Alpha & Delta KS3: Micro Daily

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out Alpha & Delta’s (A&D) newest offering, the KS3.

Hailing from Singapore, A&D is the in house brand of Lend Me UR Ears, a retailer known for both their web store and brick and mortar locations. They have quite a few products under their belt, of which I have tried and reviewed the JAAP, D3, and D6. The KS3 is an all-new earphone currently going through a campaign on Indigogo. What makes it interesting? It has 3D printed housings that use a familiar shell design, but are 20% smaller than the competition. It features 2-pin removable cables. The KS3 also incorporates a 6mm micro-dynamic into the design. In my experience this driver type tends to combine aspects of balanced armatures and larger dynamics, namely speed and bass presentation.

Is the KS3 worth supporting? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer:

Thanks to Dennis with Alpha & Delta for reaching out and asking if I would be interested in reviewing the KS3, and for arranging a sample for the purposes of this review. All the thoughts within this review are my subjective opinions based on time listening to the KS3. They do not represent Alpha & Delta, Indigogo, or any other entity. If interested in supporting this product, you can check out and back the campaign here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/alpha-delta-ks3-3d-printed-earphones#/

Edit: KS3 is out and available through Lend Me Ur Ears: http://www.lendmeurears.com/alpha-delta-ks3/

Personal Preference:

I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.

Sources:

Mobile: Shanling M0 with the Periodic Audio Nickel amp, or, ZiShan DSD by itself

@home: ZiShan DSD or Asus FX53V laptop plugged into a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp

Phones and DAPs can get the KS3 up to volume no problem, but like most micro-dynamics it benefits from the extra output from an amp. It cleans up the presentation and makes the sound more dynamic. Amping isn’t needed, but it is recommended.

Specifications:

  • Driver: 6mm micro driver
  • Impedance: 16 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 105dB/mW
  • Rated Power: 1mW
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz to 40kHz
  • Cable: 1.2m 8 core silver plated copper

Packaging and Accessories:

The KS3 arrives in a large, black cardboard box. On the front is the usual branding and model information along with a large viewing window through which you can see the KS3 earpieces nestled in some white foam. There is also a brief description of the the product; “2 pin detachable in ear monitors with 8 core silver plated copper cable.” While not a huge deal, detachable is spelled incorrectly as ‘detaehable’. Hopefully Alpha & Delta addresses that before these go into mass production. Flipping to the back is a large stick containing the product specifications, accessory list, notification of a 1 year warranty, and a contact email for Alpha & Delta. Lifting the lid off the box reveals a Pelican style case tucked into another cutout in the foam, just below the earpieces. Inside the case you find all the accessories. In all you get:

  • KS3 earphones
  • 2-pin 8 core silver plated copper cable
  • Hard shell carrying case
  • Small bore single flange tips (s/m/l)
  • Wide bore single flange tips (s/m/l)
  • Mushroom shaped foam tips (s/m/l)
  • Standard foam tips (m)

Overall a great kit of extras. The hard shell carrying case is the same as that provided by a few companies, such as Rose and TFZ, and is a quality inclusion. It’s durable and spacious and even water resistant thanks to the rubber seal that traverses around the inner edge. The foam tips are really high quality with an expansion speed that is neither to slow nor too fast. Both silicone options are welcome as well since they slightly alter the signature. The wide bore tips offer a well balanced sound while the small bore set warms up the signature, boosts bass, but also makes the mid-range sound somewhat hollow.

Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

As seems to be the trend right now, the KS3 features 3D printed resin housings. The nozzle is a separate metal section with a sheer cloth mesh protecting the 6mm driver within. Just in front of the 2-pin receptacle on the top of each ear piece is a small pinhole vent in place to help the driver breath. On the face is the simple but attractive AD logo neatly printed in silver font. What I like so much about these housings is their size. There are a number of earphones that take on a similar custom-like shape (KZ ZS3, Kinera IDUN, Tenhz P4 Pro, InEar Stagediver series, etc.), yet none of them are anywhere near as small as the KS3.

A&D claims a 20% size reduction which doesn’t sound like much, that is until you have the KS3 in your hands. This design is already immensely comfortable, but shrink it down this much and it just gets even better. The natural curves and bumps wrap around the outer ear and hug it as if they were long lost friends. It feels right, you know?

The cable feels right too being that it is more or less a removable 2-pin version of the cable attached to the D6. That is a very good thing. This 8 core, silver-plated gem is flexible, memory and tangle resistant, and features some high quality hardware, like the 90 degree angled jack. It features a tightly wound spring in place of a more traditional rubber strain relief and simply oozes quality. The Alpha & Delta branded y-split is quite nice too thanks to it’s metal and rubber construction with useful strain relief at both ends. The metal 2-pin plugs are colour coded, red for right and blue for left, and are the only aspects of the KS3 that causes any worry whatsoever. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the plug is designed for a recessed port, yet the port on the KS3 are not recessed. TFZ made the same mistake as it means those two delicate pins do pretty much all the heavy lifting and are susceptible to damage, or all-out snapping, if too much sideways pressure is placed on them. The second concern is that the plugs are keyed, but since the ports are not recessed these keys are not used letting you plug the cable in however you want. My set happens to be wired out of phase so one key faces in and the other out. Plugging the cables in with the keys facing the same direction leads to a very hollow sounding mid-range, among other oddities.

The good thing about all this is that the KS3 is still in development. Since they are 3D printing this earphone, changes can easily be made and improvements applied with little effort. Brainwavz has done a great job of this with their earphones, making minor adjustment here and there to improve durability. I see no reason why A&D cannot do the same.

When it comes to isolation, the KS3 is above average. The curvaceous shells fill the ear making it difficult for outside noise to penetrate it’s way inside and disturb your listening session. I had no issues using the KS3 at my normal, very low listening volumes in the local Tim Hortons coffee shop, and when walking around town on my nightly walks. Things improve further with the included foam tips. The KS3’s great isolation makes it a good choice for daily driver duty.

Sound:

The KS3 is a potent little earphone with a powerful microdriver. While it doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking with it’s mildly v-shaped signature, it does make for an entertaining listen.

Treble is smooth and elevated with a slightly metallic edge to the presentation, likely a result of the lower treble focus. Upper treble sparkle is still present though, as heard on Gramatik’s “You Don’t Understand”. Chimes that crop up throughout the track sound crisp and enlightening. Clarity is good with well defined notes striking with a relatively quick decay. Overall an energetic sound. Treble sensitive folks night find issue with the lower treble bump, but for me it’s just fine.

The mid-range is slightly recessed with an uptick in the upper mids. It carries with it a satisfying presence and weight. Male vocals are less prominent than female vocals, as evidenced running through Big Gram’s “Run For Your Life”, but they both sound good. Sibilance is present but isn’t too aggressive or too offensive. Tonality and timbre seem fairly accurate, if not a little on the light side as noticed on King Crimson’s live rendition of “Cat Food”. Guitars are full of detail and well textured but lack the crunch I would expect.

Bass is also mildly elevated with mid and upper bass being the primary focus. Extension is decent with the KS3 providing a pleasing sub-bass tickle, though roll off is evident on trailing notes that die out earlier than expected. The tiny 6mm driver is nice and punchy without any bloat. Notes are controlled and well-defined even with rapid double-bass such as that heard on Havok’s “D.O.A.” Texture is reasonable giving the KS3’s low end a presentation that seems more about being smooth than informative. Even still it is quite dynamic, avoiding the feeling of being one-note.

The KS3’s sound stage is slightly above average showing off more width than depth. Listeners sit at a fairly intimate distance as the default but effects can trail well off into the distance. Take for example many of the opening sound effects (footsteps, howling, etc) on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Imaging is excellent with notes transferring the channel to channel with great accuracy. I found the KS3 quite nice for gaming as a result since it was pretty easy to pinpoint sounds. Layering is good with instruments playing on their own plains, and separation is too with the KS3 only losing composure when things get really busy, such as in a particularly intense action scene in a film, punctuated by a massive orchestral score.

Select Comparisons:

Alpha & Delta D6 (~98.00 USD): The D6 has a more neutral-leaning signature than the KS3. The D6 is brighter with greater clarity and more detail. The KS3’s mids are less forward and warmer with similarly good timbre, though again the D6 sounds more crisp and clear. Bass on the KS3 is more mid-bassy, digs deeper, and is more impactful, but isn’t as textured. Sound stage is wider but not as deep on the KS3. D6 images more accurately with better layering and separation. If you enjoyed the D6 but wanted something bassier, warmer, and less clinical, the KS3 is a great alternative.

When it comes to build I have to give it to the D6. The gunmetal chrome housings are beautifully machined and a joy to look at and hold. The D6 uses the same cable as the KS3 (but with a longer spring for the strain relief), although it is fixed in place whereas on the KS3 it is removable. I don’t consider this much of a negative though. The cable is quite durable and it well relieved, so I doubt it’ll break or be damaged under normal use. In terms of comfort, the KS3 is the clear winner. In the D6’s favour, it has a more universal barrel shaped housing which can be worn cable up or down.

Kinera IDUN (139.00 USD): These two have a very similar tune. IDUN is slightly brighter thanks to it’s hybrid setup with the armature handling treble bringing with it better clarity and more detail, though it sounds a touch less controlled. The KS3’s mid-range is warmer with a more accurate timbre, but again it gives up clarity and detail to the IDUN’s slightly more forward mids. Bass on the IDUN digs deeper and is more textured but isn’t as quick and well controlled. KS3 brings with it more mid-bass. Sound stage on the IDUN is smaller and more focused with similar imaging but better layering and separation.

In terms of build, the IDUN is the more refined product. The acrylics look better and the wooden face plate on my sample takes it from being a fairly average looking product to something much more premium. Like the KS3, the IDUN’s 2-pin plugs are designed for a recessed port, but are not recessed leaving the pins susceptible to being easily damaged. Both earphones have excellent cables and I’m not sure which I’d say has the advantage. The KS3’s cable is better relieved and feels slightly more durable, but the IDUN’s cable is more flexible and the preformed ear guides are a nice addition. In terms of comfort, it is close but the KS3’s smaller size and similarly ergonomic shape pull it ahead.

Shozy & Neo CP (165.00 USD): The CP is much more neutral-leaning than the KS3 with it’s triple armature setup. The CP’s treble is smoother and more detailed with more upper treble energy and better control. The CP’s mid-range is more forward, thicker, warmer, and slightly more detailed. Timbre is quite similar in presentation. Bass on the KS3 is much more satisfying. It digs deeper, is punchier, has more texture, and doesn’t really come across any slower. Knowles’ 22955 low range armature has really failed to impress in most applications I’ve heard it in, and this really sticks out when comparing it to a snappy little micro dynamic like that in the KS3. In terms of sound stage, KS3 takes the cake here too. It’s wider, deeper, and sets the listen back further as standard. The CP offers up cleaner imaging, layering, and separation though.

The Shozy & Neo CP is one, if not THE best built acrylic earphone I’ve ever seen with quite literally flawless construction. Like the KS3 it has metal nozzles, though the CP’s can be swapped for another set giving you the ability to mildly tune the overall signature. Shozy’s cable plays in the same ballpark as Alpha & Delta’s, and again I cannot really say which I prefer. Much like the IDUN’s cable, the CP’s is softer and more flexible but not quite as durable feeling. The CP’s smooth rounded shells don’t conform to the ear in quite the same way the KS3’s does and as such isn’t as stable during vigorous movement, but it is just as comfy, if not slightly more.

Final Thoughts:

The KS3 slots nicely into Alpha & Delta’s existing lineup. The JAAP satisfies truly wireless needs, the D3 your budget minded basshead, and the D6 aims for the audiophile crowd. The KS3 finds itself acting as the all-rounder and perfect daily driver earphone. The small, highly ergonomic shell and good isolation combined with a slightly bassy signature is perfect for on the go, an area where bass light earphones like the D6 tend to suffer. Add to that a comprehensive accessory kit and a beautiful cable and the KS3 is a great all-round package.

I hope Alpha & Delta addresses the issues outlined with the 2-pin system and it’s current implementation. That said, even as-is it is still plenty usable and as long as you are not careless, will last a long time. I know from experience thanks to my time with products from TFZ. Though, moving to MMCX might even be a wise idea. Users won’t have to worry about plugging the cable in backwards. MMCX ports usually have the port flush with the body of the earphone vs. the recession the current 2-pin system needs, which means little would need to be changed. Just something to think about.

Overall, at the 99 USD the KS3 is going for in it’s current Indigogo campaign it is a good buy and well worth the cost of entry. At it’s MSRP of 150 USD it is still a good earphone and holds it’s own against other competitors at that price.

Thanks for reading!

– B9Scrambler

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

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)

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