Spending time at various audio shows, I was introduced to Misha Kurcherenko by Mark Schifter of Core Technologies. Mark told me that I had to listen to Big Mishs’s fantastic in ear monitor. Usually when Mark recommends something you listen, you do because Mark is known in audio circles for his outstanding products and as one of the pioneers in digital audio with his former company, Audio Alchemy. Spending time in Denver at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was my first listen to the SB-7 in ear monitor. The earphone was impressive with its balanced presentation and it fit much differently than another IEMs in current production.
Big Misha, as he is affectionately known in the community, explained that the design goes deep into the ear canal and the sound is completely out of your head, making this a first of its kind in ear monitor. I listened and was impressed and wanted to hear more, but, unfortunately, I did not see Misha until the NYC CanJam, and once again, was impressed with the out of head experience. Misha sent me the samples directly at the end of the show, for an in-depth review. They arrived immediately following the show and since they were fully broken in, I was able to get to serious listening a immediately.
THE SB-7 uses 7 balanced armature drivers per channel. They all have the same axis and use a custom made Stereolab IEM cable designed by Chris Sommovigo. Misha told me the selection of the cable was due to its sonic values and had the connectors built specifically for the 17 ohm impedance of the in ear speaker. The cable is 1 meter in length.
The in ear monitor is different than most universal designs that I have used. The thin layer tip used in the design inserted deeply into my ear canal. The advantage of this, with the unique shape of the design, is it allowed for a tighter seal and gives the user an out of your head experience. After the tips were inserted I began to listen attentively using my AK240 and also my reference Chord DAVE headphone amplifier. Price $2500
Wall of Sound
The SB-7, inserted deeply into my ear canal, took some time for me to adjust to the universal design, as it was much different than any other universal or custom I had been using. The sound coming from the IEMs was special, as it sounded as if it was out of my head. The sound of Ry Cooder’s “Tap EM up Solid” from his Paradise and Lunch album sounded special and the SB-7 extracted detail from the upper treble exceptional well. The treble was sparkly, yet had excellent detail. His guitar plucking was alive and realistic. The soundstage was wall to wall and I could hear every musician in his or her own space and always out of my head. The music had air and the tonality of instruments was excellent, as was the soundstage.
Listening to Miles Davis’ “Tutu” track from the same-titled album had excellent bass definition with a soundstage that was built around Miles. Jason Miles’ synth work on this album was legendary and the SB-7 was able to recreate the room and brought all the musicians to life. The sound was especially transparent, with exceptional dynamics that made the song come to life. Miles trumpet sounded real and vibrant and the tonality was exceptionally vivid.
“Castle on the Hill” from Ed Sheerhan’s Divide album is fast and articulate. The dynamic sound of the upbeat tune had me moving the body to the music and engulfed with Sheerhan’s vocal, as the SB-7 made the music come to life and sound so alive, with killer dynamics. The speed of the SB-7 was exceptionally fast and delivered all the impact and excitement that made this music so involving. I never lost anything while listening to the performance, and the music was out of my head and exceptionally transparent, especially with the DAVE driving them to unrealistically loud levels, the SB-7 always delivered the message of this tune and had the speed necessary to deliver a stellar performance. The Bass from “Dive”, from the same album, opens the track and it was impactful yet textured, with exceptional clarity and Sheerhan’s vocal was centered in the soundstage and clear and articulate, with the sound of his vocal accurately reproduced.
Adele’s “Million Years Ago” from her 25 album, highlights her vocal and she was right there in my room with the SB-7. The backgrounds vocals sounded articulate and separate from Adele’s beautiful and seductive vocal. The delivery had me consumed with her majestic and articulate voice. Her phrasing was clearly delivered, with my eyes closed I could envision her there in front of me come to life and the background harmonizing was special, Adele delivering the beauty of the lyrics, making this song come alive. The SB-7 highlighted her enormous talent and brought Adel to life in my listening room. Switching to a large scale recording to further test the treble I selected the excellent Julia Fischer recording “Khachaturian Violin Concerto in D Minor”. The sound from her violin on “Allegro con fermezza” was beautiful. The sound was sweet and the sound of the orchestra was in their own space and the violin was never screechy or harsh as I have heard with other lesser quality ear speakers. The 7 drivers per side were all designed with a delicate crossover and had excellent synergy. Never did I fee any crossover issues. It was as if all I could focus on was Julia’s spectacular violin playing. The sound was alive and transparent and once again the speed of the SB-7 came to life. The sound once again had that excellent layering and transparency found in the best of the best. The SB-7 had excellent and air and separation, necessary to make the large scale recording come to life and yet Julia’s delicacy was evident and the clarity of her instrument was spectacular.
The SB-7 was a pleasure to listen too. The sound was always alive and had the rare out of your head experience that Headphone users crave. The midrange was as good as I have heard and the bass was exceptionally deep and had excellent synergy with everything I used during my listening sessions. Misha’s goal was to make this a complete out of your head experience and in achieving that goal there were some comprises that had to be made. The years of research and fine-tuning were evident in the listening sessions. The SB-7 was also quiet with either the AK240 or the system with the DAVE using the Core Technology power conditioner which created a black background.
The biggest compromise for me that after longer sessions with the SB-7 so deep in my ear canal the tips at times were uncomfortable and I noticed I had to remove them because of the irritation. The sound was always articulate and special but the tip could become uncomfortable while using them for longer sessions. The SB-7 has the sound that takes the listener to a another level of listening as it creates a rare out of your head listening experience. The design is different than anything else on the market and allows for the ear speaker to feel as if the music is completely out of head.
The SB-7 overall is an exceptional ear speaker and easy to drive. Musicality soared and the soundstage is wide and deep with exceptional air between musicians. The product always delivered musicality and sounded alive and exceptionably transparent. I never felt as if anything was missing in the sound spectrum. Most listeners who do not spend long non-stop hours should not experience the discomfort of the tip as I did in my marathon session. The product design is exceptional. Misha’s gem is built in Russia and is a labor of love from a lifelong music lover who delivers everything possible from his design. The SB-7 is designed for music lovers who want to have a different experience and always delivers exceptional and live sound. Job well done and gets a big thumbs up for Big Misha and his team. Highly Recommended.