A pure desktop DAC that isn’t a hybrid with an amplifier built in is getting harder to come by, with the best being relegated to the top-end of the price bracket. The XIAudio K DAC is one such unit. Coming from Eleven Audio in Denmark, the K DAC aims to bring a system that can accurately reproduce each intended detail and tone to your headphones or IEMs. Does this $1,899 DAC do any good on that promise?
What You Get
XIAUDIO K DAC with R-2R Ladder
- Remote control
The K DAC has a durable, yet compact design. Its main chassis is comprised of a small black box, smaller than most amps in this price range. I like how elevated the K DAC is, with its four feet making the device stand up firmly on a surface, specifically on top of an amplifier. The LED screen is also a helpful indicator that shows you your input method, volume, and sample rate information. In terms of ins and outs, the K DAC gives you many options, such as USB-A, SPDIF, RCA/isolated RCA, Toslink, HDMI, AES XLR, and stereo XLR outputs.
The chipset inside of the K DAC is capable of delivering a sample rate of 384KHz / 24bit and native DSD256 support.
- THD@-1dB: 0.008%
- THD@-60dB 0.03%
- Clock Jitter RMS: 0.8 ps typical
- Dynamic range: 130.5 dB
- S/N ratio (0 Hz-20 Khz): 127dB unweighted
- Latency from digital input to analog output: <= 1 ms
- Audio output RCA single-ended (R-2R ladder direct): 1.4V RMS
- Audio output XLR balanced (buffered): 4V RMS
Using the K DAC with my PC and Tidal streaming, I was able to get a good sense of the overall sound resolution of this unit. I had an assortment of headphones at my disposal, like the Sennheiser HD800s, Meze Elite, and HiFiMAN Arya Stealth. Each of these headphones responded differently to the next when using the K DAC, so the exact profile of its sound signature is a bit more tricky to nail down. What I can say, is that you can expect the K DAC to deliver on power. It gets to the point where there is a stark difference in amplitude from -10dB to 0dB.
Even with a high impedance headphone like the HD 800s, the K DAC is able to bring all of its qualities to a leveled ground, and with a consistent amount of drive to its frequency elements. The headphones with less resistance like the Arya Stealth has an almost overwhelming output at max power. They made the headphones no different than speakers blasting out of your ears. The iFi Zen Can I paired with the K DAC pushed the sound surprisingly well for what you might consider a starter amp.
While output power is no problem with the K DAC, some of its tonality will not come through smoothly. On both the HD 800s and the Meze Elite, certain treble elements feel sharper, with more piercing textures than what some may desire. If you’re already not a fan of the high-end on the HD 800s, then the K DAC definitely won’t help hide those details. I am much more forgiving to brighter tones in headphones, but even the K DAC could be a little overwhelming at times. However, I never thought it limited the extension of the frequency response in any way. In fact, some of the high-end accentuation I heard while pairing the Meze Elite and Arya Stealth was exhilarating at a point.
The imaging also appeared to fill in a lot of space for much fuller musicality. It still keeps the headphone’s spaciousness, especially on the HD 800s where a lot of the extended width is granted more depth and provides more body to its thinner elements. The bass and low-mids aren’t given as much attention as the upper-mids and highs, but they still come through the K DAC without any notches or veiled textures. With the K DAC, the main highlight is going to be its crispness with vocals and reverberating instruments.
Although this DAC is on the pricier side it has a lot to offer in terms of power and fidelity. In my experience with the K DAC, the sound signature isn’t always going to display your headphones in the way you might prefer, but you can rely on it for precision and high resolution. Put that with a solid, compact build, and a variety of inputs and output options, and the K DAC becomes a product that demonstrates a good amount of long-term value.
The Eleven Audio XIAUDIO K DAC is available at Audio46.