FiiO KA11 Review featured image

FiiO KA11 Review

In this feature, Kurt reviews the FiiO KA11, which is an affordable entry-level DSD256-capable dongle DAC with up to 245mW of output power. It is priced at $29.99.

Disclaimer: This was sent to me as a sample in exchange for my honest opinion. Headfonics is an independent website with no affiliate links or services. I thank FiiO for its support.

You can click here to learn more about the FiiO audio products we have previously assessed on Headfonics.

Note, that this post follows our current scoring guidelines which you can read in more detail here.

FiiO KA11 Review featured image
FiiO KA11 Review
Summary
The FiiO KA11 dongle DAC is a good travel companion for budget audiophiles with its small, lightweight, and powerful output performance. Its temperature levels are also more than acceptable for long listening sessions.
Sound Quality
7.7
Design
7.9
Features
7.7
Synergy
7.9
Slide here to add your score on the gear!33 Votes
7.6
Pros
Lightweight and portable
Good power output ratings
Adds a touch of warmth to the sound
Cons
Audible coloration isn’t for neutral lovers
7.8
Award Score

The FiiO KA11 is the successor to the FiiO KA1 dongle DAC we originally reviewed 2 years ago. It boasts a compact and smaller form factor than the KA1 while bringing a claimed improvement in sound quality for a very affordable $29.99 price point.

This is another collaboration dongle from Jade Audio and FiiO. Similar to some of the previous IEMs this partnership has released such as the JD7, the KA11 has upped the design quality at this price point.

With a new DAC chipset, an updated form factor, and what I consider to be a superior design, is the FiiO KA11 a proper powerhouse entry dongle DAC in 2024?

Check out my full review below to find out my thoughts on its performance and how it performs against the competition.

FiiO KA11 on yellow background

Tech Highlights

The FiiO KA11 is a single-ended dongle with a CS43131 DAC capable of up to DSD256 and PCM 32bit/384kHz output.

Aside from the wide bitrate support, the FiiO KA11’s power output is impressive for a dongle DAC. At 16Ω, it can deliver 245mW, while at 32Ω I can output up to 200mW.

Power-hungry power IEMs can be run with the FiiO KA11 with ease as well as quite a few headphones as long as they don’t require a balance output or high levels of voltage

At 300Ω, it can only deliver 22mW of output power which isn’t suitable for the likes of the 350Ω FiiO FT3 with some high-impedance earbuds such as the 300Ω TGXear Serratus also sounding underwhelming.

Two FiiO KA11 cables on top of each other

Design

The FiiO KA11 strays away from the larger body of the FiiO KA1. It now looks similar to other dongle DACs with a stronger focus on portability.

What it does retain from the FiiO KA1 is the non-detachable cable. Luckily, the cable used in the FiiO KA11 is nicely braided and also made out of durable materials.

There are also two versions of the FiiO KA11, a USB Type-C and Lightning, so it is compatible with both classic Apple and Android devices.

Aesthetics are the clearest signal of whether it’s an Apple or Android-type compatible version. The black version has the USB Type-C while the silver version is the Lighting-ended one.

Admittedly, the silver version has more flare and personality with its blue accents compared to the solid black alternative.

Both versions will have the FiiO name printed on it with an LED indicator next to it. Behind that logo, there’s nothing to see which gives it a minimalist vibe.

The cable itself does have a fresh patterned design like a picnic mat. Overall, the FiiO KA11 has a more modern design compared to the KA1 and one that strikes a more pleasing balance of aesthetics and functionality.

The connector itself has that 2-layer design where the 3.5mm is protruding out of the main body.

Two FiiO KA11 cables on yellow background

I/O

The FiiO KA11 is single-ended only so it’s just a single 3.5mm headphone jack with no balanced 4.4mm or 2.5mm support.

Since its main focus is portability, adding a balanced port here would add more to its size. Indeed, the KA11 is very light and easy to use just about anywhere.

Controls

There is no onboard volume control in the FiiO KA11 itself. It’s a simple and efficient plug-and-play dongle DAC so volume will be software-based from your source.

The volume gets loud enough in any device I’ve tested. For EQ, all EQ applications work with it like Wavelet, PowerAmp, and PeaceEQ.

The LED indicator does show if the audio being played is PCM quality less than 48kHz, above 48kHz, or DSD. If it shows light blue, then it’s less than 48kHz, while yellow is above 48kHz, and green is DSD.

FiiO KA11 attached to an IEM and smartphone

Wired Connectivity

USB-DAC

Using it on Windows 11, it’s simply plug-and-play. There is no need to download drivers elsewhere to make it work.

The sound quality is the same in Windows, Linux, and Ubuntu. Switching to MacOS gives higher bitrates.

There is a firmware update for it that you can get from the FiiO website itself. It goes from version 0.04 to version 0.08 which tackles the volume issue it has.

USB-OTG

Having used it to commute, it does get warm but doesn’t get as hot compared to larger dongle DACs such as the high-end Colorfly CDA-M2.

Its portable and small size means the KA11 was never a hassle when connected to my phone. I never encountered a problem with noise and static (EMI) either.

Using it with Apple Music ALAC, the LED indicator changes to yellow. This signifies the audio playback is above 48kHz which is correct.

There’s also the FiiO Control App that can be used to change the bitrate and starting volume. The volume control can be accessed after updating it to version 0.08.

FiiO KA11 accessories

Packaging & Accessories

FiiO kept it simple and clean. Both versions of the FiiO KA11 will come in a black box with the main difference being the color of the attached label sticker.

Inside, the dongle DAC itself is wrapped in plastic. Behind that, there’s a bunch of guides and papers. Aside from that, there’s nothing else to see. There are no additional accessories like a USB-A to USB-C connector.

Sound Impressions

The following sound impressions of the FiiO KA11 were completed using a mix of the THIEAUDIO Hype 2, TinHiFi’s T5S, and the TRUTHEAR Nova IEMs

Summary

The FiiO KA11 delivers a powerful sound despite its small size. It adds some coloration to the music but nothing that I would consider to be a negative.

There is a bit more midbass bias but I am not hearing too much bloom or muddiness. The rest of the bass stays reasonably accurate with my tested gear.

the mids are shifted to a slightly warmer sound. There’s more fullness in vocal performance than I am used to with the FiiO KA11.

It also delivers a more intimate imaging experience with a heavier note weight in the vocal presence. I consider that a plus with an easy appreciation of the subtle microdetails in the vocals.

The treble seems largely uncolored or unchanged. I couldn’t hear a difference in the treble so sibilance presence from recordings or from your IEM or headphones will remain unaffected.

Timbre

The FiiO KA11 has an underlying warmth with vocals and instruments sounding more intimate than neutral. The timbre is natural despite the added colorations. Despite the vocals being closer, the overall tonality wasn’t affected negatively.

Using different IEMs with the FiiO KA11, I can confirm the timbre is natural. It doesn’t elevate the timbre or make it worse.

Staging & Dynamics

I tested the FiiO KA11’s staging using video games and music. Firstly, I tested it in numerous games that require spatial awareness like FPS games.

After using it for gaming, I can say the FiiO KA11 delivers decent headroom and air. The imaging also seems reasonably accurate with the tested IEMs. During games, I can point out where the footsteps and gunshots are coming from with improved accuracy.

For music, it also delivers similar results with a taller rather than a wider soundstage. This gives instrumental placement and subtler spatial cues more space and perceived breathing room to shine.

FiiO KA11 dongle paired with THIEAUDIO IEMs

Synergy

For this review, I selected the Thieaudio Hype 2, TinHiFi T5S, and the Truthear Nova to see how they meshed with the performance of the KA11.

The FiiO KA11 provided a nice boost in the midbass for all of these IEMs. With the already excellent midbass of the Thieaudio Hype 2, its delivery sounded clearer and more dynamic.

It also increased the staging height and general headroom from the Truthear Nova. Other IEMs had similar results. None of them had any negative compatibility with the FiiO KA11.

Select Comparisons

7Hz Sevenhertz 71

Technical

The 7Hz SEVENHERTZ 71 uses the AKM AK4377 DAC. This chip is known for its small space requirement and lower distortion rate.

Like the FiiO KA11, the SEVENHERTZ 71 cable is non-detachable Unlike the FiiO KA11, the 7Hz SEVENHERTZ 71 doesn’t have a lightning port version so only USB Type-C is supported here.

It’s also able to output 32bit/384kHz and DSD128. All lossless, FLAC, and lossy audio files will have no problem running using it.

TempoTec IM05 connected to 7HZ 71 dongle

Design

The 7Hz SEVENHERTZ 71 uses aluminum for its shell developed using CNC machining. It has that all-black look that most dongle DACs use.

It has the SEVENHERTZ branding printed on top of it next to its LED indicator. Its overall look also has a cyberpunk mecha design. It only has a 3.5mm jack similar to the FiiO KA11 so neither offers balanced output.

Performance

The FiiO KA11 and 7Hz SEVENHERTZ 71 have a similar approach to what they want to do. They also have more similarities in the design.

For the similarities, they both focus on the bass. They amplify different parts of the bass though.

The 7Hz 71 focuses on the sub-bass. It elevates that rumbling sound and the overall reach of the low-end extension without adding anything to the note weight.

The FiiO KA11 focuses on the midbass, which helps add the previously observed warmness and intimacy to the vocal timbre. In other words, the 7Hz SEVENHERTZ 71 helps the bass feel more alive while the FiiO KA11 gives a warmer smoother tonality.

Neither dongle adds much to the sound in terms of coloration or emphasis to the tested IEM’s mids or treble.

Overall, the FiiO KA11 gives a noticeable mid-bass to midrange coloration that will suit those who like a smoother more euphonic tonal quality to their music. The 7Hz SEVENHERTZ  71 keeps it more neutral.

Shanling UA1 Plus

Technical

The Shanling UA1 Plus uses a Cirrus Logic CS43131 DAC chipset capable of decoding up to PCM 32bit/768kHz and DSD256. It is considerably less powerful than the KA11 at up to a maximum of 80mW of single-ended output power into a 32 ohm load.

Shanling UA1 Plus design

Design

The Shanling UA1 Plus has that black unibody design like most dongle DACs. It has the Hi-Res Audio, Shanling, and bitrate brandings on top as well.

It is the heavier of the two dongles with a detachable cable system that some might prefer. There’s also a volume control button which doubles as a mode changer as well.

The weight of the Shanling UA1 Plus is something I feel with my daily use. The FiiO KA11, on the other hand, is simply feather-light and feels like it isn’t there.

One small design benefit from Shanling is a little ridge on the UA1 Plus where you can put a keychain holder. If you’re someone who doesn’t use travel pouches, then you can use that keychain holder spot to put the Shanling UA1 Plus on your bag.

Performance

The FiiO KA11 and Shanling UA1 Plus designs are extremely different and so are their performances and sonic coloration with my tested IEMs. 

The Shanling UA1 Plus keeps the coloration simple. It doesn’t add anything to the bass, mids, or treble and instead adds more sharpness and clarity to the overall presentation.

The FiiO KA11 takes a whole different approach. It adds warmth by giving a bump to the midbass. This makes vocals and instruments sound fuller and more intimate.

This approach helps those IEMs that sound thin or shrill. The FiiO KA11 doesn’t add any other audible coloration aside from this.

FiiO KA11 retail box

My Verdict

The FiiO KA11 dongle DAC is a good travel companion for budget audiophiles with its small, lightweight, and powerful output performance. Its temperature levels are also more than acceptable for long listening sessions.

For first-time upgraders needing an all-around dongle DAC, the FiiO KA11 has got them covered. A wide range of headphones and nearly all IEMs should sound adequately powered while adding some pleasing warmth to the overall sound experience.

FiiO KA11 Technical Specifications

  • Dimensions: 44.5 x 9.7 x 10.5mm
  • Weight: 8.5 grams
  • Decoding Formats: PCM 32bit/384kHz, DSD256
  • Headphone Jack: 3.5mm Unbalanced
  • Output Level: 245mW@16-ohms, 200mW@32-ohms, 22mW@300-ohms

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