Perfect Seal SportBud Silver canal sized custom in-ear monitors for sports

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COMPARISONS

Custom Art Music One: The Music One (M1) is more laid-back but has more emphasis on the midrange in comparison to the more linear presentation of the SportBud Silver (SS).  Spatially the SS has a slightly wider presentation while the M1 has relatively deeper presentation; however the M1 can seem larger and more airy due to the more distant perspective.  Notes are quite similar between the two, but the SS can become congested in comparison with the Music One in more complex tracks.  The SS is more dynamics and punchy with higher detail levels, but the Music One is more forgiving and easier to listen to while relaxing.

In the bass region, the SS has more kick, especially in the deepest registers, with a bit better texturing.  Warmth between these two is quite similar, leading up to the large differences in the midrange.  The M1 pulls the midrange a bit closer than the bass and treble while the SS is more linear across the spectrum.  At lower volume levels the SS has better clarity but it can become congested and lose its clarity advantage depending on the track and volume level.  The upper midrange is a bit more prominent with the SS, but the overall quality isn’t quite as high as the M1.  The SS has more treble presence with similar quality to the M1.

The SportBud Silver presents with a more traditional sound signature that has better technical performance, but is more about the individual notes and parts of the frequency spectrum as opposed to the more relaxed Music One that gives musical overtones to the recreation of music.  Both are good for their intended purposes, as the SportBuds give a more dynamic and exacting presentation that is great for workouts while the Music One is excellent for music enjoyment.

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InEarz IE-P250: Both use the Sonion AcuPass drivers and as a result have similar performance but with slightly different sound signatures. The SportBud Silver (SS) is a bit more forward in the presentation, but has more presentation depth vs. the slightly wider P250.  Focus within the sound signature is slightly better from the SS but the P250 has better instrument separation, which shows up as a cleaner sound within the midrange.  While note characteristics are quite similar, the SS has a slightly longer decay.  Bass is more prominent from the workout tuned SS while quality is ever so slightly better from the warmer P250.  Clarity within the midrange is a tossup depending on the track due to the differing strengths in performance characteristics.  The upper midrange of the SS is more prominent while the P250 is brighter overall, with similar treble quality.  Detail levels are about on par, as is transparency and coherence.

With striking similarities in performance, the difference comes down to sound signature, options, and price.  The P250 offers a more V-shaped sound signature, but ultimately is more neutral in the bass region while the SportBud Silver is warmer, with more bass emphasis and a more 3D presentation.  The SS is cheaper and comes with a canal only option, including the soft canal, so unless you want the brighter, slightly more laid-back sound of the P250, the SS is a more affordable option.

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Minerva Mi-Artist Pro: The SportBud Silver (SS) and Artist Pro (AP) both use Sonion AcuPass drivers and share many sound signature traits.  The presentation is quite similar, but the AP has a slightly wider presentation while the SS offers better depth and imaging.  The SS has better note control (decay and release) for a more clear and concise presentation while the AP has a more aggressive note attack that results in a more impactful, dynamic sound.  Detail levels are higher on the SS, while resolution within the soundstage is about the same, and the SS slightly beats the AP in transparency and coherence.

The warmer AP has a bit more bass emphasis, but the SS has more note sustainment capability.  The midrange presentations have a very similar perspective, with differences being the SS has more space around the presentation and better focus within the soundstage.  The upper midrange of the SS is a bit more forward than the AP resulting in a brighter overall sound while the treble is similar in quantity, but the AP treble quality is better.

The SportBud Silver offers an excellent value proposition vs. the Artist Pro considering the large price gap and minor sound signature differences.  The canal only option for the SportBud Silver is attractive for working out, but UK customers may prefer the ease of getting the Artist Pro given Minerva’s experienced audiologist network and the comfort of dealing with a local company should anything go wrong.

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Minerva Mi-Performer Pro: Using the same driver, but doubling the price tag, the Performer Pro (PP) uses a silicone shell and is tuned for stage use vs. the sports tuned SportBud Silver (SS).  The soundstage size is quite similar, as is imaging and focus, but the mid-centric sound signature and more distant perspective of the PP allows for better instrument separation and therefore more resolution to be heard within the soundstage.  Transparency and coherence are superior with the PP while detail levels, clarity, and dynamics are similar.  Note performance isn’t too far off, although the PP has a bit more note sustainment and a slightly tighter overall note.

Bass quantity of the SS is higher but capability is close with the PP holding a slight advantage.  The SS has a warmer tone, but is also brighter with more upper midrange and treble presence.  The mid-centric midrange of the PP and overall more laid-back presentation perspective result in a cleaner overall presentation that allows focusing on vocals, which are more natural in comparison to the more intimate SS.  Divergent quantities of upper midrange and treble lead to a very different feel, and note quality of the PP has a more natural decay resulting in a more convincing performance.

The shell material and tuning differences can help make up for the price difference, and for UK buyers, the Mi-Performer Pro is sold with a one-stop-shop thought process.  If you are looking for something for the stage, want a more laid-back and spacious sound, or just love vocals, the PP is an excellent option while the SportBud Silver is great for use while working out with enhanced bass and a sound that works both with low quality pop tracks and high quality audiophile music.

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Alclair Reference: As the name implied, the Reference is designed as a reference monitor while the SportBud Silver (SS) is deigned for use during work outs.  The soundstage size of the Reference is larger but the proportions are similar for a familiar feel between the two.  The SS images better, but the larger size and better focus of the Reference gives a cleaner sound, and the disparity increases with poor quality tracks.  The Reference is superior in transparency and clarity, but the SS is about on par in dynamics and note capability and is more detailed.

There is more bass being pumped out from the SS with more capability and the tone is a bit warmer, but the Reference is much cleaner in this area.  The midrange of the SS is more up-front in comparison to the much cleaner, distant sounding Reference.  The upper midrange of the SS is a bit more forward and present while the treble of both is similar; however the Reference has a much more refined treble region.

The Reference is a higher performing CIEM that has a cleaner and clearer presentation while the SportBud Silver is designed with plenty of bass and a canal-only design that works better for exercise use.  With a fairly significant price difference, they both serve their own purposes which should make the choice easy.

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Perfect Seal Fusion 11: The Fusion 11 (with the yellow bass ports) has a more laid-back and neutral presentation in comparison with the upfront and punchy SportBud Silver (SS).  The larger presentation space of the Fusion 11 gives a more 3D feel along with a better sense of air while the SS has a bit more in-the-head feel.  Notes are very different as the SS has a quicker average attack and longer decay for a punchier yet thicker sound overall.  The Fusion 11 owns the SS in technical performance with superior dynamic range, transparency, coherence, clarity, resolution within the soundstage is higher, and detail levels, if even by a small margin.

The bass of the SS is turned up in comparison with the Fusion 11 with the yellow port and has a good amount of note sustainment capability, only showing weakness at moderate volume and with tracks that have massive amounts of bass.  However, with a different port, the Fusion 11 bass can easily decimate that of the SS in both quality and quality.  Midrange presentation is quite different, as the SS sounds smaller and more forward with an in-the-head feel compared to the laid-back and more 3D Fusion 11.  Treble is similar in quantity, but the Fusion 11’s more laid-back presentation and smoother, more refined treble gives a perception of less.

These two are quite different in sound signature as the SportBud Silver is upfront, punchy, bass heavy, and immediate compared with the more neutral, refined, and natural Fusion 11.  Also, the Fusion 11 does cost double that of the SS, so they really don’t compete with each other.  The choice between comes down to cost, usage, and sound signature preferences, but getting both will provide a nice compliment.

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EarSonics SM3: The presentation perspective of these two is quite similar, but the frequency response deferrers considerably.  From a perspective standpoint, the SportBud Silver (SS) has a larger presentation space than the more mid-centric SM3 while imaging is close.  The SS has a cleaner and clearer sound with better precision, transparency, and detail levels while dynamics and coherence are similar.  While both have plenty of bass, the SS has more bass and the upper midrange and treble is also more enhanced resulting in a very different tonal experience.

Choosing between the two is relatively easy as the SportBud Silver outperforms the SM3 handily with much better clarity and a more involving and connected experience.  However, the SM3 would be better for those that want a more relaxed presentation and are looking for a mid-centric sound.

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MEElectronics M6: Included purely from a cheap workout alternative perspective, the $250 SportBud Silver (SS) shares the same target audience as the $20 M6.  The SS presents in a more upfront way with much better depth to the presentation that makes the M6 sound flat in comparison.  In comparison, the M6 sounds tonally off with a soundstage that isn’t linear due to the odd integration across the frequency spectrum.  The SS is significantly cleaner, clearer, and more dynamic with way more detail representing a huge difference in performance.

Bass quantity and warmth of the M6 is more prevalent, but the SS is able to sustain deep bass notes with much better control for a much more defined sound.  The midrange really can’t be considered a comparison as the M6 midrange just sounds off in comparison due to its recessed feel, lack of presentation depth, and weak imaging.  The upper midrange and treble of the M6 don’t sound natural in comparison with the SS, which is brighter but much higher in quality.  At louder volumes, the M6 performance worsens quickly and increases the disparity between the two.

With an obviously huge price difference, the M6 offers no competition for the SS if sound quality is important at all.  Sure, the M6 may sound great if you have nothing to compare it with and aren’t used to good sound, but if you are an audio enthusiast, the SportBud Silver is the way to go.

 

SOURCE MATCHING

Portable Sources, DAPs

Sandisk Sansa Clip+: This pairing is very enjoyable and works quite well for gym use.  The soundstage develops a nice 3D presentation space and driver control is decent with similar tonal balance compared with high-end sources.  Detail levels aren’t what they are with better sources, but the pairing is revealing, so if the quality of a track is poor, this combo will let you know. 6/10

Apple iPhone 5: Pairing the SportBud Silver with the iPhone 5 gives pretty good results and is good news for those that use their phones for exercise music.  While not as refined as the Clip+, the iPhone 5 has a bit larger presentation space and a bit fuller bass with a similar tonal balance.  Overall the quality is good, but notes sound rougher.  5/10

Hisoundaudio Nova: This pairing is very inoffensive as the treble is smooth regardless of the track quality, but the punch and bass are reduced compared with the Clip+ and iPhone 5, taking away some of the excitement of the SportBud Silver.  This smoothing makes an overall negative impact to the sound quality. 3.5/10

Fiio X3: The X3 takes the SportBud Silver to a higher level than the iPhone 5 and Clip+ with better dynamics, more detail, and a more spacious overall sound.  7/10

iBasso DX50: The DX50 is a great match with the SportBud Silver, as the bass is well controlled, detail levels are high, the and there is a great sense of space within the 3D soundstage.  The presentation perspective is a bit closer than the Fiio X3, which is not as smooth or refined, but close in detail. 8.5/10

iBasso DX90: The DX90 is a great match for the SportBud Silver, just as the cheaper DX50, but unfortunately the differences are quite small.  The DX90 holds a slight edge in detail level and instrument separation, but the differences are minor and not worth the purchase just for this CIEM. 9/10

iBasso DX100: The DX100 is a great match for the SportBud Silver that builds on the DX50 and DX90 qualities and adds a bit more presentation depth, detail, and control, but the differences aren’t huge. 10/10

 

Portable Sources with Amps

iPhone 5 ->

Tube Amp TA-1: Feeding the Tube Amp TA-1 from the headphone output of the iPhone 5 improved the sound by expanding the soundstage and increasing the instrument separation as well as refining the notes a little.  The differences are not huge, but tangible. 7/10

JDS O2: The O2 pushes the presentation back compared with the iPhone 5 headphone out, resulting in a more laid-back overall sound that shifts from the more immediate and encompassing presentation of the SportBud Silver.  While there is more refinement in the sound, the technical improvements are not large overall, especially in comparison with the change to the sound signature. 5.5/10

 

Source Summary: The SportBud Silver does well with entry level sources and improves as the source improves up to a point.  Incorporating an amp with lower performing sources such as phones can bring improvement, but not a large amount.  The law of diminishing returns is quite strong here, so spending for more than $200-$300 for a source isn’t going to net much in gains.  If the SportBud Silver is destined to be your workout IEM, the SanDisk Clip family or your phone should be sufficient.

Perfect Seal Sportbud Silver canal only custom in-ear monitors

SUMMARY

THL Recommended Badge 2014New headphone companies come around quite often these days, but few truly stand out.  The Perfect Seal SportBud Silver is one of the CIEMs that makes a statement with a great price/performance ratio and a rare canal-only form factor and soft canals.  The presentation is bass-heavy with plenty of treble, but the forward perspective gives a good sense of balance across the frequency spectrum and excellent integration.  Punchy and detailed, the SportBud Silver should open most people’s eyes that are used to lower-cost workout alternatives.  Grab a pair for the gym but beware that they may make your other lower cost earphones and headphones obsolete.

Pros
–       Excellent performance for the price with very good spatial qualities
–       Easy to drive and works well with low-end sources such as phones and SanDisk Clips
–       Canal-only shell design with soft canals helps conceal the SportBud Silver during use

Cons
–       Removal of canal-only earphones requires pulling on the cable, which may damage it over time

See the Perfect Seal SportBud Silver in the Multi-Custom In-Ear Monitors review list

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About Author

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

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