Review by Paolo Tellano
Introduction on the maker
“We like surprises, and we like delivering them just as much. Mushrooms are known to grow out of nowhere and at a spontaneous rate after all.” – Marco Santos (founder)
The last product we reviewed from Kabutech Customs was their eartips, the Kabutips. It’s still, in my opinion, the best affordable eartips in town. In this review, we take a look into their JVC earbud mod called “The Spectre”.
Again, I was not paid by Marco Santos (or anyone from Kabutech Customs). Marco simply shipped me the earbuds for my honest thoughts.
Ibasso DX120 – High Gain – Digital Filter: Sharp Roll Off – Sound Mode: Reference
Jormungandr 4 Core (by Kabutech Customs)
Deez Cable (Jaypee Peteza)
₱3,666 (approximately below $70)
Modded JVC at 16 Ohms
Testing done with and without foams
The maker says this isn’t the “full package” but it will come in with the same hard case coupled with foams. Nothing fancy really, just like your usual DIY delivery. Admit it, as an audiophile you’re getting sick of stacking so much boxes around your house. Well I get sick of it so this is a plus.
It’s called the “Jormungandr 4 Core”. Apparently its etymology came from Norse Mythology (The Sea Serpent child of Loki). Thanks for the information, Google. The cable is a hybrid, comprised of the following: Litz OCC and Litz SPC. The cable came with an earguide, which is weird since you typically wear earbuds straight down. The cable is light and feels sturdy to the touch. Excellent strain relief, although I find that splitter a tad bit too heavy. The maker says he can use different materials to help lessen the weight, an advantage of having your gears customized.
It fits me like the way the JVC Excalibur fits me, for obvious reasons. Although earbuds will never fit me perfectly, the Spectre has managed to stay in my ears. As I stated in the previous review, it’s probably the rubber material with these JVCs. One thing though, it’s a bit heavier than the stock JVC because of the acrylic painting and mods done inside it (as per the maker).
The overall tonality of the Spectre is warm, full bodied, and with a rolled off treble (sweet). In my opinion, it’s fun done right in an earbud. The mids are not drowned out despite the Spectre’s propensity in bringing heavy low frequencies.
The real highlight of this earbud. The bass is weighty and deep. This is true even though I use IEMs on a daily basis. Listening to Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, specifically the bassline intro (0:02-0:18), helped me gauge what these earbuds are capable of in the lower regions. It doesn’t matter if you have foams on or not, these will pack a punch. To elaborate a little more, the sub bass extends deep. This comes with a lot of quantity as well. The mid bass is weighty; however, the decay is natural. Nothing too tight. It isn’t exaggerated in speed. One of the tracks that will show the natural decay of that mid bass would be Paramore’s “Playing God”, check the bass of the instrumental from 1:59-2:12. Even in the bassline with the intro and first verse shows how seamless, albeit bodied, that bass is.
Just the right amount of lush. It has good body to it, whilst still sounding clear. It’s more clear than textured, something I’ll discuss in the imaging and soundstage section. In terms of vocals, Autotelic’s “Languyin” showed me that the Spectre positions female vocals more forward than the male vocals. That’s not to say the latter is recessed, the mids are not recessed at all. The lower frequency doesn’t bleed into the mids that much. Again, the mids are clear but it isn’t as textured as some would like it. So, it’s more of a clear resonance than accurate positioning (i.e. it focuses more on clarity than resolution). This is an amazing trait. Take for example, John Mayer’s acoustic guitar in “Why Georgia” is clear despite a well-bodied tonal presentation (e.g. Mayer’s voice). The upper midrange, my sensitive area, has a bit of a peak. Nothing too harsh that would irk me though.
Overall, it’s sweet. Michael Jackson’s tracks are usually filled with a bunch of treble stuff, for instance “Smooth Criminal”. The cymbal crash on 1:36 would shimmer and extend more on another IEM/earbud with a brighter sound signature. Here, it was there but it doesn’t extend that much. That’s not to say the brilliance is totally lacking, it’s just a tad bit rolled off.
Imaging and soundstage
I would describe the imaging in the Spectre as average. Instruments seem to resonate more than actually being positioned accurately. With that being said, clarity is very good but resolution is average. There is some details that I am missing out in comparison to the JVC Excalibur and the Penon BS1. The soundstage is average. The Spectre is in no way congested. There is an ample amount of air between the instruments.
Comparison (JVC Excalibur)
The JVC Excalibur is like the Yin to the Spectre’s Yang, sorry for that awful and generic analogy. But you get the point. The Spectre has definitely a more weighty low-end. Extending deeper and having a weighter mid bass. However, the JVC Excalibur would have the tighter mid bass. The JVC Excalibur would have a clearer and more detailed mids than that of the Spectre. JVC Excalibur has just a bit more treble, but nothing significantly away from that of the Spectre’s. Imaging and soundstage goes to the Excalibur. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some would prefer the Spectre because of such a weighty but natural (meaning not overly tight) mid bass.
I love my balanced sound, which is the reason why my favorite IEMs as of the moment would be the Etymotics and DM6. However, I can’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy the Spectre. This has got to be one of the most fun earbuds I have used, next to my personal favorite (Penon BS1 Official). I would even admit that it would surpass it in terms of pure enjoyment. If you like a weighty mid bass without too much bleeding into the mids, the Spectre is for you. The sub bass goes deep as well. This competes with a lot of bassy IEMs, surpassing even my LZ-A4 in terms of sheer quantity. How did the maker do that in an earbud ane without muddying up the mids is beyond me. Kudos Marco and the rest of the team, you’re helping the DIY community gain much deserved traction.