The endgame IEM for most of us?
I did not want to rush into this review - after almost two years of happy ownership, and very frequent use in what used to be my daily commute before the coronavirus disruption, I think this objective has been reached.
And I am particularly glad that I waited a little, because since several months ago I am using them with what might be the ideal combination: the Kann (more on that later).
There are lots (and lots) of reviews for these IEMs, so I will try and stick to the basics from my standpoint (i.e. that of a ‘normal’ person who simply likes to enjoy music, particularly in good sound if possible, and who has not been exposed to [other] TOTL audio equipment very often).
The first question I asked myself is: am I ready to spend USD 1’000 (700 now, it seems!!) on an IEM, even if it is as good as the hype would have it?
I guess the legend got the better of me, so I jumped the trigger as a personal Christmas present two years ago.
Next question: is it worth it?
I will give you my personal answer: very often while listening to these beauties on the go I have pictured a huge USD 20’000 hi-fi stereo system somehow surrounding my head (disclaimer: I have never owned such a system, but yes, the sound is that good).
This has been my real jump into hi-fi, after several mid-fi settings involving (at separate times) the Fiio X3 & X5, the Grado GR10, the Noble X, Dragonfly Black & Red. And I used to listen to the K10 simply out of the headphone jack of my iPhone in the beginning (accessing my FLAC library via Vox).
So, in retrospect, I tell myself I should have spent the first USD 1’000 I earned (I must have been 20 at the time) on these IEMs, and ultimately I would have saved lots of money in that frequent (and eternal) quest of audiophiles for the perfect sound.
I would not like to extend too much, so just a final note on pairings: the sound from the iPhone is quite amazing by itself, particularly for the less demanding styles such as pop-rock (there is a bass slam somewhere in the middle of ‘Telegraph Road’ by Dire Straits which is rendered in an impressive, subterranean fashion by the K10 + the iPhone).
But using more sophisticated sources really helps with separation and clarity in what is arguably the most demaning genre in terms of reproduction: classical (and which happens to be the bulk of my library).
So I upgraded to the DragonFly Black first (unfortunately too loud too fast due to the lack of volume controls - I could listen to most music with only 1 or 2 notches on the volume gauge), and then the Red.
With this one, the sound is truly amazing in terms of clarity, but I felt that it did not necessarily play to the strenghts of the K10s: it tends to put too much of an emphasis on the high frequencies, while the bass is a little subdued, compared to the iPhone configuration.
So following comments and reviews about ideal pairings of the K10, I jumped several months ago for another USD 750 present for myself: the A&K Kann. And IMHO this is a winning combination. The amazing authority in lower frequencies that this beast boasts (actually quite unbelievable, given the small size of the device, relative to any serious desktop amp) is reflected in an ideal way by the K10, and the tendency to be a little too bright with the wrong source is nowhere to be found here - indeed, while the sound is clearly top notch, in some rare situations I find myself missing the clarity the DF Red used to bring.
Here I am then, in what I believe might be an endgame for a portable setup in the foreseeable future (but we audiophiles know that there is no such thing as an endgame, only a cash limit in our wallets ;-).
I will now likely deploy my monetary efforts into improving my home listening set-up with maybe a tube amp and a nice pair of HiFiMans or LCDs, but that is another story.
I do hope this review was helpful for people considering taking the jump to the K10!
Would recommend to a friend.