disclaimer: I requested the Tri I3 for review from KBear and received a modest discount for purchasing it to review. I have no financial interest in KBEar, Tri, or any of their resellers, nor have any of those had any input in this review. If you are interested in the Tri I3, visit KBear for more details or to purchase.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The I3 ships in an understated matte black lift top box with the Tri logo on the front and the specifications on a sticker on the reverse. Tri uses the same packaging with a different sticker for the i4 thus saving on packaging costs. Inside the box, the earpieces glisten in a black foam with the cable attached to form a heart shape. The rest of the kit rests in a cloth carry bag in the lower portion of the box. The overall kit consists of the earpieces, cable, 7 sets of tips (2 styles of silicones in SML and a single set of foams), the soft case, and a warranty card.
The first thing you notice about the Tri i3 is the weight. These are heavier than they look. The good news is with the tip up design, the cable and ear distribute that weight well and they don’t wear as heavy as they feel in hand. Most of the reason for that weight is the shells are CNC Machined from a solid aluminum billet so unlike some others, these are not cast into a thin shell and then polished to a millimeter thick. Tri states that the shell was custom designed to reduce resonance and reflections and improve sound quality. The outer shell is about 3mm thick while the inner shell makes up the bulk of the earpiece. Nozzles are a separate part at the lowest point of the form and have almost no rake and seat fairly deeply in the ear. the connector is an MMCX type seated in the top front of the inner shell with only a slight dimple in the faceplate to accommodate the curvature. The entire shell is highly polished to a degree that would lead the user to believe they were either Chrome or nickel plated. Tri assures me they are neither plated or coated and the mirror finish is the result of hours of polishing steps. For the record, doing your review photos in a tie dyed shirt when the earpieces are polished to a high mirror finish, is probably not the best idea. Hindsight, what can I say. I found comfort to be very good and didn’t notice the weight once seated in the ear. I did notice that due to the depth of insertion of tips and the density of the shell, isolation is above average.
The I3 gets its name from its triple driver design. Inside the shell we find an 8mm dynamic driver, a 10mm Planar magnetic driver, and a balanced armature rounding out the mix. Nominal impedance is listed as 15Ω with a sensitivity of 103 dB/mW. While this would seem to suggest the I3 should perform well with low powered sources, I found it needed a bit more power to really perform to the best of its abilities. This is not a surprise as nearly all the planar drivers I have tried prefer a potent amp to do their best work. I found it really interesting that no crossover is mentioned in the advertising material, although it does say circuit board in one location, or visible in the exploded diagram of the i3. Admittedly, the diagram is a bit of a simplification as the drivers don’t attempt to show every detail and I suspect a more detailed breakdown would reveal a couple capacitors and resistors strategically placed to limit which drivers see which frequencies. With or without an active cross, the tuning required to make these 3 driver types work in concert (pun intended) is no easy trick.
The provided cable is oxygen free copper. I have seen some references to a silver plated copper but the color on mine is a dead giveaway that this is pure copper. Starting at the source, the cable has a 3.5mm TRS Straight jack in a metal and carbon fiber housing with a short strain relief. The cable exits as a double helix two twist pairs twisted around itself. A cable tie is provided for storage. The splitter is a small polished metal barrel with a clear bead chin slider above it. Above the splitter, each strand of the helix runs to a clear plastic earhook topped with a polished metal housing and mmcx connector. the right is clearly marked with a red plate at the base of the connector.
Sub-bass is what you would expect from an in-ear with a dedicated subwoofer built in. Lots of rumble when called upon and good texture even down into the lower regions. Per the FR, sub-bass is mildly elevated above mid-bass but the taper is so gradual it sounds about level and if a distinction can be made your hearing has to be better than mine. The first place I notice a distinct drop is in the mids. Mid-bass detail is very good as well and the driver speed seems above average with fast attack and mildly slower decay giving the mid-bass a bit of weight and the tone a bit of warmth. There is very slight mid-bass bleed, but not enough to obscure or feel slurred as we move into the mids.
Lower mids on the i3 are very good as is expected from a planar driver, what is a surprise is the transition from the dynamic to the planar is almost indistinguishable and extremely well handled. Big points to Tri on the tuning here. We expect mids to be fast and detailed from a planar driver, the thing I didn’t expect was how smooth the delivery would be. Guitar growl is very realistic while male vocals have a very natural timbre. I would classify the i3 as mid-forward or maybe vocal centric as all vocals are well rendered and the tuning seems to accentuate them. Strings also share that natural timbre and are better than they have any right to be on a $142 in-ear.
The lower treble continues the climb started in the mids and have good energy and detail before stepping back a bit as we move into the true treble. The drop in the true treble makes the highs very polite, but make no mistake detail is still quite good, if not out in front of the rest of the signature. That step back also gives the i3 a bit more of a warm tone not usually associated with planar mids and BA treble. Snare rattle is very realistic with a nice sharp attack and quick decay. Cymbals are well done as well with a more realistic sound than anticipated and very little metallic edge to the sound. Top end has good air with roll-off not evident until above my hearing’s limits. The i3 has some sparkle as well but the tuning is such that it doesn’t cross the line into sizzle.
Soundstage / Imaging:
The stage on the i3 is deeper than it is wide in a reversal of what we typically see. It does have better than average depth and height, but width seems to be about 1/2 of depth. Seating the orchestra is straight forward as the instrument separation is way above average so despite the narrower than deep stage, I found no overlaps or oddities. Layering is also very good with no signs of compression or thickening even with the most complex tracks I threw at it. Imaging is equally good and very precise. Spatial cues yield exacting positions in space and movements are easily tracked and very tightly defined. If the stage were a bit wider, this would be a class leader for sure.
I included the DMS here because while somewhat older than the i3, it shares a metal shell, a multi-driver hybrid construction, and roughly the same price point. The DMS has a single dynamic driver and 6 balanced armatures per ear but does not share a planar element with the i3. Shells on the DMS have a much larger vent to the exterior and lack the isolation of the i3. The DMS is a good bit lighter and smaller and may be an easier fit for some with smaller ears. The two have similar signatures, both have good bass, are arguably mid-centric, have good vocals and are polite at the top end. The i3 is a bit tighter in the bass to my ear and slightly more detailed in the mids. The DMS fires back with a wider stage and better proportion to the stage. Overall, if you liked the DMS, you’ll want to try the i3 as it can be thought of as an improved DMS.
BQEYZ Spring 2
The Spring shares several commonalities with the I3. Both are triple driver hybrids and both share a balanced armature and dynamic driver. The Spring 2 uses a multi-layer piezo electric for the top end and relies on the dynamic for mids, while the I3 uses a planar driver for mids and relies on the balanced armature for the top end. The resulting products both sound great though with the Spring having bigger mid-bass, both have similar mids and treble with neither sounding harsh or strident and both having good details. These sound more similar than not in many regards and the ultimate decision between the two is more personal preference and fit than differences in signature.
While both the KXXs and the I3 share polished aluminum shells, the I3 is larger and more highly polished. Both are fingerprint magnets for certain though. Sound wise, the KXXs has bigger bass and a bit more treble energy compared to the i3 which has a bit better linearity and more detail. The KXXs is warmer than the i3 as the driver is a touch slower and decay a bit longer lasting. To my ear, the i3 sounds more natural and has better tonality for both vocals and strings. Both are good, but the i3 is the better of the two to my mind and its cheaper besides.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Shells are gorgeous, but large and heavy and may be a tough fit for those with smaller ears. The kit is only average or maybe slightly below average for today’s $150-200 class. What stands out is the I3 combines a dynamic driver, a planar driver, and a balanced armature. Dynamics are renowned for giving more visceral slam and rumble than any other driver type, but also known for the largest potential for distortion and non-linearity. The planar magnetic driver likewise is renowned for great linearity from mid-bass to lower treble, but struggle with extension at both ends and linearity in the treble region. The balanced armature is best known as a component driver as they tend to be good for a narrow range but struggle with extension and have a reputation for being a bit peaky. So, did Tri manage to coax the best out of all three driver types, or is it a hot mess of problems? I think Tri succeeded well beyond my expectations. When given adequate power, the i3 has great lows, smooth transitions, fantastic mids, and enough treble to be open and airy without being harsh or fatiguing. I’ve gotten my hopes up for planar in ears before only to have them dashed and was fully prepared to be disappointed again as I had developed the opinion that it was going to take a least another generation of drivers before they were really ready for use in an in-ear. I stand corrected. The i3 gets an awful lot right and at below $150 USD retail, it delivers more detail and better transients than I thought possible. I cannot say strongly enough, if you have the chance to audition the Tri i3, you should. My bet is it will pleasantly surprise you too.
- Bass - 8/108/10
- Mids - 8/108/10
- Treble - 8/108/10
- Soundstage - 7/107/10
- Imaging - 8/108/10
Pros: fantastic timbre and tonality, great transitions between drivers
Cons: fingerprint magnet, needs more power than a cell/tablet will provide