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Little Dot Cu KIS Review – Pure Drive

Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasised due to my measurement setup, less so with deep fit. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. I gave the Cu KIS 100hrs burn-in to ensure maximum performance prior to subjective breakdown.

Tonality –

It’s always interesting to see how companies like Little Dot with less experience building IEMs will approach the sound aspect of their design as you never really know what to expect. I’m happy to report that they’ve had great success here; the CK is reasonably coloured but still a pleasure to listen to from both a technical and tonality point of view. It has a W-shaped signature with higher bass/midrange contrast, strong clarity clean tone throughout. Body is instigated by a robust sub-bass rumble following smooth dip into the lower-midrange. The centre midrange quickly picks up to enhance vocal presence and size which sustains into the upper-midrange, granting strong extension, openness and clarity. Lower-treble tapers off smoothly, it retains good crispness but doesn’t overbear. Altogether this is simply a fun and natural tuning that isn’t the most linear or accurate but balanced and easy to appreciate.

Bass –

The CK has a modest sub-bass focus and slopes down gradually into a recessed lower-midrange. Extension is strong but pressure isn’t overdone so the CK doesn’t fatigue or pound the head with bass. Rather, there’s a highly defined rumble at the very bottom and a tight, agile slam with satisfying pressure that BA earphones are unable to replicate. The mid-bass is still modestly elevated so bass retains convincing body and fullness. It doesn’t sound too uneven or lacking in texture as a result. Meanwhile, the upper-bass is slightly recessed so the tone is cleaned up, remaining lightly warm, and separation is redeemed. I am a fan of the lower focus, as it grants a powerful note weight and great sense of drive but without incurring bloat, bloom or any form of muddiness. Driver quality is also impressive and surely contributes to this impression.

Control is excellent, attack is more aggressive and decay slightly quicker than your regular DD. This contributes to a punchy, tactile bass response with outstanding definition. Separation, as aforementioned, is also a strong performer so the bass overall is very resolving of fine details and composed even on quick or complex tracks. The tuning contributes to good dynamics too, lows are robust and sub-bass slams with great authority. Though timing is likely its strongest asset, it is impressive how Little Dot have managed this without deficit to weight, body or texture in the mid-bass. The CK doesn’t have the most linear tuning nor the most natural timbre, but a delightful bass performance all the same. It isn’t over-done in terms of quantity, being on par with the midrange, but with sensational quality, an inviting light warm tone and uptick of note weight aiding engagement.

Mids –

And if you thought that such a toe-tapping bass would subtract from or overwhelm the rest of the sound, you would be mistaken. Though not especially coherent or smooth, with a little rasp and thinner, the CK offers a prominent midrange with clear, open vocals. Both male and female vocals have been brought forward relative to instrumentation and sit on par if not occasionally in front of the bass as well. Female vocals undoubtedly are held in the spotlight, presented with natural body and voicing but also excellent clarity and extension. This is offset by a smooth, refined articulation that means they aren’t too raspy or intense. Male vocals are not quite as flattered but are convincing nonetheless.

In particular, they are more obviously coloured by the large lower midrange dip measured above. Though not strained or laid-back, they do sound fairly thin and a touch dry in terms of voicing. Still, vocals in general are high-definition and largely uncoloured by the bass. They have a very clean tone that contributes to the impression of strong clarity and openness. Much like the bass, it is clear Little Dot haven’t set out to create a perfect timbre, but I was impressed by how natural vocals sounded despite the colouration. Vocals do hold precedence, but this is surely not a bad thing given their excellent clarity and delicate, articulate presentation.

Highs –

The top-end does taper off gradually quickly after the upper-midrange but not the point that highs sound blunted, just a little laid-back relative to the midrange. There remains good clarity and crispness, in fact, despite not being overly forward, the BA tweeters do provide quite a concise note attack. In turn, the CK delivers clean and concise transients and strong fine detail retrieval in the foreground despite being just a little smoother and less aggressive in its treble presentation. This is most apparent with strings and percussion that are presented with great clarity and resolution. Instrument body is a touch thin but quite good overall. The earphones also maintain a natural decay, cymbals especially are flattered with strong texture. The background is clean and dark, offering good foreground/background contrast and layering.

Those accustomed to high-end IEMs may want for more sparkle and general top-octave information as the CK doesn’t have the most extended and high-energy treble at the very top. Still, to call the CK a purely tonality focused earphone would do it a disservice. I say so due to the strong resolving power in the foreground and it has plenty of headroom as well. On the contrary, other flagship earphones that have been around for a few years now like the renowned CFA Andromeda have become commonly available around this price on the used market. Many of these will handily dismantle the CK’s extension and resolution of small micro-details. So, keep your expectations in check here, the CK is a good performer but not outstanding in flagship terms but that also does not mean it cannot be enjoyed.

Soundstage –

The experience here much resembles what you would expect given the aforementioned descriptors. The CK doesn’t possess an especially large soundstage but a nice sense of width stretching just outside the head and decent depth projection despite their forward vocals too. Imaging is actually quite a strong performer, the centre image is very strong and the acuity of its positioning is up there with the best in its premium price class. The Ck isn’t especially layered or holographic but has especially sharp directionality. This is, no doubt, aided by its strong separation. It doesn’t have an especially light note weight but has heaps of tri-frequency separation. And within each frequency range, it benefits from a well-defined note presentation that means small details are easy to pinpoint and discern by the listener.

Driveability –

The CK has a low 18 ohm impedance paired with a higher 105dB sensitivity making it an efficient earphone. It doesn’t require a huge amount of power to achieve high listening volumes in turn. Still, source matching is something to heavily consider on this earphone as I’ll touch on below.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Switching between the Hiby R6 (10-ohm) and Shanling M2X (1-ohm) revealed a distinct shift in tonality with higher output impedance sources. The R6 had noticeable roll off in the sub-bass and highs. The sound had reduced body, in the bass and midrange, and blunted treble note attack. Vocals sounded smaller and strained. It wasn’t a totally destructive change to the sound, but definitely changes in a direction that is not enjoyable. As such, the CK is best enjoyed from a low impedance source.

Driving Power

Comparing between the M2X and my desktop setup with THX789 revealed that the CK isn’t too demanding in terms of power output. It is an efficient design, providing similar bass extension and power from both the portable and desktop source. Similarly, there wasn’t a huge change in dynamics or control that were highly enjoyable on both sources. The desktop source did reward with a larger soundstage so the CK does scale reasonably well with higher end sources. In addition, the CK isn’t especially sensitive to hiss. Even on volume 0 on the M2X, background noise was very, very faint and completely inaudible once music was playing.

Suggested Pair Ups

The CK is easily one of the easier high-end hybrid earphones to drive from my testing so long as the OI of the source is low. It doesn’t require huge power to achieve a powerful and dynamic sound nor will it pick up much hiss from slightly noisier sources either. In terms of tone, it is quite a clean sounding earphone and its low-end has a sub-bass bias. This means it plays well with both neutrally toned sources like the THX789, retaining adequate body and smoothness, in addition to warmer sources like the Shanling, avoiding mid-bass bloat and bloom. It sounds slightly more linear on the M2X which has a little sub-bass roll-off, creating a more even bass experience and euphonic tone in the midrange. Of course, this is heavily subject to individual preference.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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