Audiophiles have become pretty familiar with a good number of Fiio’s selection of DAC amps, from the BTR3K to the popular BTR5. Recently, they announced a collaboration with their subsidiary Jade Audio to create a new USB DAC adapter for laptops and smartphones, the KA3 for $89.99. Let’s see what Fiio and Jade Audio have in store for us this time.
What You Get
- KA3 DAC
- USB Type C to Type C cable
- USB-A Adapter
- Quick Start Guide
Taking an initial look at the KA3, I could tell that it was going to have one of the better builds out of any DAC adapter. Especially for this price, the KA3’s solid metal construction is quite unique. Its rigid design and black finish give the adapter a more premium feel than you standard plastic constructions you’re used to seeing with this kind of device. Although I would have preferred it came with one, the detachable type C cable leaves room to use other options with type c including type c to lightning. 3.5mm and 4.4mm balanced headphone inputs are supported.
Inside of the KA3 is an E59038Q2M chipset which is a flagship DAC capable of achieving DSD512 34bit/784kHz. It uses an RGB light indicator that tells you what current sample rate you’re in.
blue – 48kHz and below sampling rate
yellow – 48kHz and above sampling rate
green – DSD
When I first started listening to the KA3, my first immediate impression was the spread it produces within the soundstage of each set of headphones I tested. There was still linearity to most tracks I listened to, but the width definitely felt expanded. The left and right channels appear to leak into a more open-air sound field, even listening to some closed-back headphones. I spent a lot of time testing the KA3 with the Sivga SV021, and the imaging felt like two spheres in the hard left and right with a flatter middle portion. The effect this has makes separation appear naturally throughout the sound signature, articulating layers with accuracy. These elements appear a lot more forward in certain mixes, where the spatial imaging appears closer to you, but not too inward.
The bass here is tight and gripping, offering a lively punch the has a buttery smooth tone. With the KA3, the transient response of the low-end feels quick, letting you get just enough impact and detail from the mid-bass before it reserves itself. It’s a pleasant timbre but won’t make the bass stick out aside from its clean balance and quickness. Listening to the Audio Technica M50x with the KA3, some sub-bass frequencies bloomed, but not with much drive. This faint tone added fullness to the frequency response but I didn’t hear that much more depth in this region.
Smoothness in the bass frequencies also resonates in the midrange as well, culminating in a fantastically lifelike performance. I felt like the KA3 pushed a lot of the mids forward like they were trying to show off how crisp the response is. Vocals are unsurprisingly the big standout here, appearing in a very direct manner with every little detail on full display. The performance feels like it’s directly in your face at times, which is further expanded by the KA3’s upper midrange accentuation that really brings out the texture in some performances. It’s an incredible pure response that is hard to match with any other DAC adapter in this price range.
Aside from the KA3’s great width, the other element that immediately stuck out to me was the brightness of the highs. The KA3 adds a significant bite to its treble that not all will find easy to take in, and at first, I didn’t either. The highs immediately pierced my ears as soon as I started using the DAC with the Moondrop A8, so much so that I couldn’t listen to them for too long before I found them to be too harsh. Switching to another IEM like the Ikko OH10 gave me a considerably better result, but still kept that bright timbre. I started to come around to it the more I tested the KA3 with different headphones, but it still won’t be the response some might be looking for.
For the price, the KA3 seems like a no-brainer for those looking for a simple DAC dongle for their smartphones or laptops. It might possess a few sonic characteristics that some might find troublesome, but if you can get past those aspects then the KA3 will add a lot to your tracks. The crisp and meaty midrange is definitely its biggest standout, as well as its solid build quality and parts. At $89.99 you’re not going to want to miss out on it.
The Fiio KA3 is available at Audio46.