Android Central Verdict
The KA5 weighs just 19g, but Fiio somehow managed to fit a whole lot of enticing hardware in such a small package. You'll find dual Cirrus Logic DACs and two amps that provide a lot of power and a neutral sound with a wide soundstage, and there's a balanced 4.4mm port along with a standard 3.5mm connector. There's also a tiny OLED screen that shows playback information, and you'll find a volume rocker and multifunction button on the DAC. The sound characteristic is among the best of any budget portable DAC, with the KA5 able to deliver terrific bass, detailed mids, and clear highs. If you need a portable DAC for use with your phone, the KA5 is my recommendation.
Durable build quality
High-quality DAC hardware
Excellent sound characteristics with energetic bass
OLED screen is great for viewing playback information
Balanced 4.4mm port along with 3.5mm jack
Glass back tends to get smudged
No bundled case
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Fiio is on a roll; the Chinese audio brand has rolled out a frenzy of products over the last three months, including the likes of the R7 network streamer, M15S music player, and its first over-ear headset, the FT3. While Fiio's focus for 2023 is branching out into new segments, it isn't forgetting its existing portfolio. The launch of the KA1 and KA3 was met with a lot of fanfare, and these budget DACs went on to sell very well.
So it's only inevitable that Fiio is launching a new model in the series, dubbed the KA5. As the name suggests, the KA5 costs more than the KA1 and KA2, and it packs a lot of notable new features. The biggest differentiator for the KA5 is a tiny OLED screen that lets you view the sampling rate information. The KA5 is now available on Amazon for $129, and you can also find it at audio retailers around the world.
The best part about the KA5 is its size; coming in at just 19g and with dimensions of 56.3 x 22 x 12mm, it has a tiny footprint that makes it a fabulous choice for use on the go. And while it has a diminutive size, Fiio didn't compromise on the design here — the KA5 has a metal chassis that feels durable, and it retains the brand's distinctive styling.
The back is made out of glass, and it has a honeycomb pattern underneath that looks good. Like the rest of the KA series, the KA5 features Jade Audio branding; this is a sub-brand of Fiio that's aimed at a younger audience. The pocketable design along with the OLED screen and balanced 4.4mm and single-ended 3.5mm ports means the KA5 has all the features you're looking for in a portable DAC.
The overall design feels more refined than the KA3, and there are a few welcome tweaks; there's now a volume rocker on the device itself, and the front includes Fiio's new logo and Hi-Res branding. You'll find the USB-C port on the left side and the 4.4mm and 3.5mm connectors on the right.
The power button has a hexagonal design, in line with Fiio's aesthetic that's carried over across all of its products — it is virtually identical to the one found on the BTR7. Fiio includes a USB-C to USB-C cable, USB-C to Lightning cable, and a USB-C to USB-A connector in the box, so you can connect the DAC to your Android device or iPhone without any hassle, and even hook it up to your Windows machine or MacBook.
Fiio somehow managed to cram a lot of hardware into the KA5; you get dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 DACs along with two SG Micro SGM8261 amps, and it delivers 768KHz/32-bit PCM playback as well as DSD256. What's particularly great is that the KA5 is able to drive a lot of power; that makes this diminutive DAC that much more fun to use as a portable device.
It delivers up to 136mW of power at 16Ω, 122mW at 32Ω, and 13.5mW at 300Ω when using the single-ended 3.5mm port. Those figures go up to 154mW at 16Ω, 265mW at 32Ω, and 54mW at 300Ω with the balanced 4.4mm port, so there's more than adequate power here for just about any IEM — I used it with the Sennheiser IE600 and Fiio's FA7S and didn't have any issues.
The KA5 doesn't have an internal battery, and it draws power from the source device. Once you connect the DAC, the screen lights up and shows volume info, USB connection mode, and the bitrate of the audio that's being played. It's limited in its usability, but I like the fact that there's a visual indicator on such a tiny DAC.
What makes the KA5 stand out from its predecessors is the sound characteristics; you get a cleaner sound with a wider soundstage that's closer to the Bluetooth-enabled BTR7. It still maintains a neutral sound that's a mainstay on all Fiio products, and I noticed a lot of energy and vibrancy in the low-end when paired with the IE600, with mids coming off clear and full of detail. Vocals in particular sounded great, and the treble has a good extension and never comes across as harsh.
It's the bass frequencies where you'll see the real difference between the KA5 and other portable DACs. Pair it to a decent IEM and you'll hear plenty of rumble, fast attack, and vibrancy that extends into the sub-bass region — this is an easy recommendation if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy tunes.
In fact, the KA5 may just be one of the best portable DACs you can get for under $150. Fiio nailed the design and sound characteristics, and you get a lot of features for not a whole lot of money, making the KA5 a stellar value. If you need a diminutive DAC to connect to your phone for portable use, the KA5 is a brilliant choice.
The KA5 has all the features you're looking for in a portable DAC, and it combines a sturdy build quality with standout sound characteristics. In short, this is the easiest way to get the most out of your IEMs on the go.
Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.