Fiio K5 Pro review: A classic DAC/amp turbocharged with ESS internals

The K5 Pro is one of the best-sounding DAC/amp combos for $200.

Fiio K5 Pro review
(Image: © Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

The K5 Pro combines a minimalist design with an extensive feature-set. The ESS DAC is among the best in this category, and the 1.5W power means the amp can drive any headphones with ease. You'll find plenty of connectivity options here, and the wide soundstage combined with the versatility makes this a great overall package.

Pros

  • +

    Brilliant all-in-one option

  • +

    Enough power to drive most headphones

  • +

    Vibrant sound signature

  • +

    Easy to change inputs and gain settings

  • +

    Compact design

Cons

  • -

    No Bluetooth connectivity

  • -

    No MQA

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Fiio made its name with value-focused wired earbuds that undercut its rivals and mobile DACs that deliver a good value. The Chinese brand rolled out its first full-fledged desktop DAC and amplifier back in 2019, calling it the K5 Pro. That particular variant debuted at $150 and came with an AK4493 DAC and went on to become one of the best-selling DAC/amp combos in the sub-$200 category.

At the end of 2021, Fiio introduced a new version of the K5 Pro with an ESS9038Q2M DAC that has better distortion control, more dynamic range, and a vibrant soundstage. The switch to ESS means that the K5 Pro now starts at $199, so let's take a look at what you're getting with this all-in-one DAC/amp, and whether it is still the best all-round choice.

Fiio K5 Pro: Pricing and availability

Fiio K5 Pro review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

Fiio launched the ESS version of the K5 Pro at the end of 2021, and it is now available in all markets where the brand has an official presence. 

The DAC/amp is available for $199 in the U.S., and you can pick it up at Amazon or any of Fiio's official retailers. 

Fiio K5 Pro: What you'll love

Fiio K5 Pro review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The K5 Pro is a DAC and a headphone amplifier in a unified package, so if you're looking to improve the sound quality of your headphones and were thinking of getting a DAC/amp combination, this works well as an all-in-one solution. You can also use the K5 Pro as a preamplifier for connecting active speakers via RCA.

The unit has an understated design that nonetheless looks elegant. The chassis is made out of aluminum and has a sandblasted finish, and at 480g, it has a nice heft to it — this is a DAC that's designed for desktop use. 

It has a clean layout at the front, with a large volume knob that has LEDs, and switches for gain and input. You can toggle between three gain levels — low (0dB), medium (+6dB), and high (+10dB) — and you can drive sensitive IEMs as well as headphones that need more power with ease.

Fiio K5 Pro review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The build quality is among the best you'll find, and in the six months I used the K5 Pro, I didn't see any issues whatsoever in this area. Fiio clearly knows how to build a durable product, and that's evident when you start using the K5 Pro.

There's a 6.35mm headphone connector at the front, and Fiio bundles a 6.35mm to 3.5mm jack in the box. One of the best things about the design of the K5 Pro is the LED ring light around the volume knob; the LED changes color based on the source, so if you connect a source device that's below 48KHz, you'll see a blue light. Anything above 48KHz is yellow, and if you're using DSD, it switches to green.

Given the lack of a screen, this is a great visual indicator for figuring out what source is active. On that front, there's no shortage of connectivity here. You can choose between USB-B, RCA, coaxial or optical, so there's plenty of versatility. I plugged in the K5 Pro to a gaming rig via USB for testing.

The power threshold is significantly higher with this ESS model, with the K5 Pro able to consistently deliver 1.5W over 32 Ohms, meaning it can drive just about any headphones. I used it with Sennheiser's HD598 and HD6XX, and a few IEMs including Fiio's excellent FA7S, FD3, and the Campfire Audio Satsuma. The best part is that you won't notice any hiss even with the lowest gain setting, making the K5 Pro a stellar choice for sensitive IEMs.

Fiio K5 Pro review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

While the K5 Pro has a great design and versatile connectivity, the reason it has sold so well is down to its performance. It produces a full sound that's balanced and not too warm, with a wide soundstage that allows headphones and IEMs to shine. 

The low-end in particular is tight and well-controlled, and you get a smooth mid-range and vibrant highs. Vocals also shone through with plenty of resolution and timber.

There's a little exaggeration around the mid-bass and treble, but it isn't  too harsh, and overall the K5 Pro holds its own across a variety of genres. For what it costs, this is one of the best-sounding DAC/amp combos available today.

Fiio K5 Pro: What needs work

Fiio K5 Pro review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The K5 Pro nails the basics and is a great overall option to consider if you're thinking of getting a desktop DAC, but it misses out on Bluetooth connectivity — so you won't be able to use it with the best wireless earbuds. This isn't a big deal given the K5 Pro's intended use case, but its inclusion would have made it an even more enticing option. 

In a similar vein, the K5 Pro doesn't work with the MQA format. If you need the feature, you'll need to pick up Fiio's K9 Pro or go with an alternative like iFi's Zen. 

Fiio K5 Pro: The competition

Fiio K5 Pro review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The Topping DX3 Pro+ costs the same as the K5 Pro, and it comes with a few additional features. You get the ES9038Q2M DAC, and it also has a built-in headphone amp. It has USB-B, coaxial, and optical connectivity, a screen that shows source bitrate, and you get Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity as well.

If you want a standalone DAC/amp, SMSL's SU-6 and SH-6 should be a good option to consider. The package comes out to $299, so you are paying a lot more than the K5 Pro, but if you need the ability to upgrade down the line, this is the way to go.

Fiio K5 Pro: Should you buy it?

Fiio K5 Pro review

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

You should buy this if:

  • You want an all-in-one DAC/amp combination with excellent performance
  • You need versatile connectivity options
  • You need a powerful amplifier that can drive any headphones
  • You're looking for a DAC with an open soundstage

You shouldn't buy this if:

  • You need Bluetooth connectivity
  • You want MQA decoding

The K5 Pro has a minimalist design that looks great on a desk, and the unit is built to last. It also comes with all the wired connectivity options you're looking for, making it a versatile choice. The power on offer here makes it suitable for a wide variety of audio gear, and the gain selector comes in handy when switching between IEMs and headphones.

It is the performance that makes the K5 Pro stand out against its immediate rivals. It sounds lively and engaging, and the wide soundstage makes it fun to listen to diverse genres. And the fact that you're getting all of this in an all-in-one product that costs just $200 makes the K5 Pro an easy recommendation.