fiio was founded in 2007 and its first offerings were very low priced portable amplifiers. Today, Fio has experienced tremendous growth in the market, and this has led them to increase their range of products to meet the growing demands of their buyers. Since the company’s inception, fiio has been known for offering products that are affordable, functional, well-built, and most importantly, good-sounding. today i review the fiio a3, also known as fiio kilimanjaro 2 (e11k). In this article, I discuss the Fio A3’s design, sound, packaging and accessories, specs, and more. You can also check out our best headphone amps under $100.
fiio a3 specifications
Output Power: 270 mW (32 ohms/THD+N<1%) 450 mW (16 ohms/THD+N<1%) Output Impedance: ＜0.2 ohms MAX Output Voltage: 8.67 Vp-p Headphone Drive Ability: 16-150 Ohms Gain: -3.8 dB (GAIN=L) 11.7 dB (GAIN=H) Input Sensitivity: 2.4 V (GAIN=L) 0.8 V (GAIN=H) THD: 0.004% (1 kHz) Frequency Response: 20-20 kHz Audio Input/Output: 3.5 mm Jack Battery Life: Approx. 16 hours run time on a 4-hours single charge Dimensions: 3.58 x 2.2 x 0.51 in Weight: 92 grams
appearance and build quality
For any portable headphone amp to work well, it must be unobtrusive. this means it has to be small and compact, about the size of a smartphone. The small size makes it easy to slip a portable amp into a pocket or bag with minimal effort. luckily, with the fiio a3, that’s not a problem.
the a3 is a rectangular block but it features slightly beveled edges and some curving on the sides and bottom. the shape resembles a drinking flask due to its rounded design around the edges and the volume potentiometer knob which is surrounded by two protruding metal pieces at the top of the amp. while the amp’s curved design feels good in the hand, it’s not suitable for stacking.
The build quality is excellent and it features an aluminum alloy casing that is smooth to the touch and weighs just 92g. overall the build is excellent and it has a feeling of indestructibility. the design is great, although it would have been better to have a flat end for easy stacking.
the fiio a3 comes with three main controls. one is the alps potentiometer (volume knob) which is nicely centered on the top of the amp and nestled between two raised aluminum arms. this design makes it more difficult to destroy the amp if you accidentally drop it.
To the sides of the volume knob, the a3 features two blink switches, one on each end. the two flicker switches are a gain low/high switch and a bass boost switch which also has two settings: on and off. When using the amp, there is no right or wrong way to use these switches, as long as you like the sound of your music.
Once you’ve got everything set up, you can try and experiment with the two settings to see which you prefer. Flipping the bass boost gives your music a stronger bass presence. the default setting of the gain switch is set to low gain and I advise you to keep it that way unless your earphone/headphones are not loud enough at max volume then you can set the switch to high gain. It’s also worth knowing that most amps perform worse when the gain is higher, and so it’s no surprise that low gain is the default setting.
inputs and outputs
On the top of the fiio a3 amplifier, there is the micro-usb charging port, a line-in port and a headphone-out port (3.5mm ports). although the ports are easy to use, having them on the opposite side of the volume rocker is sometimes a bit awkward and troublesome.
the 3.5mm ports are stable and after use seem to be able to handle just about anything. although the 3.5mm is adequate, I think a 6.3mm jack would have opened up a lot more options. however, with the a3’s compact design, a larger connector may not have been possible, or it could be that I’m a bit picky here.
In addition to the ports, there is also a blue led light that flashes blue when the amp is charging and solid blue when the amp is on. although the indicator works fine, I wish fiio had used different colors to indicate different states. as if they could have used a flashing red light for charging, a constant reading for errors, a constant green light for charging, and a constant blue light when the amp is in use.
battery life and portability
Although it is compact in size, one of the best selling points of the fiio a3 for me would be the long battery life. the battery takes about four hours to charge and can provide about 16 hours of continuous playback. In testing, Fiio A3 did not disappoint and delivered fairly accurate results compared to the 16 hour mark set by Fiio, which was impressive. It’s true that it’s better, in terms of battery life, compared to other high-priced fiio portable headphone amps like the fiio q5, which offers just over eight hours of battery life.
With a battery life of 16 hours, the fiio a3 is well suited to be a portable headphone amplifier. With this juice, you can listen to multiple albums throughout the day without worrying about running out of juice. however, if the amp runs out of charge and you’re near a power source, you can charge the amp while still listening to your music.
For the power output, the fiio a3 headphone amp uses the opa1642 as its preamp, and for its power amp, it uses the ad8397. given impedance range, the fiio a3 can effectively drive from 16 ohms to 150 ohms.
in testing, although the fiio recommends a range of 16 to 150 ohms, i tried running the sennheiser hd 600 with the a3, and the amp can drive headphones, though not as effective as it should be with output amps Taller.
With the volume at maximum, the headphones offer a range of 90 db. moving the gain switch to high would add another 15db, making it 105db, which is more than you’ll need unless you fall into a special category. However, with that said, it’s best to play it safe and use the fiio a3 with a headphone that falls within the recommended impedance range. Fortunately, most earphones and headphones fit within this range.
The main job of a headphone amplifier is to amplify the audio signal from a playback device with as little distortion as possible. if a headphone amp is doing its job correctly then there should be no adverse effects on the highs, mids and lows. so how does this amp sound and how much sound improvement can you expect over your built in amp? although there is no simple answer because it will depend on different aspects like the quality of the recording or the source etc. however, one thing you can be sure of is that the sound will always improve. let’s see how the fiio a3 fared in my tests.
scenario and image
For the soundstage, visuals, and detail, I’d say the a3 is an average performer. however, when he used the amp at low volume, he experienced channel imbalances. this was mostly happening when the dial was on 2. in his defense, i listen to music at moderate to loud volumes depending on headphone type, ambient noise, etc. at normal volume, channel balance is pretty good.
neutrality and clarity
Although the overall sound of the amp is richer and fuller with more power, the amp does an excellent job of maintaining the sound signature of the different headphones I’ve tried. the overall sound of the amp I would rate it slightly on the warmer side.
high and low gain
As stated above, it’s best to use the amplifier with low gain whenever possible. I like the low gain amp; however, the high-gain option offers a decent boost in volume, which is great if you drive demanding headphones. the extra power provided by the high-gain option displays more detail, even on less power-hungry items. what I like about the gain switch is that it makes a difference instead of being there as an afterthought.
low end (low) & bass boost
While most people might expect the bass boost on the fiio a3 to change the sound quality a bit for the worse, the feature comes with several benefits that improve the overall sound output. with the bass boost turned on, the music output seems more intimate and the soundstage seems to expand. the mids are fuller, and that’s a good thing for me.
However, while the bass boost feature can be a godsend with some headphones, most bass headphones suffer from distorted sounds in the mid-bass and low-bass region.
high range (treble) and midrange
the fiio a3 is primarily a neutral amp. with the bass boost off, the highs come out with nice emphasis, detail, and well-spaced. the midrange stayed true to the source. the separation between mids and highs was also good. With Bass Boost turned on, the mids are fuller and improve the energy of the highs overall.
packaging and accessories
the fiio e11k came in a white, red and black box with a picture of the amp on the front and some specs on the back.
apart from the headphone amp, in the box it comes, a usb to micro-usb charging cable, two rubber bands for stacking, a cable (3.5mm to 3.5mm), six adhesive feet and some warranty and instruction papers. the complete package includes everything related you will need to use the fiio a3 initially.
what we like:
- impressive build quality
- long battery life ideal for portable use
what we don’t do:
- turning the fiio a3 on/off when it has iems on produces a loud popping sound
- curved shape not suitable for stacking
specifications – main fiio a3 competitors
bat.* – battery life dac* – digital to analog converter rhi** – recommended headphone impedance
fired a3 against a5
the fiio a3 and a5 are very capable headphones. comparing the design of these two amps, the a3 is a bit more compact than the fiio a5. therefore, if headphone amp design is a deciding factor, the fiio a3 will be a better choice. if your budget allows it and no matter what the headphone design is, the fiio a5 is a great amp that is capable of driving most headphones on the market.
In addition to design and budget, other factors to look at before deciding between the fiio a5 and a3 include battery life and sound quality. With battery life, the fiio comes out the winner; however, it is only by a small margin. the fiio a5 manages to hit 12 hours on a 3-hour charge, while the fiio a3 hits the 16-hour mark on a 4-hour charge. in terms of sound quality, both amps went to great lengths to maintain a neutral sound signature. the fiio a3 is good at what it does, good volume control, detailed sound and clean power. the a5 delivers effortless audio that is clean and neutral even when using the gain switch.
To summarize, both amps are great. If you’re using a headphone that rates an impedance of 16 to 150 ohms, then the A3 is the cheapest way to go. however, if you need more power or plan to upgrade your headphone chain with the feature, the a5 is definitely the way to go.
fiio a3 vs e10k usb dac/amp
fiio e10k is very reasonably priced. the fiio a3 although cheaper, is a very worthy competitor of the e10k. First, the design of both earphones is very sturdy. however, I found the e10k better in terms of the positioning of the volume knob and the output and input ports. the volume knob is also more prominent on the e10k compared to the a3. the fiio e10k feels lighter, but that’s because the e10k is bus-powered compared to the fiio a3, which comes with an internal battery.
compared to the fiio a3, the e10k is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a reasonably priced basic amp/dac combo that sounds good. unlike the a3, it gives you a decent amp and dac to start with, and if you decide to upgrade to a better amp in the future, you can still use the fiio e10k as a dac due to its versatile connections.
fiio a3 against q1
fiio q1 and a3 are almost identical headphone amplifiers. however i found the q1 to be a bit better built than the a3. the two headphone amps share a “jar” design and both have the volume pot on top. however, unlike the a3, the q1’s volume knob is surrounded by a protector that protects it in the event of a fall. The 3.5mm headphone jack, which is gold plated, is also on the top, unlike the a3’s unusual port placement.
another thing i liked about the q1 was the led indicator. unlike the a3 that flashes only blue, with the q1; blue indicates power on/battery operation, red: charging, green: full charge, flashing red: low battery, purple: charging at the same time the amp is on. the q1 also has the bass and gain switches.
Sound-wise, I found the fiio q1 to have a neutral but slightly warm sound signature. Compared to the fiio a3, as stated in this post, the q1 is more neutral and generally has a better sound signature. the dac (see also dac under $1000) is also another advantage of the q1, which could also count as a deal breaker.
fire a3 against a1
At a retail price of less than $30, the fiio a1 is one of fiio’s cheapest headphone amp offerings. next in line would be k1 and a3. at a price, the fiio a1 is a solid unit that can take a beating. The front panel of the a1 features the integrated LED on/off switch, volume up and down buttons, and a 3.5mm gold-plated headphone-out port.
for a small compact headphone amp like the a1, the size of the battery is a big selling point. With a 1.5-hour charge, you can expect the A1 to give you up to 13 hours of charge. we have a figure closer to this, 11.5 hours, which was good.
tonally, with the bass equalization options turned off, the a1 is balanced with no noticeable audio difference from the source. the bass eq1, i found it to be an excellent addition, especially for light bass headphones. enhances the bass and makes the overall sound fuller.
However, one complaint I have with the a1 is noise levels, which makes it unsuitable for higher sensitivity items. Compared to the A1, it has lower distortion, longer battery life, but most importantly, it is more powerful. apart from the cost, the a3 comes out as a clear winner.