Sleek Audio SA1 inner earphones in review – aluminium and rosewood = the new peas and carrots

Around Christmas time, Sleek Audio injected a little class into their product line when they introduced the wooden SA1 earphone. Pretty in natural rosewood and shiny turned aluminium, it’s a luxurious earphone at a reasonable price. It is also the first earphone the in Sleek’s arsenal to sport a dynamic driver. In typical Sleek Audio fashion, the SA1 features both VQ sound tuning and a removable cable. For its price, it may well be the most versatile earphone on the planet. Feel free to discuss the this Sleek Audio SA1 Review in our forums.

Specifications
Standard Cable: 52 inches (132 cm)
Impedance: 25 ohm
Speaker Type: Ultra Wide Band Balanced Dynamic Driver with Custom Porting
Speaker Size: 6mm
Body: Rosewood and turned aluminium

Fit and Package
Bravo Sleek! The SA1 is comfortably seated with useful items. Firstly, its carrying case is perfect: just the right size to safely stuff in all accessories and even an extra cable. Pocketable? In the Territorial Army? Then yes.

Probably the SA1′s best case for comfort is its semi-narrow sound tube which won’t put too much pressure on the inner ear. Even muffled by thick foams and flanges, it nestles comfortably into pretty much any ear canal. Sleek’s stock dual flanges are very soft, and the new single flange silicons fit comfortably into the ear canal. Things aren’t perfect though.

Overall, it is a decent set up, but no matter how good or durable their flanges, fit will either be A: perfect, or B: awkward. I fall toward the latter for the following reasons: the SA1 inserts itself at a stark angle and protrudes from the ear. Because my ear canals are narrow, the earphone really sticks out. Aslo, its coaxial cable mount slants away from the face, forcing the cables to hang out, then fall in toward the body at unnatural angles. The cable can be worn over the ear to reduce microphonic noises and support the earphone better, but not as easily as some earphones with flexible cable stems.

Build Quality and Cable
The SA1′s well-finished wood, semi sweat-resistant cable, and a good box of goodies, make it feel like an earphone which carries a higher price tag. The wooden housing is solidly sandwiched by an aluminium cap and sound tube – it is a solid and tiny bullet. And like the Sleek Audio CT6 custom, the SA1’s coaxial cable is solidly mounted into the earphone.

Where it starts to lose steam is when vivisected. Its cable is soft and relatively free from microphonic noises, but it lacks good stress relief, and sticks out like a wart from a DAP or amp at a dangerous straight angle. Fortunately, it isn’t apt to crystallise when in prolonged contact with sweat and body oils as Sleek’s former cable. It will crystallise, but the cable will definitely remain supple for longer. But in comparison to Sleek’s oft’ maligned 2009 cable, it may be a step backward. I expect problems to occur at the base plug AND at the earphone base where the long coaxial connector digs into the earphone. The detachable design is stronger than most detachable designs on the market, but is far from perfect.

I would put overall build quality just ahead of the Maximo iP-HS5, but wouldn’t wager the SA1 to last forever. Also, there is one last thing to note: since the SA1’s filter twists on and off at the mouth of the sound tube, removing the earphone may leave the flange AND filter in the ear. This doesn’t happen often, but it is possible.

Sound
Here is a spoiler: the SA1 is a good balance point between the smooth, but deep Monster Turbine Pro, and the more agile Maximo iP-HS5. In other words, it is pretty versatile; it takes trance, pop, rock and folk in stride while still managing great vocals and a good midrange.

Trance
DJ Tiesto – Kaleidascope
This is new trance, but not as new sounding as Tiesto’s older Bunkka. Trance heritage is preserved with hard beats and catchy vocals, but Kaleidascope is edgier and grippier, falling into the arms of hard-pop and rock. Thankfully, it remains technical, wide, and complicated – a great playground for distortion. The SA1 handles it handily!

Electronic
Depeche Mode – Exciter
When Depeche Mode put down the guitars, they started playing music. Their tightly refined electronic is loud at times, but smooth, eerie, and spacious. This prodigal album’s atmospheric dark can get heavy with a lumbering headphone, but with resolution and a good-voiced top end, a great sounding album and a good headphone-tripping tool. The SA1 is well-matched to this album, but it lacks some deep bass resolution.

Metal
Danzig – Danzig
I’m no big metalhead, so I fall for easy stuff. Metal’s Morrison, Danzig, is a great cacophony of mis-filed talent, and near-evil to excite any headphone addict. The man’s melodic downers simply rock with melodic headphones. The well-extended top end and smooth mids keeps the heavy in this metal, but it would be nice to have a harder kicking kick drum.

Vocal
Diana Krall – The Look of Love
It could be because I am tired that I chose Krall instead of Peyroux, or it could be because her delicious Frim Fram Sauce has me waiting for my own bacon. Her lusty vocals deserve a bit of smooth emotion. Again, Diana Krall’s lusty voice is a great showcase for just how agile this earphone is. The SA1 is truly a budget jack of all trades.

Folk
THE BOOM – THE BOOM
If it’s good enough for Brazil’s national football team, it’s good enough for me. THE BOOM are just one of those bands whose pure tunes strike melody with fun. They require light-stepping, but thick-sounding headphones to drag their listeners up and down the 中央線. The SA1 tip toes around THE BOOM very well.

The SA1’s tiny 6mm driver looks unimpressive on paper – the axiom ‘the bigger the better’ usually applies to dynamic driver earphones. But, it seems that Sleek have cut through enough paper prejudice to deliver very good sound in a small package. It isn’t as smooth as the Monster Turbine Pro, but if I were to compare it directly to a competitor ;) , the lovechild of Monster’s Turbine Pro and Maximo’s iP-HS5 might explain it pretty well. In other words, the SA1 explores close to the bowels of bass, but remains agile up top.

SA1’s speaker is the little driver that could; it delivers smooth transitions between all frequencies while skirting distortion. If more bass is wanted, fit on the black filter caps and stuff on an earpiece with a smaller aperture.

Incredibly low-voiced songs progress forward with the smallest of tremors, hovering just above what typical dual/triple balanced armature earphones kick out. This means the SA1 can retain an excellent sense of speed for trance music without tripping on the floor. But it also means there is less rumble and deep resolution than either of its parents. In the same way, texture and separation of deep bass suffers in comparison.

In typical Sleek Audio fashion, mids are clever and clear. Vocals are smooth, soothing, and strike the frontline. Instruments keep up a good pace and play naturally with each other. Percussion and mid-low voiced strings are excellently textured considering the price. Think of balance and extension because the SA1 deviates very little across the spectrum though its highs and mids are probably the its forte. Its siren, its personal beacon, is its varnished high frequency. They are smooth, well extended and bright. But, they aren’t fatiguing.

That brings me to mention the SA1’s filters. Sleek Audio has this thing for personalisation – something which has been the crux of every earphone in their arsenal. The SA1 comes with two VQ filters: black to enhance mids and bass, and silver to bring out mid-high frequencies. Both work as advertised, but the difference isn’t as pronounced as that of the SA6, and ostensibly, as that of the CT6 custom. I tend to prefer the silver which maintains a congestion-free sound while allowing highs to really sing.

Finally, I would like to set this straight: the SA1 sings pretty wide, likely due to its ported wooden inner dome. That said, instrument separation isn’t exceptional. In the same price bracket, Maximo’s 590 and iP-HS5 have a leg up on the SA1, as does the 39$ Head-Direct RE-2. But, while closer together than those competitors, instruments are free of entangled smear.

Altogether, this is a very good sounding earphone.

Special Feature – Clip the tail
All of Sleek’s earphones are compatible with the excellent W1 Kleer Wireless adapter. The W1’s cables, which bend at right-angles, were designed for the SA6 and CT6, but work without too much fuss with the SA1 and the set sounds great together. There is a little background noise, overall, the W1 is a stunning accessory for any Sleek Audio earphone.

Out and About
The 132cm cable is great while out and about. Firstly, it is long enough to pocket comfortably, and almost good enough to purse without problems. And, thanks minimal microphonic noises, you can walk about without getting thumped by footstep and clothing noises. The neck cinch is decent, but will probably stretch and fall over time. It helps in reducing touch noises and so too does wearing the cable over the ear, though the cable’s angle may cause problems for certain ears.

Finally, the open port allows a bit of the outside in, but otherwise, the SA1 isolates reasonably well. It is no Audio Technica CK100 or Earsonics SM2, but it will allow you to keep music at reasonable levels while in the bus or walking about. One thing to watch out for, however, is driver crinkle. All ported earphones will funnel wind into the sound chamber and flap the driver around. It probably isn’t dangerous to the earphone, but it is annoying for those intimate moments with your favourite tunes/movie/game.

Conclusion
80$ isn’t cheap. But with a good accessory package, nice carrying case, the ability to go wireless, and overall decent construction, the SA1 looks pretty good. It is smooth and reliable with a pretty top end. And while allowing minute adjustments via its VQ tuning system, its low end isn’t as detailed or resolved as a few of its competitors. Things to watch out for are: cable construction and a comparatively laid back separation of instruments. But overall, this 80$ earphone is well worth its price tag and easily recommends itself not only in its price category, but in offering choices unheard of even in earphones well above its price range.

App Summary
Title:Sleek Audio SA1Developer:Sleek Audio
Reviewed Ver:SA1Speaker Type:6mm Dynamic (moving coil)
Price:$80 MSRP ($50 at Amazon)
  • Sturdy, pretty earphones
  • Good, smooth sound with some kick
  • Excellent replaceable cable system
  • Can work with wireless or future headset option
  • Good fit kit and great case
  • Cable has weak strain relief and plug portions
  • Low end not as detailed as possible
  • Strangely angled cable plugs

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