KBEAR KB04 REVIEW
THE PLUS: Clear accurate sound, fast tight bass, cohesive tonality, richly detailed treble, smoothly bright, great technicalities for the price, built like a tank, great value
THE SO-SO: Thin uninviting mids, slightly harsh lower treble, average imaging and soundstage, not versatile 2pin connectors
KBEAR has been around for about a year as a growing up Chinese earphones company, they are known under the name of TRI Audio too. Earning from trial and error from their first models, this company has been hit or miss with their first earphones but has made very competent budget IEM too like the KB06 or lately the Diamond which is an excellent single dynamic driver earphone.
Since they begin their collaboration with audio enthusiast tuner Jurgen Kraus and Kopi Okaya, I feel KBear expand their horizon and takes more seriously the tuning of their earphones. The DIAMOND has a kind of brightish Harman tuning curve, very well balanced in tonality and lively in musicality, it offers as much fun than accuracy and the new KB04 model I will review today is tuned by the same team, which now look like to have their own ”house sound”.
The KB04 has a similar tuning curve to the DIAMOND, but this time it’s a hybrid IEM with 1DD and 1BA. This type of hybrid invades Chi-Fi market, especially in sub-50$ price range, we can think of TRN IM1 or IM2, KZ ZSN or even their own KB06.
Priced at 30$, these are supreme budget earphones, so my expectations aren’t very high. Let’s see in this review if it shall be on your impulsive buy list.
You can buy the KB04 at the best price (26$) from AK AUDIO STORE.
Nothing to look at here really, it’s a minimalist package similar to KZ and TRN. You have minimal accessories, or in fact, no accessories at all apart from 6 pairs of silicone eartips. The included 4 cores cable isn’t that bad and does not justify the urgent need to upgrade, in this regard, it’s better than KZ.
The construction is very impressive for the price, it’s a thick heavy metal and you will not find any plastic apart from the 2pin connector embedded deep into the housing. In hand, it feels sturdy like a tank and I’m not afraid at all of dropping them on the hard floor. As well, metal finish isn’t easily scratchable, which questions me even more why flagship IEM that can cost 1000 to 2000$ still use housing finish that is easily scratchable. For 30$ you got earphones that look way pricier, is very beautiful, and have enough ergonomic shape.
DESIGN is strictly thought for over-ear wearing. The nozzle is quite long so you will not have trouble having a proper fit, but housing shape can touch the side of your inner ears. The real issue is with the 2pin connector that is too deep inside the housing, so you cannot use any 2pin cable, in fact, lot of the 2pin cable I test give me false hope about compatibility as it does connect, but will suddenly disconnect after some time of use to the point the KB04 fall off the ground. This never happens to me with any other earphones so this is a serious flaws to take into account, only stock cable and similar 2pin cable will match the KB04. For example, the DUNU DM-480 is compatible, but not the….KBear Diamond cable (which is one of my favorite cable). Stock ear tips do not fit well my ears so I use longer KZ Starline ear tips. Too deep insertion isn’t suggested with KB04, because the housing will perhaps press on your ear tragus.
At 16ohm of impedance and 104db of sensitivity, the KB04 will be properly drived by any source, should it be a phone, a DAP or DAC-AMP.
ISOLATION is excellent and does a great passive noise canceling job. Even at low volume, it cut most outside noise. Thanks to its thick metal housing and the fact it does not have back venting hole, the KB04 will satisfy those searching to only hear their music and nothing of the outside world. Sound leakage do exist due to the 2 front venting holes, but it’s not as high as you could expect, still, it’s just average in that regard.
The overall sound signature of KB04 finds it’s placed between V and W shape signature, with fast tight punchy bass that do not take front seat, slightly bright mids with high clarity and crisp lively treble. It has a very good tonal balance for it’s price and timbre while on the thin side is nicely textured and not overly grainy as it can happen with IEM using entry-level balanced armature. KB04 is technically competent and have impressive cohesion between it’s 2 different drivers.
SOUNDSTAGE is just above average for its price, it has enough wideness to not feel stuck in your head and quite good deepness, especially when using bigger longer ear tips which improve overall headroom size.
IMAGING is again average for its price, and sharper in the treble region for instrument separation. Layering isn’t very transparent and instrument separation space is minimal, which can make you struggle to pinpoint instrument placement.
THE BASS is quite impressive in speed, impact and control, it’s a thumping kind of bass where mid and lower mid lows are more chunky than lower sub-bass. The extension do not dig down to 20hz which affect the natural bass response of instrument like an acoustic bass, but this isn’t an issue for slap bass, electric bass, synth bass as it has enough slam and weight to give good presentations. The separation is very good too, with minimal bleed to lower mid-range. The texture is a hint warm, but not too opaque or liquid. Cello sound quite nice, but acoustic bass is a little muffled as said. Anyway, I find the KB04 bass quite versatile for diverse genres like electronic, pop, soul, R&B, rock…well, anything but jazz really.
MIDS are perhaps the weakest point of KB04, in the sense is the less full sounding area, especially in lower mids up to 2khz where you have more energy. An instrument like piano sounds thin but the attack is fast and accurate. Mids are crisp and energic, slightly bright, and female vocal sound more forward than male vocal. You have a minimal amount of sibilance, which is quite great in this price range where harshness is common. The tonality is quite good, not artificial or grainy. I find timbre not very transparent and separation in mids not particularly accurate, it’s rather intimate and compressed, again thin but not with the transparency we can expect with thin timbre. I don’t think KB04 is tuned for mids or vocal lovers, even if they are far from bad it’s just not a lush immersive presentation, it’s very forward and sharp.
TREBLE is perhaps my favorite part of the KB04, and this is perhaps due to the fact I’m not treble sensitive, but not only that, it’s due to the fact the balanced armature driver does not sound as artificial or bright as I was expecting. I don’t know the model used, but it’s not those KZ BA that is very grainy and shouty. Highs are vivid, crisp, and sparkly, this is where we have the best separation too with good space between percussions and instruments. No splashiness nor shortness, it’s well-controlled and balanced and while it sure is slightly pushed more forward than the rest of the spectrum, it keeps its cohesion and avoids sounding overly trebly. You have an excellent amount of micro-details for the price and a very snappy attack too. The whole treble is extended so it sounds full too, percussions or instruments like clavichord do not sound overly metallic and the attack-decay is fast and edgy. Electric guitar sounds great, violin too, in fact, anything but woodwinds and piano instruments sound great from 3khz to 15khz.
VS KBEAR KB06 (20$)
The KB06 is a similar hybrid IEM, but smaller and more comfortable. It has open back so isolation is rather poor compared to KB04.
SOUNDSTAGE is wider and more out of your head with the KB06, but it isn’t as deep as the KB04. IMAGING is very similar with both, but more precise with KB04. BASS dig lower and is more controlled with the KB04, it’s more thumping too, while KB06 is sloppy and warmer and tend to veil the lower mids more. MIDS is more forward with the KB06 but more grainy and warm too, tonality isn’t as realist as KB04 and separation is messy with the vocal that can overshadow rest of the spectrum. TREBLE is more forward and aggressive, it have more emphasis in upper highs than smoother KB04, you do have more sparkle to the cost of unbalance and overly metallic-brilliant timbre.
The overall tonality of the KB06 is brighter with a weaker bass response and less natural tonality than more refined and balanced KB04 which offer notably superior technicalities.
VS BLON BL-03 (30$)
In the Chi-Fi geek world, it looks like we MUST compare any new sub-50$ contender to the mythical BLON, and there no better way to try hyping a newcomer than stating it’s a BLON KILLER! Well, the KB04 isn’t a BLON killer in term of overall tonal balance, timbre and bass extension, but let’s see if in term of price-performance or technicalities it keep up its ground.
SOUNDSTAGE is taller and wider with the BLON, while it’s slightly deeper with the KB04. IMAGING is sharper with KB04 with better separation even if the instrument has less space between them. BASS has a more natural extension with the BLON, sub-bass is fuller making the sub-bass line of KB04 sound boxy, mid-bass of KB04 is tighter and more punchy, it’s faster than BLON too. MIDS of the KB04 is thinner, edgier and brighter, BLON has more transparent mids with more natural timbre, the vocal is less sibilant while instrument in mid-range sound wider and fuller. TREBLE is more forwards with the KB04, it’s shoutier in upper highs which can sound unbalanced with rest of spectrum, the BLON have more natural highs, warmer and thicker in presentation as well as more sparkly in the attack. The KB04 do show more micro-details and have faster attack but lack overall cohesion of BLON.
All in all, the BLON has a better tonality, fuller timbre, and more naturally balanced sound than more aggressive and forwards sounding KB04 which is better in attack speed and resolution.
VS DUNU DM-480 (70$)
The DM-480 is a dual dynamic earphone with a small universal custom shell that is way more comfortable than KB04. The cable included is of better quality too, but at 2 times the price of KB04, it is to be expected.
SOUNDSTAGE is again wider and more out of your head with DM-480 but about the same tallness and less deep. IMAGING is less precise with the DM-480, but layering is more transparent. BASS is more boosted with the DM-480, but it has less sub extension and is less thick than KB04 which has more balanced and controlled bass making the DM480 more V shape and boomy. MIDS is more recessed with DM-480 but has a wider presentation and more transparency, making tonality slightly more natural for vocal which is warmer and less clear than KB04. TREBLE is richer, faster, and more detailed with the KB04, it’s crisper and more snappy too, the DM-480 has crunchy highs wich fastly roll off and lack air and minimal sparkle of KB04.
The overall tonality of DM-480 is darker and bassier with a less balanced V shape signature and inferior technicality and tonality, which makes the KB04 sound like a 70$ IEM and the DM-480 a 30$ IEM.
People that have stubborn closed mind never evolve in life, and the fact KBEAR open their mind for tuning target make me more interested in their new product. Since the DIAMOND, they became one of the very few Chi-Fi companies in ultra-budget realms to keep an eye one and the KB04 justify this even more.
For 30$, these Hybrid IEM offer an impressive amount of technicalities that translate into fast transient response, cohesive balance between the 2 drivers, realist tonality, and high level of clarity. If you search for a maturely tuned slightly V shape earphones that have high resolution and well-articulated sound and is a great all-arounder for anything but sub-heavy music, I think there nothing to loose buying these earphones that hit above their price range.
Yep, I’m now a KBear believer! Amen!