Little Dot: The Kis of a TOTL
From the website:
The name KIS came from Little Dot’s principle, Keep Improving and Sincere. Little Dot has been in the headphone business for over sixteen years. When we decided to develop KIS, there was only one simple target, and it is to make the best possible IEM at the time. 18 months of product development, over 160 testers and 14 rounds of beta listening meetings, and total of 86 versions of different modification from the original beta. We gave out everything we had to make KIS to be the pride of our IEM product line.
KIS contains dual diamond dynamics and customized twin armatures units in the best aluminum housing. The ADLC (Amorphous Diamond-Like Carbon) diaphragm, customized hi frequency and ultra-high frequency composite armatures, and the through air vent are the key of KIS. These sophisticated technologies bring KIS an impeccable performance in all areas.
Connector type: CIEM 0.78mm 2-pin
Driver Type: 10mm Dynamic *2 and armature tweeter *2
Distortion: <0.05% @ 1000Hz
Impedance: 18 +/- 2.7 ohm
Plugs: 2.5/3.5/4.4 balanced gold-plated plug, and 3.5 mono gold-plated plug.
Frequency range: 12-40kHz
In The Box:
4x silicon tips plus 3x foam tips
Plastic round case
Two cables: one 6N OFC Copper, 3.5bal terminated cables
3.5se, 2.5bal, 4.4bal adapters
Phonic BW4 ($650)
Noble Savant II ($499)
Cayin N6 mk2
Shanling M6 Pro
HiBy R3 Pro
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
The Little Dot IEM’s come in a very tasteful slender slick-black package, which clamshell opens from the right. Laden with the logo, and name on the front, there is a fairy not unlike Tinkerbell “anointing” the IEM name. I like it so far.
Opening the box reveals semi-soft foam holding both the round plastic case, and the pelican-like case on the right. The choice of two cases is nice but opting for the larger Pelican-like case won out for me every time. The left side shows the specs as well as an exploded view of the IEM itself, highlighting each model inside. Again, tastefully simple and elegant. This is most definitely a situation that I appreciate where less is more and done well.
As the flagship one would expect a good bit of kit to accompany the IEM and one would not be wrong. Coming with two cables, and a plethora of tips, I settled on the foam tips for about half the time and the included large silicon tips the other. Either way you frame this, Little Dot has done their homework by including two cables, many tips and the adapters so you do not need to purchase anything from the off.
Almost exactly like the Cu Cen, except for being more pill-shaped, the shape is small and fits neatly inside of one’s ear canal. This is one where the IEM almost fits inside your ear. I appreciate the small size, but to me it is almost too small. Thankfully, the sound belies the size. With vent holes similar to the Cen, but both on the nozzle side the similarity ends there. Both are on the aft side of the unit as it faces you nozzle-first. Placed on the inner shell behind the nozzle and on the nozzle, itself mirroring the position behind the nozzle on the same side, this is a unique position to me. It works.
Fit of the two shell halves and nozzle is very good, but I would wish for tighter tolerances between the three. Even of seam, but most certainly not seamless they are. At this price and above you get into the expectations of superb and exemplary build quality and to me the Kis falls a bit short. Does it hinder performance? No. Are the seams even? Yes. But you expect the aesthetics to match the price.
The IEM fits comfortably in my ear and the cable lies well with another excellent cinch above the y-splitter. I appreciate a bit of effort to move the cinch up into position, even if I rarely use them. I do so knowing that they are meant to stay in place. Some of recent slide back down making them useless. This is not the case with the Little Dot iterations. The red anodized color looks good and has the quality one would expect to last a good long time, much like the Cen.
Overall this is a very good build but falls short of what I would expect of a flagship model.
With dual 10mm dual diaphragm amorphous diamond-like carbon drivers and a pair of custom balanced armatures, the fit inside the shell and vent holes aid in the overall sound characteristics. Much like speaker wood or other IEM’s I have which are wood, the tuning and engineering is most certainly by design and aid in providing the signature desired.
I mention again the need to pay attention to the adapters as they are large and most definitely put pressure on the internal jack of your source of choice. Care is warranted.
Unlike the overly rumbly bass of the Wyn, the Kis exudes quality over maximum bass. There is still plenty of bass there, especially when run in balanced mode, but not of the quantity of the Wyn. No matter, for here quality matters over quantity. And it is good. If the song is bass heavy the song is presented that way, but in complete control. If the song is bass shy, there is no fake adding. The Kis presents what is there. Period. Of the four, this should be and is the best bass quality without bleed and has the speed to match quick music representation without being false or overly analytical. There is good realism here epitomized by the wonderful sound from The Farewell Courtyard (a common song used in the four reviews). While not the gut punch of the Wyn, the song represents clarity and control here. Detail is excellent and exudes that quality one would expect at this price.
There is still good detail retrieval in the mid-section as well. Falling slightly behind in character, it does not falter like others such as the V-shaped Rad. No, it is there in enough detail to warrant respect while presenting an honest version of what the song exudes. As an example, on Schubert’s Erlkonig, a piano masterpiece, the piano is lush without being drippy. Full of richness without being overtly warm. You get the sense of being there, but not front row presentation. You stand a respectful distance away and relish the presentation. Based upon that, I most certainly understand why Will favors this as his choice for the classics with which he listens. I appreciate the song already, but with the Kis, you sense it is meant for this song.
Treble rolls off nicely for me, but the literature states it reaches higher. My hearing limits what I hear, but the soft roll is appreciated as there is no strident tendency or brittleness to me. Using Aqualung as a gauge, the old microphonic vocal section is a good judge of stridency to me. There is none, and along with a bit of sparkle makes for a pleasant treble presentation. I cannot describe the tendencies with the aplomb of other reviewers, but hope the message gets across anyway. Nicely presented, I enjoy the presentation of the top end here the most of any Little Dot in house currently.
Cymbals and snare hit are presented with good attack and decay giving a sense of urgency that pairs nicely with the guitar solo, so something must be done correctly for me to interpret the sound that way. Moving on to Locomotive Breath, the representative detail continues, with a clarity fitting this level. Nicely done without being shouty. I do not like shouty.
Of all the LD’s here, the Kis seemed to have the narrowest soundstage. While not entirely too narrow, it can be heard going back to back between the Cu Cen. Depth is on par as is height making for a somewhat intimate presentation. That said, I had no problem discerning layers or placement. Both are very good and on par with the better half of this price point.
One might think that with the narrower, more confined soundstage, that compression of the sound, especially in complex songs such as the second Jethro Tull song mentioned would suffer. That would be a misstatement here as the Kis clearly defines the character of the song and his flute action is sublime. Just like I remember in concert decades ago. I was lucky enough to see John Cougar Mellencamp, Jethro Tull and The Who together in Boulder…holy buckets…Such a wonderful group and a wonderful musician. Memories are very good.
Little Dot Kis ($585) vs Phonic BW4 ($650):
My first purchase from Phonic, I worked with Kenneth to determine which wood I would prefer for my sound characteristics. Choosing African Padauk for the bass qualities (go figure) the wood did not change the flavor of the four BA unit so much as to ruin its tune. With a very open airy signature, the BW4 quickly became one of my favorites at the $500-750 price point. It still is. Clarity is superb (to me) and detail retrieval is fast and accurate, rivaling many top flagships of much more dollar outlay. But that isn’t the only trick it presents. This is just about the best bass quality of any balanced armature I have heard. For something that only has BA’s to rival the vaunted 64Audio models, which cost many times the price; color me impressed. The overall signature is superb, and while the Kis does give it a sound go, falls short. Let’s just call that running into a higher category, and not having quite the horsepower to compete.
Of course, I write this as I listen to Thick As A Brick (pt. 1) on the Kis and it does sound very, very good. I like both but prefer the BW4. If it came down to fit though, the Kis wins hands down. My hope is that Phonic can tailor an IEM of the quality wood it uses a bit more to individual customers, or at least in size. But then again, the size plays into the cavern of sound wrought from the shell, much the way the Kis does.
Little Dot Kis ($585) vs Noble Savant II ($499):
Already mentioned in the Cu Cen review, the same holds here. But the Savant sounds a bit thinner here, almost a bit too delicate when compared to the Kis. I still appreciate its clear crisp nature but comes across as a bit thin when compared to the Kis. I liken that to the wonderful vocal presentation in the Kis. It is close, but in that vein the Kis wins out. If I had to choose one though, I could not for they are similar in presentation but approach it differently.
The clarity of sound from the Savant II is wonderful to hear. I hear detail almost on par with my TOTL IEM’s such as the Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X, my benchmark for clarity of sound. But that comes at the expense of richness a bit. Here the Kis overcomes that with a bit thicker sound, but at the expense of the details wrought by the Savant II. In other words, six of one, a half-dozen of the other…go figure.
I purposely ended with this review, so I could end at the top. End with the Little Dot TOTL flagship so to speak. And I do not regret that at all. I would have been happy to go the other way as well, since all representatives have their merits. But if I had to choose one, it would be the Kis. To me, it exudes everything that Little Dot promotes to permeate their line of IEM’s. And it would be a very decent choice for those who want a good shot at a TOTL without the sticker shock. Many manufacturers have their wares on sale due to COVID-19, and out of necessity. Currently listed under $600, the Kis would represent a good “bargain” for those who want an IEM that comes with two cables, adapters and many tips; making the need for other items all but superfluous. While not my top choice in the price (see above), the Kis does represent the direction Little Dot wants to go, and I applaud them for taking a chance on the Kis. It may well be worth a chance from the audiophile as well.
I again thank Ian and Little Dot for the wonderful opportunity to review not one or two of their IEM’s, but all four. Getting that many at once is a challenge, but it is what the company deserves. Get the items out there for the exposure and it may just pay off for them. Thanks again, these are fine products.