It wasn’t long ago that I would call a $150 desktop headphone amp with great sound and decent power a steal. So then what should I call a desktop headphone amp with excellent sound, decent power, and a quality USB DAC built-in?
I would call it the K5 Pro.
The Fiio K5 Pro ($149.99 on Amazon.com) is Fiio’s first headphone amp/DAC made for home use, and it’s an excellent solution for those looking to drive power-hungry headphones using their laptop or cellphone as a source, especially if they don’t have a huge budget.
The manufacturer sent me the K5 Pro in exchange for an honest review, and that is what follows.
Build and Features
Build quality for the K5 Pro is superb. Not just at this price range, but at any price range. Upon removing it from the box, I thought this only cost $150?
The black aluminum case is both sandblasted and anodized for a fine-textured satin-like finish that resists both fingerprints and scratches. There are chrome toggle switches for input selection and gain control. Volume is regulated via a substantial easy to grab metal knob that turns as smooth as butter.
Surrounding the volume knob is a slick-looking light ring that roughly indicates the sample rate. There’s Blue for 48kHz and below, Yellow for above 48khz, and Green for all DSD sampling rates.
The Gain switch has three positions, Low, Medium, and High. I love this. You don’t know how many times I have settled for the “High” setting on a particular amp when I only needed a slight adjustment from the “Low” setting.
On the back of the amp, you have three digital inputs for the DAC, optical, coax, and USB, one analog input to bypass the DAC, and an analog line out so you can use the K5 Pro as a preamp on your desk.
All those connections make this little box really versatile. If you have a digital audio player with a nice DAC but just need a bit more power, you can hook it up to the K5 Pro’s line-in and only use it as an amp. If you prefer the K5 Pro’s integral DAC, you can plug the DAP into one of the digital inputs provided it has digital out.
For the folks who love specs, K5 Pro uses a single AK4493 DAC Chip for decoding, supporting PCM up to 768kHz/32bit and native DSD. Fiio states support up to DSD256. That is via USB.
SPDIF only supports PCM, with up to 192khz input on the coax and 96khz on the optical. Op-amps are TI OPA1642 mated to a TI TPA6120 headphone amp chip.
In the box along with the amp, you get a low-noise laptop-style power adapter, the matching power cable, replacement rubber feet, instruction manual, and a 1/4” headphone adapter.
Listening to the K5 Pro
For my listening tests, I used two different sources, my HP Envy x360 laptop connected to the USB input, and a Fiio M11 Pro DAP connected to the coax input. The majority of the time, I used the computer playing local files and TIDAL streams via Audirvana.
As far as headphones were concerned, I started with the Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow Closed, which are notoriously hard to match and drive properly. The K5 Pro is recommended for headphones between 16-300 ohms, and the AFC is rated at 13 ohms.
Regardless of the mismatch on paper, the Fiio had no problem driving the planar cans to an average listening level with a 50% turn of the volume knob. This was at a medium gain setting. It’s also worth mentioning the K5 Pro doesn’t start producing audible volume until about a 25% percent turn on the knob.
The K5 Pro’s tonal balance is flat to my ears. It’s probably neutral to a fault. It doesn’t try to manufacture any excitement via added warmth; it just gives you the facts. It probably wasn’t the best match for a neutral headphone like the Aeon Flow Closed, but I did like the rich detail and tight bass it brought out of them.
I actually liked the Fiio amp better with warmer dynamic cans than I did with the planar magnetic headphone. When I switched over to the Focal Elear, I was able to drive them at about 50% on the volume knob on the low gain setting, and things got a lot more exciting.
Again the K5 Pro didn’t really add much flavor of its own; it just allowed the Elear to do its thing. I truly reveled at how clean the sound was. The amp took full control of the Focal headphones, playing them big and dynamic with deep, articulate bass.
If you like a warmer sounding amp, the K5 Pro may not be for you, but if you like an amp more on the neutral side, you will probably love it.
The DAC is also really good for the price point. I listened to Shelby Lynne’s “Just a Little Lovin” through the Elear, and while I would’ve liked a little more texture and involvement in the vocals, the reproduction of the instrumentation was excellent. The cymbals had the beautiful metallic ring you get from a quality converter.
The K5 Pro has a great combination of excellent design, significant power, and great sound. The DAC is very good, and the full complement of connections on the back makes this a versatile Amp/DAC combo. If you’re looking for a desktop amp/DAC that can power pretty much any headphone for around $150, this one should be high on your list.
As an Amazon Associate, Hifitrends.com may earn from qualifying purchases via links placed throughout the site…this helps us keep the website going! Thanks in advance for your help!