Road to Neutrality
- Sound sensation similar to that offered by some IEMS.
- Neutral and clear sound.
- Depth of the lower zone.
- Accessories: Few foams and non-rigid bag.
- Rigid cable.
- Unnatural sub-bass.
- Upper zone partially incomplete.
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Smabat continues to grow and based on the acclaimed ST-10, has created two new earbuds: ST-10s Silver and ST-10s Gold. One difference between them is their impedance: 40Ω for the Silver version, 150Ω for the Gold version. The other is based on the composition of the diaphragm. Compared to the ST-10 version, the particular maze-shaped structure is larger, the driver has been revised and the cable has been changed. For the Silver version, the new driver uses a similar configuration, whose diaphragm is 3 layers, but revised to version 2.0. Meanwhile, the Gold version, uses a particular diaphragm, which aims to generate a different sound, somewhat cooler.
On the sound level, the version to be revised, which is the Silver, is a kind of mix between the old ST-10 and the M1. It maintains the power of the lower zone of the first ST-10, but improves the refinement, adopting, also, the more detailed and vivid profile, of the M1.
Let’s see, in depth, the improvements of this new version.
- Drivers: Dynamic 15.4mm Three-layer Diaphragm 2.0 (PEEK, PU, PEEK Titanium Diaphragm)
- Frequency response: 10-22000Hz
- Sensitivity: 115dB±3/mW
- Impedance: 40Ω
- Distortion Ratio: <0.1% @1kHz
- Jack connector: 3.5mm
- Capsule connection type: MMCX
- Cable size: 1.2m
This time, the Smabat ST-10s comes in a box with smaller dimensions than its previous version: 131x99x39mm. Its color is satin black. On the front face there are only inscribed, the letters «smabat», plus a yellow sticker, in the lower left corner, with the content of in icon, under the phrase «Coiling-Up Space Acoustic. Powered By Smabat». On the back side, another sticker, this time on the bottom, containing the specifications, the brand logo and its address.
After sliding the box, the capsules are shown, stuffed in a rigid foam mould, lined with black cardboard. After lifting the mould, a large round hole can be seen, behind which a brown leatherette cover with the brand name can be seen. On the back of the mould where the capsules come, the tips are embedded. As a summary, the complete content is:
- Smabat ST-10S.
- 1 pair of plastic tips.
- 2 pairs of foam tips.
- 1 cable.
- Brown leatherette bag
The packaging is slightly different from the base model, the cover seems more useful, with a flexible band closure, more suitable. Although it is small and not rigid. The tips are still very scarce and insufficient. As an accessory, the silicone tips are repeated, of doubtful utility.
I think that in this aspect, the variations are minimal and the accessories are not up to the price and its claim of a premium product or flagship.
Construction and Design
The external design has hardly changed from its predecessor, except that the maze-like structure is larger. It changes the color, now it’s black and silver. The cable, also different, is made of silver-plated strands, covered by transparent plastic. It’s similar to the M1 cable. It has no guides over the ear and its connections are MMCX, gold-plated.
Otherwise everything is very similar: The earbuds are formed by two capsules joined by a relatively thick central axis. In the rear capsule is the acoustic cavity. In the front capsule is the driver. Smabat uses a titanium diaphragm, three layers (PEEK, PU and PEEK), a patented acoustic cavity, made of aluminium, in the shape of a labyrinth. In addition, they use an advanced acoustic and ergonomic design. 9448A plates are used to seal the labyrinth. The outer plates are made of steel. The MMCX connections are gold plated. Under the labyrinth piece, there is a large bass port, covered with a grill. There are holes in the cones of the capsules.
As I say, the design hardly changes, although the colours are more flattering and elegant.
The cable has a slight rigidity, which I don’t like, but the absence of guides, allows the use downwards or over the ear. Although, the sound is not the same, I prefer the classic use, over the ear.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
The peculiar design, allows its use on ear and the absence of guides in the cable, offers the possibility of being placed with the cable down. However, it is true that the rigidity of the cable and the absence of guides makes the over-the-ear fit less durable. The ergonomics have not changed, but the cable is still inadequate for the design of the earbuds. Fortunately, it can be changed.
As a result, the best fit for the fullest, most complete sound is a bit complex and not very suitable for use on the move, as the slightest mismatch can ruin the production of the best sound.
As I’ve been saying, the Smabat ST-10S sails between its predecessor and the M1. In this way, their profile is a compendium between both models, since they balance, on one hand, the low part of the ST-10 and the mids of the M1, getting a more neutral and balanced sound, offering a good punch in the low zone, less forced and natural mids and soft, but aired highs.
The improved enclosure of the S version is noticeable in several ways: the depth and width of the bass have been increased. The impact is more moderate than in the previous version, but the clarity and precision are also greater. The result is a bigger scene and a more spacious sound, which is noticeable from the first beats.
The texture of the lower zone is perceived as softer, sweeter, more pleasant, with a compact and rounded hit, of remarkable power and execution at the same time. The speed neutralizes its power and gives it notoriety, both at the level of resolution, as in the details and different planes. The set generates an area never swollen, which turns towards the naturalness and that full sensation, halfway between the sound produced with IEMS (for its execution and level) and some acoustic boxes (for its power of recreation, openness and realistic depth).
The sub-bass range is perceived, but it is in this area where the colour and texture is lost, and the naturalness of the rest of the lower area is affected, and its performance is somewhat more limited in quality.
The clear vocation of model S is aimed at greater neutrality, something that is demonstrated in the central range. It is here that realism and naturalness are raised to their best. The mid-range feels quite liberated from the lower zone and clarity is perceived as increased, as well as space and separation. The comparative warmth is rather less, one could even say that the tonality of the mids is somewhat colder. In this sense, this fact is not harmful, since it helps to reduce, until disappearance, any sensation of mud. The lights of the range outweigh the shadows and the darkness is neutralized, helping to recreate a natural tone, but colder, somewhat narrower, but more vivid and of finer, delicate and higher tone. But this should not lead you to think that the ST-10S are sibilant at all, as they have good control in this sense, because the range retains a remarkable linearity.
The upper area is not notable for its brightness, but for the amount of air. The highs are gentle, not too sparkling, but clearly noticeable. Its slightly cool character is due to this tuning of the high band. Without being totally explicit, the details are easily distinguishable, providing a good amount, especially at the macro level. There is no emphasis on this band, compared to the other two, but it is not neglected either. The highs maintain the profile that seeks neutrality, perhaps too much. They are fine and smooth, focusing more on producing a good amount of air, than showing a surreal amount of presence. Although, it is possible that some transients, towards higher levels, are perceived slightly sunken, diminishing some qualities and limiting a more uniform response.
Another strong point of the ST-10S, is the great feeling of amplitude that they produce. Starting from the depth of the lower area, this new model presents, if possible, a wider, more extensive and longer stage. The three-dimensionality is perceived frontally, without being totally spherical.
The image enjoys very good positioning and the separation favours a wide range of details from all points of the scene. There is a remarkable degree of cleanliness and clarity, although the micro detail is simply good.
Comparison forced between predecessor and successor. I will skip the differences in packaging, cable, accessories and design and focus on the hearing differences. The first impression is clear: these are two different tunings, despite the aesthetic similarities. The ST-10 has a more energetic sound, in all bands, with a more noticeable low zone, a more advanced, warm midrange and more sparkling and vivid highs. In contrast, the S version has a less exposed sound, somewhat more backward, relaxed, not so much in the foreground. This happens in all its ranges, but it is especially noticeable in the midrange, where the voices don’t have the weight, body and direct feeling that the previous version offers. If we analyze range by range, the S version, in its lower zone, has a remarkable width, offering well-drawn bass, more content, neutral, less swollen, with better control and more planes. In the previous version, the impact is greater, they are more extensive, with a slower decay, which provides a darker and more charged pose. However, the sub-bass, its power, sonority and naturalness, has not been overcome in the new version.
In the middle zone, again, there are clear differences. In the old version, it is somewhat influenced by the lower zone, because of its warmth and extension. In this way, the lower mid-range is fuller, with more body, presence and closeness. The S version, on the other hand, stands out for its greater neutrality, offering even a colder, thinner, clearer and more open tone. It is true that the proximity is also more relaxed, generating a less direct sound, but something more balanced, not as compact as in the previous version. Voices feel different: while the ST-10 sounds warmer and fuller, the ST-10S feels more liberated and less heavy, with more detail and a finer pattern, with a higher resolution and clarity profile. They are really two different proposals, but both have their great moments. For male voices I prefer the ST-10 and for female voices I prefer the S version.
Finally, the high zone has been redefined a lot in the S version. The previous model is much more explicit and free, generating more sparkling and marked highs. The S version has more control, and even feels a bit restrained, as its notes are more limited and contained.
The scene is presented differently in both earbuds. The more relaxed sound of the new version offers a wider scene feeling. While the old version, with its closer and more powerful sound, offers a more foreground representation, which is also not lacking in scene, but is demonstrated in other parameters, such as height. With all this, the stage feels more intimate in the ST-10, while the S sounds more open and ethereal, offering a more open and semi-spherical stage.
The better clarity and lower density of the S version offers a superior point of separation and instrumental recreation.
Without a doubt, one of the kings of value for money are the M1s. Its stubbier shape, a priori more uncomfortable, offers the best fit of the whole family, as its roundness and size, allows me a freer fit.
At a sound level, the comparison between both is more obvious. The ST-10S has an improved, enlarged and powerful low range, except in the sub-bass area. The M1, in the lower end, are more trimmed; but, still, its sonority is a little more realistic. The rest of the range is more innocuous, with simpler development, more limited presence and emphasis, more contained depth and less descriptive capability. With all this, the M1s retain a good colour and a pleasant, smooth texture in their bass.
The midrange presents a different exposure. ST-10S sound clearly more neutral and cooler. In the M1, the voices are more present and close, feeling fuller, due to its more central and warm profile. However, it seems that the details, instrumentation and overall recreation of the middle zone, enjoy greater resolution and amount of detail, in the ST-10S.
I find more coherence and balance in the upper zone of the M1. Its highs are more explicit and, although it has less air, they look more natural, since it lacks irregularities.
The little brother M1, can’t compete with the amplitude of the scene of the new ST-10S. Comparatively speaking, the M1s are simpler and more limited in this respect, despite the cleanliness of their sound. The difference is clear, the sensation of width is felt from the first moment, observing a greater depth, quantity of planes, descriptive power and better instrumental recreation, as well as a more precise and defined global positioning. The separation also goes hand in hand, a bigger sound generates more silence and therefore an equal separation.
Smabat is opening a coherent path. Its new models are not mere iterations, but seek to offer new sensations. This time, the ST-10S have taken the characteristics of the two previous models, to create a different tuning, which is halfway between both, gaining in scene and separation, but offering a unique sound and not continuous, aimed at neutrality. And there lies its virtue, since there are improvements, but also innovations and differences. And that is something I value, very positively, about this brand. We will continue, totally attentive, to the new movements of Smabat…
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Burson Audio Playmate
- Tempotec Serenade iDSD
- HiBy R3 Pro
- JWD JWM-115
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