KBEAR INK Review: Black and White tonal balance fun

THE PLUS:
-Well balanced bright V shape
-fun bassy tuning
-good macro resolution
-fast thumping bass
-no invasive sibilance
-hint of highs sparkle and air
-generous accessories
-nice construction

THE MINUS:
-hint boomy and overly resonant bass
-recessed lean mids
-thin dryish timbre
-not the most versatile tuning

TONALITY:7.5/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8/10
CONSTRUCTION: 9/10
SOUND VALUE: 8/10

KBEAR is a chinese audio earphones company that as been around for about 5 year and create popular IEM like the KBear Meteor and Lark Hybrid as well as older single dynamic IEM like Kbear Diamond. They have a sister company call TRI as well.
Today I will review their latest release, the Kbear INK, a single DD IEM using a 8.8mm Diamond-like-carbon diaphragm (DLC) driver. It’s priced 70$ and thinked to be the follow hope of well acclaim Kbear Diamond which was as well using a DLC DD and priced 70$.
Let see in this review what kind of sound value the INK can offer to us.

CONSTRUCTION

KBear are known for above average construction quality that doesn’t reflect it’s low price, and this is exact same construction quality than the Diamond that we get, and it’s very welcome since it’s incredible good looking as well as extremely sturdy and durable (i still own my Diamond which work perfectly and feel invincible).
All thick metal, with mate black paint and double glass back plate with a beautifull design. No plastic part apart for 2pin connector which feel ultra durable too. Shell front shape have an angled long nozzle, which is a bit big so if you have small ear canal this might be only cause possible for discomfort, which isn’t the case for be and the fit is tight and secure yet comfortable for long time listening too.

When it come to cable, we have a 8 cores copper silver plated cable of very good quality, again hitting above what we would expect at this price range. This cable is very similar to the one included with UM Mext for example. It doesn’t justify urgent upgrade.

Now for Packaging, its an elegant box with generous number of accessories, all of them being of great quality again questionning us about 70$ price tag possibility for this whole package. We have 9pairs of silicone eartips including the excellent KB07 wide bore, we have a cleaning brush and a nice magnetic leather carrying case, which i really find excellent. Oh, and not shown on the pic their a cleaning clothe too, to keep shiny the glass back plate. Very high value package for sure, and highly appreciated!


SOUND IMPRESSIONS

(gear used for this review: Ibasso DX90, Questyle M15, Xduoo Link2 Bal, TRI TK2)


The INK offer a bright balanced V shape tonality, with resonant thumpy bass, bright mids with hint of extra upper mids grip and crunchy treble. The clarity is boosted here as well as bass impact, while the mid range is thinner and leaner but not thicken nor overly blurried by bass boost.

The INK timbre keep a good sens of transparency, though it’s a bit grainy-fuzzy in texture which tend to extract extra noise in specific region.Timbre is hit or miss in term of naturalness depending of instruments, vocal especially lack hint of warmth and density as well as any instrument to be honnest. Timbre is thin and bright.

The bass have an agressive resonant hit, but not a lot of thickness to this hit. It have alot of thumping to it, club like thumping but without cranked sub woofer rumble. Attack is rather fast too but not the most controlled. Still, we are in near basshead territory here, with a sens of clarity that is rarely achieve in a fun sounding IEM, so the guilty please part here isn’t about warm veil since the bass bloom is very minimal and doesn’t swallow whole mid and treble in it’s tight slam with extra decay. I would not call this type of bass to be well rounded, it’s excited in it’s attack, mid bass and lower treble is what is the most boosted, as typical chifi V shape but with a capable driver to compensate problematic mess. Simply put, while decent in speed for fast electronic like IDM, the bass is more about quantity than quality since texture and overall well sculpted definition is a bit shouty in presentation. Its more about sustain hit than a lead-attack-decay well articulated and flexible hit. But it’s not all bad, it’s basshead low end and not always previsible or versatile but when its paired with right music, you can have an excellent sound experience, like with the track ”Obvious” from Sinead Harnett, where the bass thump is well controlled, very heavy in punch with a thick sub bass line that doesn’t mix too much even if its more foward than the kick, and the vocal stay upfront since female vocal are quite clear, this really feel like the INK was tuned listening to this very track, excellent result!

As a mids lover, V shape IEM are always hit or miss and in both way never perfect and fully restitute…unless basshead W shape trick. A good example of single DD intense V shape with enjoyable mids are the Final E5000, and they aren’t bright. Bright V shape tend to cancel euphonic possibilities in tuning, and like the KBear Diamond, the INK suffer from dryish thin mids, perhaps even more so in fact since it’s even brighter than the Diamond. Let say mid range is all about upper mids extra presence here, and not too bad in that regard since sibilance is minimal even if sometime present. Female vocal sound fowards and quite good most of the time, though they lack a bit of warmth and breathyness, high pitch singer will sound fuller than male or female singer with lot of low harmonic or breathyness need. Note weight is light, making piano cold sounding and a bit distant, so that plus lack of bass flexibility make it not a good choice for jazz piano trio. Bass bloom do occur and make the mids slightly blurry, especially in proper definition sculpting and instrument separation.

Now for the Treble, it’s hit or miss again, like whole INK tonality result are a bit black and white ink when it come to drawing properly your music. These a bright and a hint sparkly , which i appreciate, it give a sens of openess to the overall sound. Timbre is slightly metallic tough which is problematic for instrument like violin, which sound tonaly off, thin and dry. Texture is a bit scooped, this is where issue will come from since it affect definition edge and can feel a bit shouty sometime. As well, we do encounter slight splashyness at high volume, not in a invasive way though. Percussions at higher range can have good snap if their no after decay needed the result can add speed to overal perception. Micro details are average, nor dark or analytical, it will extract some and left some other in the shadow. I can’t say this treble is clean, especially in busy track, but it’s sharp enough to make the sound feel clear even if sometime forced.

The soundstage improve alot with wide bore ear tips like Moondrop Spring, it become wide and tall but lack deepness or an holographic sens to it.

The imaging is above average, but more their bass more it become dark and hard to precisely spot instrument, in busy track too it will be hard, with simple music or folk it can be decent since the highs are easier to pin point than mids and low.

COMPARISONS

VS KBEAR DIAMOND

I really love these IEM and feel they are so underatted, like the Kbear KB04, 2 IEM tuned by the talented Larry Fulton. If my expectation about the INK was very high, it’s due to the fact i was thinking it would be a Diamond upgrade, solving some brightness issue as well as slight tonal imbalance in treble. But it isn’t the case, Diamond being more refined and balanced and less all-in bright V shape.
The bass might be less boosted and thumpy, yet it’s fuller, rounder and more naturally extended, making if more versatile and less boomy-resonant. Mids too feel fuller and more accurate in tone, note weight is higher too, making piano listenable. INK treble deliver more micro details, it’s more airy and open too, more sparkly and resonant, it doesn’t mix in whole spectrum like the Diamond and seem to extend further, thus the extra air and brilliance. And this is where the Diamond will be inferior, in soundstage and imaging, another issue of this IEM is the compressed soundstage and fowards presentation as a whole. Spatiality of the INK is more open wide-tall-deep, imaging have more space for proper separation.
All in all, i would say INK is technically superior than the Diamond but inferior in tuning cohesion and balance.

VS MOONDROP ARIA

So, another budget champ, the Aria. It’s not similar in tonality here, well, its more balanced U shape to harman neutral so both sub bass and mids are more upfront and overall cohesion is notably more organic and natural. Timbre wise Aria isn’t perfect and INK underline this, since it’s a hint similar in dryness-thinness but still more dense and with better timbral balance and realist rendering that doesn’t affect tone of instrument negatively. Bass is less boosted, yet have fuller warmer slam and better quality, it extend lower and offer a more linear less resonant extension. Resolution is less bloomy too. Mids are notably fuller in presence and weightier in impact, wider in presence as if piano was half restitute with the INK, this is the biggest difference here. For treble, Aria is smoother, less spiky and agressive, and deliver as much or more micro details but in an effortless more laid back way. Lower treble is more boosted with the INK, delivering a more abrasive treble yet less airy and sparkly than Aria.
Here, Aria is superior both technically and tonaly, their just zero doubt about this, but their zero doubt it’s less basshead too and perhaps more boring for some fun factor seeking listener.

VS TINHIFI T3plus

Then we have the overhyped king, T3plus, that in fact have a similar V shape signature, with more smoothen upper mids and overall better energic balance so it feel more W shape than the bassier Ink. INK bass have less rumble and thick slam but more fowards resonance and boom, yet thinner lower mid and a higher sens of ”boosted clarity”. I’m a bit ashame to say the T3plus grow on me when i compare them to the Ink, its just about cohesive balance here which is better. Mids are fuller and more natural too, not as centered and recessed. This make female vocal and high harmonic instrument more fowards in presence with the Ink. We can say that INK is overall clearer crisper even if bass hit can add sligth transparent bloom-resonance to the spatiality, which perhaps confirm very average technicalities of T3plus again, since it’s imaging lack space between instrument and feel more compressed and fuzzy, treble is less airy and more crunchy too.
All in all, im not a fan of both here, but the T3plus tonal balance is better, timbre is thicker and more texture, tone more natural and note weight are heavier, while INK seem like a Basshead iem compared to it due to more boosted bass and more thin mids as well as crisper brighter treble.

CONCLUSION


As a fan of the older Kbear Diamond, i was expecting a big upgrade in sound with the INK and apart a sens of more open spatiality with added near basshead level bass boost, it’s more of a sidegrade for a fun signature or downgrade in term of cohesive tonal balance.
While not bad, the INK is a fun sounding bassy earphones with big resonant slam and crisp V shape approach. Its a return to old chifi tuning, yet not invade by sibilance or too agressive.
Ear tips choice will greatly inflict on sound rendering too.
While not the most versatile and not suggested for classical, jazz and complex busy music, the INK do well with R&B, Soul, Pop, Rap and most electronic music.
All in all, these aren’t made for my tonal balance preference but might please those who crave for resonant thumping bass. Aka headbanger and Bassheads.
To each their own guilty pleasure!

—–

PS: I wanna thanks KEEPHIFI for sending me this review sample. I’m not affiliated or compensate for this review but greatly appreciate full freedom of thoughs i have with this audio distributor. So, thanks for that too.
You can buy the Kbear INK for 70$ directly from their store here: https://keephifi.com/products/kbear-ink

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