Current testing methodology is v1.2
April 20, 2023
5.12 x 4.33 x 2.56 in
Since the start of my audiophile journey, I’ve been curious about those custom IEMs that performers use on stage. Made of resin and molded specifically to fit their owner’s ears and only their owner’s ears, these designs have usually been locked behind the paywall of the high-end market.
Lately, though, that has stopped being the case. With more “audiophile” sensibilities entering the earphone market, a lot of manufacturers lately have made their earphones look like those CIEM designs.
The Kiwi Ears Quartet is another attempt at the custom-like universal IEM, and I dare say they’ve come about as close as one can get – in more ways than one.
Kiwi Ears Quartet
An otherwise competent and pretty pair of earphones, tarnished by a misguided tuning concept
Despite a look and feel that’s inspired by high-end custom IEMs, the Kiwi Ears Quartet seems to have forgotten to tune their earphones a similar way.
Stuffy, bloated, and overbearing, the bass of these earphones is tuned to almost the exact opposite of what we could consider “good” bass. That they try to justify it in their marketing, however, implies otherwise.
- Headphone Type: Closed-back in-ear monitor
- Driver Type: 2 x 10mm dynamic + 2x balanced armature drivers
- Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 110 dB
- Impedance: 32 ohms
What’s in the Box?
- Kiwi Ears Quartet earphones
- 3 x pairs of translucent white ear tips (S, M, L)
- 3 x pairs of red/gray ear tips (S, M, L)
- 3 x pairs of black ear tips (S, M, L)
- 1.2m SPC cable (0.78mm 2-pin to 1/8″ TRS)
- Carrying case
- Tuning switch tool
Stuff I like
- Great midrange clarity
- Gorgeous resin shell
- Great cable
- 4 tuning combinations
Stuff I like less
- Bloated bass tuning
- Weak, inconsistent treble
- Tuning switches don’t change much
- Fit can be tricky for some
Comparable products to consider
A standout gem of 2023, the Simgot EA500 continues to shine bright as the Quartet falls short of this earphone that costs about $20 less.
Disclaimer: This unit of the Kiwi Ears Quartet is a review unit provided to Make Life Click by Linsoul. We offer our deepest thanks for the honor.
A Bit of Background
The name “Kiwi Ears” gave me some hope at first – it seemed to imply they were a brand-new earphone maker from New Zealand.
After some digging though, this, unfortunately, wasn’t the case.
Based on the contact hours on their website, Kiwi Ears is based in the GMT+8 time zone, nowhere near New Zealand’s GMT+12. While the “Made in China” mark doesn’t really say anything, prior knowledge seems to indicate that the brand itself is also based there.
The Quartet is one of their midrange models, released in May 2023 after the Dolce and before the Quintet.
As the name implies, their internal design revolves around having four drivers – in this case a hybrid setup with two dynamic drivers for the bass and one balanced armature each for the midrange and treble.
Kiwi Ears doesn’t put a lot of effort into beautifying their unboxing experience – but what effort they do have here is enough.
The brand shares the same box design and accessories across multiple models helps keep costs down, similar to what we saw in the Lafitear earphones we covered previously. But their outer sleeve prints are bold and simple graphics let each of their models stand out from each other on a store shelf.
And they do stand out, as in the box are stored some of the prettier earphones I’ve seen.
Considering they use a similar molding and design method to actual custom IEMs, the Kiwi Ears Quartet does come off looking like one until you find out you can actually put them on.
Having a similar building method also means you get a similar build quality. While there’s a certain heft (both physical and mental) that you feel from thousand-dollar CIEMs, the Kiwi Ears does have that same feeling of solidness that would be very difficult to break without targeted damage.
Fit and Comfort
The Kiwi Ears Quartet’s inspiration continues through the shape of the housings – outer ear-filling blobs that are perfectly smooth and do their best to contour to the ear.
I’ve been blessed with a very average outer ear, both in terms of shape and size, so the Quartet fits me excellently. Its noise isolation is also quite good without it needing to go deep into the ears.
As these kinds of designs go, however, I can’t quite guarantee the same experience for everyone else. Some of the contours might press into someone’s ear in the wrong places. Others might just find the ear-filling fit a bit too much to handle. If you have the chance to try it (or otherwise easily return it if it doesn’t work out), I suggest taking it.
For most of my initial experience with the Kiwi Ears Quartet, I’ll say that I liked them a bit. Sound-wise they weren’t my cup of tea (as we will get into later), but they have their merits and are worth a listen if you’re into the warmer kind of sound signature.
The Quartet has a two-switch tuning scheme for 4 sound combinations, but they all still revolve around this warm sound. (For the record, they also came with both switches turned “On” out of the box, so that is what this review will be based on.)
No, what ground my gear was how they tried to market this sound. Kiwi Ears sought to achieve a “bass-centric IEM” without “muddying or dulling in the mids or treble”. Nothing wrong there; that’s a perfectly admirable goal.
But then they explain that, to do this, they set the crossover point between the two dynamic drivers for bass and the two BA drivers for everything else at 350 Hz.
To avoid getting too nerdy, cutting your bass emphasis off at this frequency simply results in that same muddying and dulling that Kiwi Ears was trying to avoid.
It doesn’t matter if the “mids from 350 to 1000 Hz were tuned to be completely flat”—the range from 200 to 350 Hz is exactly where the bass bleeds into the midrange, creating a bloated, overly full mess that will overwhelm any mids they try to tune flat.
Indeed, Kiwi Ears has tuned their bass the way they write in their marketing materials. As I’ve already ranted about earlier, it’s not bad but it’s marketed in a way that makes it seem like something it’s not.
With the right tracks, the Quartet’s bass has its moments. I found it works well with bright EDM tracks like “Lucky☆Orb” by emon(Tes.) as its bass tilt adds a bit of weight to the song.
Being a bass-first sound, it’s only right to see how they do on bass-heavy songs like K/DA’s “VILLAIN“. The Kiwi Ears Quartet handles this pretty well, keeping Madison Beer and Kim Petras’ vocals clear in the mix despite its bass lean, but I feel the warmth and bleed of the upper bass distracts from their otherwise impressive rumble.
In a lot of other cases, though, the upper bass is just too bloated and boomy. It’s especially unlistenable in songs like Louis Cole’s “Don’t Care“, a track from an album with a deliberately blown-out, crunchy, and compressed aesthetic to its sound.
The Quartet just turns into a blithering mess, with the bass and drums having turned into a viscous, indistinct soup.
I want to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with going for a warm, bassy sound. What I consider a problem is saying you emphasized the bass up to 350 Hz and claim the mids aren’t muddy because you tuned everything above that to be completely flat.
Sure, it looks good on a graph, but humans don’t quite hear the same way.
As mentioned, what this bass tuning affects the most is the midrange. While Kiwi Ears is right in that their tuning of most of the mids is clear and fairly clean, anything that gets caught below that 350 Hz threshold is caught in the molasses of the bass boost.
And there are a lot of sounds that fall below that range.
The piano is one example. Anomalie’s “Leiria” is mastered with a fairly softened tilt and plays a lot of the lower octaves to complement Mael’s vocals. The Kiwi Ears Quartet fails to do the piano justice, muddying the soundscape and overwhelming it at times.
If it’s any solace, the Quartet does sound quite nice with barbershop quartets, the low-end boost being just enough to give Old School’s performance a beautiful heft that’s sublime to listen to.
Now, you could counterbalance bass bleed with a boost to the treble or upper midrange, turning the sound towards a V signature. But that isn’t the case with the Kiwi Ears Quartet, instead going for a tamed approach that compensates with a treble spike or two.
On its own merits, the treble tuning isn’t bad. There’s a decent amount of it to give hi-hats and percussion their sparkle while also avoiding the sibilance region that would have otherwise added more problems to the sound signature.
But as with songs like Louis Cole’s “Dead Inside Shuffle“, the treble sometimes isn’t enough to balance out the bass we hear, which only makes the bass sound even more overbearing than it might look on a graph.
The soundstage of the Kiwi Ears Quartet is something I could only describe as “dark. The softened treble removes a lot of the airy feeling you get from a brighter earphone like the Simgot EA500.
Tennyson’s “Leaves” is a song with a rather spacious soundscape that fills the backdrop of the song. However, the Quartet treats this differently as the upper frequencies are drawn back and the bass fills the space like a mudslide.
Now, that would’ve been the end of the Quartet for me. But they, like a lot of new earphones coming out today, also have a tuning switch system similar to the Joyodio Shine.
Compared to the four switches of the Shine, however, the two switches on the Kiwi Ears Quartet are much more effective at fixing what I feel are flaws in the sound signature.
Flipping the bass switch to “Off” was an immediate improvement for me, dropping the upper bass down enough to make the Quartet sound just “warm” as opposed to “bloated”.
There are some caveats, though. The bass reduction also affects the sub-bass, however, so you do lose its fun low-end thump. I also feel the drop in the upper bass still isn’t much; or at least, not much compared to how much you lose from the “kick” frequencies.
On the flip side, the treble switch just doesn’t do that much at all. Switching it off does take a bit of edge off of its treble peak, but in a lot of cases, it’s not enough to notice.
Which brings us to the question of value.
Is the Kiwi Ears Quartet worth buying? Yes. Is it something I’d personally buy? Not really.
As competent as they are, my reviews of some of the latest earphones to come out this year have shown me just how competitive the field has gotten. The Simgot EA500 was a particularly impressive example.
If this kind of warm sound signature and form factor fits what you’re looking for, the Kiwi Ears Quartet is a capable earphone with looks to match.
In more ways than one, the Kiwi Ears Quartet is a custom universal IEM.
With a clearly inspired design, it draws from custom-molded earphones and closely matches them in both form and function.
But with baffling tuning choices out of the box and the illusion of freedom with built-in tuning switches, the Quartet becomes a universal-fit IEM with a sound that feels custom-made for one with very specific tastes.
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.