Tips & Price
Like the cable, the tips are also attached to the unit but in contrast to the SB-7, they can now more easily be replaced by the user as the tip connection is new and “more simple”. When you have an issue with them you can of course still send them back to Russia for maintenance but you can also ask StereoPravda to send you over the tips and instructions so you can do the reparation yourself. This just is something you need to take into account when buying these monitors, SPearphones require special attention. At the High End Munich show in 2018, Misha showed me the new tip design he was working on and I have to say that even though it’s as unique as the SPearphones, it actually will get you the best possible seal. See for yourself:
Misha didn’t mention that design anymore this year, so I’m not sure what the future will bring regarding the tip system. Also note that the tip on the SB-3.5 is less angled compared to the one on the SB-7.
The entry-level all-in-line IEM with 3.5/4 drivers is available for $2.000USD. the SB-7 if you remember is selling for around $3000. It’s clear that the SB-3.5 (or any of the SB models) isn’t an everyman’s IEM, it’s for the hardcore audiophile for who sound is more important than looks, comfort and price.
Packaging and Accessories
The SPearphone SB-3.5 normally comes in StereoPravda’s stylish box with a set of accessories as you can see on their website. The version I have actually doesn’t have a box or any accessories as it was handed to me by Misha when the High End show was closing. My SB-3.5 and SB-7 samples came in a cool looking cigar box. If you know Misha, you’ll know why 😉
I’m perfectly fine with that and it makes the SB-3.5 even more special to me as the unique tobacco smell reminds me about the man behind the IEM. I actually most of the time use a Pelican 1010 case to transport the SB-X IEMs wherever I take them to.
Build Quality – Design
It’s clear that the SPearphone units are special and the build quality, because of its unique design, can’t be compared with a regular set of IEMs of CIEMs. Some may say the SB-series look weird because of the creative use of heat shrink and the length but it at the same time is exactly what makes it so cool. It might be a bit strange in the beginning but the look actually grows on you and I personally find these units extremely cool.
Build quality wise there aren’t any remarks from my end though you’ll have to keep an eye on the tips to make sure they stay in perfect condition so they don’t rip off.
The SPearphone SB-7 and SB-3.5 for sure aren’t the most comfortable IEMS, but the SB-3.5 has hugely increased in this regard and the small brother is much easier and morr comfy to use and wear. At the same time you will get used to the design and the way you have to wear them and insert them into your canals.
For me the best use of the SB-7 was when listening to music in the couch where you don’t move a lot. It’s not really a matter of comfort when moving, but it’s more about keeping the perfect seal in tact when you’re not sitting still. And without perfect fit, the sound quality will drop very fast. The smaller, lighter SB-3.5 (with the new cable) does make it a lot easier to walk around with the unit.
With the SB-3.5 you still need to get the fit right and it isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially in the beginning when you’re still learning on how to use them. Therefor the SB IEMs come with a manual on how you have to use these and how you have to insert them into your canal to get the best possible sound. It’s more or less the same as using the SB-7, just easier. And once you know how to use them, it will be a piece of cake.
Even when you’re used to wearing the SB-3.5, they will never be as comfortable as “regular” IEMs. StereoPravda is serious when they claim “no gain – no pain”. This is sound before comfort, though the SB-3.5 for me is the most comfortable SPearphone yet.
Source Matching & Fit
I have found the SPearphone SB-7 to be very dependent on the source used but this is a little less important with the new SB-3.5 model as it’s not about power. The fit still is the most important thing to get good body and bass, so make sure the fit is right before describing its sound, or deciding if you like it or not.
The first time I listened to the SB-7 was when it was hooked up to StereoPravda’s DACCA which Misha carries around with him and I haven’t managed to make the SB-7 sound as good as it did with that amp. The SB-3.5 seems to be much easier to drive and several of my sources make it sound incredibly good.
I advise to use the SB-3.5 with a normal power, low gain source with a full bodied, yet detailed tuning. If your source music files aren’t of good quality, the SB-3.5 like its big brother, will be brutally honest. The SB-3.5 is very transparent (though the TOTL model even more) and it will show you what exactly your source is bringing to the party.
You absolutely need to get the fit right and make sure the seal in your ear is perfect. It’s important with all IEMs, but probably even more so with the SB-3.5 because of its typical shape. Get it wrong and the SB-3.5 will sound thin and lifeless and that’s not how it should sound.
The tuning of the SB-3.5 is something I call musically neutral, a way a lot of high end units are tuned. That means it is a technically strong IEM but that it presents the music in a musical way. As said, the SB-3.5 is transparent and as such you will hear your source in the way the music is delivered.
The dynamics are excellent and the detail retrieval for a 4-driver unit is remarkable. No matter what source the SB-3.5 is hooked up to, it always sound energetic and lively but the SB-3.5 is never overdoing it. Of course you get the typical nice black background we know from Balanced Armature designs and the SB-3.5 ads great speed and PRaT to that.
The sound stage width is really good as well as the spaciousness and separation. The sound stage is wider as it is deep though. The layering – while certainly not bad – is not the best we’ve ever heard. But for four drivers, the level actually is really good. The presentation from bass to treble has just the right amount of air, making everything sound very realistic and natural.
Depending on the source used the SB-3.5 will sound fuller, have bigger impact or be flatter sounding. It depends how your source’s sound and thus what sound you like really like.
From bass to treble, nothing is really hyped or put upfront and you get a very linear and balanced frequency response. The SB-3.5 doesn’t struggle with anything or any kind of music, it’s always perfectly in control and doing what it does best: impress with its technical qualities.
The SB-7 I found to perform best in the upper mids and treble regions, but to me the SB-3.5 is different here as it handles bass, mids and treble equally.
There’s more on sound on the third page of the review, here.