NOTE: This article is a contribution and do not necessarily represent the views of IBTimes.
Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro
Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro DAC/Amps Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Once speaking to a sound engineer who installs luxury home sound systems, which easily runs into five-figure price tags, I asked him: "So what equipment do you use to listen to music?" To my surprise, he answered: "A $50 portable boombox". He then proceeded to explain his logic: "Since I can't afford what my ears like, I will just settle for what I can afford."

Is it really that binary though? That it's either go for broke or go for the portable radio the painters carry around at construction sites? FiiO begs to differ, and have changed the landscape for affordable audiophile gear with its K5 Pro since 2019. The successful product was followed up by an ESS DAC chip edition K5 Pro in 2022, and now a new sibling is born - the K7. Still keeping its price tag under $200, how far can FiiO push the performance of affordable desktop DAC/Amps? Let's dive in to find out.

Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro
The aluminum alloy construction is the simple, but distinct design of the K5 Pro and K7 Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Aluminum Build and Solid Hardware

Though the K5 Pro aesthetic design is approaching its 4th anniversary, its simplicity has stood the test of time. The anodized black aluminum alloy extruded housing is elegant, but inexpensive to manufacture, while at the same time providing excellent heat dissipation properties so that the operation temperature won't become an issue.

The K7 has mostly continued the K5 Pro looks, while slightly extending its depth and keeping the rest of the dimensions unchanged. FiiO gave the K7 a lighting upgrade, with a new color spectrum on its RGB LED ring that indicates the music bitrate, and a row of LED audio input indicators like its older sibling, the K9 Pro.

Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro
Stainless steel toggle switches on the K5 Pro Jeff Li/IBTimes US

One of my favorite pieces of hardware used on the K5 Pro and K7 are the metal toggle switches, which reminisces traditional amplifying equipment. The power button was merged into the volume knob, like switching on an old radio, turning the dial clockwise will first click on the power, then continue to increase the volume.

Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro
Affordable power is upgraded with the new K7 Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Power, followed by Balanced Power

The K5 Pro has already made a name for itself for being the easy threshold to enter the world of audiophile sound, and the new version updated with the ES9038Q2M further seals its position. At less than $150 on Amazon, the K5 Pro ESS has a 17.5% wattage increase on the original K5 Pro when it comes to the output power.

Even with a high to drive headphone like the Audeze LCD-2C, whose sound is not easy to open up, especially with a single-ended 1/4-inch output, it's able to drive it adequately with the volume dial between 11-12 o'clock position.

The K7 on the other hand, is equipped with dual AK4493SEQ DAC chips, in addition to dual THX AAA 788+ amp modules, which is a set up on a different level. While the K5 Pro offers raw power that will be more than adequate to drive most headphones, the K7 provides a more controlled and nuanced sound.

Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro
The K5 Pro has more power when it comes to the unbalanced output, while the K7 has higher power out of its balanced output Jeff Li/IBTimes US

What's worth noting when it comes to the output power is that the K5 Pro has an edge with its 1.5W output over the 1.2W of the K7 from the unbalanced 1/4-inch output. The K5 Pro also has three levels of gain, a step up from the K7 which only has two. However, the K7's balanced 4.4 mm output is its 'secret weapon'. With the capability to reach 2W output - the balanced output is what puts it ahead of the K5 Pro.

Conclusively, if you have a balanced cable for your headphone, I would wholeheartedly recommend the K7, which is well worth the additional $50 investment when it comes to sound. But if your headphone doesn't have a balance cable, the K5 Pro will give you the most 'power for the buck'. Either way, both these DAC/Amps offer amazing value, and would make excellent first desktop headphone sound sources.

Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro
The rear of the K5 Pro and K7 has a full array of input and output ports Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Multimedia Hub

If you know FiiO at all, you will know that multifunction is the name of their game. Both the K5 Pro and K7 have the same set of arrays of input and outputs on its rear, making them quite future proof if you ever want to stack up your audio setup, or add on powered speakers.

Input selector is available on both devices, so that multiple sound sources can be connected to the K5 Pro and K7, turning it into a multimedia hub. The K7 has an extra output switch, between its line-out, pre-amp and phone out, giving you further control.

Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro
For headphones with balanced cables, the K7 is the latest and greatest from FiiO Jeff Li/IBTimes US

Final Verdict

While FiiO K5 Pro is one of the most well known audio products, being so affordable that it makes sense for everyone to start their audiophile journey here, the new K7 just sweetened the deal even further. Now the affordable desktop DAC/Amp doesn't only offer power, but a more controlled and detailed sound.

Hands-on with FiiO K7 and K5 Pro

If your headphone has the ability to connect to a 4.4mm balanced output, I would highly recommend going the extra mile and getting the FiiO K7 headphone DAC/Amp. The upgrade that FiiO has put into it just made one of the best affordable entry level headphone DAC/Amps, and we're awarding the K7 with the IBTimes Exceptional Value badge for the amazing value it offers.

David is a tech enthusiast/writer who is often on the move, but since the pandemic is on a mission to explore gadgets to improve his 'home work'. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Home Productivity.