Disclaimer: The KB ear Opal was provided by KB Ear in exchange for reviewing the product. I have no affiliation with the company, nor was this review influenced by anyone at KB Ear. I was also sent another KB Ear model (the F1) through another company recently so will have multiple reviews from this new upstart coming shortly.
Packaging is pretty straight forward although the graphics on the package are better than a lot of competing brands. Inside the box, the earpieces are protected in a foam tray along with 2 extra sets of tips (1 is installed). Under the tray, the cable, 3 more sets of tips, and the warranty card await. The addition of both wide and narrow bore tips in S,M,L is a nice touch, but nowhere in the materials is it referenced as to the intended impact of the different tips. One can assume the wide bore are bass enhancing as that is usually the case, but a confirmation of such would be appreciated.
The earpieces are fairly typically shaped but on the small side. Inner shells are high-gloss black while the faceplate is a carbon fiber look with a gold KB ear logo in the center. Fit and polish is good with no gaps, glue, raised edges, or slop in the fit of the faceplate to the shell or the mmcx connector to the shell. Mmcx connectors are reportedly gold plated for prevention of corrosion of the connectors and matches the coloration of the logo. Venting for the driver is provided by two pinhole size vents on the underside of the shell and visible in the pictures below. They are most easily seen in picture 3 where one is dead center on the side toward the camera and the other is on the top surface opposite the nozzle. Nozzles are gold plated brass and keep the gold/black aesthetic going. Nozzles have a forward and upward rake as they exit the leading edge of the shell and do have a lip to retain tips. (I was recently reminded why this is important). With the small size and deep fit of the Opal, it should be an easy fit for most and a good option for wear while on the go as it had little or no tendency to move during exercise.
The Opal is a single biocellulose driver dynamic earphone (Size of the driver is not listed in printed documentation that I could find). Nominal impedance is listed as 16Ω with a sensitivity of 102dB/mW. The Opal is easy to drive and worked equally well from a smart phone or tablet when compared to using it from higher powered sources.
The provided cable is better than expected at the price point. Starting from the 90º TRS jack with a good strain relief (black rubber), the cable is a 4 strand braid in a brown/copper up to a splitter which is a small barrel (black) with the KB ear name emblazoned on it. A matching chin slider sits immediately above the splitter and two twist pairs of cables run to the pre-formed earhooks and then to the mmcx connectors (also housed in black housings). The right mmcx connector has a red ring at the base for easy identification.
Sub-bass on the Opal delivers some rumble and maintains reasonable control, but can come across as a bit “one note” on some tracks. Mid-bass has good thump and speed is good although decay seems to linger a bit giving the Opal a bit of warmth. Texture of the mid-bass is better and does not have that same “one note” issue of the sub-bass as a result.
Lower mids are slightly recessed, but the seperation of mid-bass and lower mids is well done without a lot of bleed or obscuring of the lower mids as the mid-bass trails off. The recess does cause male vocals to sound a bit thin and distant in comparison to female vocals which benefit from a push forward in the upper-mids. That same push creates a problem. The upper-mids/lower treble dominate the overall signature and are a good 5dB forward of everything else (more at times). I found that I could bring the range from 3-5kHz down and it helped, but the push could not be fully eliminated with EQ without distorting the sound and making a mess. So we are left with either a huge push forward of the upper mids that is both fatiguing and unnatural, or the chaos and mess it makes when you attempt a cleanup task that large with an EQ. This is unfortunate because the Opal does a lot right, but this is a deal breaker for me.
Treble on the Opal is best described in three distinct parts. First, the upper-midrange and lower treble are very forward and dominate the rest of the signature. This gives vocals a huge push forward and at times is a bit too “in your face” for my liking. Above about 4kHz there is a very rapid decrease and by the time you reach 6kHz, the treble is now recessed behind the rest of the signature. There is a push at 10kHz that brings some sparkle back and helps with cymbal hits, but the snare hits lack something that should have been provided by that misssing 6-9 range and don’t sound as crisp as they should. In order to hear much treble detail, the upper-mids and lower treble range need judicious EQ work, otherwise they dominate everything above and below.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage has good dimensions with a bit more depth than width and some sense of height. Instrument separation is better than expected in a budget model and seating the orchestra is fairly easy but sometimes puts things in front/behind one another rather than side by side due to the stage shape. Imaging is above average with good spatial cues so for movies and gaming the Opal may be a viable option.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
I recently received two products from a new startup company named KB Ear. One was a very promising new model in the sense that the sound is better than expected for a single BA, the other is impressive for its shell design, comfort, and build quality. Unfortunately, the one in this review is the latter. The nice things I can say about it pertain to the build and not to the sound. It does some things well, but the upper-mid/lower treble region simply dominates the rest of the signature to a degree that makes it sound unnatural and fatiguing. With some tuning it could be really improved and rumor has it a retuning is in the works. I welcome the chance to try this re-tuned Opal v2 as it were as I think they did a lot well in the design and build, unfortunately the tuning let it down.
- Bass - 6/106/10
- Mids - 4/104/10
- Treble - 5/105/10
- Soundstage - 5/105/10
- Imaging - 5/105/10
Pros: good build quality, comfortable fit, more detail than expected at price.
Cons: huge upper-mid/lower treble push, odd tonality, can be strident/fatiguing