Aspiring To Be Like The Best
- One of the best midrange IEMS tested, with a great timbre and a great representation of both voices and instruments.
- Balanced, equilibrated, smooth, slightly warm and very musical profile.
- Very suitable for long sessions
- Very pleasant design with excellent ergonomics.
- The transparency of the capsules enhances the attractiveness of the model.
- The very low frequency pure tone test reveals weaknesses in their reproduction. The Kara’s are unnatural representing continuous sub-bass lines.
- It suffers from a lack of air.
- Not as technical as the drivers used would suggest.
- Slightly microphonic cable. Not up to the quality of the capsules.
- It needs a powerful source to be able to move them. Although any dongle and a balanced cable is enough.
Link to the WEB
Tanchjim was one of the first IEMS brands I reviewed on my blog, back in early 2019. At that time, the model reviewed was called Cora. Four and a half years have passed and from that model to this one, two letters have changed: Kara. As I said then, Tanchjim was established in 2015 in Dongguan, China. Their philosophy is based on combining excellent design with exceptional craftsmanship, treating the products as works of art. With the Kara model their philosophy is clear. This new model mounts 1DDD + 4 BA inside a medical grade resin capsule printed with high precision DLP3D technology. It uses a three-way electronic frequency divider that tries to keep the essence and eliminate the undesirable to improve the performance of each driver. Kara uses the Sonion 2389D mid and high frequency composite BA driver imported from Denmark. The other ultra-high-frequency composite BA driver has been designed independently by the brand itself. For the dynamic driver, a 9mm composite diaphragm and voice coil have been used. For the cable, high-purity 6N oxygen-free silver-plated copper Litz wires have been used. The metal parts are made of stainless steel and a PVC leather box with the brand logo is used as storage case. After this thoughtful introduction, let’s take a look at what the beautiful Tanchjim Kara can do.
- Driver Type: 1DDD 9mm with PEEK+PU diaphragm, 1 composite BA driver for mid and high frequencies Sonion 2389D, 1 composite BA driver for ultra high frequencies designed by Tanchjim.
- Frequency response: 7Hz – 40kHz.
- Sensitivity: 115dB/Vrms.
- Impedance: 27Ω±10%.
- THD: < 0.8%@1kHz.
- Drive Unit: DMT 3 Ultra.
- Jack Connector: SE 3.5m gold-plated.
- Capsule Connection Type: 2Pin 0.78mm
- Cable: Oxygen-free Litz 6N copper wire.
- Cable Length: 1.25m.
The Tanchjim Kara comes in a relatively square white box with dimensions 152x152x73mm. Almost the entire surface of the main side is occupied by a real photo of a capsule. At the top left is the brand name and below that the model. At the top right is a grey box inside which is the mix of each frequency response of each driver contained in the model, next to the word «Hybrid». At the bottom, at the bottom, there is a sentence indicating that T-APB silicone tips are used. On the back is the frequency response and specifications in four languages, Chinese, Japanese, English and Korean. After removing the outer cardboard, a grey box with a pattern of interlocking T’s is revealed. In the centre is the brand logo in white. Lifting the lid reveals a white cardboard with the name of the model in grey letters. Underneath is a kind of grey envelope with the brand logo in the centre of the flap. Inside are various paper elements. Finally, there is the grey piece containing the capsules and a lower white compartment with the rest of the accessories. Removing this level reveals two sets of tips in an upper compartment, while in the lower compartment is the white case encased in an even whiter foam mould. Inside is the cable. In summary, the complete contents are as follows:
- The two Tanchjim Kara capsules. Comes with both white silicone tips size L.
- 1 set of silicone tips size SxMxL T-APB Bass Enhancing.
- 1 set of silicone tips size SxMxL T-APB Treble Enhancing.
- User guide.
- Warranty card.
- Social media link card.
- 1 x 1.25mm cable consisting of oxygen-free 6N Litz copper wire, 2Pin 0.78mm interface and SE 3.5mm connector.
- 1 white leather storage case with magnetic closure and grey velvet interior.
To be honest, I like the presentation, small in size but very well presented, with those light colours. The effort for the personalised branded tips is appreciated, but I miss a balanced/neutral set. The box is nice but it’s a bit big compared to the classic zippered cases of the competition, so it becomes impractical. Honestly, the cable is not up to the standard of the capsules and I would have preferred a multi-stranded copper cable, to complement the silver trend of the colours.
Construction and Design
The capsules are shaped like a right triangle, but with rounded corners. The top side is flat, while those forming the right angle are more rounded, even that vertex is the roundest and smoothest, for improved ergonomics. The capsule is made of imported medical grade resin. It is slightly white in colour, translucent throughout, but with a window so transparent at the bottom base of the outer face that it appears to be an opening rather than a window. From it, you can see the printed circuit board that forms the three-way frequency divider. On the more opaque side of the outer side of the capsule you can read a brand inscription on the right capsule and the model name on the left. On the edge of the flat side is the 2Pin 0.78mm connection, inside a slightly recessed rectangle. Its connectors are gold-plated. Nearby is a perforated grille in the shape of an elongated oval, which is also recessed in the body of the capsule. The inner side is very transparent and you can clearly see the BA drivers and the channels coming out of the mouthpieces. There are three channels, one from the DD driver and two from each pair of BA drivers. Each of them goes to the outside independently. The bass channel is the narrowest and does not appear to be shielded. While the other two have a metallic cover when approaching the outside and two fabric filters, red and white. You can also see another duct coming out of the DD driver, but towards the edge vents. Underneath the drivers you can see the copper wires that connect the drivers to the electronics board containing the frequency divider.
Each inner side is inscribed with the make and model as well as the lettering indicating the side.
The mouthpieces are smooth, without any steps and are slightly oval and not very long. I would have preferred a little more length for a better fit.
The cable is very simple, consisting of a single transparent strand. The wires are silver-plated copper with a very transparent PVC coating. The connector is a simple metal cylinder with the marking written lengthwise. The connector is a 3.5mm gold plated SE connector. The splitter piece is the same, but has the model name inscribed on it. The pin is a smaller metal piece in the same style as the other parts of the cable, as are the sleeves of the 0.78mm 2Pin connectors. It is worth noting that these connectors are very long, mounted on a rectangular piece that is slightly inserted into the capsule. The length of these gold-plated connectors is longer than the usual cables, which makes them less compatible with other replacement cables: as they do not have such long connectors, they come off easily.
Finally, the cable has slightly rigid over-ear guides made of transparent plastic.
The design of the capsules is very good, very transparent, showing the degree of craftsmanship with which each element is made. They are very light and may appear fragile. In reality, however, this is not the case. The lower window on the outer face is very distracting, looking more like an opening than a protected window. And this effect accentuates the fragile feel, which is misplaced when viewed up close. On the other hand, the cable does not live up to the quality of the capsules, nor does it live up to the price: it is thin and simple. I can’t say that the wires are bad, but there are better-looking and better-impressing cables for less money.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
The capsules are very small and fit very well with the size of the pinna. The nozzles have no step and therefore there is no stop when inserting the tips, which can limit the insertion into the canal. The deeper the tips are inserted, the closer the sound is to the ear canal, but the closer the capsule is to the pinna. A positioning compromise must be found between the sinking of the tips and the proximity of the domes within the pinna. Sometimes this is not possible due to the lack of a stop. Squeezing the capsules inwards may cause the tips to slide slightly in the canal, if they have not reached the end of their travel. The sinking of the tips may also make it difficult to tilt the tips into the ear canal.
If all these minor pitfalls are overcome and a suitable tip is found, the insertion will be no more than superficial, although a good occlusion level, good isolation and integration between the capsule and the pinna can be achieved. However, if the fit is not very tight, the slightest movement can ruin the seal and with it, the best version of the great sound performance that the Kara can offer. On my scale of tightness I would classify them as desktop IEMS, not suitable for a lot of movement or daily outdoor use.
Performing an archaeology exercise among my past reviews, I have found that there is a reasonable resemblance between the FRs of my beloved NS Audio NS5MKII Bass. Those had a balanced profile with a slight mid-centric tendency. I find the Tanchjim Kara to have a similar profile, though they are more balanced, with even smoother mid-highs. Eloquently, the treble dips before 10kHz, giving it a dark harmonic treble. The sub-bass is not as extended and the low end is centred in the centre. The midrange is present and the relationship between the low-mids and high-mids is very well achieved, with a balance that allows for a very pleasant midrange harmony.
The low end is restrained and controlled in presence, subtly above neutral, yet inoffensive to me as a lover of powerful bass. I openly wouldn’t choose the Kara for a brisk walk or exercise. In those situations I always go for fun IEMS with energetic bass. On the contrary, the Kara is an IEMS designed to spend hours and hours with them in your ears. You could call them desktop IEMS, which require a good source to shine and to demonstrate their full technical quality. And that quality certainly starts from the low end. Although in the pure tone test, the behaviour of the LFOs was not the best. With tones below 40Hz you notice that the dynamic driver does not behave as such and emits a vibration more worthy of a BA driver. This means that it is coloured and more audible than sensory. There is little depth to this behaviour. Fortunately, from 40Hz onwards the sound changes for the better and becomes a more natural, realistic, well-executed and more powerful bass. There is still an excess of colouring, lacking some darker, more organic timbre, but the recovery is good towards a more canonic bass from a dynamic driver. The result, transferred to real music, is that the bass is concise and fast, with no apparent aftertaste and no intrusion into the mids. There is control and recovery is swift. The punch has a subtle rubberiness to it, perhaps to give a little more body to the low end, adding a nice spark to the enjoyment. But the fun stops there because the power and energy level is restrained, so it will never sound excessive, let alone boomy. On the other hand, that does not detract from the fact that the bass has a certain prominence and allows the music to be dressed up as it should be, but always within what I consider to be neutral and restrained margins, as it will never sound above the rest of the frequencies. That is the level of respect for the lower range of the Kara, they enjoy a certain authority, but it is the central range that rules.
Where the Kara’s fared worst was in my very low frequency bass test, with unfiltered, hard-to-follow bass lines. If the volume is adequate, the loudness will still be relatively realistic. But if you like to listen to loud music, the Kara’s will suffer from representing LFO and trying to follow all the bass lines, giving a sonority closer to a BA driver than a dynamic driver. This makes me wonder if the dynamic driver design is the right one or if, on the other hand, the frequency divider is not cutting the Sonion BA drivers at that point in the bass. The result is that the Kara’s are better designed to reproduce kick drums than continuous, very low frequency, overlapping, unfiltered bass lines. I don’t usually give examples of specific songs, but what I’m talking about is very clear in Massive Attack’s Better Things, which has an opening bass line that can reveal this kind of embarrassing situation for some IEMS and, in particular, for the Kara’s. You can’t have everything.
The mid-centric character comes to the fore as soon as the frequencies set foot in the centre range. The inoffensive lows drop just enough to give the first half of the mids the warmth, weight, body and physicality needed to demonstrate all the strength and balance they possess. It is clear that the mids are protagonists, but they perform naturally, without being over-represented. It is not a matter of projecting the voices above the rest, but of interweaving them with the rest of the instruments, endowing them with a superior harmonic richness and an almost idyllic realism. For all the strength in the first half, the weight of the notes in this fragment is not thick, but a perfect balance of warmth, sweetness and technicality. In contrast to the LFOs, there is no hint of BA sonority in the mids, and both timbre and reproduction are much more natural, realistic and organic. So much so, that more than one, in blind tests, would not be able to tell that this is a hybrid with 4 BA drivers. The slight warm character tries to fight against an incipient analytical ability, imposed by the technical skills of the Sonion drivers. In the end, the most logical result seems to be a draw. There is a higher exposure in the mid-high and early treble details. While the details in the centre are less exposed and that’s something I find curious: When using songs to look for those kind of micro details that we know are there, the Kara represents them by recreating the best conditions for them to be reproduced, but it is not always able to present them. It is as if the wrapping is better than the gift, leaving the gift more valuable the more resolving the source is. In this sense, I find the Kara more detailed when paired with technical and analytical sources. Even so, they do not become detail monsters, but they will attest to their level of resolution and definition. In this respect, micro detail also suffers from the thickness of the mids. Note weight is very balanced, it doesn’t feel thin, nor does it feel thick. The execution of each of them is quite precise and has enough space to be reproduced with sufficient uniqueness. Even so, they never come across as cutting, cold or too sharp. That is the balance I am referring to, the almost perfect balance between warmth and analytical ability. The result is a pure exercise in pleasing harmony that will always remain respectful to our ears. That’s why I say that the Kara is an IEMS to enjoy for hours and hours, even at a good volume, if you exclude those bass passages I mentioned in the previous section.
The result of all this exposure is an excellent representation of the voices, whether male or female. Their presence is outstanding, never excessive, but exuberant and tremendously musical. As I say, the integration with the instruments is special, both worlds are fully represented, maintaining their vital space and without any overlapping. The separation in this sense is excellent, but without any hollowness between elements, causing a loss of information due to the volatility of notes or elements within the scene. The relationship between the base of the notes, their overtones and the details is also very remarkable. There is no predominance of detail over the fundamental or the other way around. And this is another great sign of the great balance that has been achieved in the tuning of the Kara. As a sign of their great class in this range is the ability to represent sibilance: you have to put them to the test to realise the great skill they possess in this aspect, the result could not be more elegant, pleasant and realistic. One of the best IEMS I have tried in this respect. And this is made possible by masterfully tuned mid-highs: they have just the right level to add clarity and transparency to the music, without being overpowering. The transition between low-mids and high-mids is one of the best in its price range. Totally exemplary.
The highs are good until they say enough is enough. They have a sustained performance that aims to be pleasant, delicate and silky, but the timbre and the final sparkle suffer from the clear drop before 10kHz. The energy is also perceived as controlled, not a crunchy high end, I would say neutral and complementary. But they have their grace. The Kara’s have a smooth high end that maintains a good level of balanced energy up to a certain point. In this way they show a very tolerable, sweet and relatively natural treble. However, there is also a sense of incompleteness, of a lack of air, of that final sparkle. And everything seems to indicate that it is that drop that exists in the second half of the treble. This could be one of the reasons why the Kara does not go beyond detail and higher resolution to become an analytical IEMS. Maybe that is not their purpose either, or maybe they would not be as melodious. But I personally think that the Kara falls short of being a more expressive, descriptive and technical ensemble, but without giving up on being musical.
The Kara scene is represented as a fairly rounded oval. I imagine it as such because of its height level and good laterality. It suffers from a certain depth, though, which gives a sense of immersive closeness. The mid-centred profile brings the elements closer to the listener even though they are presented very well separated. The levels of clarity and transparency are obvious, with no opacity or darkness at any time. Moreover, the background and separation are easily discernible. As I said, the notes are very well outlined and unique, which allows them to be identified effortlessly, even if it is not an analytical set. On the other hand, the micro detail suffers and the sound can become drier due to the lack of extension in the upper treble and air area.
On the other hand, the proximity of the elements to the listener tends to magnify the music and enlarge the scene, becoming almost overwhelming and explicit. This is due to the richness of the sound and the ability to show many elements on the same plane. But at the same time, the layering of layers feels more limited and the nuances present in those other planes are more diluted. The initial sensation is almost overwhelming, but when looking for minute details in the background, they are not readily apparent or with sufficient resolution or definition.
Finally, a wide frontal scene achieves a well positioned image, in which it is easy to locate each element, also thanks to the great clarity and very good sense of separation that the Kara have.
NS Audio NS5MKII Bass Ed
With a similar profile are some of my favourite IEMS of all those I have had the pleasure of reviewing. This is a brand that has few models, but I wish they would create new ones, because their level is fantastic. These are the NS Audio NS5MKII Bass Ed, IEMS with a fabulous dynamic driver inside a small, ultra-comfortable metal capsule. Yes, they have a metal construction that surpasses the Kara’s and superior comfort. The integration inside my ears is close to perfection. Even though they are metal, being so small their weight is negligible and they sit very flat in my ears. The cable is slightly better in the NS5MKII and they come with more silicone tips. Both models come with silver plated cables. Personally I would have chosen pure copper cables.
The NS5MKII are easier to move while the Kara appreciate a powerful source.
Starting with the low end, the NS5MKII doesn’t suffer from dangerous bass lines like the Kara does. It has a much more natural, deeper and more skilful sub-bass. Pure tones below 40Hz reveal the NS5MKII’s better, more realistic and more sensory reproduction capability. The rest of the bass band, frankly, the NS5MKIIs are better, with fuller, more defined and refined bass, as well as more extended bass. The NS5MKIIs follow complex bass lines seamlessly, and while it’s not the most sensory or least coloured bass, it proves its class above the Kara.
Actually, the graphics of both models are very similar, of that there is no doubt. But I find the mids of the Kara to be closer, while the NS5MKII offers a slightly more luminous and brighter midrange. I find that there is a little more flesh and physicality in the Kara’s, in the first half of the mids. Male vocals are more evident on the Tanchjim, while on the NS5MKII they may be more integrated with the stringed instruments, due to the greater emphasis on the upper-mids. The female vocals are more sparkling and juicy on the NS5MKII, while on the Kara they are drier and a bit more nuanced. As I say, the Kara’s sound is drier, more detached, more finite. The NS5MKIIs have a final flare, a sparkle, a halo that disperses the notes, but also binds them together. There is more silence in the background of the Kara. So the result is different, the NS5MKII’s treble is more crisp, energetic and vivid, with that wetter, more vibrant flash. The result is a more natural, less mellow high end. The more wiry nuance of the Kara’s sharpens the notes, but detracts from the harmonics. There is more air in the NS5MKII and the perception of detail is different. It is able to represent more layers and the background detail, despite the brightness that unites them, makes them more perceptible.
The size of the scene is greater in the NS5MKII, there is more depth and also more laterality. Their sound seems to go through 180 degrees, but without going all the way around. The Kara’s are more frontal and rounder.
The dryness of the notes in the Kara gives them better separation, a more precise image, as well as a darker sound and background.
Tanchjim Kara are an IEMS who seek to move away from many trends to create their own style of sound. It is certainly not alone in this field, but it is looking for a place among the best in its class. It stands out for its great ability to reproduce the midrange, starting with a subtle warmth and a smooth treble profile. The Kara presents music in a very organic, natural, exciting and approachable way. It is not a very technical or analytical sound. In that respect, Tanchjim has been very capable of sweetening the BA drivers for maximum musicality, although they have also restrained both extremes to achieve this, something that penalises them as an all-rounder IEMS. However, the price paid is well worth it – you only have to put those beautiful transparent capsules in your ears to realise that their virtues far outweigh their shortcomings, going where others cannot.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Tempotec BHD Pro.
- Tempotec V6.
- Aune X8 XVIII Magic DAC + EarMen ST-Amp.
- Aune M1p.
- Burson Audio Playmate II.