disclaimer: I purchased the DB3 from NiceHck at a slightly reduced price but have no affiliation or financial interest in NiceHCK other than that of a customer. The DB3 arrived at my office on 9/22.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The DB3 comes in a slipcover style box with a graphic of the earphones on the front and the specs on the reverse. Removing the slipcover, shows the earpieces in a foam tray in the upper portion of the box and a small box in the lower portion hides the rest of the kit. In total, the earpieces, cable, 3 sets of tips, cable tie, carry bag, and manual are hiding in the box. Remembering the budget price point, this is a fairly complete kit. One thing I would like to see changed, I don’t like the combination of cloth carrying cases with Velcro cable ties as the tie inevitably gets stuck inside the bag and collects garbage in the hooks. I’d love to see either a leather tie or a case that didn’t have an affinity for Velcro.
The DB3 shell is a 3 part design with an outer zinc alloy faceplate, an inner transparent plastic shell, and a metal nozzle that appears brass or chrome plated depending on shell color selected. I would classify shell size as medium-large with the height and width being larger than the depth. The Exterior has some aesthetic details, but no vents or functional components. The inner shell houses the drivers, connector, and nozzle and most of the components are easily visible. There is a single vent over the dynamic driver. The DB3 fits better than I initially thought it might for me because it is fairly thin. Nozzles exit with a slight forward rake and insertion is fairly shallow.
The DB3 is a 3 driver hybrid consisting of a coaxial dual dynamic driver with a graphene diaphragm and a titanium dome material along with a custom tuned 30095 balanced armature driver to provide the top end. Nominal impedance is listed as 16Ω with a sensitivity of 106 dB/mW. I found the DB3 to be easy to drive from a phone tablet and while quality scaled with better sources, I do feel that an external amp helps bring out the best in the DB3 but is not entirely necessary to get acceptable performance.
The cable will be familiar to those who have other recent releases from Nicehck as it has the now standard 90º 3.5mm Jack, the 4 wire double twist cable from jack to splitter, a small V shaped plastic splitter and matching black chin slide. The north end is .78mm hooded bi-pin connectors with pre-formed earhooks without memory wire. The cable is a solid offering for a base model with the exception of the chin slider which is too loose on the wire and didn’t want to stay where I put it. NiceHCK has recently released a fairly complete list of 8 and 16 core upgrade cables and I did use a couple of those in testing the db3 so I could have 4.4mm and 2.5mm balanced options.
Bass is one of the stars of this show with sub-bass and mid-bass both elevated above the rest of the signature, but very tastefully so. The bass is not sloppy or loose and texture is better than expected on a $20 in-ear by a considerable margin. Sub-bass has good rumble when called upon, but doesn’t attempt to turn every song into a bass show like some do. Mid-bass falls from the sub-bass peak to the mids and provides ample thump without obstructing other elements behind it. With a string of less than spectacular offerings from NiceHCK of late, I was expecting more of the same, so this was a nice change of pace. Bass is lively enough to command your attention, but not hot enough to take over the joint. There is slight mid-bass bleed into the lower mids that carries a bit of warmth with it, and at times does hide a little detail in that region.
The transition between mid-bass and mids is probably the least emphasized portion of the signature but does still manage to have more presence than expected and never really gave the impression of being recessed as much as just not particularly emphasized. Mids do climb forward as you move up and give both male and female vocals very good weight and presence with female vocals being maybe 1/2 step in front but again both are well presented. Guitars are well rendered with the electric having a slightly more natural tone than its acoustic sibling. Violins are passable but are not the wheelhouse of the driver and do sound a bit less fluid than high end models. (Again its $20, what did I expect?) I keep coming back to the vocals as they are something special for an iem at this price as they always sit in front the same distance regardless of the volume of what is going on around them. The quietest passage or the biggest hit, both have the vocal staged equally. Impressive.
I think one of the smart moves NiceHCK made with the DB3 was using a single ba to handle the upper duties rather than trying to pack a bunch more drivers in for a techno dog and pony show like so many of the recent releases have become. Treble isn’t the most even I have heard with some regions being considerably more emphasized than others, but it stays clean throughout and provides a bit of extra energy that open up the top end and give the DB3 good air and some sparkle even without getting strident or harsh in the process. Cymbals are slightly metallic at times, but better than expected at this price. Snare hits are not as crisp as upper models, but rattle is clean and well defined.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is wider than deep but has solid dimensions so not over-crowded and manages some sense of height. Instrument separation is on par with others in its class (average). Seating the orchestra is fairly straight forward with no large anomalies or oddities but the orchestra does end up being wider and shallower than a standard seating chart. Layering is better than expected as the coaxial driver does a good job handling this. Imaging is good with spatial cues readily recognizable and movement around the stage easy to track. There is some minor compression as tracks get exceptionally complex but well within the expected at $20.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
For awhile, I had found NiceHCK to be a good value as they made several solid models at good prices. The Height of that was probably the M6. Unfortunately, since then, NiceHCK had taken a turn and produced a string of models that were tuned with very forward treble, or were techno dog and pony shows to show they could do Piezo, Planar, etc… I had begun to think the best days for NiceHCK might be behind them as I hadn’t really had anything since the M6 that I thought showed more of that same magic. The DB3 (and the Nx7 in fairness) have done a good job in restoring my faith in NiceHCK. The two models complement each other well as the DB3 is definitely a V with more pronounced bass than the Nx7 and will appeal to those listening to Pop, EDM, and Rock while the Nx7 is better tuned for Jazz, strings, and orchestra works. If you are in the market for a new in-ear, you could a lot worse than the DB3. It can hit with good authority when called upon, fade to black when asked to, and those vocals, they just grab your attention and hold it. This is $20 well spent
- Bass - 7/107/10
- Mids - 7/107/10
- Treble - 7/107/10
- Soundstage - 5/105/10
- Imaging - 5/105/10
Pros: V-shaped tune but nothing too far ahead or behind, Good control, engaging vocals
Cons: V-shaped tuning, Soundstage is average as is instrument separation.