The personal audio market has grown significantly. Even my dad had just recently asked me about my thoughts on Bang and Olufsen, saying that he heard his colleagues talking about the brand. I firmly believe it has not been without the help of popularly bashed brands such as Beats and Skullcandy. Hate them all you want, but they have attracted mass attention to a niche product that many consumers did not even care for before. We are now seeing a trend where these people have gotten a taste of what can be offered outside of these fashion brands and want to go deeper into the audiophile trap.
Kinera is a Chinese brand which caught our attention with its breakout budget model, sporting a single DD and single BA, the hybrid Kinera BD005. Packing quite a controlled, bassy punch, we were excited to hear that Kinera was coming out with a new model – the Kinera H3.
-Ergonomic form factor
-Nice hybrid sound with solid bass and good highs
-Cheap cables oxidize
-No lip on nozzle causes ear tips to fall off easily
-Slightly lacking in mids
The H3 features one dynamic driver and two balanced armature drivers, making its entrance into the already stacked hybrid 1DD+2BA (1 Dynamic Driver + 2 Balanced Armature Driver) arena. In the past year, we’ve seen the likes of Simgot, iBasso and even Fiio putting forth their contenders in this specific category, and with good reason. With a price tag just short of 100 dollars, the hybrid setup allows for a considerable bump in performance from the single dynamic driver. By allowing the mids and highs to be delegated to the balanced armature drivers, the manufacturers can then choose a dynamic driver that focuses on doing what dynamic drivers do best – pump bass. This creates a considerable leap in sound signature, easily recognizable for most entry level enthusiasts.
The H3 comes in three different colour schemes – red, blue and black. After seeing all the gorgeous photos online, I had a tinge of hesitation, but finally decided to go with the blue. Kinera proudly claims that every IEM housing is created through the identical steps with which custom housings are made – cast with poured resin, and then hand polished. The ergonomic shape is the sum total of over a hundred human samples taken, and it really does feel that way. Each shell features a black faceplate with the word “Kinera” engraved into it in gold letters. The cable connection is a classic two pin, with a white, four braid copper cable ending in a straight aluminium 3.5mm plug. The standout feature for me is that there is no memory wire, but some sort of springy plastic for the earhooks. This is a most welcome design, as I personally have always had a bit of an issue when trying to shape the memory wires for other IEMs. The cable is a brilliant white, almost silvery, with very little microphonics. All in all, the look and feel of the H3 is definitely above its price bracket, especially the smooth, translucent housings with absolutely no seams between the shell and faceplate. Fit and comfort is great for me and has been for the handful of friends that have tried them.
The sound signature of the H3 is prominently V-shaped, with a slightly wider than average soundstage. Although there may not be too many surprises in terms of width and height, the instrument separation is clear and comfortable, never did I feel any congestion.
Compared to the BD005, every aspect of the sound signature is an improvement. Bass reaches deeper, with even better control and dynamism. Mids sound more lush and the highs have much more soundstage and clarity. Although the two share similarities, there is no doubt that the H3 is the big brother and outclasses the BD005 easily.
The bass of the H3 is incredibly enjoyable. Thick yet tight. Voluminous yet not bloated. Bass response extends deep, to the point where I’ll be listening to an old song and finally realize that there was a bassline there when I previously thought there was nothing. Air movement is satisfyingly dynamic but never head throbbing. I would have to say that there is an emphasis on the subbass, with just a slight drop in volume at midbass and a light warm bleed into the mids.
The mids are lush and vibrant, almost candy like. Detail retrieval is very good, with a high resolution and clarity. Vocals can take a back seat during some songs where other IEMs will give them more focus. However, the overall sound is still very pleasant and very obvious the first balanced armature is to be credited.
The highs of the H3 really remind me of the house sound of Audio Technica, where everything is extra shimmery and sparkly, as if a herd of miniature unicorns are flying into my ears. Soundstage opens up a bit, with excellent detail retrieval and speed. Decay is a little extended, giving the highs more body and significance. Cymbals splash nicely and the high hats are crisp. I would like to mention that there is a lot of feedback online about the H3 being a bit too harsh. This has never been an issue for me, but my ears could very well be biased after more than a year of heavy Andromeda and Dorado usage so take what you will.
The H3 is very easy to drive, reaching good sound volumes with smart phones at around 70% max volume.
Not without fault
Despite all this, I must point out my single biggest gripe with the H3. There is no eartip nozzle lip. I am very OCD about the location of the eartips on my IEMs. This means that every time before I put in my H3s, I will spend a few seconds tweaking the exact location of the eartips so that they are absolutely identical to my naked eye. This calms my brain into believing that there is no differentiation of the time it takes for the sound from either sides to reach my eardrums, causing a distortion in the audio cone of soundstage. This may not be a big problem for others, but for me caused much hesitation when deciding if I would purchase the H3.
The other issue is of course eartips slipping off and losing them. Which I did. On my first day. Luckily, the customer service department gratuitously sent me a free pack of six M sized eartips so that I could “replace them whenever they’re lost”. Sure, this was a great gesture but I’d much rather they just add the nozzle lip instead. Up till now I’ve lost a total of two eartips. A couple other times I’ve been able to crawl around on the floor and find the little bugger, often having to get some tissue, twist it into a little pointy end, and furiously wipe both the interior of the eartip and the nozzle itself so as to get rid of the wax and oil that is making it slip off. Fortunately, Kinera has promised that they will improve the design and add a nozzle lip in their next generation of updated H3.
Another point I’d like to make is that the zipper on my carrying case broke within a few weeks of usage. I do not directly blame the build quality of the case, but I’d just like to point out that I have no less than six or seven different carrying cases from varying price brackets and they have all outlived the Kinera case.
Cheap cables or…?
Not entirely as a direct result of the above, I have just not been putting my H3’s in any bag or case. This may or may not have resulted in a significant discoloration of my cable. From the plug to the cable splitter is a copper, oxidized color and from the splitter to both earphones is a blue tinge. Now I do admit I have not taken care of these even half as well as I should have, but they sounded so great at this price that they immediately turned into my every day carry that I’ve been abusing them quite a lot. Is the discoloration a result of my not taking care of them or cheap cables? I guess we will find out when I get my new cables.
To conclude, the Kinera H3 is a worthy entrant into the realm of iems, finding its own spot in the already star studded 1DD+2BA hybrid market sector. The gorgeous aesthetics, detailed ergonomics and housing build quality is a testament on its own. The energetic, V-shaped sound signature is definitely a crowd pleaser and a clear upgrade from entry level units. It is not without faults, with issues like no nozzle lip and heavy oxidation in the cables to remind you that Kinera is still a budding earphone company with cost control to consider. However, that only detracts slightly from my personal love of these earphones. Their fit and comfort is top tier, with the ear guides being soft and springy plastic instead of the usual memory wires. The sound is incredibly fun and I know we repeatedly say this, but the H3 definitely punches above its weight class both in the quality of its bass and the clarity of its highs. Bearing in mind its humble beginnings and the path Kinera has cut itself, it is truly a contender that cannot be ignored and makes us salivate in anticipation for what is to come.