The SPearphone SB-3.5 is the latest product of Russian manufacturer StereoPravda, one of the more unique IEM manufacturers I have come in contact with. Their no-compromise, no-holds-barred approach to audio has made them unique in several ways. For one, their IEMs are not jewelry, they are not even pretty, if that is what you are looking for, then look elsewhere. Also, since they are designed to fit deep into your ear canal, along with their almost comically large speaker cables, they are not exactly comfortable, and I, for one, would be hesitant to wear them out jogging. StereoPravda SPearphones are for serious listening only, in fact, I would think of them as headphones for a desktop system. But like the audiophile who builds a dedicated sound room, the dividends are well worth the investment.
Misha Kucherenko was a well-known audiophile and audio journalist in Russia who co-founded the premier Russian audiophile outlet The Purple Legion. In 2002 Misha launched StereoPravda which availed him the opportunity to start developing audiophile personal audio products where he saw a sever lacking and in 2015 he built his first prototype SPearphone. There are several fundamental principles which are incorporated into the SPearphone: Use the best materials, the SPearphone incorporates Knowles Balanced Armature drivers, which Misha feels mirrors the function of the human ear, Vishay resistors, and cable designed by Chris Sommovigo. All of the drivers are aligned on a single axis to avoid inappropriate reflections. And deep penetration into the ear canal past the “Second Bend” (the root of the SB model designation) to enhance isolation and reduce unwanted reflections and avoid the “Occlusion Effect”. For those wishing to have a deeper understanding of Misha’s philosophy, thought processes and the development of the SPearphone, you can find an article written by Misha himself, laying out in exacting detail the factors that went into the design of the SPearphone as well as the build and launch of the first prototype here.
The StereoPravda SPearphone SB-3.5 Audiophile In-Ear Monitor:
The StereoPravda SPearphone SB-3.5 Audiophile In-Ear Monitor was introduced as a smaller, lighter, more practical little brother to the SPearphone SB-7. The SB-3.5 employs 4 Knowles Balanced Armature drivers, two of which are stacked drivers (two in one) hence the .5 designation. Following suggestions from Headphone.Guru’s own Frank Iacone, the cable for the SB-3.5 is lighter and more flexible than those used with previous models. Though I received the SPearphone SB-3.5 sans packaging, I have been assured that they will be shipped out in the same elegant windowed gift box in an outer sleeve as the current StereoPravda SPearphone models.
Inserting the SPearphone is fairly complex so they do offer complete instructions:
“For INSERTING please, see the pictures attached:
1. Put the connecting cable behind your neck with its split closer to the right ear.
For mobile convenience, fasten it with the clip to your collar position(the clip positioning can be changed along the cable’s length to adjust each channel’s corresponding lengths).
As this AUDIOPHILE cable is relatively fragile, we would recommend you to “think twice” before making any adjustments, as the coils of the wire would not completely return to the straight shape after twisting.
Wrap the cables around your ear (like in the attached picture).
With the connecting wire pointing upwards and slightly in front of you (see the attached picture), slowly insert an Ii as deep as possible(it’s supposed to stop at some depth, close to the ear canal’s “Second Bend” (by the way, that’s why the “SB-“ moniker), depending on the size of your ear canal).
Alternatively, a sharp pain should stop you.
Relative mild discomfort is a normal feeling while this first undertaking.
3. When stopped, slightly twist the earphone around, pushing slightly in and out in the ear canal UNTIL YOU FEEL that your ears are not only isolated, but that THE EAR CANAL ACOUSTIC ISOLATION IS THE SAME FOR BOTH OF YOUR EARS.
That is when you pronounce “m-m-m-” or “ah-ah-ah-” sounds it’s indicated by THE SAME response in both of your sealed ears (both in tone and in the loudness).
Hopefully, you’ll reach the ear canal isolation with no pain or inconvenience.
The isolation is the key to good sound. Without it the excellent sound is impossible with our designs. So, spend some time making sure you’re obtaining the ear channel isolation, and don’t even try to evaluate the sonic qualities of our products without reaching it.
We are quick to admit that our products are not for everyone; their appeal is limited by the variance in human ear canal anatomy.
So, please, cross your fingers that you’ll pass the admission test!
Otherwise, if your ear canals are too small or quirky-shaped ones, and the use of our products is prohibited by an intolerantly high level of discomfort, we’re very sorry, and are honestly wishing you all the best in your future sonic endeavors!
You can return our product for a, practically speaking, full refund (please, see our return policy on our website).
RE-WRAP THE CONNECTING CABLE AROUND YOUR EAR (like in the attached picture).
This is important, as the cable, while moving, can constantly twist the Ii out of its correct positioning, leading to the “leakage of isolation”.
5. If necessary, slightly RE-POSITION the Ii within your ear channel (please, see point 3. above).
So, while moving your head, the ear canal is CONSTANTLY isolated.
Please, make sure that the connecting cable is wrapped around your ear and SLIGHTLY TIGHTENED around it to make sure it’ll stay in its place!
The physical design of our SPearphone line is optimized for a CONSTANT (despite of the head movement) level of such isolation.
6. You’re done.”
The StereoPravda SPearphone SB-3.5 Audiophile In-Ear Monitor Listening Tests:
Since the StereoPravda SPearphone SB-3.5 Audiophile In-Ear Monitor was designed more for desktop listening than portable use (though one should note that the StereoPravda DACCA DAC/Amplifier is, in fact, battery-powered and designed to be portable, though it is the same size as my desktop unit and nothing about StereoPravda speaks of casual listening) I started my listening tests using my reference DAC/Amplifier the iFi Pro iDSD in triode mode on low gain.
Launching Qobuz I clicked on “Discover” and noticed the remixed “Abby Road” by The Beatles (24/96 kHz) mixed by Giles Martin. As one would expect from an IEM designed to minimize bone conduction the SB-3.5s are not particularly bass-heavy, rather the tonal balance lends itself to the ethereal side, think Sennheiser HD800. This enhanced “out of your head” sound stage was particularly complementary to the “Sun King” medley, creating a halo of their 4 part harmony vocals around your head while making the guitars crisp and giving snap to the percussion. The bass guitar was textured and tight with a sharply delineated tone opposed to simple thump. The piano had a mellow concert grand feel, and the horns presented a wall of sound presenting real depth in the sound stage.
Switching to Quatuor Hanson performing Haydn’s “String Quartet No. 6 in D Major, Op. 50 “The Frog” I. Allegro” (“All Shall Not Die – Haydn String Quartets” – 24/96 kHz) the SPearphone SB-3.5s came into their own, placing each string in its own space, and detailing the individual instruments to make each note stand out. The timbre here was sweet and musical, with a large music hall soundstage. The extreme isolation of the SPearphone made for an inky black sound field letting you hear the panting of the musicians as they labored at their performance, making for a uniquely intimate rendition, despite the enormous venue.
Speed and clarity seemed to rule the day listening to “So What” by Miles Davis (“Kind Of Blue” – 24/192 kHz) giving the cymbals real sizzle, highlighting the contrast between the saxophone and trumpet, and producing a very natural piano in a large empty night club. Once again the upright bass had tonality and texture forging a more realistic experience.
Since the large soundstage of the SB-3.5 screamed out for live music I selected Johnny Cash “At Folsom Prison” and the haunting refrains of “The Long Black Veil” (DSD). The sense of space was awesome, and the full emotion of Johnny’s soulful voice and gentle guitar echoed the loneliness of that barren stage.
Despite my earlier admonishment that the SB-3.5 was designed for serious listening and not on-the-go background music, I broke out my reference DAP the Questyle QP2R and cued up “Fantasia Suite” by Al DiMeola, Paco DeLucia & John McLaughlin from “Friday Night in San Francisco” (DSD). The current mode amplifier added a touch of fullness to the sound, as the three guitarists competed for center stage in a huge auditorium. I could see them there on their stools three abreast in my mind’s eye, clearly separated, solid and unwavering.
For a change of pace, I brought up Apocalytica’s cover of “Nothing Else Matters” from their album “Inquisition Symphony”. Once again the four cellists appeared on a vast soundstage each in their own spot with rare tonality and musicality, enveloping me in an intimate experience as if I were in the middle of the quartet surrounded by sound.
Conclusions on the StereoPravda SPearphone SB-3.5 Audiophile In-Ear Monitor:
As mentioned above, the StereoPravda SPearphone SB-3.5 Audiophile In-Ear Monitor is not for the faint of heart or casual listener, nor at $2,000, should it be. It is a true audiophile piece that demands a serious audience, and dedication to a full immersive experience. The caveat that comes attached to the SPearphone IEMs is that there will be some discomfort attached to their use, in this way they are the Abyss Headphones of the IEM world. Most people will become accustomed to them after a certain amount of listening, this did not happen for me, but my ear canals are odd shaped and not particularly large, so that is something to be aware of.
The sound quality is unprecedented, offering a large airy soundstage and an “out-of –your-head” experience with a very musical midrange. It is the perfect earphone for those who truly love the open soundstage of high-end open-backed dynamic headphones but want or need the isolation of an IEM.
For the complete StereoPravda experience, enthusiasts would want to use the StereoPravda DACCA Portable (battery power supply) two-way fully differential DAC/passive analog tone control and high pass filter/IEM amplifier, which was specially developed to operate with StereoPravda In-Ear Monitors, but that being said, the SB-3.5 proved easy to drive, working well with desktop units or DAPs, though there is a certain amount of you get out what you put in, so a quality reference source is recommended.
Manufacturer’s Website: https://stereopravda.com/
Price: $2,000 USD