- Given the price to quality ratio, these incredibly good value for money.
Cons: I cannot think of any.
- The Original TRI I3 are the second model produced by TRI, a sister brand to KBear. TRI now has a range of five earphones available for sale as at the date of writing. The latest, a new iteration of the I3, being the I3 Pro. The question is, does the I3 Pro differ from the Original I3? If so, how does the Pro set differ.
- The new iteration, the I3 Pro were launched in September 2021 to succeed the Original I3, the best-selling earphones in TRI's range.
- This is probably the most time consuming review I have done to date. One of the reasons for the time it took to complete is that the two sets are incredibly similar. TRI may have intended to make the two sets sound alike, whether perfectly or not, I do not know, but, they are certainly almost identical both visually and sonically. It was a unique experience.
- Another unique point is that most readers who are likely to read this review, are highly experienced audio enthusiasts. Even more interestingly, they are likely to own a set of either the Original I3 or I3 Pro or both, so your feedback please.
- I have reworked my review of the original I3 into this article primarily because they have (and also my opinion of the Original I3 has) not changed one iota. Therefore, I saw no need to alter what I previously wrote specifically in relation to the Original I3. The few parts I have not significantly altered is done intentionally, not a short cut!
- I have also kept some of the tracks in the sound check and added other tracks so as not to bore those who read my original article. All of which I hope are helpful to the reader of this article.
Original TRI I3
- The Original TRI I3 were launched in August of 2019. They have a setup of 3 drivers, one 8 mm Planar Magnetic driver, one 10 mm Dynamic Driver (DD) and a Balanced Armature (BA).
- The IEMs came in a small package including a cable, a soft velvety pouch and a selection of tips. However, the Original I3 have now been withdrawn from sale following the launch of the I3 Pro.
- The soft velvety pouch which came with the TRI I3 is nice to the touch but as it is a soft pouch, it does not offer much protection for the IEMs.
- The TRI I3 has been described as "ear potatoes" due to their size. They look and feel huge initially. They are shiny chrome pieces (which sounds "blingy") but they have a good look and feel. More importantly, despite their size, they fit my ears snugly and comfortably, without much protrusion. Isolation is very good and you get little sound intrusion.
- The original cable on the Original I3 looks similar to the Tin P1 cable, which is a loose weave and copper in colour.
The new iteration - TRI I3 Pro
- The new iteration, the I3 Pro, were launched in September 2021. We are informed that they use the same 3 drivers as the Original I3, one 8mm Planar Magnetic driver, one 10 mm DD and a BA.
- The I3 Pro come in a medium-sized package including a cable, a faux leather case and a good selection of tips. I bought the TRI I3 from the KBear official Ali Express shop with a generous introductory discount when they were launched. The retail price is $189.
- The inclusion of the faux (or are they real) leather case is a good move but surprisingly, the KBear hard faux leather case is used for the first time on TRI products. To my eyes, these cases are very good looking. More importantly, they offer very good protection to the IEMs.
- The cable on the I3 Pro is a mid brown cable which looks good, feels soft and is malleable. It definitely looks the part.
- General - They both appear to be very well built. It is noteworthy at this stage to point out that the Original I3 launched with MMCX cable connection (as on my set) which was later changed to two-pin connection. As far as I am aware on one occasion, the two-pin connection was reported as having fallen out of the casing. This appears to have been a design fault simply because of the fact that the re-design intended for altering the cable connection created another issue, which later became apparent on at least one set. I can only say, I have not heard of any other issues with the build quality or any other quality concerns with the Original I3. Hopefully that bodes well for the I3 Pro. My Original I3 remain in good condition despite over 18 months of use and abuse.
- Visual differences - Now that we have the TRI I3 Pro on the market and the "ear potatoes" are no more, what is obvious is that the Pros are smaller in size and feel less weighty. Though looking at them together, the feeling of déjà vu does not leave you. The Pro are exactly the same gorgeous shiny chrome pieces but smaller, and they also have the same feel as the Original I3, even down to sounding like marbles when the earpieces (accidentally) hit each other.
- More importantly, due to their smaller size, they should fit most ears as they fit my average ears comfortably, without much protrusion. Again, for me, the isolation is very good and I get little external sound intrusion.
- The obvious and primary difference is the size, although not obvious at a glance, as already stated. The next difference I found are the vents: on the Original I3 there is a single vent just on the shell beneath the cable connection (when in the cable up position), whereas the I3 Pro have what appears to be four perforations which I take to be vents. Beyond those two visual differences, I do not see any other.
- During this comparison, I found myself on numerous occasions looking for the telltale signs to differentiate between them. If there were a prize for the perfect iteration with one brief size reduction, the I3 Pro must be there or thereabouts for top prize. However, these are IEMs, which means there is also the effect on the sound to consider.In short, for those who do not want to read in detail, I am happy to say, both sets are very good and the differences in this comparison are marginal and arguably the sonic difference is almost imperceptible, but I must report that I notice a difference; others might also notice that they are not identical in sound reproduction and the extent of that difference is by a hair's breath. Both these IEMs are incredibly good, if you want to know more read on.
The Sonic Difference
- My setup for this review: I paired them with Samsung galaxy note 10 plus and Fiio M11 as my source, and for amplification, variably: SMSL AD18, a Samsung dongle, Fiio BTR5, the HA FEE HA11 and the Littlebear B4X tube dac/amp, mostly balanced 2.5 mm and on high gain.
Method used for comparison
For the purposes of ensuring there is no variation, irrespective of my thoughts on the sonic attributes of cables, I used Dunu DW02 cables on both sets, the only difference being that one set of the DW02 cable is MMCX and the other is two-pin. I also used the same set of eartips, which are the off-white pair installed on the I3 Pros in the package. Thus the aim is to have exactly the same (in as far as QC is consistent) set up right through from source to earpieces, which is where we want to detect differences, if any.
- On sonic differences, the first thing to point out is that the new iteration has been made easier to drive. Therefore, the volume difference is noticeable when switching in A/B testing the two sets of I3.
- I previously described the Original TRI I3, as being like speakers stuffed into the ears. My view has not changed, they have the big sound effect, which then gives perception of stage - not any old stage but a grand stage, to my ears. What makes them even better for me is that they scale very well. That was my original assessment and that has not changed: they both scale well.
- Both IEMs are clear, detailed and with good separation. Although it must be said that they Original I3 are in their element with amplification, which brings out their full potential. Although easier to drive, the I3 Pro also benefit from good amplification. Just to reiterate the point, that is not to say that they are in any way inferior on a phone, you just get that bit better resolution as you give them more power.
- You may want to put on your monitors of choice, useful (to hear your feedback) if you have either the Original I3 or the Pro, and check out the music using the links.
- For me the bass is the backbone of (granted not all, but) most tracks. We usually think of the bass guitar and the kick drum as the source of bass. Yes, on many tracks they are the source of bass and timing (and this relates to the entire drum section) but there are more instruments which deliver bass to a track than we would usually give credit for. The point here is to say we lose a lot if we do not have the definition of bass notes and simply settle for, what is often called, the “slam”. They may not be for everyone but check out at least one minutes of each out.
- On both IEMs, bass is delivered as recorded. You do not have a dominant bass tuning which is ever-present. I do not detect bass bleed on either. To my ears, both in terms of quality and quantity, the bass is just where I like it. Mid-bass is beautifully restrained. What does that mean? It simply means to my ears, the mid-bass has been tuned to be slightly less prominent in comparison to the more elevated sub-bass. The effect is that you get a well disciplined mid-bass, there when called for.
- As I said in my review of the original I3, where the recording provides for sub bass, the sub-bass on the TRI I3 feels like REL speakers: visceral bass delivered to your body without bothering with your ears. That rich and solid but tempered REL-type bass is a sublime presentation, in my view. To reiterate, what I stated in my previous I3 review, in contrast to the brutal bass on other so-called bass monitors (speakers, over ear headphones or IEMs) the bass does not attempt to knock you over the head like a thug with a blunt instrument. You know that type of bass that kills every note around it when it hits? That is NOT the bass on the TRI I3, the sub bass and mid bass here is mature, sedate and yet incredibly satisfying. Those who tuned the TRI I3 Pros have managed to capture this presentation of bass perfectly.
- The difference between the Original and the Pros is marginal but, for me, the TRI I3 Pro keep the mature sub bass of the original with no alteration. The sub-bass on both the Original I3 and I3 Pro is a velvety, lush, deep and visceral bass. The good quality bass on both sets is well defined in that the notes are clearly discernible one from the other.
- Fourplay's album Heartfelt contains a track entitled Chant which contains bass-heavy passages. Bass kicks in virtually at 03 seconds and sub-bass at 0.22. The bass is delivered with such wonderful after taste by way of the decay to every bass note and sprinkled with delicate mids and treble notes it just feels like the musicians are on a huge stage on the Original TRI I3.
- The TRI I3 Pro do not disappoint, either. In fact, I find it difficult to differentiate between the two versions of the I3 when it comes to bass. However, there is something different about the TRI I3 and the TRI I3 Pro. The only way I can describe it is that the Original seems a touch more sedate and reassuring in their delivery.
- I make no apologies for my love for a well implemented planar magnetic midrange. You probably love them, too, and that is why you bother to read this. When it comes to the midrange, namely voices and instruments that fall within it, planar magnetic drivers, as opposed to other drivers, for me have that quality to sound which makes it whole and complete without sputtering or stuttering.
- Djelem Djelem - I have chosen this track because of the arrangement which allows anyone trying to listen to instrument separation the opportunity to do so with relative ease.
- The implementation of the Planar magnetic driver makes the voice of Sandra Sangiao seamlessly whole and full-bodied, without relying on a relic of the DD bass for assistance. The instruments support her voice with clean, clear notes. Each instrument comes to the fore and gives the listener the opportunity to appreciate the clarity of the tuning of the drivers. There is a certain weight which the tuning of the planar magnetic drivers in both sets of the I3s give you. This, in my view, brings the midrange to life; they are tuned so realistically, where you get thin and fragile notes for mids, or bloated mids elsewhere, that they deliver weighty yet nimble mids. This means that whether you are listening to male or female voices, you get a whole, realistic and satisfying rendition of the range of the original voice.
- Just as I previously said in the Original I3 review, the TRI I3 treble is delivered without fanfare, just right. Both the I3s’ treble is beautifully done to my ears, they both give you treble to the limit without sibilance. Listening to classical music, jazz and salsa was a joy. These two IEMs do sparkle quite well; in fact, on some tracks it is a very busy sizzle, with no fatigue.
- They both present music which is harmonic and give you treble which is neither demanding nor exhausting.
- One of the wonderful features of the Original I3 is the instrument separation. These earphones are amazing at being able to give you a clear indication of the instrument you are listening to, so that effect is that instruments sound distinct one from the other. This is no accident, there are numerous earphones in this price range where the instruments are congealed, even if they attempt to separate the instruments at lower volumes, they fall apart as the volume is increased, especially on busy tracks. Both the Original I3 and the I3 Pro do not suffer the same shortcoming. What both versions of the I3 do is well above their price range, to my ears.
- Both sets capture the timbre of instruments beautifully. They sound so realistic with every track but virtually come to life with orchestral music where the multiple violins, for example, just seem to sound like one authoritative instrument. I have included a track by Marcus Miller which in essence shows the different styles of bass delivery. I also include a link for drums to show the timbral accuracy of the combination of drivers and tuning.
- The sound stage on the TRI I3 is just fantastic and feels so realistic. The TRI I3 Pro have managed to capture that wonderful perception of stage and do not disappoint by any means but in comparison with the TRI I3 they fall slightly short.
- Listening to Dave Koz "Saxophonic” album - “sounds of the underground" on the TRI I3 is like being dropped on the front line of a battle between instruments with auditory weapons firing from all angles on both sets of TRI I3. I followed that with Carlos Santana "Nothing at all" - a much calmer track but no less encompassing.
- One of the features I really appreciate on the Original I3s is the ability of the drivers to efficiently present sound in busy passages dynamically. The effect is that you hear passages which are prominent as the instrument or instruments in the fore are usually louder, whilst instruments softly playing in the background are still clearly audible. In short they do dynamism as competently as you would find in much more expensive IEMs. The TRI I3 Pros are no different in their presentation.
- In conclusion to this comparison, I have to say these two IEMs are a credit to the TRI tuning team.
- Do I think the TRI I3 Pro are a worthy of the mantle of the Original I3, the answer is, yes, emphatically so.
- Do I think they replace the I3, the answer is, no!
- The Original I3, the ear potatoes, may not be impossible to replace to others, but appear to be impossible to replace to me. As the original design includes huge earpieces, given a reduction in size has acoustic implications, which cannot easily be replaced by vents.
- However, the I3 Pro are 98% successful in their attempt to do the impossible. Where does the 98% come from? It is certainly not scientific, rather it is entirely subjective. The fact is, if you ask me specifically where the I3 Pros fall short by 2%, I will say, it may be the size of the ear pieces, or the vents, which may be in place to compensate for the reduction in the size of the earpieces. It may be tuning or the low impedance to make them easier to drive or simply time, and they may in time sound identical when the drivers eventually settle.
- The fact is, if I had never heard the Original I3, I would not be missing that 2% and when I put the I3 Pro in my ears, I cannot tell the difference until I do an A/B test, the I3 Pro are that good. Believe me, I tried hard to find the reason for the difference….that 2% (still within the tolerance for unit variation). All I can say is when I blindly place the Original TRI I3 in my ears, I am immediately certain (I guess correctly) that I have the Original set in my ears from the sound (not the feel in hand, which is much more difficult to tell) but when I put the I3 Pro in my ears, I am not always certain which set I have in my ears. That to me shows that the TRI I3 Pros are a very good iteration of the exceptional Original I3.
- Just to end this comparison, I let the Saxophonic album run on and this track just captured the magical essence of the ear potatoes for me. I hope it does for you as well. If you are listening to the Original I3.
- Thank you to @Poganin for giving up so much of his time to proof read this review. Much appreciated!