FiiO x Jade Audio KA1 DAC/Amp

Takeanidea

Headphoneus Supremus
Fiio Jade Audio KA1 gets deep Scienced
Pros: Cheap - latest Dac Chip - Good SQ - MQA support - DSD support
Cons: Output may not drive all headphones - No Fiio App Support

The DAC v No DAC debate

I submit the following evidence m'lord....

With grateful thanks to those lovely people at Fiio who have sent this to me in return for an in depth analysis and no holds barred breakdown of all that is good (and bad) in the audio industry today, I bring you the ultra portable Dac/Amp, the Jade Audio KA1.

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Jade Audio is a cut price subsidiary of Fiio. Designed for the budget end of the market, nevertheless there could be something here for the sceptics among you who wish to dip their toes in the water, to see what the fuss is all about with this portable audio malarky. The KA1 will only set you back £41.99. Sit back, reading my version of events and listening to the evidence I shall be providing, safe in the knowledge that you have not committed too much risk into your audio investment.

Dac v no Dac? What are you talking about?!!!​

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First of all, let me be straight with you. I was a little loose and fast with my wording at the top of this review. All digital audio products need a DAC. DAC stands for digital to analogue converter. Music stored in a digital format as a series of 0000s and 1s. It is decoded by a DAC chip and sent through analogue outputs and that's what you listen to. All digital products that you listen to have a DAC chip; yes, even your very cheap smartphone. What I mean by the "Dac v no Dac" is the argument that there is no need to add anything to your smartphone, ipod, dap, ipad, laptop or cd walkman. Just plug in your earphones and go! What could be simpler? Most smartphones have pretty decent onboard processors and seperate dac chips. For instance, my Samsung A52 has built in Dolby Atmos through it's stereo speakers, an Octa Core Processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G, which does pretty much everything from video rendering to audio output. It has a micro sd card slot to store your FLAC files and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, marking a retreat from the wireless only versions of their predecessors in the Samsung range. As far as specifications go, the dac output from an internal chip has almost ruler flat distortion levels. In other words, the measured sound should be perfect. These are all convincing arguments. The graphs look good, the smartphone is equipped with everything it needs to listen to music. The engineers at one of the biggest brands in the World would not skimp on audio performance and risk losing business now, would they?

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Smartphones are jacks of all trades. The sales generated from say, having a good camera, will be significant when compared to having a high end audio performance. People just don't care about how good the sound quality is from their smartphones. Not as a rule. And wireless tech is making that gulf ever wider. Bluetooth headphones have their own Dacs built in. The DAC in the smartphone is obsolete when the cans are being worn. The wireless market is going through the roof, and will continue to gain popularity as every audio company tries to have a slice of this lucrative pie. The headphone jack is seldom noticed, and if used, it is not being used by powerful, full sized headphones. In many cases it will be cheap, high sensitivity earphones which are easy to power to loud levels.

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When it comes to using decent earphones or headphones, people will find that they have to turn their smartphones up to the highest volumes to listen to music. Once that is being done, even if you can hear the music loud enough, you are probably introducing levels of distortion from the 3.5mm jack into your listening experience which will not be affecting the music in a pleasant way. Most people will probably accept this and go wireless if they're not happy with their sounds. But some know different.... A significant % know that wireless does not beat wired. Sound quality is higher with a wired device. A wired headphone or earphone £ for £, will outperform it's equivalent bluetooth device in terms of sound quality alone. In this debate we must forget convenience and features and concentrate on what we are listening to. Audio companies have known this for many years and have many wired products to suit every audiophile's taste. From ultra portable Dac/Amp dongles, which need no external power, to huge R2R Dac's with seperate power supplies and no outputs and everything in between. Popular products include the Chord Mojo and the Dragonfly Black, Blue and Cobalt series. I have owned both the Cobalt and the Mojo, but have long since sold them on.

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About the KA1​

The KA1 is essentially a lower powered, stripped down version of the KA3. It still has a lot of good stuff going for it. It uses the ES9281AC PRO for a heart. That is the Dac chip. The engineers at Fiio have then tuned the chip to the following spec. It has an output impedance of 1.5 and a output power of 45 mW at 32Ω. These 2 specifications are an essential tool in evaluating the dac/amp's power capabilities. If the figures are too high they may cause hiss in your earphones, if too low you will not be happy with the results. The results, if too little power is being fed to your headphones will mean that you can't listen to your music at loud enough volumes to enjoy the sound quality waiting to be untapped by the sweet spot, where dB and distortion live together harmoniously. The next thing you need to do is to find out the sensitivity and impedance of your headphones or earphones. Once you have these 4 things you need to ask our friend Google - how much power do my headphones need? That will take you to sites like iFi or headphonesty. Tap in the information and voila! You now know whether your headphones have enough power for the KA1 to work with them. See how scientific this is getting? Awesome, isn't it? However, we're not going to get nerdy enough that we are going to start putting our head down some very dark holes. Some of these holes have some very suspicious (but tempting) titles like "headspace". For now, let's put that to one side and deal with descriptions such as "quiet" or "loud". That, we can all understand, and we can all deal with. I fed in the details on the Sennheiser HD800, just for laughs. And yet..... The answer came out that the HD800's would be "moderately loud" at an output level of 49 mW. If you remember, I can get 45 mW from the KA1. A "Real World" test by yours truly shows that, yes you can play the HD800 through the KA1 at 75% volume to loud enough levels that you would not wish to dial up the volume any further, with only minor evidence of distortion creeping in. Bear in mind, this is a 300Ω headphone and was probably not intended to make sweet music with a £41.99 dac/amp. But, you have my assurance; it can...

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More Science​

I used the Deva Pro full sized over ear headphones from HiFiMan for my testing. They have a sensitivity of 93.5 dB, which isn't great for low powered dac/amps, but they make up for it with a forgiving impedance of 18Ω. There is enough juice in these that we can even plug them into my headphone jack of my Samsung A52. Folks; that is exactly what I did. I have tested these in the A52 headphone jack. I then plugged the KA1 into the USBC slot of the A52 and had a listen. In fact, (as any scientist would do) I had several listens. The results of that extensive evaluation have been captured for posterity. Using a set of professional binaural in ear mics made by Roland, a professional PCM recorder made by Olympus, Audacity editing software and a Macbook Pro Retina, I'm able to render the results, as heard by my ears, in as accurate way as is currently possible, as I am not proficient in telepathy. Provided you have your favourite in/on/over ear devices at the ready, you'll be able to hear the test as I heard it. You'll not hear properly using speakers; it'll sound strange. You'll also need to keep an open mind and be patient; wait for your senses to attune themselves to the nuances of the 2 recordings, and the differences will begin to emerge. If you don't hear the difference; that's fine. Congratulations! You don't have to spend £41.99. Listen, I've expounded my theory for long enough; it is now high time for you to become part of the experiment. Take a look at the WAV files contained below:

Yeha Noha using headphone jack of Samsung A52 5G
Yeha Noha using headphone jack of Jade Audio KA1




The song, Yeha Noha, is from the CD Instrumental Moods. The subtitle is "wishes of happiness and prosperity". It was recorded by Sacred Spirit, in 1994. This came at the same time as Deep Forest brough the sounds of lost Amazonian tribes to life, and Enigma brought Gregorian Chants to the attention of the World. Sacred Spirit are a German collective who put the song of the Native American Indian Chants into the present day. The song takes the form of a chant. It was sung in the Navajo language by Navajo elder Kee Chee Jake from Chinle, Arizona. The literal meaning of Yeha Noha is "the giant says give it to me". You now know some Navajo! I chose the song to bring it to a new audience, and because it uses voice, synthesizers and haunting ethereal effects, all of which should show some of the qualities present in the Deva Pro headphones.

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I'm wrapping this review up​

The KA1 is about as low as I'd go if you want to improve the sound that comes from your phone. It will play anything you can throw at it, including DSD and MQA files. It has a tiny little colour coding system which shows the bitrate of the file being played. It can't get much simpler than this: you choose your dongle, as either a lightning or usbc connection and you plug it into the bottom of your phone. On my A52 it instantly recognises there's an OTG device for listening to audio and it takes over the duties of the speakers or the earphone jack. It's well made, it's metal, not plastic, it's got 1 of the latest dac chips which means more efficient use of power, and therefore less drain on your phone battery, it's cheap at £41.99, it's powerful enough to run many efficient headphones out there, (and I've told you how to find out whether yours will work), it comes with the build quality and reputation of Fiio, who I can vouch for, having used a few of their products including the M11 DAP, the M11 Pro DAP, the BTA30 and the UTWS5 bluetooth products, all of which can be found in my previous reviews.

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Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
The Junior
Pros: + Neutral and transparent
+ Musical and engaging
+ Smooth yet extended treble
+ Tight and controlled bass
+ Natural timbre
+ Good technicalities
+ Plug'n Play
+ Native DSD and MQA 8X
+ Compact and lightweight
+ Sturdy construction
+ Reinforced cable
+ Very low power consumption
Cons: - Lower power output than the competition
- Not compatible with the FiiO Control application
- You have to buy either the Android or the iOS version
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for my honest and subjective evaluation.
The FiiO KA1 price is $50 and you can buy it using this non affiliate link FiiO.eu

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FiiO KA1

FiiO was a little late to the USB DAC/amp dongle party but now they are doing their best to catch up as fast as they can.
It's not been a long time since the FiiO KA3, a balanced DAC/amp dongle with great performance, as you can read here and now they have released it's younger brother, the FiiO KA1.

Technical highlights and operation

The FiiO KA1 is a small sized USB DAC/amp dongle which connects to any USB port to further enhance the sound quality of the host device.
The cable is permanently attached to the main body of the device and there are two versions available, the one with a USB type C plug and the other with a lighting plug for iOS users.
The USB version, which is reviewed here, comes with a USB type C to A adapter and is compatible with Android, Windows and Mac OS.

Inside the KA1 there is the ES9281C PRO chip from ESS which combines USB audio interface, digital conversion and headphone amplification.
This is a low power consumption chip, found in a lot of similar devices like the Hidizs S3 PRO Ultra and ddHiFi TC35B Pro.
Power consumption is only 60mA but at the cost of power output that is limited to 45mW/32Ω but it can also handle 16Ω (43mW) loads without reaching a current limit.
However the ddHiFi TC35B Pro can output 62mW/32Ω so it seems that FiiO were a little conservative when configuring the power output, maybe to keep power consumption as low as possible.

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The KA1 supports 32bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 and MQA rendering.
A status LED positioned at one side of the device can display the current audio format and sampling rate.
Blue is for ≤48kHz, Yellow >48kHz, Green=DSD and Magenta is for MQA.

The KA1 can be used driver-free with Windows 10 or above but you can also install the FiiO USB driver which supports ASIO output and DSD256.
The KA1, unlike the KA3, doesn't support the FiiO Control application so it is not user configurable.

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Build quality

The short, 4 clone, silver-plated monocrystalline copper cable is permanently attached to the main body and is protected by two stress relief points.
The main body and the USB type C plug are made from CNC aluminium with excellent build quality, the device feels sturdy and well made.
The KA1 is ultra compact, slim and lightweight, measuring just 40x15x8mm and weighing a mere 10g.
The KA1 is available in black and green color.

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Listening impressions

The KA1 has a relatively low power output, so I mostly used various easy to drive earphones like the FiiO/Jade Audio JD1, Hidizs Mermaid MS2, Meze Audio 12 Classics V2 and FiiO FD3 among others.
On the other hand, power consumption is minimal so the KA1 doesn't get hot while it greatly preserves the host device battery duration.

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The KA1 sound performance is actually very good without even considering the low asking price.
The sound is neutrally balanced, pretty transparent and clean while it stays organic and engaging.
There is a touch of warmth, treble is smooth and controlled, never sounding bright or harsh while the overall timbre is natural and lifelike, keeping digital artifacts as minimal as possible.
Bass is extended, tight and controlled, mid range is present and articulated, there is sufficient harmonic wealth while treble sounds airy and vivid with some great detail retrieval for the category.
The soundstage is spacious and mildly holographic with plenty of air around the instruments and a pretty accurate imaging.
The KA1 sounded inherently musical with all the earphones and all kinds of music I tested even while listening to more demanding material like the latest instalment of Beethoven's complete piano concertos with Krystian Zimerman.

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A few selected comparisons

There is plenty of competition around this price point and it would be difficult to do a comprehensive comparison so I will include some brief notes about a couple of the competitors.

The $50 ddHiFi TC35B and Periodic Audio Rhodium are both using an ALC chip, so they are smaller and more compact than the KA1 with even lower power consumption.
Of course, they are slightly less powerful and not very suitable for 16Ω loads and while they actually sound pretty good given their size, the KA1 is technically superior with a more effortless and engaging sound plus a little more powerful.

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You have to spend about $20 more for the Hidizs S3 PRO which shares the same chipset with the KA1 and offers similar power output and sound performance but it has the advantage of the three different sounding firmwares that can be selectively installed and further tailor the sound to your liking.

The iBasso DC05 is only $10 more expensive than the KA1 and thanks to the double ES9219C chips you get a considerably higher power output, reaching 93mW/32Ω, 140mW/16Ω and MQA support is increased to 16X.
Sound performance is better, especially in the technical department while sounding organic, natural and engaging without any audible drawbacks.
The penalty to pay is the slightly larger size and the increased power consumption that will deplete your phone battery faster and makes the DC05 hotter to the touch.

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In the end

The compact and lightweight FiiO KA1 is going to immediately improve your portable listening experience while keeping power consumption and heat minimal, greatly preserving the host device battery duration.
Slip it in your pocket together with your favorite pair of, easy to drive, earphones and you are going to be rewarded with some seriously great sound on the go.

Test playlist

Copyright - Petros Laskis 2022.

NymPHONOmaniac

Headphoneus Supremus
The MQA Bargain
Pros: -Good macro resolution
-Decent holographic imaging
-versatile tonality (easy to enjoy)
-Realist not thin timbre
-Good bass and mids presence
-Smoothly crunchy treble that deliver enough sound info
-vocal focus
-sound value
Cons: -not very powerfull (45mw@32ohm)
-not the cleanest clearest sound
-average attack speed-timing-sustain
-no FIIO app support (so you need to use cable adapter to unlock high gain)
-impedance output of 1.5ohm
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TONALITY: 8.5/10
TECHNICALITY: 8.2/10
CONSTRUCTION: 8.2/10
SOUND VALUE: 8.5/10

FIIO
doesn’t need introduction, they’ve been around for more than 10 years and are a ”touch everything” audio company with very diversify products catalogue. For DAP to DAC-AMP to IEM to TWS IEM, FIIO have tickle every corners of entry level and high end audiophile product. Today I will review their entry level dongle from Jade Audio KA serie, the KA1, which sell for 50$ and use a saber ES9281C PRO dac chip which is compatible with MQA unlike it’s big brother the EA3 which use a ES9038 DAC chip. Let’s see if sound value is as high as the little price promise!

CONSTRUCTION​

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I don’t know why, perhaps because of similar look, but I was thinking KA1 would be as big as KA3 which isn’t the case at all. It’s super small and ultra portable ,2 times smaller than KA3. Otherwise it’s very same construction apart from the fact it doesn’t have a detachable cable and only have one 3.5mm se output.

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Overall construction is quite good, it look sturdy, braided cable look solid enough too, im not afraid of dropping it and getting it broke at all and strangely it seem to get less warm than KA3 too.

Phone battery consumption is on the very low side, so their no worry about this either, it seem to be about 2 times less power hungry than KA3 in fact, and if we look at the specs, it state to use 60ma against 130ma power consumption for KA3.


USER INTERFACE​

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This dongle is plug and play, no need to install anything.
The color change depending codec used, for those that find this interesting. Blue= ≤48kHz. Yellow=>48kHz. Green= DSD. Magenta= MQA

Don’t forget to select higher bit rate in window and use exclusive mode on Musicbee or Hiby Music to get best sound possible.

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As seen, no KA1 to be found

One thing I would have love, is that the FIIO app work for KA1 too, and permit to choose both gain and impedance output. This would sure have change some of the drawbacks I underline in rest of this review. Alas, it seem to support everything but this new dongle. I hope this will change in the futur!


AMPING​

Don’t expect too much from the KA1 since it’s power output is similar to an LG V30 phone. At 45mw@32ohm, we would expect at least the KA1 to be the perfect buddy for all type of IEM but it isn’t the case since both very sensitive IEM or hard to drive IEM will don’t pair well.
The slightly high impedance output of 1.5ohm will perhaps create issue like hiss, distortion or tonal imbalance with very sensitive IEM, and for hard to drive like Tinhifi P1, their just not enough juice to drive them properly.

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Use a cable extension like this to unlock high gain.

As well, this saber DAC chip have inner amplifier with it that is ”impedance adaptative”, so it will not deliver full power with anything under 64ohm. Since this doesn’t take in account IEM or Headphones sensitivity, this can affect dynamic of proper sound pressure level and overall loundness. To bypass this and get full gain, you can use a 3.5mm male to female cable adapter. It most be noted that this is not suggested for sensitive or easy to drive IEM since it can add hiss and micro-distortion to the sound too.

Important to note as well: if you connect the KA1 without IEM pluged in it, it will not be recognize.

OVERALL SOUND IMPRESSIONS​

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(no1 IEM used for this review)

TONALITY

While we can say most of DAC-AMP have a rather neutral presentation, it’s rarely if ever a 100% flat line. The KA1 isn’t what I would call reference sounding, nor cold-neutral, since I always find ES9281C based dongle to have hint of coloration in tonal balance by adding hint of warmth in bass part and sligthly taming upper treble sharpness. It’s a well rounded tonality that avoid to sound clinical or too warm, a favorize natural timbre restitution and sens of tactile density. I perceive it as softed W shape balance were certain low, mid and treble presence are more focus, especially in term of rounded density.
Bass favor a warm slam instead of linear and clean extension, it’s not very texture and will not tame bass bleed issue of your warm IEM.
Mids are natural, gently bright and centered, a bit more lean than bass and treble, not the cleanest but offering good layers amount.
Treble is well detailed enough, yet not ultra crisp, snappy or sparkly, for ex, the KA1 stole some air and sparkle-decay which are otherwise inherent of my Final A8000.

TECHNICALITIES

Let’s begin by saying that limitation of power output do affect technical performance to some extend, in the sens that unlocking high gain to get more dynamic sound will affect slightly the resolution by blurring the edge a bit and lifting harmonic distortion of very busy tracks.
As well, the impedance output of 1.5ohm can create hiss and distortion with very sensitive IEM.
Otherwise, resolution is good, but not mind blowing, it’s not analytical or ultra crisp and both bass and highs seem a bit rolled off at bottom. Background noise floor is low, but not completly black and pure clean silence between instrument isn’t there. This doesn’t mean the KA1 sound dark or blurry or messy at all, just not very varied in dynamic amplitude nor ultra fast in attack sustain-release.
Attack timing tend to mix up a little in micro-dynamic. Transparency have bit of grain that affect precision of layering.
Imagin is quite good but not the most accurate since weighty impact of instrument attack add warmth veil and more their will be instrument hit, more it will make resolution gently blurred, softed.
Spatiality is a bit compressed here, is it because of low power output or just how the dynamic open? Can’t tell but it doesn’t feel very deep nor very wide or tall, more like a small intimate room with centered stereo presentation.

COMPARISONS​

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VS Audirect Atom2

Let’s begin by saying that the Atom2 is more powerfull with it’s 65mw output against 45mw for the KA1. As well, both use the very same ES9281AC PRO DAC chip, so their similarity is timbre and overall balance and performance, like high resolution and capable imaging, yet the KA1 feel thinner in every sound restitution aspect.
Atom2 have a more open and holographic rendering, fuller bass-mids-treble that are more balanced and cohesive too. Transparency seem a bit less focus than KA1, but dynamic have notably more notes weight and overall presence of instruments and vocal are more lively in amplitude, with presence that feel less static as the KA1.
Bass is a bit warmer, with weightier slam, less linear extension and dry presence than KA1. Biggest difference to my ears are how the mid range is restitute, for example with the track ”La Javanaise” from Elina Duni, her voice is notably nearer the auditor, wider and more immersive in presence, smoother too, fuller and lusher, this hit me as well as how texture is more emphasis with KA1 and treble more boosted so percussions of this tracks are in front of centered vocal, surrounding you in an unrealistic manner. KA1 extract more micro detail and have cleaner crisper airier rendering, so this make us think technically it’s superior yet naturalness isn’t as organic and balanced as Atom2.
Sound layers being fuller and thicker with Atom2, this stole some air on top, biggest different in quality here would be the bass which is more boosted in mid bass sub bass region so it tend to add hint of warmth tha benefit body of instrument and vocal by adding lower harmonic density.
Musicaly i find the Atom2 more appealing and fuller in timbre as well as less sharpened-boosted in treble. But it’s 30$ more and not as revealing as KA1.

VS TEMPOTEC HD V

Now, we have different DAC but from the same company, the HD V use dual ES9219C DAC and deliver more than 2 times higher power output with it’s 95mw@32ohm. Tonality wise, it’s more neutral with no notable boost in any region, here KA1 feel to have slight mid bass and upper treble boost, so we can say HD V is less bright and more organic in cohesion.
When I test both with low impedance IEM like Audiosense T800, KA1 create distortion and sound cutting, surely due to higher impedance output (1.5ohm). With the HD V, no issue and sound is still balanced while it become more wonky sligth V shape with KA1.
Going back to normal sound behavior, we can say KA1 is colder cleaner and thinner in timbre, it’s evident that the sound layers are thicker and more dynamic as well as better individually extracted with the HD V, so while static imaging is crisper with KA1 it can feel compressed in layering.
Precision and accuracy, while less holographic and more treble focus with the KA1, is slightly superior yet this does translate in a slightly more clinical and restrain in dynamic weight presentation, still, it improve spatial deepness and sens of air too. Here, HD V is hint wider but notably taller.
While i find tonality fuller, better balanced and more natural and enjoyable with the Tempotec HD V, KA1 proof to offer incredible technical performance and even higher resolution that will only struggle when moving sound layers need to be well articulated and extracted.
Still, for 10$ more, the HD V represent a better price value due to more than 2 times more powerfull output, better thick metal construction and changeable cable to connect it to android, ios or laptop.

VS FIIO KA3

Ok, let’s say it already, technical performance of KA3 are way above those of KA1, and this is the same for amping power which is near 6 times higher with it’s 240mw@32ohm balanced output. But is it translating in better musicalit? While their part of subjectivity in that aspect, their no doubt to my ears that the KA1 offer a smoother and more enjoyable musicality than brighter, dryer and notably more agressive KA3.
So while clarity is higher, imaging is more precise and spatiality is more vast and rich in sound layers, I don’t feel I listen to music with the KA3, more to severe monitor speaker with lotta gain in treble region. Sure, bass line are more textured and better separated, mids clearer in presence and more energic in attack and highs richer in sound info, but with a bright timbre to it that lack naturalness which feel more liquid with KA1.
Let put it simply, since these are so different in tonality, the KA3 will please the treble head and those hungry for fowards treble and details, I would choose KA3 for when I produce music while the KA1 when I want to enjoy this produced music.

CONCLUSION

The FIIO KA1 was a positive surprise to me, especially in term of sub-50$ sound value. Apart for limited power output, we can call this dongle a ”Jack of all trade, master of none” since the tonality is very easy to enjoy, deliver good enough resolution and technicalities and more importantly a timbre that is natural, dense, nuanced and musical.

If you find it’s bigger brother the KA3 too bright and analytical, this KA1 might be the answer for your music enjoyment since I do prefer this one myself too….apart low power output which to some extend is a shame and will affect competitivity of this product since no1 goal of a dongle is to deliver higher sound output (and quality) than your stock phone.
Anyhow, FIIO achieve to offer the cheapest dongle using the famous ES9281AC DAC which is compatible with MQA, and the sound quality upgrade from your phone is sure noticeable and justify a 50$ investment.

At the 35$ sale price right now, the KA1 become Highly Recommended from me.

——
PS: I wanna thanks FIIO for sending me this review sample under my request. Their no financial incitative, so this work is 100% voluntary and this free product will be given to somebody else because audiophile passion need to be share, not be self-interested.

You can buy the FIIO KA1 at 35$ sale price (a bargain!) right now from official Jade Audio store here:

https://aliexpress.com/item/1005004125819243.html

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For more honest and diversify audio products reviews, please give a look to my No Borders Audiophile blog HERE.
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Texmo
Hello Nymphonomaniac,
Thanks for the review.I intend on purchasing KA1.I previously owned E1DA 9038D and Sonata HDV.Both device's exhibited pop noise.E1DA while plugging and unplugging,HDV while unplugging or switching off.Does KA1 have any pop on/off noise?
NymPHONOmaniac
NymPHONOmaniac
@Texmo not with my LG V6 and V30 nor with my laptop. so no. i dont have any with HD V either so its a bit strange...

Peddler

1000+ Head-Fier
Tiny, great sounding, neutral DAC/ AMP
Pros: Great sound character and quality. Completely silent noise floor. Tiny.
Cons: Not really suitable for full sized headphones.
Introduction

Cards on the table first. A few snippets of information about myself and the equipment I’m familiar with/own.

I’m getting close to 60. This means that my hearing isn’t that of a 20-year old. At least I don’t think it is - seems perfectly fine to me.

I like a smooth, rich sound. I don’t mind a little reduction in the treble but at the same time I like a detailed and accurate bass - no extra ‘boom’ needed here.

I own (or have owned in the past) an embarrassing amount of bluetooth headphones and have been following their technical progress right from when they first started coming onto the market.

I have been into personal audio since around 1980 - first a Sanyo cassette ‘Walkman’ - progressing up to the Sony Walkman Pro D6 - then onto portable CD. My final portable CD players were the iRiver Slim-X and the Sony D-555. Then onto Mini Disc and finally with MP3 players (once the technology evolved sufficiently to replace these others).

Now I tend to do most of my listening from my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and occasionally from my Sony Walkman WM-A55. Nearly all my listening is now done using bluetooth headphones. I do however have the Sennheiser HD598SE, iBasso IT00 and Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10’s for wired listening.


The Jade Audio KA1 Headphone DAC/AMP

When Jade Audio contacted me asking if I would like to review their KA1 Amp/DAC I must admit to hesitating for a moment as I’m almost exclusively using bluetooth headphones but I thought ‘what the hell - let’s give it a try’.

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The reason for the preamble is to give you an idea of the kind of sound profile I like and also illustrate the short of equipment I'm used to listening to.

External Design

There's really not much to say about the external design of this dongle. It's a tiny metal box which is a lot smaller than it looks in pictures With what appears to be a fairly high quality USB lead terminating in a high quality USB type C connector. There's a small LED which shows when the unit is drawing power and also changes colour to show what format Your music is currently playing in. I've noticed that the unit does get a little warm when it's been running for a while, but it's nothing to worry about.

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Sound Quality​

The first headphones I tried with the KA1 was the Sennheiser HD 598SE and I felt that the amp seemed to struggle to drive them to super high levels - but they did sound good. I then tried it out with the Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10's. This appears to be a match made in heaven. The KA1 easily drives them to very high levels without any distortion at all. The character of the sound appears to be very neutral, impactful and detailed.

There's no noise floor at all with this unit and it's as easy to use as simply plugging in your headphones - just using a different socket. Aside from some high resolution tracks taken from some demo sites on the web, most of my listening was done using the standard Samsung Music player with no additional audio ‘enhancements’ from the phone. Music was primarily high-bitrate MP3’s and some FLAC files I’ve acquired.

One of the first tracks I tried was Tom Sawyer by Rush. Whilst this may not be the finest recording in the world, it is one that I’m familiar with and therefore is an excellent test subject. Everything was there in spades. Volume was great - allowing some rather tasty dynamics into the mix that typically are missing when using the regular headphone socket or bluetooth headphones. For me, the difference wasn’t ‘night and day’ but definitely there on every single track I listened to.

I FLAC files I tried demonstrated clearly the upscaling the KA1 is capable of but I have to say that what really impressed me was its ability to resolve my lower resolution files is a most satisfactory way. I was also impressed with the way it handled streaming from Google Play Music - which isn’t renowned for offering the highest resolution possible.

Conclusion

It’s very tempting to say that the Jade Audio KA1 is a ‘solution looking for a problem’. My thinking being that if you’re an Audiophile wanting to get the best possible sound quality into your expensive in-ear monitors then you would surely use a dedicated MP3 player which already has the potential to offer better sound quality thanks to its more dedicated hardware and improved chipsets but that’s not what this device is really aimed at. The inexpensive device is simply designed to offer you clear and obvious improvements to the sound quality of your mobile phone whilst allowing you to continue to use your favourite IEM’s. I don’t think the KA1 is the best choice when using full-sized headphones but, again, I don’t think that’s what this device was designed for.

I like the neutral, detailed sound character of this device. I like the tiny form factor. I like its simplicity. Whilst I do think the unit could do with a little more output power, it’s more than capable of driving pretty much any wired IEMs out there. If you’re looking for a neat, cost effective way to improve your phone’s sound quality, don’t hesitate - in my opinion I think the Jade Audio KA1 is a real ‘gem’.
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davide256
davide256
curious, I use Audeze Sine and Meze 99 full size phones with a Helm Bolt, similar type dongle, adequate power there. Wonder if the power experience
depends on battery size (source is an iPhone pro 13)
Peddler
Peddler
Don't get me wrong - the KA1 can go pretty loud - even with my Sennheiser's but it feels like it could do with just a little more oommph. In all fairness, the open style of the Senn's don't always lend themselves to very high volume listening anyway. I really like the way it drives the Triple Fi's though - lots of power and a lovely smooth sound with no listening fatigue.
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