Where to buy: [link]
Frequency response: 20Hz-20 KHz
KB EAR is a new contender in the sub-50$ Chi-Fi market. I had the chance to try their Opal, which is one of various products they launched to start. Others (I have some and I will review them later) are the F1 (single balanced armature IEM) and an 8 core upgrade cable, but there are also a 16 core cable and a KZ-like 5 BA IEM. I want to thank KB EAR for this review sample.
Unboxing and first impressions
The box is simple but elegant, similar to the RevoNext QT5 or the BQEYZ BQ3 ones, in a black color with the logo, a picture and some information around its faces. There’s a good selection of soft silicon eartips (6 pairs) and a surprisingly good MMCX cable (for its build quality, less for the isolation). The IEMs themselves are all made of plastic, with a very nice design which reminds me some IBasso In Ear Monitors. The faceplate has a carbon look with the KB EAR logo on it. Impressive, good looking, even though I would have put a metallic nozzle. The quality of the plastic is high, and the MMCX connectors are gold-plated and the cable can rotate very easily when attached. The cable has pre-formed hooks to put over the ears, which are great, and the plug is L-shaped. With a carrying case, even a soft one like BQEYZ does, the package would have been spectacular.
My sources: FiiO M7, Mi MIX 2 with DAC Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and MacBook Pro 2012 with USB audio interface Focusrite 2i2 first gen, XDUOO XP-2 in various wired/wireless configurations
My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A
My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, Billie Eilish, The Bloody Beetroots, …
I’ve previously mentioned some problems with the isolation. In fact, the cable suffers from electric noises by a disturbed source (like my Mac’s jack output, which is close to the hard drive). I’ll verify if their upgrade cable would resolve this problem, because my 8 core by NiceHCK doesn’t suffer from that issue, thanks to its great isolation. Speaking of which, the isolation of the IEMs themselves is just average: the shape is not particularly ergonomic, and if you have medium sized ears like me, you could have some air coming through a little bit too often. That being said, the fit is average and you can adjust it with the best tips for your ears, obviously.
I’m not fully convinced about the sound of the Opal. KB EAR told me to burn them in 72 hours. I’m not a true believer in burn-in, but I followed the suggestion, because this is a dynamic driver earphone. Even after the burn-in, I felt like they are not very lively. There’s a sense of unnaturalness that I believe it’s the sum of different factors: the soundstage is narrow; the tuning has to be improved, because it’s balanced but it sounds muddy in the low range and thin in the midrange; vocals are a bit harsh. I’m not saying they sound terrible, but there are some albums that I can’t listen to with them (“Urban Hymns” by The Verve, or “A Fever Dream” by Everything Everything). That last album is often hard to listen to with bright earphones. I would consider the Opal as bright sounding, they have some aspects of harshness and sharpness. For example, they are not gentle with the sibilance, nor they are not smooth sounding, in any way (“The bends” by Radiohead is unpleasant to listen to for the sibilance). The bass is undertone: by listening to the Bloody Beetroots’ “My name is Thunder”, the intro is enough to understand that the treble is super enhanced, while the bass is lacking. This aspect reflects the tuning in every song, so you can choose the Opal for bass-heavy tracks and not feel that bass (it reminds me the BRAINWAVZ KOEL, or the Tin HiFi T2/T2 Pro, they are pretty light on the bass). I’ve tried different sources with the Opal, to find the best synergy. I found that warmer sources are preferable, but here’s the thing: it’s easy to get a better sound if you use the iFi xDSD, but I don’t think that people interested in buying something like the Opal would spend that money for a DAC/Amp. We are talking of budget earphones, and it’s more honest thinking of a cheaper source like my Dodocool DA106 DAP. They match pretty well together, but you must understand the Opal are not surprisingly good, even with good files, even with good sources; they are just honest sounding for the price, not so natural, not so lively. Their sensitivity must be very high, because even with my Focusrite 2i2 I hear a lot of background noise, which is not something I’d expect (if you look at the specifications, it’s just slightly over the average 100 dB). Vocals are a bit robotic and lack harmonics, so the effect is hearing recessed mids, while they are not. Try with Radiohead’s “High and dry”, for example: the voice covers a large spectrum of the midrange to the high range, but here it sounds thin and unpleasant. Guitars are not the best, too. Percussions are more enjoyable. Then, if you listen to tracks that fade out you won’t hear a smooth volume change but some steps; I can say the same for the imaging: it’s pretty precise but not smooth, and the soundstage, while being narrow, is strangely uncentered, unbalanced. I hear more sounds on the left earphone, like the instruments were positioned that way. The instrument separation is average, not bad. I don’t understand the sound signature of these IEMs. For a dynamic driver, they have a ridiculous bass, but I think they are meant to be V-shaped. In the end, they are just close-to-flat-until-the-upper-midrange earphones with a lot of picks and notches in various zones, even in the midrange. I honestly never heard anything like that on “serious” earphones. It’s like they have problems with their polarity.
ADVANCED Model 3: personally, a difficult earphone to appreciate initially, but now I understand its fun tuning and its darkness. True, they have recessed mids, they are not fantastic IEMs for vocals, but they are coherent. I’d rather them to the Opal, which have the only advantage of having a better stock cable. The fit, the packaging, the tips, the sound, everything is superior on the Model 3. Review here.
TRN IM1: am I really comparing two disasters of monitors? Okay, I have two pairs of IM1, they sound terrible. Incoherent, thin, bright, muddy. Just like the Opal! I don’t want to be too brutal, the Opal are superior to the IM1 for me, but I cannot say I like them or even save them. Well, I don’t want to talk about these anymore. Review here.
KZ ZSN: strange enough, this is one of the few times I can say that I’d rather a KZ to another earphone. The ZSN are good, surprisingly good for being a KZ. They sound balanced, with their expected U-shape and the color needed for a mass-oriented IEM. Here, again, I talk about coherence, because that’s the point that lacks the most in this review. I don’t hate sound signatures. I’m a flatness lover, but sometimes I need that bass. I’m not a fan of brightness because it’s usually a friend of harshness. But I can stand everything if I understand the will of the earphone. I don’t understand the will of KB EAR, with the Opal. We’ll see if the single BA (F1) by the same company is different. ZSN review here.
If I weren’t a reviewer, with all these earphones to try every day, I’d be way less critic about the Opal. They are not terrible, but the Chi-fi market nowadays is a sea full of sharks and you have to be careful before selling a product with an immature tuning. To be gentle, I’d say the Opal are not my cup of tea. I love their design, I like their cable, I appreciate the MMCX connectors, but in the end it’s the sound that matters, and this is not something I would recommend.