Following on from my review of the Creative Sound BlasterX G6, I have also been using the FiiO K5 Pro Desktop DAC as a possible alternative solution to my needs.
On my office desk, I have multiple monitors, in the morning I work with music playing from my main PC but then at lunch, I will watch some media on my Nvidia Shield on the left monitor. Previously I used two separate sets of speakers, which was messy, but I had a spare set from my old office, so it was cost-effective. Sadly, one set had started to die; the Acoustic Energy Augo M2.1 had served me well for the best part of 15 years.
So, rather than get another set of speakers, the more practical solution would be to use the same speakers for two devices and investing in a DAC would also improve the sound quality of my existing speakers.
It turns out there are not many affordable multy input DACs from my limited research this led me to
- Creative Sound BlasterX G6 (£129, I paid £109)
- Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD (£82.36, didn't notice this would work until after I bought the other two)
- Fiio K5 PRO (£149.90)
- USB decoding chip：XMOS XUF208
- USB decoding : 768kHz/32bit
- DAC chip：AK4493
- Output power ：≥1.5W （32Ω）
- Output impedance: 1.2Ω（PO)
- Noise floor：<8uV
- Channel Separation：＞75 dB outputs：RCA/6.35mm/3.5mm
- DSD ：64/128/256 ,Native DSD decoding
There is not much to the set up just plug your cables in, and away you go. Unlike the Creative, this uses a USB Type-B for the cable, similar to peripherals like printers and scanners. It then uses a standard Toslink cable. It is not a significant difference, but it was more convenient for me as the USB cable was already quite long and I have plenty of spare long optical cables.
If you are connecting to your PC via USB, then you should download the Fiio Control Panel. However, it will work automatically too, just like any other USB device.
For my normal use, I use USB on the Nvidia Shield then optical from my PC. When using USB on the Shield, it works immediately out of the box.
You can then switch inputs from a clicky switch on the front of the DAC.
The K5 Pro also has 3 steps of gain control (+0dB, +6dB, +10dB) for when using headphones. When you use the RCA output, it bypasses the gain switches.
The volume knob has an LED light indicator, at first I just assumed this was to indicate the source used but the indicator lights are displayed in different colors according to different sampling rates, respectively: 48k and below display blue; 48K or more display yellow; and DSD display green.
This turned out to be quite useful for me, as it made me realise the sample rate from my optical out was not set high enough.
In order to get DSD to work, you will have to jump through some hoops and Fiio has written a guide showing you how to get it to work with foobar2000.
If you are using an iPhone as the audio input, then Audirvana Plus is compatible.
I tested this using headphones and speakers with and from Spotify, Tidal and local FLAC files. However, if I am honest, 99% of my music streaming is from Spotify, but I do set the audio quality to the highest settings.
As you would expect from FiiO, the sound quality is superb, it doesn't offer any of the artificial processing that the Creative has, which will no doubt be a bonus to some people. The sound is mostly neutral, and it does not give any warm or bright tilt to it, there is also no background hiss when using any of my headphones or IEMs with optical and USB inputs. I did notice hiss from my speakers when using line in from both the PC and line out of the monitor I have my Shield plugged into. However, I think it is the source to blame in this scenario.
With the USB connection from my PC, I started to appreciate the benefits of Tidal over Spotify, which is slightly frustrating because it will inevitably lead me to paying for a subscription on that. The combination of the Master streaming quality and DAC just improves the clarity much more. It's subtle to my untrained ears, but I suspect now I have tried it, it will be difficult to go back.
If I am honest, I can't say for certain if I prefer the FiiO or Sound BlasterX audio quality, they are both superb.
Arguably, the FiiO is less useful for gaming as it doesn't offer some of the virtual surround features of scout mode. This is not overly important to me, though.
I like the FiiO K5 Pro a lot, I love the form factor with its big volume knob on the front and a clicky switch to change inputs, it is also a bit more flexible than the creative thanks to 3 possible inputs.
In terms of sound quality via headphones or speakers, it is hard to say which I prefer. There is definitely a difference in the sound profile, especially with SBX enabled. It is superb though and has made a noticeable difference to things
The performance is close enough that I should say the Creative Sound BlasterX G6 is a better choice due to its lower price – more so with the £109 I made for it (£129 normally). However, there is something about the FiiO K5 Pro I just like, and its form factor works well on a desk.
For PC gamers, I would certainly be inclined to recommend trying the Creative Sound BlasterX G6, the virtual 3D sound you can achieve is surprisingly good, and the scout mode does seem to help identify certain sounds.
Overall this is a superb DAC, it will provide a considerable boost in audio quality, improving clarity and reducing distortion compared to using the onboard sound from your PC or console.
Perhaps the main commendation for this DAC is that it is the one I have decided to keep over the Creative. However, being as objective as possible, I have scored this slightly under the Creative, due to the price differences.
Got lots of work to get through, I have two phone reviews to complete before my embargo lists on Monday morning. Indoor bike again today. Then bbq chicken and beer later, for work though, so no enjoyment shall be had.
Fiio K5 PRO Desktop Headphone Amplifier & DAC Review Rating
Overall - 88%
A superb (semi) affordable desktop DAC with multi-inputs allowing to connect a console, PC and more.
Last update on 2020-09-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API