KB EAR KB04: Cubic Zirconia
Today we’re checking out KB EAR’s inexpensive follow up to the Diamond, the KB04.
KB EAR is still a young brand but they’ve been aggressively pursuing the budget market. They’ve become a sponsor on Head-fi, tune around feedback provided by prominent tuners in the community, and pull in popular reviewers for that much more exposure. If their products sucked, none of that would work in their favour. Despite some early teething problems, they seem to have found their stride and along with the Diamond, the KB04 is a competitive offering in it’s respective price range.
Let us check it out in greater detail, shall we?
What I Hear The KB04 has a light v-shaped tune with good detail and appreciable technical prowess for the price range. The armatures and dynamic driver do present somewhat different tonalities, however, resulting in a bit of a mismatch. The warmth heard in the low end gives way to a somewhat cool, dry sound in the upper mids and treble. The pairing is close enough to be fine for the application and in my opinion is much more enjoyable than the mismatched gulf I hear on most piezo-equipped earphones, such as the NiceHCK N3.
Treble out of the KB04 is distinctly lower region focused with upper treble lacking slightly in sparkle. Cymbals and chimes slap with a cool, dry edge. Decay is nice and quick and notes hit with a precise, strong attack. It’s all very snappy and pleasant. The KB04’s upper end presentation is well controlled, something I commonly find an issue with inexpensive hybrids. Notes aren’t splashy and show clear definition, though particularly busy or congested tracks do tend to overwhelm the single armature. Lower treble is neatly bumped giving the KB04 good detail down through into the midrange. I don’t find there to be any uncomfortable peaks or anything overly offensive going on here. A hint more emphasis in the brilliance region would balance it out nicely, but as is I’m certainly satisfied.
The mids show an upper region bias which combined with the lower treble emphasis results in a slightly lean, sometimes shouty sound that could benefit from some extra warmth. Vocals are very clear and coherent, but with male vocalists often lack a bit of body and authority. It can work with modern male rap and hip hop artists, but it seems more at home with classic rock and acoustic-backed stuff. That said, there are exceptions, like Childish Gambino. His voice works. You’ll need to explore to find where the KB04 shines. Female vocalists fare better, even if they too could use some additional warmth. The power and emotion is there, and they don’t come across as lean and light. The KB04 feels more flexible and universal here. In terms of timbre and tonality, the KB04 is a mixed bag. I find stringed and woodwind instruments to sound reasonably accurate, but brass and percussion to run somewhat cool and dry, a quality that can be heard in electronic music too. I really think it comes down to that driver tonality mismatch.
The low end is where the KB04 is at it’s best, and with the right track is going to make you forget about issues elsewhere. Depth is excellent with the KB04 reaching low and providing a satisfying physical rumble. There is plenty of texture and detail with a punchy, articulate midbass backing everything up. Notes hit with authority and decay quickly, though not so fast that extended beats end unnaturally abruptly. I’m not really hearing much bleed into the lower mids either, at least nothing worth whining about. A pretty kick @$$ low end that competes with the best in the price range.
I found the soundstage of the KB04 to be pretty average, but slightly improved over the more expensive Diamond. Default position is right at the opening of the ear canal with sound occasionally breaching this space and cascading off into the distance. For the most part the presentation is reasonably intimate. Imaging is good with clean channel-to-channel transition. I don’t find it super accurate, but it’s good enough for music. Layering is decent with separation being quite good. Only with very busy, treble heavy tracks was I finding the KB04 to get somewhat overwhelmed and start blending individual track elements.
Overall the KB04 makes for a pretty darn enjoyable listen. I enjoy the quality treble and meaty bass which is let down only by a lack of sparkle and a midrange that lags behind in quality thanks to an inconsistent presentation. It’s not enough to ruin the experience though and the KB04 remains a very compelling sounding product in this category.
Compared To A Peer
KZ ZS4 (~20 USD): The ZS4 is KZ’s 1+1 hybrid take on the ever-popular ZS3, a single dynamic released right at the forefront of the intense hybridization of the KZ lineup. Compared to the KB04, the ZS4 has more upper treble presence giving it the upper range shimmer and sparkle the KB EAR is lacking. It might be a tad overdone though since it can be somewhat tiring after listening sessions of moderate length, and it doesn’t improve on clarity and detail over the KB04. In general the ZS4’s treble presentation isn’t quite as clean and tight. The midrange is where the ZS4 is a step ahead. While similarly emphasized, the balance is better with less upper mid and more lower mids. This results in a more even and predictable vocal presentation. Neither is particularly timbre accurate, though the ZS4 gets the clear nod for it’s consistency and lack of the dry, crispyness heard in the KB04. Bass is where both are in their element but the KB04 is the superior offering. Both extend very well and provide plenty of visceral feedback. The KB04 is better balanced, reigning in the midbass quantity so it more evenly presents along with the subbass. The ZS4’s low end presentation, especially on sustained notes, is somewhat loose and it can’t quite handle quick transitions and complicated passages the KB04 breezes through. When it comes to sound stage I find the ZS4 to have a wider, deeper presentation. Its vocal presence is set slightly further away which also helps with this impression. Imaging is cleaner and more accurate out of the KB04, and it does a better job with instrument separation thanks to a cleaner presentation, though I felt the ZS4 better layered track elements.
Overall I prefer the tuning of the ZS4, particularly the midrange, timbre, and sound stage, though the treble refinement and bass control make a strong case for the KB EAR. The next section does a better job determining which would be a greater value (it’s the KB04…).
When it comes to build the KB04 wins hands down. Dense metal shells versus weightless plastic shells. It’s not hard to guess which one feels more expensive, and as if it could take a beating and a half and keep on trucking. I was pleased to see that the cables were quite comparable, though I’d take KB EAR’s 10 out of 10 times for one reason alone; preformed ear guides vs memory wire. KZ does memory wire better than almost everyone I’ve seen using it because of that whole “memory” thing. You shape the wire, it stays. Most brands get the ability to shape the wire part down pat, it’s the ‘staying in that shape’ aspect they can’t nail down. Even so, great memory wire simply isn’t as good as a competent preformed ear guide, and that’s what KB EAR gives you.
For the fun of it I swapped cables and what do you know, the ZS4’s cable works amazing well with the KB04 providing a near identical wearing experience. The KB04’s cable on the ZS4? That results in one of the most comfortable, highly isolating wearing experiences I’ve had. I might leave them like this…
KB EAR Diamond (79.00 USD): When I first listened to the KB04 I was pretty darn impressed, and though that I might actually prefer them over the Diamond. I then listened to them back-to-back.. was reminded of why you a/b. Despite their similarities the Diamond is unquestionably superior, a big part of which is owed to it’s much more stable and accurate midrange as well as the timbre quality. Treble out of the KB04 is more emphasized in the presence region. While emphasis is similar in the brilliance region, the quality of the Diamond’s shimmer and sparkle is cleaner and more natural. In terms of note control, I found the Diamond slightly loose and nearly splashy compared to similarly priced offerings. While similar, the Diamond has a very slightly neater presentation. The mids of the Diamond are much more satisfying with a warmer tone and thicker overall presentation. None of the shoutyness I’ve heard from the KB04 is present. Instruments sound pretty much like they should through the Diamond with none of the dryness inherent to the KB04. Bass is much more comparable. Extension is similarly excellent, and both are nicely textured. The Diamond feels a little less linear in the transition from lower to upper bass, with midbass standing out the most. The KB04 is also a hint punchier and sounds a little quicker, though I never really found either struggling with complicated passages. I’d say their bass quality is basically a wash. Sound stage presentation is also quite similar with the KB04 having a slight edge to my ears. That is probably down to the extra spacing provided by the extra emphasis in the treble. Despite the hybrid setup, the Diamond has slightly better layering and separation, and more accurate imaging, though the performance here is again quite close.
Overall I quite prefer the Diamond. The KB04 performs on a similar level in some aspects but is let down by the midrange consistency (or lack thereof) and timbre quality. Fine for the price, but not above.
When it comes to build the Diamond is without question superior. How could it not be with more attractive design, better fit and finish, and improved ergonomics. The cable is also a heck of a lot more premium thanks to the improved core count, more plush sheath, and higher quality hardware. No competition really.
In The Ear Like the Diamond before it, the KB04 features a heavy metal shell in a half-moon shape. The KB04 is slightly shorter, yet thicker than the Diamond, with a similarly hefty weight. The two piece chromed (read: finger-print magnet) zinc-alloy shells are nicely constructed with a third section taking on nozzle duty. The KB04’s nozzle is slightly broader than average with a ~6mm diameter. The flange for retaining tips comes in at around 7mm. Those with small ear canals take heed. This nozzle design looks like it could easily be upgraded to accommodate a removable filter system, so I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if a “Pro” version came out in a few months, similar to what NiceHCK did with the NX7. The 0.75mm 2-pin ports are heavily recessed which in my opinion is a good thing. While it does limit third party cable options to only those with very small plugs, durability is vastly improved since the pins are not the only thing holding the cable upright.
Speaking of cables, I keep reading that this one should be replaced out of the box. For the life of me, I can’t understand why. Outside of the fact that it is easy to tangle if you’re not careful, this is a really nice cable to be included with a budget earphone. The black rubber sheath is flexible and well behaved with just enough slickness to it to slide over clothes without feeling too rubbery or plasticky. The 90 degree angled jack is small and well relieved, and the tiny rubber y-split contains a neatly integrated chin cinch that produces just enough friction to stay right where you set it, while adjusting without too much effort. The preformed ear guides use a slightly rough, matte shrink wrap. While flexible, they still hold the cable behind the ear during extreme movement. The compact plug hardware is a familiar sight, having been seen recently on the Moondrop Starfield, as well as on 2018’s BQEYZ KC2, among numerous other earphones.
Comfort is generally a positive with the KB04, though I oddly found the smaller size a detriment when compared to the similarly shaped Diamond. It rests neatly in the outer ear with the weight distributing fairly evenly across the antitragus, though never feels quite as stable is it’s larger, similarly shaped cousin. The thick nozzle may be to account for this, though the preinstalled black tips are thin and flexible enough to more or less counter that in my experience. Just one of the many reasons I like them.
Isolation is quite average thanks to a fairly shallow fit and ample ventilation. Thankfully those vents are all on the inside so wind noise isn’t much of a concern. Still, while using them while typing I can still clearly hear each snick of the keys, they’re just dulled. The same can be said for cars and people talking nearby. With foam tips things obviously improve. These would work in very noisy area, just be prepared to compensate with a volume increase.
In The Box The KB04 arrives in some pretty straight forward packaging. The exterior sheath is mostly matte black with a digital model of the earphones in the front, along with the usual branding and model information. Flipping to the rear you find the KB EAR logo and a list of specifications;
- Driver Type: Dynamic + Balanced Armature w/ 2-way crossover
- Cable: 0.75mm 2-pin silver plated copper
- Sensitivity: 104dB +/- 3dB
- Impedance: 10ohms +/- 10%
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 40KHz
Sliding off the sheath reveals a user guide with a 12 month warranty form on the back, the earphones and some spare tips tucked into a foam insert, and a smaller box containing the rest of the included accessories. In all you get:
- KB04 earphones
- 0.75mm 2-pin silver plated copper cable
- Black single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Green single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Shirt clip
Overall a pretty standard unboxing. While the green tips are pretty basic and I could do without them, the black tips I love. I’ve come across a few earphones in my years of reviewing that came with the same tips and they always find their way into my tip rolling lineup because they are very comfortable and seal wonderfully. They’re a little tough to install on the KB04 thanks to a flimsy core, but your patience is rewarded with a great sounding tip. Props to KB EAR for including them.
Final Thoughts The KB 04 is an attractive fingerprint magnet with a nicely built and reasonably comfortable but heavy shell. The included cable and set of black tips are (imo) quite nice and do not need to be replaced out of the box. In terms of sound, the punchy, well-extended low end backed by good clarity and detail through the mids and treble make for an appealing listen, even if timbre quality isn’t quite up to par and the vocal presentation is a bit messy.
Overall a satisfying earphone, one KB EAR definitely should not be ashamed of. It does lots right, little wrong, and for the price is a solid value for a durable daily driver. Good stuff.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer Thanks to Doona from MissAudio Store for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the KB04, and for arranging a sample. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions and do not represent KB EAR or MissAudio. At the time of writing the KB04 retailed for 39.99 USD but was on sale for 26.39 USD. You can order yours here: www.aliexpress.com/item/4000800062960.html
Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, FiiO M3 Pro, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501
Some Test Tunes
Supertramp – Crime of the Century
Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams