The Tanchjim Kara is a hybrid IEM that offers a smooth and musical sound with warm mid-centric tuning. It has a strong sub-bass presence, a lush midrange, and a relaxed treble. It is not a perfectly neutral IEM, but rather one that emphasizes vocal emotion and enjoyment over accuracy and detail.
Tanchjim, the Chinese brand that has gained popularity with its previous models such as the Ola, Darling, and Hana, has just released the Kara, a pair of IEMs that features a 9mm dynamic driver and four balanced armature drivers at an attractive $179.99 price point.
Those familiar with Chi-Fi history may remember the time when the Hana was considered a juggernaut in the sub-$200 segment with a similar $179.99 price point. Two years later, let’s see if the Kara is able to reach the same acclaim as its elder sister.
The Kara is a hybrid single dynamic and four BA driver set of IEMs. It uses a 9mm PEEK and PU dynamic driver for the bass frequencies, a pair of Sonion 2389 BA drivers for the mid-to-high frequencies, and a pair of custom BA drivers for the ultra-high frequencies beyond 10kHz.
The Kara also comes with 7 pairs of T-APB pressure balancing tips that ensure maximum comfort by balancing the internal and external air pressure.
The shell is constructed out of medical grade DLP3D printed resin with a 3-way physical crossover, a design used by pricier IEMs such as the Moondrop Blessing 3.
The Kara has a sleek and elegant design with a transparent DLP3D printed resin shell and a clear plastic faceplate. The kind of resin shell implemented bears a striking resemblance to the Moondrop Blessing 3, clearly showing off the drivers and crossover encased in the IEM.
The clear aesthetic of the Kara makes it stand out in the sea of tinted resin and metal Chi-fi IEMs. This design philosophy is like a throwback to the era of see-through Gameboys and N64s.
The faceplate has a stylized Kara logo engraved on the left IEM, and the Tanchjim logo engraved on the right. The shell is ergonomically shaped to fit the ear comfortably and securely. The nozzle is slightly angled and has a metal mesh filter to protect the drivers.
The faceplates have a slight peek-through window that shows off the black cross-over circuit used by the IEMs, adding some personality to the otherwise standard-looking faceplate.
The see-through shell also highlights the three-way analog frequency division crossover, similar to the Moondrop Blessing 3 once again.
The plastic used in the faceplate does not perfectly match the color and transparency of the shell, however, it still compliments the resin shell very well.
Unlike Blessing 3, Kara’s shell is quite resistant to micro scratches and signs of daily wear and tear. It feels durable enough to handle some abuse without taking too much aesthetic damage.
Comfort and Isolation
The Kara is a lightweight and very comfortable pair of IEMS in no small part due to the ergonomic shape of the shells. Compared to the other tri-brid or quad-brid IEMs I’ve tried, the Kara is significantly smaller and more streamlined.
The Kara fits the ear very well, similar to the Open Audio Witch Pro, a small, sleek 1DD +1BA that was so comfortable also because of its small size.
It isn’t quite as comfortable as the Witch Pro, but it is more comfortable than IEMs like the LetShuoer DZ4 and can be worn for long listening sessions without fatigue.
The shell is smooth and well-finished, with no sharp edge, however, there is a visible seam between the resin shell and the plastic face plate.
The fit is snug and stable, with no issues of falling out or moving around. The isolation is above average, especially for a vented IEM. The stock silicone tips do a good job of providing passive noise cancellation and do a good job staying attached to the nozzle even in day-to-day usage.
Kara’s high-quality stock cable seemed quite basic at first but eventually stood out to me during my testing. I dare say that it’s probably the best stock cable I’ve encountered in terms of day-to-day practicality.
The stock cable makes use of the shrouded QDC-type 0.78mm 2-pin connectors that are color-coded for easy identification (blue for left and red for right) and terminates to a single-ended 3.5mm connector on the other end.
The cable is constructed from 4 high-purity 6N OFC wires in a very tight braid. The braiding is encased in a slim plastic hose or shell with the perfect balance between structure and malleability.
This cable holds no memory whatsoever and does not find itself knotting when in a case or pocket. The cable is extremely lightweight and exerts little-to-no downward force in day-to-day usage.
The strain relief and connectors on both ends are made out of high-quality polished metal, that feels dense despite the low overall weight of the cable.
In my day-to-day testing, I experienced no microphonics whatsoever throughout my mixed desk and on-the-go listening. And when I started comparing the Kara against other IEMs, I consistently missed its stock cable.
Packaging & Accessories
The Kara comes in a simple but elegant box with a tasteful white sleeve that has an image of the Kara on the front and some specifications on the back.
Inside the box, there is a leatherette carrying case that holds the IEMs, the cable, and seven pairs of silicone ear tips (three wide-bore and four narrow-bore). The case is sturdy and spacious, with a magnetic closure and a soft lining.
Unfortunately, it is much too large to be easily pocketable as its size is closer to a single watch roll. The ear tips are of good quality and have different sizes and bore diameters to suit different preferences.
The bass of the Kara is dominated by the sub-bass region, which extends deep and rumbles with authority. The sub-bass has decent impact, texture, and decay, creating an engaging yet controlled sense of impact.
The mid-bass is less prominent but still present enough to provide some warmth, body, and punch to the sound. The bass is not very fast or tight, but rather smooth and organic. It does not bleed into the midrange or overpower the other frequencies.
Specifically, bass lines in funk and rock music are extremely well-textured. I will discuss this further in the review, but the Kara is simply fantastic at playing back string instruments, highlighting infectious strumming, or plucking techniques that never fail to amaze me.
The Kara is not a bassy IEM by any means, and listeners more used to V-shaped IEMs may find its bass quantity lacking. But the Kara excels at delivering detailed and satisfying bass, whilst adding some warmth to the overall sound.
The midrange of the Kara is the highlight of its sound signature, as it showcases its warm mid-centric tuning. The midrange is rich, smooth, and natural, with very good clarity and resolution.
The lower mids are slightly recessed but still have enough presence to give some weight and fullness to male vocals and instruments. The upper mids are more forward but not harsh or shouty, giving female vocals and instruments more sweetness and emotion, however, female vocals do not have the same level of resolution as the male vocals.
However, the real stand out is the sheer texture and resolving capabilities of the Kara with string instruments like guitars. I often found myself finding new guitar tracks in complex arrangements that I’ve been listening to for years.
Throughout my testing, I constantly got distracted because I just could not stop listening to 70s’ rock and funk tracks. The Kara presented their string instruments in a way that I could just not get enough of.
The treble of the Kara is relaxed and smooth, with no signs of sibilance or harshness. It has enough sparkle and air to keep the sound from sounding dull or dark, but it does not have much extension or detail.
The treble is not very energetic or lively, but rather laid-back and easy-going. It complements the warm midrange and the strong sub-bass, creating a coherent and musical sound.
Instruments in the upper treble, such as cymbals, have an average level of resolution but also have a more recessed presentation when compared to the sound of snare drums. The treble is not the best for analytical or critical listening, but it is suitable for long and fatigue-free listening.
The imaging of the Kara is good, with a clear and accurate placement of instruments and vocals within the soundstage. The soundstage is not very wide or spacious, but rather intimate and cozy.
The depth and height are decent, but not exceptional. The separation and layering are also good, but not outstanding. The Kara does not have a very holographic or immersive sound, but rather a smooth and intimate one.