ROCKJAW KOMMAND Review
Thanks to ROCK JAW for the sample.
First Impressions: The box is a rather pleasant affair, nice sturdy card magnetically closed. On opening that and lifting the lid you can see them in the flesh. Hmm the buds just look dark more than anything else, I know they are wood but while attractive they just don’t scream dead tree like most wood IEM’s do. Actually they are really quite pretty things. I’m really not convinced that the fabulous looking over ear guide thing is going to be good mind. Its looks great but it’s not looking much in the way of practical. Hmm.
So in the ears they go and my word they are sprightly little buggers. I haven’t changed the filter’s so they are the silver ones which are the bright ones maybe? I think I hope so anyway, much lively, much sprightly and much bighty too. Ooh I think these may not be the filters I opt to live with long term. Anyway, burny in time and see if that does anything.
Source: Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., FiiO E7/E9 combo, HiFiMAN HM-650, Nexus 5, 1G Ipod Shuffle.
Lows: Having figured out the filters, gold is the open and trebly one. Silver the closed, so V shaped and black is the open and highs muted so is the flatter one. It’ll surprise no one that the one I liked best was the black one. Open bass vs closed bass is always a trade-off, open its more nimble and svelte whereas closed is more punchy and can go deeper. Strictly neither is “better” than the other but I like that bit more open and better articulated low end. With the blacks on the bass is controlled, very large and has a relative hint of softness to it. Comparing to the similarly priced DN-1000 the Kommand is flabbier and rather bigger. While its quantity is rather much I do like it stylistically more than the 1000. The bass can roll and ooze in a way the 1000 cant with its rock like hardness and agility. The Kommand is the eminently more relaxed and pleasurable on the ear, The Beautiful South’s “Your Father And I” is a grin inducing, giggly mass of rumbling thunder. Swapping to the silvers and the bass doesn’t feel particularly more extended but its really does harden up. If you want harder more punchy impacts then it’s the filter for you but on “Your Father And I” with its tons of bass, the combination of the quantity produced by the Kommand and its new found solidity I felt was too much. If you’re going to have tons and tons then a little softness is a kindness to my little ears. How much I hear you ask? Well slapping the IE8’s in my ears and the silver tipped Kommands quite easily matches if not exceeds them in bass quantity. Yes, there is sweary word loads of it.
Mids: Silver tips in and the mids you might think should be at the bottom of a great V shape but not so much. Yes the hard and massive bass is quite ahead of them and the rather bighty treble is ahead too but the mids really cut through. They are somewhat W shaped so mids are a little bit narrow in focus but they are quite well articulated. Tonally they are a bit on the dry and airy side, only a little though so creamy vocals still sound nice, still they are more inclined to a more breathy and dry artist. Listening to the likes of Adel and I keep wanting to shout at her to stand up. She sounds like she’s slumped in a chair, singing well but just not really standing up and giving it her all.
Swapping to the black filters and I am much happier. She’s gotten up off her back side and begins to really sing out, you can really feel her pain and misery. It’s a vastly more prominent and emotive rendition. I’m really impressed for a dual driver being so vocally explicit and nuanced. Sure it could do with a bit more breadth and depth but hey its only £120. They are rather more “natural” feeling over the 1000’s though. It’s an almost Shure like sense of better than real lifeness.
Highs: Here I really again preferred the black filters. They have a filter inside them to tame the high end and I’m most glad of it. The BA in here is clearly an excellent little driver and in the last year or so it seems BA drivers have gotten much better at produce a nicely extended high end, having a more natural feel to them. This really has a good stab at it. When there is some pleasantly detailed treble the metallic edge is a hint gentle and they have a great decay to it. The filter does roll it off a bit fast and the edge is a bit artificial, as with all BA’s but its quantity is just about right. Lots of detail, good abundance and not ear brutalising. Shimmery and relaxed.
The silver tips. Well them I like rather less. The highs themselves are still quite excellent but it makes the BA’s inability to reach the highest highs more noticeable and it introduced a bit of a peak in the lower treble area. Actually a pair of comply’s aid a little here.
Soundstage: Rather large. It’s scaled very well if a little ill-defined about where things are coming from. They feel like a decent sized room with the sound coming at you from all directions. Distance is a bit lacking. Actually I rather like its full bodied and enveloping presentation. Instrument separation is a bit middling but the payoff tis that it sounds very nicely integrated. A warm, darkened, good size room that just happens to have a full sized orchestra in there. I know I should want more distance but it’s quite darkly delicious.
Fit: I did eventually get them working great for me. However, I can’t lie, that F-ing ear guide I really could have done without. Sure its looks funky but I ended up rotating and squeezing the thing until I had it siting so that I could wear the Kommands up. Once I got it worked out it was a little awkward to get on my ears but once there they actually were rather good. Still if I had to pull these out every few min that ear guide would really, really get on my ****.
Comfort: Comfort was actually always pretty good. Sure the ear guide got in the way of actually getting them on my ears but otherwise the buds are a nice and normal shape. I defaulted to a pair of comply’s and they sat shallow. With the ear guides no weight was on the ear tips so it was very comfy to wear all day long. However I make no promises that ear guide will be as non-invasive for every ear as it was for mine.
Microphonics: Pretty much none. Worn up or down they never seemed to transmit much noise up the cable. Braided cables tend to be good for that but it does seem a shame there is no chin slider anyway.
Phone Use: Gave it a bash and all seemed good. I heard them fine they heard me fine. The play / pause / skip track button worked fine too.
Accessories: You get a bunch of ear tips, the 3 filters, a shirt clip and a little felt baggy. Now I can see why a baggy, because those ear guide would make them a bugger to get in a hard case but colour me disappointed. £120 IEM’s deserve better.
Amped/Unamped: The Kommands have, I believe, been made with phones in mind. An attached mic is often a bit of a giveaway. As such I was pleased to hear than even out of my Nexus 5 it still sounded great. There were no significant sound alterations between it and much better sources in any tonal sense. The one area where things did alter notably was that with my preference for the more sedate black tips, that with the phone they did tame a bit. It was a bit less sprightly and dynamic. If you pair that up with very relaxed music it all was a bit dull. Though if you paired it up with much more rambunctious stuff, which is probably the sort of stuff anyone using a phone would be playing anyway, then it was rather well suited. Of course if you wanted more vigour then you can use one of the other two more lively tips. Still the fact is once you get to this quality level, it’s probable that the phone becomes the weak link in your audio experience. It’s not that it’ll suck but if you want to stretch the Kommands legs then it is time to think about an amp or a proper DAP.
Isolation: Meh. Even with the sealed silver tips that the Kommand sits rather shallow in the ear combined with the fact that it’s a dynamic means it’s not a high isolation IEM. Of course if you’re coming from earbuds then you’ll marvel at how much of the outside world it blocks out but……. If you’re coming from sealed BA, deeper seated IEM then you’ll be rather less chuffed. It is enough for out and about or on a bus but you’ll probably want to not spend a lot of time listen to quiet, delicate classical pieces. As for Tube or flights, well it’ll be better than nothing or ear buds but its wouldn’t be my first choice.
Value: Hmm. Well they have filters and I don’t love filters. Mostly I always think you’ll only ever use one of them and so add unnecessary cost. Then there’s that ear guide, while it looks very B&O I just see additional wasted cost. However, they do look pretty awesome and those filters do mean you are more likely to find a sound that works for you if you’re a bit new to spending £120 on earphones. On paper these are not the “best” you can get for your money. So I guess by that definition I can’t really say these are super mega good value. However at this price as I think about where its competition is and I’m constantly drawn to the IE7. Never an IEM that was ever thought as awesome value nor exciting but it’s still one of my all-time personal favourites. I love it as much today as when I got it several years ago. The Kommand I can easily see slipping into that same long term endearment. I know I could live contentedly if it was my only IEM for the next 5 years.
N.B. I currently see them retailing elsewhere for just £99. That quite substantially bumps their value proposition. I’d be tempted to jump on that in case that price doesn’t last.
Conclusion: You know it turns out I really like the Kommand. At first yeah sure I acknowledged it was good and capable but on paper I don’t hear it doing anything that places it on a technically superior level to the DN-1000 and actually I’d have to hand it to the Dunu that it is “better.” In technical abilities its more close to the 900 which is cheaper. Then what about the GR07 or the MA750? God, as I A/B these with the 750 I can’t really say “yep the Kommands are clearly a technically superior IEM.” I just can’t and as its £40 more I feel that I should be able to do that and do it with some ease. Sure if I listen carefully I can concede that the bass is better and I can pluck out the mids are too somewhat superior but it’s a closer run thing than it should be. So you’d be forgiven for thinking I think poorly of the Kommand. You’d be very wrong however. Soooooooooooooo very wrong.
I didn’t really notice it at first, sure stuff sounds nice on them, stuff sounds nice on lots of things. You listen for a while and you find them nice and easy on the ear but you’re not really thinking much about it. It’s just there doing its thing, it not jumping up and demanding you pay it attention like some needy hyperactive child. The Kommand simply gets on with the job. Then one day you stop and realise, my god these actually sound wonderful. They sound calmly and nonchalantly wonderful. Granted I spend most of the time with the calmer black tips, the others did go more “listen, listen oooh listen to this bit, see how good I am, see aren’t I good??????” you know what I mean. We’ve all heard an IEM that is a little attention seeking, the ones that make such striking first impressions they dazzle you. The black filtered Kommands are happy to sit back and just play. They play everything in such a pleasing fashion I find I’m no longer skipping tracks. I am listening to each and every one and loosing myself in all of them.
I could listen to these every day. Their oddly darkly symphonic staging, their bountiful yet darkly rich low end. Their curiously creamy and fluidic vocals. Their refined and delicately forgiving upper end. I can see it becoming one of my long term all time personal favourites. Even with those ear guides (please Rockjaw if you want to do a version without them, that would please me greatly.) There is just something so darkly sumptuous about them. So smooth on the ear with such an enveloping aural envelope that makes you feel so safe and comfortable. Sure the other tips brighten up and have more energy but I can’t stop myself going back to the blacks. With them in I find I rather adore the sound of the Kommand’s. it’s not wow’ing or dazzling me but I just can’t help but adore them. I know it’s early in the year but for me on a personal preference level the Kommands I really feel are going to be the benchmark to beat. I just cannot stop myself from loving each and every track on them!!!