Earsonics Stark – Rockin’ !

If you're looking for an IEM that can satisfy the basshead in you with a physical, powerful well extended controlled and fast bass, smooth mids with clear vocals as well as exciting but never harsh treble then you're in for a treat with Earsonics Stark especially on Rock and Metal! If your music genre preferences lies elsewhere then why not look at its all rounder little brother Blade?

Pros

  • Black background makes up for great note contrast
  • Very powerful, fast and well controlled bass
  • Energetic well extended treble with good speed
  • Remarkably low distorsion
  • Very good resolution and good imaging
  • Superb build quality with great isolation and good stock cable

Cons

  • Shallow fit might be an issue for some, tip selection is key to secure fit
  • Stark features a bit of a specialized signature (but excels at what it does best)

Product page : http://www.earsonics.com/in-ear-monitors/en/stark/

Price : 1390€

Fit, Build & Isolation

The new hybrid lineup is a new form factor altogether for Earsonics universal IEMs : the inner part of the shell is acrylic while the faceplate is metal. Both Blade an Stark feature the same build, metal color is the only difference between the two. This is a clear departure from the legacy line up, the build quality is flawless and the Stark looks as sturdy as it comes both the metal obviously but the acrylic as well. It’s much heavier IEM than previous generations. 

Fit was somewhat complicated for me, as is the case for shallower fitting IEM given my quite large and deep ear canal. Even my usual Flare Earfoams did the trick but on the go while moving it was not perfectly secure. Obviously your mileage will vary on this front but a secure and comfortable fit was only achieved with the silicon custom tips from Custom Art. On the flip side the shell density certainly does wonder for isolation and the Stark isolates much more than average provided you have a seal it’s just as good as my customs. Weight is well above average but balanced enough that it wasn’t an issue for me.

Introduction

From its very beginning, Earsonics has always been associated with products targeted at pros : musicians, sound engineers and singers. They quickly gained a big share of the French pro market for customs but Earsonics became also well known in he audiophile world for its universal IEMs since the SM3 bestseller.I know the SM3 v2 was the first Earsonics model I owned and then I went on with the Velvet, the S-EM6 and S-EM9. I also own both their pro flagship custom the EM64 and the EM10 in the audiophile range. I have auditioned but do not own the Purple and the Grace, both universal inheriting quite a bit from their custom counterparts. 

For the new generation Earsonics elected not only to totally change the build with a combination of metal and acrylic, but also – a first for the brand – no less than two hybrids offering featuring its first (8mm) dynamic driver. Stark is the flaghsip offering of the new hybrid lineup and I was curious about the tuning choices Frank Lopez had done and what the dynamic driver would bring to the table. Stark is described on Earsonics product page as « promoting high performance and level of detail while remaining musical and natural. ». 

How does Stark sounds and does it hold its promise?

Let’s see!

Sound

The very first listen was a bit of a puzzle for me, as the bass was really overpowering the signature. I only had a couple dozen of hours of burn in on a fresh unit so I figured extra burn in was needed for things to settle but with a similar burn in period Blade didn’t exhibit the issue and they share the same dynamic driver unit. I put it back on burn in to reach a hundred hours.

Stark is aptly named. The first impression after this was still of a powerful and prominent but much more controlled bass. For all the greatness of both my EM64 and EM10, there is no way it can push air like a dynamic driver and it shows. Stark will bring joy to bassheads with tight, powerful, controlled bass. Stark has indeed more bass impact than the smoother Blade, but also more treble presence especially in the upper treble section.

Stark is logically more extended than its brother with an extra BA both for medium and treble. The soundstage is more expanded especially a bit taller but more importantly quite deeper. Vocals are clear but farther away and for vocal genres Blade is more engaging but Stark is more adept at Rock and Metal with its powerful bass and more bite in the treble section. Of particular note is a remarkable black background that makes up for very good contrast and Stark has an even more vivid presentation.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into Stark signature ! 

Bass

Stark has a strong bass presence and it does clearly define its signature. It features superb sub bass extension and presence, there is a lot of control and great power. Aphex Twin “Ageispolis” sub bass has great and satisfying physicality, highly engaging. Kat Frankie “Too Young” and Santa Esmeralad “Don’t let me be misunderstood” was another great example of Stark’s power upper in the bass range with a strong rythmic baseline.

In what I think is its predilection genre, Stark does a great job on Free “All right now”, the kick drum provides a powerful toe tapping rythmic foundation to this song. Queen’s “Another one bites the dust” or INXS “Devil inside” are other fine examples of Stark’s ability to convey a very powerful bass line. This works also great with stuff like Rage against the machine “Take the power back” and I found myself going through music genres that I have left on the side for the past few years, rekindling with playlist from my youth. The note attack is tack sharp and explosive and the (smallish) 8mm driver is also quite fast infusing great pace, rythm and timing.

Mids

Stark mids are a clear departure from what is dubbed the Earsonics house sound in the sense that it’s much less mid focused than most Earsonics IEMs. To be honest, it took me a bit of getting used to and I had to spend a bit more time figuring out Stark mids.

The midrange takes a back seat to the much more present bass and treble, the mids do features peaks to highlight vocals, electric guitar, kick drum, snares and hi hats. I enjoyed classic rock like Van Morrisson “Brown Eyed Girl” better than say one of my favorite piece of Jazz like John Coltrane “Equinox”. Not that Stark is “bad” on Jazz but I do like more bite on brass instruments and more sizzle on cymbals where Stark felt too smooth.

Interestingly vocal centric tracks highlight another side of Stark and James Blake “Vincent” or Etta James “At last” both sound great which confirms the emphasis on vocals both female and male. Both tracks are as emotional as they should be. This is less true with a bit more instrument heavy track such as Anthony and the Johnson’s “Fistful of love”, Anohni Hegarty’s voice is a bit taken over by the band instruments.

Treble

Stark treble is key to balancing its powerful bass section : the treble is both energetic and well extended, providing more air and resolution than its little brother the Blade.

Lower treble is energetic and vibrant, snare drums are crisp cymbals with nice overtones and hi hats have good sizzle. In Radiohead “Creep”, Jonny Greenwood famous guitar tweaks is pure pleasure with the Stark with satisfying snap and sheen. The Whitest Boy Alive “Fireworks” was also one of those songs I loved with the Stark, Erlend Øye guitar is energetic and clear contrasting nicely to Marcin Öz bass line and Stark does a great job with this kind of tracks, conveying a lot of energy and rythm. GoGo Penguin’s “Raven” and Yusef Lateef “Bishop Schools” show that Stark has very good treble speed, contributing to its great PRaT.

Verdict

As a long standing fan of Earsonics IEMs, I was really curious what to expect from the introduction of dynamic drivers as the EM10 and EM64, but also the S-EM9 are more than able to hold their own in the bass department. Earsonics masters balanced armatures as well as the best in the business, what does Stark bring to the table that the all BA lineup can’t? I think you figured out that the aptly named Stark is a powerful IEM, that takes it a notch further than the EM10 in term of pure bass physicality and the EM10 is no slouch to begin with.

I have mentioned it and the tracks I have mentioned should make this clear, Stark is rockin’! It’s a bit of the suprising thing in the hybrid lineup but Earsonics chose to tune Stark a bit more specifically than the Blade which is more of a “calmer” all rounder and its bigger brother is the unruly one.

If you’re looking for an IEM that can satisfy the basshead in you with a physical, powerful well extended controlled and fast bass, smooth mids with clear vocals as well as exciting but never harsh treble then you’re in for a treat with Earsonics Stark especially on Rock and Metal! If your music genre preferences lies elsewhere then why not look at its all rounder little brother Blade?

Listening notes
I spent approximately 40 hours with the Stark, listening on Lotoo PAW Gold Touch using the stock cable, ISN AG8 and PW Audio n°10 upgrade cables. 

Special Thanks
Thanks to Max at Earsonics for providing a review unit of the Stark As usual, this review is my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review. 

Accessories

  • STARK with  4C HI-RES cable
  • 4 Comply tips (various sizes)
  • 8 silicon tips
  • (various sizes)
  • Cleaning tool
  • Carrying box
  • User manual

Specifications

  • Sensitivity: 125 dB/mW
  • Frequency response: 10 Hz -20 kHz
  • DCR: 18,5 ohms
  • Drivers: 1 DDynamic, 4 BA drivers  with 3 way crossover.

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