Just when you reckon you’ve seen it all, Chinese audio specialist FiiO comes up with a ‘hi-fi keyboard’ and for me, changes the game.
It may look like a fairly commonplace gamer-specific keyboard, but becoming one of the best gaming keyboards is not its aim. No, this compact keyboard’s USP is the audio chops you get out of it, rather than anything you might key in.
Hook the KB3 up to your Mac or PC via USB and it can receive and deliver hi-res audio files up to 32bit/384kHz, plus audiophile-friendly DSD256 (which has a sample rate that’s 256 times as high as a regular CD).
How? By bypassing the lowly digital-to-analog-converter or DAC in your PC monitor (see our best portable DACs guide for more info) and instead heading for its own onboard dual ‘high-performance and efficient’ CS43131 DACs, its two ‘low-noise’ amps and on to your choice of the best wired headphones. Yes, the keyboard includes 3.5mm or 4.4mm balanced headphone outputs – music to my ears.
Does the Fiio KB3 look like a hi-fi separate? No. Does it look like something I want to own before I bone up on the details? Also no. But those audio credentials are impossible to ignore – and remember, this is the company that in 2023 alone has released the five-star Fiio FT3 headphones, the excellent wireless BTR7 DAC and the diminutive M15S musical powerhouse, for starters.
Those key caps are both swappable and transparent (Fiio has gone with Gateron G Pro 3.0 switches here, which are highly-regarded for their durability and reliability) and the company tells us there are multiple presets for the RGB lighting – which I hope can also be turned off entirely to eliminate noise in the audio signal path. I’m not here for its lights and whistles, I want its sound.
Opinion: I’m no gamer and RGB lights don’t interest me – I want those dual DACs and amps under the hood
The KB3 also sports an integrated, step-less volume control; it’s that matte red thing on the top right edge. Is Fiio seeking to emulate Astell & Kern’s trademark top-right-for-volume rotary knobs here? Maybe, although it’s hardly as chic or brutalist as the one on A&K’s A&norma SR25 MKII, for instance.
Look, as a non-gamer I’m not 100% sold on the aesthetic, but it’s a keyboard after all. It’s what is squirrelled away under those keys (and mounted on the side, for my 4.4mm terminated cans) I’m into.
And Fiio has had a bumper year in 2023; see the September-issue portable KA13 and K11 DACs for yet more promising releases. I really think the firm is onto something here, you know. The gaming market is undeniably booming and audiophile-curious – see the July-issue Final Fantasy 14 turntable for starters. Should a novel, hi-fi grade keyboard open up fresh revenue streams (and convert dyed-in-the-wool gamers to budding audiophiles to boot), so much the better. After all, in September PlayStation bought hi-fi maestro Audeze, earlier in the year Razer launched inexpensive THX-certified wired in-ears – and that’s before we even get to the PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds.
The Fiio KB3 comes in either ‘Midnight Black’ or ‘Morning Silver’ finishes, and at just $149 / £139 (so around AU$265) my curiosity is well and truly piqued. Will it sound the absolute business? If Santa doesn’t get the memo this year (he’s a busy guy, it’s cool), I just might treat myself, you know…
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