Brutal World Class Acoustics: Ocharaku Flat-4 KURO and KAEDE

Disclaimer: I purchased the Ocharaku KURO and KAEDE units used for this review directly from Ocharaku.

People often ask me what I’m listening to, and these days it’s been mostly the Ocharaku Flat-4 IEMs. The Ocharakus are not easy IEMs to sell or to recommend. As a top-of-the-class acoustics IEMs, they happens to be ruthlessly revealing. Not only does it demand the highest quality recording but also source quality. As hard as I tried to be the Ocharaku evangelist, my efforts haven’t been so successful. The sound usually comes out pretty nasty when you start playing mainstream recordings on it, and the majority of people who I’ve showed the Ocharakus to are mostly unimpressed with the sound they hear. Nevertheless I truly feel that there is something special and brilliant with these Ocharakus and so I’ll take the risk to be unpopular.
Background

The IEM market is getting saturated with thousands of new models. Everyone is making IEMs these days, and there are a lot of affordable products with good sound (i.e Vsonic GR02, XKDunn CK700). It looks like manufacturers are finally getting a pretty good idea of what makes a pretty decent IEM. The average $100 IEM has enough technicalities for the average mainstream music, and as long as you stick with balanced armature drivers, you shouldn’t have any problem resolving the average complex passage on a typical fast-paced music. Add one or two drivers for the lows and bass should be plenty with good control and punch. Some manufacturers like a more romantic tuning with plenty of treble sparkle while others prefer a more mainstream music oriented tuning. If innovation was to stop at this very moment, I doubt any of us would have any complaints or objections.

Surrounded by this sea of well tuned, affordably priced IEMs, Ocharaku entered the market with a revolutionary design that promises to push the acoustic limits of in ear monitors. I really wouldn’t care about the technology if I can’t the results in the final product. Not so with the Ocharakus. I’ve compared them to most the top tier IEMs in the market and I don’t think there is anything else better in terms of acoustic qualities. Listening to what Mr. Yamagishi (the Ocharaku designer, the ex Sound Director from Sony) has to say, I’m convinced that this guy is the leading man in the world of in-ear-monitor acoustics.

 

The KURO

Regardless of how uneasy the tonalities of the KURO and the KAEDE are for my dark-loving ears (please give me a HD650 like tonality!), I can’t help but falling in love with the acoustic qualities in the Flat-4, especially the Maple-housed Kaede. While Hadi came out feeling pretty impressed with the entry level Ocharaku Flat-4 SUI in his review, the Flat-4 KAEDE (flagship, maple wood housing) and the Flat-4 KURO (the latest model, mid-line product, anti vibration aluminium housing) are quite one and two leagues ahead of the SUI.

The mid-line KURO is based from the SUI but with the added benefit of improved acoustics thanks to the hybrid anti-vibration coating on the aluminium housing and the phase correction tube. The result is a sound less honky on the midrange than the SUI, a more neutral and uncoloured midrange and a lower hitting bass (I love this part–though all the Flat-4s are quite tame in bass). I was immediately hooked to the KURO from the moment I first listened to it at the Tokyo Headphone Festival as it was a definite improvement from the SUI. Briefly comparing it to the flagship maple housed KAEDE, I even thought that the KURO seemed to be the better model thanks to the lower hitting bass which the KAEDE can’t match.

ocharaku_kuro_kaede_02

The KURO(left) has a flat-black color while the KAEDE has a slight hint of brown (if you look closely it has a wood texture.

 

The Maple Housed KAEDE

Longer listening time however brings more appreciation to the flagship KAEDE. There is a soft wood timbre that reminded me as when you upgraded to the metal housed Grado SR325is or Alessandro MS-2 to their woody housed big brothers. The wood timbre though not as strong as on the Grado/Alessandro woody models (none other headphones are), the timbre though a bit on the drier side (perhaps Mr. Yamagishi can try a different wood type) sounds softer and more romantic compared to whatever material FitEar, Sony, AKG, and Sennheiser are using on their flagship IEMs, and also Ocharaku’s own aluminium KURO. After all, there is a reason concert halls and recording studios are dressed in wood.

The tonal balance of the KAEDE pushes the midrange a tiny bit forward, making it a mild mid-centric IEM than the mildly v-shaped KURO and again this is preferable to my ears. However outside from the tonal balance difference which usually is a subjective matter, once I hear the subtle wood timbre and the soft decay, the KURO simply sounds too metallic and cold. And since we’re going with Ocharaku to get the best acoustics possible, I say may as well jump all the way and reach for the Kaede.

Even more lovely is the sweet sound of coherence that I don’t hear even from the single driver Sennheiser IE800, and even worse on the quad-driver 334ToGo (which to me is the best multi-driver BA IEM in terms of coherence). Funny because the Flat-4 is actually a dual-driver design, though the twin drivers are not configured to both cover the full frequency range (they both cover the full frequency range), but comparing the Flat-4 to the IE800 (and I’m a big Sennheiser fanboy as you all know), I really think that Mr. Yamagishi’s FLAT-4 Kaede has bested Axel Grell’s best IEM in terms of acoustic qualities. I don’t understand how this could be, perhaps housing acoustics issues, but the IE800 actually has issues in the midrange that somehow affects the perception of coherence, making the single driver sounds like it has phase issues in the midrange. Obviously the IE800’s darker, bassier tonality, fits my ears much better than the high-mid-centric Kaede, but the superior acoustics and resolution is really making the IE800 sounds like a 2nd-tier flagship IEM in front of the Kaede. Midrange transparency, soundstage size and depth, driver resolution, micro detail and dynamic range, all unmatched by the Senn.

Play some well recorded classical music or audiophile Jazz and it doesn’t take long to notice the acoustic superiority and the superior detail retrieval of the Ocharakus that even made the 334ToGos sound lacking detail. Still, we sell a lot more 334ToGos at the store than we do Ocharakus, as the FitEar simply has a much more pleasing tonality and plays better with a wide range of recordings and source. Heck the popular Vsonic GR07 is even more musical to listen than the Ocharaku Flat-4s. The problem with the Ocharaku is that it’s like taking a car designed for the track to be a daily driver. It corners as if it was on rails, but only if you give it race track quality asphalt. Driven on ordinary road, you hardly feel any quality other than that the ride was bumpy. The average driver driving through the typical downtown roads would all vote that the Lexus has a better suspension than an F1 car. That really is the situation happening with the Ocharakus. With the superior resolution, the Ocharaku Flat-4s give you a clearer picture of what’s happening in the recording, and these days there are far more bad recordings than there are good ones. Just like the race car driver suspension, you’ll really feel every bumps and potholes in the recording and the result may be extremely tiring to the ears.

 

End Words

These are not exactly “the sound of music” as in everything is musical and enjoyable. Rather, these are “the sound of truth” as in the real truth about the recordings. And just like in the real world, often we’d rather not know the truth as the truth can be very unpleasant. For instance, they’ll let me really listen to the grain and texture of an old AAD recording, while other IEMs somewhat present a masked-out picture of the grain. Yet, while I enjoy this sort of a transparent playback, it does get tiring after a long listening time. But still I go back to them the next time as I simply can’t go back to the sub-par acoustics of the other IEMs. I really won’t recommend them for a first time IEM owner, nor do I recommend them if these are going to be your only IEMs. You may be a track car buff, but still you need a daily driver with a soft plush suspension and perhaps also a 4WD for the winter months. Likewise the Ocharaku: I don’t call it brutal for no reason.

 

If you’d like to read more about the technology behind the Ocharaku FLAT-4s, I’ve uploaded the Ocharaku tech document to Headfonia’s server and you can download the document by clicking on this link: Technology of OCHARAKU_English

 

ocharaku_kuro_kaede_03

Packaging for the KURO (left) and for the KAEDE (right).

 

ocharaku_ath_ckm55_1

Audio Technica CKM55 modded with Ocharaku’s tornado equalizer (also pictured) to adjust to the different ear canal lengths.

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Brutal World Class Acoustics: Ocharaku Flat-4 KURO and KAEDE
5 (100%) 1 vote[s]

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66 Comments

  • Reply June 3, 2013

    Barun C

    Nice article Mike. Am using the Rockitsounds R50 and the Monoprice 8320s right now. Wonder how Flat 4 sounds compared to them.

    • Reply June 4, 2013

      Mike

      I have no idea how the Rockitsounds and Monoprice compare to the Flat-4s.

      • Reply June 4, 2013

        Barun C

        No I was just mentioning that. BTW if you can please listen to R50 and MP8320s, for the price they outperform a lot of rivals in the dual BA and cheap in ears category.

        • Reply June 4, 2013

          Mike

          Alright, sorry I misunderstood the message. Will try to find those two

  • Reply June 3, 2013

    sapilaut

    I had the chance to try both on the Headfonia store the other day. I don’t know how long Mike means until the Kaede is tiring him, but me, I’m comfortable all the way with Kaede (sound wise and fitting wise). Kuro on the other hand got me fatigued by 3 songs, and by the 4th I just had to take it off my ears. I kinda like Kuro’s bass though, but that’s it. So not really a comparison for me. If I had to pick, it’s the Kaede hands down.

    I tried both with HM601 as the player, btw.

    • Reply June 4, 2013

      Mike

      It dépends on the recording I guess. Some recordings, you listen to it for too long, you’ll get tired.

  • Reply June 3, 2013

    George Lai

    Somehow IEMs just don’t do it for me.

    • Reply June 5, 2013

      L.

      have you tried customs?

      • Reply June 5, 2013

        George Lai

        I wanted to but just don’t like the feeling of something inside the ear. In addition, I don’t fancy the idea of paying decent money for something so small that can be easily lost or dropped. Yeah I know, it’s weird.

        • Reply June 5, 2013

          L.

          no it’s a legit remark/reason

  • Reply June 4, 2013

    Kartaar singh

    Hi mike,
    I recently sold my fitear tg 334 , and was looking for a replacement.
    currently kaede drew my attention. how will you compare it to se846 from your brief encounter.
    My main concern will be vocals , live classical music recordings , precussion drums and i think tg334 had very little more bass then my taste.

    • Reply June 6, 2013

      Kartaar singh

      Hi mike , i was awaiting your reply 🙂

    • Reply June 6, 2013

      Mike

      Sorry what about the 334s bass?

      The shure has a full bodied all rounder sound, it’s a great IEM that’s quite the opposite of the 334 in terms of tonality. I just don’t enjoy BA drivers lately, even single drivers.

      The kaede is extremely niche but for people who can appreciate it’s strength, there is no equal.

      • Reply June 6, 2013

        Kartaar singh

        Coming from IE8 , I found TG 334 pretty bass-tamed but with time ,i found it had a tad bit more bass for my liking.

        Basically the bass from drums getting more highlighted from vocals and mids is the problem i want to avoid.

        since Kaede seems more accurate and resolving from review , i expect it to be more suited for this as it may convey more realism in live classical recordings.

        Any speciality at mids and vocals will be appreciated.

        In this light do you thing Se846 will outperform Kaede if i only aim to listen live classical recordings ?

        • Reply June 6, 2013

          Mike

          If that’s where you are coming from then yes I definitely recommend the Kaede over the shure

  • Reply June 5, 2013

    mike4ever

    omg you are so awesome mike, great work and picture.

  • Reply June 5, 2013

    icecoffemix

    Dude, you really need an editor.

    • Reply June 5, 2013

      Mike

      That’s all you have to say? How sad.

      • Reply June 5, 2013

        icecoffemix

        I don’t mean to offend you but this article truly do need a check and recheck. I.E.

        “The KAEDE (left) has a flat-black color while the KAEDE has a slight hint of brown (if you look closely it has a wood texture.”

        And some inconsistent line break height/format.

        But I guess it’s already perfect for you and anyone who voice their critics automatically make them “sad”…

        • Reply June 5, 2013

          L.

          There’s a difference between being negative and constructive criticism. Anyway, I corrected the “errors” you so kindly pointed out.

        • Reply June 5, 2013

          Mike

          I never said it’s perfect but if all you have to say is that my grammar is faulty then you’ll missing the meat which is the content.

          Classic literature books may be more suitable for you.

        • Reply June 5, 2013

          Dave Ulrich

          I could also point out here that, within your first sentence, you already having a glaring grammatical error with “this article truly do need.” I could point that out, but I’m just not that kind of guy.

          • Reply June 5, 2013

            George Lai

            Well said. Offer to Mike – I can proofread every review for you for free. It would be an honor.

            • Reply June 5, 2013

              L.

              Thx George. We’ve tried that before, but planning wise it was just not doable with several parties included in the process. But thanks for the offer and we’ll reconsider it again.

            • Reply June 5, 2013

              Mike

              Thanks, George. What L said.

              • Reply June 5, 2013

                George Lai

                You’re both most welcome.

      • Reply June 5, 2013

        Ian Stephenson

        This is a great FREE resource. I’ve gained heaps from reading up on gear, much of which I will never be able to audition. My main and only language is English. I think Mike is multi-lingual and English is not his primary language. But even so the occasional small grammatical error does not detract from enjoying or understanding the reviews.

  • Reply June 5, 2013

    tea4two

    hey mike, great review, i know this is over the top, but would you describe the sound for flat-4 kuro to be clinical/detail/revealing like the HD800 ?

    thanks again mike.

    • Reply June 5, 2013

      Mike

      A little clinical yes. In that way similar to the HD800

      • Reply June 9, 2013

        tea4two

        so you would say that the kuro is almost like the HD800 in IEM form ?

        • Reply June 11, 2013

          Mike

          I’ll be careful in saying that it’s HD800 like. Similar in the way that both has a more mid-treble oriented tonal and less bass than I’d like but there are a lot of other differences.

  • Reply June 5, 2013

    Fabio_Rocks

    A friend of mine that works for a recording studio said: “If the acoustic guitar sounds good on my speakers It will sound awesome on your Ipod” – So you have bad speakers?! No, they are just brutally accurate.

  • Reply June 9, 2013

    Ryan Adiputra

    well Mike, can you describe how poisonous Kaede is? 🙂

    btw, the modded CKM55, will you do a ‘short’ review on these? i love the blue and the light green one 😀

    • Reply June 11, 2013

      Mike

      Well I thought it’s a hard IEM to push to the mainstream, but to my surprise a number of people have been bitten by the Kaede bug. 😉
      Short review, interesting idea but I need to find a stock CKM55.

      • Reply June 11, 2013

        Ryan Adiputra

        Kaede is just, brutally accurate 🙂 .

        yeah, you should find a stock CKM55. i think my friend got one. i’ll let you know if i got the loaner :p

  • Reply June 21, 2013

    ohm image

    KAEDE really has transformed the headphone world. SUI gave a taste of what unique engineering is capable of, but it didn’t quite balance things right.

    KURO is now a personal favourite, but only because I couldn’t purchase KAEDE in time. And, my wife would have killed me.

    As always, Mike, very nice photos.

    • Reply June 21, 2013

      Mike

      I share the same feelings with you regarding the SUI and KURO. KAEDE is the best IMO but the different tonal balance may mean that some people may prefer the KURO.

      • Reply July 4, 2013

        ohm image

        I spent a long time with both KAEDE and KURO and love both. I can’t say which I prefer. Which I’d prefer to own? KAEDE, of course.

    • Reply July 4, 2013

      Johanes a.f

      Can you compare KURO to Fitear F111? Look like they booth share the same price range.

      • Reply July 4, 2013

        Mike

        Good point. The 111 is thinner on the bottom end and has a more etymotic er4 tonality. Cleaner sound and blacker background than the Kuro, though the Kuro is also fairly clean and with a good black background too. The only thing that I object to about the 111 is the BA driver which isn’t the most natural sounding driver.

      • Reply July 4, 2013

        ohm image

        Johanes, I’m not sure who you were asking, but the two are quite different, though equally pleasing- in their own ways. Flat4 has a much more natural, viz. as-you-hear-it soundstage and instrument splay; 111 is, as Mike mentioned, closer to the ER4 sound: flat, somewhat peaky in the treble, and fast.

        Flat4 is fast as well, but focuses on timbre and physical feedback (as it moves more air than the 111 does). The only difficulty I have with the Flat4 (Kuro and Kaede) is that they have a slight canker in the upper mids that can very slightly muffle certain, smooth, bits. It’s nothing serious.

        BTW, it’s not F111- that is Fujiya Avic’s version of the 111. It’s just 111.

        Mike can decide to veto this or not, but I have reviews of KAEDE: http://www.touchmyapps.com/2013/02/13/ocharaku-flat4-kaede-earphone-in-review/
        KURO: http://ohm-image.net/opinion/audiophile/sound-quality-review-ocharaku-flat4-kuro
        CKM55: http://ohm-image.net/opinion/audiophile/sound-quality-review-ocharaku-modded-ckm55

        I only own the CKM55. The others were loaners. Which is a big shame as I love them. LOVE them.

      • Reply July 5, 2013

        Johanes a.f

        Thanks for the answer ohm image & Mike.
        I already own booth of er4p and 111. I am curious about KURO, maybe it will be my next iem.

  • Reply August 23, 2013

    Leo

    How would you compare EX1000 with KAEDE? It’s rumored that Mr. Yamagishi also co-developed R10 and EX1000. I’m currently enjoying my EX1000 but I’m really tempted to get these.

    • Reply August 23, 2013

      Mike

      The biggest difference that I notice at first is the timbre of the EX1000 which doesn’t sound so neutral now compared to the Kaede. The EX1000 is smoother and more organic, the Kaede bigger in soundstage and superior in detail and resolution.
      A good friend of mine who’s a long term EX1000 user recently converted to a Kaede.

  • Reply November 19, 2013

    Rekupax

    Hi Mike! I’m looking for earphones as a new upgrade for UE triple.fi which I definitely love. Do you think Kaede or Keyaki or Kuro could be compared to Triples?
    Would be interesting to have the same great but differently sounding IEM’s.

  • Reply November 19, 2013

    Rekupax

    Hi Mike! I’m looking for earphones as a new upgrade for UE triple.fi which I definitely love. Do you think Kaede or Keyaki or Kuro could be compared to Triples?
    Would be interesting to have the same great but differently sounding IEM’s.

    • Reply November 21, 2013

      Mike

      Very different sound. The KURO and KAEDE (discontinued) demands good recording and is not a fun plug-n-play IEM like the TF10.
      I don’t think there is an upgrade for the TF10. Even though I’m not a personal fan, I have to admit it belongs into one of the best and the greatest.
      http://headfonia.com/the-hall-of-fame-ues-triple-fi-10/

      When the UE900 came out I wrote a bit if the 900 can replace the TF10. After a year, the answer is a firm no.
      http://headfonia.com/thoughts-on-the-ultimate-ears-ue900/

      • Reply November 22, 2013

        Rekupax

        Thanks) I’m about to purchase the new Donguri/Keyaki thing when it’s up for sale. Have not a clue if it differs much from Kuro or another new one – Nami. Hard to find to listen and compare)
        As for ‘good recording’, you mean e.g. refined modern recordings of Bruckner’s symphony rather than poor from 60’s?

        What else IEM in your opinion would provide vivid signature and strong musical output? And what you are a personal fan of?)

        • Reply November 22, 2013

          Mike

          Recordings, if it’s good it’ll be good on the KURO or Kaede. If it’s bad it’ll be bad. It’s very honest.
          Donguri is warmer and easier to listen to but less resolving.

          • Reply December 10, 2013

            Rekupax

            Just received a Kuro from Japan.. It has loads of extensive highs and mid-highs like a scalpel. Is that normal?
            Strictly detailed, sharp sound, spacious and tough. But mid-range way too dominating. CDs never sounded like this. Revox CD deck / MBL preamp sound alike Hifiman 801 through Kuro. But impossible to listen Sansa clip – too lightweight, sharp and irritating.
            Do Kuro need to be warmed up?

            • Reply December 10, 2013

              Mike

              The tonal is like that yes. You need good recordings otherwise it’s nasty. I talked to him to make an Ocharaku with a warmer tone and looks like the new Donguri is the answer. I’m also getting the Olasonic Flat 4 Nami… let’s see how that one sounds.

            • Reply December 10, 2013

              dalethorn

              It’s more common among high-priced items than I would have imagined. The FI-BA-SS that I had was merciless.

  • Reply December 7, 2013

    Guest TIn

    Dear Mike, would you recommend a Flat4 Nami as I am trying to complement what TG334 is lacking. I mean, deep quality bass and coherence.

    • Reply December 9, 2013

      Mike

      I have yet to hear the Nami but they’re on the way.

      If you want detail on the lower bass, the Ocharakus would give that but if you need impact, I’m afraid you have to go to multi driver BA which means, again, coherence problems.
      The 335DW is an awesome IEM with a better bass than the 334 but again, coherence won’t be like the Ocharakus.

  • Reply December 15, 2013

    Luke Ma

    Would you happen to know the nozzle size for these iems? i did a quick search and cant really find anything, but maybe it’s in japanese…

    • Reply December 16, 2013

      Mike

      Hmm… I don’t have exact measurements but they use Comply T500s which puts them around the same size as the FitEar 334s, Triple.Fi 10s,

  • Reply December 28, 2013

    CS Chang

    Hi Mike, I just sold my 334 for Nami. No regrets. They are truly my cup of tea. I dont know whether you have Nami. If you do and have time, would you briefly compare them with Kaede?

    • Reply December 28, 2013

      Mike

      Yes i got the namis.. Softer sound, a bit fuller on low mids and bass. Acoustics wise the Kaede and Kuro are more accurate. The Namis are easier to listen to.

  • Reply December 28, 2013

    DJ

    Hello Mike, 😀

    From your opinion on your review, can I say that this IEM (kuro/kaede) reign as a champ of detail retreival (in IEM category of course) or there are other more?
    What I trully like from this iem is they can produce such an imaging and placement like a speaker, which I didn’t expected that this kind of stereo imaging could came from a such tiny device..
    I love how they produce such an amazing detail on the treble, and what a timbre!!! (especially sound of guitar and drum)
    Thank you Mike for your excelent review and information, I just really still can’t believe that IEM can produce this kind of resolution..hahaha..

  • Reply July 31, 2014

    hcm.

    Hi Mike can you give a comparison between Kuro and Sony EX1000? I can’t decide which one to get as an upgrade from tf10.

    what I am after of my next purchase are better soundstage, clarity and instrument separations, so that vocals would stand out. but saying that, I am not a fan of forward mid and warm sounding IEMs.

    I am almost there to pull the trigger for a pair of Kuro Type-II, but EX1000 on the other hand – is known for its massive soundstage and seems to be a better option when it comes to construction with its replaceable cable..

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