INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:
The Smabat ST-10S is a high-end earbud that retails for $119.99 at the time of this review. I previously reviewed its predecessor, the ST-10, which I considered a “high-water mark for earbuds.”
I used the Smabat ST-10S with the following sources:
- JDS Labs The Element
- Apple USB-C to 3.5mm dongle
- Meizu HiFi Pro dongle
- Radsone Earstudio HUD100 USB DAC/AMP
I tested these earbuds with local FLAC and Spotify Premium. Visit my last.fm page to get an idea of what I listen to.
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:
The Smabat ST-10S comes in a black rectangular package. The front panel has a sticker advertising Smabat’s bass-enhancing “Coiling-Up Space Acoustic” technology. A sticker on the back of the package lists specifications for the earbuds and contact information for the manufacturer.
Note: Smabat’s website failed to load at all when I attempted to visit it.
Included with the ST-10 are a pair of full foam covers, a pair of donut foam covers, a pair of full silicone covers, a tan leather pouch embossed with the Smabat logo, and an owner’s manual. The pouch is a hair smaller than the pouch included with the original ST-10 but looks and feels more premium. The pouch uses a magnetic latch instead of a snap clip, which is pretty neat.
BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:
The Smabat ST-10S has a two-part design with an outer housing for the MMCX connectors and the bass vent and an inner saucer-shaped driver enclosure. The materials used for the ST-10S are more premium than those of the ST-10 and have better held up to wear over the couple of weeks I have used it.
The outer housing is all-metal with a black glass faceplate, whereas the ST-10’s outer housing was black plastic with a partial aluminum wrap. The bass vent is covered by a polished metal grille on the bottom of the outer housing. The saucer-shaped driver enclosure has a black metal back lined with fine concentric grooves. The rim of the earbud is matte black plastic, and the earbud face grille is polished metal. The Smabat logo is printed on the outward-facing brushed metal surface, and “ST-10S” and “L/R” are printed in line with the MMCX connector. The black glass faceplate is inlaid with the Smabat logo in silver.
The MMCX cable has a clear plastic sheath and metal hardware on the Y-split and 3.5mm jack housing. The MMCX connector housings are also rubber and have raised “L/R” indicators. The cable does not have pre-formed rubber ear guides. The chin slider is clear plastic. The MMCX connectors, the top of the 3.5mm jack, and the bottom of the Y-split have strain relief.
COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:
The Smabat ST-10S is intended to be worn cable-up only. The ST-10 is comfortable to wear for extended periods. Isolation is non-existent and keeping a secure fit is difficult, as with any earbud.
Note: The following sound impressions are based on listening with the full cloth covers.
The Smabat ST-10 has a neutral tuning.
The ST-10S has a lean, precise bass response with excellent sub-bass extension for an earbud. The sub-bass is roughly in line with the mid-bass in terms of quantity, with some roll-off at the lowest frequencies. The ST-10S generates enough rumble, impact, and slam to enjoy bass-heavy dance tracks without sacrificing resolution, and is very textured. Note attack and decay are fast but not so fast that note weight is compromised. There is no mid-bass bleed into the lower midrange.
The midrange is on the cooler side and emphasizes clarity over warmth and body. Male and female vocals are roughly level with each other, though female vocals have slightly more vibrancy. Male vocals can sound slightly dry. Female vocals approach the edge of sibilance but do not cross the line into harshness. Similarly, there is enough presence to convincingly render the grit of abrasive vocals and electric guitars without straining the ear.
The treble response is slightly elevated, extended, and spacious. Air is emphasized over sparkle. Transients are natural-sounding, and detail retrieval is excellent. Instrument separation, soundstage width and depth, and imaging are impressive as well.
Smabat ST-10S ($119.99) vs Smabat ST-10 ($109.99)
The Smabat ST-10S is a more neutral-sounding earbud than its predecessor. There is less bass emphasis overall and the upper midrange is less intense and shouty. The lower treble is also less forward, which may make the ST-10S more palatable to treble-sensitive listeners. The technicalities and overall resolution of the ST-10S are slightly better.
AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS AND SOURCE PAIRING:
The Smabat ST-10S can be driven to adequate listening volumes with a competent dongle but will benefit from the additional headroom provided by a dedicated source if one wants to listen at high volumes. I did not notice hiss with any of my sources.
The Smabat ST-10S improves on the ST-10 in many respects and raises the bar for earbuds just a little bit higher. Recommended.