KBear Ink ($69)
As I was anticipating receiving the KBear Ink, I couldn’t help myself but to look at some spoilers from fellow reviewers. I really wanted to see a frequency response chart and see how these measured against the Kbear Diamond (no longer available). To be perfectly honest this is something that I never do. The reason is that I don’t want my thoughts tainted at all. It is very easy to start searching for what others are hearing and not what I hear.
I happened across a few reviews that weren’t exactly singing the praises of this single dynamic iem. It was after I actually had the Ink in my ears that I remembered… We are all very different, aren’t we? In fact, while the Ink have areas that could use some work, the whole of the sound replays much differently to me. I kind of like Kbear’s newest iem. I guess my thoughts won’t be tainted after all.
KBear is a very well-known Chi-fi brand. Known for many budget level iems that always seemed to play well against the competition. Even their mid-tier $150+ iems have been somewhat sought out in the past. Namely the KBear Believe, Aurora and their sister companies’ TRI I3, I3 Pro and I4. These guys have been at it for awhile and have been very successful relative to their adversaries.
This is not a history lesson on one of the better known Chi-fi brands. Rather a review of one of their newer iems in the sub $100 price range. That set is called the…umm…”Ink”? Listen people… I don’t name these iems, I just listen to them. But I would suggest from here on out that KBear employ me to offer some different names. That offer goes out to all Chi-fi companies by the way. You know where to find me. I am a naming specialist actually, heh, I even named a couple humans and even some four legged friends.
The KBear Ink is the newest of the KBear lineup and I purchased this set from Amazon US for $69.
-Good control for such big bass
-Great build quality
-Too much low end for some
-Only ok in the details dept.
-Too much glare pre burn-in
-After burn-in these can still be too bright for the treble sensitive
-Recessed Midrange (not much of a con, kind of expected actually)
-Doesn’t do well for all genres
-Congestion in busy songs
KBear gives a decent Unboxing. Nothing ultra-generous but not sparse either. It comes with #6 pairs of KBear 07 tips and #3 pairs of wide bore tips. Wound tightly and stuffed in a plastic bag is the cable. A black 8 core Silver Plated OFC cable to be exact. The cable feels like a good quality addition and is pliable and soft. On display when opening the box, you will see the nice faux leather case. It is the same KBear case we have seen for a number of TRI / KBear products. Because the Ink’s faceplates are fingerprint magnets, Kbear added a nice cleaning cloth. Last but certainly not least within the packaging is a cleaning brush, which…nobody on planet earth has ever actually used. The packaging as a whole is not bad at all, certainly better than what comes with most iems at the price point.
(Kbear Ink packaging and accessories below)
The Ink has great build quality and are very sharp looking in my opinion. The shells are compact with a metal housing and an almost glass feeling faceplate. Probably some harder resin. The shells are very close in size and look to the Popular “Believe” and “Diamond” iems mentioned earlier. Also close not just in size but design as well. Sporting a slick faceplate with the honeycomb pattern that we have seen before and slight blue accents within the design. These feel as though they are built very well.
The nozzle is made out of stainless steel which is plated in a gold color. Obviously these are not adorned with actual gold, they look like it though. It’s a nice touch. At the end of the Ink nozzle rests the well made filter mesh grill to keep out dust and earwax. We also know that filter mesh do participate at least slightly in the overall tuning as well. The Ink are tough looking, no doubt. Apparently KBear doesn’t need me for design help.
Within the price point the Ink fared well for build quality against the competition. Very sturdy and clean looking. Even minimalist I would say. Again, the Faceplate is a great touch with the slight blue accents peeking through some of the honeycombs. We have seen some very well built iems in the $50-100 price point of late and surely the Ink does not disappoint next to any of the others.
After roughly 50 hrs of burn-in time, I checked multiple times for changes. I can say for sure that the Ink does benefit from this exercise. Just figured I should add that little tid-bit.
The Ink definitely have that “KBear House Sound”. Beefed up bass and energetic upper half of the mix. V-shaped and fun. Not the most natural or organic but the Ink do lean more to the natural side of things. Without question the Ink have a genealogy that is being improved upon. Warmer than neutral in the lower half with cooler upper half. A decent mix that meshes well for a pretty cohesive V-shape.
I never got to spend too much time with the KBear Diamond but the Ink have that same sort of spirited replay that walks that youthful line. Not that age has anything to do with preference but KBear certainly know how to tune for mass appeal.
The bass is bigger. The Mids ever so slightly drawn back while still sounding engaging enough. Upper mids and treble are boosted and counter the bass for a movement inducing replay. Granted there are flaws with the Ink. In fact, depending on your subjective taste these may just be the last set you’d ever want in your ears. That said, if an intriguing and vibrant sound is your bag… maybe those flaws aren’t that big a deal.
(Above Images: Kbear Promotional Images)
The Ink are easy to drive. Rated at 16 ohms and 102 DB sensitivity the Ink sound good on lower powered sources. I had zero issue using my Zooaux Dongle Dac.
Bumping up to a balanced cable (Tripowin Altea), attached to the Fiio KA3 did notice a more dynamic sound. A titch more open in presentation. The Ka3 seems like a good home for the Ink. Next, I jumped to the Ibasso Dx240 using Amp8 Mk2 on medium gain. As long as I don’t crank it up super high… It sounds great. I could argue that the DX240 just has better internals which aids the replay but in truth…a decent powered Dongle Dac should suffice.
The bass hits hard and with relative control. It’s not often that budget iems have a bass that is big in volume while remaining tight enough. So, relative to the size of bass… the Ink are in control down low. Keep in mind that while the low end is on the bigger side of the things, I still have heard better note weight in this area with other iems.
The lowest regions take the lead and does so in a pleasing manner for me. Bass guitars have that sonorous and deep growl needed for certain instruments and genres. I hear a guttural resonance in the sub bass with tactile imagery when listening to certain jams. The sub-bass does well to provide an authoritative anchor down low with enough presence to be satisfying. All in all, … I dig it!
The mid bass has good presence in the mix as well. There is a hearty slam in this area which can also be very satisfying. The mid bass is punchy and there are clean edges to the notes here. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a bass-head iem. I would say that bass-heads can still have fun with the Ink.
There is a nice unity between the sub and mid bass on the Ink. Both give off good haptic vibration with nice attack to notes and appropriate decay with nice edges. There isn’t anything hollow or pillowy. You won’t hear anything sterile or dry. There’s nothing too muddy or bloated either. I didn’t hear those fuzzy drum hits at all. Instead, there is good control on the Ink and for fans of this style I think you’ll love what the Ink has to offer. Attack is pretty fast and decay is clean, and the texture is evident.
There are some obvious cons with a bigger Bass. First, this sound really is not for everyone or every genre. This isn’t the quickest bass, nor would I expect it to be. Again, considering the size of the low end, the speed isn’t bad, but these can’t keep up with everything you throw at them. Also, you have to consider there will be some loss of precision on the Ink in the low end.
KBear did what they could with the midrange considering the V-shaped tuning. There is a fullness to male vocals brought on by the slope from the bass to mids. Males have good presence from what I hear. Not perfectly natural but not noticeably unnatural either. Pianos and certain drums also sound great to me in this area. They sound forward and have good energy.
Moving to the mid-mids there is an audible recession here. This recession is not anything which takes away from the music but it’s there. Certainly, if comparing to a more forward midrange of other iems you will notice this. The Ink is a true V-shaped set, and this slightly drawn back display just goes with the territory. Take that into consideration when looking into the Ink. It’s not bad but again… it’s there. If you are used to a more vocal forward iem for instance, the recession may be more noticable.
From the mid-mids quickly climbing upwards into the upper midrange; there is a pretty steep rise, and it is evident when you listen. Especially pre-burn-in, these had a very sharp glare to me. While I could still stand to listen, it just wasn’t my cup o’ tea at first. So, I decided to let the Ink burn in a bit and that definitely smoothed things out in this region. Also switching to Final E Tips or Spinfit Tips helped to bring down some glare.
The mid-mids start at a deeper recession and then rise to the upper mids quite quickly. Female vocals for the most part sound more forward to me because of this rise. They also sound quite a bit shinier and bright depending on the singer. I hear tight edges to notes and the perception of details starts to come out here. While females have decent presence, they can also sound thinner. There is most certainly a tonality shift at this point while still remaining cohesive to me.
The treble has good extension and is more forward in the mix. Instruments which play in this area do have a sheen to them but nothing metallic or too edgy and nothing grainy. More like shimmery and sparkly. Cymbals don’t have that odd splashy sound. I would say there is a good slope in the treble roll off leaving out nothing in a track. Again, the Kbear Ink extend farely well up top.
The Ink do a good job of countering the low end with the extended and more forward treble region. I think it is a necessity in a set like this which wouldn’t be the most balanced in totality without this forwardness of the treble. What I mean by balance is more like a counter weight to the low end. Much needed levity to the heft in the bass. What this treble does is shift the tonal character of the Ink to give it a less warm or dark sound by boosting the top end. Adding just enough air to bring the Ink that much closer to neutral.
There is great energy throughout the treble. Granted it isn’t perfectly natural all the time, but I still hear nice quality highs that seem to just make sense in the big picture.
Along with good energy I hear decent control as well. However, these can also trend a little too bright for treble sensitive listeners in conducive scenarios. In other words, I do hear a glare from time to time in tracks which induce these sounds. Just another thing to keep in mind. All things considered the treble has good energy that is a needed element. Again, this may not be for everyone.
The Ink has an average soundstage to me. This is not a bad thing at all. The stage fits this iem just fine. I hear an average width, some decent depth as well. Nothing grandiose or massive either way. Perhaps the Ink is slightly more intimate in sound. I don’t see this as a minus though. Also, while these may be a bit more intimate, they aren’t congested or narrow. I find them to have the right ratio of width, depth and height to create the illusion of a proper space.
Imaging is okay as well. You can hear where instruments are coming from and where vocals are staged as well. These will not blow you away, but at the same time nothing will turn you away either. The theme should have been “appropriate” for the Ink. Maybe not the most ringing endorsement. However, when deciding what iem to purchase this may be a good piece of information. The imaging is appropriate, it won’t wow you yet at the same time you aren’t really missing anything.
Instruments for the most part have enough space to be separate while keeping their placement. These aren’t the highest resolution iem in the world and the stage isn’t the biggest, but they get the job done. Left and right imaging is very good. Depth imaging is also sufficient. Like when trying to discern instrument placement or pieces in a band from front to back.
I did notice some congestion on tracks which have alot going on in them. Like some of the imaging chops can be blurred a bit. This is after all, a true V-shaped single DD, and a budget one at that. The Ink can’t compete with well-done hybrid iems, one should probably expect as much. With a V-shape such as this, in this price point, it just caters to some bottleneck at times. Things can get a little bit blurry. Nothing that will always be noticed, espescially during simple casual listening. There are certainly Single DD’s (at this price) that can handle this type of stress with ease. However, those in ears are also much more balanced in approach across the spectrum… among other things.
Tripowin TC-01 ($39-$49)
The Tripowin TC-01 are a phenomenal iem under $50. Some refer to these as a ‘Heart Mirror’ with low end. I agree. For the price these are hard to beat. They are a single Dynamic Driver. To be precise it is a 10 mm Silicon-coated Polyurethane Diaphragm Driver.
The TC-01s have a very similar tonality with a similar V-shaped approach. However, the TC-01 doesn’t sound so V-shaped when music is playing. Both sets sound a sliver warm of neutral. Both lean more natural than not and both of these iems share a similar soundstage. The TC-01 may edge out the Ink a bit in width but also the TC-01 has a sliver less note weight. I do believe the TC-01 has a slightly more detail-oriented approach.
The bass shows off a little more on the Ink with similar attack and decay. Texture is easier to interpret on the Ink as well. The Ink are better extended in the deepest of the lows while the TC-01 has a bit more of a mid-bass hump. Not by much. The low end is similar between the two. I’d give the edge to the Ink personally. Key word: “personally”.
I got to say the rest of the mix is very close. Granted the TC-01 is a bit more forward sounding in the whole midrange. Details may be a bit better on the TC-01 as well. It’s actually quite hard to discern.
TC-01 is a fantastic value at $20-$30 less than the price of the Ink. Though for me, right now, I would take the Ink…this too is up for debate within myself. The Ink may have slightly worse resolution, but they are also a bit more fun and energetic. I can feel the bass more on the Ink and the bass drops are cleaner. For me there is just more weight and impact across the mix on the Ink, but I am really splitting hairs. In fact, right now I say the Ink but once I put the TC-01 in my ears…things could change.
KZ ZAS ($68)
The KZ ZAS is an 8 Driver Hybrid, 1 DD and 7 Balanced Armatures in total. I really try to keep comparisons within similar driver counts and styles. Yet what landed the ZAS in my comparison with the Ink was the similar fun and energetic tuning and also it is in the same price point. The ZAS is really pushing the limits on a cohesive replay within the budget sector and with this many drivers. There is just something Ive always enjoyed about this set. Anyways, enough about that…how does the ZAS do against the Ink?
The first thing I notice is the Ink definitely have a more natural tilted sound. The Ink has a more elevated upper mid to treble area which in turn fends off that warmer tonality leaving an airier presentation. The Zas roll off a bit sooner in the upper treble with much less upper midrange boost. Music just sounds truer to life with the Ink. Also, the Ink has a more weighty and realistic note weight to me.
A similarity between the two is the bass replay. That similarity is both have a bigger and impactful low end. Both sets count on the low end for a fun sound. Both can hit really hard, and both can do it with relative speed in the bass area. I’ve always enjoyed this aspect of the ZAS, and they still do not disappoint. The ZAS do have a more in quantity even if the Graph of these two align closely.
The ZAS just has more oomph, more haptic buzz and bigger bass drops. Still, I do like the overall tonality and timbre of the Ink’s bass just as well. Both units provide decent texture to the low end, I just feel the Ink has more distinctive separation in this area between sub and mid bass as well as instruments and even lower male vocals. While the ZAS is absolutely no slouch and sound great, I just have to give this one to the Ink.
From the midrange and on through the treble, the Ink are again more natural. Somehow the Ink seem to have even better resolution at times. Maybe it’s the more cohesive replay from the Ink’s single DD and the airier sound that gives me this impression. The Zas is more forward sounding to me through the mids and also has a slight fuzz at the outtro of notes at times. Maybe even a hint of a metallic BA sound as well. This gives the Ink a slightly wider and deeper sound with better clarity to me and perhaps a bit more organic.
Moondrop Aria ($79)
The legendary Aria. The staple of so many under $100 top 5 lists. The Aria is a single DD iem with an LCP Diaphragm driver and a Harman type tuning. The Aria is renowned for having a smooth and easy listening sound. Nothing even approaching peaky will be heard on the Aria. I am sure many would like to know any differences there are between these two.
Both of these sets are tuned a bit differently from one another. The Aria is a much more balanced iem with a smoother replay as a whole. I could easily listen to the Aria for longer periods without any fatigue setting in. The Ink is quite a bit edgier in delivery with a much more elevated bass and upper mid to treble region. The differences between V-shape and Harman tunings are on display here and truthfully it all comes down to preference.
Like I stated, the bass on the Ink is bigger. There is more of a visceral boom with the Ink, whereas the Aria is a bit more pillowy while still representing the low end well. Don’t get me wrong I miss nothing with the Aria in the low end, but if I’m after a more fun sound I’d certainly reach for the Ink. This doesn’t mean the Aria is worse because I do think that the majority of my listening would be occupied by the Aria between the two over time.
The Aria has a tiny bit wider soundscape with better resolution and better imaging. Nothing is too exaggerated on the Aria as all frequencies play very well with each other. Vocals, both male and female sound more natural and better represented on the Aria also. I hear a slightly cleaner sound listening with the Aria and I think that kind of sends this comparison over the top for me.
Not that the Ink are any worse, like I said this is a preference thing. Trust me when I say that you will enjoy the Ink much more than the Aria if you are after a more fun and energetic sound. Or if you really dig some good and bigger bass. The Ink present a V-shape pretty darn well at the price point. One thing the Ink have over the Aria is note density and extension both in the low end and top end of the frequency response.
Take your pick. Whatever your mood is… you have two great choices here. For myself the Aria edges out the Ink, but I do enjoy them both.
Tripowin X-HBB Olina ($99) (Double filter vent Mod)
The last and final comparison with the Kbear Ink is the Tripowin Olina. The newest hype train iem which I personally feel has lived up to that hype. The Olina was born out of the combined efforts of YouTube personality and reviewer Hawaiian Bad Boy of “Bad Guy Good Audio” (BGGAR) and Tripowin. Tripowin seems to not make mistakes and really puts out quality at any price tag.
The Olina was a highly anticipated iem and is one of my favorites under $200. The Olina has a 10 mm Carbon Nanotube (CNT) Dynamic Driver housed within its shells. It has been said that this driver is the exact driver used in the Tanchjim Oxygen, another huge success. Priced at only $99 the Olina are considered a budget iem but truthfully, I stack them against a few price tiers higher.
The first difference that I hear between the Ink and the Olina is resolution. The Olina are simply cleaner which helps to illuminate the details within the soundscape. Even next to some hybrid units the Olina can have an easy time getting the best of them in this area.
This is a tough comparison because these are two different tuning types. The Olina have more of a balance to the spectrum whereas the Ink are V-shaped and more pronounced in areas. The Olina somewhat walk the Harman line and carry a more mature type of sound, while the Ink are more of a fun and guilty pleasure.
Bass is bigger on the Ink. Much more robust in quantity. The Ink have alot more thump. However, the Olina are much tighter and tidier. The Olina are alot cleaner in the bass and they still pack a great and realistic punch. The Olina are more natural up and down the mix and most certainly in the low end. Also, the Olina has better texture in my opinion.
The Olina midrange is more forward and a bit more intimate. Vocals come across more natural with the Olina. Also, the Olina have better details, separation, layering and a more emotional replay in the midrange. The Mids happen to be one of the casualties of a V-shaped tuning within the KBear Ink. Please know that this doesn’t condemn the midrange of the Ink but rather shows just how well the Olina handles the midrange.
The Olina also have a wider stage with much better depth and almost a 3d presentation. The Ink are not bad here and in my opinion are around average at the price point.
To conclude this review of the Kbear Ink I just want to say that these have succeeded. They aren’t perfect by any stretch, but I feel they accomplished what Kbear set out to do. Now I may be assuming things, but I feel the Ink are the successor to the much-loved Diamond. If this is true, I can say that Kbear has made a solid effort.
Are these worthy of your hard-earned money? I obviously cannot answer that but next to the current crop of under $100 V-shaped iems I think they can go toe to toe with all of them. It may come down to style and looks verse the others out there, in which case the Ink are very slick looking. The Ink are priced at a good spot and Kbear aren’t seeming too overly greedy here. I’d say that if you are in the market for a fun and energetic sound and your budget is under $100…the Ink may be for you.
I want to say thank you to anyone who have read this far. Please take the time to enjoy what these audio devices are created to do…make music. After all…music is what it’s all about. Take good care everyone.