Today we’re checking out a limited release earbud from Kinera, one I will call the Kinera Bud from here on in.
You may recognize the Kinera name from their popular 2017 release, the H3, which stirred up quite a lot of interest and a touch of controversy too. Pretty much everyone agreed that they were a beautiful creation with top notch ergonomics and a stunning look, but there was a division on sound primarily due to the enthusiastic treble response. You can read my view on the H3 here. Spoiler, I liked it and still do.
Mid-2017 Kinera started asking on Facebook and in their Telegram group if people would be interested in a earbud, taking polls on shell design, driveability, and sound signature. Based on fan feedback, they settled on a Yuin-style shell, 32 ohm impedance, and a warm-leaning sound. That’s exactly what we got.
This earbud was a limited release experiment to test market interest, gather feedback, and try their hand at tuning a product unlike anything else in their portfolio. As a result only a handful (under 100 I think) were sent out into the world. Feel free to correct me in the comments with the actual number if you know.
Kinera asked early in the development phase if I would be interested in reviewing this earbud. Based on my experiences with the H3 I was happy to accept the offer. While I always try to remain fair, unbiased, and uninfluenced by outside sources, this particular sample was not only complimentary, but personalized with an engraving of my online handle, B9Scrambler.
I think that is damn cool and recognize that it may incite unintended bias into my opinions. I also know that the purpose of this project above all else was to gather truthful feedback. Not only would a biased review help no one, but it would also hurt any legitimacy I hold as a reviewer. Be prepared for a critical breakdown of what I think of this product.
While it was briefly available, the Kinera Earbud retailed for 23.00 USD.
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 in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer unique examples of signatures I enjoy.
For at home use the Kinera Bud was powered by a TEAC HA-501 or iFi Pro iCan desktop amp, or straight out of my Asus FX53V laptop. For portable use it was paired with an LG G5, Shanling M1, or F.Audio S1. The Walnut F1 also made it’s way into the rotation at times.
While I personally find the Kinera Bud works well through most sources, it is better when amped. Kinera recommends running it this way too, and I get why. At high volumes unamped with my cellphone, congestion seeped in and the low end lost composure. Since I am a low volume listener, I could get away running them unamped most of the time, but I can’t argue they sounded more impactful and spacious when amped regardless of the volume. Amping recommended.
- Impedance: 32 ohm
- Sensitivity: 115 +/- 2dB
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20Khz
Packaging and Accessories:
The Kinera Bud didn’t come with any packaging, but it did come with a nice little accessory kit. Leading off is the same large, Kinera branded carrying case that came with the H3. It’s a bit big for the average pocket making it more suitable for a bag, but it can hold a small player and the earphones comfortably enough which is always handy. You also get three pairs of foams; two sets of full foams with one in black and the other in red and blue, plus one set of donut foams.
So yeah, a very basic package overall. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to come with a case given the price and limited release, so that was a welcome surprise. They could have easily maximized profits by leaving that out and I don’t think anyone would have complained. The foams are also of excellent quality; dense, durable, and the donuts were cut so they centered properly over the face of the earphone, something you can’t always take for granted with budget gear.
If the Kinera Bud ever goes back into production as a mass produced product, I would love to see it come in a scaled down version of the H3’s packaging. Give us a magnetically sealed cardboard box just large enough to hold the included case, similar to how Campfire Audio does it, but with the same materials used on the H3’s packaging. In terms of accessories, include two pairs of everything you get now and a 1/4” adapter. I was told this earbud was intended to be used amped and including a 1/4” adapter would get that point across well enough.
Design, Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
I haven’t hidden that I appreciate an attractive earphone. On that note the H3 is one of my favorite iems from a design standpoint, especially in the deep red I was sent. I’ve always wanted a 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT wagon in that color, something I’m reminded of every time I look at the H3.
The Kinera Bud continues what the H3 started and to my eyes looks absolutely stunning. The black metallic paint they choose really serves to highlight the Yuin shell’s soft curves. I also love that Kinera chose to write their brand name in cursive. While some find that chintzy, I think it looks classy and mature, plus it goes well with the overall aesthetic they were going for. Criticisms are levied at the end of the shaft where the cable enters. Inside it is uncolored giving away that the shells are white plastic underneath. I also wish that the L and R marks were in cursive or something a little more distinctive. Kinera went with somewhat cryptic arrors. I was a little unsure what they meant first and had to perform a quick channel test to be sure. FYI: when inserted in your ears you want the arrows pointing forward.
The cable Kinera stuck to this sexy little minx is decent. It looks a lot like the excellent cable that comes on the HE 150Pro but falls short of the high standards that one sets. Starting with the good, there is very little in the way of microphonics (cable noise), it resists tangling fairly well, and the kicker; it remains flexible in sub-zero temperatures! Woohoo! I detest when cables get stiff in the winter and this one doesn’t. Sweet. And now for the less good. Kinks and bends are retained. Strain relief is also 100% absent. I’ll chalk that up to being a limited release product. If this goes into production I’d expect proper strain relief at the y-split and jack. Speaking of the y-split, there is a butt-ton of glue present holding everything in place. It works find but is visually unimpressive. That would need to be cleaned up for a proper release too. The straight jack in nice though, using a similar setup as the H3. This means it can be disassembled by hand should you need to fix anything, pending you have the know how of course. That feature can stay.
I was expecting the housing to be a lot larger than it is when I first saw the Kinera Bud in the flesh. Unlike many, I hadn’t previously seen an earbud using his housing and from the pictures thought it looked quite large. In reality, while the face is broad as is necessary to accommodate such a large driver, it isn’t very deep and ends up seating near perfectly in my ear. Its profile is also very low meaning this earbud was completely unobtrusive when lying on my side. It also fit perfectly under my toque. When heading out into the brisk cold the Kinera Bud has become one of my go to headphones. Overall, comfort is a big plus. I definitely approve of the community’s choice of housing here.
Isolation. Wow. In-ear monitors, heck, even active noise canceling earphones and headphones don’t stand a chance against the world-silencing capabilities of the Kinera Earbud. If you took that seriously you need to take a step back. It’s an earbud. They don’t isolate…at all…especially this one which has more ventilation than the rusty old 1982 Toyota Celica my cousin had as a field car when we were kids. God, I love that thing. Rob, if you’re reading this I need a picture of that old beast!
To foam or not to foam: As is often the case with earbuds, Kinera’s is no different in that you can alter the signature slightly depending on if you’re running it foam free, full foams, donut foams, dense foams, porous foams, whatever. Running the Kinera Bud free of foams leads to a signature that is open and airy with a near mandatory treble boost. This is really nice at low to mid-level volumes. With donut foams the treble response is softened and tightened, the mid-range thickens up, and the low end raises in prominence and impact. With full foams, the presentation thickens up with more mid-bass umph. Treble loses further energy and definition.The mid-range comes out very lush though. Initially I preferred the Bud with donut foams, but over time I grew to appreciate the extra treble presence afforded when running them foam free.
The Kinera Bud has a smooth, easygoing sound with a mid-range and bass focus. It’s treble is very reserved and definitely it its peak without foams where it stands up and balances out the signature surprisingly well. It’s airy, detailed, and smooth with no uncomfortable peaks. Toss on any foam padding and comfort increases, sure, but it also serves to eat the detail this little bud outputs. I’m really quite torn on how I feel about the treble. On one hand (no foams) it’s is presented nicely. On the other hand (with foams) it comes across slightly recessed and lacking clarity.
At least the mid-range sits in a good place regardless of foam usage, though they’re definitely more rich with foams on. Vocals are clean and smooth with females really shining, though a touch on the thin side at times. Most male vocals have a heavier, weighty feel to them. Guitars have a forward presence and great texture, especially with foams on. Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” is a great track to use for testing the changes in mid-range (and other areas to if I’m to be honest) when switching between naked or the various types of included foams.
Bass is deep and thumpy with a commanding presence that works great outdoors, compensating effectively for the usual losses you experience with non-isolating designs like this. Texture is suitable too giving grungy basslines the intended impact. It’s fairly quick too, at it best when running foam-less where it is particularly nimble.
With foams on, overall resolution is slightly lacking with the mid-range and treble coming across mildly veiled. This isn’t particularly noticeable until you start comparing the Kinera Bud to similarly priced and more expensive products. Take off the foams and that veil is removed, though you also lose authority in the low end. Regardless of how you choose to run the Kinera Bud, it was non-fatiguing and as a result it was usually fighting with the HE 150Pro as to which I wanted to take with me outside.
Where it really came out on top was in sound stage. The Kinera sounds pretty massive overshadowing most of my other earbuds, and running strong with the best of bunch. It really does sound huge, tossing sounds quite far from your head. Imaging is also accurate, though not quite as pinpoint as I would want for gaming, and it’s layering and separation qualities are pretty average.
I think the overall performance is excellent though it seems to be that the Kinera’s technical performance is at it’s best when listening free of foams. As such, that is how I prefer to listen to mine.
HE 150Pro (29.90 USD):
The Kinera Bud and HE 150Pro has similar signatures with a focus on the mid-range and low-end, providing a smooth, fatigue-free presentation. The Kinera Bud has a larger sound stage with similar imaging and layering qualities, but slightly worse separation. The 150Pro’s bass is the best I’ve heard in a bud and is well extended with a heavy physical presence; the Kinera Bud doesn’t have quite the impact or texture but it’s not too far off. The HE 150Pro’s mid-range is less prominent but thinner and slightly clearer making it more comprehensive. Treble on the HE 150Pro is about as prominent with similar clarity and detail. These two are a great match for each other, but the HE 150Pro is my earbud bass king.
Penon BS1 Experience Version (39.00 USD):
The BS1 has a mid and treble focused sound with a slightly bumped low end, coming across less warm yet more natural than the Kinera Bud. BS1’s sound stage is slightly smaller with better layering and separation qualities. Kinera’s bass is more full and digs deeper with the BS1 showing better texture. The BS1’s mid-range is more prominent and clear, though thinner. Treble is better extended and more energetic on the BS1. The BS1 overall sounds slightly more refined and mature.
OURART Ti7 (59.00 USD):
Ti7’s presentation is less organic and lush than the Kinera Bud with a drier, more detail-focused sound. The Kinera Bud has a wider sound stage than the Ti7; layering and separation isn’t as dynamic and impressive though. Kinera Bud’s bass has more body and presence with greater physical impact. The Ti7’s mid-range is slightly thiner and more forward with greater resolution. Treble isn’t particularly energetic on either though the Ti7 is ahead in this regard with more lower and upper treble presence. I’m not sure which of these two I’d rather listen to, though both are great to look.
Rose Maysa (109.00 USD):
The Maysa’s signature is notably heavier on mids and treble with a clear emphasis on detail and clarity. To my great surprise the Kinera presented a wider sound stage than the Maysa; layering and separation isn’t as prominent or capable though. Bass is more robust and full than the Maysa’s with more mid-bass emphasis but is nowhere near as nimble or textured. Mid-range is less forward and heavier on the Kinera Bud. Treble is less extended and emphasized too; comparatively it sounds quite recessed.
General: In terms of design I think the Kinera is by far and away the best looking ear bud I’ve seen, followed up by OURART’s Ti7. Out of the group above Rose’s Masya comes third, the BS1 fourth, and the HE 150Pro last. Obviously beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that ordering is purely subjective.
In terms of build the Kinera Bud falls behind all of the above-mentioned earphones due to the cable. The BS1’s cable is one of the best I’ve come across regardless of price. The 150Pro’s is very similar to the Kinera’s cable but with a neater y-split and no memory. The Ti7’s cable is again quite similar, but even better behaved than the 150Pro’s and with a higher quality y-split and jack. The Maysa’s rubber cable isn’t flashy but it has no significant negatives in my opinion. Comfort goes to the Kinera Bud though, with the Maysa and BS1 following close behind.
For a company that has made nothing but hybrids and balanced armature earphones up to this point (that I know of), I’d call their first foray into earbuds a success, particularly given the low price. There are aspects that reflect the low cost and inexperience with such a product, such as the sub-par cable construction (sloppy y-split and no strain relief) and high volume performance where they begin to lose composure and spaciousness, but neither of these issues are major concerns unless you mistreat your belongings or listen at particularly high volumes. My biggest issue with the way they sound is levied at the treble which is too highly influenced by foams, and should you choose to use them too much is sapped from the overall presentation. In the end it competes well with two of my favorite wallet-friendly earbuds, the Penon BS1 and HE 150Pro, with similar qualities to each and even gives the significantly more expensive Ti7 a good run for it’s money.
I truly hope Kinera revisits their earbud at some point in the near future. This form factor has been regaining popularity in recent years and there are some wicked good low cost options out there. The Kinera Earbud would be one of them if it were put back into production with a slightly more balanced signature and a more refined build. Alternatively, I would love it if they dove further into the bass side of the spectrum and tried to create the best budget basshead earbud. That would be pretty bad@$$.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)