FiiO KA17 Review

FiiO KA17 review featured

In this post, I’m reviewing the FiiO KA17 dongle DAC. The KA17 features dual ES9069Q DAC chips, a dot-matrix display, massive output power and much more. It’s priced at $149.

Disclaimer: This sample was provided by FiiO for an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own, based on my experience with the product.

FiiO KA17 Review
Verdict
Pound for pound, the FiiO KA17 is one of the best dongle DACs out there.
Add your rating here!2 Votes
Pros
Feature-rich
Hardware-level volume control
Natural, organic sound
Resolution and staging
Cons
Larger than the average dongle
4.6
Our Score
WHERE TO BUY

FiiO KA17

KA17 design

Design

There’s a lot to cover here so let’s start with the externals. KA17 has dimensions of about 64.0×27.7×12.7mm, which is slightly larger than the average dongle DAC.

The right side hosts a volume rocker, a multi-function button and the desktop mode switch. On the left is a USB-C power-in port and there’s a USB-C data port on the top. The 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone jacks are located on the bottom of the device.

Then there is, of course, the dot-matrix display on the front of the unit. The display shows useful information such as the current sample rate, USB Audio Class (UAC) mode and volume level.

KA17 buttons and desktop switch

Internally, KA17 boasts dual ES9069Q DAC chips, XMOS XU316 and THX-AAA 78+ headphone amplifiers with 8 op-amps in a 4-channel fully balanced configuration. With 130dB dynamic range and a THD+N of -120dB, KA17 delivers high performance with less digital noise.

When it comes to power output, the FiiO KA17 is a beast. The 3.5mm single-ended output can push 140mW in normal mode and 270mW in desktop mode. The 4.4mm balanced output delivers 300mW in normal mode and a crazy 650mW in desktop mode. That’s enough power to drive just about any headphones you throw at it.

FiiO KA17 power USB port

Functionality

Using the FiiO KA17 is easy. It functions just like other dongle DACs—plug it into your phone, PC or tablet and you’re set. The volume adjustments are hardware-based, meaning changes are made on the device and not your source, just the way it should be.

A short press on the multi-function button activates the display and a long press opens up the system menu. There are a lot of options in the settings so I’ll add the list here:

  1. GAIN: Select high or low gain.
  2. FLT: Digital filter, 8 types of filters available.
  3. VOL-STEP: Volume level control, 60 and 120 levels available.
  4. ADJ-L/R Channel balance settings of the left/right channel.
  5. DIMMER: Dimmer setting of the display.
  6. MQA: Enable or disable MQA.
  7. EQ: Equalizer setting.
  8. MAX VOL: Maximum volume limit.
  9. ROT-DISP: Rotate the display. It can be set to rotate 180 degrees.
  10. OFF-DISP: Set the time that the display can be auto-locked if there is no activity.
  11. U-AUDIO: Select between USB2.0/1.0.
  12. LANGU: Chinese and English available.
  13. VERSION: Firmware version display.
  14. RECOVER: Recover default settings.

As you can see, there are heaps of options there, making this one of the most versatile dongle DACs I’ve tested to date.

Another big selling point of the KA17 is its 10-band Parametric Equalizer (PEQ), available via the FiiO Control app. With the PEQ, you can easily customize to sound to your liking.

FiiO KA17 with smartphone and IEMs

Sound

Gear used for testing includes the FiiO FT3 and Sennheiser HD650 headphones and my Empire Ears Bravado CIEMs. Sources used were my Windows 11 laptop and Android smartphone.

The FiiO KA17’s sound signature varies somewhat from the KA2 and KA3 dongles (I haven’t heard the KA13). To my ears, the KA17 is more akin to the FiiO Q15, in that it veers more towards musicality and has more body and less upper midrange focus.

It has a more natural timbre, yet doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of technical agility. There’s no sterility or dryness here, just a high-fidelity and engaging presentation. And when I say it has a musical expression, I don’t mean coloured—KA17 can still be considered neutral but it has a natural fullness and note size.

The low-frequency extension is gratifying. It has great depth and delivers powerful and immersive bass. The lows are well-defined, textured and deep-seated. Bass notes are punchy and authoritative yet controlled and show good dynamic diversity.

In the midrange, KA17’s organic essence lends an authentic warmth and richness to vocals and instruments. Naturally weighted and balanced, the midrange maintains a harmonious equilibrium, effortlessly articulating each note with finesse and accuracy. Midrange sounds breathe and expand, creating a captivating sense of immersion and realism.

The highs embody a crisp yet gentle glow that delicately illuminates every intricate detail. The treble effortlessly highlights nuances and intricacies while facilitating clarity with grace. With an even and smooth delivery, KA17 maintains a harmonious balance, yet possesses a resolving power that unveils layers of depth and texture. Effortlessly airy, it floats with natural decay, allowing notes to linger naturally in the air, while its upper harmonics add a touch of brilliance and sparkle to the overall sound.

The soundstage has good sonic depth and dimension. With excellent layering and imaging, each instrument finds its rightful place with precision and clarity. Enhanced by a black background, the soundstage showcases transparency and purity.

KA17 with phone and IEM

Verdict

The FiiO KA17 is an extraordinary dongle DAC that pairs power and portability along with features and superb audio quality. Despite its small stature, KA17 is fully viable as a desktop DAC and delivers an impressive audio experience that belies its size, making it a versatile companion for both on-the-go listening and desktop setups. With that said, this is arguably the best dongle in its price class right now and gets my full recommendation.

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KA17 Specifications

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Pribadi
Pribadi
24 days ago

Seeing you have reviewed both KA17 and Q15, how do they differentiate each other in terms of sound quality? Is Q15’s more raw power worth going for against KA17 (let’s say when paired with FT3)?

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