Audbos K3: It’s a Keeper

Greetings Head-fi,

Today we are going to be checking out Audbos’ new flagship, a triple-driver hybrid, the K3.

Audbos is still fairly new to the earphone game, only having two previous offerings in the form of the DB-01 and DB-02. These two earphones featured the same tuning set within two, very different aluminum/wood housings. While excellent offerings in the sub-100 USD price range, the K3 has seen Audbos step up their game.

The K3 features a 10mm Graphene dynamic diaphragm backed by two balanced armatures in the form of a tweeter and super tweeter. They say that their “system reproduces radiant highs and a deep, bellowing bass, including even the subtlest musical nuances.” Well, after listening to them pretty intently over the last couple weeks, that’s a pretty apt description of their sound.

Let’s check them out in greater detail, shall we?

Disclaimer:

I would like to thank Jane at Audbos for sending over a complimentary sample of the K3 in exchange for a fair and impartial review. It is still considered the property of Audbos unless they state otherwise. I am not receiving financial or any other form of compensation for this review. All comments and opinions within are my own and do not represent Audbos or any other entity.

At the time of this review the K3 was retailing for 119 USD on Amazon.com; https://www.amazon.com/AUDBOS-K3-Earphones-Balanced-Armatures/dp/B06XD4477X

My Gear and I:

I’m a 30 year old professional working for what is currently the largest luxury hotel chain on the planet. I have a background in Psychology which probably explains my somewhat dry writing style. My entry into the world of portable audio was due primarily to a lack of space for a full-sized stereo system during my university years, and truly began with the venerable JVC HA-FXT90. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread, reviews from other established reviewers, and thus being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own.

Fast forward a couple years and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to write about products for wonderful companies like RHA, Accutone, ADVANCED, NarMoo, Brainwavz, Meze and many more. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because this is my hobby and I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done and payment enough.

Gear used for testing was primarily a Shanling M1. Also used was an HTC One M8 and an XDuoo X3 (w/ Rockbox update) paired with a Topping NX1 portable amplifier. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures, I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even mid-range response, and reduced mid-bass. My favorite in-ear, the Echobox Finder X1[i[ is a fantastic example of this with their grey filters installed.

Packaging and Accessories:

If you don’t feel like reading the below info, here’s an unboxing video;

Audbos kept the packaging clean and basic with the K3, just as it was with the DB-02 I reviewed earlier in the year. A few key updates were made though, giving the K3’s packaging a more complete and refined feel. The front of the exterior sheath contains a glossy image of the K3 along with the Audbos branding and notification that these are an ‘HD Hybrid 3-Way Driver Earphone.’

The left side of the package outlines the contents while the right outlines the earphones’ specifications:

Sensitivity: 99dB +/- 2dB

Impedance: 32Ω +/- 15%

Frequency response: 20-20000Hz

L/R Channel Balance Sensitivity: ≤1dB

Max Input Power: 10mW

Flipping to the rear you find an exploded view diagram of the K3’s construction and internals, along with a breakdown of their features and tech. While there are still a number of spelling, grammar, and formatting errors throughout, it’s a strong step forward for Audbos and a much more professional presentation than what you’ll find on the DB-02.

Sliding off the exterior sheath of the DB-02’s package revealed a plain white box with no markings of any sort. Removing the sheath on the K3 reveals a textured brown box and Audbos K3 in shiny gold lettering. Nice upgrade. Lifting off the lid things simplify once again with the K3’s earpieces, cables detached, nestled in a slim foam strip. Attached and set under the foam strip is a sheet of cardboard. Lift it all out to reveal a large, soft case, reminiscent of those that come with the recently released RHA CL1 Ceramic and CL750.

Inside the case you find a decent number of accessories;

– Two 99.99% pure copper, silver-plated cables with MMCX connectors

– Two pairs of foam tips in medium and small sizes

– Single flange silicone tips in small and large sizes; medium come pre-installed

The quality of the accessories vary. The silicone tips are some of, if not, the best I’ve used. They are quite sticky and seal exceptionally well. The foam tips on the other hand are nowhere near the quality of Comply’s tips. The density is too high resulting in them expanding overly fast. Not a fan. The cables are a bit hit and miss too.

What I consider the primary cable has an outstandingly well-built and relieved y-split and 90 degree angled jack. The sheath is dense yet flexible and free of memory. The built-in ear guides work perfectly and microphonics are minimal at worst.

It’s reasonable to expect the second cable to feature an in-line microphone for use with a smartphone. That’s not the case and as a result I don’t completely understand it’s inclusion. The sheath is the same thickness but is softer and slightly sticky. The aluminum y-splits looks nice, but is only relieved on one end. The angled jack is replaced by a straight jack that is decently relieved. It uses the same excellent cable guides, and has more appealing aluminum/plastic connectors. It’s not a bad cable, but it feels inferior and most importantly, redundant. They already provided a higher quality cable that does the same thing. A mobile cable would have been a more logical inclusion. It just seems like an odd decision.

Overall the unboxing experience is pleasant and hassle free, just as it was on the DB-02. The included accessories strike both high and low notes with the case and angled-jack cable being the highlights.

Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

When I first laid eyes on the K3 I was a little surprised at how compact they were. Images led me to believe they would be somewhat large, at least as big as the VSonic VSD3. In reality they’re are not much larger than the AN16.

The shells are smooth, like a pebble that’s been eroded through the process of attrition. The only features are on the exterior of the shell. There are two ridges that arc towards each other housing two small pinhole vents. The Audbos logo and L/R marking look to have been laser etched in place, so you won’t have to worry about them wearing off in time. Through the metal grills on each nozzle protecting the drivers, you can just barely make out the exit nozzles for the balanced armatures. Overall fit and finish is excellent, and the cables click into place solidly. They are not locked, however, and are free to swivel about.

I found the K3 extremely comfortable, that is once I found the sweet spot. Despite their compact size and silky smooth finish, they would cause mildly uncomfortable hotspots after a very brief period. Once the hotspots began to crop up, I’d simply give the housings a little twist into a new position and voila! Problem solved.

Isolation from the K3 is not particularly strong, having no qualms letting in ambient sounds. The two vents on the exterior of the housing also catch the surrounding breeze at the right angle, adding a light whistle to your daily soundtrack.

Overall, I found the K3’s simplistic, low-profile design very comfortable when set right, and attractive in a subtle, restrained way. Isolation being below average was not an issue for me, but for those that value this feature I recommend tossing on some foam or multi-flange tips.

Sound:

Tips: The stock medium silicone tips that come with the K3 are fantastic, and I felt absolutely no need to move away from them after trying a few other options. They match the signature of the earphone perfectly, and leave nothing behind when it comes to comfort. The stock foams tips expand too quickly to be of use for me, but both Comply T400 and T500 series tips seemed to fit just fine. They also tamed a bit of the upper registers which some will appreciate, I’m sure.

Amping: No need. The K3 is extremely easy to drive. Just give them a good, clean source like the Shanling M1 and some high quality files and you’re good to go. Portable hi-fi bliss with that pairing.

The K3 has had some of that special sauce sprinkled on it. It’s three drivers in a hybrid configuration work in tandem to caress your ears with audio ear-candy. Seemingly unlike many budget hybrids, the K3 utilizes a crossover to ensure each driver works it’s own frequency range, and from what I can gather it’s very well implemented. It has enough weight and thickness to it’s sound to avoid coming across thin and wispy.

Bass has a nice, balanced presentation leaning slightly towards a reasonably tame mid-bass bump with no noticeable bleed into the lower-midrange. There is no lack of extension either, giving you a very visceral experience when the deepest of notes are called upon. This is the sort of bass I can feel reverberating in my eardrums, and I love it. While the K3’s sub-bass presentation is all good, it’s mid-bass does lack some kick and isn’t the most textured I’ve heard. As a result it comes across a bit too smooth.

The K3’s mid-range doesn’t suffer from the same lack of texture thankfully. It’s a very clean, detailed, natural presentation which sound greats with digitally productions, but really shines with live instruments and vocals. This is exemplified by a presentation that falls just short of intimate, giving vocals and instruments just enough space to breath within what is overall a fairly average in size soundstage.

Treble for the most part is very clean and smooth, through aggressive cymbal use on some tracks can come across a touch….enthusiastic, such as on to Gramatik’s ‘Obviously’. This leads me to believe there is a bump somewhere in the 3-5k range. I personally don’t find it overly fatiguing, distracting, or uncomfortable, but then again I’m a fan of JVC’s house sound. Such a bump is common in many of their products.

Listening to Steely Dan’s ‘Pretzel Logic’ shows off the K3’s excellent layering and depth with each instrument and vocal performance playing in their own clearly defined spaces and locations. Slightly to the right and back sit the main vocals and guitar lead with the drums taking up the left stage. It’s a very dynamic and lively presentation. On Broken Bells’ ‘Sailing to Nowhere’, the boat horn in the opening moment is heard in the background to my right. It gives impression I’m standing against a railing looking towards the ocean as the boat sails by, a crowd of onlookers surrounding me. The grungy effect that transitions left to right throughout The Crystal Method’s ‘True Grit’ passes clean through my head, not around the back or front like on most earphones.

Overall the K3 is a very lively and engaging listen with surprising technical prowess for an earphone in this price range. With a larger soundstage, not to say that it’s small by any means, they would really shine.

Select Comparisons:

Audbos DB-02 (59.99 USD): I really enjoyed the DB-02, summarizing it’s sound with the following statement;

“All-in the DB-02 is a fun, competent sounding hybrid that in many ways feels like a direct step up from the hyper-budget KZ ZST. It’s really only let down by a somewhat uneven and unrefined treble presentation that could use some tidying up.”

The K3 feels like a direct step up from the DB-02 as it offers a more refined and compete version of it’s predecessor’s w-shaped signature. It especially addresses the treble issues I had with the DB-02, while also bringing with it a more dynamic, detailed presentation. It’s build quality is also improved, especially in the cables (either one).

Accutone Gemini HD (129.00 USD): The Gemini HD features a single dynamic driver with three tuning nozzles. With the gold nozzle installed, they are a good match for the K3, especially in the low end. Both are warm and silky smooth in their presentation. Neither are particularly punchy, but the HD will give you some more mid-bass kick while giving up some of the extension offered by the K3.

Where the K3 steps up is in the mid-range which is more forward and detailed, but with a very similar tonality. The K3’s treble is also much more lively with better extension and a nice sparkle to it that makes the HD comes across a little dull. The K3 has a less spacious presentation but makes up for it with more impressive layering and imaging qualities.

They are both very musical and capable earphones. If you like a more mellow, bass led sound, the Gemini HD is a nice alternative to the K3 they seem to perform on similar levels. The K3 is again the better built unit, particularly in the cable which is the Gemini HD’s Achilles Heel. The HD wins on style points though.

FLC 8S (329.00 USD): Like the K3, the FLC 8S is a triple hybrid with two balanced armatures and one dynamic driver. It has removable cables and a unique, low profile design. It also features 36 different tuning options to the K3’s one. Even in what I consider their most bassy configuration, Gunmetal/Red/Black, the K3 offers up more low end than the 8S. To match the signatures as close as possible I settled on Gold/Red/Black.

The FLC has a slightly thinner, less weighty presentation. It’s treble is more clear and natural sounding than the K3’s, though I’d put them nearly on par in the mid-range. The 8S is more detailed, but the extra weight and fullness of the K3 is very appealing, particularly with female vocals. It’s more intimate presentation also brings vocalists closer which really helps draw me in on some tracks.

I enjoy the K3’s non-fatiguing low end, but the lack of texture and kick is quite noticeable compared to the 8S. It also sounds slower and less controlled, coming a cross a touch boomy. When called upon, the FLC 8S can dig just as deep, going toe-to-toe with the K3 in offering up some nice rumbly sub-bass.

The FLC 8S is the more technically accomplished and versatile earphone, but even at around one third the price the K3 doesn’t give up as much performance as you would expect. Listening to them back-to-back really highlights the quality of sound you can get for just over 100 USD today.

Final Thoughts:

The K3 feels like a very complete product. While the included foam tips are kind of useless and the second cable entirely redundant due to lower quality sheath and lack of inline mic and controls, these are minor blemishes on what is otherwise a mostly stellar product.

The included silicone tips are of exceptional quality, the large carrying case very useful, and the primary cable very well-constructed. I can definitely see some finding the K3 too bassy, or the treble too vibrant, but they are not a neutral earphone and are not advertised at such. If you’re looking for something fun and energetic that is at the same time detailed and technically accomplished, this is a great choice. I really don’t have any complaints. At their price point, they are strong performers and a great value.

Well done Audbos. The K3 is a killer follow up to the DB-02, and a strong contender in the sub 150 USD category.

Thanks for reading!

– B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Test Songs:

Aesop Rock – Saturn Missiles

Big Grams – Run For Your Life

BT – The Antikythera Mechanism

Daft Punk – Touch

Dillon Francis and NGHTMRE – Need You

Gramatik – Bluestep (Album Version)

Gramatik – Obviously Feat. Exmag and Cherub

Incubus – 2nd/3rd/4th Movements of the Odyssey

Infected Mushroom – Deeply Disturbed

Infected Mushroom – The Legend of the Black Shawarma

Jessie J – Bang Bang

Kiesza – Hideaway

King Crimson – Red (full album)

Pink Floyd – Money

Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)

Skindred – Death to all Spies

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

Supertramp – Rudy

The Prodigy – Get Your Fight On

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