Published On: 10 Oct 2022Categories: Reviews
DAC Chip ES9038Q2M
Input Type C USB
DAC decoding 32-bit/768 kHz DSD 512
Output 3.5 mm single-ended/4.4 mm balanced
Output Power 130 mW@ 32R (PO) / 240 mW 32R (BAL)
Noise Floor <1.7 uV (dbA)
Weight 17.5 g
Dimensions 56.3 x 20.2 x 12 mm


PRICE R2 890.00

IMPORTED BY CPlan Audio 083 212-4599



Please pardon me, but I feel a gush coming on. I’m sure it’s part nostalgia, since the KA3 has a similar design to the BTR1, the very first DAC from FiiO that set me on this path of discovery. But with that said, I fell in love at first sight while unboxing it. Before I’d even taken a first listen, I found myself uttering, “I don’t need it…but I want it!”.

I’ll tell CPlan Audio I lost it. I’m sure they have insurance for this sort of thing.

As with each and every FiiO product I’ve been lucky enough to review, build quality is absolutely flawless. Black anodized aluminium for the body that acts as a protective cover and thermal radiator, capped off on either end by gold-toned plates, one of which houses the 3.5 mm single-ended and 4.4 mm balanced (Pentaconn) outputs. It feels as sturdy as it looks, and I suspect will handle an accidental drop on the floor a lot better than the BTR3 or 5, even if their high gloss finishes are also impressive.

The top of the KA3 is home to a single RGB ring-shaped indicator, its model number and its decoding abilities – 32-bit/768 kHz and DSD 512. The indicator lights up in different colours depending on what files are being played: Blue is 48 kHz and below sampling rate, Yellow 48 kHz and above, while Green indicates DSD.

Underneath is the high-res logo and something interesting I hadn’t remembered encountering previously: the name Jade Audio. Jade Audio is a subsidiary of FiiO with its own separate focus on “providing consumers with crisp and pleasant listening experiences while maintaining audio fidelity”, according to the website.

With regards that ‘fidelity’, the KA3 uses the renowned ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M, a DAC chip marketed as a high-performance 32-bit, two-channel audio D/A converter with Quad DAC+ technology and up to 32-bit/768 kHz PCM decoding and DSD512 support. It also has a 64-bit accumulator and 32-bit processor on board. As a SOC (system on chip) it also comes with its own headphone amplifier, analogue volume control and output switch.

If that sounds impressive, then read on, because FiiO didn’t stop there. Seeing as the KA3 is its first ‘Jade Audio’ DAC, it then created an entirely new multi-chip audio circuit to help give the KA3 the best possible sound, including a next-generation USB Port Processor and a low-noise, high power capacitor. It’s all a tad too technical for most of us, but the nerds may like the image below that shows the different layouts.

Did all of that work pay off? I’ll get to it soon…

Using the KA3 is, like all the portable DACs I’ve used, a very simple plug and play set up. I already have the FiiO Control App installed on my phone, which allows you to add that specific model to the App and then control and tweak the device to your heart’s content with regards balance, volume, digital filters and more. Another thing I must mention is the quality of the USB cables, in particular the Type C connections, which really clip in tightly and securely, giving you the feeling that absolutely nothing is going to be lost or compromised by a bad fitting connector.

Yes, yes, I hear you say, but how does it sound?

In a word, ‘Awesome’.

Wait, two words, “Frigging awesome”.

Confession: I’ve always been somewhat of an audio sceptic when it came to the things I have been exposed to over the years, like crystals placed in strategic places to improve sound quality. Or supports made during the full phase of the moon upon which you must place your R8000/p meter speaker cables to keep them isolated from ground interference.

Okay, the moon comment was a fib, but the rest not.

So the highest decoding DAC rates I’ve experienced previously, were the BTR5’s 384 kHz/32-bit, DSD 256 (I have the Q3 lined up for a future review, but haven’t managed to get near it so far, sadly…). Now I swear I actually never paid attention to the ‘768 kHz’ reference prior to starting my listening sessions, but I equally swear that compared to a DAC I’d just reviewed with a maximum 384 kHz decoding rate, that the music quality was so impressive that I roped my wife into listening to a few tracks to ask her opinion, and she was equally impressed.

There are a few artists and tracks that I know so well, that if there’s anything different to what I’m used to hearing, it makes me pay attention. Dido is one of them, with particular focus on White Flag, Here With Me and Thank You. Pink Floyd’s Learning To Fly, Take It Back and Coming Back To Life are equally great, while (yes, I know, sacrilege…) Alan Walker’s Faded also regularly gets a listen when I’m reviewing

Even with tracks from Spotify, which obviously cannot compete on the same level as FLAC files, I played some of the soundtrack tracks from the film ‘The Greatest Showman’, in particular Never Enough and Tightrope, and the delivery left chills down your spine.

Now I know that in strictly technical terms that a music file encoded in a particular way can only be replayed by a DAC that can decode those particular parameters, and that – for audio purists – anything else added or subtracted is bad. But, whether it was emotional bias or not, I have to say that the clarity of treble, soundstage dimensions, depth and impact of bass — never muddied or overbearing – was for me something that stood out and made me sit up and pay attention to what I was experiencing. Bad recordings are not welcome, which is a bit of a downside because I haven’t always been able to find good rips of long-term favourites, but the overall performance makes this a small sacrifice.

FiiO’s Jade Audio KA3 is an absolute gem. It’s user friendly, built to last, delivers on all audio fronts …and more…

Israel, I’m so sorry I lost it on holiday, hope you can forgive me?

Andrew Rowland



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