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Fiio KA5 review : Classy And Capable

Fiio, if not the most is one of the most popular brands in our community. They have a lot of products under their belt and are adding even more categories under their belt each passing year. They have been busy this year introducing a desktop all in one product, a couple of portable DAC/amps which includes a budget and a flagship product, introduced IEMs inbetween and their newer generation of DAPs saw the light of day too. What I have with me is their flagship USB dongle DAC/amp. Last year they had the KA3, it was a neutral yet a bit sharpish sounding dongle that was fairly popular under $100 price range. This newer dongle not only brings in a lot of new features that the KA3 lacked. The all new KA5 goes head on against other flagship USB dongle DAC/amps thanks to it’s set of features.

Priced at only $139 it has flagship features along with a OLED display and 3 independent buttons to control the playback and volume. It goes head on against the Shanling UA5 and Link 2bal. We will see how these compare.

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For indian buyers:

UNBOXING AND ACCESSORIES:

Similar to any other DAC amp there isn’t a whole lot of accessories with the KA5 and the Unboxing experience is simple. The first thing is an instruction booklet and the dongle is stuffed in foam under it. There is a Type C to C cable, C to lightening cable, and a TYPE A adapter to be used with PCs are placed under the foam layer in a cardboard box. And that’s it. There is no case but it would have nice if Fiio had included one.

BUILD QUALITY:

KA5 is the flagship from Fiio and it looks like one. It has the OLED display upfront and glass at back with metal everywhere else. It’s something we only see with much more expensive usb dongles. It feels very solid and study in hand. It has the right amount of heft we all like to feel. Just make sure that you don’t drop it. KA5 retains the ridged design on the front which we saw with the KA3. We get 3 buttons on the dongle. Volume Up and Down buttons are accompanied by the settings button. They have nice tactile feedback to them.

After using a few budget USB dongles I realized one thing. The generic board we get with these budget devices do not have enough space for us to use two jacks at once but with the KA5 we can do this. I can burn in two IEMs at once and I was using the Custom Art Hybrid 3 pro on balanced and 64audio U4s on the other. It was fun.

Unlike the KA3 I am happy to see the KA5 running cooler even after prolonged usage.

The C to C cable too is of decent quality and is reasonably flexible to work with. I like the cloth covering over it, giving it extra protection from unwarranted harm.

All in all a nicely build dongle DAC amp.

OPERATION AND FUNCTION:

KA5 has the form factor of the KA3 but we get a nice OLED display and a highly functional buttons. The single button is the settings button while the volume up down buttons can work as skip buttons when pressed for few seconds.

Please feel free to watch.

POWER AND DRIVABILITY:

This tiny little thing is seriously powerful. I like the App too. I paired the KA5 with a handful of IEMs ranging from EST based IEMs like QoA Margarita, hybrid IEMs like 64audio U4s. KA5 has no problem with any of these. It drives all these IEMs with ease. Pair it with any IEMs and there will not be anything to complain about. It brings out the best of the IEM without tampering much with it. Treble extension is excellent with nice energy till the end. The biggest positive is the extra headroom. This helps with better sonicality and dynamic cue placements.

Driving a very power hungry Headphone like HD800s is a bad idea but anything under the 150 ohm should be drivable. Our daily use headphones with 50-100ohm are good to go with the KA5. I paired it with the Sivga Luan and it did reasonably well.

SOUND QUALITY:

Let’s leave the technical jargons aside. They can be used for reference but what we want is the output and I really feel Fiio has struck gold with this little dongle. It’s aptly powerful to work nearly any IEM to it’s full potential. I have used a handful of IEMs with it and none of them were complaining except a couple of planar based IEMs, those who can work around a desktop setup without much issues.

Does this dongle have enough to drive the big lads? It can, it does nicely with reasonably efficient headphones and the Sivga Luan does sould aptly well with this dongle. Yes headphones can use more power but this dongle can get the job done on the go, no problemo.

If we talk about the changes, the KA3 was a bit attacking and kind of rough because of its aggressive treble presentation and sharper notes. It did give it the edge when it comes to perceived details thanks to taller and sharper notes. 

KA5 here is doesn’t need to do stunts like these for extra definition, resolution or details. It’s more resolving and technically more capable without being sharp or aggressive. But yes, don’t expect any coloration from this, it isn’t bright and definitely not warm but is exceptionally well balanced. It reflects most of the characters of the IEM without adding nearly anything of its own.

LOWS:

How are the lows? I am using a couple of DD based IEMs now and these definitely are in their zone when it comes to lower end prowess. KA5 definitely is not a one warmly tuned dongle and doesn’t enhance bass impact or body.

We do get very good sub-bass presence with equally impressive rumble. Mid bass is just the way it should be but tighter. Movement of air isn’t restricted but the area of impact gets a bit focused. Notes don’t lose any weight but when compared to the Shanling UA5, KA5 is definitely more rapid and a bit less full bodied. It lets the notes precipitate but doesn’t let them get overly heavy exhibiting its control and precision. We get very good texture and layered note that can hit in waved manner when the track asks for. Dynamics too is excellent. KA5 in fact makes the 64audio U4s hit upper bass notes that the UA5 and Link 2bal are unable to extract.

MID RANGE:

The beauty here is the transparency. KA5 doesn’t bring a lot of it’s own to the table, letting the IEM exhibit it’s true potential. Even when I pair it with a smooth sounding IEM like the Periodic Audio Carbon it manages to bring better definition and clarity from both vocals and instruments.

What the KA5 adds is a bit more notes depth, some energy at the finishing end which helps with better definition and clarity without tampering with timber, tonality or texture. We are treated with better transparency definition, precision and accuracy. The decay speed is improved too and thanks to this we get plenty of air in between instruments.

All of this leads to better back and foreground contrast. While doing all this, Fiio has tuned the KA5 without any undesirable aggression. Sonics and cue placement are excellent too. It manages to extract better transparency with micro details.

HIGHS:

If you love an agile, sparkly and lively treble region that KA5 will put a smile on your face. It does tighten the notes a bit, extracting a bit more precision and air between instruments but this gives the IEM better clarity, air and definition. Needless to say layering and separation is top notch with excellent placement. The cleanliness at the floor is excellent. One can easily perceive the clean and well defined origin plane of the notes.

I love its extra bit of energy and transparency at the upper treble region. I did felt the 64audio U4s lacked a bit of upper treble energy which the KA5 brought back.

STAGE AND IMAGING:

Initially I wasn’t expecting much here but the KA5 has very good stage expansion. It isn’t the most rounded stage but has excellent X-axis width and very good height. Z-axis depth is above average too. Imaging is something this little DAC/Amp excels at. All the instruments have excellent positioning with very good air between them. KA5 has a fairly dynamic presentation and unlike the KA3 it is fairly flexible and lets the IEM define the boundaries.

COMPARISON:

VS Shanling UA5 and Xduoo Link2bal:

CONCLUSION:

When an IEM is not influenced by the source’s signature it delivers what it is meant to. And that’s what we get with the KA5. It’s an excellent dongle that delivers resolution, transparency, definition and clarity effortlessly. This kind of performance used to be available with dongles nearly double the price.

I can even state that this $140 dongle can easily replace the Shanling M3X dap without any problem. It is more than what a serious audiophile need for their daily use IEM or headphone. I put the KA5 through a handful of IEMs, both DD and BA based and it barely felt the pressure.

KA5 in my opinion is a small but powerful dongle available at an unbeatable price point. If you want high quality accuracy and details without compromising the tonality or timber of the IEM, this is one of the best dongle to get under $200.

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Suman Sourav Meher

Suman Sourav Meher

My humble audiophile journey started in 2010, when I was in college, where I fell in love with the elements, nuances, and variations of this mesmerizing world. The ability of tiny earphones to recreate amazing sounds made my bad days tolerable and good days better! Now I am a full-time audiophile with a preference for musical tracks, especially vocals and engaging ones. I must admit I am addicted, but not to drugs or alcohol, but to earphones. Come join me as I share my experiences, bad or good, and let’s have some fun!

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