Publisher Profile

Kingsound KS-H3 Headphones & M-20 Headphone Amplifier Review

By: |

Kingsound M-20 headphone amplifier


The listening experience

Initially when the Kingsound KS-H3 was breaking in there were odd noises which would not have been out of place in a Sci Fi movie. Alien signals and popping walls (seemingly, the diaphragm vibrating without an audible signal) kept me from being completely comfortable with the phones. Roger indicated the noises would abate, and they did as the unit reached 100 hours of use. Once this stage was past, the unit after a minute or so of warm up was remarkably silent, as quiet as a solid-state amp driving a pair of less efficient speakers. Headphones are not kind to noisy circuits, and ESL headphones can be especially revealing of noise in the upstream electronics. It is particularly pleasant to report the tomb-like silence of the Kingsound rig. This accentuates the quality of the M-20’s design and selection of tubes. No doubt, with tube rolling there will be a variance in the overall noise floor, or lack of it, but the stock unit is exemplary in that regard.

The Kingsound KS-H3 headset is semi-open, meaning the wearer can hear sounds in the room, and there seemed to be little protection from extraneous noises. If one wishes a pristine experience with the KS-H3 it is necessary to be in a quiet environment. On the other hand, though the product was not designed to be used thus, occasionally I would set the headphones aside momentarily to talk on the phone, or to write notes for a few minutes. The sound emanating mainly from the perforated ear cup’s back was quite agreeable. As would be expected, the low end was nearly indiscernible, but the sense of quality was detectable even listening to the system more as a “table radio” than headphones. Even sitting beside on a chair or table the innate quality of the KS-H3’s drivers was obvious.

In fact, while my friend Matt was at my home, beside the expected use we also conducted an oddball comparison between headphones merely listening to them as an observer, not the user. The Grado SR125 spewed a lot of high-end energy out the backside. Contrary, the AKG K271 was not skewed toward the treble, but neither did it have the crispness of the Kingsound KS-H3. This “remote listening” provided some revealing insights to the nature of the headsets. You never know when you might severely sunburn both ears and have to listen at a distance to your headset! I’m being facetious, but just as audiophiles discuss walking past a room at shows and garnishing a strong impression of the quality of the system playing, so also one can seemingly “walk past” headphones with open backs to gather loose impressions. Obviously, this is not a proper way to judge a headphone system’s sound, but it can be fun!


How refined can tubes get?

I have heard a lot of tube gear, and have come to the general conclusion that tubes equate generally with softer, smoother, more tonally forgiving (i.e. less harsh) sound, but at the cost of some definition and imaging. That was before I heard the Kingsound M-20 headphone amplifier and KS-H3 headphones combo. When I first listened to it I struggled to accommodate the enormous amount of detail this headphone system provides.

The reader needs to appreciate that I have built some fine stereo systems that excel at precision and timing, but the M-20 and KS-H3 match the best in terms of unpeeling the layers of tracks which the recording engineer laid down in production. Hearing a piece of music through the M20/H3 assures I will hear the performance more like the recording engineer hears.


On with the comparisons!

I had sold my Daedalus Ulysses speakers locally to a guy named Bob, who happens to be a headphone freak. One who follows the scuttlebutt in personal listening, he acquired a pair of the much vaunted magnetic planar Audeze LCD-3, a member of the pantheon of most highly acclaimed headphones. This would allow for a much needed comparison between a highly touted magnetic planar headphone and the KS-H3 electrostatic headphone!

You will not typically see review comparisons between magnetic planar speakers such as Magnepan models and electrostatic speakers like the Kingsound King III, which I reviewed and own. Likewise, you will not typically see a comparison of a magnetic planar headphone and an ESL like the KS-H3. Why not? Is it conspiracy theory time? No, it’s a function of reviewing standards which dictate a certain number of dealers to conduct a review, and seeming unwillingness on the part of manufacturers to send their products to reviewers beyond the HiFi print magazines. Beyond this, it’s not in the manufacturer’s best marketing interest to send a set of magnetic planar speakers or headphones to a guy like me, who has formidable ESL products to conduct comparisons. It’s simply too risky, holding too much potential for a less than stellar experience in relation to the ESL products. That kind of outcome would take the shine off of the seeming sterling performance of magnetic planar products. Sadly, such a system is a big win for the manufacturer, but a big loss for the audiophile community wishing to locate the actual best sounding product.

I did locate one brief write up by Steve Guttenberg at CNET about the KS-H3 wherein he compared the Kingsound to the LCD-X and found the Kingsound superior in most respects. The dearth of such comparisons makes most claims of a speaker or headphone as “the best,” tenuous, but it often does not stop people from making such claims. I have heard enough of “the best” magnetic planar speakers either at shows or in my home, to conclude that Kingsound’s ESLs are superior in several respects. Up until now I had to conclude this indirectly, which is no worse a sin than for a reviewer to pronounce a product the best when it has not been compared to a highly significant competitor. For this reason I often qualify my accolades, which means less of my quotes used in Ads, but also more accurate assessment for the audiophile. However, Bob was coming over with the goods, a pair of planar magnetic uber-cans, to directly compare the LCD-3 to the Kingsound.

7 Responses to Kingsound KS-H3 Headphones & M-20 Headphone Amplifier Review

  1. Michael Brown says:

    I also own the h03 with the solid state M10 amplifier and love it’s sound signature. At some point I’ll probably get the M20 setup. Some folks have indicated the M10 fares well against its big brother. Any chance you’ll be comparing the two?

  2. Michael,
    God’s Joy to you,

    You have good cause to love the sound of the KS-H3! Unless the M10 is thrust upon me, I likely will not be comparing it. When I sought the review Roger at Performance Devices assured me that the M-20 was superior, and I took the lead to obtain it for the article. As I have the capacity to roll discrete opamps in the Eastern Electric Minimax Tube DAC Supreme (review to come), I do not feel a strong urge to spend my effort on reviewing a headphone amp beneath the M-20. I have to be selective in regard to my time and products chosen, and I do not often backtrack to a product lower in a manufacturer’s line. Usually my development of rigs is upward continually, if possible.

    Douglas Schroeder

  3. conor says:

    The ESP 950/E90 Koss combo IS currently avaliable, and it is still in production. It can be purchased from for $999, or amazon for somewhere between $500-$999. it’s often around $600

  4. Krisna Overton says:

    Hi, I’ve got an existing stax system (L300 + SRM 252 amp). Im looking into purchasing the Kingsound H3s, will they work with the tax SRM 252 amp?

  5. Krisna,
    God’s Peace to you,

    I believe both the STAX and Kingsound headphone systems use five pin configurations on the headphone cable, but I am unsure whether the positioning of the cable for the H3s will allow for use with the STAX amp.

    I think it best to contact the manufacturers to discuss this.

    Douglas Schroeder

  6. Marco says:

    Hi mr. Schroeder,

    in the above article you mentioned Arnie Nudell reviewing the LCD-X by Audeze; where can one read that review ?

    Thanks for answering.


    ps: btw, is this HP/AMP combo from the same Kingsound that makes/sells ELS speakers too ?

  7. Marco,
    God’s Peace to you,

    Yes, the headphones and tube amp are by the same Kingsound as the company which makes the electrostatic speakers. You can read my reviews of the King and the King III if you are interested in catching up with the speakers. To see the reference to the article by Arnie Nudell I suggest you search for his name and the phrase “Audeze LDC-X”.

    Douglas Schroeder

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By :