There aren’t a ton of brands I get hyped for quite like Kinera. Some of their past IEMs have really made a significant impression on me, from the likes of the Freya, Bladr, and Nanna. With these IEMs, I have set a certain expectation for any new Kinera product, predicting a standard of aesthetic beauty, colorful timbre, and expansive soundstage. The Norn is the latest Norse deity they’ve decided to sculpt an IEM after. Does this new $509 hybrid model meet the standards Kinera has established?
What You Get
Kinera is all about presentation, and that resonates all the way down to their packaging. The Norn comes in a hexagonal box that holds a variety of materials. Kinera IEM boxes are half accessories and half lessons on mythology, as they go all-in on their gimmick by providing an actual booklet on who Norn actually is. Obviously, you can just ignore this if you just can’t wait to sink your teeth into the IEMs but Kinera really put the effort into making this beautiful booklet with fantastic art, which to me speaks volumes about how much effort they put into each of their products.
Inside the box, you’ll find many of the contents immediately displayed. There is the Norn itself, protected inside their own inserts, two foam ear tips, a cleaning tool, and a leather case. The case holds the Norn’s silver-plated copper cable with a 2.5mm headphone jack, and two separate adapters for 3.5mm and 4.4mm connections. Strangely enough, the quarter-inch jack is absent here, but 4.4mm is more than a welcome option in its stead. Lastly, there’s a selection of silicone tips. There are 6 sets in total, some from Kinera and the others from Final Audio.
Look and Feel
What can I say? The craftsmanship and artistry features on the Norn are just fantastic across the board. The Norn showcases a beautiful hand-painted design, with a black canvas made of high-quality resin and icy white mixed with a sparkly red almost reminding me of fall and winter colliding together. This is displayed with a reflective mirror-finish back cavity on its faceplates for an added smooth texture. Gold Kinera and Norn insignias finish off this incredible outer shell for what is one of their most exquisite designs.
This then brings us to the fit, which I admit wasn’t perfect at first, but finding the right ear tips is a lot more important here. I started out with the provided foam tips, which didn’t give me the greatest security or comfort. I don’t really think foam tips fit the structure of this shell. Maybe if the nozzle wasn’t so wide. However, switching to the silicone tips made a huge improvement to the fit for me. Insertion might take some time, but once I felt like they were in the right place, they felt light and secure. The housing doesn’t have much contact with your ear, it’s mostly the stem and tips doing the work. After that comfort never became an issue again.
Inside this delicate housing is a complex hybrid drive system. The main dynamic unit is a 7mm premium driver, with components like an N52 magnet and a 1.5 Tesla flux, a pure copper coil, and a titanium-plated high-poly fiber diaphragm. The goal of this construction is mainly used to produce a much larger low-end, giving the diaphragm a more rapid movement. Then there are the balanced armature units, two of which are from Knowles, and the other two being from Kinera. This configuration seeks to establish a much greater high-end extension, with a clear placement in its soundstage. The design of the shell isn’t just made to look nice, it is a meticulously crafted acoustic structure that holds a 3-tube frequency crossover in its back cavity. The length of the tubes is designed to not obstruct the signal passthrough, delivering a more accurate reproduction of sound.
It has never been more important with an IEM to try as many systems as possible when trying to discern sonic quality. I ran the Norn through a number of outputs. Through 3.5mm DAC/Amps, smartphone, and PC headphone connectors. The sound signature had the starkest difference through each input than any other IEM I’ve tested. Loudness will be far from the issue here, but treble presence might be. I don’t mind a bright treble or a harsh treble from time to time, but the Norn really doesn’t hold anything back, and that echos more in its output than it does in its timbral quality. This is where 4.4mm becomes the best option to experience the Norn personally. Using a device like the iFi Diablo really helped reduce the harshness without taking away the fidelity of the highs. Otherwise, expect some quite intimidating harshness.
One of Kinera’s biggest staples for me is their continuous delivery of these wide and expansive soundstages. This is echoed on the Norn. The sense of depth might not be as impressive, but the width and height of the image still sucked me into the Norn’s immersive sound field. The stereo image reaches past its assumed limits in order to convey a much clearer sense of positioning, with some elements having a floaty presence, and others being more stationary.
The layers here are well communicated through the Norn’s excellent spatial imaging which takes pan information and brings them to an outward headspace. None of these qualities ring more true than on the album “Music for Film” by Jacaszsek, where ambient effects and instrumentations dart around you with finesse, making for an effective experience with the Norn. Treble is almost always relegated to a top-end positioning, separating themselves for the other bands of frequency, and forming a more complete stage.
The Norn holds in my mind, one of the best bass responses for an IEM in this price range. The quickness and textural sharpness of the bass, shape such a gripping timbre that lifts the sound signature significantly. At points, it can convey this rich and grave tonality that had the ability to shake me to my core. The track “Hosea, Next Level” by Apparat where the resonance of the bass synths emanate with a rising, vibrating fullness that you can feel crawling up your throat. Sub-bass frequencies are present, adding to the overall richness that this frequency response offers.
In the midrange, it’s a little hard to tell what was happening at first. They weren’t recessed, but they also were not exactly clear. My perspective on them has shifted a bit. The reason the mids are a little hard to hear at first is because of the tonality. It’s very laid back, which is in direct contrast to the energetic and rich lows. They’re not exactly natural, but the separation displayed here indicates an airy textural quality that hides an otherwise thin timbre. What you can hear from the mids though is crisp and detailed. You can especially notice the difference in the fidelity of certain instruments like synths or guitars, and the less clear vocal response.
So here’s the tricky part. As I previously stated, depending on what device you play from the treble will be the most affected. Not only is there some overwhelming brightness on the Norn, but it’s such a rich timbre that the details almost make the sound signature appear very harsh. Using the 4.4mm jack, the Norn was able to smooth out some of that harshness into a more pleasant tonality. When I finally got the treble to where I wanted it, the response was outstanding. A crisp level of detail, mixed with sparkly textures. The track “Medela” by Ben Lukas Boysen gave me these snappy synth chirps that were extraordinarily clear and provided a realistic sensation, like the sounds were trying to break through my skull.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the Kinera Norn, however, this is one of the hardest IEMs to recommend from them. While it is possible for the sound signature to sound absolutely stunning, the treble is very bright and in your face a lot of the time. It fairs a lot better using 4.4mm, but not having that connection will result in some significant harshness. Other than that the lows are excellent and deeply satisfying. The soundstage is always a highlight with Kinera, and they gave the Norn everything they got here. The $509 price tag is definitely reasonable too, and if you have the proper outboard gear, the Norn can be one of the best in its price range.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Beautiful design, Expansive soundstage, Sub-bass, Deep lows, 4.4mm
Cons: Sometimes harsh treble
The Kinera Norn is available at Audio 46.
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