The KB Ear Neon is a single-BA budget IEM designed for audiophiles. Though the company’s official name is KBEAR, I pronounce it as “K.B. Ear” in my head and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be spelled out. This review is a slight step outside my comfort zone. KB Ear is not a new company at all. In fact, they are very well received in the “Chi-Fi” category and known for high sound quality considering the price. The new Neon will not changing anything about it. For just around $50 the Neon only has a single full-range BA per side.
Personally, I’ve been treating my ears to high-end gear for a while now. Can this budget offering win me over?
To be fair, at $50 we are not expecting Campfire-grade build quality. But then again, there are also excellently designed IEM at this price, for example the Final E2000. KBEAR tries to impress with a replaceable and transparent hi-fi cable. But the design is not thought through to the end.
The Neon features a bullet-shaped shell made from hardened resin. The resin is not fully opaque and allows you to take a look at the Knowles 29689 BA-driver inside. At the moment, the Neon is available in 3 different version that are only different by color. Featured here is the black color. Next to purple, there is a red & blue variant that makes it easier to visually separate the left and right channels. That is an interesting choice because the cable is replaceable. That means you could easily exchange left and right ear pieces as the stereo channel is decided by the cable only. Yet even the black shells have a small colored dot indicating left or right. The channel separation is already very obvious due to the cable’s asymmetrical shape.
The nozzle is made of metal and where it connects to the main body, there are no uneven gaps. Curiously, the brand name is basically hidden on the underside of the IEM with just a tiny space for the laser-engraving on a metal ring. The nozzle has a mesh grill preventing dirt falling inside.
For one, KBEAR’s cable is excellent. However, I think it is a bad choice for the Neon in particular. I don’t know if KB Ear actually manufacturers the cable or has it supplied by an OEM partner. Anyway, the silver-transparent cable impresses with high flexibility and low memory. This one isn’t easy to accidentally tangle up. There are also no issues with crosstalk or bad shielding. Technically, I’m quite impressed by the cable considering the low price of the complete package.
However, the choice for qdc-style 2-Pin connection is very awkward. The bullet design of the Neon has a tiny shell. It would hide so well in the ear. But the cable connection is almost as big as the IEM itself and it makes the IEM stick out so far that I cannot even place the cable over my ears. The cable’s softness helps to prevent microphonic noise, but it would have been far superior if vibrations were cancelled by contact of the outer ear. This was a very bad design choice, because ultimately I can only wear the Neon with the cable down. Yet the connection isn’t even rectangular but protrudes even further. Why… KBEAR, why?
The KBEAR Neon is tiny! It’s such a small IEM that it would have the potential to be among the most comfortable designs yet, next to the Final E- and F-series. But the cable ruined it completely. There is no grip, no ear hook and no way you could lay on the side wearing these IEM. In my opinion, this is a flawed design. A fixed cable that goes off to the side would have been much more elegant.
On top of that, some users might experience ear pressure. The IEM is fully sealed and has no solution to release pressure. Compared to multi-BA designs, the single BA of the Neon sits even closer to the ear drum. This means that if you insert it deeply, overpressure might cancel the sound completely! I could consistently reproduce the issue. This is something that is worth mentioning! I am sure KBEAR has received some complaints about defective units (“no sound”) of which users were just inexperienced and didn’t realize thy had to release pressure by fiddling around with the IEM.
The included ear tips are very average. The provided sizes should be sufficient for most users. Average sized ears also get the bonus of a single pair of foam tips. Be sure to clean your ears thoroughly, first! The light grey foam will take on the color of your ear wax very quickly.
Even with the fully closed housing, the isolation is merely average. This might be due to the transitions between the separate parts or that the resin is rather thin. If you were considering to use these as monitoring IEM on-stage, I hopefully made it clear that you should consider alternatives. For casual listening, the issues above have less impact.
The separation is much better than most dynamic drivers at the price.
The KB Ear Neon is an IEM that’s very easy to listen to. It features a very balanced frequency response with good transitions. Overall, the Neon sounds fairly realistic without the “shout” that many neutral IEM often have. While there is great stereo width, unfortunately, the depth placement is lost for the most part resulting in a flat soundstage. For monitoring, the imaging (instrument placing) is still good enough, but you probably do not want to rely on the Neon for professional work. Ultimately, there are unsurprising limitations in regards to resolution when compared to pricier IEM. But considering the highly competitive price, this is a very good IEM designed for price-sensitive audiophiles foremost.
There is no doubt that there was great care taken into the tuning of the KB Ear Neon. The bass is fairly flat with a slight tendency towards upper bass. Midrange frequencies are exemplary neutral. Up on top, the treble response is pretty much what you’d expect from a single BA with expected downfalls in regards to extension and a pronounced resonance.
Let’s get this out real quick: If you’re a bass head, the KB Ear Neon isn’t for you. This is mostly due to the lack of rumble. At the very low-end, the Neon fails to create pressure and has heavily limited headroom. However, I do not consider this an issue at all. I hear a light-weight sound that seems agile and provides a relatively good punch. On top of that, there is decent texture. These are the terms you want to tick when designing an audiophile IEM. In this regard, KB Ear succeeded.
The tuning of Neon’s midrange is exemplary, but the single driver still struggles to reproduce a realistic soundscape. Unfortunately, the dimensionality of the stereo image is lost and the presentation is very flat and dry. The timbre is great, but voices won’t really come to life as the Neon struggles to separate multiple layers on the audio track. The limitations are absolutely acceptable considering the price, and the separation is much better than most dynamic drivers at the price.
There is an old prejudice towards balanced armature receivers that they fail at full-range reproduction. Now the Neon will not tackle that preconception. In the contrary, Neon’s treble noticeably lacks air. Apart from the limitations due to frequency extension, KB Ear did well, though. There is good definition but no sibilance. The Neon is still a very closed-in sounding IEM, but considering the challenges, I wouldn’t feel comfortable criticizing the result.
This is a very good IEM designed for price-sensitive audiophiles foremost.
If you put sound quality first, the KB Ear Neon has an incredible proposition at the price. The tuning is excellent considering the limitations of a single BA, and the detail retrieval outperforms similarly priced dynamic drivers. In regards to the build quality and product design, this is still very much a Chi-Fi product. The cable connection is the most puzzling aspect, in my opinion. Nonetheless, if you want to get a natural or neutral sounding IEM for only $50, definitely consider the KBEAR Neon.