disclaimer: I received the Kennerton Rognir as part of a review tour. I got to keep it for 14 days before sending it on to another reviewer. A big thanks to Andy and to Kennerton for entrusting me with their masterwork. It should be noted that the tour kit differs from the retail kit in that all pad and cable options available are being shipped with the tour kit to give reviewers a chance to try out all of the optional gear. When ordering your own Rognir, all of the options are customizable at time of purchase and additional pads cables etc can be purchased separately if needs change. I have no financial interest in Kennerton or any of its distributors. If you are interested in Kennerton products or the Rognir, visit their website.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The Rognir forgoes a lot of the fancy packaging of other high end models with a more utilitarian packaging but came well packed for travel and everything has its own space so no scratches, dings, marks, or other blemishes occur during the process. The Kit with the review unit includes the standard package which consists of the headphones, eco-leather case, the standard cable (6.3mm TRS) , the Premium 2m Litz caable (dual XLR mini to 4-pin XLR), a custom 4 pin XLR to 6.3mm adapter and the standard pads (ECL-R-01 lambskin). In addition to the standard kit, the tour package adds the 1.5m light weight custom Litz cable (4.4mm TRRS) and three additional styles of pads (R-02 Lambskin, ECL-02 Leather, and R-03 perforated Lambskin) all of which are angled memory foam style pads. Overall it is a very complete kit as shipped. The one item that is missing is a 3.5mm terminated cable which seems odd as it is now the most popular terminator in general circulation. Kennerton doesn’t currently have a 3.5mm terminated cable in stock with only a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter in the catalog. I did do some testing using a 3.5mm terminated Black Dragon (5ft) cable I had on hand from a previous audition of a ZMF headphone. The case is unique to Kennerton and offers a padded pocket of the headphones, a separate net pocket for the cable and an optional carry strap for shoulder carry if desired. The only trick they missed was putting a mesh pocket on the outside of the case for a DAP.
Having seen pictures of the Rognir and knowing the particulars, I expected a certain heft when removing them from the packing material. Picking them up was the first hint that any preconceived notions I had were about to be wiped out. The Rognir does not feel heavy in the hand or on the head and was extremely comfortable when worn. I expected something more like the Ananda in both weight and comfort but was quite happily wrong on both counts. Knowing the weight is lighter than expected, one could reasonably think well maybe they are smaller than the pictures suggest. Not true either, cups are roughly the same size as the Fostex 610, Beyer T1, or Hifiman He6. Cups are available in a number of woods including bog oak, coffee beech, Purpleheart, Bubinga, walnut, and Teak. Special orders include the stabilized Karelian Birch wood used in the tour pair as well as several other stabilized woods all of which are gorgeous. As much as I like the Rognir’s color and figure, the Thekk in the Karilian Birch on the Kennerton website rings the bell for me and one of the best looking headphones made (imho). The other thing to know is that Kennerton sources raw wood and manages the curing process internally so each pair has been through rigorous testing at multiple stages along the drying, rough cutting, shaping, and finishing processes to ensure the quality and durability of each cup. What Kennerton sells as second quality would pass as 1st quality for a lot of makers, they are that meticulous. Shaping the cups is a multi-stage process in itself with the finished product having 3 graduations from pads to faceplates with a vent immediately above the rear gimbal attachment point on the side of the cup and the mini-XLR connector on the front lower side. the XLR connectors give the cable about a 15º forward tilt. Pads are attached with a flap in slot arrangement similar to Beyerdynamic models (more on those in a bit). Again, the Rognir are fantastic looking and its almost a shame that to really enjoy them you have to put them on where they cannot be enjoyed visually, but read on, they sound even better.
The heart of a lot of the Kennerton headphones is a planar magnetic driver designed by Kennerton and built in the same factory that produces parts for Russian military fighter aircraft. Kennerton started out with a typical planar driver and analyzed all the problems with that driver and set about fixing them. The result is a patented driver that minimized the internal structure to reduce reflection and remove unwanted resonances. Materials include a carbon fiber frame and support, 10 semi-circular neodymium bar magnets, and an extremely low mass 20µm polyimide diaphragm. By contrast, a fine human hair has an average thickness of 50µm. The driver in this 80mm planar is remarkably thin. Nominal impedance is listed as 42Ω with a sensitivity of 100 dB/mW at 1kHz (±3dB). The Rognir does need some power to drive well but had no trouble working from sources like the Cayin N3 pro and Kann Alpha using the 4.4mm balanced cable. The Burson Funk Had more than enough power to use with the Rognir with average listening volume only requiring between 25% and 30% on the volume control. I also found the RME ADI-2 had good synergy with the Rognir. Portable sources do get pushed fairly hard so battery life may be less with some other models but listening is still very possible with good headroom even when using mid-fi portable gear.
The standard retail package of the Rognir ships with an XLR terminated cable and a 6.3mm Terminated cable in the package. The XLR is a heavy woven cable using 1970s production litz cable with solid oxygen free copper cores and silk insulation. Each strand is coated with an enamel coating to prevent oxidation and insulate the strand and then an outer nylon sleeving is used to that serves as a secondary dielectric and enhances durability as well. It is an extremely well made cable and befitting of the Rognir. An adapter for XLR to 6.3 is also included for those wanting to use the Litz cable with a single ended device. It is a heavy cable and not very suitable for travel use especially when adding the weight of the adapter. The 6.3mm cable provided in the package is a single strand with a similar nylon outer coating and is fairly stiff as well but considerably lighter than the XLR. This comes closer to being portable, but a 3.5 or 4.4 terminated cable would likely be a better option. It does provide a middle ground between the XLR and 6.3 adapter and a 3rd party like the black dragon but is still both longer and heavier than I’d prefer for travel. In addition to the retail kit, the tour package shipped with a 4.4mm terminated litz cable of smaller diameter than the XLR that makes a nice travel option for those with balanced sources. All the cable options use locking mini-XLR connections at the headphone end and as such make a very solid connection. The 4.4mm cable option is not currently listed on Kennerton’s website so if interested you will likely need to contact Kennerton for availability and pricing. I also did some testing with a black dragon 3.5mm terminated cable I had from testing some ZMF headphones with the mini-XLR connectors and found it to be a good travel option for those using single ended gear as the 6.3mm cable with a 6.3 to 3.5 adapter proved both too heavy and too long for legitimate portable use. Most people aren’t going to go very far outside their listening room with a nearly $4000 headphone so this may all be moot anyway.
The pads on the Rognir deserve some discussion as those shipped with the retail kit are fairly shallow and those with larger ears may well get the sensation that the Rognir is as much an on-ear as an over-ear when using the stock pads. Kennerton shipped 4 sets of pads with the tour sample, stock – lambskin memory foam, Lambskin memory foam angled, Lambskin memory foam perforated angled, and leather memory foam angled pads. Some of these optional pads are slightly thicker and do remove the on-ear feel, but all also have an impact on the sound so one will likely want to audition pads before swapping. Luckily, pads designed for the Beyer T1/T5 and its siblings also fit as did some of the ZMF pads I had on hand so there are a lot of after-market options if the Kennerton branded ones are not a good match for the listener. I did my sound notes while using the stock pads just to keep the playing field level but found that when listening for pleasure a Dekoni made Choice Suede pad from my T1. The suede does reduce isolation some, but had less impact on the signature than some others and gave a great blend of comfort and sound for my tastes.
First off, the Rognir is a closed back planar that does its level best to convince you it is an open back electrostat. Leave your preconceived notions here as what the Rognir delivers is unlike any closed back planar and maybe any other closed back you’ve heard.
Sub-bass is quite good with ample quantity and very good quality. The Rognir is not a basshead model as it doesn’t particularly emphasize the low end, but it does exercise very good control all the way into the sub-bass with the result being more texture and detail than expected all the way down into the 30Hz range before rolling off somewhere in the lower 20Hz range. Mid-bass has equally impressive control and what starts to become more evident is the tonality and timbre are amazingly good. Timpani sounds as realistic as I’ve heard on any headphone and toms and kick drums share in that as well. The combination of control and tone makes the Rognir a pleasure to listen too for bass strings and wind instruments as well as the textural elements that are so often lost or glossed over on other headphones are on full display here. These come as close to a perfect score for bass as I have ever awarded and set the bar for what bass can and should be in a monitoring headphone.
The level of control exerted over the bass continues as you move into the lower mids meaning there is no bleed to be found an a very clean transition. The mids are arguably the strongest feature of the Rognir and while the FR chart doesn’t particularly show it, the mids stand out when listening. Male vocals have good tonality with enough weight to sound natural. Cello has great nuance and texture to the sound and guitars have a satisfying sharp edged growl when listening to rock. String tonality which is so hard to get spot on is also extremely good and while maybe a shade behind the LCD-4 in absolute detail is more natural and not quite as strained as the LCD. The Rognir has excellent transparency and seems to deliver all of the detail effortlessly. Female vocals are very mildly forward which helps them cut through the mix, but don’t seem disjointed from the lower voices and as such duets sound better than usual as the two vocals are close enough in space to sound similar to live performance. Again, mids here score near the top of my range and the Rognir does an admirable job.
Moving up the frequency range we have bass that is near perfect, mids that are possibly better than the bass, and then we reach the treble with great expectations and for the most part the Rognir delivers. The lower treble is not elevated but maintains the superb detail and clarity found in the lower ranges. Most of the emphasis is in the 4k-7kHz range and it does make the Rognir sound a touch brighter than absolutely necessary at times. The nice thing about this tuning is it avoids sibilance and stridency that sometimes come with a lower treble push an still provides plenty of air and top end to keep things from feeling closed in. Snare rattle is nice and sharp and cymbals have good energy as well with an ocassional hint of metallic sound that may well be the fault of the recording rather than headphone. I want to believe that the Rognir is near perfect, but I did find long listening sessions somewhat fatiguing if using a source that was at all bright paired with it. For the Rognir to deliver its best, it needs a source with a little warmth and a treble that isn’t elevated as a cooler/brighter source can make the Rognir a little too bright for me.
Soundstage / Imaging:
I mentioned earlier that the Rognir was a closed back planar doing its best to make the listener believe it was an open back electrostat and the soundstage is the place that is most evident. The Rognir has amazingly good stage dimensions with good depth and nearly equal width and plenty of height thrown into the mix. It is about as holographic a stage as one could ask for and places the listener in a 3D space where they are the center of the musical world and sounds can seemingly come in from all angles and directions from various distances away. Seating the orchestra is very staright forward with no gaps or overlaps. Echoes are easily detected and one can pretty clearly define the direction and distance of the wall from the stage when listening to Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions.
Layering is extremely good and both instrument separation and stereo separation are what you’d expect from a top of the line headphone albeit you’d likely expect it from an open-backed one. Imaging is equally impressive with very tight definition and placement and easy tracking of motions around the stage.
Likewise, try as I might, I simply don’t own a track fast enough and complex enough to cause the Rognir to trip up. I could not induce and audible compression in the lows despite trying hard to do so.
I tried to mate the Rognir with a bit of everything just to see what it liked and what it didn’t. In the desktop arena, I used an Xduoo Ta-30 (Mullard pre-amp tubes) , a Topping D30 Pro / A30 Pro pair, a Burson Swing/Funk pair, an Auris Euterpe, and the RME ADI-2 Pro FS R BE. For portable testing, I used the AK Kann Alpha, Dethonray DTR1, Sony WM1A, Earmen TR-amp, and Cayin N3 Pro. While it is very hard to argue that the Rognir was poor with any of the sources it definitely has its preferences.
Top pairings in the desktop category go to the Auris Euterpe. With the right tubes, this is a phenomenal pairing. The Ta-30 was also quite good, but the brute power of the ta-30 is simply not needed. Middle of the pack was the Topping pairing, and the Burson Pairing (with the V6 Vivid Op-amps throughout) . These both had slightly less warmth than the tubes but still enough to really make the most of the Rognir. For detail retrieval, the Burson pairing was likely the best of the lot. The RME brought up the rear as while it provided detail not unlike the Burson, it was simply a bit too cool in its voicing and left the Rognir sounding a bit brighter and thinner especially at the top end. I love my ADI-2 but this is a case where not every great piece of gear is fantastic together.
Top pairings in the portable category went to the Earmen TR-amp with its magical ability to add a bit of warmth and thickness without losing detail, followed closely by the AK and the Dethonray. Any one of these 3 makes a wonderful travel companion for the Rognir. The N3 pro was also very good when in tube/triode mode but loses out to the others as its detail retrieval is not quite on par. When in solid state mode (the only option with balanced connections on the N3 Pro) it is not as good a pairing and falls only slightly better than the Sony WM1A that finished in last place. The WM1A has long been known for being a somewhat cool sounding analytical device and it came through in the Rognir as a bit of excess brightness. Adding an Oriolus Ba300 between the WM1A and Rognir makes for a fabulous pairing but brings more cost to an already expensive chain of gear.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
I expected good things when I was told I would get a chance to try the Rognir, but I didn’t expect what I got. I’ve had several big planars both open and closed back and thought I had a pretty good idea of what was possible. I expected great detail, a mildly elevated and somewhat thickened bass due to reflection, followed by solid mids (if maybe a touch thin) and a mildly assertive treble as this is the formulaic closed planar. I got the great detail, I got better than anticipated lows with fantastic control and texture, the mids were among the best I’ve heard regardless of type, and the treble well the treble can be mildly assertive but when paired with the right source is also extremely well detailed and transparent. In short, It is a closed back planar that one could honestly mistake for an open back electrostat in a blind test. In a lot of ways the Rognir sounds more like an open-back than a closed. Bass has none of the thickening we normally see and Stage is large, 3D, and well proportioned. The level of control and detail is also among the best I have heard and I would go so far as to say the Stax 007 doesn’t offer any better detail retrieval than can be found in the Rognir. Sadly my time with the 009 has been limited enough that I don’t feel comfortable speaking to that comparison. I found the Rognir to be similar in some ways to the Empyrean as both share great musicality and an effortless delivery. The Empyrean might be a touch smoother delivery while I think the detail is slightly better on the Rognir. I keep coming back to an LCD-4 comparison as the two share a similar market and a lot of similar tech. In some ways, the LCD-4 can be considered the ultimate monitoring headphone but for me it simply isn’t a lot of fun to listen to. Technically it is about as good as they get, but it lacks the engagement that the Rognir delivers without giving up much in the process. The Rognir is a special headphone and likely to be polarizing. I came away feeling it was in the top 5 I have ever listened to for long enough to rate in about every possible category from kit, to bass, to stage, to OMG they are gorgeous. There is something refreshing about the tuning that I really like as well. Too many of the top models have gone for better and better technicalities but lose the engagement and musicality in the process. In that regard the Rognir offers something even the Empyrean didn’t, I can listen at full volume and thoroughly enjoy my music while my wife lays sleeping on the couch with me. Its only a closed back when you look at it, when you put it on it magically becomes a concert hall.
Pros: absolutely gorgeous, stage is fantastic, tuning is very engaging
Cons: somewhat source dependent, high cost.