Current testing methodology is v1.2
January 22, 2021
3.15 x 1.18 x 1.97 in
I’ve gone off about this in my reviews a few times already, but it always grinds my gears when an IEM or headphone leans way too much on gimmicks only to end up sounding underwhelming or otherwise unimpressive.
KZ is a brand that’s especially guilty of this, having slapped their tuning switch gimmick on many of their latest earphone releases since the KZ D-Fi and Joyodio Shine (the latter of which I reviewed).
Don’t get me wrong, the gimmick is cool and it does work but to still end up not liking the sound, even after going through all of those tuning options, is a bit sad.
Is it my issue? Probably. But I’ve had a lot of earphones over the years that just sound great out of the box, no gimmicks needed.
And so, fresh after reviewing the KB Ear Little Q, I was immediately interested in seeing what else KB Ear has to offer. It didn’t take much digging for me to find a few more of their budget designs floating around, and I’ve landed on their $12 KBEar KS1 earphones, which we’re diving into today.
KB Ear KS1
A simple IEM in both concept and execution, the KS1 does what it set out to do and does it well
When it comes to designing headphones and earphones, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the basics. The KB Ear KS1 is one such earphone, with a single dynamic driver in a plain white shell, all in a $12 package.
And indeed, sticking to the basics has produced some pretty great results. The KS1 provides a V-shaped sound signature that, while a bit generic, is fairly competent and even fun to listen to.
- Headphone Type: Closed-back in-ear monitor
- Driver Type: 10mm dual magnet dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 109 dB
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
What’s in the Box?
- KB Ear KS1 earphones
- 3 pairs of silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
- 1.2m braided cable (0.75mm 2-Pin to 1/8″ TRS)
Stuff I like
- Fun but even-handed V-shape sound signature
- Treble is sparkly but not aggressive
- Comfortable, flush-fit housing design
- Removable cable
Stuff I like less
- Some accessories would be nice
- Mids can sound too full at times
- Bass gets bloated in less aggressive music
A Bit of Background
KB Ear is a fairly small Chinese audio brand based in Shenzhen, joining the ranks of names like Lafitear, Tanchjim, and Moondrop. As it goes with these brands, there’s not much of an interesting story I can dig up about them – especially not without a fluent grasp of Chinese and a lot of digging in local forums.
If there’s anything I can say about the brand, though, I’ll say that it’s quite funny that their name shows up inconsistently across retailer listings. At times they’re written as “KB Ear” while other times they’re “KBEAR”. Having seen the latter cases I’ve come to call them “K Bear” but for this review, we’ll stick to the intended name.
The KB Ear KS1 falls in line with a lot of its ultra-budget peers in terms of its box – card outer sleeve, clear plastic lid, and plastic IEM insert.
We can’t expect much for an IEM of this price, although I would have liked to see a shirt clip included or something.
Now that I mention it, I noticed a lot of IEMs nowadays seem to be dropping the shirt clips from their accessories nowadays. I reckon it’s likely a cost-saving measure but the fact that it’s also happening in higher-end earphones implies a broader trend.
Cutting costs on accessories does at least help make sure that the earphones themselves are made well – and the KB Ear KS1 definitely isn’t flimsy by any means.
For the most part, the build is on par with most other earphones of its class. In fact, I’d say they’re actually quite similar to the TRN MT1, especially with the thin but otherwise durable braided cable.
Fit and Comfort
Although the core materials are all the same across dozens of IEMs, there are still ways to stand out. The KB Ear KS1 does it through their fit.
For the design of their earphone housings, they’ve gone with a flatter shape than the ones we see in the MT1 and the KZ EDX. The result is an earphone that fits flush in the ears and is quite comfortable to keep in for long listening sessions.
And unlike the Little Q, the KB Ear KS1 passes the lying on-the-side test, making it a pretty good option if you’re the kind to lounge on your side.
The way the KB Ear KS1 sounds, though, isn’t what I would give to a “relaxing” kind of IEM. It, like most budget earphones, follows a pretty common V-shaped sound template. However, unlike the Little Q we looked at previously, the KS1 stays the course with a fun, energetic sound that does a lot of things right when you get down to the details.
With a similarly warm quality to it, the KB Ear KS1’s low end is similar to the Little Q. However, I feel these earphones manage to rein in their sub-bass registers a bit better, offering a bit tighter punch that is fun to listen to on songs like Yunosuke’s “BREAK IT“.
However, there’s a bit more of a bump in the mid and upper bass somewhere in the 150 to 250 Hz range, which gives a fullness to it that does go both ways for the KS1.
It adds a good heft to songs like Veil of Maya’s “Mikasa“, but loses control and sounds bloated when the song’s mix doesn’t have enough treble brightness to keep the bass under control. KNOWER’s “I’m the President“, crunched and rolled off on the top end as an aesthetic choice, is one such song with this kind of mix.
As you can expect from my description of the KS1’s bass, its midrange tone is affected by the weight of the low end.
There’s some bleed in the low mids coming from the bass, which adds to that bloated sound that shows up in how the KB Ear KS1 presents Clarissa’s “nada contra“. However, the KB Ear KS1 can get mids through quite clearly when the mix doesn’t lean too much on that problem bump. HONNE’s “one way to tokyo” has their vocals remain quite clear throughout the track.
This issue does go away for the most part in songs that don’t hit that problem bump but it does lose control fairly easily.
I provided an example of a metal song that sounds alright on the KS1, but the earphones just as easily fall apart in songs like Termina’s “The Edge of Time“, where Andy Cizek’s vocals are just smothered by Nik Nocturnal’s chugging guitars and bass.
Like just about every earphone with a V-shaped sound signature, a major factor of how good an earphone ends up sounding comes down to the balance of its bass and treble and how songs are mixed relative to that.
For the most part, though, the KB Ear KS1 does a pretty good job of it. Aside from some of the tricky songs I’ve used as examples earlier, the highs are bright and sparkly but not too aggressive. Even in “Lucky☆Orb” by emon(Tes.), the treble is kept under control while still keeping the song’s bubbly energy.
The KB Ear KS1’s soundstage isn’t much to write home about, which is expected for an IEM of this class. It has a fairly inside-the-head quality to it that’s unremarkable but could definitely be worse.
There are a few problems with gauging the value proposition of an earphone at the price of the KB Ear KS1.
At its retail price of about $12, these IEMs offer fairly good value and could be worth the buy if its sound signature is what you’re after. However, at $12, you’ll have to account for shipping costs which may end up costing over half of the earphone itself.
This problem isn’t unique to the KS1, if it wasn’t already obvious, and I’ve touched on this a bit in my review of the Lafitear LD1, to which this compares rather favorably.
Another issue, though, is that online sellers, mainly those I found on Amazon, tend to price these closer to $20. While it isn’t too bad of a price, setting it at that bar opens the KS1 up to a lot of stiff competition that I personally feel it isn’t quite able to overcome.
On its own merits and intended price tag, the KB Ear KS1 is a pretty solid buy thanks to its fun sound and comfortable fit.
Considering I bought this for that aforementioned retail price of $12, it’s a pretty good deal as far as budget IEMs go.
It’s an IEM that doesn’t try to impress with any gimmicks, fancy specs, or anything particularly innovative – but I think that’s more of a good thing than anything else.
But when we account for all of the extra costs that go into getting these earphones from halfway across the world, the value proposition of this budget IEM ends up being less convincing.
This post was last updated on 2023-12-02 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.