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Following you can find all the reviews of Fiio K3, including the article review and Youtube video review.
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Why should I upgrade?
E10k was one of the most popular upgrade options for a new hobbyist but there are many reasons for you to get yourself a K3 even if you are a happy E10k user or if you are in the hobby but doesn’t own something similar.
New Features now include:
- A new type-c connection from E10k’s micro port
- A brand new UAC 2.0 connection
- Fine digital volume control
- 2.5 balanced output
- Upgraded COAX capability up to DSD64
- XMOS USB solution,
- AKM DAC instead of TI
- 30% higher output power
- 1.9Vrms(0.6 higher) lineout output
- DSD 256
- Much higher SNR >113dB
- A lower THD
It is a delight to see what packed into the K3 feature-wise. The specifications look great and there are plenty of connection possibilities.
The look is a few tiers up from the E10k. Visually this is a great overhaul over the original in nearly every aspect.
I am a fan of round casings such as Maudio’s designs. The K3 looks like a cuter version to some Maudio’s pro audio interfaces and the matte grey black finishing make it looks sleek and very industrial. There are no cutting marks on the edges, this is very well engineered. However, it would be the icing on the cake if Fiio would consider using more discreet screws on the panels
Major Hifi Review
If the FiiO K3 seems impressive on the surface, it appears even more so once you’re listening with it. Because, just like any good DAC, the FiiO K3 seems to do its job and get out of the way. Instead of listening to the DAC, you listen to your music – with all the fidelity that the K3 has to offer.
Vocals sound precise and articulate – as much so as my usualy go-to midrange DAC, the FiiO Q5. The low end seems a little bit thick for a FiiO DAC, but refreshingly so, with just a little extra warmth. Despite this bit of extra attention to detail in the lows, the highs retain the usual amount of detail – sparkling and clean, with a natural glow that heightens strings and vocals.
We see the typical gain switch and bass boost. Unusual in this price class is having a “balanced” output which in the case of headphones, just means potential for higher output power. Please don’t confuse this with balanced inputs which provides high level of ground loop immunity. Balanced output doesn’t provide such benefit.
The volume control is a rather unique implementation where an analog control is used with min and max (unlike rotary controls that keep turning). Instead of controlling the level directly though, its value is digitized and then used to control the level in the DAC. This has the benefit of providing very precise channel matching.
The rear end shows the typical USB input but also both Toslink and Coax digital audio outputs which again I don’t expect to see here given the small enclosure:
Design and build Quality
Compared to the previous version, the FiiO K3 is a major upgrade in term of design. Sure, if you see it from far it looks like the same monobloc DAC you were already used to. But once you see it up close, it’s a different story.
The FiiO E10K and E10 were sturdy devices with a thick aluminium case and that’s still the case with the K3 today . The magic happens once you hold it in you hand: the FiiO K3 is much more sleeker, more handy to carry and it looks much more modern compared to its older brother.
The flush design was already at work on the E10K, but with the K3 it really looks like FiiO is moving away from the bulky DAC they made. The aluminium feels and looks premium, there is no gap anywhere to be found, the plugs are perfectly aligned and the volume knob is so well made I mistook it for a plastic one… although it’s full-aluminium made.
In term of design, the new FiiO range is nearly faultless, even though the FiiO M9 in my opinion is the ugly duckling of the lot. The matte black paint is a safe choice and the FiiO / Hi-Res Audio logos have been laser engraved directly on the top panel. You can feel a slight bump when you slide your finger over it, I kind of like it.
Slowly but surely, FiiO moved all the switches from the back and bottom to the front panel. This is better in term of ergonomics and you don’t have to double check if you’re in low or high gain, each time you plug your headphone. The only switch that remains at the back is a new 2.0-1.0 USB mode, this allows you to enable 1.0 UAC mode with old devices or with a smartphones for better compatibility.
The FiiO K3 is the latest Amplifier/USB DAC from FiiO, introduced as the upgraded successor of the ultra-famous FiiO E10K and FiiO E10.
The FiiO K3 features ADC digital volume control, dual headphone outputs with a dedicated 2.5mm balanced output, 2 USB audio modes, native DSD256 support and decoding capability of up to PCM384kHz/32 bit.
Beneath the tiny housing, the FiiO K3 holds a AK4452 DAC, a XMOS XUF208 USB chip, 2x OPA926 driver OP Amps and a TI OPA1612 low-pass filter OP AMP.
The FiiO K3 is joining the newest products of the brand, among the:
- FiiO M9 – Android-based music player with advanced DAP/DAC specs
- FiiO FA7 – Quad Driver earphone
- FiiO M3K – budget-friendly DAP/DAC
- FiiO BTR3 – Bluetooth amp
- FiiO BTR1K – newest model of FiiO BTR1 line
- FiiO M6 – Android music player
The FiiO K3 is born as an advanced update of the FiiO E10K making it sit as the flagship model over every previous one on the E10 line.
The Signature of K3 is a very clean and clear one, very neutral, without any kind of flavour added to the sound. This means that it is also very transparent, making it an excellent little DAC/AMP to pair with most headphones, if you want to hear that headphone or IEM the way it was meant to sound.
K3 also has enough power to put some punch in any IEM you connect to it, and it does a sweet job even with my Ultrasone Signature DXP, and Meze 99 Classics, not to mention that it can even power HIFIMAN Sundara or FiiO’s own FiiO FH5 very well.
The bass is very deep, and K3 doesn’t seem to struggle at all to deliver a deep and punchy bass, even though it is not the most powerful DAC/AMP on the market, having enough speed to be natural, and enough depth as well. The bass is fairly detailed.
The midrange has a good amount of detail, and for 100 USD, it also has a good instrument separation. The voices seem to be slightly forward, and it is clearly not a laid-back device, having a good amount of texture.
The treble is extended well, pretty natural, in both speed and texture. It isn’t gaudy nor grainy, but it isn’t smooth nor rolled off. Basically, a really natural treble presentation.
The soundstage is fairly good as well, and since we’re talking about a 100 USD device, I think the most straightforward device to compare it to is Audirect Beam, which has a wider soundstage, but less depth, FiiO K3 feeling more rounded and deeper.
All in all, the sonics are what they should be, and much more, for a 100 USD device, FiiO K3 being a good benchmark for other DAPs. Just a good crisp and transparent sound, with a good linearity all over the place, natural speed and natural textures all over the place, and enough power for most IEMs and portable headphones, including some harder-to-drive gems.
For testing, I had the FiiO K3 hooked up to my Windows 10 PC via USB. Media players used were JRiver Media Center and MusicBee. Music files were exclusively flac except for some DSD tracks used for test purposes.
Full-sized headphones tested included the Brainwavz HM100, Acoustic Research AR-H1, Meze 99 Classics and Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro. For IEMs I went with the Custom Art FIBAE 3, TenHz P4 Pro and Sennheiser IE 800 S.
Overall the K3 is neutral and transparent with good imaging and soundstage. Frequency response is very even and I could barely discern any difference between it and the ARCAM irDAC-II when using easy to drive headphones.
The ADC volume control works perfectly meaning there is no channel imbalance whatsoever. You can easily do very fine volume adjustments at low volume without any electrical crackling or breaking up of the signal.
The bass boost works really well, adding about 6dB from the lowest registers until around 100Hz where it starts to fall off and leaves everything above 2kHz untouched to retain clarity and tone.
On high gain, the K3 boosts everything around 6dB across the board, maintaining the same flat response. Even using sensitive IEMs the K3 has a very dark background making it compatible with a wide range of transducers.
The FiiO K3 had no problems driving any of my selected headphones. I will say that there was not much headroom left With the AR-H1 and DT990 Pro on quieter recordings with high gain but they both sounded great without any compromise in sound quality.
Speaking of the AR-H1, the K3 can really make this planar sing and this is the 1 headphone where I would occasionally switch on the bass boost, though for the most part, I didn’t feel it was necessary.
The Brainwavz HM100 pairs wonderfully too and its neutral tuning highlights the flat response of the K3. For the most part, I can use this headphone on low gain but on some quieter recordings, it was necessary to switch to high gain.
With the Meze 99 Classics headphone, I was able to test the balanced output and I have to say this was probably my favourite pairing of all. On low gain, the bass is wonderfully deep but very tight and controlled, the midrange and vocals are heavenly. Stereo separation and imaging are eargasmically good with this setup. This here is the essence of synergy!
I tested the Sennheiser IE 800 S with the 2.5 mm balanced output and this was another excellent match, although, to be honest, this earphone always sounds amazing to my ears. Comfortable listening level for me was around 50% on low gain.
Custom Art’s FIBAE 3 was next up, again using the balanced output. This is a great pairing; vocals are forward, the resolution is outstanding and there’s an inviting warmth that stands in stark contrast to the clarity this monitor reproduces. Superb. In low gain, I had the volume at about 40% and by 50% things were getting uncomfortably loud.
For the TenHz P4 Pro, I chose to use single-ended from the 3.5 mm jack. This is a sensitive IEM and I couldn’t detect any background noise whatsoever. The volume pot was at about 40% on low gain. The K3 really brings out the best in this all-BA earphone. The bass really comes alive with this combo (bass boost was off) and the earphone’s warmth and detail shine.
FiiO K3 vs Audirect Beam – The first thing you notice is that the beam is much smaller physically, and intended for a portable usage, but it also comes with more cables.
Of course, the Beam doesn’t have all the inputs and outputs of K3, and you only get one 3.5mm Single Ended Output with the Beam, while you get a 3.5mm Headphone Output, a 2.5mm Balanced Output, a 3.5mm Line Out with K3. You also get a Coaxial and an Optical Output with K3, making it much much more versatile, just lacking in accessories for using those outputs.
The USB input is 3.5mm on both K3 and the Beam. In terms of sound, the Beam is warmer, more creamy, less neutral, and K3 has a more neutral overall sound, more natural soundstage, more neutral bass and treble, and better depth / instrument separation.
K3 is much harder to use portably though. If you’re looking for a portable little DAC/AMP that is very tiny, yet very powerful, with a warmer sound, wide soundstage, and a happy overall tonality, the Beam makes an excellent choice, while if you’re looking for a more mature device made mostly for desktop usage, with a more neutral sound, without a color or a tuning of its own, and with a clear window to your music, K3 makes an excellent choice.
To use the K3, just connect your phone, tablet, Mac or PC to it and then connect it to your headphones.
It is powered directly from the USB Type-C connector that connects to your computer, tablet or phone.
There is no requirement for an additional power supply.
You can use the K3 with your computer or phone and plug in your IEMs or headphones, but you can also use it to output to an external amplifier or speakers.
In USB 1.0 mode the K3 supports many older computers and phones and works as a plug and play device.
You’ll get best results with a higher quality set of headphones. Your music will be transformed and will never be short of volume. The high output comes with low noise and low distortion.
You will notice the cleaner background, the wider soundstage and the increased audio quality and richer detail.
Bass is tighter and the mids and top ends are both sharper and more rounded. Stereo separation seems enhanced.
Lower end can be boosted by 6db with the bass boost on. It is a useful feature, but it’s not one you will need to use all the time.
There is an LED on the front that indicates the sample rate the K3 is playing. It lights blue when the source material is up to 48 kHz, yellow when it is above 48 kHz and green during DSD playback.
There are two headphone port options: 2.5 mm balanced output and standard 3.5 mm single-ended output.
You can also use the K3 as a digital connection between your computer and receiver or amp using the optical out or coaxial out ports.
The device comes with a USB Type-C cable. The K3 may be designed primarily for desktop use, but it is one of my favourite portable gadgets of 2019 so far.
The bass boost is a 2 option switch (on or off) and provides an ~ 6dB boost which is centered at approx 40 Hz (sub-bass), but the effect is noticeable from 800Hz down. The lift in the lower mid-range is pretty benign (only about + 1-2 dB) and increases as it nears the sub-bass region. When engaged it adds some richness and warmth to the lower mid-range, and quite a lot of impact and punch to the sub and mid-bass.
The gain, like the original signal is very linear, and from my measurements adds about 6.7-6.8 dB to the overall volume. For me it is a good boost, adding volume / headroom if required, yet still having a usable range with the volume pot.
The thing I like about the line-out is that it is variable, and thus the pot can be used as a volume control with active monitors. It doesn’t have enough power to use with passive speakers, but with my JBL LSR305’s it is a really handy feature. Possibly the only thing I would have also liked was a fixed line-level out (preferably rear RCAs) which could have been used to go to a powered amp (eg tube amp) – utilising the very good DAC on the K3. IMO this would have been a better use of the real estate than the current coax and optical outputs.
The K3 has two digital outputs – Coax and Optical – both effectively passing digital audio from the USB stage as a direct stream to another DAC/amp. This effectively bypasses the K3 DAC (which is its best overall feature), and turns the K3 into a USB to Optical (or Coax) converter. To others this may be a handy feature. To me its a bit of a waster – when there would have been a much better option (fixed rear RCA). Perhaps an opportunity missed rather than a feature.
USB 1 vs 2 Switch & DAC Support
One of the features with the K3 is being able to switch between the USB 1 and 2 standards. With the 1.0 standard, if you’re using an older device (eg my eeePC running Win7 starter), the K3 is instantly recognised and it allows playback up to 24/96 with just a generic driver. The good news is that even with the 1 standard at 24/96 video syncs almost perfectly with audio and the quality is very good.
Switching to the 2.0 standard unlocks the additional features of the DAC including higher sample rates and DSD playback. For this you’ll need to download and install the 4.47 DAC driver (from their website). If you are running Windows 10, even plugging the K3 without the driver still loads generic support with USB 2.0, but the driver is required for DSD.
Linux (and presumably OSX) need no drivers installed, and support on my Linux box was instant, and I was able to play DSD and highest sample rates (up-sampling using Jriver Media Center). Virtually the only issue I’ve seen so far with the DAC is cases of video and audio not syncing. My advice is to try up sampling to 24/194 or 24/96 if this happens as it does seem to solve any latency issues.
These two DACs differ mostly in their applications. The K3 is designed for desktop use. It has no internal battery, so it will need to be powered from your computer. The Q1, on the other hand, is ideally designed for on the go use with your mobile device. (Although it does has a line-out for an amplifier or active speakers) The Q1 comes with a micro-USB to lightning adapter for your iPhone or a micro-USB to USB cable for your computer or Android device. The K3 uses a USB-C to USB cable, which is designed to be hooked up to your computer.
While both, the K3 and Q1 have line outs, only the K3 has a coaxial and optical out. So, if you’re looking for a digital connection to your receiver, you should stick to the K3.
Design and Specs
To me it looks like a beefier Q1 MKII, again with a simple minimalist design, with pleasant clean lines. It looks like a very grown-up product in comparison to older FiiO designs. Its design resembles a bit the PHA-1A from Sony which I think looks fantastic.
I’m glad FiiO went with simpler and cleaner lines and abandoned the brute and industrial looking E10K. Size wise K3 is very small, lightweight (82 g.) and very easy to carry.
K3 has a very solid build quality, with a CNC black aluminum case, the volume wheel is also metal that has a very pleasant curly texture. It looks “expensive”, elegant and very well put together.
Front panel houses both headphone outputs: a 2.5 mm TRRS balanced and a 3.5 mm single ended output, there is also a bass On/Off and a Low/High gain switch. The volume wheel works as an On/Off switch which I like a lot.
There is also a led on the front that will indicate the sample rate it is playing, Blue is up to 48 kHz, Yellow is all above 48 kHz and Green is for DSD playback.
On the back there is your clean 1.9 Volt RMS line-out, an USB 1.0 or 2.0 switch (USB 1.0 is driver-less on a Windows machine, for USB 2.0 a dedicated FiiO driver needs to be installed), a much needed USB Type C – I believe it was mandatory to have it for our day and age, USB Type C is used for data transfer and for powering up the K3. There are also two digital outputs: a coaxial and an optical output, basically transforming your K3 into a digital transport interface to a better digital source.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaxVoGH_qSA ( Z review, 144K followers )
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1mYIG8xshk ( TechManZ, 14K followers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=037VTUCuC1Q ( The Next Best Thing Studio, 5.4K followers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kx3BY28OmVY ( MakaiTechReviews, 2K followers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZyvj1kG3yg ( JDM_WAAAT, 3.2K followers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBAuMtvLRhY ( Buying On a Budget, less than 1K followers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJa4ghNR6q8 ( Porta fi, 18K followers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKDihDQMHx4 ( Fiio official, well, you can learn the detail from official )
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1mYIG8xshk ( TechManZ, 14K followers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFY5lhgKaH0 ( How to Setup DSD with Foobar2000 (Fiio K3 )