TRI KAI Review: Laid back fun

THE PLUS:
-Coherent enough tonal balance
-appealing and full bodied male vocal
-thick bass with physical impact
-non fatiguing, safely tuned
-wide soundstage
-OK timbre most of the time
-beautifull design and sturdy construction

THE MINUS:
-average technicalities
-pillowy bass that lack grip and full extension
-half cook female vocal (lack high harmonic)
-half cook treble (darken part of percussions or texture)
-average resolution
-can’t deal with busy tracks properly
-tone is off for real instruments like piano, violin, harpsichord etc
-poor imaging
-lack of highs sparkle and decay
-good for pop music and that’s about it

TONALITY: 7.8/10
TECHNICALITIES: 7/10
CONSTRUCTION: 9/10
SOUND VALUE: 7/10


TRI is the sister company of KBear, and it try to offer higher end audio product with more audacious tuning. It’s a touch everything company too, since they have launch a DAC-AMP lately, call TRI TK2, which I adore and review here. TRi is known for hybrid and tribrid IEM like the TRI Meteor 1DD+1BA or I3pro 1DD+1planar+1ba IEM which get good praise, including mine here.
Today I will review their last release, the TRI KAI, which is a collaboration with HBB aka BGGA aka Bad guy Good audio, a famous reviewer that mostly listen to Aerosmith and Tupac Shakur as well as other old rock bands. He’s know for being a basshead too. It’s the second IEM collab from this guy that I will review, first one being the Tripowin Olina, an excellent earphones I review here.

The TRI KAI is a single dynamic driver IEM, using 3rd generation 9.2mm DLC (diamond-like-coated) diaphragm.

Let’s see in this review if all these IEM that HBB tuned pay off in term of refinement and experience in tonal balance, timbre and accessible musicality.

ABOUT ME: It’s important to know that i’m a kind of ”anti-hyper” reviewer, in the sens i’m highly critical and tend to highlight imperfection of sound more than the good side of it. Can’t change that, so I guess i’m a pessimist audiophile when it come to technical aspect of sound even if i’m very open minded in term of tonality flavors. I’ve listen to more than 300 IEM from 5 to 2000$, so i’m rarely impress by new offerings.
I listen to a very wide range of music and tend to favorize good quality recording (ECM label being a benchmark). Classical, jazz, electro and female singers (which include soprano like Arianna Savall as well as soul, rap or R&B singers) are main music style I listen too. I care alot about tonal balance too, which should feel natural and cohesive. Timbre too is something I cherrish and I don’t like it too thin or too bright. I’m not treble sensitive, but can’t handle bad spiky treble. My ideal signature is a full sounding W shape signature, hint bright, like the Final A8000.
As well, I tend to believe in good amping for demanding IEM or low impedance output for sensitive IEM. All this to say that my harsh critical review style should be take with a grain of salt, especially when it come to tone preference of bass mids or treble.

CONSTRUCTION

TRI rarely disappoint when it come to construction and both construction and design is very well done here. The housing is made of of alluminium alloy with a beautifully sculpted 2 colors back plate. It’s thick and feel very sturdy, but it’s comfortable too due to organic nozzle shape. Isolation is quite good too and their no sound leakage.

Packaging is very very minimalist, a bit underwhelming if we compare to KBear INK (same company). It’s just a small box with a carrying case in it. You have 5 pairs of eartips, a cleaning clothes and a SPC cable.

The cable is rather underwhelming, especially if we take in account the fact TRI sell big number of nice quality cable. It’s a cheap 4 cores silver plated cable. Better than a KZ cable but not impressive at all.

SOUND IMPRESSIONS

TONAL BALANCE follow a smooth V shape approach with thick sub and mid bass, dark but present mid range and understated treble where you have just enough snap and sound info to get part of percussions energy and intriguing micro details.
Dark, bassy and organically balanced with a very polished treble that roll off fast pass 10khz.

BASS tuning of HBB is rather hate or love affair here since it’s very colored and sculpted in a way that immediacy of impact is damped, bit muffled and pillowy in the sens it doesn’t move air fowards, nor have a authoritative thumping to it. The impact of bass feel like it come from another room, muted by a spongy wall, so it’s not a well rounded bass and it’s definition is scooped as well as it’s texture is polished. Still it do have a physical impact to it, just not a tight and well define one. Here it’s all about chunky mid bass slop, it’s heavy yet the energy is restrain and separation with mids lack spacing and proper definition. The lower extension lack flexibility and proper vibrancy and resonance, it’s not linear and can’t render acoustic bass line properly as if it feel hit while the bass string are pulled and should create a linear resonance in 20-40hz section. Kick drum is half cook too and tend to mix at same level as bass instrument, making it harder to properly perceive the attack. While I don’t listen to 2pacs nor Aerosmith, i’m pretty sure the dark sloppy bass response wouldn’t make it sound exciting since i can’t enjoy jazz nor fast complex rock with those, for rock, electric bass will swallow kick drum and make it hard to follow rythm, while for jazz the acoustic bass distract me in a boomy way. With pop, soul and slow beat driven music, the result can be pleasant, let just say the KAI aren’t made for critical listening, but for laid back guilty pleasure.

MIDS are very similar to the KBear INK, an IEM i’m not very affound off due mostly to timbre issue. Thin in upper register yet not sibilant with average clarity and a compressed presentation that lack air and proper sens of separation. Female vocal especially are a bit lean and recessed, with thin dry timbre. Vocal sound smaller than nature here, in the sens it’s not fully open and wide in presence, it doesn’t embrace the listener and feel very static and lifeless. In the other hands, male vocal are well done, thanks to gentle bass bleed into lower mids it sound full bodied and have a lively presence. Note weight is light, making piano sound dull and lacking in both low and high harmonic, piano is a disaster here, tonaly off and hard to follow in single notes definition. I guess HBB never have listen to piano before since both Glenn Gould and Pierre Hantai sound off. Again, post impact lack natural resonance too, this is perhaps explaining why their a boxy feel to mid range and all instrument struggle to open up in the space. One thing sure: the KAI aren’t for mid range lover, nor piano or female vocal lover, nor violin lover nor saxophone or lush natural timbre lover, nor for crisp clarity lover nor…you got my point, better use very simple music with the KAI like ”Heaux Tales” album from Jazmine Sullivan isn’t that bad, it’s a slow hip hop album injected with soul vibe, and the rythm section is very minimalist, still her beautifull voice aren’t magnify here, it’s more off a mix of physical slam with muted resonance and smoothed vocal presentation free of sibilance but of lushness, full bodied presence too.

TREBLE is understated here, as if the tuner struggle to choose between dark and vivid high and decide to tame everything but a little part of highs so you got minimal energy on top and sens of snap in percussions. I can’t say this result in well balanced treble because it extract just a small part of full highs spectrum and make percussions sound off due to favorizing specific region as if the drum have 2 part: Bass drum and one cymbal. Very colored and romantic treble, very subjective in it’s sens of musicality too, which can’t render acoustic guitar nor clavichord properly due to lack of sparkle and natural decay. Pierre Hantai ”Goldberg Variations” on harpsichord is a very strange audio experience where i’m not even sure what instrument i’m listening too…both lead and post impact feel scooped and timber is dry, their no brilliance to this instrument that should sound metallic and resonant with vivid sharp attack, as well, we have a peculiar sustain (with no release) to note presentation that tend to make every note mixed up in their layer so i can’t follow properly the fast playing of each notes. Positive side of this partly dark treble is that it’s not fatiguing.

SOUNDSTAGE is quite wide and open, immersive in it’s grand presentation which is tall enough too, but it lack deepness, especially when bass blur the background.

IMAGING is underwhelming and you will struggle to pin point the instrument position due to lack of clarity and clean spatiality. Muddy and blurry as a whole with compressed sound layers, even somebody with absolute hearing would not be able to find half of the instruments in a symphony or busy track.

So, yes, this isn’t an Olina in term of TECHNICALITIES, in fact, it’s even inferior to the KBear INK in term of attack speed and control, resolution, transparency and imaging. The DLC DD seem overly damped in it’s dynamic here, which affect everything in term of immediacy, accuracy and micro definition.

COMPARISONS

VS MOONDROP SNOW (1 DLC DD-80$)

The SNOW is more neutral and refined, with greater sens of transparency and clarity as well as notably less boosted bass. KAI is more U shape, with thicker sub bass and more physical slam, warmer and less textured and more prompt to bass bleed than the Snow which offer leaner dryer bass response, less boomy, faster and more articulated in attack.
Mids are clearer-cleaner and more present in definition with the Snow, but leaner in dynamic and bit thinner in vocal timbre, especially male vocal which are more bodied and upfront with the KAI, for female vocal, its a bit more shouty and fatiguing. With fast busy music the Snow keep its clarity and accuracy unlike Kai that can go messy and unbalanced, especially if their heavy bass line or hit.
Treble is fuller with the Snow, and offer more texture nuances and sound info, definition is cleaner and sharper, transparency doesn’t get messy, percussions are more detailed and fuller restored while KAI can pick up part of it and let other part in the dark, swallowed by bass and mids boost.
Soundstage of both is similar in wideness tallness, but notably deeper with the Snow.
Imaging is without a doubt superior with the Snow, more accurate due to more transparent sounds layers and sharper static definition of instrument positioning, as well, separation have cleaner space.
All in all, if you find your Snow boring, the KAI seem a logical sidegrade since it follow similar tonal balance with more bass and more lively dynamic presentation. Technicaly it’s inferior especially in resolution, attack speed and control, treble isn’t as well balanced and lack mature refinement of the Snow.

VS KBEAR INK (1 DLC DD-70$)

The INK offer a brighter V shape signature, making the KAI sound warm U shape. Bass have less rumble and roundness, it’s less thick too and create more resonance after attack, the KAI is less boomy and boosted in mid bass which offer better articulation. Mids are thicker and more natural with the Kai, male vocal especially feel more bodied and present while female vocal are a bit leaner and less prompt to sibilance due to more smoothed upper mids. Treble is sharper and more detailed with the INK, its more textured, snappy and sparkly too and seem more extended, yet it stole more the show of the mids than the darker KAI.
SOUNDSTAGE is wider and more open with the KAI, INK feel compressed and just a bit deeper.
Imaging is slightly better with the INK.
All in all, these 2 are on par in term of technical performance but tonality is more cohesive and balanced with the KAI.

VS BQEYZ TOPAZ (1 LCP DD-80$)

The KAI is warmer and more U shape, bass is less textured and more boomy and heavy in hit. Topaz bass is leaner in extension with better kick drum presence and definition. Mids are notably brighter and more textured with the Topaz, both male and female vocal are smoother with the KAI yet not as well define and resolved, especially in texture and for female it’s more upfront with the Topaz which make it easier to follow lyric properly. Overall timbre, tough brighter, seem more realist and full than the KAI. Treble of both these IEM doesn’t deliver plenty of details, it’s quite similar even if Topaz have a hint more bite in mid highs, KAI seem to offer more sparkle and brilliance here.
Soundstage is wider and deeper with the KAI. Imaging of both is a bit blurry, so i consider them equal.
All in all, technically speaking these 2 are on par while tonality is more energic but still warm with Topaz, I tend to enjoy vocal more with Topaz and feel the more energic mids and less distracting bass make it more maturely tuned and balanced.

CONCLUSION

I really don’t know why the KAI exist, but it’s there and I review it.
Thats one of this IEM that is fun to listen to for some hours and you get tired of it fast due to it’s technical limitation and not very versatile tonality.
It’s a fun bassy sounding IEM with decent macro resolution and safe but not boring tuning.
All the edge of bass, mids and treble are scooped to permit a safe listening, yet, the bass hit should entertain us gently.
It’s not a disaster in term of balance but versatility isn’t there when it come to anything complex or fast like jazz, classical and instrumental rock.
If you only listen to simple pop, soul, R&B, rap and some indie, the KAI is a good bet, but for all the rest, better go with the Tripowin Olina or Moondrop Snow.

————-

PS: I wanna thanks TRI and Keephifi for sending me this review sample. As always, i’m not affiliated nor paid to write this review and this is my 100% honest critical audio impressions.

You can buy the TRI KAI for 80$ here: https://keephifi.com/products/tri-x-hbb-kai

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