dongle - acceptable micro-detailing, accurate imaging and superb instrument separation greets the listener. Soundstage is about average in depth but is above average in width, and nothing sounds congested or compressed, even on complex tracks with competing riffs.
This DAC/Amp has 3.5 mm (single-ended) and 3.5 mm coaxial out, with a 4.4 mm balanced port if more power is desired. Indeed, on the desktop mode, this dongle can output a whopping 550 mW!! That's even more than some DAPs can provide, and it handily beats most other dongle competitors in this area! Understandably, the massive power may be an overkill for regular IEMs, so no biggie toggling off the desktop mode unless you have low sensitivity +/- high impedance transducers to drive.
My usual acid tests for sources include 3 of my hardest to drive gear:
1) Final Audio E5000 (low sensitivity at 93dB/mW)
2) Sennheiser HD650 (high impedance at 300ohm)
3) Yinman 600 ohm (600 ohm impedance and 87db/mW sensitivity)
I'm glad to report that on desktop mode, the KA13 drives these 3 behemoths well, without needing to crank up the voume. When underpowered, these transducers will sound bloated and one-noted in the bass, with a lack of dynamics. The KA13 powers these tough customers quite well, almost equivalent to some desktop amps. Most portable sources cannot drive the Yinman 600 ohm properly, so kudos to Fiio for creating so much power inside a little device. A literal Mighty Mouse!
This dongle doesn't hiss even with fussy high sensitivity IEMs, but it has an output impedance of 1.7 ohms on single-ended and 1.8 ohm on the balanced port. Hence, the KA13 may not be be the best pairing with fastidious low impedance IEMs such as the infamous Andromeda (based on the rule of eights), as the frequency response might be skewed with IEMs that have an impedance of < 13ish ohms.
We can't go against physics, and with big power on offer, there is unfortunately going to be some form of battery drain. These are the advertised specs for power consumption, which is a bit more than regular dongles:
- 140 mA (standby)
- 150 mA (PO/40 mV)
- 150 mA (BAL/40 mV)
Bear in mind once again, that the 550 mW output of the KA13 is one of the best in the market for a budget dongle, and this nifty device can give more expensive and larger sources a run for their money in terms of sheer power output.
It behooves the user to probably keep to the regular mode on-the-go or with a phone, or if one is just using run-of-the-mill IEMs; users can reserve the desktop mode for PCs/laptops where there is a power supply on hand, and you need to drive demanding transducers. You should also not leave the dongle on standby mode as there is still power draw even if no music is played through it.
During usage, especially on desktop mode, the KA13 does get slightly warm, but not scalding (unlike some other power hungry dongles).
Comparisons were made with some other dongles residing in the $50 - 100 USD range.
The Shio's engine is a dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 chip. This dongle is warmer in tuning, with a more pronounced mid-bass, and some treble roll-off. It has a thicker note weight too.
The Shio is a league behind in technicalities, with inferior soundstage, imaging, edge definition, micro-details and instrument separation. It has less power on tap too.
The E1DA dongle houses an ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M chip. It is dead neutral and more sterile in note weight. The E1DA is a bit harsher and more sibilant in the treble.
The E1DA has quite a lot on power on tap for a single-ended source (200 mW @ 40ohm), though it pales in comparison to the desktop mode of the KA13. The E1DA also gets noticeably much hotter than the KA13 during usage.
The E1DA unfortunately does not have a volume controller, and comes only with a 3.5 mm port. There is a firmware mod to modify the sound, in addition to giving it a tube-like sound variant.
Both dongles are similar in technicalities, though the E1DA is a tinge smaller in soundstage width.
Colorfly CDA M1
The CDA M1 utilizes a customized ESS DAC chip, the Colorfly α. It is also a neutralish dongle, with 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm outputs. Likewise, it has independent volume controls that are quite fine-tuned.
The M1 does not have as much power (hitting 200 mW @ 32Ω on balanced), but it has slightly better instrument separation and micro-detailing. Soundstage is a hair better on the KA13.
The KA13 is not just a vapid weekly dongle release for regular IEMs and easy to drive transducers. On desktop mode, it is transformed to a Mighty Mouse that can trump some pricier and larger sources in terms of absolute power.
Indeed, at the point of writing, the KA13 is a benchmark for the sheer amount of power it brings to the table, and in such a compact Lilliputian form! I am pleased to have finally found a portable source that does justice to demanding gear like the Final E5000, Sennheiser HD650, and the notorious Yinman 600 ohm.
The KA13 has solid build and is very portable, with generous accessories and a fine-tuned independent volume controller. Technical chops are nothing to be sniffed at, and it is quite neutralish, so as to let the connected transducer do the imbuement. I do not note any hiss with high sensitivity suspects, though the highish output impedance on both ports is perhaps not the best synergy with some finicky IEMs.
The huge power on tap will definitely contribute to some battery drain on phones, but this can be mitigated somewhat by toggling off the desktop mode when using the KA13 with regular IEMs, and only utilizing the desktop mode once there is a charging source nearby.
The KA13 is one of the outstanding budget dongles I have had the chance to listen to in my audio journey, and it wholeheartedly gets my recommendation, the exception perhaps being audiophiles using some outlier low impedance transducers like the Andromeda.
Accessories set is pretty good, you get USB C to C cable and C to Lightning cable and USB C to A Adapter, so you can pretty much use the KA13 with all platforms.
Made from metal but its lightweight enough to be used dangling from your phone, it weights only 18.5g.
The design of KA13 does reminds me of a certain graphic cards from a certain brand, if you're into PC you might noticed it like me, if you know, you know.
Front side of the KA13 has a window with a unique pattern to it if you bought the silver color while the black color one has standard transparent glass window.
It also has LED to inform you what sample rate is currently playing.
The back has a tempered glass body and the side has a volume button and Desktop Mode switch.
The finishing is also very good, it doesn't have any sharp edges.
Desktop Mode switch is like a gain switch but different in implementation (more like a limiter?)
While the Desktop mode is off, the power consumption is limited to be compatible more to a lot of devices such as iPhone with its limited current output, if the limit is exceeded there will be a cut out on the sound, while on Android devices you can pretty much use the Desktop Mode On or Off depending on how many output power you need.
While talking about output power lets talk also about the battery consumption.
With my Xiaomi 12T the KA13 is not extremely power hungry devices but it does drain your battery faster than lets say a dongle from competitor like the Tanchjim Space.
The KA13 also get warm to touch while in use.
I would like to describe the KA13 with its stock default filter (Minimum Phase Fast Roll-off filter) as a neutral flat with bouncy bass.
The KA13 has several filter to choose, via FiiO Control APP.
Personally my favorite one is the Minimum Phase Slow Roll-off filter, it sounds at least to my ears to be more inviting, warm and relaxed and makes the overall tonality of the KA13 to be more neutral warm with bouncy bass.
For the sound part I will describe it with the Minimum Phase Slow Roll-off filter.
Bass on this dongle is somewhat highlighted, it has presentation that I would call it as bouncy and pillowy bass, I do notice this bouncy bass by comparing it to the more expensive FiiO devices such as the BTR7, the BTR7 has more flat but dynamic presentation bass compared to the KA13.
Midrange on KA13 is somewhat colored towards warmer side but not by much, if you like a more sterile presentation of midrange you can use NOS filter or any other filters than the Minimum Phase Slow Roll-off Filter. Vocal and instruments here has normal weight and decay.
Treble is also neutral, not accented at all, it doesn't try to add more details to your sounds but not lacking in detail also. It just like what comes in, comes out as is.
Is very good for its price, it pretty much stacks up with dongle such as Tanchjim Space, Moondrop Dawn, and Truthear Shio.
Stage is somewhat large with normal depth information.
Detail Retrieval is decent for its price, it can shows micro details without problem though it do lacks more highlight or extra layering from lets say more expensive dongle, which is normal for its price point.
Imaging is also decent for its price, If your IEM / Headphone has holographical imaging, the KA13 has no problem showing it.
Separation & Positioning is also decent, if compared to the likes of standard smartphone audio (Redmi Note 12 Pro), the KA13 does improve the Separation and positioning quite a lot.
Output Power is very powerful for a small dongle devices, it can output up to 170mw on SE and 550mw on Balanced with the Desktop Mode ON.
Definitely the strong point of the KA13.
Though one thing I noticed is that KA13 lacks independent volume control.
The volume button only act as a controller to your smartphone devices, and if you use Xiaomi devices, you can't even use the long press to change track.
Hopefully FiiO somehow add independent volume control via firmware update in the future.
Moondrop DAWN Pro
Has more sterile tonality and somewhat sounding to be a bit digital for me, output power is rather weak on the Dawn Pro due to lacks of external OP-Amp.
Sounds just like KA13, but the Space has more normal non highlighted bass presentation, and smaller output power but more efficient power consumption compared to the KA13.
Has a more mellow tonality compared to the KA13, treble is more smoother on the SHIO, detail retrieval is better on the KA13 and KA13 has superior output power.
KA13 is a very unique product in my opinion, it is a normal sized dongle but has a super powerful output power with very good accessories and on top of all it only cost $79 USD
Myself personally can recommend the KA13 to individual who needs a powerful dongle to push all their IEMs / Headphones collection with ample power, BUT one nit pick I had with the KA13 is the lack of independent volume control that makes using the KA13 with Android devices (16 volume steps?) rather uncomfortable to find your volume sweet spot.
Just in case you're using iPhone or iOS devices, the lack of independent volume control won't be that much of a problem for you.
There is firmware update to enable independent volume control.
If you're somehow understand Bahasa Indonesia or you're Indonesian, you can watch the review of KA13 here