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Kinera H3: "Drei Chinesen mit dem Kontrabass" - [Review] 🇬🇧

Vorwort:

Hybride In-Ears gibt es insbesondere im asiatischen Raum von etlichen kleinen und größeren Herstellern mittlerweile zuhauf und sie unterscheiden sich teilweise in Preis, Treiber-Anzahl, Konfiguration und Klangqualität/Abstimmung doch recht deutlich.



Neulich sah ich in einem Thread eines englischsprachigen Forum ein Bild, auf dem ein In-Ear zu sehen war, dessen universelles Acryl-Gehäuse professionell verarbeitet und ergonomisch geformt zu sein schien, woraufhin ich den Nutzer, der dieses Bild hochgeladen hatte, fragte, was sich denn im Inneren der Gehäuse befände.
Ein paar Tage später erhielt ich dann eine E-Mail vom Hersteller dieses In-Ears, Kinera, der mich fragte, ob ich Interesse hätte, mir den etwa 99$ kostenden hybriden Triple-Driver namens H3 anzuhören, mein Feedback zum Klang und der allgemeinen Abstimmung abzugeben und den In-Ear schließlich zu rezensieren. Angenommen habe ich dieses Angebot schließlich, was hauptsächlich daran lag, dass mir das Design der scheinbar qualitativ guten universellen Gehäuse gefiel.

Was nun folgt, ist mein englischsprachiges und wie immer ungeschöntes und ehrliches Review des Kinera H3.


Introduction:

If you haven’t heard of the company “Kinera” before, then you are not alone, since before a fellow online audio forum member introduced me to them, I hadn’t heard of them either.
Fast forward a few days, Steve from Kinera got in touch with me and asked me whether I would like to review their latest in-ear called H3, a triple-driver hybrid model with a quite typical layout of one dynamic driver for the lows and two Balanced Armatures for the rest of the frequency spectrum. He offered to send me a sample at no cost for me, and all I should do in exchange was to give him my honest opinion on the in-ear that would be used for feedback and further improvements, and to write a just as honest and unbiased English review of it (I also had to agree that they can use my posts, impressions, comments and reviews for their social media platforms).
I agreed, and so here we are now, with a review of a very beautiful and professional looking hybrid in-ear with ergonomic acrylic shells and removable cables for just around $99.

Some additional information about Kinera: they are a Chinese audio manufacturer and established in 2007. Before making their own earphones, they manufactured micro speakers for military detection. Besides the H3, they currently have the lower-end BD005 hybrid in-ear in their product portfolio that retails for less than $30.
According to their information, they have different distributors around the world and are currently expanding their product line to the >$100 market, and are working on future products at a higher price point and technical level that might feature the ability to tune the sound by changing the crossover by using switches.
They do not have a fully finished international website yet, but are quite active on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kinera2017/


Technical Specifications:

Price: around $99
Colours available: translucent black/red/blue
Technology: Hybrid
Drivers: 2x Balanced Armature + 1x dynamic driver per side
Impedance: 48 Ω
Frequency Response: 20 – 20000 Hz
Sensitivity: 101 dB
L&R Channel Matching: < 2 dB
Max Input Power: 10 mW
Cable Length: 1.2 m
Wire Material: 6n single crystal copper plating silver
Plug Material: 3.5 mm gold-plated
Earphone Connectors: 2-pin (0.78 mm)


About hybrid In-Ears:

As you can already see from the technical specifications and introduction, the Kinera H3 is a little different from most In-Ears produced in the past decade and doesn’t only rely on dynamic or Balanced Armature transducers for sound reproduction, but combines both in one shell.

Most In-Ears use dynamic transducers for audio playback which have the advantage of covering the whole audible spectrum and achieving a strong bass emphasis without much effort. Valuable dynamic drivers are often said to have a more bodied and musical bass that has a more soft impact and decay and lacks of the analytical character that BA transducers are known for. On the downside, in contrast to headphones with other driver principles, dynamic transducers often have a lower resolution.

Higher-priced and especially professional IEMs mostly use Balanced Armature transducers, which usually have got a higher resolution than dynamic drivers, are faster, more precise and have got the better high-level stability, which is important for stage musicians that often require higher than average listening levels. On the downside, it is quite hard to cover the whole audible spectrum with just a single BA transducer and strongly emphasised bass is only possible with multiple or big drivers. Some people also find In-Ears with BA transducers to sound too analytical, clinical or cold (in several active years in a German audio community where I wrote multiple reviews, gave dozens of purchase advice and help, from time to time I heard people that got into BA earphones for the first time using these attributes for describing BA earphones, especially their lower frequencies).

Hybrid IEMs unite the positive aspects of both driver principles and use one dynamic transducer for the lows reproduction and at least one BA driver for covering the midrange and highs, wherefore the often as “musical” described bass character remains and the BA transducers add resolution, speed and precision to the mids and highs (, at least in theory) – and that’s what the Kinera H3 does with its technology. It is addressed to those people who perceive the clinically-fast character of BA transducers as unnatural and prefer body and weight, but want to keep the mids’ and highs’ resolution, nimbleness and precision.


Delivery Content:

Despite still falling rather into the lower budget category, the H3 comes with a delivery content that clearly surpasses what one would expect for around $100:


The cardboard box has got a magnetic flap.


Inside, one can find an airplane adapter, 6.3 to 3.5 mm adapter, a spacious carrying case and last but not least a warranty card as well as manual.


Inside the Kinera-branded carrying case, one can find the in-ears, already with the cable attached and a Kinera-branded cable tie, as well as three pairs of Sony-like silicone tips.


Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

That the H3 retails for only around $100 is definitely not obvious in any way – its shells are actually extremely similar to those of universal demo models of custom-moulded in-ears or customisable universal fit in-ears, featuring a black, real faceplate with a golden Kinera logo that is perfectly attached to the acrylic body, without any visible seam or edge.

The bodies are made of transparent red acrylic and look really nice (other colours such as blue and black are available as well). Inside, one can see a real crossover, the dynamic driver and two balanced Armatures as well as the sound tubes with an acoustic damper being visible in the tube coming from the two BA drivers.
The dynamic driver is rear-vented, however the placement of the vent is rather cleverly done on the shells’ upper side wherefore it shouldn’t be blocked as much by the ear as if it were in a different spot (blocking the vent by the way results in a decrease in bass quantity, as it could also be expected for a back vent, along with a slight increase in lower midrange quantity).


The Kinera H3 really is a perfectly built acrylic in-ear with a highly ergonomic, semi-custom-IEM-like shell design, and is on par with excellently built, much higher-priced customisable universal fit and custom-moulded in-ears. This is definitely applause-worthy, and given what it takes to manufacture these shells (they are hand-made and hand-finished after all), it even makes me somewhat speechless that this is possible for such a low price (oh boy, those poor underpaid Chinese workers…).


The only thing that could be improved is the nozzle that does not have a lip/barb/collar wherefore the ear tips, while they seal just as good as they should, can come off rather easily.

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Something also rather special although not as unique anymore as some years ago, is that the H3 also features detachable cables with 2-pin connectors.
The cable has got four single silver conductors that are coated with a clear insulation and twisted. Strain relief is good and the y-splitter is low in profile and features a nice chin-slider.
This cable is also very soft and flexible.
It might carry some moderate plastic smell in the first few days but it mostly fades away after around one week.


My UERMs’ cable is still a bit more premium in terms of appearance and haptics, however the cable Kinera uses comes very close.

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Update:

On the replacement H3 with blue shells I received (you will learn why somewhat further down this review), build quality was still good, however not as perfect (unlike the red H3 I initially got that was absolutely flawless and perfect in terms of build quality and finish): the logos weren’t 100% mirrored, the left side wasn’t buffed and polished well enough (the surface was ever so slightly hazy above the logo instead of being clear), and the transition from the faceplates to the bodies, while still good, was slightly visible and tactile in some areas.


So my suggestion to Kinera is to definitely work on the quality control (which might however also mean that there will be a slight price increase). Even though the in-ears are handmade and hand-finished, it is not fair that some people might receive products that feature top-notch build quality only known from perfectly crafted CIEMs, whereas others might get a set of in-ears that is still well-built but not perfect.


Comfort, Isolation:

Due to the ergonomic shell design that is CIEM-oriented, the fit is nothing but excellent, at least for me. People with really small ears might experience some fit issues because the shells are more on the medium size on the scale, however this should not be any problem for everyone with medium and especially large ears.

The ear guides have got a memory shape but do not feature any steel wire inside. While they might look like they are quite tight when not in the ears due to their quite small appearing radius, they are unnoticeable when the H3 is inserted into one’s ears and they automatically adjust their shape to the ears’.

Noise isolation is better than average for in-ears with vented shells. Noise from the outside is blocked out sufficiently well and almost reaches the level of in-ears with closed shells.


Sound:

My main sources for listening were the Cowon Plenue 2, iBasso DX200 (AMP2 module) and Stoner Acoustics UD125.

The largest included silicone tips were used for listening.

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Frequency response measurements can be found here.
Keep in mind though that I am not using a professional measurement coupler but a Vibro Labs Veritas coupler that was pseudo-calibrated to more or less match an IEC711 coupler’s response with applied diffuse-field compensation that is definitely not perfect at the current state and shows too little level around 3 and 6 kHz. But if you mentally visualise somewhat more level in those areas, the result will be fairly close.


Tonality:

The first H3 I received unfortunately suffered from channel imbalance in the lows due to a faulty dynamic driver (one side was warmer sounding than the other despite almost identical sub-bass levels and perfect channel matching in the mids and highs). The replacement (with blue shells) that arrived a few days later fortunately did not suffer from any imbalance issues at all.

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The Kinera H3 sports a w-shaped frequency response – its sub-bass and midbass, midrange and middle as well as upper treble are emphasised.

Compared to an in-ear that stays diffuse-field flat in the bass, such as the Etymotic ER-4S/SR, and compared to 1 kHz, its bass is emphasised by around 8-9 dB.
Doing sine sweeps, I can hear the lows starting to climb around 300 Hz, with the climax being reached at 60 Hz although there is not much less presence between 80 and 120 Hz. The sub-bass does not roll off but keeps the presence.
Since the emphasis mainly concentrates on the sub-bass and midbass (that is a bit warmed up), it does not bleed into the midrange and the H3 doesn’t have a dominant upper bass although it is punchy and undeniably forward.

The midrange is emphasised, quite forward and therefore doesn’t sound recessed at all but has got more of an “in your face” character, not unlike the hybrid DUNU Alpha 1 earbuds or Shure SE425 but with a stronger emphasis compared to the latter, however the Shure is tuned very differently (quite neutral).
Vocal balance and midrange timbre, unlike some other hybrid in-ears in the sub-$100-range, is pretty good and realistic, with an overall fairly uncoloured midrange with just a hint of brightness and air that just very slightly lacks some lower vocal warmth as counterweight.

At 6 kHz, in the middle treble, I can hear an emphasis, along with another, however more broad-banded and weaker one in the upper highs around 8 kHz. The level is quite neutral above that and the extension in the super highs above 10 kHz is good until around 14 kHz.
This guarantees for enough countervailing brightness to keep the balance upright due to the bass and midrange emphasis, however since the first emphasis is set rather low with around 6 kHz, cymbals gain some raw and metallic touch, that, while not too unnatural or distracting, can get a bit too energetic with more complex and faster-paced tracks with a lot of treble action while everything is fine with slower recordings and genres as well as those tracks that are not super energetic when it comes to cymbal play. Except for the 6 kHz elevation that can definitely be a bit too metallic and strong with songs that feature an energetic and fast cymbal play, the highs appear realistic and natural.
Having the emphasis happen between 8 and 10 kHz instead of 6 and 8 kHz would have made the cymbals lose their metallic touch with more energetic recordings, but then again the H3 is a sub-$100 hybrid in-ear and there are other examples that are less even and less realistic in the highs.

Resolution:

Overall, the resolution is neither outstandingly good nor in any way really underwhelming and bad – it is average and about what you would expect to get for the price.

Speech intelligibility is really good, with the upper mids being less well defined and separated with busier recordings compared to the upper treble that is very convincing and definitely better than what the price might suggest when it comes to separation, definition and detail retrieval (I assume that the crossover frequency is around or above 3 kHz).


The dynamic driver’s bass has got a quite nice texture that, while it doesn’t reach the level of the much more expensive HiFiMan RE2000 at all and doesn’t even come any close, is still nice and appears rather nicely layered.
However, the Kinera’s bass is generally more on the slower, softer, somewhat muddier and less detailed side, especially when comparing it to higher-end hybrid in-ears. While this might even be desired by some people (I’m referring to the softness and the “body” that it might add to the sound perception) and is not a very big deal for a hybrid in-ear in this price range, the bass could definitely be better defined and tighter with medium-paced and especially fast recordings.

Soundstage:

The Kinera H3 has got a rather wide soundstage with a really decent amount of depth (with about 70% of its width), creating a nice illusion of space and three-dimensionality.

Imaging is fairly convincing as well and only suffers from slightly blurred edges due to the soft bass response. Directions are easy to spot nonetheless.

Playing more complex and faster recordings with many musicians and tonal elements playing at the same time, the soundstage does not collapse but remains fairly intact with just somewhat more blurriness between the instruments due to the bass response.

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In Comparison with other In-Ears:

iBasso IT03 (>>$):

The Kinera’s shells appear more premium because they are hand-made like it is done for CIEMs, and the cable is more flexible as well (both in-ears have got removable cables), however the iBasso might have the benefit of better build quality consistency and quality control.
Both in-ears are ergonomically shaped and very comfortable.

Both have got about the same amount of sub-bass and an overall quite comparable bass emphasis that stays nicely out of the midrange, while the H3 has got the slightly warmer midbass.
The H3 has got the more forward vocal range while the iBasso’s is slightly brighter.
The Kinera is somewhat brighter in the upper treble.

The iBasso’s bass that is much tighter, better controlled and detailed – it is one of the tightest and fastest hybrid in-ears that exists anyway, despite the emphasis in the sub-bass. This is no competition at all.
There is no large difference in perceived midrange details but the iBasso appears more resolving here as well, while it has also got the somewhat better separated and more detailed upper treble in comparison.

When it comes to soundstage, the Kinera’s is somewhat wider and especially deeper, however the iBasso’s features the sharper and more precise separation and no haze between and around instruments (mainly due to the much tighter and faster bass).

Fidue A73 (>$):

The Kinera has got removable cables, the Fidue hasn’t. Both in-ears are supposed to be worn with the cables around the ears. The Fidue has got the smaller shells but both in-ears are very comfortable.
The Kinera’s shells appear more premium because they are hand-made the same way as it is done for CIEMs and customisable UIEMs, however the A73 might have the advantage of a better build quality consistency.

The Fidue’s bass is less emphasised but thicker in the fundamental range/lower midrange, giving deep voices and instruments in this range more body.
The Kinera has got the somewhat more forward midrange.
The Fidue is brighter in the upper treble around 8 kHz that some people might perceive as somewhat sharp but features a dip in the middle treble (and therefore also lacks the Kinera’s 6 kHz elevation) that generates headroom for it.

Fidue’s A73 stays better focussed with fast and complex recordings and also features the somewhat better midrange resolution. In the upper highs however, it is the H3 that resolves better and has got the slightly better separation.
The Fidue is also rather soft in the bass – however, it is better controlled and especially more detailed, better textured and noticeably better defined compared to the Kinera’s, especially when playing more complex and faster recordings.

The Kinera’s soundstage is larger and airier with more room around and between instruments, while separation is comparable.

1More E1001 (<$):

The Kinera has got removable cables whereas the 1More does not. The H3 has got the superior cable as well.
In terms of housing design, both are utterly different with the handmade Kinera representing the classical CIEM demo shape while the E1001 has got more traditional shells.

The 1More is more v-shaped sounding, with a noticeably stronger sub-bass emphasis and the audibly more recessed seeming vocal range.

The Kinera features the higher resolution in the midrange, especially lower midrange, along with better speech intelligibility while treble separation and detail retrieval are quite comparable.
When it comes to the bass, both in-ears aren’t fully convincing and lack tightness, control, speed and definition while the 1More is ultimately slightly tighter and faster in the lows but appears more one-noted and doesn’t fully reach the Kinera’s separation, definition, layering, texture and details in the lower frequencies.

In terms of soundstage, both feature a fairly wide presentation while the H3 has even got a bit more spatial width. The Kinera however offers more spatial depth and therefore sounds more three-dimensional, along with the cleaner separation and somewhat more precise imaging.


Conclusion:

What makes the Kinera H3 stand out from the crowd in the $100 price range is that it has got removable cables, and especially that it is handmade and hand-finished in the same way as custom-moulded in-ears are. A lip on the nozzle would not hurt though.
Craftsmanship and build quality are outstanding for the price and can be on the same level as well-crafted, much more expensive custom-moulded and customised universal fit in-ears (however this is potentially not true for all delivered units as the finish on the blue replacement set I received shows – Kinera should definitely improve in the quality control department to make sure that every in-ear that was built is identically superbly finished).


Tonally, it has got a w-shaped sound signature that is rather well-made but could use a bit less 6 kHz elevation, however this is not a too big deal for the price.
Detail retrieval is just as you would expect it to be for the price category. The H3 has got a nicely resolving midrange and well-separated upper treble along with a pretty open sounding soundstage, however its bass should and could benefit from more speed, tightness, control and definition.

Overall, the presentation is fairly nice for the price with a generally matching sonic performance and a unique level of build quality and features one would not expect to get for around $100.