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InEar StageDiver 2 SD-2

InEar StageDiver 2 (SD-2) Review

InEar StageDiver 2 SD-2
Reviewed December 2013

Details: dual-driver custom-inspired earphone from German in-ear monitoring experts InEar
MSRP: 359,00€ (est. $495) (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $450 from (USA); 369€ from (Europe)
Specs: Driver: Dual BA | Imp: 40Ω | Sens: 119 dB | Freq: 20-18k Hz | Cable: 4.6′ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 4.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges, MEElec M6 bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), hearing aid cleansing wipes (3 sets), ¼” adapter, and crushproof hard shell pelican carrying case with carabiner
Build Quality (5/5) – The StageDiver earphones are designed for longevity in professional applications and utilize extremely solid-feeling acrylic housings. Nozzles are protected by color-coded, interchangeable filters. Replacement filters can be purchased separately and come in sets of 15 pairs, complete with storage carousel and filter changing tool. The cable is sturdy and detachable, in the common 2-pin configuration
Isolation (4/5) – Very good even with the stock single-flange eartips
Microphonics (5/5) – No noise in the flexible twisted cable
Comfort (3.5/5) – The housings of the StageDiver earphones were designed based on an overlay of over 500 ear impression scans. The shape is very unique, even among “universalized” custom in-ears, because the shell extends into upper part of the concha. This provides an extremely secure and stable fit but with smaller ears the concha “fin” can exert some pressure on the ear, so I would recommend trying before buying for those with small ears. Note: a more compact version of the StageDiver 2, the StageDiver 2S, is available as of 2014. More info here.

Sound (9.3/10) – The StageDiver 2 uses a 2-way, dual-armature configuration. Unlike its triple-driver sibling, the SD-2 is tuned for a balanced sound and impresses first and foremost with its impressive end-to-end extension.

The bass of the SD-2 is very level, offering slightly more overall presence than sets such as the Etymotic Research ER4S and VSonic VC1000. Compared to these, the SD-2 has a warmer tone, a-la HiFiMan’s RE-400, but still sounds pretty neutral overall. Its bass has very natural punch and excellent extension, maintaining presence all the way down.

The midrange of the SD-2 is well-positioned, coming across as neither recessed nor forward. Thanks to the natural and fleshed-out low end, the SD-2 never sounds mid-centric the way the HiFiMan RE-400 sometimes can. The StageDiver set also has more natural bass impact and depth than the Custom Art Music One while maintaining similar clarity and note thickness. The added bass makes the SD-2 appear less mid-focused than the Music One, but the note thickness keeps it from sounding mid-recessed or lacking midrange presence.

The top end of the SD-2 maintains a good balance of presence and smoothness. It’s not as bright as dual-driver earphones based on the Knowles TWFK driver, such as the Fischer Audio DBA-02 and VSonic VC1000, and as a result is not at all prone to harshness or sibilance. At the same time, it isn’t lacking in extension and has decent energy, resulting in a more balanced treble presentation than, for example, with the RE-400. For me personally, a little more treble energy wouldn’t be a negative but the SD-2 follows a treble curve that’s safe and comfortable, staying true to its stage-friendly name by avoiding listening fatigue.

The presentation of the StageDiver 2 is above average in size, reminding me of the EarSonics SM64. Both width and depth are excellent and the earphones sound very cohesive and natural, no doubt a result of the solid end-to-end extension and clarity across the entire frequency spectrum. Stereo imaging doesn’t leave anything to complain about, either.

Select Compasisons

InEar StageDiver 3 ($590)

The two StageDiver models share a very strong family resemblance – in fact, it’s tough to pick the better earphone between the two of them. The triple-driver SD-3 offers more bass presence, which is especially noticeable in the subbass region. Its bass is extremely deep and provides some of the best impact I’ve heard from a universal-fit BA earphone without giving up any bass quality to the SD-2. The SD-2, in comparison, has less punch, as well as less rumble and power.

As a result of the added bass presence, the SD-3 sounds a little warmer overall. The SD-2, on the other hand, appears a touch clearer and more neutral. Its presentation is less thick and full-bodied compared to the SD-3 but I found its balance to produce a more natural sound. Tonally, the SD-2 is a little brighter due to its lack of bass bias. The soundstages of the two earphones are very similar with the SD-3 sometimes sounding a little more forward and aggressive thanks to its bass emphasis and slightly more present lower mids. 

HiFiMan RE-400 ($99) 

The RE-400, a sub-$100 dynamic-driver earphone, is highly reminiscent of the StageDiver 2 in sound signature, though there is a substantial gap in performance in favor of the SD-2. The SD-2 has a touch more bass than the RE-400, with the difference being more apparent in the subbass region. It is also clearer and slightly more resolving, and boasts more treble energy while still remaining extremely smooth and non-fatiguing, beating HiFiMan at their own game. The RE-400, on the other hand, has more forward mids and sounds a little too focused on its midrange. The soundstage of the RE-400 also appears a little too forward and flat next to the spacious and well-layered StageDiver.

VSonic GR07 ($179)

Comparing the SD-2 to the GR07, one of my favorite sets in its price range, leaves no doubt as to the StageDiver’s superiority. Most apparent is that the SD-2 produces a clearer sound with tighter bass. The GR07 sounds bassier, with mids that appear recessed in comparison. The treble of the GR07 sounds splashy and exaggerates sibilance whereas the SD-2 is much smoother. Overall, the SD-2 sounds more neutral and more natural, making the GR07 seem colored in comparison.

Clear Tune Monitors CT-200 ($350)

The CT-200 is a dual-driver custom-fit monitor from Florida-based Clear Tune Monitors. The most noticeable difference between the SD-2 and CT-200 is in bass performance – the bass of the StageDiver is greater in quantity, extends much better into the sub-bass region, and sounds a great deal more effortless. The CT-200 lacks the more natural bass impact of the SD-2. In the midrange, the CT-200 sounds a touch clearer and has more presence in the upper mids. The SD-2 has less upper midrange presence and a darker overall tone. The CT-200 also has a slightly wider headstage, sounding more out-of-the-head overall.

Alclair Reference ($399)

The Alclair Reference is a 3-driver custom monitor with a “reference” sound signature. In many ways its performance is comparable to that of the SD-2 – bass quantity is about on par and while the Reference has slightly more recessed mids, clarity is similar between the two except at high volumes, where the Reference wins out. Tonally, the Reference is brighter and more peaky compared to the very smooth StageDiver. Its treble is hotter and more splashy, and sibilance is exaggerated compared to the SD-2. The treble of the SD-2 has less energy than I like, but still sounds more natural to me overall. The Reference has a wide soundstage similar to the SD-2 but boasts slightly better imaging.

Value (8.5/10) – One of the most well-rounded earphones I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying, the InEar StageDiver 2 amazes with its all-round accuracy, exhibiting tight bass control, level mids, and a good balance between treble presence and smoothness. It can go toe-to-toe with any universal monitor in my collection and provides a compelling upgrade for popular mid-priced sets such as the HiFiMan RE-400. Construction quality on-par with custom in-ears only further substantiates the price tag of these German-made wonders.

Pros: Well-balanced and extremely capable sound; stellar build quality
Cons: While very secure, fit can be tight in smaller ears



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Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.


44 Responses

  1. Based on theheadphone list review of the Fiio x5 iii, which I find a little warm also, would the SD2 be a good match or is it still going to be too warm?

  2. Depends on your preference, they’re quite similar to each other in sound. IM02 is usually a better value option because of the cost difference and the more compact/comfortable form factor (unless you also consider the SD-2S). If you think you’ll be comfortable with the larger housings of the SD-2 and the cost is the same then it comes down to whether you want a slightly darker tuning (IM02) or a slightly more full and robust midrange (SD-2). But again the sound differences are extremely minor compared to the form factor and design difference.

  3. Definitely not a night and day difference – they all have the same sort of balanced, mildly treble-shy (compared to something like an Ety) sound. More similar than different for sure.

  4. Hey joker, I got a deal to get the In ear stagediver 2 for the same price as an im02.I was wondering which one should I get, and what are the differences

  5. It’s interesting that from some reviews this has the same driver and other electronics as ATH-IM02 and Westone W20. So it’s really interesting if the sound does differ much.

  6. I think it’s fair to say that the IE80 and SD3 have a good number of similarities – in the most general sense they are both tuned with a warm, enhanced-bass sound that is also quite level through the midrange and treble. They have a similar amount of bass boost and both are rich- and smooth-sounding overall.

  7. the Sennheiser IE80 is having dynamic drivers, so completely different from the SD2 – SD3, but from what I did read over time it looks a have the IE80 and SD3 a lot in common, what do you think, or any other who have both?

  8. The SD-3 pretty much is an SD-2 with an extra subwoofer. Unfortunately the extra bass does what you expect and lowers the clarity in the midrange, but that’s a normal result of cranking up the bass. For me the EarSonics Velvet pulls off that sound signature better (just as much bass but less clarity sacrifice) and is also more comfortable thanks to its smaller footprint in the ear. However, a $600+ IEM might be overkill as a headphone to use with a phone, but that’s between you and your wallet.

    Not familiar with the P1 yet, though I think I’ll get one through InnerFidelity eventually.

  9. Hello!
    Is there any iem like sd2 but not as flat? Especially Id get more bass slam and that would be it. Rest is very nice for me.
    I tried various iems and I liked sd2 and final audio heaven V most from what I remember.
    I dont like IE8, Westone 3 signatures. Want better clarity and airness at the top end.
    Im thinking of mee audio pinnacle P1 but you probably havent heard it yet?
    Comfort is very important for me thats why Im thinking of westone like shapes.
    I will be using it only fron Samsung S6.without any additional stuff. Its good source but has weak amp so iem should not be hard to drive.

  10. The design is a big problem to me because I mostly use the iem on the go. The Sony does offer enough isolation. My gear is the X3 II. Thank you for your response.

  11. While the SD-2 fits your requirements in being a rather smooth-sounding earphone, the GR07 has a little more bass enhancement in comparison and is significantly more compact than the (full-size) SD-2. Not sure how the SD-2S compares to that but I would not recommend the SD-2 if your right ear is physically fatigued by the GR07 housing.

    Even something with a less “in-ear” fit, like the Sony MDR-7550, would be a better option as it positions the bulk of the earphone outside of the ear where it’s less likely to cause fatigue. The 7550 happens to have a bit more GR07-like bass weight as well.

  12. I am a GR07 classic and DT 1350 user. Do you think that the SD2 is a good upgrade to the GR07? I think that the bass presentation on the GR07 is enough to me, and I would like to have an IEM that has the same amount of bass as the GR07 and smoother sound like the DT 1350. By the way, if the SD2 is a good upgrade, should I buy the original version or the smaller version? The GR07 fits well on my left ear but my right ear feel a bit of pain after wearing it for a while. Thank you.

  13. The SD-2 is overall more balanced while maintaining a slightly warmer-than-neutral tone (like the W4). The biggest differences are the lack of a mid-bass hump on the SD-2 (the W4 has one, and it reduces the Westones’ clarity slightly) and the lack of an upper midrange dip. Again, the Westones have one and it does reduce harshness and sibilance but doesn’t do the overall accuracy any favors.

    So don’t expect the SD-2 to sound exactly like the W4, but if you don’t mind just keeping a similar tone while moving a bit in the “more accurate” direction on the whole, the SD-2 should do well.

  14. Hello ! I’m looking for a replacement for my Westone 4 because of cable cut and i can’t find a modder near where i live (Paris) for making the cable replaceable. From what i read, the W4 and the SD-2 seem to have the same sound signature. Is the SD-2 a good replacement or are there better alternatives?

  15. Yes, you’re right – the RHA sound is more Fidelio X2 than HD600.

    I would be interested to know if you experience any hiss/noise as well.

  16. After a lot of pondering I think I might go for the RHA T20, because of that fun sound. Something more similar to the Fidelio X2 than the HD600 in headphones. I think your review gave very good idea what they sound like and for general purpose use sounds like a good compromise. Just worried about hiss, but only with testing will know for sure.

  17. The S535 would be the closest to what you want – the UE900, W30, W20 can’t really be called warm and smooth since they’re on the brighter and/or flatter side. Not sure about the FA-4E, never tried it. The SE535 is sensitive to hiss, though. The SD-2 less so, I think, but it’s still a sensitive BA earphone so don’t expect it to kill hiss like the SE215 or Phonaks.

    The MA750 is probably not the right move as it takes you further away from the more balanced sound of the Phonaks, rather than closer to it. I do consider it an SE215 upgrade, though.

  18. I was just reading your review of the T20 and the hiss might be a problem with my Sony Walkman which is prone to hiss. I should have said that my active use, means using it outside on the move, not sports. I swopped the silicons on the PFE for the Shure Olives and found that with the proper seal it has pretty tasty bass. Not as light as I remember. The Stagediver SD-2 seems to be the best option currently as it has had very good reviews from all over the net – including you!
    Anything else you can recommend I look at?
    Ultimate Ears UE 900s, Westone W30/W20, Fischer Amps FA-4E, Shure SE535( heard these might be sensitive to hiss).also seems to be good alternatives.
    Would the RHA750 be an sufficient upgrade to the SE215?
    Thank you very much for your time. You are a fantastic resource and a boon to the IEM buyer!

  19. I am not sure the SD-2 will be great for active use. It’s an odd shape, not as ergonomic as an SE215, and I don’t think it’s sweat resistant. Filters may get clogged up, although they are replaceable. The T20 probably isn’t sweat resistant either but its filters aren’t likely to get clogged, plus you can just take them off to clean them and then put them back on.

    As for sound, the SD-2 is quite flat with slightly laid-back treble. It won’t give you much more bass depth than the PFE, but it’s a little more full-bodied so the bass won’t get lost as easily in the noise. The T20 has more bass impact than the SE215 but the bass is well-controlled. It also has a lot more upper midrangbe/lower treble presence for a more energetic, v-shaped sound compared to the SE215 and SD-2. Overall it’s just a very fun and lively IEM. The T10 is super bass-heavy and not something I personally recommend.

  20. I am looking for something that’s has a warm smooth sound,but more refined than the SE215 with better extension in both directions. The SE215 has been excellent with its fit and isolation. It almost never pops out of my ears no matter what activities I do. The PFE are bit bass light for on the go usage and since its average isolation does not help, although that is very comfortable IEM. For active use the filters do seems to clog up. I am looking for an upgrade as those days most of my listening is when I am active outside. Here in Europe I prefer to buy from because of its 3 year warranty. RHA also has 3 year warranty. The new T20 or T10 perhaps? Thank you for our insights.

  21. That sounds about right to me but keep in mind the SD-2 also has pretty forward mids. The bass is not enhanced like the SE215, definitely closer to the PFE than SE215 but a little more full-bodied (I think it would be closer to the PFE with the green filters, but it’s been a while since I’ve heard those).

    Treble is quite smooth and maybe even a little dull/laid-back. Not rolled-off, but otherwise more SE215 than PFE. Mids, as I said above, are the focus of the SD-2, maybe even a little too forward for some. That’s not really the case with Phonak earphones or the SE215.

    It would be a good upgrade to the SE215 if you were looking specifically for a more balanced sound that still maintains the a slightly warm tone and forgiving highs. With different criteria there may be better options.

  22. Would this be a good, clear upgrade to the Shure SE215? I also have the Phonak PFE with black filters. Seems like the SD2 could fall somewhere in between these 2. More bass than PFE and less bass than SE215. What do you think?

  23. Thank you for the insight LjokerL. Will look into those IEMs.. Looks like an upgrade would cost an arm and a leg 😉

  24. Sorry, never tried it. There’s actually not many customs that I’ve tried that have the same sort of smooth, warmish-neutral sound as the SD-2 – Music One (not an upgrade unless you find the SD-2 too warm for you), Heir Audio 8.A (tough to justify the price), Westone ES5 (also tough to justify the price), and maybe the Gorilla Ears GX-4b (too bassy in comparison).

  25. Hello! I am currently a very satisfied user of the SD-2, but am looking to venture into owning my first CIEM. Would the Custom Art Music Two be considered an worthy upgrade?

  26. Thanks for the suggestions.

    I once owned the RE-262 which to my ears lacked too much treble and therefore clarity. For me it didn’t separate well.
    As a Grado follower, I need a certain degree of treble energy for music to sound ‘right’ to my ears.

    I’ll look into the DN2000, as it too seems interesting.
    Do you guys agree that the UERM is an ER4s upgrade?


  27. That’s correct, soundstaging is not one of the ER4’s strong suits, and clarity isn’t one of the SD-2’s.

    You’re in a funny spot here because you don’t want something that will be so different from the ER4 that it will be impossible to switch comfortably, but you also wouldn’t want something that’s too close to the ER4 to really be a serviceable alternative.

    Some of the better high-end sets fall between the SD-2 and ER4 in sound signature – the AudioFly AF180, for instance, or even the Ultimate Ears 900 – but you run the risk of them being close enough to the Etys that you start comparing them against each other.

    I personally would be tempted to get a more v-shaped set for my ER4 compliment – the opposite direction from the ER4’s sound signature than the smoother more, midrange-focused SD-2. Something with enhanced bass and bright treble, for instance the DUNU DN-2000 or FLC Technology FLC8:

    However, you mentioned jazz and vocals, which would not be served better by this type of sound than by an SD-2.

  28. Thanks for the reply, ljokerl.

    An aspect which I remember surprising me most about the SD2, was the soundstage and the placement and layering.
    At that time I had not yet auditioned the ER4s. But I still suppose (from memory) that the SD2 has better placement and soundstage presence, while the ER4 has better perceived clarity due to treble extension.
    I didn’t initially commit to a purchase because, as you said, the SD2 lacks treble energy (now owning the ER4s, this is no longer an issue).

    For me the SD2 and the ER4s would probably be the go-to combination to cover all genres of music until they would eventually be joined by the UERM.

    Are there any other iems which you would consider to be a suitable counterpart to the ER4s / a good complement, outside of the SD2’s soundsignature?
    Am I correct in my understanding that the SD2 and SD2s are identical in terms of sound output and only differ in terms of fit?

    Thanks again.

  29. For this type of sound – fairly flat bass/mids with a warm tone and good body, smooth, slightly laid-back treble – I haven’t tried anything better than the SD-2 yet. You can certainly find similarly-capable earphones with tuning more distantly removed from the ER4 but I don’t really have an alternative to recommend for a fairly close, warmer-sounding earphone that’s still quite accurate.

  30. Hi THL Team,
    I am currently considering buying a pair of SD2 (at half the MSRP) to complement my ER4s .
    Although I really like my ER4s for their clear, extended, ‘smooth’ (as in non-spiky) treble, I find that they lack the body and warmth for certain genres of music (jazz, blues, male vocals…).

    I auditioned the SD2 one year back and found it to be a warm iem with a (very) surprising soundstage. While not sacrificing the technical proficiency i am used from my ER4s.

    Would you guys recommend the SD2 as a warm brother to the ER4s? What are your thoughts / options…

    Thanks a lot guys.

  31. Tough question to answer not being an iPhone user. Probably not absolute full potential but based on the experiences I’ve had with the 4th- 6th gen iPhones I’d say you’ll get very close. The SD-2 is not a tough earphone to drive.

  32. Can’t comment on that specifically as I have no experience with those amps or others from the current crop of popular ones. In general the SD-2 is quite efficient so benefits from amping are not going to be huge.

  33. hi there, do you have a recommendation for a portable amp that would work well between an RWAK100 and the SD2? I agree with your review that the treble rolls off slightly (but still has decent energy) and I feel in general the soundstage could be a bit more wider and deeper. Would something like an ALO portable amp (National, International, RX Mk3) provide what’s missing here? or should I move on to other IEMs?

  34. They don’t sound anything alike. The SD-2 is warm and smooth, with little bass enhancement, prominent mids, and slightly relaxed treble. The DN-2000 is v/u-shaped with enhanced deep bass, not so forward mids, and bright treble.

  35. Maybe I will get to check the SD-1 out. Would love to try the smaller StageDiver form factor :).

    And thanks, I really appreciate that!

  36. And please if you have time , try the SD-1 as well , it’s a cheaper model with only one driver but the same trusty build , same superb eye candy aesthetic . I’m curious how they would fare with others in the same price range, also it’s siblings , that look and build definitely will make it standout , now if it also sings well for the bucks …
    I know you get this a lot , but I still have to say thank you for all your effort to bring people closer to high quality audio world , importantly help them make a great choice from thousands of offers on the market.
    I don’t know how to put this but you’re like one of the best person on head-fi , I know and appreciate others have done great things to help members ,…etc ,etc they are great and all but you are really awesome ! 😀

  37. Good to know! I’ll try to find out if any tuning changes have been made with the smaller model and update accordingly.

  38. Inear Stagediver has introduced the S version on 3 SD model for small ears . Hope you can edit your review to mention this , because from what I read the only cons of this beauty is there MIGHT be problem with fit for people with small ears !
    Also hope you will review the SD-1 of them some day soon !

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