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FiiO KA1 Full Review

Introduction

FiiO has built a reputation for itself by offering feature-packed audiophile products at highly affordable prices. Continuing that legacy is the recently launched KA1, an ultra-portable USB DAC/amp that promises to enhance your on-the-go listening experience without burning a hole in your pocket. Priced at just $49.99, does the KA1 manage to deliver audiophile-grade performance on a shoestring budget? Let’s find out in this in-depth review.

Disclaimer: This review reflects my honest opinions only. I haven’t received any compensation to influence my thoughts. All ratings consider the product’s price point.

FiiO KA1

Image of FiiO KA1 DAC And AMP (Image via hifigo.com)
Image of FiiO KA1 DAC And AMP (Image via hifigo.com)

Specifications

  • High-performance ES9281AC Pro DAC chip.
  • Headphone Output: 3.5mm.
  • Audio Format Support: 32-Bit/384kHz PCM, DoP128, Native DSD256.
  • 16X MQA rendering.
  • Output power: 45mW @ 32Ω.
  • SNR: ≥114dB.
  • Power Consumption: Approx 60mA.

Individual ratings

Build Quality

The KA1’s all-metal body, sandblasted finish, chamfered edges, and gold accents give it a premium look and feel, especially considering its low price point. However, the non-removable USB cable is a slight drawback.

0/5
Technology

With support for high-res PCM audio up to 32-bit/384kHz, native DSD256 decoding, and hardware MQA rendering, the KA1 packs impressive decoding capabilities for its size and price range.

0/5
Sound Quality

The KA1 delivers a neutral, transparent, and balanced sound signature with tight bass, clear mids, and extended treble. Its technical performance, with a wide soundstage, precise imaging, and good resolution, is remarkable for a device in this price range.

0/5
Power Output

While the KA1's 45mW output at 32 ohms is sufficient for driving IEMs and efficient headphones, it may struggle to power demanding headphones or high-impedance models adequately.

0/5
App Integration And Usage

The plug-and-play operation, automatic device switching, and straightforward volume control from the source device make the KA1 incredibly user-friendly and convenient to use.

0/5
Unique Features

The combination of MQA hardware rendering and native DSD256 decoding capabilities is rare in the KA1's price segment, giving it a distinct edge over competitors.

0/5

Overall Rating

0/5.0

Bottom Line

The FiiO KA1 is an excellent value-for-money portable DAC/amp that punches well above its $49.99 price tag. It delivers impressive sound quality with a neutral, transparent tuning, along with excellent technical performance. Its decoding capabilities, including support for hi-res audio formats, native DSD, and MQA rendering, are truly remarkable for a device this affordable.

Pros

  • neutral, transparent sound 
  • Hi-res PCM and native DSD decoding
  • MQA renderer onboard
  • excellent build and design, given the low price.
  • compact and highly portable
  • easy plug-and-play operation

Cons

  • non-removable USB cable
  • cannot drive power-hungry headphones.
  • still costs more than no-frills dongles.

1. Packaging

Image of FiiO KA1 DAC And AMP
Image of FiiO KA1 DAC And AMP
  • fiio ka1
  • adaptor
  • paperworks

2. Design And Build Quality

Measuring just 40 x 15 x 8 mm and weighing 10 grams, the all-metal KA1 is one of the most compact DACs and amps around. Its diminutive size means you can easily slip it into your pocket. The shell sports a premium sandblasted finish and chamfered edges. Gold accents on the end plates add a touch of class. The attached braided USB cable inspires confidence and should withstand the rigors of daily use. 

On the front, a subtly glowing RGB LED indicates playback status and file format. Overall, despite its low price point, the KA1 looks and feels remarkably premium. The non-removable USB cable is the only chink in its armor.

3. Technology and Decoding Capabilities

At the heart of the KA1 lies ESS's ES9281AC Pro, a feat of miniaturization that crams a 32-bit DAC, headphone amp, and USB interface into a single tiny chip. It utilizes ESS’s patented hyper-stream architecture and time domain jitter elimination technology for improved accuracy. 

The KA1 supports high-res PCM audio up to 32-bit/384 kHz. It also handles DSD256 natively and sports hardware MQA rendering. So you get the full unfolding of MQA files. This is seriously impressive decoding muscle for a device this cheap.

4. Sound Quality

Image of FiiO KA1 DAC And AMP (Image via hifigo.com)
Image of FiiO KA1 DAC And AMP (Image via hifigo.com)

Don’t let its diminutive dimensions fool you; the KA1 delivers excellent sound despite its size. Tonality is neutral, bordering on analytical. The frequency range sounds evenly balanced, with no part of the spectrum sticking out. The bass is tight and punchy. Mids sound transparent. Treble has airiness and extension but avoids harshness. 

Its technical performance also punches above its weight. The soundstage is wide, and the imaging has good precision. The background is inky black, which helps micro-details emerge easily. The KA1 delivers a clean sound that should satisfy detail freaks. Its neutral signature works well with most genres. Those wanting a colored or bass-boosted sound should look elsewhere.

5. App Integration And Usage

The KA1 works with phones, tablets, and computers. Just plug it in, and your device will automatically switch to the KA1 for audio output when headphones are connected. There is no need to install drivers or apps. The LED light indicates that a file format is playing. Volume control comes directly from the source device. The straight plug-and-play experience is quite convenient.

6. Unique Features

Its support for unfolding MQA combined with native DSD capability up to DSD256 makes the KA1 stand out from its competitors. These cutting-edge features are generally not found on entry-level devices. FiiO seems to have cut costs mainly on the amplification side rather than digital decoding. And that’s a smart trade-off, showing their focus is on sound quality rather than just power.  

8. Power Output and Drivability

With a rated output of 45 mW at 32 ohm loads, the KA1 will comfortably drive IEMs and efficient headphones. But it understandably falls short when trying to power planar headphones or high-impedance models. Thankfully, there is no audible distortion even at peak volumes with sensitive loads. Overall, its driving power seems sufficient for portable use.

9. FAQs

Q. Who should buy the FiiO KA1?

The KA1 brings audiophile performance to a truly budget price point. Its compact size makes it perfectly suited for upgrading a phone. Its neutral sound works well with most music genres. So users wanting great sound quality from their phones without needing tons of power should consider getting the KA1.

Q. Who should avoid the FiiO KA1?

However, the low power output means it cannot satisfactorily drive demanding headphones. So this device suits those using IEMs or very efficient portable headphones more. Listeners wanting to use power-hungry audiophile headphones should skip the KA1.

Q. Does the KA1 have volume buttons? 

A. No, it doesn’t have onboard volume buttons. Volume needs to be adjusted from the connected source device.

Q. Will the KA1 drive headphones like the Sennheiser HD650?

A. No. With just 45 mW of power at 32 ohms, the KA1 will not be able to drive power-hungry over-ear audiophile headphones. Its power output can comfortably drive IEMs and portable headphones with medium sensitivity.

Q. Can I use the KA1 with my phone and computer?

A. Yes. Its USB-C connector provides universal compatibility. Use a USB-A to C adapter to connect it with your Windows, Mac, PC/laptop. So you can use the KA1 as your audio output device on the go with your mobile device and at your work desk with your computer.

Conclusion

Priced at just $49.99, the KA1 hits a sweet spot between sound quality and affordability. Compact dimensions, great build quality, neutral yet engaging sound, support for high-res formats, and easy operation make it a great choice to enhance your phone’s audio capabilities on the go without spending too much. For its low asking price, seriously impressive!  

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Overall User Rating

4.5

Read More Reviews On FiiO KA1: Headfonia

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