disclaimer: The KBear KB04 was sent for review directly from KBear after a conversation on Facebook about the new model. I have no financial interest in KBear, nor have I received any instruction or compensation for this review beyond the item itself. If you have an interest in KBear products, you can get more information on their facebook, or website and buy their products through their ali express store.
Unboxing / Packaging:
Those familiar with the typical budget packaging used by KB-ear will recognize the slip-cover style packaging of the KB-04 with graphics on the front and specs on the reverse. Once the cover is removed the earpieces sit in a foam surround above a small box with the remainder of the kit. In total, the kit contains the cable, 6 sets of tips (SML in 2 styles), a shirt clip, and the user manual. No case, cable tie, or foams are provided but with a price of sub-$30 USD, a lot can be forgiven here.
The KB04 is an all metal shell of a 3 piece design with faceplate, inner-shell and nozzle. Shape is a 1/2 egg with the split along the long axis so it narrows at the front and widens a bit at the rear with a rounded lower edge and a flat upper surface. The inner and outer surfaces are flat as well giving the KB04 kind of a boxy feel, but the rounded edges keep it from being uncomfortable. The inner flat has 2 vents one near the nozzle on a small step at the front and a larger vent close to the rear of the shell directly below the L/R designation. Nozzles have a slight forward and upward rake and a lip for tip retention. The bi-pin connector on the top rear of the shell is recessed and unlike some models, the connector is partially in the face and partially in the inner shell meaning both parts have recesses cut for the connector and require polishing around the connector. This is a nice touch on a budget in ear as it almost certainly requires more work than putting the entire connector behind the faceplate so only one part has to be cut to fit. The polish on the KB04 is also quite good if not quite the mirror that the Moondrop models tend to be, the downside is that it collects fingerprints to a level that could be used in a police investigation.
The KB04 uses a balanced armature driver to handle the treble and a single 10mm dynamic driver featuring a polyurethane diaphragm to handle the lows and mids. A 2 way cross-over handles the distribution duites between the two. I have seen a couple Ali sites listing the KB04 as a triple driver, but the official KBear page and the exploded diagram below clearly show it as a single. While I couldn’t find a definitive answer to which BA is used, it appears to be the 30095 that is common in this role. Nominal impedance is listed as 16Ω with a sensitivity of 104 dB/mW which means the KB04 should be fairly easy to drive and my experience confirms that as it worked equally well from a dongle dac or something with considerably more power. The KB04 does scale some qualitatively as the bass seems to tighten up a bit with higher powered sources.
The provided cable starts with a 90º jack with a proper strain relief as an extension of the black plastic housing. Above the housing, a 4 strand twist exits and runs to the splitter. KB-ear lists the wire as pure copper but does not go into more detail than that. The splitter is as small black plastic V shape with a chin slider sitting atop. Above the split two wire twists run to pre-formed earhooks and then to black plastic housing with .78mm bi-pin connectors. L/R are not printed on the connectors but a blue and red dot on the leading edge does help with indexing and the earpieces do have a large L/R marked on the inner surface of the shell. The cable isn’t fancy, but it works well and is fairly durable with little tendency to tangle when coiled.
The KB04 ships with two styles of tips. One is black with a wide bore while the other is grey with a narrower bore. The two do modify the sound a bit so I recommend trying both (and maybe some others) to find what works best for your listening preferences. I found the mids to be a bit more forward on the wide bore and thus preferred that style. The grey does bring a bit more low end emphasis for those that desire that.
Sub-bass is a focal point of the KB04 with a center at about 60Hz and a gradual roll-of below that. Rumble is good with roll-off becoming evident in the mid 30Hz range. Speed is middle of the road so attack is slightly blunted and decay lingers enough to contribute a bit of extra thickness to notes. Mid-bass transitions nicely and does drop back slightly from the sub-bass peak but not enough to feel recessed. Textures are about average here and there is some perceptible bleed that again contributes a bit of weight and warmth at the expense of a little clarity in this range. Overall bass is slightly north of neutral and results in a mild V tuning but is not pronounced enough to be called dominant or to make the bassheads happy.
The lower mids start out colored by a bit of mid-bass bleed but then open up above that with improved clarity and good tonality. Again not the most detailed of presentations, but good body to the notes and a fairly realistic tone for male vocals. Guitar growl is good, while violins feel a little thick which isnt particularly surprising considering the tuning and intended market. The mids climb a bit forward as you move up and female vocals tend to stand out a bit farther in front of the instrumentation as a result. Here I found tip selection important as some accentuated the push while others tamed it a bit. If you find female vocals a bit too aggressive try a narrower bore tip like the Shure olives as they seemed to tame it a bit.
The lower treble continues the climb of the upper-mids and reaches the level of the sub-bass. it has good detail and clarity, but sometimes becomes a bit fatiguing due to that extra energy. I won’t class it as piercing or excessively treble forward, but at moments it is enough to contribute to some fatigue. The treble sensitive may want to audition these before purchase to be safe, but for most it isnt enough to be a major concern. Tip selection may also play a role here so some tip-rolling may be in order. Above the lower treble plateau, the treble drops back to a level roughly equal to the lower mids which probably also helps keep the KB04 from crossing the line between slightly fatiguing and outright harsh. Cymbals are not quite realistic but still manage to sound fairly good and snare rattle is reasonably well rendered as well but lacks just a bit of snap in the attack. Final roll-off becomes audible just over 12kHz and gives the KB04 some top end air but sparkle is somewhat limited.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Stage has a bit more width than depth (not uncommon) but does retain enough depth to keep it from feeling overly intimate. Instrument separation is quite frankly a bit better than I expected considering the slight thickening of the sound and driver speed. Seating the orchestra is fairly straight forward with the occasional placment more side by side than front to back due to the stage shape. Imaging is average at best with direction lacking some precision and placements being more area than pinpoint as a result. Layering is also somewhat limited with an obvious compression to the sound as tracks get more complex. This was particularly evident with tracks like “Blues Hand me Down” -Vintage Trouble where a lot of that complexity is in the mids and lows.
At the $30 price point, I chose the CCA C12 that can be found on sale for roughly the same, the KBear KB06 as the predecessor, and how do we not compare against the Blon BL03 as the darling of the class.
CCA C12 – These two have little other than price point in common. The C12 is a Hybrid with a single dynamic (used for sub-bass) and 5 balanced armatures while the KB04 is a 2 driver hybrid with much more of the overall load being carried by the dynamic driver. The C12 is a metal faced, plastic shell with a separate nozzle while the KB04 is all metal and a bit higher quality in the looks department. Sound wise the C12 has a bit more sub-bass emphasis while the mids are a bit less set back on the KB04. Both have similar pushes to the upper-mid/ lower-treble regions and both fall back below that plateau. Extension favors the C12 slightly as does detail but the trade off is it also tends to get a bit more fatiguing than the KB04.
KBear KB06 – Build on the KB04 is markedly different from both a shape and materials standpoint with the KB04 easily looking like the higher quality of the two. Mostly plastic in the KB06 and all metal in the KB04. Driver wise, both are hybrid with a single dynamic driver but the KB06 has two balanced armatures while the 04 sports a single ba driver. The 06 uses one of the ba drivers to handle the mids while the KB04 uses the dynamic for everything below the treble. The KB06 had a bit more sub-bass than the KB04 but with less mid-bass and mids which gives it a more V shape when compared side by side. At the top end, the treble of the KB06 was a bit grainy by comparison and detail levels are roughly equal with perhaps a very slight edge given to the KB06.
BLON BL-03 – This has to be the most hyped in-ear of 2019 and is still going strong in early 2020. The BL-03 is a single dynamic driver vs the hybrid design of the KB04 but while the KB04 settles for Polyurethane for the diaphragm, the BL-03 steps it up with a carbon nanotube diaphragm that at least in theory should give it a speed (weight) and rigidity advantage. The two are both mostly metal so except for the odd cable angle of the Blon, its a tough call to in the build department. Sound wise, the KB04 almost seems to be modeled after the BL03 with a very similar low end and a bit cleaner mids and top end to go with. The BL03 has a bit less of a scoop to the lower mids, but the KB04 has a bit better clarity in that same range. Things the BL03 did well were cohesiveness, and natural timbre and in both of those it is slightly better than the KB04. Things the BL03 fell down on were detail retrieval, and top end extension and the KB04 betters the BL03 in both of those categories. Those in love with the BL03 probably will not be seduced away from it by the KB04. Those like me that liked the BL03 but thought there were things that could be improved may find the KB04 checks several of those boxes.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
The KB04 is a very solid effort, pun intended. Its all metal shell is a step up from previous KBear budget models and while it may be a bit of a fingerprint magnet, it is certainly durable. Tuning also shows a maturity level that wasn’t present in some of the early models. I think the KB04 shows that KBear has taken the lessons of earlier models and is applying them and genuinely trying to improve their craft. For that, I applaud their efforts. For a price that approaches $25 USD when on sale, the KB04 offers great build quality, an industry standard removable cable for easy replacement should the need arise, and better sound quality than one has any right to expect for less than the cost of a good dinner. That’s a lot to chew on.
Pros: solid build, well balanced sound, non-fatiguing
Cons: Imaging is not particularly precise, not as detailed as some and may be too laid-back for some.