Magaosi K3 HD Review – Budget Premium

Introduction –

Magaosi’s K3 Pro was an immensely popular model that offered great value with a triple hybrid driver setup housed within a robust metal shell. And in real world testing, I found the K3 Pro to produce convincing ergonomics and an engaging if not supremely natural sound. That being said, they still weren’t quite as flawless to my ear as some early impressions had suggested and the K3 Pro, while an immensely impressive earphone for the price, had some very notable shortcomings.

So just a few months later, Magaosi have followed up their winning hybrid formula with the new K3 HD, ditching their previous triple driver setup in favour of a more integrated single dynamic +single balanced armature design. With the addition of a much-improved cable and accessory suite in addition to a slightly increased price of $120 USD, $10 higher than the original K3 Pro, let’s see whether Magaosi’s refined design brings similar audible and ergonomic benefit.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Chi Kong Hui from Penonaudio very much for getting in contact and providing me with the K3 HD for the purpose of an honest review. All words are my own and despite receiving the earphone free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

About Me, Background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases – 

I generally prefer a u-shaped sound that is close to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound. I’m not particularly treble sensitive so I may be more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I will note if I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review and describe the sound changes.

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Accessories –

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As my review sample is a pre-production unit, the build quality and packaging do not reflect that of retail units though the accessory suite should be identical.

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Upon opening the package, I was relieved to see that the K3 HD comes with a very practical zippered hard case; one of my main gripes with the original K3 ProK3 Pro was its impractical fabric case that was neither spacious nor portable. The new case is very well sized and has classy leather texture, it is a little thicker than most earphone cases, but comfortably holds an extra cable and accessories in addition to the earphones themselves.

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The K3 HD also comes with 2 pairs of silicone tips and 3 pairs of foam tips. Both are identical to those included with the K3 Pro, the silicone tips are a bit flimsy but the foam tips provide solid seal and isolation. Magaosi also includes two cables with the K3 HD, a silver-plated unit with a straight plug and a basic OFC cable with a right angle plug for portable use. Neither have a remote, but it’s good to see Magaosi shipping two cables from factory, the silver plated cable, in particular, is a rare addition even amongst vastly more expensive earphones.

 

Design –

The K3 HD employs a similar design to the Pro before it, producing almost identical ergonomic properties. That same metal construction makes a return, however, Magaosi now offer the earphones in blue and orange in addition to the standard silver/grey.

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From a glance, the K3 HD is almost identical to the K3 Pro with the same base housing design. In fact, the nozzle and internal face are identical, producing essentially the same fit. The outer housing, however, has been slightly revised; the HD trades the accented ridging of the K3 Pro for a more uniform, smoothed off design. As a result, they are a slightly larger earphone than the Pro, but they remain pleasingly low profile when worn, effectively minimising wind noise. The HD is also appreciably smaller than the TFZ King and Simgot EN700 Bass, they still don’t disappear like the Oriveti Basic and Klipsch X10, but they do comfortably lend themselves to wear when sleeping.

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Build quality is unsurprisingly similar to the Pro, they employ the same kind of finish and metal in their housings with a similar nozzle design. One reader contacted me about a nozzle issue on the original K3 Pro, however, the nozzle on the K3 HD felt rock solid, even after a few tugs and twists. They are a vented earphone, producing above average but not outstanding noise isolation. That being said, buyers looking for an earphone to use during travel or in louder areas should probably still consider more isolating earphones like the King, Basic and SE215. Otherwise, the K3 HD is a stable fitting and relatively lightweight earphone that stay put during general commute and a quick run. Their over-ear fit contributes to their stability though the strangle angling of the ear guides on the included cables saps that last bit of solidity from their fitment.

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At the top is a conventional MMCX removable cable interface which means the K3 HD will be compatible with a huge variety of aftermarket cables. The included units are hugely improved over those that came with the K3 Pro. The black right angle cable is braided, supple and smooth, resisting tangles very well, perfect for portable use. And while the silver cable isn’t quite as flawless, being a bit rubbery and springy, it is adequate for home use for which it was intended. Both cables have nicely relieved jacks and pre-moulded ear guides as opposed to memory wire. Unfortunately, the ear guides sit at a very strange angle like the cables on the SIMGOT EN700 Bass, making the HD’s fit a bit more awkward than the Pro.

 

Sound –

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The K3 HD assumes a simpler driver setup comprising of a single dynamic driver complimented by a balanced armature transducer. This may seem like a step backwards compared to the triple driver K3 Pro, but through a more integrated driver configuration, Magaosi have created a similarly more linear sound that ends up being more resolving than their last model. Magaosi has also done some fine tuning to the HD’s tonality that makes it the clearly more technical and versatile earphone. With a super clear, detailed and well-separated sound, the HD provides a great take on the classic V-shaped sound that many have come to love. It also provides a great middle-ground between the more natural, laid-back Oriveti Basic and EN700 Bass and the brighter, more aggressive TFZ King.

 

Burn-in –

I gave the K3 HD the usual 150-200hrs of burn-in prior to review and noted any outstanding changes. I don’t feel that the earphones have experienced significant change though they do sound slightly smoother to my ear. Otherwise, the earphones didn’t notably respond and they will likely sound very consistent throughout their working life.

 

Cables –

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Choosing between the two included cables was more difficult than I had thought; I would usually default to the Silver cable, but the OFC cable actually provided a more pleasing tonality to me. The silver cable did produce a slightly higher quality sound with improved resolution, notably within the high-end, and bass was more visceral while retaining the same amount of texture and detailing. On the contrary, the OFC cable provided slightly more natural, well-bodied vocals at the cost of some resolution though it was the more natural presentation to my ear. With the more attenuating silver filters installed, I personally preferred the K3 HD with the silver cable though those listen from a brighter source or prefer a more natural tone may actually find greater enjoyment with the copper cable. Regardless, the addition of a silver cable adds an extra layer of fine tune-ability lacked by the majority of competitors. In addition, the K3 HD did receive some benefit by switching to ALO Audio Litz cable, which costs over twice the earphone itself. When equipped, the K3 HD produced a cleaner background, increased resolution and improved refinement with smoother vocals and high-end instruments. I did feel that the K3 HD lacked the technical ability to discern huge changes with this cable, but investing in a modestly priced upgrade cable, not necessarily ALO’s $250 unit, can definitely produce some great ergonomic benefits in addition to tangible sonic upgrades.

 

Tonality –

This review might get a little repetitive since K3 HD very much retains the same kind of tuning as the K3 Pro. That being said, the new HD is immediately more balanced, especially within their midrange. The K3 HD offers sound tuning via two pairs of screw on filters; a grey filter that provides an un-attenuated sound that boosts resolution and treble prominence and a silver filter that slightly dampens the high end to provide what I would consider to be a more balanced sound. And as with the K3 Pro, I definitely preferred the silver filter, in fact, that filter now comes pre-installed. With the silver filters installed, the K3 HD provides a lightly v-shaped sound with midbass and lower treble lifts complimenting an ever so slightly brighter midrange.

 

Soundstage, imaging and Separation –

The K3 HD provides a far nicer presentation than their price tag would suggeset. They do trade the excellent width of the original for improved imaging precision but retain a nicely spacious, width biased presentation. They are more rounded than the K3 Pro and though depth remains relatively intimate, vocals and forward instruments no longer sound so compressed while maintaining a strong centre image. Width can reach outside the head on certain material and vocals sound generally intimate but have some projection when called for. Imaging isn’t razor sharp, at least not as precise as the King and most higher priced in-ears such as the 1More Quad Driver, but elements are well placed and mostly easy to locate. Separation is good, not quite to the extent of the more spacious EN700 Bass and the sligthly cleaner Oriveti Basic, but I did find them to delineate notes slightly better than the more mid-forward King. Due to their more linear tuning, they also sound considerably cleaner than the K3 Pro. When listening to David Bowie’s “Everyone Says Hi”, the K3 HD provided ethereal space and width to guitar strums with well-centred if not spacious vocals. In addition, instruments were well placed and separation between the rolling bass line, vocals and high-frequency details was excellent. The K3 HD provides a wide, separated presentation that is still lacking some depth and imaging precision though that excellent separation really enhances songs with any complexity, making them a great choice for rock and even classical.

 

Drivability –

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The K3 HD’s have an average 99dB sensitivity and 32ohm impedance, the same as the K3 Pro. As such, they achieve similar levels of volume at the same level, making them notably less sensitive than the Oriveti Basic, Simgot EN700 Bass and TFZ King. The K3 HD is also relatively hiss resistant, almost silent from my Oppo HA-2 and dead quiet from my HTC 10. They don’t require a tonne of power either and their higher impedance and lower driver count grant them with less impedance swing from portable sources. Of course, the K3 HD scales nicely with a dedicated DAC/DAP; switching from my laptop’s integrated output to my HA-2 or Mojo provided a notable quality boost, especially with regards to bass definition and high-frequency resolution. That being said, like the K3 Pro, the HD is hardly a source sensitive earphone nor is it especially difficult to drive while possessing enough technical overhead to take advantage of nicer sources.

 

Bass –

The K3 HD has a full bass response that preferences punch over pure definition and texture much like the K3 Pro. It is a well-tuned and enjoyable response that manages to be both more technical and more tonally pleasing than earphones like the Shure SE215, but in comparison to the very exemplary earphones around this price such as the Oriveti Basic and TFZ King, the K3 HD still lacks that last element. Sub-bass extension is improved over Magaosi’s former earphone, but they still don’t slam like the King and Basic. Otherwise, sub-bass is well present but has a softer impact and rumble is adequate if not ultra-defined due to the HD’s slightly slower bass response. And while the K3 HD avoids sounding sloppy, it is noticeably less tactile than quicker dynamic units and armature based earphones like the Klipsch X10. The bass emphasis has also moved sligthly lower, they now have more balance between deep and mid-bass though mid-bass still holds the greatest emphasis imbuing them with a full, weighted tone similar to the Dunu DK-3001. Upper bass is slightly lifted but the K3 HD isn’t an explicitly warm sounding earphone and midrange spill is very minimal. For my preferences, the bass emphasis is very well judged, offering plenty of fullness for more sterile songs with enough control to avoid sounding overbearing on R&B and Hip-hop. They also provide some additional warmth which grants them with an enjoyable organic low-end tone even if definition isn’t class leading.

However, this charming tonality is juxtaposed by some technical shortcomings; I must stress that all of these comments are relative to the very best earphones I have heard around this price and that the K3 HD is not at all a poor performing. Due to their mid-bass emphasis, the earphones can sound a little bloated and texturing isn’t always as consistent as more linear competitors. Bass also isn’t quite as tight as some of the better dynamics or pure armature earphones I’ve heard with slightly slower decay that keeps up with faster songs but does miss out on some details. Transience is similar to the Oriveti Basic but definition is a fair way behind that model. On the contrary, the K3 HD is more textured than the boxier EN700 Bass and the original K3 Pro though bass is the least improved frequency range over their precursor. The King also maintains its lead in resolution, detail and extension though it’s more mid-forward tones likely won’t be as accessible to most listeners as the more vivid K3 HD. Ultimately, Magoasi’s newest earphone may not produce a super proficient bass reproduction, but it is a response that works well in the context of K3 HD’s tuning; the lush bass response simply compliments the rest of the sound rather than driving it despite its notable emphasis.

 

Mids –

Luckily, the higher frequencies are very well done on the K3 HD. While I had few qualms with the K3 Pro’s midrange in isolation, in comparison to more balanced earphones, they did come off as quite unnatural if still pleasing due to some smart tuning on Magaosi’s behalf. On that note, their strongest asset was their supreme clarity which more or less masked these technical shortcomings. The K3 HD no longer possesses that same glossiness, but in return, they offer considerably more technical ability and sound markedly more refined overall. That’s not to say that the K3 HD is not a clear sounding earphone but they are no longer an explicitly clarity focussed earphone. Upon first listen, the K3 HD was also immediately more balanced, linear and bodied than the Pro. It is still a v-shaped earphone but mids are immediate and clear while maintaining pleasing smoothness and layering. The HD also maintains impressive genre versatility due the very revealing nature of their midrange combined with a lack of outstanding peaks or dips. While the HD puts slightly more weighting on upper mids over lower mids, they never come across as over forward or over bright nor do lower mids sound scooped. The HD is more balanced overall than the EN700 Bass and Oriveti Basic to my ear, but through a slightly brighter, more aggressive tuning than the Pro, the HD manages to be just as captivating.

The HD does maintain the slightly thinner midrange tone of the K3 Pro, but vocals are smoother and more bodied. That being said, vocals can still sound slightly too thin for my liking, especially on tracks with harmonisation and some Asian albums with brighter mastering can come off as slightly artificial. So while the K3 HD does very noticeably improve upon its predecessor, they still aren’t a perfectly natural earphone. And where I felt that the K3 Pro was lacking some technical ability, the same cannot be said for the K3 HD. The King’s still have them beat in terms of pure resolving power, but the HD is much closer than the Pro and essentially every other earphone around this price. Listening to Akdong Musician’s “Play”, a very well-mastered Korean album with a brighter, more forward tone, and the HD provided improved resolution, detailing and layering over the Pro, Basic and En700 Bass. Transparency did suffer due to that clarity boost, but the HD provided a very pleasing rendition that was clear, clean and crisp without encroaching upon sibilance or fatigue. The K3 HD makes a notable leap in technical proficiency over the Pro that came before while maintaining if not compounding on its tonal strengths.

 

Treble –

The K3 HD has the same brighter high-end presentation of the K3 Pro though the new model is noticeably more detailed and insightful with greater integration between the upper-midrange and treble. This is mainly because the HD is more linear throughout their high end, lacking the tizzy, peaky nature of the original. The HD also impressed me with their detailing, both in terms of detail retrieval and presentation. They picked up appreciably more nuance than the Simgot EN700 Bass and Oriveti Basic, even the TFZ King wasn’t as immediately revealing as the K3 HD. Furthermore, treble notes are crisp and clean with more body than the Pro and King creating a more textured and refined listen than both. Listening to Vance Joy’s “Lay it On Me” and the K3 HD handily bested both of these models with a very clear presentation of guitar strums and micro details with improved separation over both during the busier sections. And while they are quite aggressive in their presentation, the K3 HD isn’t as fatiguing as the K3 Pro since middle and upper treble notes are smoother. Of note, the Pro had a lower treble bump that made some instruments sound over-forward, especially noticeable when listening to jazz where trumpets and saxophones dominated the mix. On the contrary, the K3 HD consistently provides a more restrained yet more discerning reproduction with accurate timbre and instrument balance.

As a result of their detailed nature, the K3 HD is easily my pick for acoustic music around this price, combining the more natural tuning of the EN700 Bass with the high resolving power of the King. The K3 HD also has impressive high-frequency extension even with their reduced driver count, demonstrating the benefits of tuning over pure specification. While they still don’t extend like the exemplary TFZ King, the K3 HD nonetheless provided pleasing air to “Hermit’s Habit” from the soundtrack of Lala Land and the atmospheric effects in Radiohead’s “No Surprises”. The King did possess a notable advantage to very high-frequency details, the HD had a noticeable roll-off which made high-hats sound thin, even metallic at times, though extension easily bests the Basic and En700 Bass. The K3 HD also holds a notable advantage over the King with lower and middle treble detail reproduction. So the HD isn’t the most extended, flawless earphone and they are still far from the most detailed earphone I’ve heard in the grand scheme of things, but they do handily best similarly priced earphones in overall treble performance.

 

Verdict –

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The K3 HD may be slightly more expensive than competing models from other manufacturers, but in return, the Magaosi’s provide a great mix of clear, crisp tuning and excellent technicality. They don’t quite perform as well as the more exemplary $200 earphones, but they are pretty darn close, especially with regards to detailing. In addition, their all metal build and compact size lend them well towards long term listening while their removable cable enhances durability. And perhaps most notably, the K3 HD provides several tuning options through simple screw-on filters and the addition of two cables from factory. The K3 HD is ultimately an engaging package with surprisingly few drawback for the price. Their more sculpted tones still won’t suit those with a preference for neutrality and outright realism and their lack of isolation won’t suit frequent travellers, but the HD nonetheless impresses with clarity, immediacy and tactility.

Verdict – 8/10, The K3 HD does lack a little noise isolation and their bass still needs some work, but Magaosi’s newest earphone is a very well-equipped contender in an immensely competitive market. And while they may come with a higher price tag, that premium conforms to their high levels of relative performance.

The K3 HD is available from Penonaudio (International) for $120 USD, please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.

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