After more than a few months, I finally have the FiiO K5, which gives me some control over the volume of sound from my various headphones and earphones.
The K5 is a little smaller than I was expecting, having the footprint of a small speaker, but that’s a good thing. The less real estate a device takes up the better. In fact, it sits neatly on top of the P3s, keeping it well out of the way. It’s not a portable device, but it is easy to disconnect and move somewhere else.
On the front there are switches for the input (dock or line); gain (low, middle, high); the volume control knob with its bright blue light; and the socket for the headphone jack. This is one of those fat ones, although I can’t imagine too many people have them any longer, and at least FiiO supplies an adaptor for a normal-sized jack plug. The volume control only works with the headphone socket.
At the back there are connection for power; a USB connection to a computer (which is data only); two RCA in-ports (which can be used to connect the K5 to an external audio source); two RCA out (which I have connected to the P3s); and two ports for balanced output (if you have such a thing). The manual also refers to a dock in-port, but this model doesn’t have one, which, according to the website, has since been removed (without the manual being updated). On top is a little lid which conceals the connection for the E17K or X5. These, especially the latter, need to be pushed down firmly to plug them in.
When the K5 is connected to the laptop with the USB cable, this is purely for data transfer, whether it’s music being processed through the E17K (or X5 in DAC mode) or being transferred to the X5 (in storage mode). It.s possible to have a second device connected through the line-in ports and use the front switch to shift between one source and the other
And how does the music sound? Very nice. If my ears are not misleading me, the K5 definitely has something to add to the quality of music, by giving it a certain breadth. The E17K+K5 combo seems to offer a little bit extra alongside other DACs.
Using the line-in ports with the PHA-1A or the iPod Touch (married to the Dragonfly Red) also has a beneficial effect on the sound. The volume of the PHA-1A needs to be pumped up a bit to get audible sound from the K5. Presumably because the PHA-1A has a headphone port, but not a line-out one. There seems to be a greater clarity and richness overall.
I’ve also attached the HA2-SE (line-out) to the K5 via the line-in ports. The interesting discovery there was that the sound is a bit more mellow than the K5+E17K with which I compared with the former combo afterwards.
The other question here is whether it makes any difference to attach the E17K to the K5 via the line-in ports. The answer appears to be that it makes no difference.
The difference between the E17K and the HA2-SE may have something to do with their baseline volumes. The former has always been a bit too loud for my tastes and because volume control (or using the scroll wheel) on the E17K has been so fiddly, I’ve never been inclined to adjust the volume without knowing that there was going to be a lot of tinkering. This is why I bought the K5 in the first place.