Kinera SEED (Yin): Rock solid EDC
Today we’re taking a look at the new Kinera SEED Yin, one of two models planned for the SEED lineup.
Kinera was founded in 2012 and has released some popular products during this time, like the BD005, a budget-minded hybrid earphone that really took off in Japan. Last year they released the H3, a 2+1 hybrid that received mixed opinions. My opinion was that is was visually stunning, and while it sounded good it wasn’t without a few issues. Still, at 100 USD it was and still is worth the cost of entry. Feel free to disagree, and I know many will.
The SEED, a name generated via a Facebook competition, is another hybrid entry featuring one balanced armature and one dynamic driver and was intended to replace the BD005. At 49.00 USD, the SEED is still firmly entrenched in budget territory, though you might not have guessed so based on the clean design and quality of the included 2-pin removable cable.
While Kinera has once again nailed the visual appeal of their product, how it sounds is going to be make or break for many. Let’s take a closer look to see how the SEED fares.
The SEED reviewed here is a complimentary sample provided for the purposes of review. All thoughts within are my own and based on my many hours spent with this earphone. My thoughts do not represent Kinera or anyone else, nor was there financial incentive provided to write this review.
Kinera’s site: http://www.kinera.cn/en/default.aspx
Kinera’s Official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kinera2017/
For at home use the SEED was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp or straight out of my Asus FX53V laptop. For portable use it was paired with an LG G5, F.Audio S1, or Shanling M1, all of which brought it up to listening volume without much effort. I didn’t find it particularly susceptible to hiss from any particular device, though through something like the F.Audio S1 which was designed mainly for running high impedance headphones, there was some hiss kickin’ it in the background.
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 examples of signatures I enjoy.
- Sensitivity: 108 dB/mW +/- 2 dB
- Impedance: 17 ohm
- Frequency response: 20-20 kHz
- Cable: 1.2m silver-plated copper with 0.78mm 2-pin (detachable)
- Driver Type: 8mm dynamic + balanced armature
Packaging and Accessories:
The SEED arrives in some nicely designed packaging that stylistically is a step above what I’m used to seeing at this price range. The front contains the usual branding, feature highlights, and image of the earphone, all set within segmented spaces that give the design a mosaic feel to it. It’s detailed, distinct, and attractive without coming across as over designed. Flip to the rear where you find a blown up image of the SEED’s construction, the specifications, and a frequency response graph, along with a list of what’s included;
- SEED earphones
- 6 core AWG wire, silver-plated OFC cable
- Carrying pouch
- Silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Manual/Warranty information leaflet
Note that the packaging states only two sets of tips are included when there are actually three. The tips themselves are of decent quality, if not a little papery feeling. Still, they seal well, are comfortable, and should be fine for most. The carrying pouch feels durable and snaps tightly shut which should helps protect the SEED from outside influences. Overall the presentation is fantastic and the included accessories useful, just not plentiful.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The SEED’s shells take on a familiar low profile, jellybean style shape that fills the outer ear. The outside is characterized by a small dip that neatly fits a fingertip, within which sits a raised Kinera logo in gold. Above near where the 2-pin cable plugs in are the L and R markings, also crafted through a raised mold and colored gold which really stands out against the black shell. The nozzles are a separate piece of metal, also colored gold, with two openings that highlight Kinera’s use of tubes to guide the balanced armature’s sound. Those who are sticklers for the use of sound tubing with balanced armatures, here you go. The shell itself is a glossy piano black plastic and is constructed quite well. All parts fit together tightly with no sharp edges or unsightly gaps. My only issue with the build more comes down to part selection on the cable.
The ear piece connectors for the 2-pin cable were clearly designed for a recessed design which is obvious since they never look like they’re plugged in all the way. When I let a fellow Head-fi’er try them out, he was surprised to know it was that way out of the box. Since the pins are the only thing supporting the cable, ala. TFZ Exclusive 1/3/5 it makes that a clear weak point. Don’t sit on these with the cable plugged in, and be careful with them in your pocket.
The stock cable is the star of the show here, and something I would expect to be sold online by itself for well over half the cost of the entire SEED package. It is gorgeous with a shimmery silverly white color and looks mighty impressive. Above and below the y-split it is thick with a medium tightness twist/braid. The reasonably compact Kinera branded straight jack is metal and can be easily disassembled to reveal a very tidy solding job covered in clear heat shrink. Moving up the cable you arrive at the metal y-split which announces the model. It also shows off that the cable is unbroken in it’s connection between the source and ear pieces. This should help with longer term durability despite the lack of strain relief. Directly above the y-split is a large bead that acts as a chin cinch, and it works well too. The last noteworthy item is the preformed ear guides instead of memory wire (THANK YOU KINERA!!). They are flexible, unintrusive, and work exceptionally well at keeping the cable in place behind your ear even during heavy movement. Like the jack, the 2-pin connectors are user serviceable (first I’ve seen). Should you be handy with a soldering iron and want to replace them or repair any damage, you should be able to with ease.
The SEED’s low profile shape hugs the ear wonderfully and while they never quite disappear, rarely do I feel the need to adjust them. The shells are well-rounded everwhere so they never create any hot spots either. The SEED is very comfortable, for me at least. Someone with tiny outer ears may run into issues with fit since this isn’t a particularly small earphone. Still, I think those people will probably be in the minority.
When it comes to isolation the SEED is quite effective, even with the public-facing ventilation in place. I had no qualms using these in a busy coffee shop listening at only slightly above my normally low volumes, or walking downtown through traffic. These should be just fine for use on transit as well.
Tips: The SEED’s stock tips are comfortable and pair well with the earphone. If you want to bump up mid-range clarity toss on some wide bore tips. It makes a surprisingly large difference and is worth checking out. Using a medium to wide bore tip with a stiff core also helps with the mid-bass hump and evens out the mid-/sub-bass balance. I avoided foam tips since they sucked all the treble energy out of the SEED. Not a good match in my opinion.
The SEED has a fairly easygoing signature with emphasis aimed squarely at providing a quality vocal experience. Treble rolls off calmly, upper mids are emphasized, and there is a mid-bass focus with roll off in the deepest reaches. This tune is distinctly different than the H3 before it, which should put a smile across the face of those who were not pleased with that particular model.
Lower treble has a nice little bump that helps give female vocals some additional presence. Upper ranges roll off and as a result the treble profile of the SEED is reasonably relaxed. There is a decent bit of shimmer and sparkle on cymbals and other effects as shown when listening to Gramatik’s “Bluestep” and throughout Metallica’s “Don’t Tread on Me”, but not so much as to make them fatiguing or uncomfortable.
The upper mid bump gives female vocals additional presence without being shouty or sibilant. Male vocals are slightly more recessed, but rarely did I ever find they were overshadowed by female vocals. Guitars and other instruments have good presence and texture but I found micro-details to be masked and smoothed over. Timbre is much more accurate and natural than the H3 ever was.
Bass on the SEED has a clear mid-bass focus with a distinct lack of sub-bass presence. Extension is actually pretty decent, as heard in the opening moments of Kavinski’s “Solli”, but the mid-bass hump takes over more often than not so the sub-bass rarely gets a chance to shine. Speed is decent, as is impact, but neither are particularly memorable. To help the SEED out with mid- and sub-bass balance I tend to apply some EQ; -2db @62hz, -3dB @125hz, -2 dB @250hz. Seems to work quite well.
Sound stage is a plus with the SEED which comes across decently large and open with reasonable width and depth. Channel to channel panning is accurate and well layered with good separation between instruments and effects. On King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black” during which the final few minutes is more or less a crazy jazz improv session, the SEED shows off it’s competent separation qualities. Better than many, less so than others. Overall quite decent.
I found the SEED to be a competent performer. Mid-/sub-bass balanced could be improved upon, as could micro-detail top to bottom. Regardless, it’s a pleasant sounding earphone without any glaring issues that ruin the experience and nothing that feels out of place given the price range they play in.
(Volumes matched as best as possible using the Dayton Audio IMM-6.)
Massdrop x Nuforce EDC (59.00 USD): The EDC is great at what it’s name implies, being an everyday carry. It’s comfortable, well built from durable materials, isolates well, and sounds good, all qualities that can also be applied to the SEED. While the EDC comes with better and higher quality accessories, the SEED’s cable is miles ahead of the two included with the NuForce.
TFZ Exclusive 3 (59.99 USD): The Exclusive 3 is the most balanced earphone in the Exclusive lineup from TFZ, though that doesn’t mean they’re actually balanced. Beside the SEED the Ex. 3 is brighter, bassier, more textured, and does a much better job of pulling micro-details. The extra bass emphasis, better mid-/sub-bass balance, and speed makes it a much more impactful and visceral listen than the SEED. The SEED’s mid-range is slightly more forward and lush though it lacks the clarity of the Ex. 3. Treble on both is emphasized with the Ex. 3 being the brighter of the two. They’re equally smooth.
In terms of build the Ex. 3 feels a little more substantial with the use of plastic and steel. Like the SEED, it’s cable is braided and silver-coated but much thinner and with unnecessarily large . The 2-pin connectors are also more of a weak point due to the way they receptacles protrude from the housing. Comfort is pretty much a wash since they both have low profile housings. The SEED does hug my ear a little more naturally though.
With the SEED, Kinera has a solid product. They’ve got the looks down, have included a stellar cable, and in general seem to have developed a product that is competitive with others in the price range. The low profile shells are comfortable, isolation is good, and the mid-bass hump helps them out in noisy environments where I think it is most in it’s element. For me, the SEED has been a fantastic daily driver and is an easy earphone to recommend for that purpose. When it comes to critical listening, the SEED needs more balance, especially in the low end where the sub-bass emphasis is overshadowed by the mid-bass. Micro-detail could also be improved upon.
Overall I have been pleased with the SEED and think that it is a strong follow up to the divisive H3 with a sound signature that should offer wider appeal.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Album)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Album)
Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (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 Bone) (Album)