Kennerton Rognir: This one Octopus stole my very essence…
Sound is perfect for my tastes.
Is this really a closed back?
Cons: Not perfect build (so what…)
Kennerton Rögnir ($3367, current conversion): This one Octopus stole my very essence…
Intro: Andy Kong contacted me to see if I was interested in participating in a tour of the Kennerton Rögnir. Having a V2 version of the Magni made it a no-brainer to me. Upon purchasing the Magni, it quickly became my favorite headphone, regardless of price. It just fit my listening style of robust, but not overpowering bass, laidback signature, and a rich, warm detailed sound. The Magni is fantastic and from what I have read (yes, I did), the Rögnir is spectacular.
I will start by saying that upon first listen, I was taken in, held and not let go. The Rögnir is spectacular from the off. I had been warned by @Wiljen who gave the Kennerton his first ever 5-star rating on HeadFi. That says something if you know his very rigorous standards. Even though I am now thoroughly in love with the Rögnir, I will provide as honest a review of it as possible. It is not perfect overall, but to me those shortcomings can be overlooked once you listen. To qualify that, I had/have the same “concerns” with my Magni, and still love it. Kennerton has it going for them, and this one is one to be reckoned with.
I thank Andy for the inclusion, and at the conclusion of my time, the unit will be shipped to Las for the SoCal CanJam. I am very lucky, indeed.
|Driver Unit:||80 mm|
|Frequency Response:||10-55000 Hz|
|Cord length:||High quality 2 meters detachable copper cable 2 x mini-xlr / 6.3 mm|
|Custom cable:||Custom litz cable 2 x mini-xlr / 4-pin balanced xlr|
|Adapter:||4-pin balanced xlr / 6,3 TRS adapter|
In The Box:
Custom (wood) Rögnir
Custom Litz cable 2x mini-xlr connectors to XLR jack
4-pin balanced XLR to 6.35mm TRS adapter
Standard cable 2-xlr to 6.35 jack
Eco-leather zip case (like other Kennerton’s)
Kennerton Magni V2 ($835)
Audeze LCD3 ($1995)
Focal Radiance ($1299)
Sendy Peacock ($1499)
Shanling M6 Pro
MBP/ifi Pro iDSD/iCAN
Cayin N6ii mk2
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
My father-in-law was a Tool and Die maker for the AT&T plant in Lee’s Summit, MO from the very first day the plant opened to the very last. He worked the first shift and the last. The only one who did that. As such he was in charge of making, modifying and ensuring that the machinery worked, regardless of how it was done. Fashioning some one-of-a-kind fixes to problems that most of us could barely imagine, he was a true craftsman in every sense of the word. Some of his handmade tools are my most cherished tools, along with those from my father.
As a true craftsman, you are given certain leeway’s in order to accomplish the task. The fix may not be perfect looking, but functional for the task at hand, and there in lies the true appreciation for what he crafted. While the item may look unfinished or even a bit crude, we were talking about the inside of a major factory where functionality ruled over form every day. Period. To me therein lies the true beauty of a Kennerton. While it may not look or feel perfect in every aspect, such as perfectly matched halves or how they fit; but you simply cannot question the quality of what comes out. Especially when they go to task with close to 2000-year-old wood, which is the best form of recycling I know. Much like the hand-formed Ferrari’s of old where the builder apprenticed for years before being allowed a hammer to form that 365GTB fender, Kennerton speaks of old-world craftmanship where the end product is the goal. Yes, the Ferrari form is perfect as well, and the Kennerton’s are very, very close, and I liken their form to my father-in-law’s presence of function-first. The looks of the Rögnir are the icing on the cake. Or in this case the Karelian Birch.
Coming in what could be described as an industrial box, the inner case of the Kennerton protects well the contents inside. You need not worry, for again the looks shy away those who might look for flash. Inside the box you have the Eco-leather case, much like other Kennerton’s, but this comes with a different patterned inside and a stitched on Kennerton logo. Opening the case, you get to the Rögnir and the included cables. Yes, plural for you get a “standard” mini-xlr to 6.35mm jack and the superb mini-xlr to XLR balanced cable. I will admit that I did not use the standard cable but once to ensure it worked. It did.
Also included is a 4-pin male XLR to 6.35mm jack adapter as well. I utilized the XLR cable as is for the majority of my listening through my iFi Pro duo. Taking the Rögnir out you get to the good stuff detailed below.
One of the things I really appreciate about Kennerton is the use of not necessarily exotic wood (I am against that…), but the use of readily available wood, which may not be of the norm for wooden cupped headphones. The walnut version is simply gorgeous. It does help that much of my woodworking decades ago in high school was using walnut, cherry or white/red oak. But I have always had a soft spot for walnut. My father preferred Northern Michigan Cherry for much of his work, and that is gorgeous as well. But this particular Kennerton is of Karelian Birch (Betula pendula) with blue tints. Not perfect of cut nor finish, the handmade aspect comes through perfectly. In researching this wood you can find it among other things as Fabergé eggs from Peter The Great (Russian tie) and look at it genetically and epigenetically for the development of patterned wood (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21954616/). This makes sense as we move forward in headphone design, with the now de rigor of stabilized wood, which uses an epoxy of reclaimed/recycled wood. Kennerton’s approach is to not necessarily mimic or mirror that but give us the tie to old world wood. When you consider one of the most highly sought-after choices for the cups of Kennerton models is 2000-year-old Bog Oak, you understand and appreciate how they proceed with an earth-bound environmental aspect. Plus, that Bog Oak is gorgeous as well. So is this model with the Karelian Birch. The blue tints add the right amount of highlighting and the “flaws” are allowed to show, much like the Octopus on one side. This model does use Stabilized Karelian Birch, giving the blue dye a place to shine. To me though, this is not the typical “free flow” of most stabilized wood patterns such as on my UM 3DT (which is also gorgeous), but simply used to enhance the wood for longevity. Founder Valentin Kazanzhi knows what he is doing with engineering and the choice of woods, so I trust his judgement. Of late as well, the choice of wood enhances certain sounds from the signature as well. A harder cup and frame will give a tighter response, making for (to me) a more “analytical” or sharp tonality, but still very nice. Softer or more forgiving woods enhances the low end as per many manufacturers state. I do not doubt their word.
As mentioned in the unboxing, the Rögnir is handmade, and as such not of “perfect” form. This does not hinder the function in the least. I know many who would spend this amount want a perfect looking unit as well (and I have on hand three examples from a company, which are stellar in which to look and function as well…), but hearkening back to the old Ford GT, Ken did not give a darn how it looked other than the aerodynamics. How it functioned would win races. And they did. Here, that “less than perfect” look is no bother, for it gives that old-world craftsmanship look to it and I appreciate that more than a perfect look. At least for the Kennerton’s.
You can see the polished swirl marks of the poly coating but know that is a result of the coating being worked into each part, ensuring that longevity again. Flaws in the wood, such as the namesake of this article the Octopus, are allowed to show for it does not hinder sound inside. Slight burling shows through on the top half of the outside cups, adding an ocean front (or Lake Superior for me) look to it, and you can imagine the clouds along Lake Baikal or Superior easily. As per usual of Kennerton, the fit of cups is very good, allowing for top/bottom swiveling for a very good fit on my head. Due to the new headband shape as well, there is a certain amount of fore/aft movement, which allows the unit to fit over your ears very well. Several types of earpads were included such as perforated leather and other fitting, but I stuck mostly to the original included pads, for they provided me the most bass and best fit.
The inside headband strap moves easily on metal bands, affording you a near-perfect fit with minimal movement. There is some, but we are taking about a unit, which weighs in at almost 1lb (414g). That strap is padded as well, giving excellent feel and the right amount of cushioning. Over Labor Day weekend, I wore the unit continuously for 6 hours one day and seven the next without issue. Slight adjustments were needed, but that was due to the heat. It was 97 degrees F, and we do not have AC. No bother, the music kept me engaged.
The interesting stitching/grommets on the top band keep the headband covered in case the inside band slides all the way up if your fit pushed that inside band all the way up. An interesting stretch fabric, but I like it anyway.
The included custom Litz cable is the one I would use permanently, changing only to another source with the included adapter. It is a balanced XLR, so an adapter from XLR to 4.4bal would take you a long way. Mind you the “normal” cable is very good as well. That fabric on the XLR cable though, gives you good feel without microphonics, and the length is just about perfect, if a bit too long. It lays well no matter even if it is a bit heavy.
While those cups are not perfect, they are gorgeous at which to look, and the blue tinted dye does not distract too much from the overall headphone. I prefer understated and would most likely go with the Bog Oak or one of the Walnut finishes, but the Karelian Birch is fabulous at which to look.
Much of Kennerton’s expertise on previous models such as the Odin have carried on as upgrades in various headphones, and they are done well. While Kennerton has a very good appreciation in the audiophile market, I do still think it is undervalued when going against its competition. To me, they are right up there with the best, and their technical innovations may not be groundbreaking, but improve upon already worthy designs and implementations.
The Rögnir uses the following three design aspects/changes for its driver:
1. 80mm corrugated Polyimide membrane
2. Semicircular magnet array
3. Carbon fiber casing
Andy Kong, Ecoustics contribution: https://www.ecoustics.com/articles/kennerton-rognir-headphone-technology/
I will also link an excellent thesis on the technology behind the Rögnir, from Andy as well as post it on my blog for your perusal.
An 80mm membrane driver is on the larger size, but when you consider planar technology, that is a near normal size. I have another inhouse (compared below), which has an 88mm driver. With planar’s you can get away with that due to the membrane technology, which while taking up more space, is still smaller than other types of drivers, generally speaking.
With a design, which minimizes the internal structure, Kennerton found a way to reduce reflection and resonance; the killers of good sound signatures. A polyamide diaphragm, which is thinner than a human hair helps keep speed up in sound as well. While the Rögnir does need a good source of power to drive it (approximately 20-25% more volume input on my Shanling M6 Pro compared to the Cayin N6ii, E01), combine all of this wonderful technology and you get a closed back headphone, which could easily be mistaken as an open back. I can honestly state that this is the closest a headphone has come to sounding like an open back, that isn’t. In talking with a peer, we were both amazed at how this is achieved. Jesse Cook’s Toca Orilla sounds precise, accurate, vibrant, and spacious. Think of a concert at the Hollywood Bowl and you would get the idea. Open and airy but placed extremely accurately.
The included cables are numerous with the test kit. Standard is the XLR terminated to 6.35mm jack, which is a fine cable in its own right. Opt for the 4.4bal cable, and the sound rachets up a bit due to that balanced signature. Opt one rung higher (or more?) for the XLR to XLR and you get a cable, which can compete with many of the best cables around. I will admit that about 60% of my time was spent with the XLR-XLR, and the other 40% XLR-4.4bal. If I had to choose one, it would be the XLR-XLR. Construction is Litz construction with oxygen free copper (my favored sound). Woven with a soft fabric around it, the cables minimize microphonics. That said, the standard 6.35mm cable did have more than I like. And, to quibble a bit, the XLR-XLR is a heavy cable. Up there with the best heavy Focal cables. That said, it is long enough to lay well. In fact, it may be too long for some situations, so it is best to be careful where you let the cable lie. Never had an issue, but that could be I was holding and using someone else’s $3500 headphone and $500 cable…
The kit came with numerous pad options, but I admit I stuck with the stock for the whole test. I did try the others for fit and had no issues. But, after talking to @Wiljen about the pads, he suggested I would like the original ones the most. He was right, and we do share similar tastes in sound based upon pad choice. I will state that to me the stock pads have a bit of an odd shape and could use a bit more support (memory foam?) inside. To me the pads squished a bit too much. That said I never had an issue with the pads bottoming out on my head. The feel of the headphone on my cranial matter was superb. This is not a light headphone either, so to fit as well as it did was a nice surprise. I had no movement upon my head either with a hat (which I wear a lot) or bare.
Summary: As stated the Rögnir’s sound is as close as I have experienced to an open back headphone from a closed back. To get this level of openness and airiness between the notes and have a closed back design is incredible. A testament to the engineers in Russia who are behind this. Sometimes with an open back you get too much air and space between notes for my taste. Some Focal models while sounding quite good are too lilty or whispy as a result. Thankfully my LCD3 is not that manner and the Rögnir compares extremely well to the Audeze in terms of getting it right. Bass is taut and reaches deep when needed. Mind you this is not Cascade level of bass, but more akin to what we call the Audeze bass. Almost transparently appearing when needed. But the Rögnir has more bass presence across the sound signature. What I mean by that is the bass is always there, not hiding like that Audeze bass mentioned above. On bass heavy songs such as Alex Fox’s live To The Gypsies, the bass is spot on perfect. Mids and vocals come across with a cleanliness meant for God-level IEM’s. Many are on the same price line, and could compare evenly, such as the Fir Audio M5, which to me is amongst the best mid treatment around. Your opinion may differ of course, but to me both are world class, and I would be thoroughly satiated with both as my only units. Treble treatment is rounded off just a bit, but not to the detriment of the overall character. Vocals are sublime in their spectacular nature. Natalie Woods sounds sublime in my ears, and her sensuous sounding voice is a true treat in the Rögnir.
To say that I like the Rögnir would be like saying that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are pretty decent quarterbacks. Or that Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo are decent Futbol players. They are and I do. I am seriously contemplating vacating pretty much all headphones I own to purchase a pair.
Bass is treated with aplomb. Not thunderous and deep reaching, but enough so to make you appreciate and respect how the Kennerton lays down that line. Even though the model sent (you have two choices for sound signature) was of the bass variety, the Rögnir falls a bit short for my tastes. That said, sub bass is quite good and reaches low enough to earn my respect. As stated, this is more about the whole of the signature, not one emphasis playing better than another. Texture of that bass makes up for the lack of deep reach. And as we move into the mid-bass territory, I find that the tonality is so sweet that the timbre is simply superb. It’s almost like having that deep lying #6 (defensive mid for those not attune to soccer positions) who goes about their business without fanfare. But when called upon, they boss the midfield like no other. Much respect across the league is garnered as a result of their play. The mid-bass speaks for itself, but without being overly emphasized.
The level of control across the spectrum holds into the wonderful mids and thankfully without bleed. The way the Kennerton controls the sound is all but beyond reproach. This is one fantastic unit. Much the way a Viola has a bit deeper sound and texture, the Rögnir takes control of the mids allowing those sounds including vocal treatment to come across as natural and full. Not thick mind you, but full and rich. To me it is here that the richness, which pervades the Rögnir’s character shines. Alex Fox’s Guitar On Fire comes across sweetly, but with a verve associated like my analogies above. Rich, warmer, textured to allow you to see right into the music without coloration. This is a mid-treatment as it should be. As the final point of emphasis, and a moment of “we told you so” without bragging, female vocals are slightly lifted to me, but done so in a manner that simply adds to the signature. An “ooooohhh, myyyyy” moment.
At the top, the treble to me is ever so slightly rounded off, but there is an emphasis that makes you pay attention to it for the sound is good. At times, on brighter songs, it is a bit too much, but only ever so much. And if I can tolerate that you should be fine. Baila Bailaora signifies this of which I speak. Wonderful in note, but the staccato notes of vocal and percussive treatment can be a bit bitey. Mind you this is near-nitpickery to me. But true. Even with those “deficiencies,” the Kennerton is not strident or do I hear any sibilance, which can happen with tuning such as this. The coverage afforded allows for a true, natural tonality to pervade the senses, which to me counters any potential upper end problems. This is a very fine tuning, and even with the slightly pushed treble, still tracks and listens very well.
Soundstage belies the fact it is a closed back headphone. To get this kind of expansive sound emanating from a closed back is astounding. Were you to get a person, even a learned audio-type to listen without telling them; they would swear the headphone is an open back model. Or those who might posit a deceiving, would recognize the truly remarkable treatment in all three dimensions afforded by the tune. To me here, the depth is what makes for that expansive tone. Sometimes you get a headphone, which is wide and tall but forgotten is the depth. To me that is a shame and can promote a thin, less dense sound. Not here. That depth aides in promoting excellent width and height without being like an open stadium. No, it is presented as a whole of the parts, and separation, layering & instrumentation as a result are superb. Layers are clearly defined, and placement is as well. Call it the “just right” method of promoting a full, rich tone, that has superb timbre to boot. Sometimes with overly expansive stages, speed is sacrificed to allow that cavernous size. Again, not here. Speed of attack and decay are nearly perfect, almost giving the impression of being too quick, which could lead to a thin, analytical type of sound. Far from it, the Kennerton promotes a rich, vibrant tone, which comes across as speedy in the right direction, without those negatives mentioned.
I write this part while listening to my Shanling M6 Pro through the 4.4bal cable. While not my favorite source of the test, it is extremely well behaved, nonetheless. Vibrancy tends to overcome the warmer, darker sound of the Shanling (which I do love). Paired here making almost a Ying/Yang relationship as even though the Rögnir is rich, vibrant and on the warm side, it pales to the house sound of the Shanling. So, the Kennerton brings the Shanling back towards a “more normal” sound, without giving up its soul of richness. Alex Fox’s Historia De Un Amor makes for an apt song. The bass line is sublime and deep, but alone the Shanling could sound almost muddy on lesser headphones and IEM’s. Not here, the Kennerton brings out that vibrant, richness of song exquisitely.
But by far my favorite offering was any DAP/MBP through the ifi Pro iCAN/iDSD duo. With the ability to add dBs at a click and add holography (not really needed) and the XBass feature allowed me to tune perfectly matching my preferred signature. This just goes to show that while the Kennerton does work and play well nicely; it works better the better the source. End game is not taken lightly here, in either source or headphone.
Kennerton Rögnir ($3400) v Kennerton Magni V2 ($835):
Going from the Rögnir to the Magni might seem far-fetched, but it clearly shows the dedication of the Kennerton family. The Rognir point blank is one of the if not the best headphones I have had the honor of hearing. That said, it was the Magni, which stole me away to start. Upon purchase (V2) of the Magni, I listened for about three weeks straight. I loved the treatment of the bass, I loved the richness of character, and I loved the look. I was sold on Kennerton as a brand. Backed by many positive reviews, I really think it is but a matter of time before they are thought of in the same regard as Audeze, ZMF & the Focal Utopia. The Rögnir really must be listened to. But you will not sell yourself short with the “budget model” Magni.
Kennerton Rögnir ($3400) v Audeze LCD3 ($1995):
To me, this is the baseline for open-backed headphones. Yes, there are more expensive ones. Yes, there are probably “better” sounding open backs; but the LCD3 satiates my personal needs for an open-back, hence it is my standard. And as such, to be compared to a closed back might seem a bit off. That is until you hear how much the Rögnir sounds like an open-back. The LCD3 has that typifying Audeze richness of bass, reaching lower than it has a right to, and so does the Rögnir without sounding completely like a basshead headphone. The LCD3 sounds expansive in stage. So does the Rögnir. So on the surface, it seems ludicrous, but delving in with a hard listen and the comparison is completely valid to me.
Kennerton Rögnir ($3400) v Focal Radiance ($1299):
On the surface, this one may seem odd as well, but the Radiance was a very nice surprise to me. I really enjoyed its open sound as well, mimicking much more expensive open backs. Good depth of bass, very musical mids, and a hint of treble push, which allow that expansiveness to shine, the Radiance is a very nice surprise, and well worthy of its place in its price point. This addition was more for fun, but a pleasant surprise indeed.
Kennerton Rögnir ($3400) v Sendy Peacock ($1499):
The two here share a richness of signature, which I prefer as my favored choice. The Peacock is actually warmer of tonality and to me that is all right. Bass reaches well into the sub bass level, while mids come across as slightly lifted, but not intrusive to me. Both treble notes provided me with reduced stress levels of listening. By that I mean they were laid back, but without being flat or boring. Adding just enough to the top end to give a nice feeling of end to end performance, the treble treatment of the Peacock comes across as inviting, but neither intrusive nor that exciting. Which when taken as a whole, isn’t that bad to me. The Rögnir on the other hand is many steps up all around.
This could be the following and I’d be done with it: Buy one at your earliest convenience. Period.