disclaimer: Arrived 6/6 from Kinera
I was asked to review the SIF by Steve at Kinera Audio and happily agreed as I have enjoyed several of Kinera’s other offerings to date. The SIF is a single dynamic driver that fits in the budget segment with a suggested retail of just under $40 US. For more information or to purchase the SIF, check out Kinera’s Facebook Page. Again, thanks to Steve for the opportunity to review the SIF and I hope to get to review additonal Kinera models in the future. Between the H3, idun, and Seed, I have enjoyed their products so far. Maybe one day the Odin will be on my plate, but so far, that one has been above my budget limit.
Unboxing / Accessories:
The Sif arrived packaged in a hexagon lift top box. I certainly have to give Kinera style points for the packaging as the graphics, design and detail do not hint at a $37 in-ear. The rear of the box has a complete set of specs including package contents as well as technical (nice touch). Overall a very retail oriented package and very eye-catching. Lifting the top, reveals a small clamshell case with SIF on the top sitting on foam padding and the warranty card. The rest of the goodies are hiding inside the case, the earpieces, cable, and 3 sets of tips round out the package. At first, this may seem a bit spartan in the way of accessories, but keeping the price point in mind, the inclusion of a case and a cable tie is fairly uncommon.
Those who have or have auditioned the Kinera SEED will recognize the shells immediately as they are either exactly alike or so slightly altered as to be identical in my eye with the exception of the color. The shells are two piece white plastic with the seam running between inner and outer portions along the mid-line of the mmcx conector. What has changed is the nozzles which are polished metal with a different grill, a forward rake, and a slightly different length than the SEED. Nozzles have a pronounced lip to retain tips. The seams can be seen easily and felt with a fingernail, but are very uniform and do not distract substantially from the aesthetic. MMCX connectors are tight and well fitted with L/R marking on the side of the shell next to the connector. Comfort is quite good as the shells are mid-sized and shaped to sit deeply in the ear. I found little or no tendency to shift during exercise partially due to the shape and partially due to the over-ear cable. Again, if the Seed fits well for you, I’d expect the SIF to do equally well. Some tip rolling may be needed to find the best fit as for me a tip half way between the small and large sizes (Shure Olive M) was about the best.
Kinera uses a single 10mm dynamic driver rated at 32Ω with a rated sensitivity of 110 dB/mW, so it would be easy to assume this is roughly the same 10mm dynamic we have seen used in a lot of earphones for years now. While the specs are similar to the tried and true 10mm dynamics of previous generations of products, the SIF uses a new PET driver to stiffen and lighten the diaphragm which translates into a faster response time with less driver flex. The changes made to the driver were in direct response to feedback from the Seed and a note to that effect can be seen on the inside of the box lid. I found the SIF easy to drive from both smartphone and tablet with plenty of body. It does scale some with a bit more power, bit is not lacking when run directly from a lower powered source.
The cable provided is well made with a 4 wire double twist up to the splitter, and twisted pair to the mmcx connectors. The jack, splitter, and connectors are all polished metal while the cable itself is silver/white. Terminations are a striaght TRS 3.5mm jack at the south end, and pre-formed earhooks with well labeled mmcx at the north. Cable flexibility is quite good with little tendency to micro-phonics. A cable tie is also provided for keeping them from tangles when not in use although I didnt find the cable to be particularly tangle prone even when not using it.
The SIF is an interesting earphone to review, because it was created in direct response to the feedback from its sibling the SEED. I liked the SEED more than some others did, but will readily admit that it had opportunities for improvements. Perhaps most interesting, is Kinera aimed at building an improved SEED, and lowered the price point at the same time. This is something consumers should be happy about and a trend the industry in general could learn from. Kudos to Kinera for not doubling the price simply because you could. The most often leveled criticism of the SEED was that its lower mids were a bit sucked out and it was a bit bass lite. (On the first point I agree, on the 2nd not so much). Kinera did recommend a burn-in period of at least 30 hours, and while I remain skeptical of how much change this really induces, I did follow their procedure before starting on my listening notes.
Well starting at the bottom end, I can say Kinera definitely listened to the crowd that wanted more bass impact. Sub-bass is good in both quantity and depth and reasonably tight considering its price point. Mid-bass is big, but again reasonably well controlled so not overly boomy or thick. Mid-bass has good texture and speed with slightly slow decay adding a bit of warmth. There is some bass bleed into the lower mids that makes the lower mids a bit fuller and warmer, but not so much as to mask a lot of the details. If the SEED was a bit too light in the lows for you, the SIF will indeed cure that while not getting it way ahead of the rest of the signature.
Lower mids follow from the mid-bass and then begin to back off as you move up the spectrum. In comparison to the SEED, lower mids are much more present, without being over-stated and guitar and male vocals seem much more in line with upper range vocals rather than sitting behind them as they did at times on the SEED. Upper mids are still pushed a bit forward which brings a bit of extra energy to vocals and does make the SIF a good option for female vocals as well. Those who are extremely sensitive to sibilance may find that the SIF does not completely eliminate it, but in fairness it doesn’t accentuate what is recorded on the track either. I found the SIF did a good job of reproducing sibilance if it was in the recording, but not creating it where it hadnt previously existed. I was really pleased with Rock/Pop with the SIF as it handles the smaller orchestration particularly well and electric guitar is well presented. I found timbre to be slightly unnatural for acoustic guitar at times as it came across a bit grainy.
Lower treble is pushed forward and gives good energy and detail without getting strident and I was able to listen for extended periods without significant fatigue. Detail level is on par with most in its price range, but should not be compared with iems substantially above that range as its limitations become more evident when you put it up against higher end BA and multi-driver designs. Air and sparkle are good (again, not earth-shatteringly so, but good) and cymbals are believable if not perfectly rendered (which is near impossible for any iem to be wholly honest and one reason it is always in my test list). Roll-off is pronounced above 12kHz, but that leaves enough room below it to remove any hint of veil.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is the single best feature of the SIF. Stage depth is fantastic at its price point and above average even when compared to other models up to the $200 mark. Stage width is also good if not quite as cavernous as the depth and the SIF even manages to give a sense of height in the mix. One of my normal tricks is closing my eyes and trying to seat the instruments on the stage in my head while playing orchestral pieces (I love Dvorzak for this). The SIF images very well with most instruments being placed correctly and cleanly next to their neighbors. Layering is also better than expected at this price range and overall the SIF comes off as a much more expensive device when listening to stage and imaging characteristics. The thing that brings the SIF back to earth is that it still suffers from the same thing all single drivers do, as tracks get busier, it can struggle to keep up. In fairness, it takes a lot to make the SIF mis-step in this regard and I would rate it as above average, but it is possible to break it down and get a bit more grit and mud, especially in the mid-bass and lower-mids as tracks get exceptionally complex.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
First off, I think Kinera achieved their stated goal of creating an improved SEED. It checked every box based on the criticisms of the previous model. To top that off they did so while reducing the price by $12. That certainly bucks the trend.
On its own merits, the SIF is a very good earphone at its price point and particularly so for those who prefer to use their in-ears run directly from a smartphone or tablet. The SIF doesn’t need external amplification to provide a rich, warm, full signature with good musicality. A lot of in-ears will work when run directly from a phone, few are truly at their best. The SIF is one of those rare models that really delivers its full payload, even when resource limited.
I find the tonality to be similar to the Simgot EM1 although the EM1 has a little more treble energy and the SIF a bit larger stage. Those who are particularly treble sensitive will probably prefer the SIF as will those looking for a budget in ear with good stage and imaging. The SIF’s stage size is the best I have heard in the sub-$100 segment to date.
Overall, a very listenable, well mannered, in ear that is not particularly source sensitive, and wont break the bank. These would be great travel companions for that canoe trip where you don’t want to risk your CIEMs, great for students or those with limited budgets who still want good sound, and good for those who have a habit of leaving them in a pocket as they go through the wash and don’t want to risk doing so with more pricy models.
The SIF is one of the better spends below the $40 price point and an easy recommendation.
- Bass - 6.5/106.5/10
- Mids - 6/106/10
- Treble - 6/106/10
- Soundstage - 7/107/10
- Imaging - 7/107/10
Pros: fantastic soundstage, succeeds in its design goals of adding more bass and mids to previous model.
Cons: Build quality is only average