Stage Dive into the world of music!
PROS: custom-like universal shell design, very comfortable fit, great isolation, bright revealing tonality with plenty of low end impact.
CONS: slippery shell, included eartips selection could be better, additional cost of earwax replacement filters.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
When I received my review pair of InEar StageDiver SD4s monitors, I thought they made a mistake and instead of universal StageDiver series sent me a custom one from LivePro series. I have reviewed multiple dozens of universal and custom IEMs, but never seen such a unique shell design which looks like something generated from a custom ear impression mold. Later I learned that SD shell was created from an overlap of over 500 different ear scans used to come up with one common shape for universal fit. I’m probably jumping ahead of myself with design impression and will definitely come back to it later in more details, but wanted to mention that StageDiver design got my attention from the first look!
While being familiar with so many different US and Asian IEM manufacturers, German InEar was never on my radar until I was asked by their official US distributor (Musicteck) if I’m interested to take their flagship StageDiver model for a test drive. I was pleased to learn that InEar takes care of all the development and production, uses the latest CAD tools, and implements advanced 3D manufacturing system. Also, they target different groups of audience with products designed for pro musicians, music enthusiast, broadcasting professionals, as well as making hearing protection and communication devices for those involved in outdoor construction and car racing.
The StageDiver SD4s model represents their flagship in-ear monitor quad BA driver design and will be the focus of my review. Just for clarification, the “s” suffix of the model name stands for “smaller” shell version which they also offer in a regular size under SD4 model name, identical in spec and performance but slightly bigger in size. Now, let’s take a closer look to find out about my experience with SD4s after spending 3 weeks of testing.
Unboxing and Accessories.
There was nothing special about the unboxing since the packaging itself consist only of Pelican 1010 micro case with a branded company sticker on top of the cover. In theory, you are not going to get a better protection than these common Pelican micro cases, and visiting InEar website can provide you with all the spec details. Sometime I still crave to see a fancy packaging box, though perhaps it’s just me reminiscing good old days of brick’n’mortar stores where I as able to visit a physical place and browse the isles while looking at the packaging to read about the product inside. But I have to be realistic, and it looks like InEar followed a robust protection case packaging route with more emphasis on a product inside.
Opening the case reveals a pair of SD4s with a surprise of a “custom” universal shell, a set of silicone single flange eartip pairs in XS/S/M/L size, gold plated 1/4” adapter, and 3 cleaning wipes (!!!). With an adapter, I usually consider it as fillers for IEMs since many people use earphones with portable sources, but I have a feeling it was included here intentionally since InEar puts an emphasis on professional use where musicians often deal with pro equipment and 6.35 jacks. Eartips cover different sizes, but for me personally I found an absolutely necessity to use Comply tips (T500 size). As much as I’m not a fan of fumbling with foam tips, I needed these badly to improve the seal in order to bring up the bass and to tame down upper frequencies. This fine tuned the sound to my personal liking.
With cleaning wipes, I’m puzzled. Perhaps the idea of universal shell suggests sharing and maintaining a proper hygiene, thus a necessity for wipes. Not quite sure about this one, but it was definitely something different which I haven’t seen with any other IEM or CIEM during unboxing. Overall, unboxing experience was very basic and the amount of accessories was limited by the space inside of Pelican protection case. Lack of packaging box is not a showstopper, but I would suggest to include at least a pair of T500 Comply tips – they do come in handy!
The original stock cable that comes with SD4s is a typical generic OFC wire in a tight rubbery jacket, very pliable, and with hardly any microphonics. Though it’s a generic cable, the 3.5mm gold plated 90deg plug stands out with a unique flat housing and a good strain relief. It was refreshing to see something different, and it fits all my DAPs without a problem, but I wish the collar of the plug would have been a little taller to accommodate thicker smartphone cases. It worked ok with mine, but left hardly any margin. I know, cable is replaceable and some don’t even care about using TOTL IEMs with a smartphone, but I found a brighter SD4s signature to pair up well with warmer sound of my Note 4.
From the headphone plug you have 3 twisted wires going to a rubbery y-splitter with a good strain relief at each end. Having a dedicated y-splitter instead of a shrink-wrapped one always a plus, but here it also means combining ground wires going down to the plug. Does it make any difference versus 4 twisted wires with separate grounds? I didn’t hear any sound changes while comparing to my other generic OFC cables with separate ground wires, but you never know if someone decides to re-terminate their cable with a balanced plug. Going up you have a clear tube chin-slider with just enough friction not to slide freely, and further up you have memory wire underneath of a soft flexible tube, both attached to standard 2-pin connectors marked with Red (right) dot and Blue (left) dot for easy id.
With SD4s shells having recessed sockets, these connectors went right in without any problem, though you have to be careful since the socket is slightly angled and you have to be sure not to force it in. But as I mentioned before, this is a universal 2pin connector which should be compatible with aftermarket cables. The big question here, is there a benefit in upgrading SD4s cable? I will talk about SD4s sound signature later in the review, but per my own personal preference and taking into consideration a brighter and more revealing signature of these monitors – I didn’t like the effect of pure silver or pure copper or SPC cables which made sound crisper and brighter. Stock OFC wires kept the sound smooth and non-fatigue. Your mileage may vary, but in my opinion there is no need to invest in any replacement cables to enjoy SD4s to their full potential.
I already mentioned in the intro of the review that a shape of SD4s was derived from overlapping of over 500 ear impressions to come up with one unique universal design. I found they fit to be very comfortable and the shell, which appears to be made from acrylic material, to be lightweight and slick. Actually, it was a bit too slick where you have to be careful when replacing the cable because the grip is rather slippery, and I would suggest doing it over a secure surface. There is no issue otherwise when cables are attached and the only way to wear SD4s is with a wire over your ears.
Though the shells have a black glossy piano finish, InEar offers an optional wooden faceplate veneer for an additional fee. I love the idea of IEM/CIEM customization, though in case of SD4s I’m not so sure any additional customization is even necessary, but it’s always nice to have it as an option. Also, you have a choice of going either with a standard size shell or a smaller compact shell. For my review I choose a smaller shell and found the fit to be just perfect with an excellent isolation.
Even so they have universal fit, I still found myself putting them in my ears and taking them out with a typical clock-wise rotation, similar to how I handle CIEMs – just a force of habit. Due to a unique shape, the shells are not symmetric and there are plenty of clues to distinguish Left from Right sides. As I mentioned before, the recessed socket accepts 2pin connectors which have red/blue dots, the marking on the shell has company/model and a serial number with R/L suffix, and also the nozzle has a red/blue filters which is hard to miss.
The SD4s features removable/replaceable filters, not for a sound modification purpose but rather for keeping earwax away from the drivers. Even so SD4s has its 4 drivers partitioned in two-way system with two low drivers and two mid-high drivers, they go up to a single bore opening inside of the nozzle where sound is mixed going into your ear canal. And to protect earwax from getting inside of the nozzle, they have replaceable cerumen (earwax) filters which are sold in a set of 15 color-coded pairs at an additional cost of $29. The set comes with a really neat dispenser which also has old filters collector, and a special tool to remove and to replace these. Personally, I get very little earwax build up so these can last me a very long time, but it could be a different story for others. You do have to keep in mind the additional cost of buying replacement filters, but you do get 15 pairs which could last you awhile. Also, in a typical German engineering fashion, I found the filter replacement steps to be quite engaging. Furthermore, keep in mind that you can get TSX500 series Comply eartips which already have earwax filter built-in.