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Upgrade from Sleek Audio SA6

  1. adithya88
    Hi everyone,
     
    Its a little over 2 years now since I bought the SA6 after some great advice from people on this site (tstarn06 in particular). I love these earphones and their exceptional smoothness (I can't really call it anything else). Overall, the bass was a little light but well defined and the bass++ mod kept me happy for a while. The only problem I've ever had with them was the horrendous cable quality which forced me to buy 3 replacements since august 08 and now the last replacement has given way as well (A more minor thing was the fact that these aren't very sensitive IEMs at 110 dB/mW).
     
    Anyway, I decided that it was time for an upgrade to something better that improved on the SA6 (better bass, cables) but retained its overall smoothness.
     
     
    My budget is about $500 and I will not be able to audition any of the headphones. I listen to all kinds of music so something that works well for a variety of genres would be good. If I had to pick a genre that I listened to primarily, it would be House and Classical/Orchestra (like movie themes).
     
    Soundstage is important for me and so is bass that is clear but definitely more powerful than the SA6. As I have said before, I'd like the IEMs to retain the smoothness of the SA6 and IMO their non fatiguing nature as well.
     
    I'm looking to choose between the following and am open to other suggestions. I'm not looking at the westones as I've mostly read that their soundstage isn't too great.
     
    Earsonics SM3 (I've heard tons of great things about these and they're my first choice right now because of their popularly perceived widest and 3D sound stage and the way they apparently work well for most types of music)
    Ortofon e-Q7
    JVC FX700
    Sennheiser IE8
    Audiotechnica CK10 or CK100
    UE TripleFi
     
    I will be running these ampless from my Samsung Galaxy S (which has a built in Wolfson DAC) and in future -- a modded+Rockboxed iRiver H120 (I currently have it in stock condition). I also have a Fiio E5 (which seriously helps the SA6 right now)
     
    Any suggestions are welcome. I'm looking to buy something roughly before christmas so there is plenty of time to analyze and discuss the possibilities. I'd in particular like to hear from people who've owned both the SA6 and any of the so called top-tier IEMs and if they could tell me which ones are in particular better than the SA6 and are worth the money spent on the upgrade. I'd also like recommendations from people regarding which IEMs synergize well with the Samsung Galaxy S line of phones (vibrant, captivate, epic 4g etc).
     
    Thanks in advance for the responses.
     
  2. Shaggy-FOO
    Earsonic SM3 is very nice and I think sound a lot like the UE Super.Fi Pro5, but with better clarity and deeper bass, but the treble isn't as sparkly as say the UE Triple.Fi.  These are definitely not neutral sounding, but on the warmish side and while they aren't amazing at anything, are very very good all-around IEM.
     
    On that note, the Triple.Fi are fine IEM but the cable is pretty bad.  I don't know what logitech did, but the cable needs constant replacement.  On the sound signature part, I found the Triple.Fi to be very clear, crisp and fast and the treble is definitely the star with it sounding very detailed and sparkly.  However, I found the treble to be a bit overwhelming at times and fatiguing on rock music.  The bass is very quick, detailed and can go very low, but I found them to be somewhat lacking the punch.
     
    From what I read, the audiotechnica's lack in bass a bit but are very detailed, so if you like more bass I would steer clear from them.
     
    Sennheiser IE8 has a very warm yet detailed sound.  Their bass is laid back but prominent with clear mids and highs to compliment.  I've only tried them for a little, so I can't get any more analytical, but overall I think they are close to what you are looking for.
     
    I would put MTPC on this list.  They are my primary headphones right now and if you can find one for under $280, then I would jump on it.  I love these IEM.  They are well balanced with punchy detailed bass, vibrant mids and crisp highs.  When you think Monster, you might think over emphasis and muddy bass, but that's not the case here.  Again it's very well balanced with prominent fun bass.  It's still very detailed and fast on all frequencies and are just fun to listen to.  It's by no means neutral...but I find neutral = dry, so I don't look for that in my headphones.  They are built very well with lifetime warranty...unfortunately the cables aren't replaceable, but they are built like a tank so it should be ok. 
     
     
  3. mvw2
    I have heard nothing that gives the same kind of presentation the SA6 offers.  I will tell you one thing, there isn't much else out there that gives that same open, airy presentation.  That will be lost when stepping to just about everything else out there.  Sleek seems to use a BA driver that other people just don't use.  You might wait and see what the new SA6R and SA7 are all about.  Since you have a high budget and like the SA6, it might be a natural progression to step to the SA7 as the next step.  Unfortunately I have no clue what the cable will be like.
     
    So what to buy?  Well, what sound characteristics must you keep?  What characteristics do you want ot improve upon?  These will be the main criteria that guide you to your next purchase.
     
    In a basic sense, the SA6 has a very natural but clean note.  It's tight, crisp, but not too BA clean.  With EQing, the low end does fill out well, and the BA driver used seems plenty happy when EQed to push out those lower notes.  Treble is very unique on the SA6.  Sensitivity actually is not rolled off at all.  However, the note presentation is uncanily smooth up top, very mild, very laid back but also holding onto good detail.  Most other earphones have a good bit more aggression up top.  Because of the low end roll off and laid back top end, the SA6 becomes a bit of a mid-centric earphone.  It would seem natural for me to suggest other mid-centric earphones as comparable devices.
     
    Your basic list indicates better bass and better cables, but you want a similarly mild top end.
     
    With a $500 budget, it is natural to start listing off every top end product.  The problem is most of them are nothing like the SA6.  I really, really like the SA6, but I also like several high end earphones...for very different reasons.  It will come down to personal preference here and what fits your goals.  I really suggest you spend som serious time researching key products that have the presentation you want.  Just be aware that you might have to make some trade-offs.
     
  4. adithya88
    Thanks for the replies.
     
    @shaggy-FOO
     
    Your description of the SM3 is similar to what I've gathered from reading the feedback here and other places. I think the fact that they're versatile and very good (if not exceptional) for a wide variety of genres is what attracted me to them. I haven't considered the MTPC yet but I might add it to the list if it is as you describe it. Will read a bit more about it and see. Thanks for the suggestion.
     
    @MvW2
     
    I do realize that moving on to another IEM will probably give me a very different sound sig to what I'm used to. Honestly, I am open to that. My two main criteria are better bass and better cabling and probably even a bit more sparkle than the SA6. The non fatiguing nature is simply what I've been used to for the last couple of years and I'm open to trying something different. Plus I don't have much faith in sleek getting their cables right the next time because even their revised cabling for the SA6 was no better than the original.
     
    Right now the SM3 is on top of my list with the FX700 running a very close 2nd (The SM3 seems to come across as more forgiving and the FX700 is more fun). The IE8 and maybe the MTPC are behind that. I'm not considering the e-Q7 as much now because I spoke to a friend who has them and he said that they definitely sound better amped than unamped. I'm looking at using whatever I buy unamped for the most part.
     
    Thanks again. Keep the suggestions coming.
     
  5. ZARIM
     I think with this much budget you can buy two different soundsignature IEMs like DBA-02, REO, RE-ZERO, MC5 for critical listening sessions and FX700, IE8, Radius DDM for fun, bass driven music. JVC FX700 has very wide soundstage, rich detailed mids and deep reverbing bass(one of the best bass IEMs available) with great highs. I will highely recommend these if isolation is not most important and they isolate fairly well. The Sennehiser IE8 are very smooth through out the whole frequency spectrum with huge soundstage and deep punchy bass. Radius DDM are another contender if need smooth detailed sound with wide soundstage and deep punchy bass.
     
  6. Pianist
    I recommend Shure SE530 if your ear canals are not too curved or narrow - they are the best IEM I've heard so far and will be a very significant step up from SA6 if you can get them to fit right. Otherwise go with Ortofon e-Q7 - they are also a step up form the SA6 and fit much better than SE530 in the sense that they don't need a great fit to sound right. Both SE530 and e-Q7 have similar sound signatures to SA6 - they are warm, smooth, with emphasis on bass and midrange and a subdued, yet detailed and natural treble response.
     
    e-Q7 sounds a bit dryer than SA6, but has much better dynamics, bass and spaciousness. In particular, the low end on the e-Q7 is both punchier and more detailed than on the SA6 and you also get a better sense of space and placement of sounds in the headstage than you do with the SA6. In regards to musicality, I find that SA6 tends to sound sweeter in the mids, but is a bit anemic in the bass, but most importantly it cannot reproduce a proper dynamic range necessary to really make music to come to live. If you just listened to SA6 for a long time, you may not notice this issue much, but when comparing directly with more dynamic sounding headphones, it becomes very apparent how compressed SA6 really sounds. Not to say that SA6 is bad - it is actually one of my favorite IEMs, but the lack of dynamics really bothered me at times.
     
    e-Q7 doesn't have this issue at all and is one of the most dynamic sounding IEMs I've heard. Listening to orchestral pieces is a great experience on the e-Q7 and I think this type of music is what the e-Q7 does best. It is also great for rock, because of a little boost in the upper midrange/lower treble region and also because of its clean, somewhat dry presentation that I feel really makes electric guitars roar to life. But e-Q7 is also an excellent all arounder and does pretty much any genres satisfactorily. Sometimes I felt that the treble was a little harsh sounding with certain recordings, lacking definition and finesse, but the bass and midrange on the e-Q7 are just wonderful and a definite step up from the SA6. Overall, this IEM has a very unique sound that is a very beautiful in a way and is really well suited for certain genres and good for others.
     
    SE530 shares a similar overall frequency response with the SA6 and e-Q7, but it actually sounds quite different. I would say it's almost like a cross between e-Q7 and SA6. It takes everything that's great about the two and then improves further upon those qualities creating a very accurate, realistic sound that is balanced, warm, smooth, detailed, extended, defined and dynamic all at the same time. Unlike SA6, SE530 has superb dynamic range that makes all music come to life and it also delivers much more detail and a much more open sound than that of SA6. Compared to e-Q7, SE530 is free from any harshness in the treble and also strikes a better balance between clarity and richness. Whereas e-Q7 can sometimes sound a bit dry, SE530 does not sound dry at all, but neither does it sound overly full or dull. SE530 is also more detailed than the e-Q7 and has better imaging - e-Q7 sounds a bit 2D by comparison. For some types of music like rock and orchestral, e-Q7 may still sound more engaging due to it's very unique voicing, but IMO SE530 is a more technically capable IEM.
     
    That being said, if you plan to use your IEMs with the stock tips, I would get e-Q7 over the SE530 because e-Q7 is a lot less picky about how you place them in your ear. With a bad fit, e-Q7 will still sound very good - you will just loose some bass and some fullness. SE530, on the other hand, sounds absolutely awful with a bad fit. It will loose all of its great qualities easily - treble can become muddy and rolled off, mids can sound plasticy and overly forward, bass can loose depth and definition and soundstage can collapse. If you can afford custom tips and don't mind doing multiple refits if necessary, then SE530 will give you the best sound out of any universal IEM out there IMO. I also owned Westone ES3X customs and I think SE530 sounds better than those too.
     
  7. adithya88
    @Zarim
     
    As tempting as that sounds, I'm not looking for anything too analytical. Just something that is a proper upgrade from my SA6. For me right now its a tie between the JVC FX700 and the SM3 and I'm leaning towards the SM3 because I can get a good deal on it thanks to a soundearphones.com discount coupon.
     
    @Pianist
     
    Thanks for the extremely detailed reply. I took a close look at the Shure 535 and 530 and their sound sig was somewhat similar to the SA6 with the mid focus and the very laid back treble. The more I think about it though, the more I realize that I want something that will provide a step up from the SA6 (improving the bass and build quality) and at the same time give me something different (increased sparkle). Between the two you suggested the e-Q7 was probably what I would have gone for but using it unamped is a big deal for me (and I've read about how much difference an amp makes for them) and that is what pushed me towards the SM3 and the JVC (which apparently sound quite excellent unamped).
     
    @all those reading this thread -- help me now choose between the SM3 and the JVC. I've found it extremely hard to locate these IEMs from an online vendor. If anyone could point me to that I'd be grateful. Thanks.
     

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