Today we’re checking out a new budget earphone from newcomers to the segment, Geek Wold. Their entry? The GK3.
A few months back the GK3 showed up on Facebook with the promise of being a wallet friendly triple dynamic. Triple dynamic earphones with a braided cable, carbon fiber face plates, and a price of under 20 USD? What could possibly go wrong?
Normally I try to avoid reading anything about a new product prior to writing my review, but once the GK3 praise started flooding in, I broke my rules and took a more in depth look at what people were reporting. To say I was even more excited to give them a listen after reading said reviews would be an understatement. I’m a sucker for budget gear and new brands trying to shake things up and do something different. A triple dynamic for less than 20 bucks definitely plops down steadfastly into that category for me.
The first of my three GK3’s (yup… three of ’em) arrived unexpectedly courtesy of DD Audio. Had I known it was on the way, I wouldn’t have arranged a sample through Geek Wold directly. Nevertheless, this could only be a good thing right? Give me an early peek at what the GK3 had to offer? Uh… no. Not at all. It sounded terrible, almost as if the treble drivers were hardly functioning. Given this, I held off on dropping first impressions until the sample Geek Wold arranged had arrived and spent some time in my ears.
When those eventually showed up I took a listen and while they were better, they still sounded well below my admittedly lofty expectations. The mid-range was very hollow and flat out unpleasant. Given these two GK3s I had on hand were not performing up to snuff, I reach out to Geek Wold to outline my concerns. They advised that 5-8% of the earliest releases suffered from some QC issues as a result of rushed production to get them out in the wild for some feedback. They promptly arranged a third and final sample from a newer production run to guarantee the next one would be problem free. It arrived soon thereafter and thankfully did not sound anywhere near as messy as the other two, though it too is not without it’s own unique sonic quirks. Okay, cool. Now we’ve got a GK3 that’s working as intended. Time to review.
The fully functioning sample of the GK3 was arranged through Geek Wold and shipped over by Penon Audio. The thoughts within this review are my own, and are not representative of anyone who assisted with the creation of this review. At the time of this review the GK3 retailed for just under 20 USD. Be sure to follow Geek Wold on Facebook.
For at home use the GK3 was either powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp with my Asus FX53V laptop sourcing music, or straight out of the FX53V. For portable use it was paired with an LG G5, Shanling M1, HiFiMan MegaMini, or HiFi E.T. MA8, all of which easily brought it up to listening volume. The GK3 absolutely doesn’t need to be amped, not does it really benefit from it.
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.
Specifications (from manual):
- Driver: Triple dynamic
- Frequency Response: 20-20kHz
- Sensitivity: 102dB
- Impedance: 8ohm
Packaging and Accessories:
Starting with the packaging, as I am apt to do, Geek Wold has done well. The simple matte black box is compact and free of clutter or eye-rollingly, cringtacular marketing mumbo jumbo. All it has on it is Geek Wold tastefully printed in gold foil letting on the front, along with their slogan “Born for extreme audiophile”. Okay, there is a little cringe going on here. Flip to the back and you again see the brand name printed in gold foil, along with their address and a large white sticker containing the GK3’s most critical specs;
- Driver: 3 dynamic drivers
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
- Impedance: 8ohms
- Sensitivity: 102dB
- Cable length: 1.2m
Inside things are kept similarly delightful and simple. You’re initially greeted by the zebra-print warranty card. Weird choice for a background design, as is the wreath, but maybe there’s a cultural thing to it that I’m missing. Either way, it’s a good looking warranty card and more interesting to look over than a plain, boring old sheet of blank white paper. Under the warranty card is the GK3 nestled tightly within a foam cutout and the extra silicone tips set within their own cutouts in a line above. The medium tips come pre-installed. The cable is wrapped up neatly in a small compartment underneath. And that’s it. It’s a pleasant little package free of frills. In all you get;
- GK3 earphones
- Warranty card
- Single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
Breaking the GK3 out of it’s foam prison, I was greeted by an attractive, well designed little earphone! One good thing about having multiple examples of a product on hand is that you can check for consistency in construction. It helps when they’re not all from the same production run too, as is the case with the GK3s here. While they’re plastic, fit and finish is great with no misaligned parts or sharp edges. The carbon fiber faceplate is smoothly integrated, consistent across all examples. The stainless steel nozzle mesh is also neatly applied across each of the three. Overall the shells are exceptionally well-crafted for an earphone in this price range. My only qualm is some driver flex is present on insertion. Not a lot, but it’s there.
The cable I’m a little less enthused about. Let’s start at the 90 degree angled plug, because that’s my favorite part. It’s a durable little hunk of rubber with effective strain relief. It’s not the leanest plug I’ve seen, but it should fit in most cell-phone and DAP cases without any issue whatsoever. Protruding from the plug is a quad-strand braided cable with a glossy black sheath. As it exits the y-split which is an unrelieved, steel cylinder with Geek Wold printed on it, it splits into a dual wind as you head up to the pre-formed ear guides. I quite like the way these guides are formed as a tight hook. They do a really good job of keeping the cable behind the ear, but are soft and smooth so they don’t irritate the ear. Strain relief leading into the ear piece itself is non-existent as the ear guide run straight into a stiff rubber protrusion. Now, back to the cable itself, the part I’m not enthused about. It looks fantastic and I have zero complaint below the y-split. Above however it is a bit of a nightmare. It’s springy, is filled with light bends, tangles like a mo-fo, and is a handful in general. Even being exceptionally careful when winding them up for storage, and when taking them out, they seem to tangle with zero effort and it drives me nuts. You think KZ’s new copper braided cable is bad for tangling? It is, you’re right. But this is so much worse. No chin cinch either, which would at least help a little in avoiding tangles during storage. Frustrating…
I found the GK3 wonderful to wear. There are no weird shapes or angular areas. It’s not a particularly large earphone either, despite housing three dynamic drivers. It’s a smooth and simple design which translates into something that I can wear for as long as I want without concern. Not sure what else to say on this since there is nothing great nor terrible that is noteworthy.
Last of all we have isolation. The GK3 contains only one teensy, tiny vent on the inner portion facing your ear, right near the base of the nozzle. As a result, isolation was actually pretty solid. Slightly above average for a dynamic based product. Sitting here typing I could still hear the clacking on my keyboard and cars in the distance through the open window to my right, but they were all dulled to the point where I could enjoy my music at my traditionally low volumes. Sitting down at the local Tim Horton’s the GK3 wasn’t quite as effect, but the increase in volume to counter all that noise was pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things.
Tips: The stock tips didn’t provide a consistent seal and weren’t particularly comfortable so I stuck with KZ’s “Starline” tips for the duration of my testing.
I had very high expectations for the GK3 as a result of all the hyper-positive reviews and comments floating around. Maybe my expectations were too high for a budget earphone, though I don’t think so given the majority of gear I opt to listen to in my spare time is still in that sub-50 USD category. Either way, after spending a fair number of hours with each incarnation since the first of the three arrived on July 23rd, 2018, I think it’s average sounding at best.
Starting with the treble, the first thing that struck me was just how rolled off it was. Running some frequency sweeps, it seems to take a huge dive after 10k. This presentation gives the GK3’s treble a very stilted, brittle, artificial feel. There is very little shimmer to cymbals and not much air either. I don’t know about you, but to me it’s not particularly pleasant.
The mid-range is much better off, though it does suffer from a tendency to come across slightly hollow at times. Still, the mid-range sticks out avoiding the recessed nature of a lot of products in this price range, especially in the upper mids. Throwing on some spoken word, such as “Introdiction” from Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces, shows off the GK3’s solid texture and micro detail. Unfortunately it also shows off the somewhat odd timbre that makes vocals and instruments overly light and once again, kind of brittle and fake.
Bass is the best aspect and provides a satisfying experience. Focus is squarely on the mid-bass region but it tapers off smartly in the upper bass preventing bleed into the mids. Extension is good though it falls short of some others in the segment. Overall control is decent too, able to notes notes well and without distortion. On extremely busy tracks the low end will blend notes together as it lacks and articulation the speed to keep up, though it still manages to sound pretty good. Run through Soilwork’s album, “The Living Infinite” to see what I mean. Not sure why it works, but it does.
The GK3’s sound stage is quite intimate, placing you right inside your music. Imaging is handled well with clean channel transitions. Due to the intimate presentation, sounds simply lack space to move which hinders layering somewhat. Thankfully, where I would have expected there to be issues with separation, that is not the case. Thank you triple drivers!
Overall I find the GK3 a decent sounding product and enjoyable if I’m not focusing too hard, but it is not without some major qualms. The congested staging can be somewhat claustrophobic, and it all sounds quite unnatural. The heavily rolled off treble is the anti-thesis to my personal preferences as well, That said, I know there will be many out there that appreciate Geek Wold’s restraint in the upper regions, especially given the recent trend in budget Chinese earphones, i.e. treble cannons.
Select Comparisons (Volumes matched with Dayton Audio iMM-6):
Nabolang F910 (16.90 USD): The F910 has good looking plastic and aluminum shells that, like the GK3, has a fixed cable. Ergonomics are a little odd due to the angle at which the nozzle protrudes and as such I found the GK3 vastly superior in terms of comfort. It also looks like a more premium product than the F910 due to it’s understated coloring and carbon fibre accents. The F910’s traditional cable isn’t anything particularly special, but it’s not anywhere near as tangly as the GK3’s. It’s memory wire works well, but I much prefer the GK3’s preformed guides.
In terms of sound, the F910 outputs a more typical-for-the-price v-shaped signature from it’s dual-dynamic setup. It’s treble is better extended than the GK3’s with more air between notes. The GK3’s mid-range is more prominent and clear, though it’s timbre isn’t as accurate. The F910’s bass is lower in prominence, feeling a little leaner and quicker. It’s similarly textured and lacks the GK3’s extension. Sound stage goes to the F910 which is more spacious and airy, setting you back from the music. Imaging isn’t quite as good as the GK3’s, nor is separation, but it does offer a more layered experience.
Overall I prefer the way the F910 sounds primarily due to it’s larger sound stage and more accurate timbre, but that’s it. The GK3 looks and feels much nicer and it’s ergonomics are leagues ahead making it my preferred earphone of the two.
Auglamour F200 (19.90 USD): The GK3’s plastic shells are very well done but feel price appropriate vs. the F200’s which feel like they belong on a significantly more expensive product. The GK3’s braided cable looks more impressive, but I found it frustratingly tangly compared to the F200’s, even when stored and unpacked carefully. Comfort is pretty much a wash with the GK3 getting a slight edge due to a light weight, low profile design that fills the ear nicely. Comparing accessories, the GK3 only comes with three pairs of tips. The stock tips are a poor match that need to be replaced immediately, unlike the F200’s. In addition to a high quality tip set, Auglamour also includes a case, shirt clip, and ear hooks. The GK3 is much easier to drive and hits some pretty ridiculous volumes.
In terms of sound, I found the F200 a much more pleasant product. The GK3 has a slightly hollow ring to it’s presentation, most prevalent in the mid-range. Vocals take on a slightly shouty aspect compared to the F200 thanks to an especially boosted upper mid-range that also makes the GK3 more fatiguing on vocal heavy albums. Timbre also comes overly light and brittle compared to the F200 which offers some of the most realistic instrument reproduction I’ve heard at this price range. Treble on the GK3 has a more rebellious presentation in the presence region, but with less control and detail. Running some frequency sweeps, it also seems to take a swan dive after 10k whereas the F200 treble remains audible well after. Bass on the GK3 has more mid-bass presence, lacking tightness and texture compared to the F200. Sub-bass extension is similar, but like the top end, seems to dive off quickly losing out on the visceral feedback the F200 provides. I found the GK3 to have a very intimate and forward presentation versus the F200 which sets you back from the music. Imaging was more precise on the F200, as too were it’s layering and separation. These last two were pretty close though, with the GK3’s lack of micro-detail holding it back.
The GK3 sounds fine for a 20 USD product, while the F200 sounds outstanding.
KZ ZSA (21.50 USD): The ZSA’s metal shells are immaculately built and easily rival much more expensive products in terms of material quality and fit and finish. Another advantage is their removable 2-pin cables in a fairly common .75mm configuration. Where the GK3 stands out in this comparison is comfort. The ZSA is small and has a low profile design similar to the GK3, but the nozzle design makes it fit more like a traditional barrel shaped earphone. This leads to some odd ergonomic issues that aren’t present on the GK3.
KZ’s hybrids haven’t been known for their accurate timbre. The ZSA features a new series of BAs for KZ that make huge strides in this regard, and it’s quite evident listening to them back-to-back against the GK3. Instruments simply sound much more realistic. The ZSA’s treble extension is significantly better, though they are also a lot more emphasis up there which could be an issue for the treble sensitive. The ZSA’s mid-range isn’t as forward, but it is much cleaner sounding with vocals bringing more detail to the forefront, and with individual words being more distinct. The ZSA’s bass has a better mid-sub-bass balance, but is a little lacking in terms of visceral feedback when compared to the GK3. It is more textured though. When it comes to sound stage the ZSA sounds significantly more open and spacious. Imaging is slightly more accurate on the GK3 but layering and separation fall behind the ZSA.
Overall, the ZSA is more open and spacious, detailed, clear, and to my ears is a much better sounding product. It is also better built, though it’s not quite as comfortable due to it’s unique ergonomics. I find it hard to believe only a few dollars separates the two.
The GK3 looks lovely with special mention going to the carbon fiber face plates, and is extremely comfortable. The cable is solid too, though it tangles much to easily. Unfortunately, the GK3 was a bit of a let down when it came to sound quality. Improved treble extension and reduced congestion in the sound stage are a must in the next iteration. The artificial qualities of the treble and mid-range also hindered their performance, less so with synthetic and vocal free tracks.
The GK3 is an ambitious product and I respect Geek Wold for trying to bring a triple dynamic to the market at a very affordable price and with decent performance. Despite the GK3’s flaws, I think they did an admirable job. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next, as they are clearly on the right track with the GK3.
Thanks to Geek Wold for trusting me to review their product, thanks to you 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)