SMABAT ST-10 EARBUDS REVIEW :
- Mature tuning with balanced-neutral sound
- High level of clarity and imaging
- Weighty sub bass that sound natural
- Fast attack
- Excellent construction
- Intimate soundstage that will be underwhelming for some
- Cold vocal
SMABAT audio company is a newcomer in earbuds world, and for their first creation under Smabat branding they push the bar high in term of acoustic conception as well as driver tuning and material construction. In the past they have create other impressive earbuds under the branding name SVARA, wich receive great praise from audiophile.
No, Smabat isn’t your normal earbuds company that stock a dynamic driver into a standard plastic shell like 99% of other earbuds, they are more in line with seriously talented conceptor like Toneking who make great unique earbuds.
The highlight of their SMABAT ST-10 earbuds is the housing technology they use call ‘’turbine maze acoustic shaped chamber’’ wich is mostly use with high end speaker as an acoustic wave guide to improve bass response and lower distortion of transient response between different frequencies range. This is the first time I see an earbuds using this acoustic design and I’m pretty sure it will not be the last because the sound performance it give really translate what high fidelity mean.
With its big oversized 15.4mm driver, the ST-10 sure promess a wide frequencies response and great dynamic. Now, let see what this promising earbuds worth in term of overall value, because yes, we are in hifi chinese territory here. ST-10 is priced aounrd 90$, so this is not entry level earbuds like VIDO or Monk+, did it worth the investment?
You can buy the Smabat ST-10 for around 90$ at NiceHCK STORE
DISCLAIMER: This is not the first review sample I receive from NiceHCK and I never biased my review in the past for this nice seller. I do not have difficulties judging price value when it comme to product that cost 100$ or less, so this is my fully honnest review free of any affiliation or shadyness.
ACCESSORIES, CONSTRUCTION & DESIGN :
UNBOXING is very rewarding with this product, and again, for a new company, its very professional and well thinked. The beautifull earbuds are well presented in a black box with Smabat logo on it, and under the earbuds we have a nice leather pouch. In term of proper accessories, we have only 3 type of eartips, including a strange rubber one that I don’t even care to try. I would have like more donut foam tips but this isn’t a big deal. The instruction manual is all in english and a fun read too, with touch of humour, wich is something I really appreciate especially when the product isn’t sounding like a joke.
CONSTRUCTION is utterly impressive with lot of care to every details. The housing is quite complex craftsmanship with a mix of different material like brushed alloy, diverse plastic and metal, gold plated mmcx connection. Really, more you look closely to the construction of ST-10, more you are impress and understand why it’s call a flagship earbud.
The cable included too is quite nice, its half ribon and rubber cable with earhook. This is a light and easy to wear cable that do not create microphonic and without feeling particularly high end, it do not feel cheap either and perfectly match the ST-10 look. Ribbon part look very sturdy wich make me wonder if its kevlar.
DESIGN is unique and most of all :well thinked. Even if the earbuds can look big at first, the way its designed make them more comfortable to wear than smaller plastic earbuds that have an overall thicker housing. You have half ot the housing that is outside your ears and the other part have a nice conic shape that will fit most ears and give a more secure fit. Even without earhook the earbuds can stay still in the ears, but I still suggest to use to cable over ear. I try different cable with the ST-10 and they all do go, with or without earhook.
ISOLATION is average if we compare to in-ear and above average if we compare to earbuds. Because of the tigh fit and metal housing, ST-10 do good jo in passive noise cancelation, but due to open back it sure have good amount of sound leakage too.
Without burn in, out of the box, my very first impressions was extremely positive and even more when I turn on my ‘’audiophile critical listening ears’’ : the Smabat aren’t immaturly tuned earbuds and offer a vivid, realist and balanced sound that impress by its fast and tigh accuracy. Whatever the music style I trow at them, like a studio monitor, they render it in a clear, energic and very lively way.
The big dynamic driver in there have ultra fast transient response and the back acoustic cavity is sure not a gimmick here, it help to give some tigh rumble to bass slam as well as giving extra deepnest to soundstage. Unlike most other earbuds I try that either have a too warm or too bright approach to sound, the ST-10 is really a step above in term of dynamic and imaging, it’s one of the most neutral earbud I own that keep a high level of musicality due to the energical way it present music.
Some will find the ST-10 slightly bassy or V shape, but this isn’t basshead earbuds at all and will please serious audiophile that search for good reference sound that avoid over colouration in any frequencies range. No peak here, just little bump in mid bass and treble, rightly tuned.
SOUNDSTAGE will not please everybody because its a little intimate and not particularly wide, but if deep spatiality is important to you, you will be blown away by how far you can travel in clean soundstage. Its a tall and deep soundstage, with an holographic but restrain presentation, you not in a hall with the ST-10 but you are perfectly placed between two monitor speakers in a silent room.
LOWER END is extremely convaincing and have a weighty realist presentation, timbre is just enough thick and textured, but most of all, you have a fast rumble that give extra body and definition to sub bass line, something that you very rarely find with earbuds. Its fast and accurate bass, with great separation from mid bass. It will not distort at high volume, but with extremely heavy sub track, the rumble can shrill or stole some definition to lower mid range. This type of bass can deal with any music style, acoustic bass will be enough detailed and sub synth will have enough thickness.
MID BASS is even more impressive and one of the highlight of ST-10 to my ears. Rarely did I enjoy as much punch and kick of an earbuds, its round, fast, tigh with realist timbre and superb attack. Its really hard to believe we only listen to a single dynamic driver here, because of how kick and sub act togheter in a agile and well separated way. Unlike lower end that bleed a little on mids, the mid bass is tigh and drop fast after its hit, this way, it keep the mid range extremely clean and do not affect its definition.
MID RANGE without being recessed is very linear and intimate, its a sharp, clean, slightly bright mid range with excellent details retrieval and instrument separation. What impress here its the fast attack wich make violin or electric guitar sound energic and lively. Vocal are well centered and do not stole the show with a too wide or opaque presentation, it as if you listen to them in an intimate concert hall, timbre is detailed and transparent without sibilance, not particularly thick and again, it make me think of the type of mids we can get with Sony V6 monitor headphones wich is detailed, slightly dry with near analytical imaging.
TREBLE is quite extended, with slight emphasis in upper region to achieve greatly detailed imaging. Highs are we resolve and crisp with fast attack and decay, percussion and classical guitar have beautifull brilliance to them that sound natural and never too sharp. High level of clarity give great sens of imaging and separation. This type of treble is very well balanced and isnt too bright or too smooth wich make the ST-10 a god choice for treble sensitive audiophile that do not want to sacrifice details redenring with a too warm or dark sounding earbuds.
AMPING do improve soundstage wideness as well as imaging and give more natural timbre. ST-10 benifit from external amping but do not need ultra powerfull output. My Xduoo X20 and Ibasso DX90 drive them properly, but my phone or Xduoo X3 will not open the sound at its full potential.
SUB BASS : 8.5/10
MID BASS : 8.5/10
MID RANGE : 8/10
TREBLE : 8.5/10
TIMBRE : 8/10
ATTACK : 9/10
SOUNDSTAGE : 7.5/10
IMAGING : 8.5/10
ST-10 VS NICEHCK EBX (120$):
NiceHCK EBX is an incredible sounding earbuds, and a serious high end contender fairly priced 120$. With No BS honnesty, I can say its my number one favorite earbuds in my 20 pair collection. Built as well as sound is top notch so let see if the ST-10 can compete with such a fabulous top or the line champion.
SOUNDSTAGE is seriously more wide, tall and airy than the more intimate sounding ST-10, EBX is hall like sounding while the ST-10 is more studio room sounding.
BASS is more emphased with the EBX for the better and the worst, while lower end have more body and slam, its more boomy and less controled than ST-10. Mid bass is slower and less tigh too, wich can even create distortion at very high volume. The special ‘’back woofer’’ design of ST-10 make the bass sound faster and more accurate, with air moving in the back and avoiding bleed on high bass and lower mid range, the EBX more lot of air and this can be problematic with super bass heavy tracks. Overall bass is more balanced, accurate and faster than EBX.
MID RANGE is slightly more fowards with the EBX, even if overall signature is more bassy compared to ST-10. Vocal have more presence and wider presentation, it feel mid centric compared to a neutral near reference sounding ST-10 wich do not colour the sound that much. Separation is more accurate with ST-10 and level of clarity as well, for instrumental music ST-10 is more agile to render realist timbre of instrument and separate them fastly, with good attack, compared to warmer and softer timber and attack of EBX mid range.
TREBLE feel more extender with the ST-10, but less peaky too, it gently go up to 20khz while EBX go down and up after upper mids peaks that permit extra decay. Percussions sound more accurate with ST-10, due to tigh fast attack-decay versus a more splashy presentation of EBX. Still, classical guitar, harp and harpsichord sound more natural with the EBX due to hall like decay that give it beautifull musicality.
COMFORT is less problematic with the ST-10 due to smaller housing, EBX is quite enourmous and will not fit all ears type.
All in all, we have more wow effect with the EBX wich give a more spacious presentation and lusher musicality while the ST-10 sound more balanced and neutral but fail to deliver a very emotional or immersive musicality.
ST-10 VS MRZ TOMAHAWK:
Another favorite of mine, the legendary Mrz Tomahawk is in my opinion still the best sound sub-50$ earbuds out there. Again, its a very different soundsignature than the ST-10.
SOUNDSTAGE is wider and taller as well as more airy than ST-10 wich have more sens of deepnest and better clarity.
BASS dig lower with ST-10 while MrZ feel near bass anemic, especially to render properly bass line wich is something ST-10 do with superb accuracy. Both mid bass have good punch but again the ST-10 is more full bodied and have thicker timbre than dryer mid bass of MrZ.
MID RANGE is where miracle happen with the Tomahawk, its rich and spacious with fowards presence that do not sound too bright or artificial, its really the center of the show and make the ST-10 vocal feel very recessed and cold sounding. In term of instrument separation tough, ST-10 is more capable due to faster attack and better clarity in whole range due surely to a more linear and balanced frequencies response. Anyway, you cannot fall in passionate love with the ST-10 vocal while the MrZ is just too delicious for female signers (but sound drier with male signers).
TREBLE is less extended with the Tomahawk and begin rolling off after about 15khz while ST-10 go up to 20khz with great energy and control. ST-10 dig more details in an effortless way and this affect positively instrument separation compared to more veiled MrZ that struggle with highs and can make certain percussion sound splashy. Lower to upper treble sound more refined and balanced with ST-10 and justify the price difference between these great earbuds.
All in all, ST-10 sound from another league here, a serious audiophile reference sound compared to mid centric and very coloured musicality of MrZ Tomahawk that can offer same level of accuracy as well as versatility.
The Smabat ST-10 are seriously great sounding earbuds that will please serious audiophile as well as music enthusiast searching for neutraly tuined soundsignature. Even if the musicality isn’t as spectacular and immersive as the more coloured sounding TOTL NiceHCK EBX earbuds, the ST-10 show its talent with its accuracy, fast attack and impressive level of clarity from low to highs. Neither too bright or too warm, too bassy or analytical, ST-10 proove that a single dynamic driver can deliver studio reference sound that do not forget musicality by giving a vivid, energic and detailed sound.
Even if I would have like a little more air in imaging and soundstage as well as less cold vocal presentation, I’m sincerly impress by how capable and maturely tuned is this earbud wich will sure became my reference one for well done neutrality.