KB EAR KS2: Rainbow Killer
Today we’re checking out another inexpensive hybrid earphone from the Kobe Bryant inspired brand, KB EAR.
The KS2 is a 1+1 hybrid with one balanced armature and one dynamic driver per side. Coming in at under 30 USD, the KS2 has to square up with heavy hitters from brands like KZ, TRN, Moondrop, and more. Oddly, some of the strongest competition comes from KB EAR themselves in the KB04, another recently released 1+1 hybrid.
Does the KS2 warrant release so soon after the KB04, or will its metal-bodied relative retain top dog status in KB EAR’s budget segment. Let’s find out, shall we?
What I Hear The KS2 has a fairly prominent v-shaped tune with massive bass and strong treble that keeps it feeling lively and energetic. It’s fun and competent, but won’t satisfying those looking for something that falls under the realm of “balanced”.
As noted, bass presence here is quite prominent. The KS2 extends very well into subbass regions giving listeners quite a visceral, physical presentation. Midbass keeps up well adding some needed warmth to the presentation and showing just how punchy the dynamic in this budget friendly earphone can be. Texturing is pretty good too giving grungy notes an appropriate level of grit to them. The low end is fairly quick, with rapid notes retaining composure quite well, though on the rapid double bass common to speed metal the KS2 starts to get a bit smeary.
The midrange is a bit less impressive. While vocals are articulate and detailed, they feel set back too far, too often. That’s fine on tracks where they are secondary and used more like another instrument (common to breakbeat and similar EDM genres), but with other genres I found myself raising the volume a hint to bring them up. Doing so highlighted another problem area; sibilance. “T”s can be quite sizzly through the KS2, “s” less so. While less naturally sibilant tracks remain fine through the KS2, inherently sibilant tracks like Aesop Rock’s “Blood Sandwich” can be downright unpleasant, especially at higher volumes. Timbre is handled fairly well, though slightly dry sounding at times giving the presentation an unnatural edge. Still better than most though, so it get s thumbs up from me.
Treble fairs better with the KS2’s armatures providing a solid experience. The presence / brilliance region balance is handled well with enough lower treble emphasis to give the KS2 good detail. There is enough upper treble emphasis to provide some shimmer without sounding boosted for the sake of artificially enhancing clarity and/or detail. In typical armature fashion notes attack and decay fairly quick without any unnecessary lingering. Control is good but the KS2 can sound splashy and loose at times. General emphasis is a bit much too and could stand to be dialed down to allow the midrange more room to play.
Sound stage performance is pretty decent for a budget earphone, but it’s not the cavernous beast I was led to believe. Vocals have a default presentation just inside the ear with notes spreading off into the distance, generally to around my shoulders. Channel-to-channel movement is accurate enough and perfectly suitable for light gaming. For something a bit more serious or competitive, it’s worth spending a little bit more for the Moondrop SSR which walk circles around the KS2 in this section, but for 25 bucks the KS2 does a good job. That goes double for layering and instrument separation which are also quite nice for something in this price range. On really busy or bassy tracks it can sound a bit confined, but this is more of an exception than the rule.
Overall I find the KS2 to be a well-tuned v-shaped earphone. I don’t think it does anything particularly new or special and it certainly isn’t my cup of tea, which is fine. I don’t expect manufacturers to be overly ambitious with their budget gear. The KS2 plays it safe and provides buyers with a tune that is sure to please the majority.
Compared To A Peer
KZ ZSN (19 USD): ZSN has more subbass, less midbass and is more textured. Speed and general punchiness are about the same. ZNS’s mids are more forward, thicker, and less subject to be overshadowed by upper regions. KS2 is more sibilant. Timbre is similarly fine, but neither are perfectly accurate; dry on the KS2, slightly light on the ZSN. Treble on the KS2 is notably more boosted, particularly in the brilliance region. I find it hides the mids slightly which is not the case on the ZSN. The ZSN is less forgiving of lower quality files than the KS2, which results in the ZSN’s treble sounding cleaner on higher quality files, but worse (i.e. splashy) on lower quality files. When it comes to sound stage the ZSN has the edge. Default vocal positioning is slightly further from the ear giving off a very subtle element of extra space. Imaging, layering and separation all feel just a bit more accurate and defined through the ZSN.
Overall I prefer the tuning of the ZSN. Performance is close, but the ZSN ends up sounding like the more refined, mature product. It’s an even better value too. Performance is slightly better, build is more impressive (higher quality plastics, metal faceplates, thicker cable) and it’s even more affordable.
TRN V30 (25 USD): V30 doesn’t extend quite as well as the KS2 but subbass presence is still solid. Midbass is a bit punchier out of the V30. Texturing is similarly good with the KS2 having a slight edge. I find the V30 slightly more nimble and coherent on rapid double-bass notes. Mids are more forward and warmer on the V30 giving it a more natural timbre and overall presentation. KS2 wins on detail though, leaving the V30’s mids sounding almost veiled. Treble is in general less boosted on the V30 but with a similar presence/brilliance region balance. Like the KS2 it can be a bit harsh at high volumes. I’d say their treble quality is about on par with the V30 being slightly more enjoyable due to the reduced emphasis. The V30 has a wider sound stage, thanks in part to vocals having a less intimate default positioning. Imaging is more accurate out of the V30 and individual track elements feel better separated, but the KS2 does a better job with layering.
Overall I’ve got to give the V30 thanks to the improved timbre quality and less aggressive treble. Neither is in any way special when it comes to build, though the V30’s cable is slightly improved; more flexible with better strain relief. Ergonomics go to the KS2 though. V30’s fit is a little odd without ideal tips.
KB EAR KB04 (39.99 USD): Bass out of the KB04 is tighter and more refined sounding with a better mid/subbass balance. It’s more textured too, and doesn’t fall short in terms of extension. Midrange placement, detail, and timbre quality is similar between the two, but it works better on the KB04 thanks to less emphasis at the extremes. I don’t find myself increasing the volume to the same extent to bring up vocals. Treble on the KS2 is brighter but less well-controlled leading to notes sounding slashy. The KB04 could benefit from more emphasis in the brilliance region to bring it more in line with the KS2, especially since it has a clear edge in detail and clarity. Neither has a particularly special sound stage but again, a slight edge goes to the KB04. I find the presentation wider and similarly deep with cleaner channel-to-channel transitions and improved instrument layering and separation.
Overall the KB04 is the better product in nearly every way. The improvements aren’t particularly vast, but given the KB04 can routinely be found for only a few bucks more and comes with beautiful metal shells, better tips, and a nicer cable, I see no reason to pick up the KS2 over it.
In The Ear The KS2 has a very familiar silhouette with the same shape and design to its face plate used by brands like KZ, FiiO, TFZ, among others. The rest of the shell doesn’t stray far either, except that it is quite a bit thinner giving the KS2 a tighter, lower profile fit. The plastics used feel in line in quality with KZs and CCAs, behind brands like FiiO with the FH1S, and above TRN with the V30. Fit and finish is quite good with all component parts lining up perfectly. Seams are impressively, well, pretty much absent. Can barely feel them even with a fingernail.
The twisted copper cable also bares comparison with similarly priced models from KZ, CCA, Tripowin, among others. The light sheath looks and feels basically the same with a low y-split, easily tangled above thanks to some aggressively formed ear guides. The y-split is nicely relieved out the top, while entry below is more or less reliefless. It’s there, but too stubby and tough to do anything. Absent is a chin cinch, which is a little disappointing since the KB04 had one. The 90 degree angled jack is one I haven’t seen in quite a few years, back when KZs were still branded with their early G.K. Affiliation. It’s a solid rubber jack that is quite compact with a long extension to allow wide compatibility with DAP and phone cases. Strain relief isn’t great, again too stubby and tough, which is about the only thing I can knock this jack for. One thing I appreciate about this cable and the ear guide design is that cable noise is kept to a minimum.
Comfort is a big plus with the KS2. The ergonomic shape, low weight, and overall slenderness results in an earphone that is quite easy to wear for long periods. The sharply angled ear guides keep the cable tight to your ear without causing discomfort, and help ensure a stable fit even when going for a run. Isolation is passable, falling into the slightly below average category in my experience. I can easily hold a conversation with someone (no music playing of course) without struggling to comprehend what they’re saying. Key strokes on a keyboard are dulled slightly but still quite audible. Cars passing by are too. Tossing on some foam tips helps, but expect to have to increase volume to drown out your surroundings if using the KS2 in noisy areas.
In The Box The KS2 comes in what has quickly become a very common style of packaging for earphones of this style and in this price range. The exterior sheath contains an image of the left earpiece with a neat looking clear tip installed, along with the usual branding and model information. On the rear are the specs in three languages, along with location and contact information for KB EAR.
Sliding the sheath off sees the earphones under a clear plastic window, neatly tucked into a cardboard covered foam insert, and a smaller KB EAR branded cardboard box containing the included accessories. In all you get:
- KS2 earphones
- 0.78mm 2-pin 4 core OFC cable
- Single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
Overall a very basic and familiar unboxing experience. It was cool when KZ started the trend a few years ago, but now that so many brands are offering virtually identical experiences, it’s time for change. Kinera and TinHiFi do an especially good job with their budget-tier product packaging. I was also a little disappointed that the included tips are one of the same generic single flange sets we’ve been getting with inexpensive earphones for ages, as opposed to the clear set displayed on the package.
Final Thoughts The KS2 is a perfectly fine earphone for the price. As a daily driver it ticks all the right boxes; light, comfortable, and with a tune that does well out in the real world. The big bass isn’t lost when outside noises bleed in, and the emphasized treble keeps detail levels satisfactory. I really wish the midrange was less recessed though, as vocals are pretty easily overshadowed.
I don’t think the KS2 is a class leader in any way, but that doesn’t really matter when it is inexpensive, sounds good, and should provide users with plenty of entertainment. Plus, it can match and possibly exceed the performance of the MS1 – Rainbow at a third of the cost (read about that in my early impressions post), so good on KB EAR for that.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer Thank you to Wendy with KB EAR for reaching out to see if I would be interested in covering the KS2. For a discounted review sample price (10 cents CAD), it was purchased through their AliExpress store and shipped off to Canada. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on time spent listening to the KS2. They do not represent KB EAR or any other entity. At the time of writing it was retailing for 23.99 – 24.99 USD: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4001209302741.html
- Frequency response: 20-20Hz
- Impedance: 16ohms
- Sensitivity: 106dB +/- 3dB
Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, 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