Audio, IEM, Review

Kiwi Ears Quintet Review: 5 Drivers for 5-Star Audio Quality

Even for folks who are familiar with the ChiFi scene in the rabbit hole that is the audio hobby, Kiwi Ears may be a name that have only been seen in passing. Eclipsed by giants like Moondrop and 7Hz, Kiwi Ears has quietly released IEMs like the Cadenza, Dolce, and Quartet, all of which were quite well-received.

The brand’s first release was the Orchestra, a $499 (about RM2,290) IEM with eight balanced armature (BA) drivers; it then followed up with the Orchestra Lite for half the price. Every release since then has mostly been targeted at the sub-$100 market, and while there’s some degree of fanfare with those releases, Kiwi Ears never quite impacted the ChiFi scene like the bigger brands.

That is, until the brand released its newest IEM: the Kiwi Ears Quintet.

What It Is

The Kiwi Ears Quintet is an IEM with four different driver types: one Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) dynamic driver, two BA drivers, one planar magnetic driver, and a piezoelectric (PZT) bone conductor. Basically, there’s a total of five drivers within each shell of the IEM, hence the name Quintet.

An IEM with multiple driver types isn’t anything new; most (if not all) brands have the ability to do so. The actual challenge lies in tuning the individual drivers to be both coherent and balanced. No one driver should stand out too much, but all of them should meaningfully add something to the table as well.

In my opinion, Kiwi Ears managed to strike a good balance in this regard with the Quintet, a feat that countless brands have failed to achieve. Speaking of outdoing its peers, Kiwi Ears is pricing the IEM at $219 (about RM1,000) on Linsoul, which sent over this review unit of the Quintet.

While this pricing may seem steep for a ChiFi brand, the Quintet is a five-driver IEM with four different driver types that actually sounds good – well, to me at least. Such a driver setup at this price point is practically unheard of until now.

Anyway, unlike the IEM itself, the packaging of the Quintet takes a more modest approach. Sliding open the sleeve and the box reveals the two IEM shells. A layer beneath sits a small, hard-shell zipper case that holds a four-core oxygen-free SPC cable, three pairs of normal bore tips, and three pairs of wide bore tips.

The shell of the Quintet is made up of 3D printed resin with a rather subdued silver metal faceplate. On one side of the faceplate is Kiwi Ears’ logo, while the other has the Quintet branding etched on it. You’d expect a shell housing five drivers to be bigger and heavier than usual, but in reality, it’s quite the opposite with this IEM.

Not only is the Quintet’s shell compact and lightweight, it also fits very comfortably in my ears. In fact, I find it to be one of the most comfortable earphones I’ve tried with above average noise isolation to boot. However, as the shape of everyone’s ear is different, your mileage may very well vary.

As for the included SPC cable, it is of two-pin variety and terminates in the standard 3.5mm. The cable also isn’t too thin and is able to resist tangling quite well. The silver chin slider portion and 3.5mm end adds a premium touch, but they also make the cable a tad heavy in those specific sections.

I consider the packaging of the Quintet modest as some IEMs a fraction of this price have a more elaborate packaging. That could be in the form of a fancier-looking case or a more unique unboxing experience, though I suppose Kiwi Ears is placing more emphasis on the IEM itself rather than the packaging. This is certainly evident in how the Quintet performs.

How Does It Sound?

The Quintet has a mostly balanced sound signature with an ever so slightly V-shaped characteristic. The tonality, to my ears, is natural with a hint of warmth for good measure. Overall, it’s quite a laid-back sound that isn’t too fatiguing or dull – balanced in every sense of the word.

Presentation of soundstage for the Quintet is a slight out-of-head experience, but is still intimate enough to be engaging and immersive. What’s surprising is the detail retrieval and instrument separation of the Quintet. Whether it’s the inclusion of Kiwi Ears’ own Micro Planar Transducer (MPT) or the piezoelectric driver, something is working its magic in isolating the instruments within the soundstage and presenting them with great clarity and sense of space.

You wouldn’t be wrong to assume that an IEM with this many drivers would be quite power-hungry. On the contrary, this set is surprisingly easy to drive, and it gets loud on both my phone and laptop without a hitch. That being said, pairing the IEM with a more powerful source does allow it to breathe and open up a bit more with a wider soundstage.

Bass

With an emphasis on the sub-bass instead of the mid-bass, the Quintet provides rumble that extends deep down but controlled enough to not be all boom and bloom. That’s not the say the mid-bass is lacking: there’s ample impact, speed, and even warmth to provide the low-end with texture without bleeding into the mids.

Despite that, I doubt the impact of bass provided here would meet the requirements of a seasoned basshead – the 7Hz Legato might be a better fit for such a crowd. But what the Quintet lacks in bass quantity is made up in quality with a presentation that’s both fun and clean.

Mids

While the Quintet’s bass might not bleed into the mids, some warmth and texture of the upper-bass does carry over. Male vocals benefit greatly from this, providing a thick and full note weight. The texture of said vocals are lush and remain organic too.

Female vocals are almost equally great, but to my ears, there’s a pinch of dryness or grain that makes it less than natural. I also wish that the warmth and weight of the male vocals would be reflected more here as well. It’s not that the vocals sound “steely” or “metallic” – common caveats associated with BA drivers – the Quintet actually manages to steer clear from these negative traits, boasting Kiwi Ears’ tuning prowess.

This minor quirk aside, the vocals are intimate without being intrusive, and it skirts around the usual fate of Harman-tuned options with a shouty upper-mid region.

Highs

Treble is another testament to the adept tuning of the Quintet. Extension in the high-end is quite remarkable, providing a texture that’s sparkly and rich. But the Quintet doesn’t overextend its reach, controlling its treble in such a way that it remains smooth and tame, giving it a more laid-back sound signature in the highs.

The above could be credited to the piezoelectric driver of the Quintet, though this driver is also known to make treble sound a bit messy and fatiguing at higher volumes; a minor flaw that even the Quintet wasn’t able to avoid. But as long as you refrain from turning up the volume too much, only the strengths of the Quintet will present themselves to you.

Is It Worth It?

As mentioned before, $219 for the Kiwi Ears Quintet sounds far from affordable in comparison to most ChiFi offerings. But again, this is a five-driver IEM that is actually well-tuned and coherent – this alone is reason enough to purchase the Quintet.

The only shortcomings of the Quintet that stood out to me were the slightly unnatural upper-mids and the IEM’s basic case and packaging; the latter is a minor gripe, I’d admit.

Balance, as I’ve echoed many times throughout this review, is the name of the game when it comes to the Quintet. Any minute misjudgment of the five individual drivers could tip the scales and cause the tuning to fall apart. It’s already no easy task handling hybrid drivers, let alone four different driver types. But the coherence that the Quintet manages to achieve is astounding, and it is an accomplishment that Kiwi Ears should be proud of.

Here’s hoping this isn’t a mere one-hit-wonder from the brand, and it is instead a sign of more great things to come.

Li Jin Soh contributed to this review.

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