Tenore vs. KC06... Fight!
I love the build quality on both these iems. However I much prefer the more supple cable of the Tenore. It bends and twists with much more give than the KC06 cable, which itself reminds me of a more flexible GR07 cable. The cloth-like malleability of the Tenore cable lets it run more smoothly and securely over the ear, while the KC06 cable struggles to maintain form, and the lack of a chin slider on the KC06 certainly doesn't help. It's not as bad as the GR07 in this regard, but ear guides are definitely recommended with the KC06, and totally unnecessary on the Tenore.
The KC06 seems more solidly built, with a heavier metal housing versus the Tenore's plastic and possibly carbon fiber make up, but both seem sufficiently solid imo. The KC06 does sport a more substantial strain relief, but there haven't been any reports yet of any wire coming loose on the Tenore. However, there are many more reports of Tenore failure, and I myself had have two pairs out of six fail eventually, with one side getting much quieter than the other. I don't think this is a wire or strain relief problem, as the issue is quite gradual, but it is one of quality control. To my knowledge there have been far fewer reports of KC06 failures, making it much less of a risky buy.
The fit of the Tenore is effortless in my experience. Its small housing goes in easily and comfortably, and sound is reasonably consistent between fits. Tips can be used to change the sound to a certain degree, which will be expounded upon in the sound section of this review. Isolation is great, definitely better than average.
If the Tenore's fit is a petite and graceful ballerina, the KC06's is a large and agitated sumo wrestler. I just cannot get these iems to anything that feels like a normal comfortable fit. The closest I can get is with the Meelec double flange tips, but then I can't get a consistent over the ear fit, and isolation is terrible. As luisdent mentioned in his review, it actually feels like there is no seal, even though the sound quality makes it clear that there is. The KC06's housing is just much larger in general, and will be more suited to larger ears imo.
Without hesitation or exaggeration, I can say that both of these iems compete with top tier iems in audio quality. The Tenore has a few things in common with the ever-reference ER4S, while the KC06 reminds me a bit of the UERM. A big caveat to this comparison, however, is that we aren't 100% sure what a Tenore is supposed to sound like. The best evidence we have is from luisdent's comparison between four identical sounding sets, which gives us a small reference point, but I've received multiple different sounding sets, only three of which sounded like luisdent's "reference" sets, while the rest were either much bassier or missing bass. Furthermore, only one of my three "reference" sets has survived until this review. The other two died to channel imbalance and lowered volume, giving me a ~17% success rate with this particular iem. Acceptable? No. Not at all.
The sound of my last remaining reference Tenore is up with the best I've ever heard in an iem. And the KC06 puts up a very good fight. Let's start with bass.
The Tenore puts out more sub-bass than the KC06, and to my ears has a little more decay as well, making the KC06 sound a little tighter with drums and bass lines. The KC06 doesn't seem to be lacking sub-bass, but those who want a little more rumble in their edm and hip-hop would be better satisfied with the Tenore. Users have tried, with varying success, to reduce the bass of the Tenore by using different tips, for example the Meelec biflanges or Philips SHE3590 tips. While both of those tips work great for me, I've settled on the Meelec biflanges because they give me an incredibly consistent fit, and they tilt the sound a bit more towards the treble, which helps to level the overall FR of the Tenore.
The mids have one very clear winner to me: the Tenore. While the KC06 mids don't have any glaring issues like sibilance, they are a bit more recessed than the Tenore's, and fall on the cooler side of things overall. Timbre seems just a bit off to me, with voices exhibiting a brightness like if someone went over to the amp and turned the treble up just a bit too high. My complaint here reminds me of the same issue I had with the mids of the UERM, and to a lesser extant the DBA-02, which I still own. The dip around 3k puts mids further behind the instruments, which has the nice effect of widening perceived sound stage, but coupled with an emphasized treble the wrong parts of the voice get thrown into focus, and we end up with a slightly distant, slightly shrill vocal presentation. It's a minor complaint really, since most iems are much worse off, but I definitively put the Tenore in a class above the KC06 when considering mids.
To my ears the Tenore sounds perfectly even thoughout the mids, with the best vocal timbre and overall realism I've heard in an iem. It's like they took into consideration some of the complaints people had with the perhaps overly forward ER4S mids, and pulled them back into perfection. Live voices sound like a direct feed into your brain. No coloration, no issues. It's great.
The treble is a tricky comparison. With the Meelec tips, the Tenore's treble is almost perfectly even through the entire range. Woah. I can't think of a single iem that has done better, even the venerable ER4S. Cymbals have sufficient presence, and sibilance is never ever close to being an issue. A slight dip in the lower treble, however, is the one small weakness. Crashing, tinging, and banging sounds can tend towards smooth rather than abrasive. It can be hard to be sure just where on this sliding scale of treble emphasis an iem should fall, but the Tenore errors on the side of caution, opting for a smoother overall presentation. It you have any tracks with borderline too-loud/abrasive cymbal crashes, the Tenore will soften them just a little for you. The KC06 on the other hand, adds more emphasis to cymbals and other more abrasive notes. I hear this treble emphasis as too much with every tip except for the Meelec biflange, oddly enough. This is same tip that people use with the Tenore towards the opposite goal, treble enhancement. So with the same tip I get more treble on one iem, and less on the other. What's likely happening here is that I'm getting some extra resonance around 7k due to my ear structure that is mitigated or bypassed when I use the deeper-fitting biflange. When I use the same tips on the Tenore, I use a shallow fit, perhaps explaining the differing results.
To expand on the smooth nature of Tenore's presentation, I'm not yet convinced that this attribute is caused solely by FR. I think attack is slightly weak on the Tenore, with notes lacking some of the explosive, off-the-blocks start offered by something like the UERM. Attack helps to define the separation of notes, to help the listener determine when one note ends and another begins. If a driver isn't fast enough for sufficient attack, separation of instruments begins to suffer, which starts to affects imaging as a whole. Which leads to my next point, that imaging on the Tenore is its biggest weakness. The KC06 is simply better here, no doubt helped by it's lack of isolation and enhanced treble. But I wouldn't be surprised to see attack play a point in its favor. Instruments sound more pin-pointedly placed in a 3D space than they do on the Tenore. I can close my eyes and more easily imagine physical objects around me... players, amps and wires. It's all there. The Tenore is convincing by it's incredibly strong and linear FR, but there is some other technical issue holding it back from perfection imo, which I think is attack and decay.
Which do I choose as the winner?
I choose the Tenore because timbre of the mids is the most immediately noticeable quality to me. While I think the KC06 excels in imaging and note separation, the Tenore just has too correct of an FR for me to choose anything else at this point. While I'd likely be better off just using eq to achieve my desired sound, I'm so sick of using it, and not all my devices have advanced enough eq for me to use, even if I wanted to. So eq is out (for me).
Overall winner: Tenore
This is so close because there are major points against the Tenore. Quality control is the worst I've ever seen in an iem. Imaging isn't great. But the KC06 has marks against it too. The timbre of the mids is off, and the treble can have too much abrasion for my tastes, although the right tips helps a lot here. More than anything, fit on the KC06 is abysmal for me, so they just aren't something that I could live with as a daily driver. The Tenore, with all it's issues, offers some of the best sound and easiest fit out there, making it the clear winner to me. Can I recommend it to people that only want to buy one pair? Hell no. I'm not even convinced that my last pair will make it another month. But in the same breath I say we call ourselves audiophiles for a reason, and right now the Tenore is that reason.
Edited by gnarlsagan - 7/10/14 at 7:48pm