Well, I've had my Kaiser 10's for almost 4 weeks now. I've been pretty quiet about them because I've wanted to get acclimated before I spout off nonsense. I figured I would post this here, as there's no "K10 Appreciation" thread.
Don't take this as a full "review". Just my impressions, thoughts, etc.
Back-story, on my other portable gear:
The thing that's been killing me, is that I've only got my iPod touch 5G to drive them. That's right, folks. No fancy DAC or amp either. Not that the 5G touch is bad by any means, it's quite good. Actually very good now that I'm running Neutron Player on it. But.....My Centrance M8 that I loved... and let go... kind of spoiled me. I sold it awhile back to re-buy with another output configuration optimized for CIEM's. Well, I'm still waiting for that even though it was promised "1st quarter 2014" when I bought it in December. I was certain I'd receive that before the K10's but that's the way the cookie crumbles. The most noticeable differences between going straight out the iPod touch HP jack and the M8 (balanced) was a boost in clarity, tightening of bass, and focus to the soundstage. And most of all a refinement of upper mids/treble, a smoothness with increased detail over the HP out of the iPod alone. (There's a reason I'm describing the difference between Touch HP out and M8 DAC/amp, trust me).
So anyway, if you're still reading, congratulations. You have absorbed the long story of why I'm using just the iPod touch with the K10's. That's 2 minutes you'll never get back.
On to the K10's:
Straight from the iPod Touch w/Neutron - These CIEM's are incredible. The sound is very well balanced, bass/mids/treble is just spot-on, for my preferences/expectations. What really grabs my attention is upper mids/treble. It is somehow incredibly detailed, and present....with not a touch of fatigue or harshness. Not "etched" or hyper-fake sounding either. A tricky line to walk? Bass is very good, it's tight and punchy, and strong when called for, but doesn't overdo it. Mids are very clean and detailed, but with just enough warmth and presence to make things lively. Electric guitars crunch perfectly! Vocals are smooth. I don't have any flowery descriptions to add here, other than it all just sounds "right". In fact, I would say the whole presentation is a nice mix of details/clarity with enough warmth and body peppered in to prevent it from being boring. Also just a nice smoothness to how it all comes together. Again, the upper mids/treble...wow. Impressive. I can't wait to get these on the M8, to see how they scale. Honestly, if they sound this good straight out of the iPod, there is much more on tap with a better DAC/amp or DAP feeding this CIEM.
Comparison to 8.A -
I'm going to make comparisons here w/ the 8.A because it's the previous flagship from the Wizard and crew, from the Heir days. Also, I'm very familiar with it as I've spent lots of time with it as my primary CIEM.
Overall, the detail, clarity and sense of space are a huge step up from my 8.A. No contest. Definitely attributed in part to the outstanding mids/treble of the K10. Probably due also to the K10's more neutral presentation and even-handedness across the audio spectrum. As a result, I'd say overall focus and instrument separation is better defined as well.
Bass is tighter and more controlled on the K10. My 8.A has an uncanny ability to make your body react to sub-bass. Even though there's no actual "rumble" going on, it fools my body at times, and I swear, you can feel vibration on the bottom of your feet, in your chest, and such! A brain trick, for sure, but the 8.A does that. And my brain continues to fall for that trick! The K10 has that same visceral effect at times, though that energy is controlled much tighter. Example, an electronic track: "Evolution 1:1" by Connect.Ohm. K10 throws some serious sub-bass and your body can feel it, same as 8.A. 8.A continues that bass energy up through the bass spectrum and into the lower mids, which creates a full end enveloping experience with that track but at the expense of a bit of "finesse". The rest of the bass region on the K10 is more even-handed, not overly boosted or warm. It renders a bass-heavy track like that in a much more balanced way that lets all the sonic information in the mids and highs share the spotlight as well. It's pretty amazing that the K10 can kick like a mule but still be refined and restrained, even dry at times. (and by dry I mean that in a good way) Just depends on what the particular music calls for. Less bass-heavy tracks evens the playing field between these two, though. Something with a more "normal" amount of bass in the mix the 8.A does very very well, and the K10 comes off as leaner but still a nice punch/weight. I'd say the K10 bass tuning is overall more in line with my preferences. Very nicely done.
K10 mids are certainly leaner than the much warmer 8.A. K10 has a more forward and detailed feel to the mids. Going back and forth between the two, the 8.A sounds downright recessed and harder to discern detail. You get a sensation of a more closed in sound, more bass, less detail. (granted, this includes treble performance as well) Each HP sounds pretty great, taken on it's own, with it's own signature. But doing a quick A/B highlights not really weakness of the 8.A, but just how strong the K10 mids are in comparison. While there are definite differences between the two CIEM's in all of the spectrum, I would say the mids are the where the two CIEM's differ the most. And really, mids are where most music happens, so I can't overstate the impact of the difference on the signature.
The K10 treble, again...WOW. Impressed. 8.A has a nice smoothness to the highs, I've always liked it. Sort of smooth, with a comfortable shimmer. Good extension, and blends well with the rest of the 8.A signature. But the K10 has more bite, more...presence...more something...which helps extract every bit of detail and spatial cues from a recording. Also smooth. No fatigue. The highs work seamlessly with the mids. Man, sometimes I forget how much I love cymbals.
The K10 works very very well with any music I throw at it, any genre, any artist sounds great. I've yet to find anything that is marginal or where it doesn't keep up. The 8.A works well on lots of stuff but does stumble here and there on certain types of music, for example - a recording that's already overly warm or bassy, the 8.A can tilt too warm and lose out on details. This depends on your other gear, too. If it's a lean setup, the 8.A do very well. Warmer or bassy gear can also give you a double whammy of warmth/bass. Sometimes in this situation (recording or gear, or both) the mids/highs are recessed compared to the bass. The 8.A still has it's place - I really enjoy it for rock/live rock recordings (provided it's a quality recording), electronic, and fairly striped down/lean acoustic stuff. IMO, those are some strong genres for the 8.A.
For example, I recently listened to the excellent live album "Weld" by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. What fun with the 8.A's! The rumbling bass draws you in to the experience, and you can just rock out. The 8.A's warmth in the mids really brings Neil's ragged guitar tone to life. The visceral and "fat" presentation of the 8.A, while not as technically impressive as the K10 works for this. Maybe even the less present mids/highs somewhat mimic attending a show wearing earplugs. Seriously! Close your eyes and relax, You can almost smell the reefer smoke wafting in the air, and be annoyed by the a-hole hippie dancing in front of you. Dude, he's made me spill my beer like three times already. Good CIEM's for live rock recordings. There's something about the 8.A that just lets me forget all the OCD "geeking and tweaking" that comes with Head-Fi and just enjoy the music. An ultimate "fun" CIEM. The K10 is of course, great on this same recording. More crunch than warmth to the guitars. More forward guitar. More detail coming through - more ability to pick the recording apart. More of an ultimate "reference" CIEM. I am grabbed by the nuances of the performance and want to concentrate on the technical aspects. This, too is a good way to listen.
Before this goes on to sound like 8.A bashing, it's not. They are different signatures. I'm just trying to describe the differences. On similar thinking, My desktop gear has weaknesses. HD800 does most stuff wonderfully, but there are some tracks where it isn't perfect, could use more body. Same with LCD-3's. Great mids! Oh my! But the soundstage/comfort lacks. LCD-2 has very punchy bass but there is no sparkle on top, and closed in sounding. Point being, with those phones, there's always a track that pops up and you think "this would be preferable on another headphone". I don't get that with the K10. It shines with everything I've tried. I'm not saying it has air and space of an HD800, with LCD-3 mids or something like that. That would be unrealistic - a CIEM that performed like many flagship headphones glued together. Just talking about not wanting to yank the K10 out and grab something else for a certain track or genre. Doesn't happen!
Anyway, I promised that there was a reason that I described the difference between the HP out on the iPod touch, and the M8. What it comes down to is this: The 8.A really hit it's stride when ran through the M8. The M8 has a bit of leaner signature and it paired well with the 8.A, preventing the 8.A from tilting too warm. Also the M8 has a hardware treble boost which really worked well to further "tweak" the 8.A. The last few months, I had a real hard time going back to the 8.A straight out the iPod. Always felt like I'm missing something....missing a better source. So far, with the K10's the presentation straight out of the iPod is very satisfying. I don't feel I'm missing much. Yes, it's that good. I could be happy with the Touch/K10. I could see the overall presentation being refined a bit further with the M8, just a touch of smoothness to the upper mids/highs, and a little more focus overall. Needless to say, I'm eagerly awaiting my M8....maybe the K10 will scale up a notch further (probably) somewhere even better? We will see. Then I'll have a hard time going back to the K10/iPod touch? What a cruel hobby
A few words about the fit and build quality:
Thankfully these fit perfectly the first time. Nothing much more to say about that. What a relief! I also requested a deeper canal fit, and these go nice and deep, but not so much as to be painful. Good stuff. Of course, good ear impressions are mandatory but Noble did something right with them! Thanks!
The build quality is superb. Smooth, flawless. No bubbles or rough spots. Just awesome quality. Nothing less from Noble, I suppose.
I chose a light smoke shell with smoked eucalyptus faceplates. The faceplates were a bit of an unknown, as there aren't really many pictures out there of this wood option. Probably doesn't help that It's a difficult wood to photograph, it's not very photogenic. So I kind of took a gamble on it. The faceplates are a deep deep brown while indoors, almost black. Really nothing to look at. In bright light, a subtle pattern emerges, even more so in sunlight. It's sort of iridescent, it shifts around depending on how you look at it. To be quite honest, when I first tore open the package with my new CIEM's, I was a tiny bit underwhelmed with the design. Black-brown faceplate? Gray shell? What have I done? Maybe I'm spoiled by seeing all the flashy, colorful designs by Noble? I wanted something a bit more subdued, and this was it. Okay. Then looking at them in the sun, they revealed their inner beauty! They've grown on me...their chameleon-like form is special. They really are quite slick.
Like I said, hard to photograph. And impossible to show the "iridescent" nature. But I tried, my pictures might suck. (I'm no Darin Fong) Sorry 'bout that!
Indoors, well lit, looking brown:
Sunlight, the grain pattern shifts around in the light:
Anyhow...SUMMARY: I'm very impressed and satisfied with the sound signature/quality on these babies. I can't think of one negative. They just handle everything well and are a pleasure. Well the one negative is that they may have ruined my enjoyment of the 8.A to some degree. And the wallet is slimmer but that's no surprise.
I really didn't mean to write so much when I started......Thanks for reading!