Let’s take a detailed look at the M-Fidelity SA-50, the flagship Custom In Ear Monitor from Norway.
Disclaimer: I received The M-Fidelity SA-50 from the manufacturer directly free of charge. I covered the expenses of shipping my impressions, and the customs taxes when I received the monitors. You can also check out my initial impressions HERE.
THE NEW SA-50
M-Fidelity is not a company that everyone has knowledge of in the market. Yet if you know the name, then you’ve probably heard about M-Fidelity with their previous flagship model first, the SA-43, which has 2 switches on its face plate for altering the sound. Well, this one doesn’t have any of that. It instead has 5 BA drivers in a 4-way system and you only have one type of sound unlike the SA-43.
Alf Middlethon, who runs the operation at M-Fidelity, worked for Starkey Norway some years ago before establishing this brand. Starkey is a big hearing aids company, which has distributors all around the world. With his experience, Alf has some quite unique features and different solutions up his sleeve, and it’s always nice to see different techniques for creating Custom In Ears.
Alf has interesting products apart from audiophile CIEMs too. Products such as in ear monitors for pilots and ground crews, for heavy smartphone users, and also for professional, on stage musicians & performers. You can check out the official website HERE.
M-Fidelity, in my opinion, has good prices as well. Their entry level SA-12 starts with around 380$, and this flagship model costs around 980$, excluding the options. So when I look at the Custom In Ear market today, these prices from M-Fidelity seem like bargains. But of course, we still need to see a good performance here to say if it’s worth the money.
There’s no online creator tool or anything with M-Fidelity. Alf does things the old fashioned way here. You fill a custom order form and send it with your ear impressions to Norway. I have no problem with that, as one can see the most configurations in the website anyway. In terms of design there’s not much when compared to other manufacturers, but you still have a good amount of color & faceplate options. I wanted the advertised design of the SA-50 with the clear body and carbon fiber face plates.
The difference that M-Fidelity puts on the table, is an option that I really liked: the silicone filled shells. This option really carries the isolation to another level, resulting in a total disconnection from the outside world. Filling the shell with silicone material also contributes to the acoustic performance, allowing no in-shell resonance
In terms of communication Alf is pretty fast and easy to work with. We’ve had a smooth process in terms of everything so I don’t think you’ll have a problem
reaching out to him.
The monitors come with a rather large zippered case which has a carbon fiber look. It’s very useful and large for all the accessories and even additional items if you need it. On the inside you have another zippered hard case which is much smaller and compact. There’s a cleaning tool, a clip and papers for information. There’s no cleaning cloth though, which I was expecting to have. It’s in no way a deal breaker, but it would be nice to add that to the content.
There’s one accessory which is unique to M-Fidelity, and that are replaceable filters. You get 8 pieces of those, all attached to the end tip of their plastic tools. If your filters on the nozzle get too dirty and beyond cleaning, you can replace the filters with ease. I personally think having filters for this kind of a CIEM is quite important. My ears produce some wax and this solution is very reliable for long term usage.
M-Fidelity prefers acrylic shells for their SA range of audiophile monitors. The shell has good quality overall but it isn’t without imperfections. There are two noticeable bubbles on the left piece, one close to the end of the nozzle and the other is on the upper part of the shell. Since this is a fully silicone filled shell, it’s understandable to have some bubbles here and there, but maybe a little cleaner work could’ve been done.
The right piece also has a small imperfection, which I think is an unfilled spot on the tip of the canal part. I suppose it’s not very easy to fully fill the canal area with silicone but otherwise everything is close to perfection with my SA-50. This is not a shiny, outstanding design or perfectly finished work like some other manufacturers. It instead is quite purposive and functional.
I prefer clear shells for my CIEMs so I can obviously see the craftsmanship but you can choose opaque colors of course to have a cleaner look. The face plates on the other hand are seamless with the shells and the surfaces are quite round and smooth. I love carbon looking things and I also love this unique design. It looks really nice and professional.
For me it wasn’t quite straightforward to get used to the M-Fidelity SA-50. It’s different to the other custom monitors that I’ve used and let me tell you why.
First of all, like I mentioned already, this monitor is filled with silicone. So the feel in my ears is different when compared to standard acrylic monitors. I’m actually not unaccustomed to this kind of a dense feeling, as I’ve reviewed the PEARS SH-3 CIEM before, which also are filled with acrylic.
But the biggest difference for me was the length of the canals. Alf prefers to keep the canals very long on his monitors, I should say extremely long when compared to some CIEMs on the market. At first I was even thinking to send them back as my right ear was hurting because of the canal length. I preferred to give my ears more time however to see if they’re flexible enough to tolerate them and in the end they did.
So there we see the importance to give yourself at least a week to check if your ears can adjust to a new pair of custom IEMs. Right now I’m perfectly happy with the fit, particularly for the isolation level. These monitors block the outside noise tremendously and there’s no match for it here. It’s easily the most isolating monitor I’ve experienced so far. I like this isolation so much that sometimes when the music is not playing, I still like to keep them in my ears, just for some peace of mind.
Yet, there’s always a trade off. This surely is not the best CIEM for the ultimate in-ear comfort, so do take this into consideration. If you prioritize comfort over everything else, then don’t opt for the filling option and tell Alf to keep the canals shorter if possible.
The review continues on PAGE 2 with the sound impressions.