Kinera Freya Review – Metamorphosis
Sensational Artisan design, Natural bass tuning, Powerful and smooth vocal presentation
Lack of treble bite, Average bass quality, Hazy localisation
If you’re looking for powerful vocals complemented by a light and atmospheric presentation, the Freya is a beautiful and nicely refined example.
Like many of the more esteemed manufacturers out there, Kinera started life as an OEM before branching out into their own brand. As such, their foray into unique designs was built atop a solid foundation and their first IEM, the H3 was an instant hit. The company has since released a few models, some standouts, some showcasing some very polarising tonalities. What underpinned them all was a focus on quality over quantity both with regards to driver setup in addition to their fairly clear cut product line-up – many ChiFi manufacturers having a rather confusing wealth of products. The Freya is one of two new IEMs released by Kinera in Q2 2020. It sits a step above the IDUN with a more elaborate 4-driver setup. Furthermore, the Freya implements a gorgeous artisan design, one of the most premium and eye-catching on the market.
The Freya comes in at an RRP of $249 USD and is available for purchase on HiFiGO.
Drivers: 3x BA + 1x DD
Frequency Range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 110dB +/- 2dB
Impedance: 22 ohms
Distortion: < 5% (1kHz, 100dB SPL)
I would like to thank HiFiGO and Kinera very much for providing me with the Freya for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The Pitch –
Custom DD + Tweeter
The Freya utilises a 3BA + 1DD hybrid setup. The midrange is covered by a dual Knowles setup while the bass and treble are both covered by Kinera custom drivers; a 7mm micro-driver and single balanced armature.
The overwhelming response to the first promotional images of the Freya was for good reason. Each Freya is hand-painted, taking a whopping 3 hours process per piece. The results are frankly stunning and will be further detailed below.
Of course, we have to discuss that design. The housings are a stunning combination of gold flake and swirled resin that looks quite unlike anything else whether you spring for the white or black variant (both sonically identical). The shells are reasonably large but very well-shaped with a faux-custom design. They remind me in some ways of iBasso’s shells in terms of sculpting but appear to be a unique shape. The housings are very lightweight, but the finish is immaculate with zero bubbles, seams or roughness – a simply superlative gloss coat that showcases deep colour and texture.
The cable connects via 0.78mm 2-pin. The stock unit is a 2-wire OFC copper unit with internal braiding. The jacket is very soft but also quite rubbery and it frankly feels a bit cheap. Though an aesthetic complement, a nicer, sturdier cable would have better suited an earphone of this price. Nonetheless, microphonic noise transmission is relatively low and the cable has fairly low memory, coiling easily for storage and resisting tangles well. The jack feels well relieved and the pre-moulded ear guides were soft and comfortable if fairly soft.
Fit & Isolation –
With their heavily sculpted design, the Freya provides a very confident fit. It does contact some of my outer ear but didn’t form hotspots even after several hours of listening as a result of their smooth and curved design. They follow the curvatures of my ears well and provide great fit stability as a result, especially in conjunction with their lightweight design. They are quite large, protruding noticeably from the ear. A small vent is visible at the top of the earphones, though they weren’t especially sensitive to wind noise during my testing. This also opens up an avenue of modification for the sound – more on that later.
The nozzles are large with a tri-bore aperture and provide a shallower fit overall which further contributes to wearing comfort. Isolation remains quite good for a hybrid earphone and definitely suitable for commute. Of course, a fully-sealed design will perform a good deal better here if you’re a frequent traveller. One strange issue to note is a strange pinging within the housing when tapped or bumped – as if something is loose inside. Kinera and HiFiGO assured me that my unit performs as normal. I also didn’t find it to affect sound quality, but this is certainly a quality I haven’t experienced on other in-ears. Driver flex also isn’t apparent.
Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasized due to coupler resonance. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalized to my best abilities between earphones. Due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. The Freya was given 100hrs burn-in before final evaluation. Whether due to my ears or the burn-in process, I feel the low-end has become more present and extended, granting a more balance presentation. Out of the box, I was hearing a clearly mid-focussed sound, however, I would now classify the Freya as relatively balanced but still with a focus on vocals.
The Freya is a musical monitor first and foremost with clear colouration but a relatively natural voicing overall. It is reasonably well-balanced but comes across as vocal-focused to my ears with a full low-end and a light, airy top-end. At face value, one might draw similarities to some of my personal favourites, the Meze Rai Penta and the Craft Ears Four. However, though similar at a glance, the Freya is the least linear and the most vocal-biased. As such, it doesn’t represent the most versatile sound nor a perfectly balanced one, but it does make for an immersive experience on select genres – notably, acoustic, atmospheric and easy listening. I have always been supportive of unique sound signatures, however, with one caveat. It must have a natural midrange voicing, especially pertinent if vocals are the most forward element in the mix. The Freya, thankfully, is one of Kinera’s best yet.
Blocking the port generally decreases bass presence and that’s what we observe here. With the rear vent occluded, the sound becomes thinner and bass becomes tubbier and less controlled. This saps vocal body which produces a less natural, more strained sound. Overall, I would highly recommend keeping the back vent clear.
Usually, I strive for a deep, well-sealing fit, most would also say this creates the most accurate sound. However, altering fit depth can subtly adjust the sound; with a shallower fit generally offering a brighter top-end and a deeper fit a smoother one. I actually found the Freya to suit a shallower fit for my preferences. Sizing up from my usual medium to large tips provided a slightly more present bass. I felt less pressure in my ears, granting the sensation of greater sub-bass presence. The top-end becomes a touch crisper but remains smooth in the grand scheme of things. Vocals are pulled back slightly which makes the presentation slightly more balanced overall. The following impressions will be with the large tips and a shallow fit.
Though not the best I’ve heard around this price technically, the tuning is quite appealing to my ears. It is laid-back relative to the midrange but not by a large degree and it has a pleasantly natural voicing. To elaborate, it is clearly DD in timbre but has a slight roll-off that gives it a smoother note delivery with zero pressure or aggression. A fairly solid slam remains but the emphasis centres more around a bolstered mid-bass before a progressive drop off through the upper-bass into a recessed lower-midrange. As such, the voicing is full and warm but not too tubby due to the upper-bass fall-off. Notes are also well-bodied and bold despite bass not being especially forward so the sound is never lacking body or drive. This isn’t a hard-hitting presentation, but a natural one while maintaining a good amount of mid-bass punch. Furthermore, as the sub and upper-bass are less present, there isn’t any bloat or muddiness despite mid-bass emphasis.
Driver control is okay, not outstanding, but musical and suitable for their style of presentation. Bass notes have a rather smooth attack and texture alongside relatively slow decay. This helps to maintain body and contributes to the fuller voicing of the Freya’s low-end. Similarly, it ensures there’s a good amount of dynamics at play, more so than one would expect from a similarly tuned BA monitor. On the contrary, definition and bass note separation isn’t the best. This also isn’t the aggressive, energetic presentation we’ve observed on past Kinera hybrids so potential buyers shouldn’t expect a large and engaging low-end. Nonetheless, there’s ample body and fullness here to ensure vocals aren’t too thin and the sound isn’t anaemic. However, it seems, almost by design, tuned not to draw too much attention, highlighting the midrange instead.
All Kinera earphones have pursued a very intriguing kind of midrange voicing – one that is very upfront and upper-midrange biased. This was with exception of the Tyr that I found to be very natural, even skewing onto the warmer neutral/natural side. The Freya finds a happy medium between both approaches and is surely one of the most refined Kinera earphones I’ve heard, whilst still catering to fans of their house sound. Of note, we observe a recessed lower-midrange feeding into large 1-3K emphasis. The bass also is the least present of their hybrid earphones and the upper-midrange and lower-treble are both substantially smoother. The Freya still doesn’t strike me as an earphone appealing to those wanting perfect timbre, tone and balance but it is quite naturally voiced and coloured with careful restraint.
Deriving less warmth and body from the low-end, vocal body is on the slightly thinner side which is saved by a hint of warmth introduced by the bass. The resulting tone is very pleasant to me, not to be mistaken for organic or full-bodied, but permitting high definition and separation while combatting thinness. As aforementioned, vocals sit at the forefront of the Freya’s presentation, commanding attention with bolstered size. Their touch of added warmth works in tandem with sharp 6kHz attenuation to deliver a very smoothly articulated sound, to the extent that the Freya’s female vocals even sound slightly truncated at times. Still, this permits the Freya to sound mostly natural in voicing as there’s adequate density, smoothness and warmth to balance out their forwardness and prevent excessive intimacy and strain. What we have here remains a more unorthodox presentation, being neither explicitly accurate in timbre nor perfectly balanced. But the Freya is undoubtedly a musical performer while delivering definition, separation and clarity in spades.
With a sharp 6K dip combined with a hint of 5kHz and middle-treble emphasis, treble retains a pleasing amount of crispness without any aggression or sharpness. The Freya’s detail delivery isn’t the most focused or contrasty as a result but is very smooth with enough presence to flatter percussion and provide convincing note attack. Instead, the focus is on air, possessing a very light note weight with notably reduced instrument body. This can make them sound rather detail deficient coming from 6kHz emphasized earphones especially as they do lack that initial bite and detail density. Still, once adjusted, the Freya redeems a pleasing amount of detail but isn’t a class leader in the regard. Clearly, the focus is on air, as the Freya presents good headroom in addition to great separation.
There isn’t any sparkle nor superb treble extension, but a pleasing openness that will be sure to find fans. In particular, shimmer and energy are abundant without sounding over-forward, yet they almost take precedence over the initial note attack which can make treble sound a bit blunted in this regard. Accordingly, the Freya doesn’t have the most detailed or layered presentation nor the best ability to localise. I really don’t have much to say about the top-end of the Freya, it’s pleasantly open, nicely resolving but not outstanding for the asking price. The tuning, however, is well-considered for the rest of its sound and, much like the bass, seems to draw focus towards the forward, empowered midrange.
With an airier sound, the Freya provides the impression of a very spacious stage, emphasizing elements attributed to atmospheric and room. Actual expansion is good but not outstanding, however, stretching just beyond the head while delivering a more intimate depth due to its forward vocals and slightly laid-back bass. Imaging is sound, there’s reasonable overall balance but some lack of foreground/background contrast within the treble that can smooth off directional cues and blur pinpoint accurate localisation. Otherwise, bulk instrument placement is good and transient response is quite clean. The midrange especially is highly layered and separation is excellent throughout, only slightly reduced in the bass due to its fuller voicing and slower decay.
The Freya prioritises atmosphere over overt accuracy and that is not a bad thing. Though bearing little likeness, I can’t help but draw parallels to the CFA Andromeda here. Not to say the level of performance is at all similar nor the tuning on a whole, but this earphone also awed with its atmosphere and airiness and many listeners did not at all seem to mind that it didn’t excel with positioning. The Freya appears a curated selection of qualities suitable for musical enjoyment over accuracy. Kinera did also inform me that retail units will perform better in this regard than my pre-production sample.
The Freya sports a 110dB sensitivity alongside a modest 22-ohm impedance. It’s an efficient earphone that is neither overly sensitive to noise nor difficult to drive to ear-splitting volumes from portable sources. In summary, the Freya was quite easy to drive during my testing and not overly source sensitive.
Output Impedance Sensitivity
Comparing the Hiby R6 (10-ohms) to the Shanling M2X (1-ohm) revealed a surprisingly similar experience. The Hiby felt a little bit more compressed, losing a touch of bass extension and vocal body, however, I would say that it was a listenable experience. Ideally you want a low output impedance to hear the IEM as the manufacturer intended but the Freya will sound good even from sources with a slightly elevated output impedance. Under 2-ohms and you will not hear any colouration at all.
The Freya is efficient and easy to drive. It picked up a hint of hiss on the M2X but barely noticeable even without music playing. Suffice to say, the efficiency here will be ideal for the majority of listeners who should experience neither added noise nor limited dynamics from any modest source. Even the lower-powered DD TC35b was even a good match here though, of course, my THX 789 provided a wider soundstage and more authoritarian bass. Still, I find this earphone more accommodating of mediocre sources than most.
Suggested Pair Ups
The Freya sounded best to me on lightly warm sources such as the Shanling M2X that provided a slightly more balanced sound and filled-in vocal body. However, it is tuned in a way that there is good leeway for a variety of sources. For instance, body is reduced so warmer sources don’t sound congested. Similarly, there’s a bit more warmth and fullness in the bass and the treble is smooth so neutral sources don’t sound too clinical or strident either.
Kinera IDUN ($139): Kinera’s more affordable triple-driver hybrid features a more v-shaped and substantially brighter and more aggressive sound. Bass occupies similar presence on both, the IDUN is cleaner with a bit more sub-bass extension and less mid-bass focus. It has quicker decay and is more defined while the Freya comes across as fuller, warmer and more musical. The IDUN’s vocals are more laid-back with smaller and more strained vocals. The Freya is noticeably more vocal-forward and its vocals are more powerful with more body and smoother articulation. The Freya has a substantially more natural voicing if not overtly so in isolation. The IDUN is a lot more aggressively detailed, being more lower-treble forward. I also hear it as being a touch more detailed in the foreground, but largely lacking the same air and extension. The Freya has a larger soundstage with much better imaging on account of its more balanced, natural sound. It also has better separation throughout. I am not sure buyers who loved the IDUN will see the Freya as an immediate upgrade given how different the tuning is. If you don’t mind the smoother treble, the Freya is a great step up, retaining a clear vocal presentation but introducing a more powerful voicing.
Fiio FH5 ($249): The FH5 is a direct competitor, being a 4-driver hybrid at exactly the same price point. The tuning is W-shaped and considerably different. Immediately, bass is more present and deeper reaching, with a larger sub-bass focus. Its notes are similarly full but with less warmth. The FH5 has better control and higher definition while the Freya is smoother and less pressurized. The midrange is also forward on the FH5 but noticeably less so than the Freya due to its bigger bass. It has a natural voicing too, but is notably fuller and denser if not too much warmer. The Freya is clearer and slightly cleaner in addition to being more upfront. The FH5 has a crisper, more aggressive lower-treble without being bright in isolation. It is a touch more balanced than the Freya overall delivering better detail retrieval and a darker background with better contrast. The Freya has a slightly more spacious soundstage alongside better separation while the FH5 has sharper imaging. The FH5 is for those wanting a beefier build and fuller yet more detailed sound without sacrificing too much sound.
Shozy BG ($279): The BG is a more linear and balanced earphone with a 5-BA setup. It has less bass extension and a generally flatter bass, but is similarly a touch fuller with a hint of mid-bass emphasis. The BG has quicker decay and much higher bass definition. Its midrange is more balanced with its bass and sounds a bit more natural overall to my ears. It has a bit more body due to its less recessed lower-midrange. The Freya has better midrange clarity on the flipside and larger vocal size. The top-end is crisper and more aggressive on the BG with more lower-treble presence and greater detail retrieval. While the Freya has a lot more air, the BG extends better and delivers higher resolution. The BG has a slightly wider soundstage and it has sharper imaging. The Freya has slightly better separation. The BG is for those wanting a more neutral and balanced sound and tone with excellent technical ability while the Freya is more musical and fun.
Final Audio E5000 ($279): The E5000 is a highly natural micro-driver earphone with some fancy acoustics that provide a very extended bass too. It has considerably more bass than the Freya, being more of a L-shaped sound. Sub-bass extension is much better and rumble is more defined. The mid-bass is fuller and the sound warmer overall. Despite this, bass is more controlled with sharper attack and decay, permitting more defined bass notes. The midrange is more natural on the E5000 but also more laid-back. It is denser but with more accurate articulation. The Freya sounds a lot cleaner, lacking the overt warmth but also sounds thinner and drier. It is more forward with greater definition and separation. The top-end is slightly crisper and more detailed on the E5000. The Freya is airier with slightly better extension at the very top. The E5000 has a larger, more rounded soundstage and better imaging while the Freya has much better separation. The E5000 is for the listener wanting a full, warm bass alongside clear, superbly natural vocals while the Freya is a cleaner and more defined sound while retaining some warmth and a good dollop of musicality.
Oriveti OH300 ($299): The OH300 is more similar to the Freya, being a W-shaped sound with prominent vocals. It has slightly better balance overall with a slightly more prominent bass and lower-treble. It has better bass extension and sub-bass focus, producing a full note with clean tone. The OH300 has quicker decay and better control, its bass being snappier and more defined. Vocals are also slightly forward on the OH300, but are more prominent on the Freya. The OH300 is more neutrally toned and has better vocal extension and clarity. The Freya is a touch warmer and more musical while the OH300 is slightly more revealing while being smoothly articulated. Treble is notably crisper and more aggressively detailed on the OH300, not because the OH300 is bright, rather the Freya is smooth. The OH300 is more detailed while the Freya has a bit more air. The OH300 has a bit more extension and resolution alongside a more spacious stage and shaper imaging. Both separate similarly well. The Freya is suitable for vocal lovers as it does have a more pleasant tonality in the midrange alongside greater focus on it while the OH300 is more balanced and technical.
Campfire Audio IO ($299): The IO similarly pursues a vocals-forward yet warmer sound but with distinct differences in its approach. The Freya has slightly more present bass though the IO is similarly full and warm in its low-end voicing. Both are smooth and slowly decaying, the IO is quicker being a touch more defined and detailed while the Freya offers a bit more authority in the sub-bass. The IO is more vocal forward but has smaller vocal size, sounding strained at times. It is cooler in tone and is also thinner than the Freya. It has better upper-midrange extension and clarity but also some rasp and a thinner vocal body. The Freya is denser and smoother, being more powerful in its voicing with larger, fuller vocals while the IO is more revealing at the cost of being less natural. The IO has a more aggressive treble, being crisper but also retrieving more detail. It has sharper note attack set to similar airiness, being a bit brighter than the Freya overall if not overtly bright to my ears in isolation. The Freya comes across as more refined and smoother through the midrange and top-end. It has a larger soundstage while the IO has sharper imaging and slightly better separation mostly on behalf of its tuning.
I have a mixed relationship with Kinera and have not been kind to some of their previous releases. That said, the second I lay eyes on the Freya’s design, I couldn’t help but want to love it. Kinera went through a rough patch, experimenting, tweaking but also learning, and it’s clear here that this process wasn’t in vain. What has emerged is something quite beautiful. Every minute Kinera artists have spent on each shell shows. Further yet, though making a statement with its design, the sound is simply pleasant and musical albeit not the most technically outstanding. There aren’t any abstract tuning decisions here, similarly, no adherence to academic targets. The treble is arguably most contentious due to its distinctly smooth presence region. Undoubtedly, the Freya is an earphone that showcases its vocals; big and defined, they are presented with delicately curated warmth and smoothness to retain a natural voicing while working to optimise clarity. From the models I’ve heard, this is Kinera’s most successful incarnation of such a sound yet. If you’re looking for powerful vocals complemented by a light and atmospheric presentation, the Freya is a beautiful and nicely refined example.
The Freya is available from HifiGO (International) for $249 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Kinera or HiFiGO and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
Billie Eilish – dont smile at me
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Crush – Digital Lover
Dirty Loops – Loopified
John Legen, WENDY – Written In The Stars
Joji – Gimme Love
Kanye West – Late Registration
keshi – skeletons
Lauv – I met you when I was 18
Lorrie Morgan – A Picture of Me
MAMAMOO – BLUE;S
NIKI – Zephyr
Pixies – Surfer Rosa
Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding
Radiohead – OK Computer
The Marshall Tucker Band – The Marshall Tucker Band
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World
The Weeknd – After Hours
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