Today we’re checking out a snazzy new earbud from Smabat, the ST-10.
Smabat is a new company with two products under their wing, the ST-10 earbuds and the XT-10 iems. The ST-10 that we’re checking out today is a pretty cool little earbud. Unlike many companies that have been tuning the driver and shoving it into an MX500 shell, Smabat put a little more thought into the ST-10. With titanium coated drivers, MMCX removable cables, and a unique acoustic cavity which actually improves bass response, the ST-10 does a good job of standing out in what has become a crowded segment over the last few years.
Let’s take a look and find out why I think this is a quality earbud that is worth your time.
Thanks to Jim at NiceHCK for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the ST-10, and for arranging a sample for the purposes of review. The thoughts here are my own subjective opinions based on time spent listening to the ST-10. They do not represent sSmabat, NiceHCK, or any other entity. At the time of writing this earbud was retailing for 99.00 USD. You can check it out here:
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
Mobile: Shanling M0 with the Periodic Audio Nickel amp, or, ZiShan DSD by itself
@home: ZiShan DSD or Asus FX53V laptop plugged into a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp
- Driver: 15.4mm dynamic
- Impedance: 45 ohms
- Sensitivity: 115dB/mW
- Frequency Response: 10-22,000Hz
Packaging and Accessories:
Packaging and for the ST-10 is basic, but I like it. The matte black textured cardboard box is fairly compact. On the front is Smabat branding and their bat wing logo in gold foil, while the sides and top contain this information and their website repeated in silver foil. On the back is a stick with the model information and specifications as well as contact information for Smabat’s Customer Service team.
Lifting the lid you see the ST-10 earpieces set in a foam cutout. Below sits a Smabat branded leatherette case covering the rest of the extras which are set within a multilayered foam sheet. It’s a neat presentation overall and fun to unboxing without being overly wasteful. In all you get:
- ST-10 earbuds
- Leatherette carrying case
- MMCX cable
- Foam earbud covers
- Rubber earbuds covers
Maybe a little light on extras compared to come of the competition, but it’s what you need to get going so I can’t complain. Overall a nicely presented package.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The ST-10’s ear pieces are made of a combination of aluminum and plastic. The rear portion of the housing is where the spiral acoustic cavity resides. That part is plastic, wrapped in an attractive brushed aluminum exterior which is emblazoned with the Smabat brand name, as well as the model info and L/R indicators. Out the bottom of the cavity there is a silver vent. The stem connecting the rear to the rest of earbud is textured aluminum, as is the bell-shaped housing itself. There are three small vents for the driver hidden around the bass of the stem. The metal grill is neatly installed within a plastic surround. Overall construction quality is quite good with excellent fit and finish, though the edges of the aluminum surround for the acoustic cavity could serve to be rounded off at the edges. They’ve got some sharpness to them.
Below the y-split the cable is cloth covered, something I am generally not a fan of because it tends to fray and transmit noise up into the ear pieces. Thankfully, above the y-split the cable goes back to a more traditional black rubber coating which negates my microphonics concerns. The y-split is a simple metal straight jack with an effective rubber relief. Smabat branding is present and looks to be laser etched so it shouldn’t rub off. The y-split and chin cinch are also metal with relief present leading into the bottom of the split. Leading up to the earpieces are preformed ear guides making this a cable up earbud. The angle of the guide is well formed and even on both sides, stiff enough to hold the cable in place during movement but not so stiff as to cause discomfort. The MMCX plugs are simple rubber stubs and are easy to grip should you wish to detach the cable. Despite my bias against cloth-coated cables, this one is nice to use. Unless you want something flashier, I see no need to replace it out of the box.
When it comes to comfort, you’re either an earbud per or you’re not. There is no in between in my experience. With the ST-10 this is not different thanks to it’s large 15.4mm drivers. Even without foams or the included rubber covers, the ST-10 is a wide earbud and as such those with small outer ears are going to have issues. For me, I found them simply okay. Without foams, after about 30 or so minutes they would start to cause a hotspot and I’d need to shift them or take them out for a bit. With foams, I could wear them indefinitely since they’re so lightweight. I don’t recommend trying to wear them cable down as they are clearly designed with the support of an ear guide in mind. Trying to wear them down showed zero stability and they simply wouldn’t stay put. Maybe someone else would have better luck than I?
Isolation? None. It’s an earbud.
To foam or not to foam:Without foams in place I find the ST-10’s treble a bit too aggressive and slightly harsh. It’s also gets uncomfortable after a short period. Donuts help soften the treble sharpness, but not enough. Full foams do the trick and permit the best seal allowing the ST-10’s impressive low end out to party.
The ST-10 has a fairly pronounced v-shaped signature for an earbud, though that’s not a bad thing when it’s done well.
Treble is clearly elevated and extends well enough for the eventual drop off to be insignificant with the vast majority of music I used for testing. It is plenty detailed and crisp with a very controlled presentation and quick decay. Air between notes is spacious thanks to a lean note weight. The ST-10 did a great job with the sprinkling of digital sounds that are present throughout Gramatik’s “Bluestep”. Even the aggressive screeching on The Crystal Method’s “Grace” isn’t completely unbearable.
The ST-10’s mid-range is dialed back in comparison to the rest of the signature, quite unlike the majority of earbuds which are usually neutral to mid-forward. Vocals and instruments are quite lean and lack body and weight as noticed running through modern tracks like Dillon Francis’ “We The Funk” and more classic tracks like Supertramp’s “If Everyone Was Listening”. Thankfully clarity is excellent so there are no issues with speech intelligibility. Instruments also have some bite to them which works well with metal and rock.
Bass is the ST-10’s specialty and unlike most ear buds, reaches deep and has a prominent sub-bass region. The ST-10 is capable of providing some physical feedback on the deepest notes that you don’t really hear, but know are there thanks to the reverberation. This was evident on Skrillex’s “Ruffneck”, a track I wouldn’t say is well suited to your average ear bud. The ST-10 and HE 150Pro are about the only buds I’ve heard that really do it justice. Texturing is good, and the driver remains composed even when tracks pick up the pace.
The ST-10’s sound stage is another positive aspect. The combination of an ear buds natural airiness and ample ventilation with the ST-10’s pulled back mid-range makes every track sound wide and deep, with that width being the most prominent quality. It’s somewhat open-back headphone like in it’s presentation. Imaging is surprisingly sharp with clean and accurate channel transitions. Layering and separation are good with the ST-10 avoiding any sense of congestion, but it could be better.
Penon BS1 Official (109.00 USD): The BS1 is more balanced and displays a thicker, more robust sound with a stronger mid-bass presence. Clarity and detail is quite similar with the ST-10 giving the impression of being the better of the two thanks to it’s leaner note weight and additional treble emphasis. Bass depth goes to the ST-10 which gives off more sub-bass rumble. The BS1’s low end emphasis rolls off much earlier and lacks the physicality of the ST-10. The rest of the low end presentation of the ST-10 bests the BS1 as well since it is tighter and more textured. The BS1’s midrange is more prominent and engaging with a more natural tonality. Sound stage goes to the ST-10 which feels both wider and deeper and has a less intimate presentation. Imaging, layering, and separation is good on both. While I enjoy the BS1’s mid range more, the ST-10 makes for a more engaging listen. Plus, I don’t have to deal with the BS1’s heavy cable.
Rose Masya (109.00 USD): Where the ST-10 focuses on treble and bass, the Masya places it’s focus on the mid range and treble. Both have a somewhat lean note presentation. While the Masya’s mid range is more forward and vocals certainly have more presence, I also find it is mildly sibilant where there is none on the ST-10. ST-10’s bass digs deeper and has more grunt, but falls short on texture and control compared to the Masya. Treble is thinner and more prickly on the ST-10 but comes across more refined. Makes sense given the two+ years that separate their release dates. Sound stage of the Masya is slightly wider but not as deep, though it places the listener closer to the performance giving it a more immediately intimate feel. Overall I prefer the presentation of the Masya and think it is worth the extra 10 USD. It’s more comfortable for me as well.
The ST-10 is a good earbud. Not amazing, but certainly good. I like the design which is stylish and well built. The cable is a touch thin above the y-split and I’m not a fan of the cloth coating, but in use it comes together and shows itself to be a fine addition to the package. Sound quality is pleasing with plenty of detail, a spacious sound stage, and impressive bass for an earbud, but a slightly meatier presentation and more forward mids would be appreciated since vocals lack body and presence. The ST-10 is competitive with other products in the price range and are worth checking out if you want an ear bud with a more visceral low end than is the average.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)