Home Amp/DAC Comparisons 6 of FiiO’s K Series DACS, Ranked

6 of FiiO’s K Series DACS, Ranked

by Stuart Charles Black
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear) all over again, so…

This article, similar to my HIFIMAN, Sennheiser, and AKG writeups, will house any and all current, as well as future iterations of the products in question. 

Today’s column will highlight FiiO’s K series lineup, covering current DACS K3, K5 Pro, K7, K9 Pro, K9 (non-pro), and K11.

We’ll discuss everything from sound to features, power output, and more.

By the end of this article,

you’ll know which is best for your specific needs.

To keep things simple and concise, I’ll rank them in order of value (worst to best) but it’s not exactly black and white which you’ll soon find out later.

Also, worst does not mean the DAC is bad; rather, it simply means consider it last.

Keep in mind that I have logged dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of hours on these and my goal for this is to help you purchase the right one specific to your unique situation.

So let’s dive in!


#6

FiiO K3

Price: Check on Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

In The Box

FiiO K3 Compact Headphone Amplifier and USB Type-C DAC (Black)

USB Type-C Cable

4 x Spare Foot Pads (Note: The 2 pads you don’t see are on the bottom of the unit)

Quick Start Guide

Limited 1-Year Warranty

Specs

  • Capability: Up to 32-bit/384kHz.
  • Stereo Crosstalk: ≥70 dB (1 kHz).
  • Outputs: 1x Coaxial, Line, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack, 1x 2.5mm balanced
  • DSD Support: Yes, 64/128/256.
  • Output Impedance: 1.04. What is Output Impedance?
  • Output Power (Single Ended): 220 mW @ 16 Ohms, 120 mW @ 32 Ohms.
  • Output Power (Balanced): 320 mW @ 16 Ohms, 200 mW @ 32 Ohms.
  • Output Voltage: 7.39 Vp-p.
  • Digital Outputs: Coaxial: RCA for 192 kHz, Support DSD64 DOP
    Optical Out: Up to 96 kHz.
  • Inputs: 1x Type-C USB.
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: ≥113 dB.
  • THD: ≤0.004%.
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 80kHz.
  • Op amp: 2 x OPA926.
  • Low-pass filter: TI OPA1612.
  • USB chip: XMOS XUF208.
  • Dimensions: 2.8 x 2.3 x 0.9″ / 70.0 x 58.0 x 22.0 mm.
  • Weight: 83 grams.
  • Warranty: 1 year.
  • Power: Bus-powered, 5 VDC 500 mA.
  • Features: Bass boost, Gain switch.

The K3 is certainly a useful product. It was one of the first DACS from FiiO to feature a USB Type-C connection, and to this day still comes in handy. 

Before snagging a pair of Yamaha HS7s, I was using the K3 as a preamp into the Presonus Eris e3.5s; a great set of budget monitors that actually sound like monitors. 

Its 3.5mm output on the back is mega sweet and comes in handy when you need something quick and dirty to connect to an Amp, speakers, etc.

In this way, it acts as a preamp, but it’s also an amp/DAC combo and works with headphones.

The problem is that it doesn’t have a lot of power unbalanced, thus why I relegate it to preamp duties most of the time.

The good news is that you can run it balanced with a 2.5mm cable, so that’s nice.

It sounds excellent with a Sennheiser HD58X balanced for example.

2.5mm cable I use with the 58X and K3.

It also supports DSD and generally provides your headphones with a crisp, neutral digital-to-analog conversion.

Front Panel

On the front are your volume pot, balanced jack, unbalanced jack, bass boost, and gain switch.

I hardly ever use the bass boost feature, but your mileage may vary.

Back Panel

The back contains the 3.5mm mentioned above, as well as the Type-C jack that you’ll use to connect to a PC/Laptop, a Coaxial output, and an Optical output.

With optical or coax out, you can hook it up to something like a receiver or speakers that have optical in or coax in.

A good example would be something like the Edifier R1280DB Powered Bluetooth Speakers which have both an optical input and a coaxial input.

Build

The K3 is a fairly light unit but doesn’t feel cheap, with a rounded contour shape and elegant aesthetic that improved on the somewhat boxy/industrial-looking profile of the older E10K.

All in all, the K3 is still a great unit but you may not need it nowadays.


#5

FiiO K9 Pro (ESS & AKM)

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

In The Box

FiiO K9 Pro Amp/DAC

USB Type-A to Type-B Cable

Power Cable

Bluetooth Antenna

1/4″ Headphone Adapter

Quick Start Guide

Warranty Card

FiiO K9 Pro Review

FiiO K9 Pro Review

The K9 Pro is now just one FiiO’s flagship models, and boy howdy it doesn’t disappoint.

In addition to everything we just discussed concerning the K5 Pro, the K9 Pro adds Bluetooth, a 4.4mm input, Balanced XLR outputs, and 3 headphone output options including XLR, 4.4mm, and 6.35mm (1/4″).

Now, are those things worth roughly $300-$500 extra?

Probably not, but again, it depends entirely on you and what you’re willing to spend. I still think the K9 Pro is an excellent value if you’re after an end-game type of amp at a more sensible price.

FiiO K9 Pro Review

FiiO K9 Pro ReviewAside from those aspects, yeah, it’s about the same thing as a K7, K5 Pro, and K11.

I will say that, to my ears, the K9 Pro ESS Version (vs. AKM) does have a cleaner, and more sterile presentation (it also tends to sound more open and airy), but even that is something I’ve become a bit wary of mentioning since my stance has somewhat shifted to “It’s probably just a placebo.”

In other words, differences in DACS are almost nonexistent to me even though the ESS “sound” was something I discussed at length, and stood behind for many years.

And, I wouldn’t say the sound of the K9 overall is any “better” (whatever that means) and there are many people who don’t need the extras I just mentioned.

Remember, I always recommend based on value and I believe it to be a good value for what you’re paying.

That said,

if you don’t need those extra features, don’t buy it.

Buy one of the others and you’ll be happy as a clam. You can thank me later.

Video Discussion (AKM Version)

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ESS Video

Here’s the updated ESS version!


#4

FiiO K9 (Non-Pro)

Price: Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

K9 Amp/DAC

1x Power Cord

1x Headphone Plug Adapter

1x USB Data Cable

6x Feet pads

1x Fuse

1x Stand

Quick Start Guide

Voltage Selection Card

Warranty Card

FiiO K9 Review

If you’re dead set on the flagship model in the series, I think the K9 is the best value until something better comes along.

It’s around $300-$400 cheaper than a K9 Pro and mostly functions like a Pro unit despite it not having the Pro moniker. In other words, to me, it’s pretty much the same thing.

Both have ESS chips, but the K9 Pro’s is a 9038 vs. the K9’s 9068. The K9 is lighter at 2660g, doesn’t have a Type-C port, has 3 filters vs. 7, and has the PEQ feature. The K9 Pro ESS doesn’t.

The K9 doesn’t have an MQA renderer, so if you’re looking for that, you may go with the K9 Pro or something cheaper like the K7.

The K9 supports up to 768kHz/32-Bit, and DSD512, while the K9 Pro supports 384kHz/32-Bit/DSD256.

The K9 Pro’s signal-to-noise ratio is a bit better: 129dB vs. 124.

Outside of that, the units are eerily similar, and as of now, I’m not recommending the K9 Pro anymore. I’d rather you save a bunch of money like Geico and go with the regular K9.

I promise you won’t lose sleep over the decision.

#3

FiiO K5 Pro

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Check Apos Audio! | Official Review: Here!

In The Box

FiiO K5 Pro

15V DC Power Adapter &

USB Type-B Cable

1/4″ Adapter

Extra Rubber Feet

Quick Start Guide

Warranty Card

Specifications

  • Capability: Up to 32-bit/768kHz.
  • Stereo Crosstalk: ≥75 dB at 1 kHz.
  • Outputs: Stereo RCA, 1/4″ / 6.35 mm Headphone.
  • DSD Support: Yes, DSD512.
  • Output Impedance: 1.2 Ohm.
  • Output Power: 1.5W @ 32 Ohm.
  • Inputs: 1x Type-B USB.
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: ≥115 dB (A-Weighted).
  • THD: ≤0.004%.
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 80kHz.
  • Op amp: LPF Op Amp: Texas Instruments OPA1642, Driver Op Amp: Texas Instruments TPA6120
  • Dimensions: 4.7 x 5.1 x 2.2″ / 12.1 x 13.0 x 5.5 cm
  • Weight: 436g.
  • Warranty: 1 year.
  • Power: 15VDC, 1.5A
  • Gain Switch: 0, 6, 12dB

I’ve recommended the K5 Pro for many years now as a great affordable entry-level unit that comes packed with features and won’t break the bank.

While things have shifted a little, this DAC is still an excellent purchase and I’ll outline why:

Affordable

The K5 Pro at roughly $150 is not a good value – it’s a value STEAL. Considering everything it can do, it almost seems criminal how cheap it remains – especially taking into consideration how much overpriced crap exists in the audio market.

Plenty Of Power & Features

FiiO K5 Pro Review

In addition to its more than enough power output (1.5W @32Ω), the K5 Pro can play up to 32-bit/768kHz files, and DSD512 – very interesting indeed when you consider how old this thing is.

I don’t much care for anything above 44.1, but the K5 was advertising meaningless high PCM files before it was cool.

In addition, if you want to play files above 48kHz in Tidal, you can. You’ll just have to enable exclusive mode.

Exclusive Mode

  1. Click on the 3 bars in the upper left corner inside Tidal.
  2. File > Settings > Streaming.
  3. Scroll down to where it says “Sound” and “Sound Output”.
  4. Click (More settings) to the right.
  5. Now just tick the button to exclusive mode and the formats will change according to the file.

Now the Halo light will turn yellow for any master files inside the program.

DSD is a bit of a different story.

Most DSD files you’ll have to pay for, but there is a free library of songs that I used for testing and comparing.

The website is BlueCoastMusic.

You will have to make an account, but the process is fairly painless.

Steps

  1. Sign up for an account at bluecoastmusic.com using your email address
  2. Go to the https://bluecoastmusic.com/free-downloads page and ‘Add to cart’
  3. Complete the checkout process (you won’t be charged anything, but you will get a link in your account)
  4. While you’re logged in, go to your “Downloads” tab and you’ll find the link to download
  5. Download the folder to a location you can find on your computer. It will be a ZIP file
  6. Unzip the file and the files should be inside. Extract the files
  7. Use your software player to play and figure out what plays and what doesn’t play in your system.

You’re not quite out of the woods yet.

Now that you have some DSD files, you’ll need a special player to play them. 

I’ve found that the best option is Audirvana. You can set up a free trial here.

After it’s downloaded, follow these steps:

  1. Extract the zipped files you downloaded from BlueCoast to your desktop.
  2. Open the Audirvana app.
  3. Click Settings in the upper right-hand corner.
  4. Click Library, then click “Add Folders.” Select the appropriate one.
  5. Click the Audio Tab. IMPORTANT: Do not use WASAPI or you won’t see the correct halo colors on the K7. You must use the ASIO driver. If you can’t click it, just press the unlock button at the bottom right corner to release exclusive mode. Audirvana, like Tidal, locks exclusive access to the audio output for optimum quality. Other applications are silent as long as this access is locked. This can be a bit of a pain, but once you get used to how it functions it’s not too bad.
  6. Play a file and enjoy!

If you don’t use FiiO’s ASIO driver, you’ll notice the DSD64, 256, and 512 options (above) will be greyed out and the color will only change to Yellow (indicating anything above 48kHz).

For clarity:

  • Blue = Up to 48kHz
  • Yellow = Anything over 48kHz
  • Green = DSD (up to 512)

Plays well with a Plethora

The number of different ways you can use a K5 Pro is, in my eyes, what sets it apart from other desktop offerings.

Alongside the power jack and USB Type-B slot for connection to your PC, there’s an optical input, a coaxial input, 1 set of RCA inputs, and 1 set of RCA Outputs.

This essentially means that you can use it with darn near anything: A console for gaming, any separate DAC with RCA Outputs or line output, any Amplifier with line input or RCA Inputs, any set of speakers with RCA or line inputs (Presonus Eris e3.5 for example), and the list goes on.

You can use it with CD/DVD players that have coaxial outputs, a T.V. with coaxial out, and it works with turntables that come with Male RCA plugs (most do).

The possibilities are endless.

A while back I made this graphic illustrating the point:

All of the various switches on the front make swapping sources rather simple, so don’t fret.

  • 3 = S. This is for S/PDIF (Coaxial) and your Optical Input.
  • 2 = L. This is for Line Input or Output.
  • 1 = U. This is for a USB connection to your PC.

If you need a hand with anything, comment below or contact me!

If there was one thing missing from the K5 Pro, it’s what the following 2 options have.


#2

FiiO K7

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos! | Official Review: Here!

In The Box

FiiO K7 ReviewSpecifications

  • DAC: AK4493SEQ*2
  • Decoder: XMOS XUF 208
  • Amplifier: Dual THX AAA 788+
  • Outputs: 6.35mm/4.4mm
  • Inputs: USB/TOP/COAX/RCA
  • Output Power 1: ≥2000mW (32Ω, balanced/THD+N < 1%)
  • Output Power 2: ≥1220mW (32Ω, single-ended/THD+N <1%)
  • Output Power @ 300 Ohm: 560mW
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: ≥120dB (A-weighted, UAC)
  • Noise Floor: PO<4.4μV (A-weighted, UAC); BAL < 7.7μV (A-Weighted, UAC)
  • Output Impedance: <1Ω (32Ω load)
  • Weight: 610g
  • Dimensions: About 120mm x168mmx55mm
  • Materials: Aluminum Alloy, CNC finish

Everything I just said about the K5 Pro applies to the K7, with a few notable updates:

  • The K7 is slightly larger length-wise.
  • The K7 has the THX stamp.
  • The K7 has a balanced 4.4mm headphone output.
  • The K7 lights up in a rainbow of colors upon initial startup (Turn the knob).
  • The K7 is a bit heavier at 610g vs. 436 for the K5 Pro. Keep in mind they feel around the same in your hand.
  • The K7 displays teal instead of blue for all files below 48kHz.

FiiO K7 Review

FiiO K7 Review

In addition to all of that,

the interface is slightly different this time around, and arguably more convenient/easy to see.

Instead of your input being a switch, there’s a button on the leftmost side that cycles between USB, Optical, Coaxial, and Line.

Above that, you’ll see 4 LED lights that coordinate accordingly. The rainbow-colored halo around the Volume pot that displays on startup also appears when pressing the input button and cycling between sources.

The color thing is inconsequential, but you will likely appreciate the LED lights in the upper left as it’s much easier to see which input you’re on.

In other words, it’s a lot more intuitive than the K5 Pro.

As far as the output section goes, it’s a simple switch that cycles between LO, PRE, and PO.

  1. LO – This will be used with a separate amplifier like the JDS ATOM 2.
  2. PRE – This is the preamp section and will be used to connect to separate active speakers like the Presonus Eris e3.5s.
  3. PO – This is used with both unbalanced (single-ended) and balanced or TRRS headphones/wiring.

Sound & Power Output

FiiO K7 Review

The only small caveat is the volume potentiometer. Despite having more power, you’ll feel like you’re turning the knob a lot more – at least initially. 

From FiiO’s website:

“Thanks to ADC curve reconstruction, experience a smooth 112 steps of adjustable volume free of channel imbalances and noise – ensuring that every note is faithfully reproduced.”

After using the K7 quite a lot since I received it, I can confirm FiiO’s statement is accurate and I’m completely fine with the implementation. 

FiiO K7 Review

FiiO K7 Review

Sound

Sound-wise, there are almost no differences between the K7 and K5 Pro, and if they’re there, it’s incredibly subtle.

The K7 advertises less than 1 Output Impedance and IIRC, the K5 Pro’s is around 1.2. Again, not a whole lot of discrepancy there.

This is a smooth, crisp backdrop that works very well with all of your music, so don’t worry too much about “how it sounds.”

In any event,

let’s take a look at the K11 before we wrap this up.


#1

FiiO K11

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

In The Box

FiiO K11 Desktop USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)

USB-A to USB-C Cable

Power Adapter

Power Cable

1/4″ Headphone Adapter

Limited 1-Year Manufacturer Warranty

FiiO K11 Review

FiiO K11 Review

Specifications

  • Colors: Obsidian Black, Midnight Silver
  • Main Control Chip (single-chip microcomputer): GD32F303RET6
  • DAC: CS43198
  • Supported Audio Formats: 384kHz/32-Bit PCM, DSD256
  • USB Connector: Type-C
  • Display Type: Custom LCD
  • Dimensions: 147x133x32.3 mm
  • Weight: Around 407g
  • Power Supply: DC 12V 2A external adapter
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 50kHz (Attenuation < 0.2dB)
  • SNR: ≥123dB (A-weighted)
  • Noise Floor: PO < 2.8uV (A-weighted); BAL < 4.9uV (a-weighted)
  • Output Impedance: PO < 1.2Ω (32Ω load); BAL < 2.4Ω (32Ω load)
  • THD+N: LO < 0.00035% (1kHz/10kΩ)

Power

  • Single-ended: 520mW @ 32Ω, THD+N <1%) (32Ω/single-ended/high gain)
  • Single-ended: 60mW @ 300Ω, THD+N <1%) (300Ω/single-ended/high gain)
  • Balanced: 1400mW (32Ω, THD+N < 1%) (32Ω, THD+N <1%) (32Ω/balanced/high gain)
  • Balanced: 250mW (300Ω, THD+N <1%) (300Ω/balanced/high gain)

FiiO K11 ReviewFiiO K11 ReviewFiiO’s K11 takes everything good about the K3, K5 Pro, and K7, and makes it dirt cheap.

The only thing missing is the RCA inputs, but it’s still an incredible value at $130, and as of this update, my top recommendation in the series.

Featured is a fully balanced system utilizing 4.4mm, in addition to the standard 1/4″ (6.35mm).

Its front-lit interface is a lot more convenient to use, and you’ll enjoy the numbers displayed for you to read.

This makes the process of cycling through options a lot more seamless, and it’s nice to be able to physically see everything.

If all that wasn’t enough, it lights the f up, too.

Final Verdict

FiiO K11 Review

I think we can safely discard the K3 at this point.

While useful, it’s not necessary to have anymore.

I would say go with the K5 Pro if you’re not planning to use balanced headphones, but there’s simply no reason to buy it anymore since the K11 has balanced and is $20 cheaper.

The K7 is great, but why pay $70 more when you can get the K11 and still have a balanced 4.4mm jack?

The K11 is another great FiiO product in a long line of many and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a fantastic all-in-one entry-level desktop solution.

Not only does FiiO understand what constitutes an excellent value (features, etc.), but they also understand pricing and how to offer a great deal.

Learn More:

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this FiiO K3  vs. K5 Pro vs. K7 vs. K9 Pro vs. K11 Comparison and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Just want to make a one-time donation? Click here. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps keep this site running!

Which of these fits your needs best? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

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28 comments

Qasim December 25, 2022 - 7:40 pm

Firstly, fantastic article. This is just what I was looking for as I am currently in the process of deciding whether to upgrade to the K7 from the K5 pro ess. I do have some questions which i would be grateful if you could answer them for me.

1). Balanced vs Unbalanced?

In your honest opinion, do you see a benefit of using a balanced connection as opposed to an unbalanced one? Which kind of connection do you personally use? My online research has left me confused as some say balanced is way better while others say it’s a placebo effect and that opting for balanced is purely a consequence of a money grabbing marketing scheme. What’s your take on it?

2). Only high and low gain?

On my K5 pro ess, there are three gain functions. I primarily use a Philips Fidelio x2hr headphone and I find that I have to use the third gain setting to really bring out its benefits, albeit it is low impedence. Whatever the view of people on this, I notice a difference and the third gain setting is perfect for me and now much needed. Now, given that the K7 only has two gain options – low and high – from your testing, does the high gain option of the K7 resemble the third gain option on the k5 pro ess? Or is it noticeably less? This is a really important concern I have which will make or break whether I upgrade to the K7 or not.

3). THX

Does the THX on the K7 make a difference in comparison to the K5 pro ess? Even if the difference is subtle, how subtle exactly is the difference? Exact details would be greatly appreciated.

4). Does the K7 unit get really hot?

I noticed that my K5 pro ess can get quite hot sometimes. Did you find this also to be the case on the K7?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 27, 2022 - 2:37 am

Hey man! Thank you for the nice comment.

As for your questions:

1) Balanced vs. Unbalanced.

To me, not really. I tend to listen balanced when testing gear but it’s not a huge priority for me. For the most part I’m using single ended. That said, I know some people value that option. As far as differences, I believe a lot of them are placebo but I will say balanced seems slightly cleaner/crisper FWIW but take that with a grain of salt. It’s not enough of a difference to warrant going crazy or anything imo. I personally would never buy a dac for the sole reason of it having a balanced option. Does it add value to an already great product? Absolutely. I would say that for the most part I don’t believe it to be a money grabbing marketing scheme. In my view, it’s simply companies keeping up with trends and staying competitive.

2) Power Output

Here’s the tricky part. The K7 has more power, but as mentioned in the article, FiiO redesigned the potentiometer and how it reacts. So on high gain for the K7, the volume is around 2 vs. only 10-11 on high gain for the K5 Pro. You’ll feel like the K5 Pro has more power, but technically it doesn’t. I will warn you that this may be a bit jarring at first but there’s plenty of power on the K7.

3) THX

No, and please, please don’t buy a DAC because it has the THX stamp on it. I linked it in the article but here’s what you need to know about THX.

4) Heat

I haven’t had any issues with mine, no. I also didn’t have issues with the K5 Pro getting hot either.

Reply
Qas December 25, 2022 - 7:59 pm

Oh I also forgot to ask, The K7 uses the AK4493SEQ DACs from AKM while the K5 Pro ess uses the ES9038Q2M. Did you notice any major difference in the sound between the two? If yes, then how so? Thanks again in advance.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 27, 2022 - 2:39 am

Yeah, the ESS is going to sound a bit cleaner and more sterile/open, but it’s not a huge difference and shouldn’t be the basis of your decision I don’t think. Keep me posted!

Reply
Baker February 12, 2023 - 2:10 pm

Will the K7 be good enough to drive the focal clear mg professionals?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 15, 2023 - 2:25 am

Absolutely!! At 55 Ohm/104dB, I wouldn’t worry.

Reply
Baker February 22, 2023 - 1:58 pm

Thanks for the reply!
Also since the mg professional don’t come with a balanced cable, is there any benefit, for my scenario, to buy a balanced cable so i can use the balanced output on the fiio-k7?
P. S. since the headphones are low impedance, high gain is risky for them and I’m supposed to use only low gain, right?
Thx in advance for any info u can give me!

Stuart Charles Black February 22, 2023 - 5:02 pm

My pleasure! Here’s the thing with balanced: it does make a small difference, but also just may be a placebo. I feel like it’s slightly more refined, clean, clear, etc. but that could just be a volume discrepancy as it undoubtedly is going to be louder/going to have more power. And yeah, you’ll want to stick to low gain for low impedance/high sensitivity headphones with the K7.

Miguel September 27, 2023 - 10:47 am

I already have a Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO 250 OHM. should I choose k5 or k7?
It’s for mixing and mastering music.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black September 27, 2023 - 11:08 am

Miguel,

I’d probably go with the K5 Pro if you don’t plan to use balanced headphones. They are basically the same. Please keep me posted and let me know if you have more questions! Also what kind of music do you play?

-Stu

Reply
Namu October 23, 2023 - 4:02 am

Thank you for great informations!
i’m relatively new to the HI-FI world, using Focal Clear mg & Fiio K7 as a starter

what i want to ask is the way how to make the sound better & wider scaled and steriled. is the upgrade to K9 or K9 pro ESS could make a ‘meaningful’ upgrade to my need? or do you have any other recommendation such as cable upgrade or so?

FYI : i dig to the scale and resolution(and more) and i thought Focal Utopia & K7 combo is a ideal option for me to have(but couldn’t… too pricey…). compared to that, my combo is relatively small-scaled

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 24, 2023 - 7:28 pm

Namu,

My pleasure!

I’d like to preface my response by saying that you will get varying opinions on this, but NO. Absolutely the K9 Pro will not in any way shape or form make the Clear MG sound better. Neither will any cables. That’s all a myth as Amps and DACS for the most part sound pretty similar across the board.

I definitely do understand your dilemma with the MG. It does sound relatively closed in and lacks a bit of Soundstage width and depth. But please, for the love of all things holy, do not buy into the notion that an amp will improve this. The only dac I’ve ever used that can make this claim is the SoundBlasterX G6, but that’s only because it has a switch called Scout Mode which actually does audibly space things out.

Anyway, I hope this helps!

Please keep me posted with any questions.

Cheers,

-Stu

Reply
NAMU October 26, 2023 - 11:21 am

Thanks for your kind reply! it was meaningful and helpful to me! hope you have wonderful day!
merci mille fois and also, 감사합니다 🙂

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Stuart Charles Black October 30, 2023 - 9:22 pm

My pleasure any time! Do reach out if you ever need a hand.

Cheers,

-Stu

항상 기꺼이 도와 드리겠습니다!

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Björn January 26, 2024 - 5:57 pm

Very selfishly I have a few questions, Especially regarding the K7 vs the K11, as well as their advantages over de ifi Zen V2

I currently have the ifi Zen, and i am running three pairs of headphones with it:
-Sundara balanced
-Sundara closedback balanced
-Dekoni blue single ended

Here I am wondering if either the K7 or K11 would improve clarity. I enjoy what the setup can run right now, but feel separation might be better with some more power driven into the headphones. But since I don’t want to buy and then regret it, I wonder if it gives me any advantages, and would a K7 be even better than a K11, or would it not improve anything over my current setup.

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Stuart Charles Black January 27, 2024 - 12:58 pm

Björn,

Thank you for the question! No, clarity will not be improved at all. That comes down to the source file and your headphones. The K11 doesn’t “sound” any different/better than a Zen. It all boils down to features/versatility when it comes to any real differences in DACS in my experience and opinion.

So yeah, buying either would be a waste of money – especially since the Zen already comes with a 4.4mm headphone output. I will say that both the K7 and K11 are more versatile and I like using them with consoles, so that’s really the only instance where I would recommend a purchase. The Zen only has RCA outs.

As for a bit of further clarification in case you read some of my other posts on DACS, yes, I have said and do think the ESS chip “sounds” clearer and more open than the others I’ve tried, so you may purchase a DAC that has one. That’s really the only caveat in my mind as most DACS sound roughly the same. I’m still kind of on the fence whether or not this is some strange placebo that I’ve held on to for many years (ESS/Sabre), so take it for what its worth.

My ultimate goal is to help people save money and cut through the BS, and I wanted to clarify all that so you have a better understanding of where I’m coming from.

Hope that helps!

Please keep me posted with questions/updates.

-Stu

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Björn January 28, 2024 - 8:22 am

Stu,

Thank you for the honest answer. It is true that there is a lot of crap you have to cut through to get an honest opinion. In regards to clarity: I was going by some commenters who keep indicated more power=better sound and less veiled. But as the results are conflicted, I would better ask. For my use case the Zen does it work great. I use the RCA via a RCA-AUX cable to a soundbar (and the option to have the output fixed) works great. As does the fact I alreeady have quite a number of 4.4 cables. A K11 would make sens for my workplace, as I have to rely on dongles there. But that is just an extra. In all: thanks for the comment

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Stuart Charles Black January 31, 2024 - 6:07 pm

Björn,

No problem man! And nah lol. More Power = louder and that’s it. Veiled has nothing to do with the DAC and everything to do with the headphones/source file. Please ignore people who claim that other nonsense. It’s only going to make you confused – especially moving forward as more and more shills populate this niche.

Please keep me posted and let me know if you need help with anything! And yeah, the K11 is great because of the price!

-Stu

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Sig February 13, 2024 - 10:51 am

Not sure if you’ve tried it but if so, what do you think of the Qudelix 5k and how would it compare to the K11? I ask since they’re at the same price point for me.
If not, will the K11 be enough for my K701? I’ve had it for a while now but have never used it because for the longest time, I’m in a place where I couldn’t use open backs but that’ll change soon. Not sure if you need to know my preference but I prefer a balanced or flat (not sure if they’re close together haha!) signature with clarity and a little bass (assuming all these make sense to you too hah). So if the K11 is also good enough for the K701, any recommendations for the settings?

Thank you!

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Stuart Charles Black February 13, 2024 - 5:14 pm

Hey man!

Haven’t heard the 5K but yeah, the K11 is more than enough for a K701. As far as settings, I don’t use them on DACs to be quite honest. But yeah, balanced and flat are arguably fine to use interchangeably! Do you have an original Austrian K701 or a Chinese one?

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Sig February 14, 2024 - 1:36 am

What I have is a Chinese one, according to the box. Is there a big difference between the 2 that I should be wary of? Thanks again!

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Stuart Charles Black February 14, 2024 - 1:42 pm

Sig,

Some say the build of the Chinese models isn’t as good, but I’ve had no issues with my Chinese K702 since 2019. Take that FWIW. Other than that, it’s the same headphone. I wish they were still made in Austria (just to say I have one), but oh well I guess. And my pleasure! Reach out any time.

-Stu

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Eric Gracka February 14, 2024 - 10:53 am

Hello Stu:
A very informative Website to be sure! The articles are so easy to read, dispensing with all the usual ‘word salad’ with which one typically has to contend. Having AKG K701 headphones, do I go for the FiiO K5 Pro, K7, K9, or K11? I don’t forsee using Bluetooth, RCA In, or balanced, although balanced might be nice to have for future considerations. I do like having RCA Out. My current instinct is to choose the K5 Pro, namely because of RCA Out and the generous amount of O/P power. Any thoughts? Thanks for your considerations and time.

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Stuart Charles Black February 14, 2024 - 1:50 pm

Eric,

Thank you so much! I work extremely hard to do exactly what you’ve pointed out and am constantly updating articles for readability, updates, impression/recommendation changes, new products, etc. I actually just updated the one you commented on, so it really means a lot!

I would say since you don’t need RCA In and may use balanced in the future, the K11 is the way to go since it’s cheaper than a K5 Pro, has the balanced 4.4 if you need it down the road, and is a bit easier to use/more intuitive (arguably). Don’t get me wrong, I still really like the K5 Pro and use one (mostly for gaming w/ headphones on PS3 nowadays) but it’s hard to pass up the value and price of the K11.

Hope that helps! And you’re quite welcome. Keep me posted with any questions/updates.

-Stu

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G McMichael April 18, 2024 - 1:59 am

1. Where would you slot a Creative Labs X5 in this list and caveat comments?
2. Or (is there) a Topping or the other brands that are thrown at us by searches (which varies depending on country location or search engine) that could be compared here.
Currently trying to get the best out of Sennh HD660s and/or a tri 3x 3 amp speaker sys w best resolution sources available.

Thanks

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Stuart Charles Black April 22, 2024 - 1:11 pm

Hey man!

Thank you for stopping by. Haven’t heard the X5 but been trying to get one. Since you asked about Creative, are you gaming or just listening to music?

I really like the Creative G6 (gaming), ATOM 2, K7/K11 with the HD600. Any of those other 3 can also be used for gaming on console. I wouldn’t worry about much else. All of these drive the 600s really well.

Hope that helps! Let me know.

-Stu

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Tan May 23, 2024 - 3:24 am

Hi Stu,

If I am going to use the K11 with the Ananda Stealth version is it good, if I want to purchase some higher end hifiman headphones in the future like HE1000 do I need to purchase the K7 instead of K11?

Thanks you so much

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Stuart Charles Black May 23, 2024 - 2:37 pm

Tan,

Great to hear from you! In this case, I would err on the side of yes, CAUTIOUSLY. Love the K11, but it may have a bit of trouble pushing REALLY inefficient headphones below 90dB. That said, if Impedance/Sensitivity of any higher end stuff you’re looking at is somewhat reasonable, then I wouldn’t start freaking out and blowing lots of cash lol.

The thing to remember about amps and dacs is that 99% of them drive most headphones just fine. The problem with this hobby/niche is that a lot of people will tell you the opposite – that you need to match this and synergize that and dynamism whatever and it’s just a bunch of nonsense. The waterfall chart is always Source file > Headphones > DAC/Amp and whatever other snake oil people say is important. It’s not. Trust me, I’ve had way more experience than I’d like to admit in demoing over 74 of them at the time of this comment, and as a producer who understands the most important aspects of sound, I’m here to keep it real for new people.

The K11 is such a steal at its price, and with the 2 most inefficient headphones I have here; the K702 (Around 91dB) and HE400se (91dB), it drives them fine. With the K702 I’m in the ballpark of 50-60 out of 99 on the dial with medium gain. This is a comfortable loudness without blowing your ears out. Plenty of headroom. 400se is around the same though it has a lower impedance so doesn’t resist power as much. Most other headphones are much easier to drive and a perfect match with K11.

Just remember what I’ve said here today in the future when you’re about to mortgage your kidney away for a new flavor of the week DAC LOL. I’ll never tell you not to buy a K7 as it’s an incredible value too and one of my main recs. So based on what I said, if you do think you’ll want the extra juice anyway, go for it and don’t worry about the K11 unless you really want to save money and don’t need the RCA inputs.

Hope that helps! Let me know.

-Stu

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