Here’s the dilemma: you’re listening to your favorite music, and outside noises are not only bleeding in, they are making your music less clear. Most people would turn up the volume to block the unwanted noise and amplify their audio. The only problem is that in the process, they might also be causing irreparable hearing loss. Then there’s the matter of bass and treble – sometimes your left ear needs more bass and your right more treble, and that’s not exactly something you can set on an equalizer. How do you handle that?
Sleek Audio, a two year old company that was started by the father and son audiologist team Mark and Jason Krywko, may have the answer; but first a bit of background. Sleek Audio “began when Mark found himself dissatisfied with the sound signature of the dozens of different earphones he had tried over the years, so as a 30 year veteran of the audio and custom hearing aid industries, he decided to build his own.”
It took Mark and Jason three years to develop exactly what they wanted, and then they introduced the. What set the SA6 apart from other earphones was that it was the world’s first to be acoustically customizable (more on that in a bit), and it could “go from wired, to wireless and back again.” The SA6 introduced another feature that I hadn’t seen before – a detachable and interchangeable cable… and they also came with a price tag that might intimidate the average user – $249.99. Granted, a die-hard audiophile probably wouldn’t blink when hearing that price, but it might be a lot to swallow for the listener who just wants something that blows away what came with his digital music player.
So how can the budget minded audioholic get great sound along with at least some of the features that made the SA6 such a revolutionary earphone? Say hello to the relatively budget-priced, not that you would ever be able to tell just by looking or listening.
I was sent an early pair of SA1s for this review. Included in the package are the earphones, a detachable and interchangeable 54″ cable, multiple sets of single and double flange eartips, a set of screw-in treble ports, and a soft black slip case.
- First-of-its-kind custom tuned 6mm. dynamic driver for striking clarity and a bass impact you can feel
- Siam rosewood body for unique sound and style
- Patented detachable cable
- Wireless ready with our Kleer wireless system
- Custom sized flange options for unparalleled fit and comfort
- Impedance: 25 ohm
- Speaker Type: Ultra Wide Band Balanced Dynamic Driver with Custom Porting
Perhaps more than anything, when I opened the package I was struck by the gorgeous rosewood bodies of the earphones. Since I didn’t know their price until days later, I just assumed that these were $150ish, minimum. According to the Sleek Audio site, “this wooden body provides more than a beautiful look; it offers the unique resonant features that create the naturally balanced sound signatures of the SA1.” According to David Gil, Sleek Audio’s Director of Marketing, the rosewood also gives the earphones more of a traditional speaker look and feel.
Inside the earphones is a 6mm dynamic driver. I am not the world’s biggest earphone aficionado, so I didn’t wonder why these come with a smaller driver than most, which evidently can range between 8 and 14mm. David told me the reason for the smaller driver is two-fold: Using the 6mm driver allowed Sleek Audio to preserve the produced sound’s clarity without resulting in an overly bloated bass impact. The other reason is because a smaller driver would fit more comfortably in the average woman’s smaller ear canal.
Since in-ear speakers cut out background noise and produce better sound without higher volumes, because of the seal they create in the end of the ear canal, they are generally a much better choice than poorly fitting earbuds (like what comes with most digital music players) or cumbersome DJ style headphones. According to David, most of the high end earphone market is significantly skewed to properly fit the average man. I am familiar with the throbbing ache that sometimes results from wearing in-ear speakers for any amount of time, but I never thought about it possibly being due to a larger driver than my ear was sized to accept. I don’t want to give you the wrong idea however, as these earbuds aren’t only for women. With the addition of an assortment of dial and single flanged silicone tips, the SA1 should fit virtually any ear.
The reasons for the replaceable and interchangeable cables are many, some more obvious than others. Consider this; every set of earphones that I have ever had to stop using (for reasons other than because I gave them away or I lost them) was discarded because something had happened to their cable – whether it was my cat chewing on them or some other “natural” disaster. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to my once beloved (and yes, much pricier) Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 earphones over two years ago; Avah chewed their cable in two. How about you? Ever lost a set of earphones because the cable was damaged? Another reason given by Sleek Audio for interchangeable cables is color matching, although I’d imagine that most people must not care whether their earphones match their shoes or bag, as evidenced by the number of people sporting “hey look at me!” white ones.
Perhaps the most important reason that the cable is detachable is that it allows you to upgrade even these popularly priced SA1s to Kleer Wireless Audio technology, which offers uncompressed, lossless, digital stereo CD quality sound wirelessly and with low power consumption., just as you can the SA6 and Sleek Audio’s top of the line . David explained to me that Sleek Audio does not use Bluetooth for their wireless, because it significantly compresses audio quality. Instead they use
Every earphone Sleek Audio makes is wireless compatible, and if you are using the Wireless kit and the battery runs out on them, you can just plug the earphones back into their cable, and they will immediately work as a cabled set.
I must say that I find it totally refreshing to find a company that doesn’t totally discriminate against its customers who aren’t willing (or who can’t afford) to purchase the most expensive model.
The only thing I might have changed with the cables design might have been offering a tangle-free cable option, like the ones on the Zagg Z.buds I reviewed last year. I like that type cable best because they are nearly impossible to accidentally knot, and the way the cables are wrapped helps preserve the wires held within. Granted the trade-off is a heavier cable, which can be obnoxious if you are exercising. I asked David if Sleek Audio would consider offering a tangle-free design, and he replied that “eventually (end of this year perhaps, definitely early next year) we’ll have a number of new cables ranging from mic cables, to tangle-free to high-end to different colors.” So that’s good news for other like me, that prefer a tangle-free cord.
The last feature I want to cover is definitely something unusual. Under the eartip is the speaker port, just as you’ve probably seen many times on many other earphones. But these are different…
The tips are removable, allowing you to not only adjust the bass and treble amounts according to your preference by swapping out tip, you can also adjust it by the ear. So if you want more thump and a little less treble in the right and a little more treble on the left, or vice versa, you can just switch the ports around until you get the sound that you want. Crazy, right?This is what Sleek Audio calls their Variable Equalizer System, or VQ.
Oddly enough, I couldn’t find any distinguishing marks to differentiate the two sets of earphone ports, but when I randomly switched them out, it seemed like there might be a difference when listening. I asked David about it, and he said, “For the SA1 the only way to differentiate the ports is by looking at them, one is wide open (more treble, and the other has a much smaller opening (not as much treble, slightly more bass). Chances are once you find the tip you like best (and they don’t need to be the same on each ear) then you pretty much stick with that tip and sound signature. Some people change them according to what they’re listening to….not so much the style of music, but if they’re listening to an audiobook then they’ll want the opened tip just to get more vocals and slightly less bass.”
I also asked if David could perhaps explain the difference between the VQ on the SA6 and the SA1, since there was obviously a bit of a price gap between the two models, and it only stands to reason that the VQ on the SA6 would be higher end.
Yes, the overall concept is the same, but they are pretty different. The SA6 VQ system allows you to have complete control over the low end and high end. There are four treble port options and three bass port options. The SA1 is a modified version, with just the two treble tip options, but the treble tips control the treble and bass….primarily the treble. The open treble tip will give you brighter highs and slightly (very slightly) decrease the bass, but the bass change is not very noticeable. The closed tip will slightly increase the bass and the treble won’t be as “harsh” for those who don’t like too many highs. In the end whichever tip combinations, both for the SA1 and SA6 work best for you if what you should stick with.
As with other in-ear speaker systems, the SA1’s create a solid seal when inserted in the ear canal’s opening, and they effectively cut out most of the noises surrounding the wearer. Music is very clear when listening through them, and the bass thumps appropriately. To make sure I wasn’t psyching myself out with a perceived sound differences just because I’d been told they were supposed to be there, I tested these on Kevin. While he was listening to Spoon’s “My Japanese Cigarette Case”, I randomly swapped out tips, and asked him if he could tell a difference. He thought that there was more treble at one point, and then after a port switch he thought there was less, and then basically he just threw up his hands and said, “I don’t know, but they sound great!” So there you go.
I concur with Kevin that the SA1s sound excellent, they look gorgeous, and if I didn’t know that they were $80, I would have guessed that they cost twice as much. I am really intrigued by the Kleer wireless option, and I genuinely appreciate that the cable can be so easily replaced or removed. If you are in the market for a nicer set of earphones, but you aren’t ready to drop serious coin in this economy, then you should check out the Sleek Audio SA1.
You can find the(as well as their other models) on the manufacturer’s site and in select retail stores.
I was allowed to keep the set of earphones that I reviewed.
MSRP: SA1 model – $79.99, or you can purchase with the wireless kit for $179.99 (introductory price $169.99); replacement cords are $20
What I Like: Interchangeable and removable cable allows for easy cable replacement or transition to wireless; Ability to convert to wireless earphones and back to wired; Beautiful Siam rosewood speaker body; Excellent sound and noise isolation; upcoming cable options including tangle-free; very comfortable, even after extended periods of wear
What Needs Improvement: I couldn’t really tell a difference between treble produced from the two different sets of ports, but Kevin thought he could; It would be helpful if the ports could be more clearly marked – maybe with a stamped + or –