Smabat M3 Pro

KutuzovGambit

1000+ Head-Fier
Tuning and Technicalities
Pros: Highly resolving and well-detailed
Tuning dampers make a substantial difference in the sound
Textured and technical mid-bass
Clear and open midrange
Outstanding female vocals
Excellent treble extension, resolution and air
One of the best technical all-round packages available at the price range
Very nice stock cable
Good build quality and fit/comfort
Cons: Early 2K pinna gain peak can be shouty depending on personal tolerances
Timbre can be somewhat dry
Male vocals may lack warmth and body for some
Should include more foams at this price point
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Introduction: While configurable tuning has been a widespread phenomenon in the IEM world throughout the past few years (whether through tuning switches, nozzles, magnets, etc.), Smabat has been carrying this torch in the earbud world practically on their own. After last year’s acclamations for their highly successful M2s Pro, they are back now with the M3 Pro, featuring their high-end Black Gold 150Ω driver in a labyrinthine acoustic structure with swappable tuning dampers. Having recently reviewed their new entry-level M Pro, I was eager to discover the difference that can be made with an upgraded driver and additional tuning choices. Read on for the results!

I would like to thank Penon Audio for providing a sample of the M3 Pro in exchange for this honest review. You can purchase a copy for yourself here at the current price of $66. The specifications are as follows:
  • Driver: three-layer titanium coating on dome top
  • Impedance: 150Ω
  • Frequency response: 10Hz-22kHz
  • Sensitivity: 110±3dB
  • Connector:MMCX
  • Cable: single crystal copper silver-plated cable
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Packaging & Accessories: Smabat has chosen the same simple yet elegant packaging for the M3 Pro as was featured with the M Pro. The earbuds (as well as foams and tuning dampers) are encased in white foam within the simple white box inside the dust cover, and underneath can be found the MMXC cable, carrying bag, tweezers for replacing the tuning dampers, and documentation.

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The carry bag is the same brown suede as the M Pro, with the nifty metal tensile closing mechanism which prevents any risk of the buds falling out during transport. What is different is the stock cable, a substantial upgrade over the M Pro: it is a 4-core single crystal copper cable with silver plating, an extremely tight weave, and of course no earhooks. It is extremely supple, ergonomic, and well-made, with a working chin slider and of course no microphonics. All in all it is probably the best replaceable earbud cable I have ever used.

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At this price point I would have liked to see more foams included than the one set of full foams and one set of donuts that we get, but probably most buyers of this level of earbud have a supply already so it is not the end of the world.

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Build & Comfort: The form factor of the M3 Pro is the standard one for Smabat’s M line of earbuds, although in this case the shell is made of semi-translucent plastic and the filter grill is gold-plated. Each earbud has L/R markings, and they are quite lightweight. Ergonomics are excellent for me, the fit with full foams is very stable in my medium-small ears worn cable-down. Isolation is naturally non-existent. At 150Ω they are not the easiest to drive, they can be used from a smartphone in a pinch at nearly maxed-out volume, but a more powerful source is definitely to be preferred.

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Signature: I am happy to report that the tuning dampers really work. The default gold dampers yield a bright V-shape sound that is quite similar to that featured on the M Pro. When I dropped in the silver dampers, the lower mids were brought up substantially and transformed the M3 Pro into a more-or-less bright neutral bud that is much more in line with my personal preferences. I say “more-or-less” because there is indeed a mild emphasis on the mid-bass, but after a good amount of listening this emphasis is not sufficient to accurately call it a U-shaped signature.

To sum up, in both tuning configurations the emphasis is clearly on the prominent upper mids, and in both cases the mid-bass has a bit of a bump, but the silver dampers yield a much more balanced overall presentation than the gold, and it is the silvers upon which the remainder of this review will be based.

It should be noted here that Smabat has indicated their intention to eventually release more sets of dampers to further customize the sound signature to one’s liking.

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Bass: The sub-bass is pretty rolled off, as to be expected from most earbuds; there is a hint of rumble but these aren’t the buds for you if you’re looking for something like a Yincrow X6 or something. The mid-bass on the other hand is very tasteful and well done: the boost is mild but the quality is extremely high, being tight and fast and very well-textured. It doesn’t come close to overpowering anything, but provides a nice anchor to the otherwise bright, airy and detailed mids and highs.

Mids: Even though the silver dampers serve to bring up the midrange versus the gold, with the gold they are so recessed that this isn’t saying all that much. The silver dampers don’t turn the M3 Pro into a midcentric set of buds by any stretch, but they do provide enough substance to bring the mids up toward neutrality. The priority here is not warmth and body, but rather openness and clarity. The mids remain a bit on the thinner side in terms of note weight, but the detail and timbre is truly outstanding. Due to the prominent upper-midrange boost female vocals definitely have the priority over the more retiring male vocal presentation (although male voices still certainly cannot be called anemic). And truly, female vocals are quite outstanding on the M3 Pro: they are energetic, clear, and sweet. Some might find them edging toward shoutiness depending on listening volume and personal tolerance (the peak comes early, around 2K), but on the other hand they never approached sibilance to my ear, due largely to a sizable anti-sibilance scoop.

Treble: The highs are clearly the focus of the M3 Pro, and indeed of every Smabat bud I have personally tried. The extension and air are excellent, there is an abundance of detail, and yet the evenness of the tuning in the upper registers ensures that there is never any glare or offensive peakiness to be found. Neither did I at any point find the treble as fatiguing as I did on the M Pro (the M3 Pro is however susceptible to some fatigue due to the early pinna gain; as usual, individual tolerances and preferences must be taken into account in these matters). In sheer resolution they rival most of the best buds out there, and easily surpass IEMs anywhere close to their price range. Best of all this is done in an extremely natural way, through innate detail and not through artifical clarity boosts or any other type of tuning trick.

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Soundstage & Technicalities: Smabat’s decision to go with the 150Ω Black Gold driver pays huge dividends, as the technicalities are a significant step up from M Pro. They do share some qualities, such as excellent resolution and the speedy transients that give both of them an exceedingly clean presentation (as well as somewhat dry timbre, truth be told), yet whereas the soundstage of the M Pro was wide but possessing little height or depth, the M3 Pro has a somewhat less wide stage but one which is vastly better-proportioned. Depth still could stand some improvement, but the much more well-rounded stage gives the M3 Pro room to display its significant advancements in imaging, layering, and separation ability. It still does not reach holographic levels of imaging, but it is nevertheless a far more balanced and comprehensive technical presentation than that found on its little brother.

Conclusion: Smabat continues with its track record of producing customizable and highly technical earbuds at a very reasonable price point. Those looking for an extremely resolving, bright-neutral earbud at this price point have several compelling options to choose from (K’s Temperament LBBs probably being the main competitor), but Smabat not only allows for the cable to be replaced, but already includes two very distinct tuning configurations in the box and has told us that more are on their way. As long as your source can handle the higher power requirement of the M3 Pro, for versatility and longevity I think the small price premium over the LBBs is more than worth it, and for the far better technicalities and increased tuning options it is 100% worth the modest $11 premium over their own M Pro.
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citral23
citral23
They sound horrible to borderline broken to me, like the sound is coming far away from a 50's speaker à la Bioshock; very dry, no soundstage. Ref: I own all tonekings, the smabat ST-10s golds (which do sound good), yincrow rw-1000, some moondrops and more.
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