The K10doesn’t play genre favorite. It boasts a sculpted sound, full of wide, über-resolved mids, powerful sub-bass, and cooperative highs. Powering it are ten drivers: dual lows, dual mids, dual upper mids, dual tweeters, and dual super tweeters, none of which abides imprecision.
Its low end is munchy, meaty, and impactful. Below 80Hz, it resolves organic details and acoustic spaces that I’ve not heard before in a custom.
Like everyone’s, my ears listen first for impact. Superficially, lows attract the most attention- and most of that concentrated in the mid and upper bass registers. Plenty of earphones go ‘boom! boom! boom!’. Boomers go really well with flabby American hip-hop, but can ruin good underground stuff- not to mention other bass-heavy genres, such as IDM and trance.
The K10 ploughs through sub bass with steady, paced resolve. That sub bass is a massive, throbbing foundation upon which is hinged the most remarkably resolved midrange I have heard to date. The perceived volume of this sub-band is both lifted, and highly cooperative to everything around it.
Providing you have the right, low-Ω, high-current output device, the it is more than able to render the almost inaudible opening seconds of Marcus Schulz’s Mainstage. You want to know an earphone that can’t? Try most of the audiophile world. Audiophiles that squirt out high-pressure mid-bass? Throw a rock and you’re sure to hit one. Truly resolved, truly natural, truly awe-inspiring sub-bass, like that heard from the K10, is as unique as it is unforgettable.
The real miracle, however, occurs further up.
Even at their most temperamental, the K10’s inter-frequency transitions are temperate. At their best, they simply disappear. Bloomy, boomy elements, audible smudges, mouldering effluence and so on simply do not exist. Overhead is extremely flexible. Powerful ejaculations of bass do not bottom out the drivers. Ditto a sudden rush of cymbal, snare, and kick-drums. Ditto cascading electronic chimes over a symphony of didgeridoos.
Then mids descend. Every music lover has loaded up Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix and wigged out. Did you hear that? Holy shit! Yeah, but you didn’t. Not until you have the K10 in your ears. Despite owning and deeply respecting the Etymotic ER4s, I now hate its etchy-sketchy, ratchety sound. Fans gloom onto the idea that a more detailed or neutral earphone does not exist.
I get that.
But the ER4s amplifies the forward edge of highs and upper mids at a macro level without paying the slightest attention to the beautiful resonances within the music. The K10 is the opposite. Mid and upper frequency energy is high. It isn’t fatiguing. And it zooms into what the musician is doing. Whoa, was that what I think it was? Yep, that was the sound of the back of Eric Clapton’s hand echoing against the guitar. Yep, that was the sound of Tom Jone’s microphone screen. Not that those details get in the way of the music, or that they really stand out. But like a sixth sense, you get the feeling that they exist. But, not without the K10.
It’s thanks to a lot of things: high intra-frequency contrast and low overhead certainly at the crux of it all. It’s why mids and upper frequencies are so crystal-like. Detailed, yes, but holistically so, with care payed to every other part.
Here’s the message K10 wants to get across:
Know your music. And enjoy the hell out of it.
It’s why the K10 brings you into the scene. Its sound stage is neither endless nor super duper broad. It’s focused, zeroed in on the parts that matter. It paints intra-band contrast on all the most prominent, best-looking planes. The air between the strings and the soundboard. The tension between the vibrating tama and the drumstick. The breath warm on your favorite singer’s teeth. The cool overhead microphones in a concert. These details and more jump to the front. Your imagination, and your love of your music do the rest.
The interaction of all elements goes kind of like this:
Mids rock out in a u-shaped arena, crashing sometimes at the side of the head, sometimes in the middle of the skull. The transition to highs, takes place largely just outside of the ears. Interestingly bass presence is best felt in two places: the medulla, and just behind your jaw.
As you can guess, the list of mehs is quite short.
The only thing that trips up the K10 is a poor source. Oh, and speaking of, most sources aren’t really up to snuff. What I mean is, that barring your Mezzo HiFi your AK100, you will hear hiss. The K10 is that sensitive. While it won’t amplify the vacuum quite like the Ultrasone IQ does, it hisses audibly with every source I own that isn’t a Sharp MD-DR7 or the aforementioned Mezzo HiFi.
The other part is that in order to experience the best intra-instrument detail around (not to mention that glorious sub-bass) you absolutely need a phenomenal amp or source. If it wasn’t for its awful hiss, the iPod shuffle 1G comes to mind. Really. Amps that rock the K10 for instance, are the newly-minted Cypher Labs Picollo, and my favourite, the Vorzüge PURE II.
From the first listen the K10 wowed me. At first it was its smooth, wide rendition of mids. Later, it was the flawless transition from mids to highs. Eventually I understood that intra-frequency stuff I went on and on about above.
The net effect is that I listened more to jazz than I had in months. Ditto piano solos. Trance, IDM, and hip-hop offer less to really go gaga over. But that’s their fault. From a power standpoint, K10 bass can throb. And yet it does nothing to unbalance the phenomenal midrange.
I’m glad my unit has a smudge. The curmudgeon in me wants to really pick at something. It is happy that the K10 comes so plainly adorned in cardboard. It is happy that the storage case might just be a knock-off.
But it shuts up when the K10 goes under the micro lens: from its precise paint job to its immaculate wiring and shell, this Kaiser is a beaut. And, by God, finding an earphone that sounds better across a broad range of music, may well be impossible. It may be impossible to find a better earphone.
That, at the very least, is something Mr. Vonnegut could have got behind.