As I write this I have just finished up a meeting with Big Misha. Hailing from Russia, traditionally named Misha Kucherenko and standing at 2 meters tall his email handle was well and truly fitting. I am not exactly short at 1.87 meters myself and he towered over me to shake my hand. That’s enough about his stature…. Misha heads the company StereoPravda, a relatively new IEM company from Moscow. As you should know from my reviews I find the earphone industry to be pretty stale at the current time with little giving me excitement, but from my first exposure to StereoPravda some months back I have been buzzing to get their weird design in my ear. With Misha in the country for Marc Almond’s (yes, from Soft Cell, he had produced one of his albums back in the 90s) birthday party and to exhibit at CanJam London, he graciously took the time to get a train down to Colchester to show me some of his goods in a more relaxed space. Sitting in my mostly sunny back garden, Misha smoked a cigar while I worked my way through his slightly crazy creations.
I won’t get to carried away with the brand and why they choose to do things in their very novel manner as I do hope that in the future I will be able to do a full feature of one of their offerings. having said this, I think it is impossible to show pictures of their in ears without a brief explanation. Upon the end of a rather seriously done custom cable lies the clear outlines of multiple balanced armatures all stacked together on one axis, with the low drivers at the back and the mid-high sections nearer the front. It doesn’t look like the most flattering of items to be put in your ear, even more Franken bolt than the Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 but is the outcome of extensive research and testing done by the team in getting the best sound out of BA drivers. The way the drivers are positioned allows for the shortest sound path possible with one of the drivers in the flagship model not even having a traditional plastic tube between its spout and the sound bore.
StereoPravda originally came to market with the SPearphone SB-7 ($2,500) and its SB-7A ($3,000) variation that has a differential cable to be used in conjunction with the DACCA ($6,000) unit. Then at the Moscow Audio Show back in April, they launched SB-3 ($1,250) and the latest addition to the portfolio is the $2,000 SB-5. As you may have guessed the number for each IEM corresponds with the driver count in the heat shrink housing. The reason there have been some cheaper additions to the line-up is due to the SB-7 being openly not a universal fit earphone. Not in the sense that is custom made for people’s ear but simply put that it just won’t fit comfortably for some. Misha told me the ‘no pain no gain’ motto is as applicable to his earphone as it is a sport. That being said he did want there to be some slightly more accessible models. He says the SB-3 is his universal fit offering, with it wearing a silicone ear tip that you are used to and the SB-5 is still not for everyone but certainly a little easier to fit.
I started with the mega-rig, a customised Lotoo Paw Gold was hardwired into the DACCA unit which fed the two mini XLR connectors of the SB-7A. This is a portable system in excess of $14,000 and can be carried in a very novel case that can be fastened around your waist. It is not a small system but can be worn on the go. After putting an SD card into the Lotoo so I had my music to reference, Misha clipped the earphones to my shirt and guided the J-cable round the back of my neck. He then instructed me how to insert the earphones. This was done by pushing the earphones into my canal and wiggling them around a bit until a seal was reached. A little uncouth but ended up being effective. Once in they isolated well and if I am honest remained pretty comfy throughout my listening sessions, just having to reinsert them once in a while to give my ears a breather.
Off the bat the sound was amazing with the SB-7A, it was a pretty darn neutral signature with a lift in the upper mids and treble. The most incredible thing was the refinement it had paired with that sound and also how open the presentation was for an IEM. On top of that, it had some of the most precise imaging I have ever heard and ferociously explosive dynamics. The sound was vivid, clear and detailed. I was mesmerised. Then I was introduced to all the things that the DACCA could do. The thing with the DACCA is that it isn’t just a DAC/amp for whatever earphones you already have, it is something solely made for this earphone and I think that is the reason all its sound shaping options worked so incredibly well. Even more so considering they happened in an analogue domain. As well as being able to boost and retract bass and treble, you had 7 digital filters and also a rather effective crossfeed. The crossfeed allowed you to implement a low-frequency effect as well as a high-frequency effect, both of them together, or neither. Long story short all these options allowed this to become one of the most versatile earphones I have ever used, it could become bassier and thicker with a more intimate soundstage and tense rumble all the way to a thinner more delicate sound with so much air and separation. I am not normally one for gimmicks but this was one of the most intuitive interfaces I have ever used. I must say it doesn’t come cheaply.
I also tried the SB-7 in single ended off both Misha’s HiFiMAN HM-801 and my Astell & Kern Kann, I preferred the latter. Without all the tuning options it went back to the brighter, hyper-revealing sound that it started out on with the DACCA but off a more humble DAP, there was a reduction in the dynamics and overall size of the soundstage. We also did not seem to have as much extension and power in the low end but it was still fast and punchy, more than suitable to compliment such an alluring mids and highs. While the DACCA is super cool, it is more practical to get the single ended version and run it off a DAP, it is also much more affordable.
3 & 5
I next went to the SB-3, the so-called universal model. While not as long, it still followed the genetics of the top model just instead of a very small clear silicone tip, we got a more standard Sony Hybrid looking tip. I must say these fit very easily, I simply just stuck them in my ear and was good to go, no arseing about. These had a thinner sound, one that didn’t seem as at home with more complex textures and passages but they still did a great job of capturing some of the essences of the SB-7, especially in terms of imaging and high-frequency pressure. Switching directly from the flagship did leave these to be perceived not as realistic in the timbre as the 7s but then I had just switched to a model costing half the price so what should I expect. Misha explained to me that this model was more about introducing someone to good music, as it was more suited to acoustic music than your pop and rock.
I finished off with the SB-5 and these transported me back into the world of SB-7. If anything these are a complimentary pair of IEMs, something more suited to those who may find the 7 slightly too bright. They were still of utmost resolution and very expansive but they were a little dialled back in terms of extremities. The upper midrange was super pronounced but not quite as forward and the highs had meat in all the right places but with a few decibels less gain. While to me it was not near as marvellous an earphone, Misha told me that the less excitement makes it easier to pick up on the subtle nuances and micro details a little easier. That certainly seemed apparent to me.
Products like this fascinate me. They seemingly go out on a whim on a concept that is never going to be the right choice for masses or even a majority share of self-confessed portable audio enthusiasts. Some people will be put off by the lack of a fancy housing, especially at the heavy price tags and others will just not seal with them. That being said if your ears are accommodating and you have the disposable income for something so pricey, then you could end up owning something not only very unique but truly spell-bounding.