Headphones/EarphonesWired In ear

Kinera Skuld

disclaimer:   I was sent the Skuld by Hifigo for the purpose of this review and it was returned to Hifigo upon completion.   I have no financial interest in HifiGO or Kinera and have received no remuneration or guidance as regards this review.   If you have an interest in Kinera products see their website or facebook page or visit Hifigo to purchase a Skuld of your own.

 

Unboxing / Packaging:

Most of Kinera’s recent products have come in hexagon packages of varying sizes with the Skuld being a fairly large version as the kit demands.   The front face is colored to match the earpiece colors with Skuld in gold and a bit of a cryptic slogan.  The reverse has the specs, FR chart, and company info.   Delving inside we have the earpieces, tips, adapters, and case in a foam surround with the other accessories (additional tips, cleaning brush, and cable) hiding inside the case.   In total, 13 sets of tips are provided with 3 sets each of 2 styles of Kinera silicone, 2 sets of foams, and 5 sets of Final E types included.   The cable comes with a 4.4mm termination and adapters for 3.5mm and 2.5mm in the kit as well so all options except 6.3mm are covered without the need to go elsewhere.  The case is well made and large enough to hold the earpieces, cable, and an adapter if desired.   Overall, a very complete kit and what should be expected for an item in this price range.

 

Build/Fit:

The shell on the Skuld is made of resin and is a typical two piece design with a main shell and a face plate but it would be hard to know that by looking.   Kinera uses a standard semi-custom shape mold to create the shells before drilling 3 sound bores in each nozzle and polishing the shell to a mirror finish.   Any seams or marks on the shell are hidden by the custom hand-painted overlay that is applied to the shells after completion of the driver installation and polishing.    The Skuld uses a mixture of blues and greens and gold leaf decorations then a high polish clear coat gives the look of depth to the artwork.   The connector is a 0.78mm bi-pin type made of phosphor bronze and rated for more insertions than most people will ever need.   The connections on my sample are slightly recessed and give a very firm connection between cable and earpiece.    Nozzles have a slight forward rake but do not have a lip for tip retention.  I had no issues with tips shifting due to use.   There is a single vent at the rear of the shell at about the midpoint.  The Shell is mid-sized and shouldn’t be a problem for all but the smallest ears.  I had no trouble using the Skuld for extended listening sessions and had no physical fatigue as a result.

 

Internals:

The Skuld is an all balanced armature model using a combination of stock Knowles drivers and customized drivers made in house at Kinera.    a single Knowles CI (22955) provides the bass, with a pair of Knowles RAF-32873 providing the mid-range and lower treble and a pair of customized SWFK type balanced armatures providing the highs.     Nominal impedcance is listed as 23Ω with a sensitivity of 120 dB/mW which suggests the Skuld should be easy to drive and indeed I found it worked well with a variety of dongles and low powered devices.  It does scale some with higher powered sources which can mostly be seen in the lows where they get a little more impact with more power.   They do scale well qualitatively as they are capable of good detail retrieval with a source that feeds them well.   Best pairing are slightly warm and slightly bass boosted dap or dac/amp chain.

 

Cable:

The cable provided with the Skuld is an 8 core braided design from the straight 4.4mm jack up to the barrel shaped splitter.   Fixtures are bright stainless while the coating on the silver plated copper strands give it a slightly duller appearance.   Each core has 24 strands  of silver plated oxygen free copper wire coated in a pliable PVC coating.  Above the splitter two  four-core cables are held closely by a bead chin-slider before terminating with pre-formed hooks and .78mm bi-pin connectors in matching stainless housings.    Adapters for converting the 4.4mm pentaconn connector to either 2.5mm balanced or 3.5mm single ended are provided with the package.  It is worth noting that between the straight connector and the straight adapters that it creates a long lever immediately in front of the jack and is probably best used in desktop settings where the cable won’t be bumped and battered.    For portable use either sticking with the 4.4mm jack or replacing the cable with an aftermarket model may be a better bet in order to protect the DAP or amp the Skuld is plugged into.  2.5mm connectors are notoriously weak and with nearly 2.5 inches of lever immediately outside the port it is begging to be a problem.

 

Sound:

Bass:

To perhaps no-one’s surprise, the skuld is not a basshead oriented design.  Typical of all balanced armature models the skuld delivers more detail and texture than some, but lacks the dynamics and raw thump of others.   Sub-bass is present and very cleanly defined but with roll-off beginning in the lower 40Hz range, it does lose some impact.   The upside is that mid-bass is fast, and very well textured with good details and articulation and no discernible bleed or thickening.    Again, some slam but not the visceral feel of some of the big dynamic driver models, but cleaner than most of those and well textured.   Listening for some time and getting used to what the Skuld has to offer shows it to be quite good for most orchestral pieces if lacking the jolt you out of your seat impact created by a real timpani.

 

Mids:

 Here we find the best feature of the skuld.   Again, we kind of expect that in an all balanced armature model as speed, clarity, and detail level are all hallmarks of the class.  What might not be quite so expected is the skuld brings good note weight and doesn’t feel thin which some BA models can.   Vocals have good timbre and weight (both male and female) and guitars and strings have a satisfying realism to the tone with enough energy to have a good growl, but not so much as to sound unnatural.    Piano has good tonality as does acoustic guitar.  One of the best features of the mids is all those instruments blend well and sound like they are part of the same space.  Too often in rockabilly songs the vocal seems disjointed from the piano, sax, or guitar and it sounds like 4 instruments that were all recorded separately and then forced into the mix after the fact.   The Skuld does a good job of integrating those sounds into a single production.

 

Treble:

Treble follows the mids and remains fairly linear with a slight lift in the 8kHz range before dropping back fairly quickly above that and finally rolling off somewhere around 13kHz.   Textures are quite good and detail level is as well.  Snare rattle is sharp edged as we’d expect and cymbals are good but border on a little metallic / splashy depending on the recording.   It seems this is the place where the Skuld is least forgiving of poor recordings as it goes from polite and easy to listen to for long sessions to a bit harsh and brittle with badly mastered tracks.   There is enough top end to keep the skuld from feeling enclosed, but it does lack a little sparkle up top.  This is clearly a design choice as the Skuld is very non-fatiguing and a great long listening session companion as long as the source quality is there to feed it.

Soundstage / Imaging:

The soundstage on the Skuld is a bit wider than deep but does manage more depth than expected and even brings some height to the mix.  This combined with good instrument separation makes seating the orchestra straight forward.    Layering is good as expected in a multi-ba model and helps as well.   Imaging is also quite good with movements easily tracked and positions in space fairly tightly defined.     I had no issues with compression or thickening as tracks got busier either which helps keep the Skuld sounding its best regardless of what it is fed.  

 

Comparisons:

At roughly the $550 mark, there is a lot of competition for the Skuld out there with products from Fiio, Dunu, Fearless, Ibasso, and Moondrop all vying for your dollar.     The most recent releases like the EST 112 and Moondrop Variations offer a mix of driver types including electret drivers,  the Ibasso IT04 offers a mix of dynamic and balanced armatures while the Dunu SA6 and Fiio Fa9 are all balanced armature models albeit both competitors are six drivers per side to the Skuld’s five.     The Feerless s8 Pro goes even further with 8 drivers per ear in an all balanced armature model for roughly the same money.  So what does the Skul’d do to differentiate itself from this crowded field.

Dunu EST 112 –  Looks are very different with the 112 being a more industrial metal shell vs the resin and artistic look of the Skuld.  Sound wise the 112 has more prominent lows and more bass depth mids are similar on both, and then the 112 gets a bit brighter and more forward in the treble than the Skuld.      Skuld is smoother with a bit less extension on both ends while 112 is more assertive at both ends.

The Dunu Sa6 is much closer in materials and tonality to the Skuld.   Both are resin and artistic shells although the Sa6 uses dyed wood faceplates vs the hand painted Skuld.  Both use similar drivers throughout and share a lot of characteristics tonally.   The Sa6 has a little more extension at the low end but both are a bit bass light when looking at total sub-bass presence.    The Sa6 has a dip in the lower treble where the Skuld is a bit more linear and sounds a bit brighter as a result.    The Sa6 does offer some tuning options that the Skuld does not which may tip the scales slightly in its favor.   Choosing will likely come down to personal preference and any cost difference.

The Feerless S8 is another that shares similar drivers, size, good looks, and a lot of the same tonality but instead of the dip in the lower treble of the Sa6, it has a bit of a lift in that same region which makes the the S8 a bit brighter and slightly more detailed.   The Skuld has a bit better stage comparatively and has a little less of the plasticity displayed by the S8.  For those where the s8 is too bright, the Skuld will be a good alternative.

The Fiio entry at this price point is the Fa9 which is a 6 driver per side, all balanced armature model.   Aesthetics of the Fiio are a bit more blinged out which will appeal to some but to me the Skuld is easily the better looking of the pair.    Like some others on our list it offers tuning switches that allow for adjusting the sound signature.   At its best, the Fa9 has more sub-bass presence than the Skuld can muster.  At its worst, the Fa9 is a bit brighter and can depending on switch configuration be a touch harsh.   Mids also favor the Skuld as regardless of switch position I find the lower mids of the Fa9 a bit less engaging and thinner.

The Ibasso IT04 is a hybrid with a dynamic driver handling the lows so has more slam than most of the rest of the list here.  That is probably its biggest plus is a mild V tuning with more bass impact than the balanced armatures can muster.  The downside is the IT04 shell is larger and may not be comfortable for some who can wear most of the others comfortably (the Fiio is also a bit bigger than the others in fairness).      Those looking for a bit more slam will like the IT04,  those looking for a bit more neutral signature and a bit easier fit will prefer the Skuld.

 

Thoughts / Conclusion:

It is interesting to me that Kinera has another model named Norn when Skuld is one of the Norns.   Maybe the other two sisters will be models Kinera releases at a future date.   The Skuld has quickly become my favorite Kinera model I have tested to date.    Not only does it look superb,  it is near neutral with good detail and textures.   The Skuld fits in a very competitive space in the market though so looks and texture are not enough to make it the only model in its space worth considering.    The kit helps as it is very solid and the inclusion of 3.5 and 4.4 adapters is a plus.  Still, some other models offer a similar kit so while it narrows the field, it doesn’t make it the only option.   Fit also helps in that some of its competition can be ruled out for those with smaller ears altogether and may be uncomfortable for some with larger ears.    The treble also helps as some competitors are a bit brighter and a bit more fatiguing for long listening sessions.   While no one of these things may be enough to tip the scales in its favor, the combination of all of those things will likely sell a lot of Skuld for Kinera.  Its a very good iem at the price point.

Kinera Skuld

7.7

Packaging

8.0/10

Build Quality

8.0/10

Accessories

7.5/10

Sound Quality

7.1/10
  • 6/10
    Bass - 6/10
  • 8/10
    Mids - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Treble - 7.5/10
  • 7/10
    Soundstage - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Imaging - 7/10

Summary

Pros:  solid build, great looks, near neutral signature, polite treble.

Cons:   minimal sub-bass and reduced mid-bass impact