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Kinera Skuld Review – New Leaf

Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasised due to my measurement setup, less so with deep fit. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others.

Preface –

I wanted to discuss this given some comments I’d seen when browsing online. A flat signature should not suggest a perfectly linear sound! Human ears do not perceive the entire frequency range in a linear fashion. Kinera are aware of this, of course, they posit that a flatter frequency response is more an indicator of sound acoustic design which is a fair point – it indicates there are minimal resonances and reflections causing peaks and troughs as can become an issue on multi-driver setups especially due to the added complexity. However, as a result, the Skuld should not be considered uncoloured nor is it suitable or designed to be a reference monitor. My thoughts follow.

Tonality –

With that said, the Skuld is indeed one of Kinera’s most refined IEMs yet. It still comes across as clearly coloured, though such is executed in a manner that doesn’t upset overall balance and retains a natural midrange voicing. Specifically, this is a coherent and full-bodied earphone with a slightly n-shaped signature, retaining Kinera’s signature focus on vocals. The bass is warm, with light elevation through the mid-bass which, in conjunction with a well-present lower midrange, provides bolstered fullness and vocal power. The midrange itself showcases decent linearity with a progressive climb to 3kHz hump albeit, with a 1-2kHz elevation further enhancing vocal size and clarity, ensuring the presentation isn’t too congested or over-warm. The top-end sits in-line with the bass, just behind the mids. While it isn’t the most even and textured response out there, highs are crisp, airy and showcase above average extension in-class. Altogether, a musical tuning with colouration tasteful in both execution and moderation.

Tip Choice

The Skuld responds well to tip rolling and the included options are also in good consideration. While I usually spring straight for Final’s E-tips, I did find them overly dense here. They provided the most coherent sound and the tightest bass, but the midrange sounded a bit boxy. The black B45 tips offer a softer feel in the ear and deeper fit with their shorter stem. In turn, highs come across smoother and the sound becomes more bass and mid focused instead. I felt these tips weren’t ideal given this is already a full-bodied earphone, treble presence is ideal to retain balance and openness. My preference was for the FY009 balanced tips that did indeed sound most balanced to me. They provided a higher contrast sound than the E-tips and cleaner male vocals. I found this to be in best taste considering the Skuld’s fuller, high coherence tuning. Given these were best for my preferences, I will use them for analysis below.

Bass –

Kinera has done well with only a single BA woofer as the Skuld is able to achieve pleasing depth and punch without sacrificing too much detail. Bass sits just behind the midrange but was never overshadowed in my testing. Sub-bass extension is above average for a BA monitor too. Do note, there’s no pressure nor an especially well-defined rumble as one might get from a hybrid. However, the Skuld does produce a tight and affirmative slam with a keen note attack that meant I never felt sub-bass information was missing. A light rise through the mid-bass that continues partway into the upper bass, means punch and fullness take priority over note weight and boldness. I find the tuning in good taste and fairly typical for the 22955 driver, it’s medium warm, punchy and with a satisfying note body. An agile note presentation minimises bloat and smear all the while.

It is as you’d expect overall; well-controlled, agile in attack and decay. Though lingering a little longer than your typical BA earphone, it remains much faster than any DD. Accordingly, the mid-bass isn’t hugely textured nor are notes thick and meaty despite the mid-bass hump. The enhanced note size instead serves to counteract the driver’s speed, so the low-end doesn’t sound lean or lacking weight. Note definition is high as a result, and separation remains a good if not exceptional performer. As emphasis is in good measure, the Skuld doesn’t skim over mid-bass details, nor does it become overwhelmed on complex passages. The timbre is natural through a combination of progressive tuning and slightly longer decay. The Skuld altogether provides a snappy and balanced low-end with a winning combination of organic tonality and toe-tapping attack alongside ample extension and texture.

Mids –

This has always been a pivotal area for Kinera and for good reason as the midrange is the most information dense part of the frequency range. The Skuld retains the coloured presentation of its forbearers. Chiefly, note body is bolstered courtesy of the lower-midrange tuning and vocals sit at the fore. Though placed in a spotlight, they are enriched with enhanced size and power. Combined with an uptick of density around the 4k region, the Skuld is defined by exemplary coherence and a highly complete structure. As the centre-midrange has been bolstered and pinna gain is adequate, vocals retain pleasing clarity and definition. Furthermore, as bass isn’t forward nor emphasis overt, the tone doesn’t skew excessively warm. Muffle nor chestiness are a concern in turn though tip choice can play into this as well. On the opposite end, definition is aided by the lower-treble, lifting articulation and providing a little more clarity. Its enhanced note body is in good taste here, meaning you get a little more gloss but thinness and over-articulation are non-issues.

It is impressive that Kinera, nonetheless, was able to retain balance and avoid dryness and congestion. While separation doesn’t operate on a high level, the tone is surprisingly clean and vocal clarity sates all considered. Colouration isn’t all good, of course. The lower-midrange boost combined with the denser upper midrange does mean the midrange sounds roomier. I wouldn’t personally say overly so, but this won’t be to everyone’s preference. The lower-mid tuning does aid staging and layering to some degree, but can detract from foreground elements and produce a boxy voicing on certain tracks. This is mostly apparent on male vocals as female vocals do sound far less coloured, albeit are not the most extended. Still, the Skuld’s midrange voicing never sounded off to me even by comparison to my reference monitors. It has a consistent and well-considered colouration that retains good versatility. If your preference is for a smooth, coherence specialist that avoids excess warmth and muffle, the Skuld’s unique voicing will suit to a tee.

Highs –

While treble isn’t forward, it does appear slightly more pronounced due to the Skuld’s fuller, more integrated tuning. I find this in good taste, that said, as the increased crispness helps to cut through its fuller sound, reintroducing energy and headroom to prevent congestion. Also, take my measurement with a grain of salt, these peaks can easily shift with different tips and fit depths. However, I did find the listener consistently receives a crisp, energetic top end that sits in good balance with the rest of the sound. Lower treble steals the show a little more, notes have keen attack and fine details are brought forwards. The image is slightly over-sharpened, lacking a little body and texture relative to more linear performers like the Moondrop Variations. The transient response remains clean and fast, typical BA here. Accordingly, note definition operates on a high level and separation is above average, retaining composition on complex passages. I do think the tuning would have benefit from a more even response, even if peaks and nadirs are quite small.

It means the Skuld skims over fine details that class-leaders resolve well and introduces a little brittleness and grain into its voicing. The Skuld does have impressive extension in-class which gives it a pleasant air and openness without over-doing middle-treble and introducing sibilance or glare. It retains sound cleanliness and a darker background overall. Background detail retrieval does impress as well, working in tandem with the lower midrange tuning to enhance layering. There’s a little sparkle at the very top albeit not a huge amount of micro-detail. The upper-treble tuning rather provides a lift in energy and atmosphere, whilst slightly increasing the clarity of its overall voicing. Matty at Headfonia who recently reviewed the Skuld summarised it perfectly; the Skuld’s treble performance is engaging, a little brittle but isn’t too hot. It is technically impressive, and the voicing works perfectly in the context of its bass and mids, if not excelling itself from a tonal point of view.

Soundstage –

I do think it’s with regards to imaging that the Skuld’s unique tonality most rewards so I will discuss in greater detail than usual. The Skuld might not have the sharpest transient response, the sparkliest top-octave or the largest dimensions, but exemplary layering and just the right amount of roominess for my preferences. The Skuld has a wide but not overly deep stage due to its vocal presentation. It stretches just beyond the head. The highlight is its imaging performance, a combination of great headroom and enhanced airiness combined with a bolstered lower midrange; the Skuld draws almost equal attention to the space surrounding as the instruments themselves.

As emphasis isn’t over-done, it doesn’t detract from the subject. Rather, the Skuld impresses with an unorthodox, grand and larger-than presentation that appears more spacious than it is – you can hear a wider stage from a high-end monitor, but the Skuld maximises its space at all times. It excels with layering, being highly defined and clearly delineated, aiding dimension. On the flipside, coronal positioning leaves to be desired and localisation isn’t especially sharp, albeit directional cues are clear. Separation is another area where the Skuld suffers, it has a medium sized stage filled with large notes. In turn, while not congested and well-organised on a whole, the Skuld doesn’t exactly highlight small details. In this sense, though technically proficient, the focus lies more on its tonality and imaging instead.

Driveability –

With a moderate 23-ohm impedance and a 120dB sensitivity, the Skuld should be highly efficient yet not overly source sensitive. I did indeed find this to be the case, the Skuld is very efficient, requiring less volume than most, but also picked up source noise easier than many too.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Switching between the Shanling M2X (1-ohm) and Hiby R6 (10-ohms) revealed a pronounced shift in tonality. Bass and treble was far more prominent on the M2X, with the R6 being smoother, more laid-back and mid-focused. While the R6 was smoother, treble was much thinner and less extended, not ideal. In turn, I would suggest a 2-3 ohm source or below for this earphone.

Driving Power

The Skuld doesn’t require much power to achieve a dynamic and balanced listen, being highly sensitive, it also doesn’t require much volume. This makes it suitable for most portable sources, even smartphones. The Skuld doesn’t scale hugely with higher end sources but you will notice a jump in soundstage width especially from more accomplished dedicated sources. Do watch source noise as it does pick up hiss easily. For instance, on volume 0 on the M2X with no music playing but the amp circuit activated, it did pick up a clear noise that many IEMs do not.

Suggested Pair Ups

The Skuld benefits most from a low impedance source around 2-3ohms at most, after which, bass and treble will roll off. It is very easy to drive in terms of power and volume, but does pick up source noise easily, so I would personally recommend cleaner over more powerful source pairings. In terms of tonality, the Skuld is an interesting beast, defined more by its full-bodied rather than warm and rich voicing. In turn, it pairs well with both neutrally toned and warmer sources, though I do caution using overtly warm sources which may over-colour the midrange. As a result, I would recommend neutrally toned sources for the Skuld. You don’t need a sharp source as the treble is already crisp and clear, this is a rare case where a DAC like the D30 Pro that is both balanced and smooth is ideal.

Next page: Comparisons & Verdict

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Ryan Soo

Ryan Soo

Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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