Audio Rabbit Hole
Posted June 8, 2020 subguy812
Full review here
EarSonics, a French company that came to existence in 2005, was started by Franck Lopez, who himself is a musician, a bass player. To followers of my reviews, you have read the history of EarSonics a couple of times. I have had so much exposure to EarSonics products throughout this spiral down the Audio Rabbit Hole. I give EarSonics credit or blame for my hobby and addiction. The SM64 was the first EarSonics product I heard, and the rest is history. This is a review of the Earsonics Stark, a hybrid configuration.
There has always been an EarSonics house sound, and yet that house sound has evolved, maybe matured, with the two releases before the hybrid family. The EM10(CIEM) and the Grace (Universal, shared DNA with EM10) were the first deviations from the traditional EarSonics house sound. I enjoyed the original house sound, but as EarSonics has matured, my listening has shifted as well. The smooth character of the newer house sound is comforting and sophisticated.
Stark is a foray into totally unchartered territory for EarSonics, being one of two new hybrid offerings. The Blade is 1 DD Low, 1 BA Mid, and 1 BA High, and the Stark is 1 DD Low, 2 BA Mid, and 2 BA Highs. Both offer a 3-way crossover.
I have always been a fancier of Dynamic Drivers, be that a single driver or hybrid setup. I love the tonal qualities of the bass that they are capable of delivering. One of my all-time technical faves is hybrid, the Empire Ears Legend X. Knowing I have followed EarSonics through the years, I was enthusiastic to hear their take on a hybrid arrangement. I will say that the Stark has maintained the EarSonics familiar house sound to my ears, and continues to provide a smooth tonality.
The standard of the new Hybrid range, the STARK, benefits from efficient and mature hybrid technology.
Its goal is to deliver a refined, warm, detailed sound, based on the new hybrid process.
Whether through its ergonomics or its accessories (new high-resolution 4C silver cable), everything has been thought of to satisfy the most demanding audiophile customers.
The STARK is composed of an electronic architecture with five drivers, including a novelty at Earsonics: a dynamic driver of 8 minutes with large event.
Always based on a 3-way filtering which made the fame and the success of our products, The heart of the stark consists of:
A new DD driver with large event for the low register, 2 BA transducers for the medium, as well as 2 BA transducers for the treble.
The technical choice being to keep the use of balanced armature transducers for the acute and medium channels, thus promoting performance and level of detail while remaining musical and natural.
The 3 rd lane for the bass has been reserved for the new dynamic driver, bringing warmth, power, as well as greater ventilation that will delight lovers of Circum helmets.
Our crossover impedance corrector coupled with EVS and FUSION technologies made in EarSonics, are responsible for playing the whole with rigor, musicality and respect for the phase.
The STARK electronics are maintained in an acrylic structure specially developed for the latter in order to optimize the placement of the transducers.
Why is it so important?
As for the human body, the role of this acrylic column and primordial in the functioning of STARK.
Made in our 3Dmachines with the acrylic material that EarSonics masters to perfection, it allows an optimized positioning of the different drivers as well as a perfect phasing. The acoustic characteristics of the material on the sound texture allow to push the final rendering to the highest level of quality.
It also includes an acoustic chamber allowing mechanical tuning and filtering of the dynamic driver, thus avoiding the use of electronic components which impairs performance.
The heart of the STARK protected by its metal envelope gives it elegance and extreme solidity.
Its carefully anodized zinc and magnesium alloy have been specifically chosen for its resistance to oxidation and impact.
Designed and designed by our R&D department, everything that makes it up has been carefully chosen and considered.
Thanks to its elegant silhouette and careful ergonomics, the STARK will be perfectly forgotten in the palm of your ears.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX:
STARK with 4C HI-RES cable
4 Comply tips (various sizes)
8 silicon tips (various sizes)
Unboxing and Accessories:
The box has been standard EarSonics fare quite a while now. I will include photos for you visual folks and the simplicity of the description.
I like the layout and feel of the presentation, and now that they are including the new 4C HI-RES cable, they have made a long-standing wish of mine come true, get rid of the Plastics 1 cable that they used for so many years. The stock cable is a 4-core wire braided into an ergonomic cable terminated to a 3.5mm plug. I like the 3.5mm plug as it finishes at 90 degrees. You will find no ear-hooks, only the soft, pliable cable going around the back of your ear. The cable is comfortable, and I found it to not annoy you with sound from brushing on your clothing. This cable was one of the cables included with the Grace HR. Kudos to EarSonics for including it with the Stark.
Build Quality and Fit:
I gave the Stark a thorough examination and decided I was wasting my time looking for flaws. These things have a build like a freakin’ tank.
The external shell is handsome, with the EarSonics logo jumping off of the faceplate. It is two-color, silver faceplate, and gunmetal on the body of the shell(the part with the nozzle). The faceplate is not a super sexy design, but handsome in more of a buff gym-rat with an excessive amount of testosterone. I like the look, but it is utilitarian compared to some of the ornamental acrylic designs that are popular with customs. The shell is vented to aide the DD.
Stark has very short nozzles, which allows for a more shallow insertion. I would have preferred a little more extended nozzle, and particularly a nozzle with a lip to assist in holding the tips on the IEM. Even though the shell is substantial, it somehow sports the ergonomic design to make it comfortable in my ears. The size of the shell creates sound isolation, especially when you find the correct ear tips.
Tips are always critical with Universal IEM’s, but ear tips on some IEM’s have a more significant impact on the sound quality. I have tired Sedna Light Short, Spinfit CP100, Spiral Dots, Spiral Dot ++, Symbio, and Final E tips. I have been rotating through these to see, which provides me with the maximum comfort and sound quality. It has been difficult to decide because each appears to have their compromises. If you asked me last week, I would tell you to choose the Final E, and today while writing, I am using the CP100 and am in a state of aural bliss. I am going to encourage you to try, try again. That said, the Stark work for me, but I am not sure that the fit is for everyone.
Stark is anodized zinc and magnesium alloy on the outside, which they claim they used to reduce oxidation and impact. It would be too soon to say if EarSonics succeeded in reducing oxidation, but I do not doubt the reduction of impact claim. The shell is the most substantial feeling IEM I have ever held. On the inside, the familiar acrylic kind of like a spine of sorts. This acrylic spine is designed in their 3D machines and helps to optimize the placement of the transducers, which allows for perfect phasing(FUSION Technology). It also includes the acoustic chamber, which allows for mechanical tuning and filtering of the dynamic driver, thus avoiding the use of electronic components, which impairs performance.
The review setup utilized multiple sources, QP2R, QA361, Kann Cube, and Fiio M15.
I swapped multiple aftermarket cables, including the PW Audio 1960, Pw Audio No.10, and the stock 3.5mm cable. My favorite cable pairings, both for comfort and sound quality are the Pw Audio No.10 and the stock cable. The stock cable being a great pairing should be good news to the consumer, knowing that the purchase of an aftermarket cable is not necessary to achieve comfort and excellent sound quality.
My sample music consisted of 320kb, FLAC, 24bit, as well as streaming Qobuz, Amazon Music HD, and local files.
Moving on to the sound section….
I am not looking forward to writing this section. The main reason is, I have to write about a controversial and polarizing topic, burn-in. I am not here to debate or attempt to change your perspective on burn-in, only to say what I have encountered in my time with this IEM, as well as two others that come to mind.
As previously stated above, I was very excited to hear what the EarSonics twist on a hybrid configuration might sound like. On first listen, I was so disappointed and underwhelmed. The bass smeared across the entire range; the mids were so far back in the mix, and treble that peeked through was edgy.
One point that needs to make is that the Stark begs for power. You can drive it by phone and will sound just okay. For the signature to open up, two things are necessary, proper seasoning time and power.
After 50 hours, and I have more than 100 hours on them, some magic began to happen. One of the most notable transformations is, there is much more balance. Unlike the smeared, incoherent sound I heard out of the box, the sound gradually improved over the 50 hours of seasoning. It is a real lesson as to why short listen impressions are doing a disservice to consumers and companies.
While there is more balance, there still is a solid, full bass lift. Rumble and a slower decay remain. Listening to the song The Unforgiven by Metallica, the rich bass creates an impact to a usually rather flat sounding bass.
Another addition to the signature, post seasoning, is the bass now has a bit more punch, reminiscent of DD bass. The decay is still there, but the punch and snap add more balance in the bass spectrum. The DD adds a new dimension to the EarSonics portfolio. It adds a new dimension to the already famous Earsonics house sound and provides them with an avenue for more R&D.
The sub-bass grumbles and provides heft, but after seasoning, the bass doesn’t shield the mids or treble. I have already mentioned that the Stark loves some power, bass will open up, and the balance will ensue. Underpowered, things become more restricted, dense, and display less air. I utilize high output DAP’s, but the Stark could shine from a desktop setup. Listen to some music with a stand-up bass in the band, and the vibration will tickle your ears.
Vocals are clear but slightly pushed back in the mix with some musical selections. Male vocals sound full and natural. Listening to Paul Simon Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, you can hear a great representation of Stark’s capabilities. The sound is balanced, and the bass stays in its lane. Vocals appear a couple of rows behind the mix, and the treble percussion sparkles on the fringe. What the heck, put on the entire Graceland release and prosper.
The overall stage is a large rectangle being a touch more wide than deep, but with the proper tracks, the depth is very apparent. The stage when listening to Jazz is very accurate. I am listening to one of my favorite Jazz pianists, and it is very evident that her piano takes the stage front and center, while the percussion and cymbals tickle the far edges. Feeling the keys and their strike is a unique experience.
The mids at times sound a couple of rows back from the stage, but at other times the staging can take front and center. The mids are detailed but destined to take a backseat to the delicious bass and sparkle that the treble provides; that is just how this IEM is voiced. The mids allow the mix to showcase the details and transparency and help to give the musicality of the Stark. I have found myself bobbing my head in unison with more music than I have in a long time. Daft Punk, Giorgio by Moroder, almost gave me head-bobbing whiplash. The blending demonstrates that coherency rules here.
I have found, depending on the track, that the treble of the Stark can take you right to the edge with a sharp bite. There is a glistening on the fringe, a sparkle. With poorly mastered tracks, the bite is a bit more pronounced. That said, with well-produced tracks, the treble is seamlessly blending and intertwining with the rest of the mix. Beautifully layered throughout the experience and in tandem with the mids to create transparency and layering.
These are audiophile IEM’s without a doubt. The Stark can be classified as audiophile fun. The Stark makes you enjoy listening to your music, copious amounts of thunderous bass on Daft Punk’s Lose Yourself to Dance, and the detailed of the strings in the mids and the handclaps coming at you from the left and right, creates a fun, musical exploit. With the digitized vocal swirling around my head encouraging me to “come on, come on, come on,” incredible.
Stark can be driven relatively easily with moderate volume but shines when you bump up the volume and feed it POWER. Yes, this is one of those IEM’s that you find yourself toe-tapping and head-bobbing the more volume you use.
Questyle QP2R is just one reference player and pairs incredibly well, especially from the 2.5mm balanced output. The stage is wide and extends well. The QP2R can reveal itself in a full, rich, organic tone, and with the Stark, which also share similar characteristics, the sound is decadent.
The Fiio M15 is a player that has slightly warmish overtones. I love a little warmth, and the M15 pairs exceptionally well with Stark. When listening to Ghost-Note Swagism, the stage and details abound without harshness. The M15 has the power that Stark craves. Warmth on warmth, what can be said? The mids seem a bit more represented with the M15 that the QP2R with a little more detail retrieval.
The only logical comparison that I own/owned is the Legend X. I will write my thoughts on the Legend X based on my notes and my memory.
Compared to the Empire Ears Legend X. The Legend X is a bit more expensive ($2300) than the Stark at $1500. The Legend X is the most technically adept IEM I have experienced. The parallels between the Stark and X are uncanny. The Legend X was another IEM that certainly improves with a serious amount of seasoning to show its best.
The bass shares some similarities, and this is a comparison of two audiophile bass IEMs. I think it has become apparent that more drivers do not equate to better quality sound. The Legend X is Empire Ears TOTL, and the Stark is EarSonics TOTL hybrid.
Treble of the X is more mature and less dependent on quality source files to show. In other words, the X is more forgiving of poor source material that the Stark. The Stark treble can, at times, be a touch harsher than the X.
The stage of both is wide, but Stark is going up one of the best stages there is. The mids of both IEM’s are not the showcase range. The Stark and Legend X are detailed, but the Legend X has the edge in detail retrieval.
I do want to say the bass in the Stark narrows the gap in comparing the two IEM’s. Just pulling the bass entirely out of the mix, both are First Class in the sub-bass and throughout the range. I must stress, the Stark is an incredible listen, but I have just compared it to one of the Top Tier in all of the industry, and it has does an excellent job of holding its own.
You might want to own this IEM if:
+ The goal is that you want a fun, musical IEM that will have you revisiting your catalog of tunes
+ EDM and dance music are your preferred genres of music, although it excels at jazz and rock as well
+ You prefer a sound that is full of emotion
+ It is important to feel your music as well as hear it; rumble
+ You enjoy a coherent stage with layers of sound expertly intertwined
This review was a long time in the making. Many life events, sickness, pandemics, but finally, it is complete. I want to reiterate that the Stark is such a fun engaging listen, and I haven’t seen an incredible amount of press written. It is one of those IEM’s that is a shame not to experience.
Seasoning is supercritical but with time you will be rewarded. I have tip rolled time and time again. During the writing of this review, I used the Spinfit CP100 and found great comfort and rockin’ sound.
The build quality is exceptional, and I feel the Stark could survive many accidental drops and come out unscathed. The accessories are complete, and now with the inclusion of a quality cable, it shows that EarSonics has listened to their customer base.
Incredible bass, transparency, and detail throughout the mids and upper ranges are above average. The stage is a large rectangle, and the stereo separation shows its width.
When listening to the Stark, I can’t help but think that this a significant stepping stone to greater things from EarSonics. I have always enjoyed their house sound, and now with DD and hybrid technology in their arsenal, I feel the future is quite bright for them.