In this review, I’m checking out the FiiO JadeAudio KA1 dongle DAC. The KA1 features the ES9281AC PRO DAC chip and includes MQA Renderer technology. The Price is $49.
“Jade Audio” is a subsidiary brand of FiiO Electronics Technology Co., Ltd. According to FiiO, Jade Audio is “a stylish, technological and youth-oriented brand aiming to provide high-quality yet cost-effective audio products with an excellent listening experience.”
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by FiiO for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
- ES9281AC Pro DAC chip
- Supports up to 32bit/384kHz PCM, DoP128 and Native DSD256.
- Windows ASIO driver available
- MQA Renderer technology
- Extremely low noise
- Multi-layered shielded metal shell
- Price $49
Like its bigger KA3 sibling, the FiiO JadeAudio KA1 has a boxy rectangular shape with a series of parallel grooves running down the body. However, this time at 40mm x 15mm x 8mm, the KA1 looks tiny compared to the KA3.
We find the same circular LED indicator on the front that glows different colours depending on the sample rate of the current file being played. The colours are as follows:
- ≤48kHz: Blue
- >48kHz: Yellow
- DSD: Green
- MQA: Magenta
The build quality is excellent, of course, and the unit feels very robust. However, it does have rather sharp edges. Although those edges aren’t really an issue, the body doesn’t feel as good in the hands as some other dongles.
On one end of the unit is a 3.5mm single-ended headphone jack. At the other end is a fixed cable with a USB-C or Lightning connector depending on which version you buy.
Internally KA1 boasts an ES9281AC PRO DAC chip and supports up to 32bit/384kHz PCM and native DSD256 and MQA rendering. The KA1 pushes 45mW@32Ω of output power.
To test the FiiO JadeAudio KA1, I used a variety of headphones and earphones. These included the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro, Meze 99 Classics, FiR Audio 5×5 and Tin Hifi P1.
Even though the KA1 has a modest 45mW output power, it was able to drive everything I tested with ease. I never went over 20/100 volume with IEMs except for the planar magnetic Tin Hifi P1 but that still had heaps of headroom available.
I really wasn’t expecting to get good results with the DT990 Pro (250Ω) but this little DAC actually drives them easily. I rarely went above 60/100 volume because anything above that was uncomfortably loud for me.
Please remember to check the volume levels the first time you use this device! Your source will often default to 100/100 (i.e. maximum) volume when you connect a new dongle. More than once I’ve gotten a nasty surprise when I opened up my music playlist only to have my ears blasted at full volume. Maybe Microsoft and other OS developers need to look into that?
Aah, the audio quality of my laptop immediately rises to a new level once this little device is connected. No longer is there any hint of background noise or hiss coming through my sensitive earphones.
The KA1 has a neutral, detailed presentation. It doesn’t colour the sound but is transparent just like the KA3. It might not have quite the level of refinement of its bigger sibling but it’s way better than my laptop’s built-in soundcard.
Bass extension is good and reaches deep into bone-shaking territory with the right headphones. Things sound punchier and clearer which is good not only for the bass but a cleaner bass opens up the midrange as well.
Playing through Miles Davis’ “Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)”, the KA1 shows impressive spacing in the track and a good, dark background that gives instruments plenty of room to breathe. It’s a recording that can be quite edgy and biting on some setups but the KA1 renders it with refinement and constraint. The horn crescendos are still intense but thankfully not exaggerated in any way because even with a good setup they sound really bright.
Next up was “Underskin” by Glasgow Coma Scale. The kick drums sound full-bodied, and the leading edges bristle with a crisp slam. Electric guitars grind in the background while the hi-hats ring sweetly to my left and right. Top-end extension sounds good too – hi-hats and cymbals have a natural decay and airy sheen to them. The soundstage has good depth and imagery.
If you’re looking for an easy and affordable upgrade to your phone or laptop’s default sound, the FiiO JadeAudio KA1 is a really great option. It’s an especially good choice if you listen to MQA files but even FLAC and MP3 files, YouTube or streaming audio gets a noticeable lift once you plug this little unit in.
Brand: FiiO/Jade Audio
Product Type: Compact Portable DAC and Amplifier
DAC chip: ES9281AC PRO
Audio format support: Up to 32bit/384kHz PCM; DSD256
MQA support: MQA Renderer
System support: Android/iOS/Windows/Mac
Input: USB Type-C or Lightning
Output: 3.5mm headphone output
Output power (PO): 45mW (32Ω, THD+N<1%)
SNR: ≥114dB (32Ω, A-weighted)
RGB indicator light: ≤48kHz: Blue, >48kHz: Yellow, DSD: Green, MQA: Magenta
Dimensions: 40mm x 15mm x 8mm
Weight: About 10g
Colours: Classic Black, Dark green