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Impression: Rock Jaw Kommand - hybrid IEM with ebony wood housing.

  1. penmarker
    When Rockbob posted the “Name our latest soon to be released product from ROCK JAW” thread for the Kontrol replacement, I took the first chance I get to enter. Several agonising days of waiting until the closing date, and finally the announcement, I was greeted by a PM from Rockbob himself advising me that I had won the contest. Honestly it was glorious and I had never really won anything big before so this is a big deal for me. We emailed back and forth regarding the prize and a few more agonising months of production plus shipping, I received it in the mail. And thus, the Rock Jaw Kommand was born.
     
    Disclaimer
    I was provided with the Kommand as a prize for the contest and I am in no way affiliated with the company. This impression is posted as my honest opinion about the product. Thank you very much to Rock Jaw and Rockbob for this opportunity.
     
    First off
    I don’t consider myself as an audiophile, but rather an avid music listener instead. Owning one of the first production run Rock Jaw Kommand, I felt like it’s my responsibility to give my impression of this pair of IEMs. My history with audio gears is listed in my signature/profile, and currently my main listening rig consists of a laptop, Aune T1 with MK2 DAC board, Lovely Cube Premium amp, Goldring DR150, and JVC HA-S500. I believe music should be listened how you want it to be, because when it comes to head-fi, it’s about personal music. I myself don’t have the goal to pursue the most accurate and neutral sound (like studio grade monitor speakers with neutral DACs and amps), but rather pair my gears to suit the music to my tastes. I also probably won’t be using audiophile lingos or vocabularies because I’m pretty much a layman, so I’ll be using layman’s terms. This impression is a personal opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact or guidelines. Also English isn’t my first language, so, meh.
     
    Packaging
    The IEM comes in a beautiful black box with a magnetically fastened lid. On the front, the plastic window shows the contents of the package with the IEMs spread eagle as if it’s a framed work of art. There is only the Rock Jaw logo printed on the right, left, and bottom sides of the box, while the top has a retail hook. On the back you can see the literature for the IEM such as the frequency range, sensitivity, impedance, etc.  Personally I think that the printing on the back is aligned too close to the top, if it was centred vertically it would probably look better.
    IMG_20141208_132750.jpg   IMG_20141208_132758.jpg   IMG_20141208_132807.jpg   IMG_20141208_132817.jpg  ​
    IMG_20141020_163236.jpg
     
     
     
    The package inside the box consists of:
    1. 3 tip sizes: S, M, L
    2. 3 tuning filter nozzles: Bassy (silver), Neutral (champagne/gold), and Treble (black)
    3. 1 carrying pouch
    4. 1 shirt clip
    5. Rock Jaw Kommand IEM
     
    Of course, mine was a prize so it comes with a printed plaque of my name and serial number. I’m not sure whether other Kommands will come with a serial number plaque like mine, though an engraving on the IEM itself would be really nice. There is also a literature sheet listing out the care instructions, filter instructions, and a warning about loud music volumes. Another piece of paper was a thank you and congratulations note by Rock Jaw and the whole team, complete with signatures and a small doodle of Rockbob’s face worthy of being placed on the fridge for all eternity.
    IMG_20141020_132828.jpg   IMG_20141020_133251_hdr.jpg
     
     
    I think the Kommand requires a hard case instead of a soft pouch as it has those ear hooks that look pretty fragile. They are however aren’t fragile but pretty tough and flexible. The ear hooks provide extra tangle opportunities for the little leprechaun inside our pockets that like to tangle IEMs/earbuds cables up, so usually when I carry them I’d roll the cable up into my pants pocket and hook the IEMs onto my belt loop.
     
    IMG_20141208_135509.jpg   IMG_20141208_135602.jpg
    On my way to steal yo girl
     
    And when I find my pockets filled with other stuff and can’t fit the Kommands in there anymore, I fashioned myself a hard case made of broken hopes and dreams.
    IMG_20141208_114132.jpg
    Pika you heartless woman
     
    Kidding. I got these 4 per pack containers for about 5 bucks and it provides good protection from moisture and impact. I really think Rock Jaw should bundle up a hard case to go along with the Kommands because of the fragile-looking thin ear hooks protruding from the housing.
     
    IMG_20141208_114301.jpg   IMG_20141208_114438.jpg
     ​

     
    IEM
    Specifications
    • Drivers: Balanced armature + 8mm dynamic
    • 3x Interchangeable tuning filters
    • Impedance: 16Ω
    • Sensitivity: 110+/-3db
    • Frequency response: 20 – 20000Hz
    • Cord Length: 1.2M
    • MIC with pause/play button – (iOS & Android compatible)
    • Jack type: Gold plated 3.5mm
     
    Opening up the box and taking the IEMs out from the foam impression, the IEM feels really premium in the hand. The housing is made of a mix between ebony wood and metal, with an exception of a little bit of plastic for the ear hook hinge. The wood grain is beautiful, and it runs lengthwise along the IEM. The strain relief, cable, mic, Y-splitter, and jack seem to be the same quality as the other Rock Jaw IEMs. There’s however some glue residue transferred onto the housing from the foam impression. Nothing major and wipes off easily
     
    IMG_20141208_141831_hdr.jpg   IMG_20141208_142321.jpg   IMG_20141208_142633.jpg
     
     
     
    The cable has a nice texture to it and is really soft. It has little memory so you can roll them up tight and unroll them without the cables fighting back to their original bendy state. Strain relief on the earpieces were done really well. The cable is sleeved inside a rubber wrap and fed through a metallic tube, rendering the microphonics minimal. I would say the microphonic level is a notch or two below over the ear IEMs. The ear hooks however doesn’t permit you from wearing them over the ears, I don’t find this as a drawback because of the low microphonics.
     
    Moving along to the microphone - I’ve never tried listening to my own voice using them, but I have good experience using it for Skyping my friends in a group chat while playing Payday. They claimed my voice was clear and the mic can still pick up background noises. The button functions as a Pause/Play, answering call, and voice command for my BlackBerry Z10, and it works fairly well.Y-splitter is made of hard rubber and does its job well.
     ​
    IMG_20141208_142442.jpg
     
     
    The jack is a TRRS jack that provides connection for both the mic and earpieces. Using it with my phone and laptop is fine as both devices support TRRS style jacks. Ipod and Sansa Fuze works well too even though they don’t support the extra microphone connection (I think). One problem for me is when it’s used with a mini to quarter inch jack converters. The Kommand’s jack doesn’t work as well with both of the connectors I own, on both the Lovely Cube Premium amp and the Aune T1 amp. If it’s plugged in fully into the converter, the centre channel (mainly vocals) will disappear into an echo, so I have to pull it out by around 2mm until it isn’t secured fully into the converter jack. I’m not technologically inclined, but I think it has something to do with the grounding of the converter jacks and the extra connector on the IEM jack. This is my only experience using a TRRS jack, and I have no such problems with other headphones or IEMs with TRS jacks.
     
      IMG_20141208_113842.jpg
     
     
     
    Build quality for the jack is a little shoddy as well. The connector isn’t straight. When plugged in, it looks bent out of shape so my itchy hands tried to straighten it. Now one of the mini to quarter inch converter is loose and has a glitchy connection.
     ​
    IMG_20141208_113437.jpg

     
    Eartips, Fit, and Isolation
     
    IMG_20141020_162122.jpg
    First row: bass filter, treble filter, neutral filter is being used.
    Second row: S, M, L ear tips
    Third row: VSD3S tips S, L, Foam, Bi-flange
     
    I have small ear canals with medium sized outer ears, so I had never had any problems finding a pair of comfortable headphones. The Kommand however has large nozzles to begin with, resulting slightly larger tips. Comparing it with my VSonic VSD3S, the medium sized tips are as big as the large sized tips, and the small sized tips are around the same size as the medium sized tips. When I first got them I tried to wear the small tips, but the clearance between the nozzle and the flanges were too small so I can feel the metal nozzle through the tips. After a while of accustoming myself with the small tips, I find that they don’t provide the right fit for me, so I moved onto the medium tips.
     
    The medium tips provided ample fit, and I find that I have to press the IEM all the way inside my ear canals to secure it or else it’ll feel like they’re gonna fall out. I’ve tried bi-flange tips from my VSD3S but there was no discernible improvements, and it hurts my ears. Foam tips can’t fit over the nozzle as the nozzle is too big.
     
    The isolation is below average as the IEM housing and nozzles aren’t fully sealed. There is one small hole on each nozzle, and one small hole on each housing. They provide good isolation for home or office use where noise is kept at low levels, while in the outdoors you might need to crank the volume up a bit. The ear hooks also secure the IEM to your ears, but I wouldn’t advise you to use them for sweaty activities like jogging or going to the gym since they’re not sealed. Also, you wouldn’t want to stain the gorgeous wood housing now, would you?
     

     
    Sound quality
     
    Out of the box, I loved how good it sounded. The mids were sweet and reminded me of my first love back when I was in school. She was a cute girl with jet black hair and round eyes, she has the cutest laugh and her voice sounded like a choir of angels. I find myself using it exclusively outdoors while only listening to them at home occasionally. After the new toy syndrome had passed I compared it with my other cans – Goldring DR150, JVC HA-S500, Sennheiser HD650 (sold since), my friend’s Hippo Pro One, and I started to notice the congestion in the treble section. The highs were in a mush and the lows were boomy, the only thing nice is the partly clouded/veiled sweet mids. Even then, female vocals has a sort of raspy quality to it, as if the singer is exhaling too much air and you can hear the air rubbing against the back of her throat. Imagine playing the same song through two speakers, where one is good while the other is tinny. The soundstage was also small, and it’s a little hard to pinpoint specific instrument placements.
     
    I brought the Kommand to a local head-fi meet for some second opinions. The feedback were almost similar but there was a glimmer of hope. I was advised to burn the IEMs in for a little bit more to open up the sound and soundstage. I would like to not that the literature that comes with the Kommand also suggests that all Rock Jaw in ear headphones require upwards of 100 hours of usage time before they are at their best sound. After the meet, I placed the Rock Jaw Kommand on burn in almost non stop - almost being that it goes on and only interrupted for a few hours every several days and 2-3 cumulative days of listening on the go outside. I started it off with only a mix of the more aggressive music I've been listening to maximize drivers' movement. For the final 5 days of burning in it was been burned in with pink noise. If I were to estimate it would have been burned in for an average of 18 hours a day, about 234 hours in total. The suggestion to burn them in for a lot longer than how much I've burned them in prior to the meet up (about 30 hours~) so in total it has 260+ hours of usage, plus minus actual listening to them, maybe 270 hours of total play.
     
    The soundstage opened up magnificently following the burn in, it expanded wider although the depth feels pretty shallow. It’s almost like theres a flat wall of sound coming towards you where the sides are further away but the center is closer to your face, compared to other parabolic shaped soundstages. Previously the instruments sounded like they're blended together and compressed, perhaps compressed isn't the right word, maybe congested describes it better. After burning in, the instruments are now at their rightful places on the stage, I can pick out the instruments' locations very easily. Close your eyes and you can feel as if there’s a holographic projection of the stage going on in front of you. On The Run from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the moon sounded amazing, and you can feel the footsteps of the running person go from your left into your head and to your right, and come back again.
     
    The mids is sweet and but it reminded me of my high school sweetheart instead of my first love. It sounded mature, controlled, and detailed. Mids is very intimate and close, as if the singer is singing in the foreground while the other instruments are beside them to accompany the vocals. Rainy Night in Georgia by Randy Crawford sounds intimate and romantic, as if she’s singing it personally for you. There’s something about this particular pair of IEM that makes old recorded songs sound sweet and lovely like Julie London’s Cry Me a River and Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By. Not to forget The Beatles as well, their voices sound pure and real like they exist and singing inside your head.
     
    Highs extend far and there is a hint of sparkle on top. The detailed BA driver does its job very well and I have zero complaints at all. You can hear and feel every high note and high hat crash through the sweet mids, and on some tracks you can hear the sound of the singer’s lips opening and closing. I’ve listened to Zee Avi’s Ghostbird album and I know it like the back of my hand, but with the Kommand I started to discover other smaller details in the background – sound of rushing wave, a musician picking up his instrument, accidentally plucking their guitar, someone’s breath while the singer is singing. It’s phenomenal.
     
    One 8mm dynamic driver is placed in conjunction with the BA driver to further round up the lows. For the bass test I put on Bassnectar’s Time Stretch. At the 26 second mark of the song there is a drop to the lowest bass frequency, and with the proper pair of IEM it will sound like there’s literally an earthquake going off. Sadly for me the only time I had gone through that experience was when I had my $6 Cliptec Metallica IEM. The Kommand has proper bass texture, where bass guitar plucks sound detailed. The amount of bass can be controlled by changing the nozzles – which will be covered in a bit, so you can tune it to your liking.
     
    Since it is made for portable use, I used it a lot with my BlackBerry Z10 on the go. Although the sensitivity is rated at 110dB, I still have to turn the volume up between maximum to two notches below max. This is largely because of the below average isolation it provides. In the bus or on the sidewalk, the low frequency engine rumble will cancel out the lows of the Kommand, a similar effect can be heard if you wear an on ear headphone with average isolation.
     
    Amping benefits it by filling the bottom end and increasing the overall dynamic range. Straight from my phone, loud passages in Don't Know Why sounds as if clipped, especially her vocals. From the laptop however, it sounds good enough without amplification.
     

     
    Nozzles
     
    The nozzles do their job fairly well and they’re easy to change. Simply take off the tips and twist the nozzle counter clockwise to take them off. Screw them back in clockwise and put the tips back on and you’re good to go. Just make sure not to over tighten them as the threads are fine and can be damaged from over tightening.
     
    My favourite filter is the bassy filter. I find it strange how I prefer this over to the others as I’m not a basshead. The bass filter seems to be made with a passive membrane that vibrates along with the sound vibration thus amplifying the lower frequencies while allowing higher frequencies to pass through. It does not seem to add any texture to the bass or increase the bass extension. The bass bleeds a little into the lower midrange but just a little making it sound warm-ish. This is the only acceptable filter to be used outdoors as the neutral and treble filters doesn’t have enough bass to counter the external ambient noises. This is a great filter for Daft Punk, I enjoyed Give Life Back To Music and Get Lucky so much with them. It sounds like there’s an actual concert going off in my head. The lower mids bleed causes Pharrel’s vocals to sound a little veiled but this isn’t much of an issue as the Neutral filter is available. Norah Jones’s Don’t Know Why sounded thick and lush, like stirring a bottle of honey.
     
    The neutral filter gives you sweeter and more accurate mids while allowing the treble some room to breathe. The bass for me is anaemic and little too light. It does turn the Kommand into a more aggressive IEM. The filter seem to be built by stuffing the nozzle with sponge. I didn’t try to disassemble it for fear of there might be other elements to it and ending up breaking them. I find the neutral filter sounds excellent with Eagles. The highs became more prominent and the depth in the soundstage increased a little. The center channel no longer sounds inside your head but instead in front of you. Vocals however took a step behind from the bass filter and the treble steps forward.
     
    Treble filter is just a hollow nozzle with the metal mesh, and it sounds very thin. They’re my least favourite filters because it increases the treble a lot. I am particularly sensitive to treble and sharp highs. They do however sound good with Electric Light Orchestra, Telephone Line sounds natural and realistic. I can see how this will appeal to trebleheads and progressive rock bands like Alan Parsons Project. They do sound very bright and probably aren’t good for long listening sessions. I’ve just went through 3 songs and I have to take a break because of ear fatigue. Bass impact is weaker and there is still bass, but now it’s just more of a background filler kind of thing. Soundstage does open up one level above the neutral filter, but I don’t really want to trade a better soundstage with a fatiguing sound.
     
     
    Comfort
     
    Like I said before, the nozzles and tips are large, but after a while they will start to feel a lot more comfortable and you can forget that you’re wearing them pretty easily especially when you’re outdoors. The big soundstage also helps you forget that you’re wearing them.
     
     
    Value
     
    At the time of writing the Kommand sells for £119.99 (US$187) and only available as pre-order from the Rock Jaw Audio website. To me the Kommand is worth the money and I happily recommend them to anyone looking for a pair of hybrid IEMs. They are dynamic and engaging, and with the user replaceable filters it’ll be as if you have bought three IEMs. Just remember to burn them in.
     

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