The time has finally arrived for me to do a review.
Before I begin, I would like to state that this is
A: My first proper review which will be more in layman`s terms than technical statements/terms and
B: I paid the full introductory price and shipping for the Stage Diver 3 so my views are not biased by a discount dangling carrot. (My money, my freedom of speech).
I have had a fair bit iem usage and currently sitting with my beloved, the Westone 4.
Ok, a bit nervous but let`s begin:- The “Stage Diver 3” by “InEar” Germany. Website.
I had never heard of this company before and it was good old Head-Fi and Ultrazino that brought this company and product to my attention.
I believe this is the first time a company has attempted to convert a custom iem into a universal for the electronic masses (budget depending). I apologise if this is incorrect.
Unlike many companies, these do not come “boxed”. Well they do but not in the conventional way. The only box is the Peli-Case. The iem`s were shipped in a standard cardboard box and amongst the “Poly chips” was “The box”. Where most companies supply a carry case or bag inside the original packaging, InEar have chosen to throw everything inside the carry case, no gimmicks, just this:-
Deluxe Hinged hard plastic Peli-Case:
Width (including belt loops)- 5.5”
Depth (including hinge) – 4”
Height – 2”
I used the word deluxe due to the interior base (including walls) being rubberised and the lid mostly covered with a stiff memory foam like material.
This Peli-Case differs from the otterbox which can be purchased on their site for true customs, which for me gives a slight personal feel. The Peli-Case only has 1 large compartment compared to the cut-out design of the otterbox listed on the website which states:
“Rugged and waterproof Otterbox for transport and protection of in-ear monitoring systems.
With storage compartments for jack adapter, cleaning wipes, cerumen filter set and dry capsule.”
As carry cases go this is largest I have witnessed. Using Westone`s case for the W4 as an example, you can house a couple of fingers in there, with the SD3 box, I could almost fit the wife.
I searched and searched in the cavernous case and still only found 3 pairs, yes 3 pairs! of tips which are of the silicone variety.
Luckily the nozzles are pretty much the size of a standard MTPC, Sony hybrid, T400 Comply tip etc so you will have no problem on that front if the stock tips are not your cup of tea. When I say pretty much, they are slightly smaller nozzles but nowhere near a concern i.e tip coming off in your ear.
You also get some cleaning wipes and the usual 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter.
I also purchased the optional left and right filter sets. For those of you that have/had Phonak Audeo PFE product`s you will feel right at home with the system and tool.
Company product information (blurb):
3-way system (3 drivers)
20 Hz-18000 Hz
Output sound pressure
I am not sure how a 3-way crossover system works but Westone also state a 3 way system with their 4 drivers.
To be honest I am not bothered how it works as for me this is something I can`t alter, tinker proof.
Both the SD3 and the W4 have 2 balanced armature bass drivers. More on that later....
The product – Stage Diver 3
I have never owned a custom monitor and I also have never really had the desire to go through the whole process. Like many things, if I knew what the end product would actually sound like then that would be a different story.
Immediately I was taken aback with the size. These dwarf my W4`s, and straight away doubts entered my mind on whether they would even fit in my lugholes.
Fortunately they do, just and I may struggle with something larger. The W4 slips straight in and you almost immediately forget they are there. The SD3 isn`t hard to insert but you know they are there and so far haven`t given me any sign of vanishing. As a generic shaped housing though, it does mould into your ear as if it was made for it, like a custom.
Everybody`s ears are obviously different and fit will vary. If you feel your ears are on the small side I suppose you shouldn`t be put off. Ever pondered on how to get a big sofa through your front door and afterwards realised it was a piece of cake?
I did ask my wife to put it in her ear but unfortunately it wasn`t the right time, headache moment.
Comfort wise, this is no Westone 4. After a while my ears ache slightly which makes me have a little fiddle with them to relieve some pressure. I have no doubt though my ears will become accustomed to this intrusion and the air that is moved.
I can only presume that if this was my custom the fit would be “nicer” but at least it gives me an insight if I do ever go down that route.
The SD3 certainly looks like a custom with it`s smoothed off, organic gem stone like appearance, removable cable etc so InEar have achieved, cosmetic wise, what I think they set out to do.
The craftsmanship of these is of the highest order and I can just spin them in my fingers and stare at their appearance. This is the first time I have seen this shape of housing and quality that I just have to admire.
“The Stage Diver is equipped with our high-end cables”
The cable is a twisted affair that is extremely soft and material like with a sparkly silver appearance. Memory wires/tubes are stiff and serve their obvious purpose.
OK, The sound:-
Ipod touch 2nd gen (running OS version 3.1.3), Mundorf LOD, C&C BH amp, high gain, no switches used. In this state it is very neutral.
Although I am using them amped the SD3`s are easily driven by an Ipod, which is good.
This mirror`s the setup I currently use for the W4 but without the bass boost on (LF).
Due to the nature of these I have not rushed my thoughts and have A/B`d for days with my W4.
This is what InEar state on their website:
Via Google translator, I think you will get the jist-
This 3-way system with 3 drivers per ear has a bass boost and makes for a
strong, extremely voluminous bass and spaciousness. Balanced, high-resolution middle
and round brilliant highs this handset perfectly. Especially bass lovers and musicians
from the electronic field is to recommend this handset.
The last sentence was the reason I took a gamble and ordered these. I do like listening to the genres that are covered in the “electronic field” but even with my amped Momentums I still do not get a realistic experience.
Anyway I will get to that in a bit.
I always find it difficult to describe a soundstage. I suppose due to never really hearing past my ears with my current collection (and past), that doesn`t leave much room(no pun) to distinguish between 1 phone to the next. Height and depth is another factor I struggle with. What I find the best to give me an idea of a soundstage is the “Virtual Barbershop”
The novelty of this when I first heard it was amazing and a bit of a party piece to friends. I now use it as my main soundstage guage.
I have recently obtained the binaural recording of Phrases from the Exploration in Space and Time which serves the same purpose to me as the haircut.
I highly recommend both these pieces of audio, a fantastic listening experience and I will happily send them to you if requested although they are easily available on the web for free.
Regarding the SD3 – Soundstage isn`t really a good description, “Soundscape” is. This aspect of the SD3 is truly unbelievable. InEar state the SD3 as being spaciousness but how many times do you read that sort of comment when a company promotes their product?
The binaural “Phrases” is way past my ears and the distance between left and right is quite frankly startling.
With the W4, the “Phrases” yet again do not go past the ears.
Virtual Barbershop – Again the SD3 leaves me stunned. Rather than the usual sitting in a room experience, this is theatre like. When Manuel walks past to go and play the guitar it seems as if he takes extra time to get there. This is remarkable.
Soo a huge area is great but what is the point of a huge room with let`s say 1 chair in it?
This is where things get very interesting.
Again, another piece of marketing:-
“extremely voluminous bass” (google translator again but I will leave it)
Haven`t we heard this before also? Let`s face it, on iem`s that cost 10X less. Makes sense as the target market with cheaper iem`s IMO do not want anaemic sounding earphones even at the detriment of resolution. Fun, toe tapping booming is high up on the menu, innit?
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that both the W4 and the SD3 both have dual armatures in the bass department.
Before I took the risky plunge I was hoping that the SD3 was like the W4 with the bass boost on as standard. Basshead is a term commonly used on Head-Fi, some are, some are not (waves at the Ety peeps).
I question myself a fair bit on this matter. Is it possible to love dance/trance music if you are not a basshead? I think yes but in reality I suppose no because there are not many ingredients to bake those genre cakes.
Let`s not get confused by a 4/4 kick beat with an underlying, rumbling bassline though. Bang tsch bang tsch bang tsch bang tsch does not equate to being a basshead.
InEar state that the SD3 has a bass boost so that should of been a given? The W4 also has 2 bass armatures so I presumed that because the SD3 with 2 bass drivers and a boost they would be slightly more bassier than the W4. Fair assumption?
The SD3 isn`t slightly more bassier, it is astronomical. The bass goes way down where the W4 has never attempted to go and is so convincing it is like a speaker. Combine this with the “soundscape” and you are, how can I put it..... floored.
Big space is filled with big sound and presence, every track.
1 driver must be sub-bass, 1 driver covering the rest of it. Forget the W4, the SD3 wipes the floor with my Sennheiser Momentum overhead cans also (even with my hi-tech elastic band mod).
The downside is that you can`t control this animal, no fancy bass port screw etc so you have to live with it, every track, every genre.
EDIT: The SD3 is structured in the following manner: 1 driver for deep subbass, 1 driver for bass/mids and 1 driver for high frequences so I wasn`t too far off from my subbass assumption.
What is interesting is that when you listen to a track that you know is already on the bassy side the SD3 doesn`t boost it as much as you thought it might. It adds serious body to tracks that you thought were a little lacking and brings out bass in tracks that you were not expecting.
There is an arrogance about the SD3 in this respect, you may not like what it does to some tracks but there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
How many times have you analysed tracks to find the hidden detail in the mids/highs? How about finding detail in the lows? This is just brilliant, I never thought that was possible with an iem.
Due to the vastness of the “soundscape” it is pretty revealing on that front.
I have bundled all this part together because with the way the audio is delivered I can`t distinguish each on their own, well apart from the signature and vocals but anyway...
What struck me the most was the overall signature. Some may call it dark, some will call it veiled. I read on here that when choosing a CIEM this is really the biggest factor. I find this very very good advice.
Is this my signature of choice? Probably not but these do exactly what they say on the InEar tin.
My heart sank the first day I put these in my ears. My walk to work Radiohead “In Rainbows” album on my trusty W4 sounded heavily veiled in the mids/vocals and still does to a point.
Fire up Little Dragon “Ritual Union” album, an album I hold in the highest regard production wise as much as musicality then the SD3 produces an experience that I would find hard to beat listening with anything, simply jaw dropping.
Well you said the SD3 was veiled and dark!
Yes I did but this sums up learning not only a new signature but how the presentation of music is being thrown in your face. Uber smooth with an impact and detail that make it utterly incredible.
Veiled, dark but detailed?
Yes again, don`t ask me why, it just is.
Feed these with poorly mastered tracks you get a really poor return. If you sing badly in a big space it will sound much worse than a small room.
The SD3 is the first headphone/earphone I have experienced this with.
Female vocals sound better than male vocals overall though but I am still getting my head around these “things”
Moving from the supplied silicone tip to the one in my images hasn`t made that much of a difference overall whereas with the W4 an open output bore does.
You may have noticed the references have dwindled towards the W4. This is because it is unfair.
W4 = TV audio
SD3 = Home cinema
These have smashed the door down at the universal pub, kicked over some tables and grabbed the barman by the throat. I didn`t think this was possible.
For electronic music....
Vorsprung Durch Technik – Definitely
This could be a universal game changer but not for all, especially purists and the faint hearted.
Quite "An experience"
EDIT: Sunday June 23rd 2013, more thoughts and some clarifications.
Since I have written the review there are certain parts that require updating and clarifying. Believe it or not I am human and although I am not female I am allowed to change my mind.
Some fellow head-fier`s have pointed out areas that need addressing and I am happy to do so as this is in my interest not only to give clear information but for me to be able to do future reviews that are trusted.
I will start with segments of the review which have changed a little since posting.
My wife finally succumbed and was able to not only listen to “Olive – You`re Not Alone” but concluded that these will fit smaller ears than mine, not hard but clears up the part where I mention about the size of the SD3.
“Comfort wise, this is no Westone 4. After a while my ears ache slightly which makes me have a little fiddle with them to relieve some pressure. I have no doubt though my ears will become accustomed to this intrusion and the air that is moved.”
My ears have now got the idea that it is possible to have something larger than normal inserted without it being painful in any way.
They do not vanish and you are certainly aware they are there but I find that reassuring for some reason knowing they are wedged in.
I have mentioned in a PM that a “dry” seal is pretty important compared to a “moist” seal (Having wax or no wax basically). You will hopefully understand the next comment. With an iem inserted and no music playing you can “hear” the tip and wax crackle or however you interpret the noise by just adjusting?
I have found that if the seal isn`t a solid dry one when playing music, which I presume is down to the amount of air being pushed you can hear the same noise as you heard when there was no music playing. Never really experienced that before which must imply that there is some serious air movement being produced. Only in my right ear I must add which has a slightly larger canal than my left. Dry seal no problem.
The fiddling to relieve some pressure has vanished, especially if inserted and not removed until the end of your session. My own moist seal issue is annoying but hey it isn`t that big a deal.
“Due to the nature of these I have not rushed my thoughts and have A/B`d for days with my W4.”
This has annoyed me. I was trying to describe a new signature and delivery based on not only the W4 but any other iem I have heard. The comparison was right under my nose, well under the desk to be precise, my Sennheiser Momentums.
I used comments to describe the signature as possibly dark and veiled but after A/Bing with the Momentums the SD3 is a bass boosted Momentum in your ear. I will go even further to say it has even more impact than the boosted Momentums.
Quite a claim isn`t it? Remember it is in my interest to get this review “right”.
This area is where some confusion lies it seems with fellow head-fier`s.
I do have to hold my hands up a little for this part of the review but hopefully you will understand why now that I have explained that the SD3 is like a boosted Momentum in your ear. This also relates to the overall sound delivery, not just bass.
“The downside is that you can`t control this animal, no fancy bass port screw etc so you have to live with it, every track, every genre.”
Considering I was comparing the sound to the W4 when all along I had something that sounded “over ear” I could be forgiven?
So what does this mean?
The SD3 does not add bass to tracks and it doesn`t exaggerate it to a level which may seem non realistic.
Quote from pm I sent:
“Think of them like this,
A track that has deep bass or requires lower than the normal goes to the subbass door, opens it and uses it.
A track that has deep bass or requires lower than the normal goes to the subbass door, opens it and is empty.”
“I feel people are getting the wrong perception of the SD3, yes it is tilted towards the electronica field and delivers a great full wide experience but it doesn`t add bass if it isn`t there. Like I said above, if a track has it and needs it, the SD3 delivers whereas other IEM`s do not have that in their locker.”
“There is an arrogance about the SD3 in this respect, you may not like what it does to some tracks but there is absolutely nothing you can do about it."
Again this was based on current iem usage and not to the Momentums.
After now listening to multiple genres and A/Bing with my Momentums, the SD3 delivers the best “experience” that I have in my current collection and past collection.
I said in the main review this is a possible universal game changer, that folks has not changed.
Over ear in your ear? Quite remarkable.
That is the end of my thoughts so please do not ask me anymore about the SD3 (I am saying that in a nice way). Can`t wait for someone else to take up the baton.
Remember DEEP insertion, thank me later.
EDIT: Tuesday June 25th 2013 - another finding:
After listening to the album "Noisia - Fabriclive 40" last night, the Stage Diver 3 left me gobsmacked. I lay in bed and was still buzzing, yes not the right music before bed but I was in a "bed" state before I went to bed, think you get the jist.
I pushed my ears to the point where a: it was as much as I could take and b: sounded the best so far audio wise.
The SD3 likes to be pushed to sound it`s best, fact. Deep insertion, fact.
Summary: Best sound, deep insertion and the loudest you can handle.
EDIT: Wednesday June 26th 2013 - Tip revisited:
Revisited the Tsx400 Comply tip today and I have to say although it tames the bass it does give some more air to the delivery. The soundscape is still past the ear. I suppose the benefit with this tip is giving more clarity at lower levels and an good option if you find the bass with the stock tips too much. It certainly brings more clarity to the mids.
I am hooked on the deep insertion silicone tips but this is a great twist and maybe liked by more. I said in the review that bore size didn`t make much difference but now these boys have settled in I can easily hear it.
Burn in etc. BA`s do not require it I hear the scream. I think everything that passes a current needs to "settle in" and that must include crossovers. Brain certainly had an initial shock but is now firmly on the same frequency (even with tip changes).
Summary: Open up the mid clarity and still have plenty of bass, the big fat boy tsx Comply tips with large output bores is a must listen. This is obviously not a deep seal which is what I feel you definitely need using the stock tips(My preference). With the bass tamed a bit ,this allows you to increase the volume a bit more which in turn helps the warm mid`s to become clearer. I think I mentioned before these are like speakers compared to any other IEM I have heard.
What a product for electronica based music which also turns a great hand at other genres.
EDIT: Sunday June 30th 2013 - Further improvement?:
Since Wednesday where I heard the mid`s becoming clearer they have not stopped and does appear coincidental that with the Tsx400 the mid`s were also clearer.
Still sticking with the stock tips as I can get the deepest seal. Worth noting again that when you think you have the perfect seal, push deeper, especially the bottom of the SD3.
Addition to the setup.......
I ordered the FiiO E17 Alpen for DAC purposes especially but things have become eye opening. I didn`t realise that the DAC/Amp had a balance setting. With my right ear lagging behind my left slightly it really hits the stereo spot with just the minimal +2 setting. Now things are balanced.
The FiiO increases the soundscape even wider than it already is which is insane. The next sentence may surprise a few potential non buyers thinking the SD3 is a bass junky and over powering.
With the added space I have nudged +2 on the bass, yes you read correctly, I have boosted the bass. Now we are really cinematic.
The FiiO in this setup has a black background but to be fair, so does the C&C BH to a point but hats off to FiiO for having this combined with space.
I thought I was buying an electronica IEM which it is but after roughly 60 hours it has changed somewhat into an iem with resolving mid`s/highs and still punches on the low end which is delivered in a huge space.
InEar have been really modest with the SD3, this isn`t just a bass junky, it is an incredible listening experience with now each part chipping in when required.
I love it when a risk comes together, especially like this.
Edited by MusicalChillies - 6/30/13 at 8:44am