Sleek Audio SA7 inner earphones in Review
Back when Cube, was rolling with Lorenzo in a Benzo, Sleek was polishing their chrome-trimmed SA6. Under da hood was a single ultra-wide band driver that laughed in the faces of the tubby competition. But times is changing. Sleek has doubled the SA6’s ultra-wide band armature count and dropped most of the chrome. Sleek’s hard core: the customisable VQ system, the coaxial detachable cable still roll with their shit off safety.
2 Year Limited Warranty
Speaker type: ultra-wide band balanced dual armature driver configuration
Variable Equalization (VQ) Tuning
Wireless Hybrid (wireless unit sold separately)
50” detachable/swivel cable
Frequency Response: 18 Hz.-20k Hz
DC Resistance: 25.4 ohms
Impedance: 50 ohms
Sensitivity: 115 dB/mW
3 Pairs of dual flange silicone ear tips
2 sets of Treble Tuning Tips
SA7 Limited Edition 249,99$ USD
MADE IN USA
ohmage & porridge: customisation
The SA7′s VQ system does the same thing the SA6′s VQ system did. Except that metal eschews plastic wherever possible. Rubber gaskets and metal screw mounts keep treble and bass ports in place. Better tolerances and materials between earphone and VQ parts reap better sound.
Bass ports plug in at the back. Treble ports screw into the nose. Both seal their respective ports much better than before. Your choices are: flat and minus. The effects are rather stark, but never jarring.
Finally, the cable can also be exchanged- that is, if a viable third party option existed. Currently, the number of after-market cable producers working on Sleek’s otherwise excellent coaxial cables is close to damn all. Sincerely, I hope that number grows.
We will see why this matters in the section entitled build quality
ohmage & porridge: comfort and fit (C&F)
Like the ER4 and most of Final Audio Design’s earphones, the SA7 fits like a nail in the ear. But if you were Frakenstein’s monster (and let’s face it: most of us portable audiophiles are), the SA7 would be one of the more luxurious nails out there. It certainly betters the ER4 nail. Its angle of entry is comfortable and it’s soft silicon tips quite workable. Sensitive-eared people may take issue to the shallow umbrella silicon flanges. Their shallow fit can rub the ear canal the wrong way. Undead creatures borne of lightning and dressed in someone else’s skin may find Sleek’s umbrellas just dandy. Instead, I use Comply or Shure olive tips. I bother with third party pieces because the SA7 is worth the effort.
Because its body is triangular, the SA7 is easy to grip. Getting it in and out of the ear is spectacularly simple. But the freely rotatable coaxial cable tends to pop out when screwing the earphone into your ears, prompting bouts of plugging and unplugging, whence mechanical wear and tear is birthed.
The major plus to the freely rotating mount is that the cable can be worn both over the ear and hung down like a traditional earbud. The SA7’s triangular prefers over-the-ear fit, but is right at home with a hung cable. The cable is a light and supple affair. It bends and writhes in the most comfortable of positions. Unfortunately, it also tends to harden after time, and fray. I’m on my second replacement.
Sleek Jony Ived away most of the SA6′s chrome. Thank Jobs. The new earphone shines less, and thanks to an abundance of metal, is far more robust than the SA6. More attention has been paid to items that ensure good fit and sound. Less bling affords the SA7 a truly sturdy design. And like FitEar, Sleek chose to go with a smart, indestructible and utilitarian Pelican storage box.
ohmage & porridge: build quality
The Pelican will long outlast both you and your earphones. While the SA7′s reliance on metal and rubber elements is commendable, their are a few items of concern to the long-term investor.
The first is the cable. As hinted at above, it is awful. I said the same thing in my CT7 review. It is the same cheap cable used in the Sleek Audio SA1- a cable which I bemoaned even in a 55$ earphone. If you think I’m joking, try a Sleek Audio SA1 Google Search. The SA1 replacement cable shows up at the bottom of the FIRST PAGE!
The plug-side strain relief of my SA7 came apart mere days after I received the earphones. It also tends to harden faster than other cables I bag. I would enthusiastically take the ageing SM64 cable over the SA7 cable. Of course, Sleek’s coaxial connection is wondrous. It precedes today’s popular MMCX connection by years and is just as rotatable and secure. It is a simple wonder, however, that it has been yoked to such a dollar store bit of rubber.
The other bit that concerns is the the treble tips, and only for the reason that the grill came off my treble + tip while I removed a SHURE olive tip for cleaning.
Sleek Audio have assured me that I am one of only two customers to whom this has happened. (I wonder if the other customer was also a sensitive eared chap or chappette that tried millions of ear tips.) They also assure me there will be better cables coming- though it seems they are from third party manufacturers. While I hope that is true, it is imperative that Sleek start making a reliable cable for their earphones. Cable breakage has been a big problem since 2008.
The good news is that the cables are quite inexpensive. And besides being supple and light, they are probably the least microphonic of any production cable out there.
I’ve now used my CT7 for two years both on the pedal and on the bus, in weather both blistering hot and bitingly cold. The coaxial mount is still in great shape. But I’ve gone through three cables. I expect the SA7 to stand up similarly well.
ohmage & porridge: quality of finish
The SA7 is beefier than its predecessor. Both channels bulge quite like the calf muscles of a Greek god. The coaxial connection sits high like the like a exhaust pipe of a rally-ready VW Beetle. The treble port is its hood scoop. Vroom vroom! And while the paint job doesn’t quite rival Elite Detailing, it is more than adequate for the small area of an earphone.
Small things like the treble port bore being off centre, indelible manufacturer smudges, excess glue at the seems- these things detract somewhat from Sleek’s muscular image, but not to a degree that ruins the earphone.
The Sleek Audio house sound is as muscular as its looks. It is fast, grippy, and serves precise, and sometimes heavy punches to the mid and low ranges. It is the perfect evolution of the SA6 sound. Both electronic and acoustic chimes sound freaking awesome. The overall signature is mid-focused but linear. Fast guitars are crunchy. Electronic bass is atmospheric. Female vocals are impressively clear and void of accent. Speed of attack and decay is good. And no matter which ports you plug or screw in, the SA7 will serve up aggressive mids.
Shiny mids are the Sleek way. The largest overall swell of shininess resides in the vocals and strings. Interestingly, vocals can also trend wispy. Adaptability to the idiosyncrasies of your music is one of the SA7′s biggest draws.
Bitey percussion keeps the edge in rock and roll, the live in folk.
No matter the ear piece you choose, the SA7 is never congested. That said, it presents details with softer inter-frequency contrast than, say, the Earsonics SM64. Its most resilient instruments are electronic chimes, horns, and high strings. Higher frequencies than that are slightly muted. Certainly you would not call them veiled, but no fan squeaky eaky sound could call the SA7 bright.
The SA7′s sound stage is honest. It is energetically live and grippy, and at times, raw. It puts you in front of the stage. Floor standing monitors whip at your sweaty business face, the crowd nips at the party in the back. The focus is the music, not the crowd, or room acoustics, or your fabulous mullet. Details go wide, but never wrap around your head. Think IMAX, not VR headset.
ohmage: Bass vs mids
The SA7 keeps religious balance between bass and mids. The two breathe in and out with ease, never erring towards one or the other. Bass pressure is rather flat. Plus tips add more body, but sound pressure levels remain similar between frequencies.
The SA6 tended to boom, losing bass detail on heavy tracks. Not so the SA7. Even the most ferocious of lows are clean, level, and supportive. It is one of the most clean and speedy of any compact dual-driver earphone out there. It is a do-all signature that, day by day, grows on you. This quiescent cooperation of bass and mids is almost pastorally utopian- until you out the SA7 in fast rock and industrial. Aggression attends this gangsta just as well as peace and harmony do. Give it time. If you are coming from a more accented earphone, you will need to adapt. If you are coming from a truely neutral earphone, you will need to count to ten. When finally you acclimatise to the SA7’s goodness, goodbye. This sucker is addictive.
ohmage: Bass vs highs
Even with treble + filters plugging its nose, the SA7‘s high frequency sound pressure is slightly lower than mid and low sound pressure. The difference is slight but certain. Upper mids are shiny and bass is energetic. High hats decay a little too quickly; yet strangely, a ragnarok of violent Viking metal causes high hats to splash.
Upper mids have excellent body and edge. Guitars. Holy frack. Forget Ol’ John Denver (RIP). SA7 is all about strings. And Guitars. Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire. Bruce Springsteen. The Boss. Born in the freakin’ USA. These is rock through and through.
That said, the SA7 does American hip-hop quite well. It can’t hit duff duff lows, but the post-2001 tendency to mix medium-high pitched chimes into a rap is perfect for modern beats.
Trance: great. Classical: could use a bit more contrast between stage elements, but overall, good. Jazz: good unless you want more accent. I recommend the SA7 to fans of flat, semi-bright sound signatures. Bass pressure is strong but mids rule.
Despite toting two balanced armature drivers, the SA7 is no harder to drive than your typical single driver earphone- unless of course, you are using a terrible source.
Interestingly, setting the volume slightly higher than usual yields the best sound. I listen to the SA7 about 3-5 decibels louder than I listen to other favourite earphones. It really does wake at slightly louder volumes.
ohmage & porridge: sensitivity
SA7 is as sensitive as its predecessors. It is one of the most sensitive earphones in my collection, very nearly matching terrible hissers like the Shure SE500 and Westone UM2. It outs hiss from every source I own. Among my favourite players, the iBasso DX50 hisses the most, the iPod nano 6g the least. My Sony players are downright obnoxious through this Sleek; HiSound’s Amp3Pro is unlistenable.
Earsonics’ recent turn to high resistance makes their top earphones the easiest to drive. I wish that Sleek will follow suit.
Earlier in the year, I missed a train. I very nearly missed the departure time for a rather important shoot that day. The SA7 was in my ears and my iPod nano set to a volume of about 5. The Tsukuba express is a loud train. But the SA7 drowned it out completely. If you want to turn your back on everything around you, SA7 will do it. It isolates far more than most universal earphones. Study hall? Oh yes. Commuter train? You betcha. And here in Asia where coffee shops, malls, and every other public place are rife with annoyingly inane loudspeaker adverts and jingles, the SA7 is a miracle. Honestly, isolation was never something I absolutely craved until I came here.
My ergonomic favourite Grado GR8 doesn’t deliver enough. The SA7 is what is necessary to drown out the worst Asia has to offer.
At its current price of 249$, I expect it is flying off the shelves. And it should. It more than worth its asking price. It rocks aggression like it was 1999 but still purrs when more delicate genres hit the output circuts of your favourite source. An earphone this limber is seldom seen outside of expensive customs. If only Sleek replaced their cable with something realistic. That cable is Sleek’s Aftermath. No one knows why Sleek are still using such a chintzy piece of rubber and wire. The sooner they replace it, the better.
An earphone of this calibre deserves much, much better.