It’s common knowledge that, in addition to creating entirely new models, FiiO periodically updates existing ones. The recent release of the FiiO KA13, denoted by the index 13, suggests a successor to its predecessor, the KA3. However, as is typical with FiiO, this model upgrade seems more like the introduction of an entirely new development. A cursory glance at the KA13’s appearance reveals significant differences from the KA3. Furthermore, in keeping with the prevailing trend among manufacturers, FiiO has incorporated chips from Cirrus Logic into the KA13.
In this review, I’ll delve into all aspects of the FiiO KA13—a new DAC/amplifier in the USB dongle form factor.
Technical Specifications of FiiO KA13:
– DAC Model: Dual CS 43131 Cirrus Logic
– Sampling Frequency: 384 kHz/32 bit/DSD256
– Headphone Outputs: 3.5mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced
– Output Power (32 Ohms): 170 mW (unbalanced); 550 mW (balanced)
– Connector for Sound Source: USB-Type C
– Built-in Battery: Absent
– Dimensions: 56.3x22x10.5 mm
– Weight: 18.5 g
Analyzing these technical specifications, besides replacing the single ES9038Q2M ESS Saber in the KA3 with dual CS 43131 Cirrus Logic, it’s worth noting the doubled output power on the balanced configuration in the KA13.
The FiiO KA13 is packaged in a compact flat cardboard box, a standard presentation for dongles. The product title is prominently displayed, showcasing the device in both black and silver color options. The model designation is boldly marked in large red letters, though it might be perceived as somewhat flashy. Alongside the customary Hi-Res Audio certification, the title highlights a distinctive “Desktop mode.”
Within the box, the KA13 is snugly nestled in foam protection. Accompanying it, neatly organized in individual bags within a cardboard box, are various accessories: a USB Type-C to Type-C cable, a USB Type-C to Lightning cable, and an adapter from Type-C to USB Type-A. Similar to the approach taken with the KA5, FiiO has introduced SK-KA13 leather cases in black and green colors, available for purchase according to individual preferences.
The comprehensive kit encompasses everything essential for utilizing the KA13 in a variety of common scenarios, whether connecting to smartphones or computers.
The design of the FiiO KA13, aside from sharing similar dimensions with its predecessor, the KA3, exhibits minimal resemblance. Notably, a window on the upper face offers a view of the internal hardware, with the RGB indicator’s activity visible depending on the sampling frequency of the signal.
Additional intricate milling on the upper face, forming a distinctive letter “X,” and the captivating intersections of straight lines on the glass coating of the lower face contribute to the KA13’s unique aesthetic.
A lengthy volume control button and a small button for activating the “Desktop mode” are situated on one of the side faces, while the other side remains free of controls.
While the KA13 may not be as portable as its smaller counterparts, the KA1 and KA2, due to its larger size, its overall ergonomics are well-executed and conform to standard expectations.
In terms of functionality, the KA13 offers:
The FiiO KA13 dongle offers versatile connectivity options, allowing it to be seamlessly connected to both smartphones and computers. Despite having only physical volume control buttons and a desktop mode toggle, it lacks a dedicated screen displaying key parameters, a feature present in its predecessor, the KA5.
The RGB indicator on the KA13 changes colors based on the sampling frequency of the signal: blue for ≤48kHz, yellow for >48kHz, and green for DSD. Notably, the new “Desktop mode” is introduced, boosting the power of the balanced output to 550 mW and positively influencing overall sound dynamics and detailing.
When connected to a smartphone, the FiiO Control app facilitates programmable control of basic functions. For computer connection (Windows OS), the KA13 requires no additional drivers; it is recognized by the FiiO USB Audio Device Control Panel utility. Firmware updates are possible by connecting the dongle to a computer, downloading the update file, and following instructions on the official website.
However, it’s important to note that the KA13 can have a noticeable impact on smartphone battery life, draining it by 10-12% per hour even without the “Desktop mode” enabled.
Regarding sound quality, the KA13, while not the most expensive in its line, impresses with its well-implemented sound detailing. It provides a wide sense of the soundstage, balanced sound, and relative neutrality. The dongle aims for a textured presentation, emphasizing details without excessive aggression. Low frequencies are collected and elastic, mids are natural and musical, and high frequencies are well-processed without undue brightness. The KA13 exhibits good dynamics and moderate emotionality, contributing to a positive and enjoyable listening experience.
In answering the question posed in the title of the review, it can be asserted that the FiiO KA13 is undoubtedly a substantial evolution of the KA3, marking the emergence of a distinct and separate model. This distinction is evident across various aspects, encompassing its design, technical specifications, introduction of a desktop mode, and the arrangement of physical buttons. These deviations from the KA3 make the KA13 a noteworthy advancement.
Notably, the KA13 exhibits significant differences in appearance, technical features, and functionality, particularly with the addition of the desktop mode and the absence of a dedicated screen, setting it apart from its predecessor. Moreover, the sonic performance of the KA13 showcases improvements across the board. While it may not constitute a revolutionary leap forward, the enhancements are perceptible.
In summary, the well-established FiiO KA3 finds its successor in the form of the FiiO KA13, which can be confidently regarded as a worthy and commendable replacement. The KA13 not only succeeds the KA3 but also brings forth advancements that contribute to an enhanced user experience, making it a noteworthy evolution in FiiO’s line of dongle DAC/amplifiers.