Review: Kicker Valid Talk In-Ear and Cush Over-Ear Headphones Page 2
Like the Bell'O Digital in-ears we looked at recently, this early effort from a newcomer to the headphone world is aimed not at the high end, but at the consumer looking for a step up from his or her little white earbuds (or whatever variant thereof shipped with an Android phone), so we'll consider it on those grounds.
The Valid Talk is a very solidly constructed pair of IEMs for the money, with aluminum housings for the 10 mm drivers and good - but reasonable - heft. It ships with three pairs of silicone tips, plus a pair of Comply Foam tips for good measure, along with a carrying pouch. The 1/8-inch plug is of the 45-degree angled variety I like to see, and the cable itself (which carries a single-button remote, compatible with many smartphones) is Kevlar reinforced and fabric wrapped for durability (though it seems as tangle-prone as anything else, and not terribly resistant to picking up microphonic noise). On those grounds alone, the Valid Talk probably makes a nice upgrade.
How's it sound? As you might expect from a Kicker product , the accent is on the bass here. Things are fairly dark, though not terribly cloudy - there's a significant bass tilt, but it's offset by a good amount of top-end sparkle.
I didn't love the midrange, which I found honky, especially towards the treble region, which to my ear meant that vocals and midrange instruments were lacking presence, and generally sounded unnatural.
Turning to one of our favorite vocal tracks, Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz's take on "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," Toneff sounded distant and muffled, while Dobrogosz's piano, especially in the upper registers, had a toylike quality. Steely Dan's "Aja" lacked its midrange smoothness, with a bit of a squashed, telephone-filter tonality overall. I'd hazard a guess that this isn't voiced for audiophiles.
Turning to more suitable material -- rock and hip-hop -- performance was more acceptable, but still a little pinched and honky for my taste. The midrange isn't friendly to distorted guitars, and vocals sound distant.
It's not as dark as, say, the more expensive Paradigm Shift E3m, but it doesn't compete with models costing in the $100 neighborhood, where you'll find very good sounding models from Velodyne, Sol Republic, Thinksound, Klipsch, and many others. Compared to a really good-sounding single dynamic driver in-ear, like Monster's Miles Davis Trumpet or the RBH EP1, the Kicker can't really compete in clarity. But those 'phones come with far higher price tags.
While the total package is well thought out, and you're unlikely to destroy the welll-built Valid Talks, at the asking price of $59.95, I'm not sure that this is a good deal - one might be better served, I'd say, by spending a bit more. But in their market niche - as a step-up product from factory-supplied earbuds - they'll find plenty of fans.
I measured the Valid-Talk using a G.R.A.S. 43AG ear/cheek simulator, a Clio FW audio analyzer, a laptop computer running TrueRTA software with an M-Audio MobilePre USB audio interface, and a Musical Fidelity V-Can headphone amplifier. I used supplied medium-sized silicon tips, which fit the ear simulator best. I inserted and reinserted each earpiece several times, and settled on a position for each that gave the most representative result.
The Valid-Talk's frequency response measurements are relatively normal. There's a big resonant peak at 5 kHz; usually this peak would be at a lower frequency, so it suggests the Valid-Talk might sound a little "sizzly" on the top end. A broad bass boost centered at 100 Hz suggests the Valid-Talk will likely sound bassy, but not boomy. There was no significant difference in the response when I switched in an additional 70 ohms of source impedance to simulate the effects of using a low-quality headphone amp.
You'll notice how different the response is in the left and right channels. Repeated reinsertions and adjustments of the earpieces in the ear simulator gave curves almost identical to those you see here. There's always some doubt about whether or not any headphone is making a good seal with the measurement device, but in this case there does seem to be significant channel-to-channel inconsistency.
Impedance is dead flat at 32 ohms. Total harmonic distortion (THD) at 100 dBA is about average, below 1% above 300 Hz and rising to a peak of 5% at 20 Hz. Isolation is a little better than average for an IEM, at -8 dB at 1 kHz, and hitting as much as -30 to -36 dB at higher frequencies.
Sensitivity measured with a 1 mW signal at the specified 16 ohms impedance, is 99.5 dB average from 300 Hz to 10 kHz, 101.7 dB average from 300 Hz to 6 kHz. - Brent Butterworth