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Review: InEar StageDiver Series

post #1 of 216
Thread Starter 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Company: InEar GmbH & Co. KG

Homepage: www.inear-monitoring.eu

Origin: Germany

Availability:

·      Germany, Europe: directly from InEarThomannmp4audio

·      USA: OtoJoy

·      Indonesia: Big Knob

 

Description freely translated from their homepage:

The ultimate, universal earphone from InEar

The development engineers have designed an earphone that nearly fits perfectly into every ear, and, furthermore, is hard to distinguish visually from a customized system. The foundation of the housing was formed from the collected digital data of over 500 measured ear impressions, as well as internal prototypes. Numerous practical testing with real ears refined the design. The final outcome is an earphone that is adapted to the natural ear anatomy and features superb stability.

 

For optimal isolation, three sizes of ear canal olives are included (S – M – L). Naturally, individual adjustments can be done by the use of ear molds!

 

Advantages of the StageDiver series:

·      Perfect sound through high-class drivers and accurately tuned crossovers

·      Isolation of ca. 26 dB

·      Replaceable cerumen filters

·      The included cables conform to the worldwide quality standard of in-ear monitoring, are replaceable and feature an over-ear design with incorporated memory wires.

 

Up to this point, the company InEar exclusively offered custom in-ear monitors (CIEM). Basically, the StageDiver series is equal to their custom monitor offering of the LivePro series. They have just figured out how to create a universal housing that is big enough for the same setup of their fully customized monitors. The product line is mainly aimed at musicians and on-stage performers.

 

As for now, the company offers two versions: the fairly neutral SD-2 and a bassier SD-3. An SD-4 is planned for the future while the LivePro 4 is being refined.

 

PICTURES

 

Expand for pictures! (Click to show)

Unboxing:

 

   

 

There is no cardboard box or anything introducing the InEar StageDiver. I have received the hard case with contents in bubble wrap. There are only 3 sizes of olive tips included.

 

  

 

The memory wire is quite long but it didn't bother me. The plug is rectangular.

 

  

 

The model number is printed on the acrylic shell, the inside of the nozzle is protected by an ear wax filter and the cable is removable from it's protective socket.

 

  

 

I have put the InEar tips next to UE tips that were included with the UE900. They fit as well so there should be no problems to finding alternatives. I haven't tried the 6,3mm adapter yet but it feels of high quality.

 

IMPRESSIONS: STAGE DIVER SD-2

 

Specifications:

·      Two-way system with two drivers (1xB, 1xM/H)

·      Output sound pressure: 119 dB

·      Impedance: 40 ohms

·      Cable length: 140 cm

·      Box contents: gold-plated 6,3mm adapter, 3 cleaning wipes, InEar hard case

·      MSRP: € 359 (introductory price € 329)

 

Tonal Balance:

The StageDiver SD-2 is a fairly neutral and smooth contestant with slightly forward mids.

With default tips it has a carefully warm tilt with pronounced kickbass, but extending well. UE or similar tips with a bigger mouth are recommended and a deep insertion makes the SD-2 sound very linear.

Mids are extremely clean and highs extend incredibly far.

There is no harshness in voices or highs, making the SD-2 a very appealing (mid-centric to flat) monitor for Classical, Jazz, Vocal or Acoustic.

 

Detailed Review:

 

·      Build Quality

Simply put, build quality is amazing. It equals the build of most customs and uses the same acrylic shell. InEar adds an earwax filter that many other companies don’t. It should increase the life endurance quite a bit – especially for actual on-stage performers.

The twisted cable (silver cable included, black cable is also available) feels soft and flexible and is very lightweight. The memory wires around the ear are extended quite a bit and can easily be bent to your liking. The professional cable terminates in an angled jack and inserts into a nice socket of the housing to prevent breaking the contacts sideways.

Although only three types of olives are included, you can fit your average UE tips on the nozzle.

The overall build is up there with top of the line customs. As for universals, I claim to have found a new reference.

 

BTW, the housing is put together from two pieces only. You should not have any concerns about the nozzle breaking off or similar. It won't happen. The filters are colored left and red, depending on the earpiece (red for right) and also the cable has a small dot indicating which earpiece goes to which side.

 

·      Comfort

The StageDiver does feel like a custom in a way. It sits incredibly tight and actually sucks itself into your ear. I have no idea how the company managed to achieve that, but I’d feel very comfortable diving into the crowd or headbang on stage with this monitor in use. I can move my mouth freely without feeling any sign of discomfort.

The only thing that worries me is that you have to remove them carefully with a twist or you might provoke a nasty suction.

 

I will emphasize the necessity to try out different tips! The housing does not give you much room for experimentation. I know that the insertion changes sound quality and comfort a lot, but the StageDiver does not give you this room. If inserted correctly, it sits tight in your auricle. Different sizes of tips will give you different depths of insertions. I usually go for M and these fit well and comfortable, however, I noticed I can completely avoid the midbass elevation by using a slightly smaller tip which gives me deeper insertion.

 

·      Isolation

Isolation is just as good as with any fully closed IEM, e.g. Westone, Shure or Ultimate Ears universals. I guess isolation will depend most on tips used. Complies are the way to go if you really want to block out any noise. It might be possible to get even better isolation by using bi- or tri-flanges but I will let others try it out.

 

·      Soundstage

The soundstage is truly impressive. It sounds big but it does not exceed the size of your head, unfortunately. It works pretty well with the good separation and precise imaging. I have rarely experienced bigger soundstages with multi-BA systems, yet it does stretch out some more to the sides than it does in depth. Actual results will depend on tips used/fit issues and power of imagination. However, I highly doubt you will find anyone seriously claiming the soundstage is small.

 

·      Resolution

I have blasted some fast Thrash Metal through these and the drivers never lose control. Bass is quick and tight and cymbals have but a very short decay. There is definitely nothing drowned in hectic pieces.

The drivers proved to be also very competent with Classical pieces. At first, I found a recording which sounded very hectic and nervous, but upon further inspection the mastering clipped. So the SD-2 is definitely very capable and it will be interesting to see how it performs in the comparison section.

 

·      Bass, Mids and Treble

Bass is not completely linear. It sounds fullest at 150-200 Hz and it fades out at 30 Hz at moderate listening volume. Without EQ, you will have a hard time to enjoy subbass. Do not expect slam! With EQ, the single bass driver performs incredibly well all the way down until my ears give up. The bass is definitely quick enough to deliver some kick and it can sound quite dark, but it does so from the background. Texture is great.

Mids and highs are incredibly clean - they're among the best I've heard! To my ears, 200-2k Hz are very flat. Even upon that area, there are no obvious ups and downs and the highs go all the way up to 16k Hz. Roll-off does not kick in before 13,5k Hz, yet the presentation remains very smooth. No presence peak and no sibilance, very clean in the usually difficult 2k-3k and 8k-10k area (meaning not pronounced and without dips).

As a result, voices sound very realistic and uncolored and Classical music is simply a joy to listen to. The air in the very high notes is welcomed a lot.

 

·      Cohesion and Summary

These are my new reference IEMs!

The clean and easy performance from upper bass all the way to the high frequencies with great extension deliver the best sonic performances with Classical, Acoustic, Vocal and instrumental music I have heard recently below the high-end customs mark. As a downside, you will have to use an EQ to get some rumble but even then the driver proves to be capable. You do get some kickbass and the bass is fast enough to punch but it definitely takes a backseat.

Separation and soundstage are simply incredible and the large acrylic shell does feature top-of-the line high-end custom crossover technology. I was wary at first, but there is no denying this is an improvement over regular small universals.

Add amazing build quality and comfort and you have a new reference for on-stage monitoring. The price is very worth it, even from a hifi enthusiast’s perspective.

 

Comparisons:

·      Phonak Audéo PFE 232

Compared to SD-2, the PFE has much more present bass and highs. Maybe my ears have adjusted already, but exchanging SD’s lush mids for PFE’s metallic highs and booming bass did not seem favorable. I could only compare the two - and try to stay objective - while adjusting the Audéo with FiiO’s very basic EQ.

 

The SD-2 still has more body to the voices, while the PFE has thinner mids and has (much) more power in the subbass. On the other side, SD-2 feels slightly bloated in the upper bass with A-B comparisons.

I did not manage to remove the metallic and strident tendency of Audéo’s highs directly next to the SD-2, whereas the StageDiver sounds a lot smoother and even a bit recessed, but they both extend very far. The Phonak did force itself to emphasize noise and recording errors.

 

Soundstage of both is similarly big and wide. While voices take a backseat and are recessed on the PFE, they appear in the first row with SD-2. Again, I have to give the advantage to SD-2 because the stage feels a lot more cohesive and realistic, although it is artificially enjoyable with PFE. As I said, it is comparable in size, but every tone feels thinner with PFE, shrinking the size of instruments.

I did not succeed in picking a winner for detail retrieval and resolution. They are on the same level.

 

In summary, I do not see how one would think of the PFE as the better IEM unless your preferred music does not feature any vocals and needs boosted and sharp highs – or you like subbass. Timbre, soundstage and cohesion are superior with the SD-2, giving a much more enjoyable presentation across the board.

 

·      Logitech Ultimate Ears UE900

The UE900 has a very special sounding, and to be honest, by tuning alone, it is my favorite multi-BA IEM. The tonality of the SD-2 is very different, pushing mids forward and giving an overall more lively presentation with better timbre. The UE900 feels more precise and cleaner, though.

 

In the bass department, UE900 is so far the best IEM I’ve heard. The PRaT is simply amazing and the bass is very linear with extension that only reaches its limit by my hearing capabilities. Technically, the SD-2 is easily surpassed, feeling bloated in the kickbass area and delivering considerably less subbass. The differences in bass are on a scale similar to LCD-2 vs HD650.

However, I love how real the mids sound with the SD-2, appearing lush with full body and almost holographic. The UE900 sounds comparably lifeless, sucked from blood and very dry. Furthermore, voices are slightly veiled as they fall off after 2 kHz, resulting in a very relaxed presentation. I will have to give the edge to SD-2, which sounds more realistically tuned and just has a small dip in the 4 kHz area.

The Logitech does not recover before 8-10 kHz, which I’ve heard some people even complain about sounding bright. I did not perceive it as such, but I noticed the UE900 extends very well in the highs. The SD-2 has a much smoother transition with a warm fade-out from 5-16 kHz, avoiding any harshness.

 

Needless to say, the StageDiver has the much larger soundstage. The UE900 features very little space, but does well with layering and separation.

Actually, I have to give the edge to UE900 in terms of resolution as it performs incredibly solid across the whole frequency range. Though also precise, next to the UE900 the SD-2 sounds spongy in the bass, thicker in the mids and silkier in the highs.

 

SD-2 and UE900 are very different IEMs. One is of the engaging kind, captivating you with realistic timbre and soundstage, whereas the other is vaguely repellent, but also incredibly smart and talented.

 

·      Hifiman RE-400

This comparison is difficult for me as I might be overlooking an obvious explanation to what I hear. Tonality and frequency response is basically similar, but RE400 has a stronger high roll-off and has more focus on mids. Both are fairly neutral with a slight emphasis on mids.

Yet the presentation I perceive is completely different.

 

Extension in the lows is similar, but the sub-bass is perceived stronger with RE400 although it sounds very lightweight. The bass of the SD2 sounds much darker and realistic, although punch is a bit softer. This makes the HiFiMAN sound a bit cleaner, if artificially so.

 

The RE400 focuses strongly on mids, presenting them in a relaxed way. The distance to voices is bigger and thus SD2 can deliver more intimacy. Maybe due to a mild lower mid boost, voices have much more volume and body, sounding more realistic to my ears. They are not as soft as with the RE400 but never fatiguing; probably because the upper mids take a dive.

 

Highs are recessed with the RE400 whereas they are linear to slightly recessed (depending on tips) with the SD2. Both are very clean with even transitions and a careful peak at 10 kHz without any hints of sibilance. At lower volume the SD2 extends further. Even though the performance is very smooth, RE400 has stronger roller coaster rides making the SD2 the obviously better choice for monitoring.

 

Width of soundstage is comparable in size but the RE400 lacks quite a bit of depth when compared to SD2. I’d say it is similar to W4 that extends nicely from left to right, but because of the bigger distance the depth appears a bit flat. Layering is better with SD2 and I really appreciate the intimacy voices can give without being too close like with SE535. Separation is good with both but I actually might have to give RE400 an advantage for resolution. The music is tighter with very short decay, putting it up there to triple (and some quadruple) BA universals. The SD2 is slightly behind.

 

The RE400 is very cohesive and everything fits well together. However, bass and highs appear veiled to me and they desaturate the image. Thus, timbre is off and the overall sound reminds me of hollow wood or paper.

The great timbre and convincing soundstage is what makes the SD2 stand out. Technically, the bang-for-buck of the RE400 is crazy and the presentation definitely does not cause any sort of fatigue. But it is also worth mentioning that I have little faith in the durability of the non-replaceable cable, that no carrying pouch is included and that none of the included ear tips fitted my medium sized ear canal. The build quality of SD2 is reference quality.


Edited by Ultrazino - 6/15/13 at 7:57am
post #2 of 216
Thread Starter 

IMPRESSIONS: STAGE DIVER SD-3

 

Specifications:

·      Three-way system with three drivers (2xB, 1xM/H)

·      Output sound pressure, impedance, cable and included accessories: same as with SD-2

·      MSRP: € 489 (introductory price € 449)

 

 

Pictures (Click to show)

  

 

Tonal Balance:

The SD-3 is quite similar to the SD-2 as they share the same driver and configuration for mids and highs. It is the stronger focus on bass, which makes the SD-3 special. Keep in mind, the StageDiver series is aimed at musicians and depending on your instrument or purpose, you might need the bass to be boosted. The SD-3 does exactly that and adds some incredible quality - and ridiculous quantity of bass on top of the SD-2. Yet the powerful bass blends nicely into the mids, giving voices more fundamental tone and adding weight. However, from a high fidelity stand point, no matter how clean the bass is, it does bleed into the mids and colors them very warm. As a result, the highs take a back seat but are just as refined as with the SD-2.

 

Detailed Review:

 

·      Build Quality, Comfort, Isolation

Same as StageDiver 2.

 

·      Soundstage

The soundstage is big! It is among the biggest I have heard with universals yet. The balance between width and depth almost makes it appear holographic. Imaging is great and so is the location and separation of instruments.

Due to the warm tonality, the SD-3 has an advantage in layering. Bass comes first, but vocals are close and intimate, whereas highs are in the back, yet they spread nicely across the room.

If I’d have to describe the presentation, I’d say the user is pushed to first row while the stage is 2m high.

 

·      Resolution

The resolution is very high and decay is very short. This results in a detailed and well-textured reproduction of the recordings. The great separation with big distance between instruments adds to this, but I have yet to find any flaw that is not because of loudness clipping.

 

·      Bass, Mids and Treble

The SD-3 does not kid about bass! In fact, the main focus lies on bass. But in this area, the StageDiver performs incredibly well. Bass feels very tight and reveals some great texture. Considering the bass elevation, punch and slam are not as strong as I would have thought. I have owned a few bass-heavy ‘phones before (Hippo VB, HJE900, FX700 and Ultrasone PRO 900) and they all gave me a headache after a while – this is not the case with the SD-3. The extension is as good as my ears are and even at low volumes I can hear 40 Hz rumble with ease. It is not about sub-bass only, though. All of the low frequencies are pronounced and they seamlessly go over into mids.

Vocals are intimate and close, but they stand behind the authorative bass. They are colored warm, though, but my mind has no problems adjusting. I always feel like I know exactly how the voice is supposed to sound like even though it feels warmer and heavier than what I am used to. Although the presence area is not pronounced, the 2 kHz area draws some attention because it does not have a warm tilt like most of the spectrum. It gives mids a bit more edge and spice without causing stress or fatigue.

Highs are recessed. After 4 kHz the frequencies step far behind. I consider them humble, though, because they perform incredibly smooth and extend very far (just like their little brother SD-2). At moderate volume, 15,6 kHz is easy for me to hear.

 

·      Cohesion and Summary

The StageDiver 3 is a fun earphone. A very good one at that. No, actually, per design it is a precise tool for on-stage musicians that need the bass to come out clearly. The tonality is warm, but also smooth and easy to get into. This is a high level custom in a universal housing that knows how to impress by technicality.

It does not have the best timbre, but within this price range it features incredible soundstage and resolution.

 

 

Comparisons:

 

·      StageDiver 2

SD-3 is an SD-2 injected with steroids. It has boosted bass and mids compared to the small brother, but it’s also what makes it shine more.

While I think timbre is spot-on with the SD-2, the greatly added warmth of SD-3 hurts it a bit in this regard. Yet this boost makes SD-3 confidently roar like a tiger and stomp like an elephant. Without being annoying, the clean layering of the three main frequency ranges adds incredible depth to the already impressive soundstage of SD-2.

The bass of SD-3 extends really deep and the overall bass performance feels tighter and more detailed. Even though both stage divers share the same M/H driver, the upped driver count takes some load off of the shared driver and adds more control. The SD-2 doesn’t even perform poorly in this regard.

While bass and mids are boosted with the SD-3, highs appear recessed, unlike with SD-2 which has all highs present at all times. The transition feels more cohesive and natural with SD-2. Extension is equally impressive.

 

Simply put, this comparison is a matchup between tonality and technicality. If you are looking for an uncomplicated natural-sounding all-rounder, the SD-2 might be worth looking into. If you favor bass or just want to squeeze some more fun out of your music, there is a high chance the SD-3 will impress you.

 

·      Sennheiser IE800

SD-3 and IE800 are both very great performers, but they both have minor flaws. It’s not as easy as too bright and too warm, though. (Side note: I have adjusted both in the following. As recommended on M.R.O., I have added a filter to the IE800. I have exchanged the stock tips of SD-3 with smaller UE tips for deeper insertion. Both affect the sound quality in a good way.)

 

SD-3 and IE800 have approximately the same level at 40-50 Hz. Below that, the Sennheiser gives you much more rumble. The punchy bass and low-end rumble sound lively and engaging at first, but the bass keeps pounding and causes fatigue after a while. Transition into mids is very clean and leaves them uncolored. Focus lies on sub-bass only.

Though also having a lot of sub-bass, the SD-3 also boosts mid and upper bass, bleeding into mids. The bloated bass has better texture than IE800 and it does not cause any fatigue whatsoever. It is very clean and tight. It is what you’d expect from an in-ear that has two separate drivers for bass only. It is really impressive.

 

Mids seem very recessed with the IE800 and they fail to give you an intimate feeling with vocals. They are very clean and transparent, though, giving you great detail without being forward or distracting your attention from the music. The dip between 2-4 kHz smooths the presentation and pushes voices further back on stage, but Sennheiser managed to avoid creating a veil.

Mids with the SD-3 are very warm and are boosted from the upper bass. They are only a small step behind the bass, giving you a bass-mids focused presentation. As a result, lower mids can feel bloated. After 2 kHz, they appear a bit recessed. This results in a strong layering and sets voices apart and puts them in the first row. Vocal Jazz sounds great with the atmosphere and the warm color.

 

Without filter mod, highs are simply annoying with the IE800. Seriously, the mod is mandatory. But even with filter, I could not rid them from a slightly metallic and hollow sound. The highs are very precise, though. Almost artificially thin. I have noticed a strong channel imbalance between left and right in the 6-9 kHz area. This was obvious but it did not bother me when listening to music too much. Extension is great. Even at low volumes I can hear tones past 16 kHz - opposed to 15 kHz with the two StageDivers.

As a result of the warm tuning, highs appear recessed with SD-3. It is a shame, really, because the performance is great with very good extension. Decay of hi-hats and cymbals is slower than with IE800 but they also sound more natural. Needless to say, SD-3 definitely does not have any problems with sibilance or fatiguing highs. From my experience, they are technically superior.

 

The Sennheiser creates a really wide soundstage. I feel like I am watching a concert through a wide-angle lens. Some tones are outside of the head. All instruments and band members appear tiny. The music just feels like playing with toys. IE800 is effortless with its presentation and that is really impressive considering the great details and expansive soundstage. It matches the lightweight design perfectly.

The StageDiver has a narrower soundstage and all of the music is in your head. Depth is very impressive, though, giving an airy presentation, even though I feel like I am in the first row of a closed concert. Sadly, timbre is hurt by the very warm tuning. All in all, the SD-3 impressed me more.


Edited by Ultrazino - 6/11/13 at 4:43am
post #3 of 216
Thread Starter 

Reserved for SD-4.

post #4 of 216

Nice reviews and photos!  How does the 2 sound for rock and metal?

 

Cheers

post #5 of 216
to my ears the sd2 is more of a u-shaped signature. slightly boosted treble and bass, without boosting upper bass and mids, which results in a more airy sounding. i agree, that soundstage depth and imaging is not on par with sd3 but still impressive. great review!
post #6 of 216

beerchug.gif

A SD2/3 vs. SM64 comparsion would be super awesome, because from all the impressions I read so far, the SD3 and the SM64 seem to share a lot of similarities...

Really nice review! Can't wait for all the other impressions. (The SD4 impressions might take 2 years to pop up, but whatever)

post #7 of 216
sd4- not before 2015 hahaha

I think the critical point with the sd3 is their sheer amount of bass and the upper bass and some people may be confused when it comes to the treble, the sd3 goes really high but it delivers the treble smooth, without any harshness some folks may like better. But it was not supposed to be the next "reference and superneutral" Monitor, so better check your personal taste carefully.
Edited by Nestroit - 5/16/13 at 12:47pm
post #8 of 216

Thanks for the excellent review and for providing perspective to potential purchasers.  [Applauds.]

post #9 of 216

Excellent thread! Might just go for a SD2 in the summer... I´m also interested in how they compare with the SM64. My guess is that the SM64 is somewhere between the two; more bass than SD2, but less than SD3. Tonality is probably quite similar.

post #10 of 216
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ultrazino View Post

I feel like the M/H driver reaches its limit in busy Jazz and Classical pieces that have sounded more secure by the likes of W4 and UE900.

 

This could be my ears adjusting. It sounds quite a bit better today and I will edit it should I change my mind. It's really hard to throw W4 and UE900 off-balance in this regard.

BTW, my only source so far was the FiiO E17 (USB) and I will try the o2 amp soon to pay special attention to Classical and Jazz.

post #11 of 216

Really nice review!!! Looking for the comparisons with the SD3tongue.gif

post #12 of 216
Thread Starter 

I will update my impressions soon before I jump into comparisons because I think the mids and highs perform extraordinary well, much better than I first thought. You cannot change the insertion much, but different tips will change the sonic performances more than I thought. The SD-2 might not have a warm tilt after all and after doing a hearing test while wearing them, I found them to be equally loud from ~200 Hz to ~4 kHz. Incredible!

 

They also fit small ears:

 

 

Remember, the SD-3 has the exact same driver and setup for mids & highs.

post #13 of 216

It''s really look like a CIEM!!! 

post #14 of 216

Great review! Looking forward to your impressions on SD3 vs. W4.

post #15 of 216
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by aras View Post

Looking forward to your impressions on SD3 vs. W4.
I didn't plan this comparison because I don't have a W4 within reach anymore. I did own and use the Westone for six months, though. I will drop a few lines based on memory for you:

The W4 will sound very congested in comparison. I always felt like the music does not have enough room to breathe. It's the complete opposite with the SD-3 - the StageDiver sounds huge: the space between instruments is much bigger and the overall presentation is airy. Depth is a lot deeper with SD-3. Layering is two tiers apart!
There is also no veil whatsoever with the SD-3. Voices sound warm with both - SD warmer than W4.
The W4 veil didn't really bother me, but the midbass hump did. You also get this with SD-3 but it will extend more linear into subbass also. Overall, W4 has less bass. The transition of bass into mids is very clean and warm with both.
Both sound relaxed but the W4 does so because of a dip in the upper mids; SD-3 because of too much warmth - bass can possibly also be overpowering (like for me). By a pure hifi standpoint, the SD-2 is the obviously better tuned product with more neutrality over both, SD-3 and W4.
Going by musical enjoyment alone, I will favor the technically superior SD-3. However, the special sound of W4 holds it own.

I can't A-B compare resolution, obviously, but SD-3 is up there with high-end customs. Not sure if W4 reached the same level.
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