Disclaimer: NiceHCk sent the ST10s for review because I had reviewed the ST10 and M2 Smabat models previously. I was interested to hear the new Smabat offerings and how they would compare to the original. I hope to add the gold model as well soon. If you have an interest in purchasing the Smabat ST10s, check with NiceHCk via their aliexpress store.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The ST10s ships in a flat black slip-cover box with the Smabat name on the front in Gloss black. This is a bit more subdued than the original with its gold labeling. The rear has a label with model number and basic specs. Once the slip is removed, lifting the cover reveals the buds displayed in a card, stock covered foam. The reverse side has the foams tucked neatly in holes cut in the foam while the cable rests in a small box in a notched cutout in the foam. beneath that, a lower layer has the warranty card, manual, and carry bag. Kit is fairly standard with foams, and rubber earpeice covers, cable, and case. Foams include both solid and donut models so pretty much all the earpiece options are covered. I generally choose to listen without any cover on the tips as it has a tendency to impact the sound. I do like the rubber covers though for exercise use as they make the buds much easier to seat and retain during periods of movement.
Like previous models, the St10s uses a 15.4mm driver so the earpieces are necessarily large to house the driver, but taper quickly behind that so fit is still fairly easy for most. Those with small ears may wish to audition these before purchase to avoid any issues size may cause. About ½ way up the taper is a small silver band with small vents immediately to the outer portion of the cone. These are spaced to avoid blocking them with the earpieces worn tip up and some adjustment may be needed to prevent blocking them if worn tip down as I found. Most of what changes by blocking the vents is the lower mid-range so if you suddenly have clouded mids, check your vents.
The outer housing shares the transmission line style venting of the original ST10 but is supposedly an improved version for even more bass depth. The housings have a silver outlined black face gray/green outer shell with the driver housing being primarily black plastic. Fit and polish are good with no gaps around the mmcx connector and all edges slightly beveled for comfortable wear. Left and right are labeled on the spine of the housing leading to the mmcx connectors. MMCX connectors are good and tight (unlike my assessment of the original).
The Driver used in the st10s is a 15.4 mm dynamic driver with a titanium coated peek diaphragm. Nominal impedance is listed at 40Ω with a sensitivity of 115dB/mW. The original had slightly higher impedance and slightly lower sensitivity and really required a solid amp to do its best work. I am happy to report that this new ST10S silver is usable from a cell phone or tablet and while using a higher powered source will give it a bit more low end punch at times, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as under-powered as the original did when run from the same phone. The Transmission line cabinet has long since been a staple of speaker design but hasn’t been used much for headphones or earphones as it takes up a good bit of space compared to a standard vented design. Smabat is now on its 3rd generation of this housing and keeps tweaking it with each new revision. It is interesting as a pure engineering experiment to look at the generations of product in this respect.
The cable provided with the original ST10 was also a bit outside the norm as it isn’t often we see an earbud with a cable designed for tip-up only wear. It seems maybe enough people found that odd to result in the changes we see in the ST10S version. Gone is the cloth coating with the cable now being housed in a clear casing showing off the silver plated copper cable. At the lower end, the cable uses a 3.5mm straight jack with a polished metal housing and a short strain relief. The splitter matches the jack in style and has a clear plastic chin slider above it which is well fitted and stays put when set. The top end still use mmcx connectors, this time in clear/metal housings without earhooks. The metal is marked clearly with L/R for indexing purposes. Interestingly I mentioned preferring the ALO tinsel cable to the original provided with the ST10 and the ST10s now ships with a cable that is very similar in style and construction to the Tinsel, so either they took my advice or it was pure coincidence. Either way, I like this new cable considerably better than the 1st generation.
The ST10s provides, foams, donut foams, and a vented rubber tips. I found that the rubber tips did help with keeping the ST10s from migrating during activity but found it to be the most signature changing of the three and decided for sake of this review I would conduct all sound notes with none of the tips installed. Understand that your impressions will vary if you install tips and especially the rubber tips.
Remember that looking at the FR chart on an earbud is always misleading as buds are not meant to be sealed and almost every test rig is going to seal the face of the driver to a greater degree than actual wear.
I was surprised by the amount of sub-bass on the original ST-10 so this time it came as less of a surprise. Sub-bass is still very good with more presence than most earbuds. It won’t satisfy bassheads, but gives the 10s a near neutral tuning without feeling like the low end is rolled off or forgotten. Mid-bass is roughly level with the sub-bass and has good clarity and detail. A lot of the clarity is due to the speed of the driver which is faster than most on both attack and decay but stops short of being too quick and impacting note weight. Mid bass bleed is very minimal as a result of the tuning and driver speed. I had noted a bit of artificial sound to the original ST-10 and am happy to report the 10s is a bit more natural in tone.
As mentioned, mid-bass bleed doesn’t obstruct the lower mids which have the same clarity and detail as the lows but lean slightly to the cooler/thinner side. It is clear in the mids that Smabat prioritized clarity over warmth. Having said that, guitar growl is still believable if not quite as aggressive as could be. I found male vocals to be just slightly behind female and a touch less lively but still well defined. Female vocals cut through the mix and do border on stridency at times but do a good job of walking the line and not getting sibilant. Strings lack a bit of weight but again have good clarity.
Lower treble has good energy and follows the upper mids before falling back a bit as we move up. The treble is polite and well detailed with some air but sparkle feels a bit limited. Extension is good with final roll-off being above my hearing, but it does drop back in volume above about 8kHz which may be the reason sparkle feels a little reserved. Speed shows in the treble as well with snare having a crisp-edged attack and cymbals having good sharpness as well without becoming clicky.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is roughly the same size as the ST-10 with good depth and width and even some sense of height. The driver speed contributes above average instrument separation which makes seating the orchestra straight forward with no large gaps or misplacements. Imaging is good but due to the open nature of the buds the positions are sometimes a bit more general than exacting. Layering is quite good for a single driver with little tendency to thicken on complex tracks.
Shells are a wash as is the cable so sound is the distinguishing factor between the original and the S. The S is as bit more neutral and a bit faster while the original is a bit more weighty and a touch warmer if a bit less detailed. I found the bass slightly less emphasized and detail retrieval a bit better. If you like the ST-10 but wanted a bit more clarity, the 10s will be well received.
Build Quality – Buds themselves are roughly equal with the EBX kit being a bit higher quality than that of the 10s.
Sound – EBX is thicker and less detailed in the mid-bass and lower mids, giving it a warmer richer tone at the expense of detail. The 10s offers a bit more sub-bass and cleaner mid-bass and mids but lacks a touch of warmth in comparison. Vocals are a bit more lifelike on the 10s as a result of the tuning. The EBX needs less power to drive well so may be a choice for those limited to lower powered sources. I prefer the clarity of the 10s and the more natural voicing.
Build Quality – The Lyra would win hands down if not for the fixed cable. The buds are roughly equal but the kit is much improved on the Lyra.
Sound – I picked the Lyra over the original ST-10 for its more natural tonality and while the 10s makes moves in the right direction, it doesn’t quite get to the level of the Lyra. The 10s is better extended and has considerably more sub-bass so will appeal to those who want a similar tonality to the Lyra without sacrificing lows to get it. While the Lyra bettered the detail retrieval of the original ST-10, the 10s is now roughly on par with it. The Lyra remains easier to drive, but the 10s also closes the gap some here too.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
The original St-10 proved the transmission line style case was more than just a gimmick and could actually produce a good sounding earbud. The 10s proves that SMABAT continues to refine that design and improves on an already good listen. I found the 10s (silver) a bit cleaner and faster than the original with a slightly leaner tone and a bit less boosted female vocals while still retaining some emphasis to keep them ahead of the other instrumentation. The 10S retains the bass depth of the original and the top end extension, but cleans up the territory between the two. The one knock will likely be that they are slightly on the thin/cool side and some will miss the warmth of the original. The ST-10s certainly deserves an audition if you are looking for earbuds as the clarity is probably as good as it gets for the price. Its just a matter of whether the tuning works for you.
Pros: Lots of detail, good low end, very clean signature, polite treble
Cons: lacks a little weight and warmth to the mids.