Kiwi Ears Cadenza ($35)
Today I am reviewing the newest budget iem from Kiwi Ears, the Kiwi Ears Cadenza. I picked this set up from Amazon US for $35 and did so the second it went up for sale. Kiwi Ears is a relatively new company and truthfully I don’t know much about them. I know the Kiwi Ears Orchestra did very well. Of course, the Orchestra goes for $499. That is a hard cry from the ultra-budget Cadenza. Kiwi Ears made a good decision to try their hand at the ultra-budget segment in my opinion. If looks were the standard by which we judge iems, I’d say the Cadenza gives them a solid A+. Of course, there is much more that goes into the making of a great iem, no matter the price.
What’s in a name?
So, what is a “Cadenza”? Ya know, normally I don’t even give a name another thought, not even a fleeting glance. After all, most of these names in Chi-Fi are simply just random numbers and letters spliced together. You’ll see that many brands come up with names which have zero to do with the iem and more to do with garnering attention.
Care about the craft
What I like about Kiwi Ears is that they cared enough to dream up a solid and meaningful name. At the very least it begs the illusion that you care about your craft. I realize this is of little importance and a surface level observation. If we peel back the layers a bit you begin to see the regard given, which speaks volumes. These are human beings doing the creating after all. In this case Kiwi Ears decided upon… Cadenza. What is a Cadenza? Why choose such a name beyond just sounding cool. Well, I’m glad you asked.
Cadenza: A cadenza is a section in a piece of music, usually an aria or a concerto, that allows for a dramatic solo performance. Typically, near the end of a movement, or section, the orchestra will stop playing, and a solo musician will perform a short piece designed to showcase his or her skills.
Cadenza it is
Need I say more? After spending some time with the Cadenza, the name begins to make perfect sense. It’s thoughtful and it takes giving a damn about what you are creating. Nice Kiwi Ears! You thoughtfully distinguished even your ultra-budget iem with a perfectly descriptive name or a personality if you will. I realize I’ve already spent too much time on this, but I like to think that there are still artists who perform their craft with care and purposeful intent. Perhaps I’m naive…but at least I have a clue what exactly the Cadenza is supposed to be.
The budget segment is absolutely blowing up and I can’t imagine this brush fire stopping anytime soon. Over the last year we have seen a tsunami of sub $50, even sub $30 iems which perform very well. They perform so well that it seems diminishing returns are kicking in at a much lower price anymore. Gone are the days which required the purchase of a $250 iem to finally get good fidelity and auditory joy. The hobby has come a long way. I have a boatload of multi hundred-dollar iems, yet I reach for budget segment sets often. Now I’m not saying that ultra-budget sets overtake the more expensive sets. Still there is a gap which appears to be closing to a degree.
The set I’m reviewing here shows a lot of promise. I’ve spent a good amount of time critically and leisurely listening to the Cadenza. I’ve burned them in, swapped cables, tip rolled, and I think I’ve gotten this set to a solid place for an educated review. So, I think I’ve wasted enough digital ink on the mindless blabber… friends, the Kiwi Ears Cadenza…
-Tuned very well for the price
-Midrange sounds well-articulated
-Detail retrieval is nice for a $35 single DD
-Price to performance is phenomenal
-Soundstage isn’t the most grand
-Separation isn’t perfect
-Upper mid glare can occur
-I’m sure some may want an airier treble
–At this price the cons section is a bit ridiculous
Later Comparisons: QKZ X-HBB / Reecho SG-01 Ova
The Cadenza arrived in quick Amazon fashion, order on a Monday and it’ll be dropped off on Wednesday. Gotta love it. Anyways, the packaging and contents are pretty well laid out for something which is so inexpensive. The box has a nice sleeve with a graphic (as you can see in my pictures). Quite different from the Waifu art that litters the ChiFi world and I’m okay with that. Slip off the sleeve and you are met with a black box with “Kiwi Ears” written on it. Open the box and the beautiful earphones sit staring at you within the foam cutouts. Inside you receive three sets of tips, a manual and the cable.
The included cable is a black and braided 2-pin, 3.5 single ended, 4 core copper cable of okay quality. I mean, I didn’t know what I was expecting at $35 but… It’s a foregone conclusion that I will swap cables on every set I get; the Cadenza was no different. I listen mainly on 4.4 balanced so I went with a HifiHear SPC cable with the Cadenza for around $18. I found no sonic difference using this cable other than the boost in output power using a 4.4 balanced cable.
The eartips that are provided are actually of good quality. It’s very generous of Kiwi Ears to add three sets of three size tips at the price they are asking. Each set has a different flange stiffness to a slight degree. It is kind of odd that each set of tips has a narrower bore as well. I went with my usual KBear 07 Large yellow tips. They have a medium-wide bore which seems to open the Cadenza up a bit.
Build & Look
Kiwi Ears went above and beyond in this category in my opinion. The Cadenza can be purchased in four different colorways (Blue, Green, Red, Purple). I chose my favorite color of blue, and they look just as nice in person than on the Amazon website. The housing was made using resin and a 3D printing process. I see no visual discontinuities or defects but rather a smooth and clean look with no rough edges. The blue-on-black is very striking and I applause Kiwi Ears for such a nicely dreamed-up design. Very nice looking, hopefully I can capture the look in my pictures.
Kiwi Ears decided upon a single Dynamic Driver with a 10mm Beryllium Diaphragm. Beryllium, when implemented as intended should provide a snappy and punchy sound with quick decay in its transient behavior. Like I said, when it is implemented correctly of course. This is not always the case as many earphones are promoted as having Beryllium but not always do they share the characteristics of the material.
The fit is phenomenal for me. I am assuming that nobody will have much of an issue here. Isolation is also very nice on the Cadenza providing you get a nice seal with the eartips of your choosing. I love that I can wear these for very long periods without any physical discomfort at all.
The Cadenza rates at 32 ohms, with sensitivity of 110 dB, driving them is not an issue with most sources. Using a decent Dongle such as the Shanling UA2 you will have plenty of headroom for a set like this. Listening on either single ended or 2.5 balanced was plenty of driving power for a nicely dynamic and expressive sound. Using the IFi Go Blu is just so nice with the Cadenza attached on 4.4 balanced. Jumping up to the Shanling M6 Ultra with its AK4493SEQ dac chip on medium gain setting creates a nice synergy. I actually enjoyed this set-up a bit more than the Ibasso DX240 and the Cadenza.
You should have zero issues driving this set. I do think that better gear will obviously show listening with the Cadenza. Also, with decent power added there is good scaling going on with the Cadenza. Technicalities come out a bit, it sounds more open and visceral in its dynamism.
Quick Sound Impressions
Very quickly, the Cadenza is a slightly left of neutral sounding earphone with slight warmth. I hear a Harman to an almost U-shaped sound. Sub-bass has more of an emphasis than mid-bass as the bass region has nice authority without over doing it. Midrange is pronounced a bit with nice vocal delivery and instrumentation that comes across nicely with my library of music. Last, the treble region is slightly airy and smooth with decent illumination of details and strays from any peaks. I will break down each area a bit more as we move-on in this review. Technically this set is not tuned for perfection but there is a nice balancing act of atmospheric and mature qualities.
The sub-bass has a nice tactile imagery with decent texture and nice speed. The Cadenza is not so emphasized in this region to be a real banger and should not be looked at for its bass-head qualities. Instead, what you get is a good rumble and nice timbre that is appropriate to the recording with subtle coloration. Surface texture is gritty with a nice leading edge to kick drums or bass drops. Nothing soft or hollow here people. I could use a dB or three more in the transition and slope down through the mid-bass, but the tuning down low provides a clean sound that doesn’t distract other frequencies.
“John Wayne” by Whiskey Myers begins with a dirty bass guitar riff that is deep and a good gauge for the rendering, timbre, transient attack and weight of bass guitars and this area of the spectrum in general. Listening with the Cadenza I am not blown away but there is still a harder edged attack and swift decay along with a presentable tonality and timbre. This sound kind of teeters between sub and mid bass and if I could only get a two to three decibel rise in the slope down from the sub-bass, I believe I would hear that robust and sonorous depth of vibration that I love. Please don’t get me wrong though, the Cadenza will replay this area perfectly for many people. This is me being ultra-picky over a $35 iem.
The mid-bass has a bit less in quantity than the sub-bass, but I hear decent slam for genres which require it. However, I could use a bit more to provide better grit and presence to the bass guitar and even some of my favorite rap albums could use just a bit more oomph. That said, this mid-bass doesn’t bleed over in a detrimental way at all, but in a mature Harman style with pretty good separation of elements due to the quicker than usual attack and decay per its quantity. Timbre is very nice and comes across natural enough for a $35 single DD.
The lower midrange presents a clean and pretty resolute male vocal. Both Baritone and Tenor have a nice sound even though there is a recession here. Still that recession is very appropriate and natural to life as males have a well-defined delivery and a natural bodied note weight. I’d say that male vocals are well rendered as a whole with a nice transient behavior. They could use a bit of refinement in acute focus and definition, but I suppose that is to be expected for $35. I would also say that instruments and voices share the same space very well on the Cadenza.
For example, “Cover Me Up” by Jason Isbell is a track which highlights the vocal and the acoustic guitar. Both share the stage nicely and Jason’s voice is untarnished and speckless next to the string pulls of the guitar creating a very atmospheric and even detailed sound. Really nice.
The Upper midrange is boosted with a slightly large pinna-gain rise and come across energetic and lively. I wouldn’t call this area so boosted that it is a problem. Females have a nice shimmer and shine to them while not leaving out an emotional sense of musicality. The upper-mids are closer or more forward than the rest of the midrange with better contrast and crispness than male vocals.
Lady Gaga sings “Always Remember Us This Way” with a well bodied but also ardent and impassioned vocal delivery. Her voice has a melodic rasp with an empathetic boldness and power behind it that isn’t lost on the Cadenza. Now, there are moments in certain tracks when glare will rear its ugly face, but it is few and far in between and really is a situational occurrence and not the norm. I honestly don’t feel it is a con to the degree that it is a bother as the Cadenza keeps things under control and peak free for the majority of my listening. Another thing I noticed is that females can sound a bit dry and even slightly thin yet still keeping nice form and body with a good sense of depth for the price point.
Instruments and voices come across naturally enough for the most part. I am very happy with what Kiwi Ears was able to achieve here. I wouldn’t call the Cadenza’s midrange as “mid-centric”, but I do feel that the midrange is one of the highlights of the Cadenza. The easy-going nature of the sound may lose a bit in perfect clarity but for the asking price it is difficult to ask for more, considering the entire spectrum as a whole. Thankfully the Cadenza is a well-tuned iem with a good driver, with nice speed, and a natural timbre, and all these attributes help with the overall auditory experience of the midrange as a whole.
If there was a downside of the Cadenza without actually labeling it as a “downside” it would likely be the Treble for most people. Not that there is anything inherently wrong and for the most part the treble is perfectly fine. We are talking about a $35 iem for crying out loud. I really need to remember this fact when conducting a review. Still, I’m quite sure many would like a bit more air. This is not to say that the treble isn’t well enough represented as it is.
The treble-region has a thinner and smoother sound and is adequately capable of illuminating details with some pretty nice technical capabilities. No, this set is not tuned to be a detail monster but considering the price, considering it’s a single DD, and considering it is Harman tuned, I have to say that the technical chops of the Cadenza are pretty darn nice.
Instrumentation like violin, flute etc, they all have good definition and sound full enough to pull off a realistic performance on most of my library. Cymbals and HI-Hats could use a bit more body but they aren’t too recessed for my liking on most recordings.
I do have to admit that it isn’t the airiest and most boosted treble region, and I would certainly like more energy up top. That’s me though, I like a well extended treble, but also, I like my treble slightly boosted for a more open feeling. Also, the treble can come across a bit dry and thin at times. Still there is enough energy to form a good balance with the rest of the spectrum. I can easily see how many will love the smooth and easy-going sound of the Cadenza. I hear a mostly natural decline through the highs without any peaks or sibilance and at the end of the day I’m not missing much up top.
The soundstage is not one which I find to be very wide as I consider the width to be about average and right at my ears. I wouldn’t call it lacking though as nothing sounds overly congested, but width is not a highlight. Height is the same, about average to my ears, nothing I hear is super tall. I do hear some depth to my music which is nice and helps to give an account of the front to back instrumentation and vocals. We have to remember that this is a set of iems. You will not hear some ultra-expansive sound no matter the set you are listening with. It is all psycho-acoustic trickery and when all is said and done some iems manipulate our auditory cortex better than others.
The Cadenza stage size is not massive and while I don’t hear a stadium sized stage, I definitely do hear an appropriate stage to my musical library. The width, height and depth are well enough laid out to make perfect sense of the music the Cadenza is tasked with replaying. Like I said I don’t hear anything too congested and truthfully that is all I really need to hear.
Separation isn’t the worst I’ve ever heard but it also is probably the Cadenza’s weak spot as far as technicalities are concerned. I would have thought that the beryllium driver and tuning would be nimble enough to etch out delineations between elements of the stage but really this is not a strong suit. I don’t want to dissuade anyone either as the Cadenza separates just fine when a track isn’t too chaotic. A lot depends on the recording you are listening to and the quality of the recording as well and I’m not talking about bit rate either. Most of my music I hear absolutely no issues, however, there are sets that handle complicated recordings better, even at a lower cost. I should add that so long as you aren’t critically listening you will likely never notice as the Cadenza does a lot well to make up for it.
Imaging is spot on to me with any track I seem to throw at the Cadenza. Basically, I don’t hear anything which takes my attention away from my music and I intentionally listen to elements of a stage and positioning of those instruments and voices. Truthfully, imaging should be pretty good, on any set. I think we get this twisted more often than not. In fact, all technicalities are helped or derailed by many different factors. The iem itself is only one of those factors. As far as imaging goes on the Cadenza, compared to the competition, listening with my sources and my ears, I’d say the Cadenza does very well. Layering can be identified with good delineation of elements and textures are easily presented as well. All of these attributes help to aid the Cadenza in its overall prestige for a low-cost iem.
I’ve already laid this out a bit, but I will reiterate what I’ve basically said. No, the Cadenza is certainly not tuned to be a detailed marvel. You can find that in other sets which are actually tuned to be more proficient in the subtleties within a track. That said, the Cadenza do hold their own just fine. Thankfully Kiwi Ears put a nice driver inside a well carved cavity and created a set with a cleaner sound which is robust and pretty dynamic but also agile enough and resolute enough to pick up some fine details. You absolutely can find better, but with those other sets there is a big trade off in the form of musicality and dynamism. The Cadenza really does a nice job of being musical, not too dry and analytical while remaining clean enough to not lose information.
QKZ X-HBB ($19)
Talk about an over-achieving phenom, the X-HBB is just that. Priced at a ridiculous $19 this QKZ product quite literally is awesome. That is, if the tuning fits your preferences. Luckily, I only speak for myself, and I know myself pretty well by now. The X-HBB is another single DD with a 10mm Titanium-Coated Diaphragm and is tuned by none other than the Hawaiian Bad Boy himself, aka HBB from “Bad Guy Good Audio” YouTube fame. He did a helluva job on this set which gave so many who had no chance of affording a decently tuned set a shot at, well… A decently tuned set.
Both the Cadenza and the X-HBB are built extremely well, and both look very nice. There are some differences to note though. Starting at the bass region I do hear a much denser bass drop from the X-HBB, but I also hear a slightly cleaner bass region on the Cadenza. The Cadenza in comparison is slightly more pillowy but also has better separation and definition.
Both sets do not lack in the bass department but if quantity is your thing, then the less expensive set wins out. If a more natural and resolute sound is your bag, then the Cadenza wins out. I do think that the bass region is one of the highlights of the X-HBB and for me personally I really enjoy the depth and authority here. Not taking anything away from the Cadenza as I don’t feel anything lacking in its bass replay, I simply don’t hear the same presence as on the X-HBB.
The midrange of the X-HBB is moister with a more forward nature. Males on the X-HBB are thicker and fuller but also warmer and again they are less defined than on the Cadenza. The Cadenza come across more natural and truer to life. Moving onto female vocals, the Cadenza has a thinner sound, but also more of a detailed playback whereas the X-HBB come across more in your face and are simply drawn closer to the listener. This completely goes against what a graph comparison will tell you as the rise in the upper midrange shows the Cadenza a few decibels greater around 3k. However, to my ear I don’t hear that.
The treble region has a more technical and drier playback listening with the Cadenza while the X-HBB has a bit more energy and extension. The Cadenza has less in body but is better at illuminating details and is almost more refined in overall texture and definition. For me I like the X-HBB’s body and note weight a bit better as less info is attenuated up top, but the Cadenza does sound a bit cleaner and technical.
There is a definite preference battle going on here. The X-HBB represents a more dynamic sound with bigger bass and just more aggressive overall. The Cadenza has the mature tuning of the two and while it is still dynamic in its own right, in comparison it is dialed back a bit while also being much better technically speaking. Still, the X-HBB is more robust with thicker note weight throughout.
Reecho SG-01 Ova ($40-$45)
I love this set. Reecho added the SG-01 Ova to the market earlier in 2022 without any huge applause, as the Ova was mostly relegated to the few Reecho fanboys out there and some Facebook postings. There wasn’t any hype train either. Which is odd to me because if any set deserved at least some minimal praise, I do believe that the Ova is one of those sets.
The SG-01 Ova is part of Reecho’s Star Gate series and followed the success of the OG SG-01 which reviewed extremely well. As for the Ova, it too received nice praise from those who actually reviewed it and in my opinion is a proper side grade or a different take to the OG. I really wanted to review this set, but I simply have not had time. You can read Mahir’s review of the Ova here. I only added the Ova because I think it presents a good contrast in tuning from the Cadenza.
The Ova incorporates a 7-micron Graphene Composite 10mm single Dynamic Driver using N52 Magnets. The sound is an energetic W-shape with a cooler tonality and more of a mid-centric type of sound yet with a nice bass region and well extended treble. Like I said, I really enjoy the energy of the Ova and adore the look of this set. Really, a very well made and well-tuned iem that could easily find it’s spot somewhere on many ‘best under $50’ lists.
I hear a cooler and closer to neutral tonal character from the Ova, but overall balance is better on the Cadenza…for the most part. The Ova is simply more energetic and alive. I picture a downed electric line just sparking and sputtering against everything it touches when I think of the Ova. Forgive me if that makes no sense to you. The Cadenza is easier, smoother and better proportionally weighted across the spectrum to my ears. Does that make it better? Who knows, I’d say it’s another matter of preference.
Between these two, the Ova is the more V-shaped set with less of a sub-bass emphasis than you will find on the Cadenza. Not by much though. The Ova is snappier in attack with more of a crisp edge to notes yet similar in the speed of decay. Slam is also more present on the Ova coming from the mid-bass region with similar definition but more of a robust boom. I would say that the transient speed goes to the Cadenza which also provides the more detailed bass region of the two. Two different styles which offer slightly different flavors, and both do well in the price point.
The lower mids show male vocals fuller on the Ova and more forward with a thicker weight to baritone and tenor. The Cadenza sounds very nice and in control yet are a bit thinner but also somehow more stabilized and structured. The Ova is more aggressive and dynamic but also have slightly worse resolution and tiny fuzzy particles at note definition. Again, two different styles that both replay well at the price they are at.
Female vocals have a much greater chance at shoutiness on the Ova. There are some tracks which beg me to turn the volume down. This is not a constant and really, it’s a give and take situation listening to the Ova. I love the energy but sometimes a loud soprano will cause some glare as well as certain instruments. The Cadenza has more of a controlled energy with slight shimmer verses the Ova’s shimmery energy with periodic shout. Like I said it a give and take as well as a preference battle.
The treble of the Ova extends outward a bit better with sharper notes and still better weight and body to those notes. The plus on the Cadenza is the more disciplined sound up top. Not better but possibly more composed. Also, I think the Cadenza has the more natural treble tuning with a much more authentic rise and decline through the treble. However, details are drawn to the surface a hair better on the Ova possibly out of sheer boost in the presence and air regions but that is only by a hair, and also that is very easily debatable. The Ova is simply more energetic in its treble to the more reserved and tolerable Cadenza and sound a bit further extended and airy.
I really like these two iems and both come in at similar prices. I do think that the Cadenza is the more tolerable set over long periods. The Ova is nice in shorter bursts and can give me that electric energy that I crave sometimes. I feel the Ova are sharper and crisper in overall delivery but also looser in control. The Cadenza are calmer and more guarded while still sounding pretty dynamic and fun. The Cadenza are more of an all-rounder type iem which can handle more genres and if I was a betting man, I would think more people would go for it over the energetic Ova. For me it is a toss-up between the two. I like em’ both for different purposes and situations and have them both very high on my own ‘best under $50’ list.
Is the Cadenza worth the asking price?
The all-important question is, is the Cadenza worth the price. In this case, to me, this is almost a silly question. The Cadenza is tuned very well and performs very well, they are beautiful and built very well… my answer is a resounding yes! In fact, this is one of the rare times I’d say for certain that the iem I’m reviewing punches above its price. 100% yes!
Now, competition is so damn stiff anymore and companies are really creating some great sets at EVERY PRICE POINT! Also, yes there are some cons here but at $35 a minor con is much easier to stomach than say a $200 set. Still, in my opinion, for my tastes, listening to my library, on my gear, and tuned to my liking, with a look that I like, and considering the price they are asking… I can’t help but to give a definitive yes to this question. Well done Kiwi Ears!
To finish up my review and comparison of the Kiwi Ears Cadenza I would like to give Kiwi Ears themselves a round of applause. I personally feel that the Cadenza is a bona-fide no-brainier of a budget iem. At times I cannot believe that I am listening to such a low-cost iem and I really mean that. The audio hobby has surpassed previous years by leaps and bounds and the Cadenza is the beneficiary of such advances. I’m talking from the beautiful design, coloration, build and fit, to the tuning and overall sound quality…the Cadenza really does outclass many iems at or around the price point.
A fine set at any price
I try to hide my true feelings a bit as I review but the ‘conclusion area’ is mine to speak on my true feelings from my perspective. I can find an issue with every set that I review, no matter the cost. After all, such is life. Nothing is perfect but my Creator. Still, every now and again something special comes along and breaks apart old paradigms and lately we have seen an overabundance of iems and audio gear which decimates those old archetypes. I’m happy about it to be perfectly honest.
Never would I want to be considered a hype-boy as there are certainly things I would change about the Cadenza, just like any iem out there but if I’m looking at the big picture it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep composure. I say it all the time, I’m simply a big kid and I’m talking about my toys. I don’t consider myself an expert, thankfully, what an odd thing to be an expert of. Something so subjective is this audio hobby that even objectivity is littered in our subjective opinions no matter how hard we try to convince you otherwise. Sure, technicalities are easier to objectively rate and discern but at some point, even those fall victim to the child within us. I type all that to simply say the Kiwi Ears Cadenza is a fine set at the price.
Well, that is it. Please take my advice and listen to, watch or read other views and perspectives. I say it in every review for good reason. Audio gear can be expensive, and the great majority of audio hobbyists are not made of money. It is wise to hear more than one opinion. We all have different likes and dislikes, gear, hearing as well as different audio journeys which shape and mold our opinions. Please take in other thoughts. With that I want to say thank you to anyone who chose to read my thoughts. Please take good care and stay safe as best you can.