Hi there and welcome to what I feel is an important chapter in the history of subjective reviews thus far. Few of us can have failed to see the stories coming out on the KB EAR BE-LIEVE. It’s been hard for me to avoid reading too much about these, but, as you know, if there’s any chance I can get hold of a pair to review, I really like to abstain from other folk’s musings. This way, I give you a fresh insight into what you might be interested in buying. If you just want to know what it’s all about, again, at least I should be original. This puts my credibility on the line as a reviewer. I don’t mind about that. I want to do my own work. That’s important to me. You can use this as a way to evaluate against other reviews out there. Between us all, there’ll be a picture emerge.
Do you know about Beryllium?
Beryllium is considered to be an extremely efficient material to use in speakers. It has become a highly desirable feature in full size headphones. The Focal Utopia headphones use beryllium driver. The technology has now made its mark in the IEM sector. What is Beryllium? It’s a metal, it’s extremely rare, extremely dangerous and extremely strong. This is what it looks like. What you see below is as pure a beryllium as you might expect to see. It has to be extracted from minerals. For every 20 beryllium units there are estimated to be 1 million silicon units in the universe. Once beryllium enters the body it can’t be expelled. We all have a tiny amount of this in our bodies. Beyond that amount, even a tiny increase is likely to be cancer causing. Therefore, the manufacturer of this extremely sought after material is strictly controlled and exorbitantly expensive. Whilst brittle at room temperature, once beryllium is heated it becomes strong. Very strong indeed. Not only can it make a fantastic driver, because it can be rolled out to an incredible thinness and yet still be stiff enough to keep distortion down, it makes for 17 times sharper x-rays images and keeps the space shuttle in 1 piece when it’s coming home.
The sound, the most important thing, is shaped by a diaphragm made from pure beryllium. This is normally found in much more expensive IEMs, and, even then, there are few models on the market.
There is a single driver per side. Although there is little crossover distortion in earphones with drivers this small, a single design eliminates that issue completely.
Of course, to get a quality sound, you need a decent full range driver, and that driver needs to be tuned just right. To attain as good a response as they could, KB EAR have gone for a Beryllium dynamic driver. The strength and lightness of this metal makes it ideal for a speaker.
The sound signature of the Believe is a thick smooth one, that goes to a good level of detail without sounding harsh and goes very low in the bass with some visceral air being pushed around the contours of the ear.
I compare the IEMs against a number of others; they comfortably outperform the Etymotic ER4XR and the NF Audio NM2+, and compete well with the now discontinued ACS Evoke Studio.
The case is a nice thick leather affair.
The cable and shell designs are gorgeous. The fit is reasonable; some tips will slide the drivers out from the ear canal. The research on the tips has been quite exhaustive. I shall give you my findings and we will see where our opinions have met up, and where they’ve diverged somewhat.
A little snippet of what’s gone on in my BE-LIEVE journey. It’s quite an irony… they’ve stopped promoting these because some folks have questioned how legitimate the claims of a pure Beryllium diaphragm are. KB EAR have asked for evidence from their Japanese supplier, who have been quite dismissive of them. They can’t find anyone who will test their obviously tiny diaphragms without it costing a bomb, so KB EAR are in limbo. The BE-LIEVE has become inexorably tied in with it’s own name. Do you believe this is pure beryllium? Or is the cheaper, sprayed on variant? Either way, these should not be overlooked, no way.
The review takes shape – some days in the life of
The Sound, and how tips can make or break these monitors
The KB EAR Believe Beryllium in ear monitors. Day 1 is a tip rolling day, with some insights into 4 of the dozen or so supplied.
Day 3 and serious testing is now underway. The ACS Evoke is a single driver IEM. It was purchased by myself for £139 2 months ago, this was a 2nd hand price, it retailed for £299 when released. The Believe has a thicker, bassier and less detailed sound. The Evoke has a thinner, more precise sound. The Believe needs more volume than the ACS, as the ACS squash right into the entrance to the ear canal, being much smaller.
A behind the scenes look at Geekology’s review process. What you see below is 2 days worth of tip rolling and observations. I continued my head to head comparisons with suitable opposition, in this case, the vintage 4 driver from Sony, the XBA4ip. Still held in high esteem today, these trailed behind the KB EAR Believe in detail, bass, linearity. They would also have been beaten in the fit and comfort category where it not for my custom shells
BE-LIEVE v Etymotic ER4XR & NF Audio NM2+2 more single driver IEMs which are both still on the market, neither we’re anywhere near as good as the KB EAR in my opinion. The ER4XR has this reputation of linearity and stunning isolation etc etc. It’s uncomfortable, for one. It lacks bass , for 2. And it doesn’t the details of the BE-LIEVE. The NM2+ sounds like all the frequency ranges have been turned up compared to the KBEAR. It sounds like it’s being pushed too hard, like everything is competing against each other. The NM2+ is far more sensitive, in fact I turned down the volume on my AK380 from 80 to 70 to get a volume match
Many hours later, in I’m now in Day 3 of the Believe. I have now tried and tested every one of the supplied tips. I have been given some advice in the group to try some non generic ones, so when I have recovered from this ordeal I’ll try some of those… The best sounding tip was the one I started with! Even the size was the best fit for me…. Hours wasted….Still, it had to be done.And if you’re still wondering whether tips make a difference to the sound, try taking the tips off and putting these in your ears
Day 5 – and on recommendation from an owner, I decided to see for myself whether there was anything in this Spinfit brand of eartips. And this is how it went…
The Spinfit CP145 tips arrived an hour ago. I am a medium fit. The barrel of a Spinfit spins around the outer silicon layer. The outer layer of the Spinfit is thinner than the poshest BE-LIEVE tips. The inner barrel of the Spinfit is more flexible but the same thickness as the posh tips. As you can see there is a significant height difference, but that doesn’t translate into the Spinfits making the BE-LIEVE stick out from the ears, or fail to reach into the entrance to the ear canal. How does this translate into the listening experience? The CP145 have more bass, both sub and mid bass are more prominent, with more visceral effects. More air is being pushed around the ear. This airiness is also evident in the mids. The overall volume even seems to be higher. I suspect that this is due to the Spinfits being less rigid. Sometimes, I got the feeling that the micro effects were too much in my face. The upshot? What we need is a Spinfit/posh tip hybrid with the height of the Spinfit and the more rigid outer wall of the posh tip and l, of course, the spinny thing going on. Simple! The posh tips have a tighter bass. The mids and highs are more laid back. There is poise and control here, but at the expense of visceral bass. The track below has it all ; beautiful synth lines, commanding vocals and a raucous bass line to start. It became an excellent candidate for my evaluation.
Many portable audio fans swear by the Spinfit. I had to try it as I had heard so many people say that these are the only tips they use. The height is much more than the reds, but I was able to squash them in to pretty much the same depth. I’ve kept the CP145 on for the moment, as I think overall they’re a narrow win! I’ll try them against the RHAs next….
RHA Dual Density Tips
One of the KB Ear family recommended these, having been surprised (shocked) as to my preference of the CP145 from Spinfit. The RHA are the gent’s current favourite. RHA tips? For an intrepid reviewer, no problem! I had some knocking around from a review of their flagship CL1 Ceramic and Dacamp L1. With great expectations I put these on. They weren’t as good…. They weren’t in the same league, in my opinion. The bass on the BE-LIEVE, when it’s setup right, has sub and mid bass viscerality. The bass was not as powerful on the RHA tips. A BE-LIEVE track has rich mids; micro effects are revealed; highs are just short of listener fatigue(think here of cymbals/echo/intentional distortion). The RHA had muddier sounding mids; the sound was less defined, significantly less clear. The tips on the RHA were slightly smaller than the CP145, the inner barrel was much stiffer, the outer layer appears to be the same thickness. RHA tips start at £3.95, Spinfits are £18.95. Ultimately, the choice is yours. One thing I have learned in my week with the BE-LIEVE; they respond to whatever you are doing with them in an obvious way. This is both a blessing and a curse, because you may never be satisfied with your tip rolling on these! It is also a testimony to how much it is possible to achieve from these, rather special earphones.
Sound Quality in a nutshell
The Believe is a seriously good earphone. The bass response varies widely between tips, but is a big feature of the IEMs. It benefits from silicon tips. I felt that the bass was too overwhelming with the comply foam tips. There is some visceral air being pushed around the ear, even with the silicons. That said, the bass was still pretty fast and accurate. I wasn’t aware of much bleeding into the mids. The mids and highs sound very clear. The subtle parts of the mix, often lost in other earphones, are fairly easy to pick out. Particularly, percussion is both louder and more realistic sounding than other earphones I compared these too. Only one comparable earphone gave a mid response with more accuracy, at the expense of having less bass response than the Believe.
Fit build and cosmetic appeal
KB EAR gave me a decent fit with their entry model, the Lark. These beryllium beauties are a quantum leap from their more humble brothers. The design should go under the flaps of the outer ear of most people. I am now about to get technical, so, stay with me here, you’re going to learn something… There are 4 chambers we are concerned about when we put our IEM towards the entrance to the ear canal(that bit is called the external auditory meatus). The cavum is the bottom chamber, the dividing bit is the helix crus, and the top chamber is the cymba. There is a semi circle of cartilage you need to fix the IEM under, to lock it into place. The cartilage that sits to the right of the cavum is the antitragus. For the top bit, the cymba part, that bit is called the antihelix. There now – you haven’t wasted your life reading this; you’ve been educated! Science aside, just how many manufacturers are ignoring all these locking points and just shoving double flanged tips on, or making the IEMs tiny so as they just shove into the ear canal? It’s a bone of contention with me. The Sony, Etymotic and ACS mentioned above do not have that ergonomic fit. The newer KB EAR and NF Audio are the correct way forward. They are both trying valiantly to work with the ear’s contours, not against them. The result is a nicer looking and a more comfortable fitting earphone. With more of the outer ear covered, there is more opportunity for isolation. With a larger shell, there is less chance of microphonics, that annoying audible thud that comes up through the cable and terminates at the nozzle. Did you know? The Spinfits can add to the luxury of a decent fit too. The inner barrel twists as you turn the shells in your ear, making for an even more precise fit. This is what the Believe looks like in situ.
The finish of an IEM is important. We buy with the eye, like it or not. Of course, I want to think that you have a little read here to see what the thing performs like, but nevertheless. An IEM that looks nice will sell better than an IEM that looks ghastly. Other than if it has Apple written on it. The Believe not only looks the part, with it’s holographic styling, smooth curves, soft copper twin braided cable with a beaded plastic chin strap, a posh as possible jack and 2 pin termination; it also has that practical benefit of staying in the ear without too much effort. I’d prefer a QDC connector, less of a metal termination on the 2 pin, and a right angled jack. I’m being ultra critical here, just to keep you on your toes. It’s what I do. I need to point these things out, so you don’t have to worry about them. The sensitivity of the BE-LIEVE shouldn’t be in question, not at 17 Ohms. Yet, in my Astell & Kern AK380, which is a pretty powerful DAP, being a former flagship, I set my volume at 75-80 in everyday use. I think these IEMs need a DAP to be at their best, and a decent one at that. Something that can throw a bit of power around. Don’t put it in a 100W integrated; I’m not saying that. Just something more than your average phone can produce. The BE-LIEVE deserves better.
I hope that KB EAR can find the evidence they seek, and quieten down any dissenters that question the purity of the Beryllium content. Beryllium is a big draw for an IEM and I understand that the Company don’t want to lose the trust of their followers. Let us not forget though; these IEMs are pretty special, no matter what they’re made from. As a stepping stone to a Custom In Ear Monitor or an upgrade from the sub £100 bracket, of which there are some truly great bargains to be had, I am confident that you would see yourself as advancing your appreciation of your favourite tunes, if you put your faith in the quality that is oozing from every pore of the KB EAR BE-LIEVE. Just….Believe
I hope you found what you wanted in
this posting of mine. Stay tuned, I don’t think we’ve heard the last from KB EAR, they’re going places
Til the next time