The Earsonics STARK is their flagship 5 driver monitor of their new ‘Hybrid’ universal IEM series featuring 1 dynamic and 5 BA. It is priced at €1390.
Disclaimer: The Earsonics STARK sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Earsonics for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about Earsonics products reviewed on Headfonics click here.
France is known for its far-famed luxury brands Chanel, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hermes… And when it comes to their crème de la crème earphone products? It would be Earsonics.
Since 2005 Earsonics has been delivering potent stage monitors 100% made in France. Some early models including the SM3 have enjoyed great fame in the audiophile community during the time of TF10pro, Westone W3, to name but a few.
The brand owner Franck Lopez plays as a musician himself and with a lot of field tests Earsonics achieves great musicality and precision with their IEMs.
Earsonics’s build has been upgraded all the way from the plastic molded housing on SM3 series to handcrafted resin on the S-EM series. Audiophiles are never contented and in 2020 Earsonics pull off to making their most engineered IEM up to date, the first time we see the hybrid structure and metallic housings from the company.
The very heavily machined STARK model dresses in full-metallic chassis encasing their signature 3-way crossover, a premium overhaul on design aesthetics from the rather fragile plastic housings on the SM3 when I first encounter this brand.
The STARK is molded from zinc and magnesium alloy, specifically chosen and anodized to withstand oxidation and shock that helps reduce distortion from mechanical vibration and magnetizing effects. This doubles as an acoustical chamber and a mechanical filter, avoiding the use of electronic dampers that impairs sonic performance.
Earsonics shows off machining precision with an extruded logo finely machined on the faceplate, without compromising design details in the inside. Internally, Earsonics have cerated an acrylic skeleton structure, fusing 3-way hybrid technology with an 8mm wide dynamic driver handling the lows and 2 dual balanced armatures that cover mids and treble respectively.
The acrylic inner frame optimizes the positioning of different drivers for perfect phase alignment and helps to fine-tune the sound by way of the material’s acoustical characteristics.
EVS and FUSION technologies
Earsonics implements their own EVS(ergonomic versatile shell) and FUSION technologies in the crossover impedance corrector to align phases in driver’s output to optimize musicality. This refers to the housing as an acoustic chamber for tuning and the electronic circuit designs that minimize electrical phase problems.
According to Earsonics all their R’n’D and assembly are done in France. It is always impressive to experience a fully home-grown product so let us see how the Earsonics interprets how a hybrid flagship monitor should sound.
The STARK does look well-engineered enough for me to think it is from Stark industries. The housing consists of two colors, smooth silver on the lid and a gun-metal brown body. The faceplate has a very masculine, machined design. There are some slight molding marks but overall the build is solid and feels smooth and premium.
Truth be told I wasn’t too happy with the build on their early releases and this is a huge leap.
There aren’t any filters in front of the nozzle, and the nozzle relies on a friction fit to hold the tips in place. You can see vents on the edge, most likely the air vent to control bass response for the dynamic driver.
A new “4C HI-RES” cable comes with the STARK. This is a 4-core wire braided into forming a very soft or pliant cable with over-molded parts on the 3.5mm end. I like the 90-degrees 3.5mm plug finishing and you will find no ear-hooks on the other end. This cable is great for those who wear glasses but I am not sure if it will be more prone to sweat damage.
Some Earsonics users may remember the experience when purchasing an upgrade cable only to find out that polarity is inverted (or you may not have noticed this) Polarity! Sadly, that is still the same case here for the STARK so you will have to buy a set of converters (qdc 2-pin converters will work here also).
Comfort & Isolation
The STARK is ergonomically designed, the fit is great and I can’t feel any pressure from the cable. The size of the IEM is considered small to medium and could easily fit any ears.
The insertion is not too deep and there is no discomfort having it on for a few hours, nor does it fall out itself, although it does feel a bit hefty. The isolation is on par with most hybrid IEms given that it is vented for the dynamic driver. Not quite as good as all BA designs that do not rely on venting.
Packaging and Accessories
Earsonics always have one of the better unboxing experiences and you can check out previous Earsonics creations from Marcus’s reviews on the Purple & Grace. Taking away the outer sleeve you will reach an inner box with two windows. You can’t access the IEMs immediately but you could peep through and look at them.
To reach the deeply buried IEM inside you will have to open the drawer and slide out the compartment. The selections of tips carry case and the STARK unit are displayed neatly inside. This is a very tasteful layout. The full lineup of accessories is as follows:
- 4 Comply tips (various sizes)
- 8 silicon tips (various sizes)
- Cleaning tool
- Carrying box
- User manual
Stark Sound Impressions
Earsonics has a small chart on their website to explain the performance and tuning of their flagship. From official data, the signature of the STARK looks quite balanced with a small recession in the lower mids likely to further boost vocal clarity. The upper frequencies seem to get more attention and are weighted more.
Earsonics also highlights the performance in detail, accompanied by some excellent stereo imaging and staging capability.
Plugged it into my phone it is the familiar Earsonics house tuning but at the same time, there is something different from previous models with a far heftier dynamic driver bass quality.
There is a solid density to the sound and it is the first time I hear intensive bass rumble on an Earsonics IEM. The low-end is smooth and punchy but not an analytical type of sound at all. You can feel some slight recession in the lower mids as suggested by Earsonics. Out of the box, the bass is quite overwhelming so it can overpower anything positioned below 1k.
As a usual practice, we gave the STARK a good run in to stabilize to optimize the drivers. Ideally, we want to possibly out the vocal as well as trim down the bass bloom. After about 50 hours you will hear the bass tightening up with improved layering after some good run in and by the time I am writing impressions I have more than 100 hours playback time with various burn-in materials.
Moderate Source Pairings
The STARK looks metallic but it is not the clinical monitor sound I Imagined. Earsonics pulled the creamy presentation from their SM3 and the clean, detailed performance from S-EM9, garnished with a warm, impactful and dynamic DD bass.
Putting the STARK on phone and laptops, the bass and subs have a strong presence. The slow attack sounds euphoric for rhythmic, relaxing tracks and you are not going to miss the intimate drum kick and bass impact.
The dynamic driver changes the polite presentation we are used to hearing on Earsonics earphones. The low-end has a much beefier mid-low presence with a defined hump around 200hz that delivers a lot more body to the lower end.
The vocal is clear but slightly pushed backward with good warmth and a bit of sparkle. Overall, the treble is not aggressive but sparkles a bit above 5k. It is not as crispy as the Rai Penta but it does help to boost clarity and openness.
With most songs, nothing gets too hot and you can clearly tell it is a hybrid with the power in the bass. Despite vocals sounding slightly compressed and fat when the dynamic struggles under lower power, nothing is really lacking. There is a fair amount of separation and good space rendered.
The overall presentation is warm and full, I am already quite sure basshead or club music lovers will enjoy the power it delivers. Time to fuel this metallic beast will perform with more mW in the source!
Stronger Source Pairings
The rather underpowered and overwhelming bass on phones and weaker DAPs hints that STARK needs more juice to reveal its true performance and to open up the staging.
The subs do not blanket over the mids now, there is more air in the mid-treble range and staging is further enhanced. The transition from the dynamic driver into the faster BA region is also more subtle now with more speed in the dynamic driver’s output.
The buttery dense bass complements the detailed and tight mid-treble. It feels more like a big pair of monitoring speakers in a mixing room with good acoustic dampers.
I am having a sense of Déjà vu like listening to the Genelec 8060 which is also built with heavy metallic chassis and has huge but controlled bass. You can hear the bass instruments clearly defined even when you are walking outdoor in a busy street.
Stereo imaging on the STARK is excellent with instruments clearly panned all around laterally. Listening to piano works has been too polite on previous Earsonics model but this time you can feel the weight of the hammer and the bass decaying into the ambiance, especially when you switch to higher gain, while older Earsonics model may put your focus in the mids.
Bass guitar, strings ensembles are rich, forwarded and detailed with a great fullness around 200Hz. Listening to a double bass solo in the Pirates Of The Caribbean theme songs the tight, solid lower-end frequencies gave me goosebumps.
While vocal works sound clear and unaltered, the vocal is not too rounded but it sounds natural and transparent which joins up nicely with the rich bass. The vocal is still very slightly recessed, centered and doesn’t come as close as the lower-pitching instruments. This is probably due to the faster attack in the bass with more control, but now it matches better with the bass.
The tuning works very well with instrumentals and brings some older pops and jazzes to life. It also gives you the old-school vibe listening to retro JPOP. For example, Monkey Majik – Spade (Album), where the instruments are lively and the vocals are righteously rendered with good weight and power.
If there is something to complain it would be female vocals being slightly pushed back. There would be better articulation if female vocals had more weight but it is traded for velvety smoothness.
On the spec sheet written by Earsonics, the STARK is designed not to be heavily damped. The IEM reaches 125dB/mW SPL and an average 18.5Ω impedance, quite sensitive and slightly more impedance than normal IEMs.
With mainly balanced armatures inside the STARK gets loud easily on phones and on small DAPs such as the Shanling M1 also Bluetooth receivers such as the BTR5. On most devices, you will hear a quiet background.
The 8mm dynamic driver keeps up to the speed of BAs and offers a solid bass attack. However, you will experience more control in the low-end when you switch to higher outputs.
The STARK performs well with most sources and the dynamic driver’s performance scales up in resolution and control with higher-end DAPs/ DACs. With my iPhone, it adds more energy to the lows and it balances out the thinner signature, it sounds fairly balanced outdoor on my Macbook Pro and performs decently well.
DAP & Amp Synergy
With a 3-way design, The STARK offers good separation and imaging without the phasing being messed up. When sufficiently powered, the dynamic driver catches up with the BAs’ speed. Although it is not as resolving as some TOTL high-BA-count designs it is definitely denser whilst still sounding well-articulated and coherent.
Putting it on FiiO M11 Pro’s 3.5mm output the bass is impactful and fast though not as tight as on the R6 Pro and Chord’s Hugo 2. The presentation is smooth and full with good power for male vocals and saxophones. However, it is a bit soft though the speed on the DD helps retain above average resolution.
There is a small hump in the lower bass and a very slight roll-off while the vocal is slightly laid back. It is not too obvious during casual listening but can sound boomy on intensive listening when you pair the STARK with sources that have fatter bass.
Generally, it is a fun and engaging sound though I wish there could be more control. That is when you should roll cables and move to 4.4mm balanced output. On the HUGO 2 and Lotoo Paw Touch, it sounds a lot more balanced with more details and texture, especially in the mids.
However, I still prefer pairing the STARK with desktop amps such as the RME ADI 2 on a higher gain, which will maximize the dynamic driver’s potential and give better control and dynamics.
STARK has the most powerful bass I have heard so far with Earsonics’ IEMs. But how well it holds up against the competition? We have Final A8000 and Oriveti in the ring.
Final Audio A8000
The A8000 consists of a single full-range dynamic driver and is the latest statement product from Final. Putting these two monitors side by side they do differ completely in character and coloring. The two IEMS sounds significantly different.
The STARK leans to the bass side and A8000 to the treble, though they have some traits in common and both require a better source to unleash their true power.
The STARK offers overwhelming bass, intimate bass instrument positioning and a lot of details in the low-ends. The A8000 is more laid back in the lower bass region which gives it much more clarity, accompanied by more sparkle in the treble. The A8000 has a 5k peak that makes lighter voices more pronounced.
The A8000’s clarity will better suit chamber music, more joyful old pops/ blues, female singers with lighter voices, instrument solos. The STARK which has a mid-bass focus will do well for bass instrument intensive tracks such as EDM and rocks or larger ensembles. It is also good for male vocal works that require more fullness and power in the bass.
As a side note, the A8000 may sound a bit thin for casual listening and the STARK is perfectly engaging with its fuller presentation.
The OH500 has a similar 1+4 driver config, however, they are very different in specs. The Oriveti OH500 is measured at 12Ω, 110db/mW and the STARK is 18.5Ω, 125 dB/mW.
The two IEMs output similar SPL at the same volume but the STARK needs more power to shine and can scale up with higher-end sources/better power. Using the FiiO M11Pro, the OH500 has a firmer but less resolving bass than the STARK. When it comes to staging and dynamics the STARK is also a league ahead but OH500’s vocal is more forward.
At below half of the retail price of the STARK, the overall package of OH500 offers great value for the price. However, if you are here for the performance, the STARK is a league above with much more density in the bass and swifter articulation. The STARK also holds up to higher SPL better compared to OH500 which will distort faster.
The STARK is an immersive and luxurious experience with its new hybrid approach and metallic housings. Adding a dynamic driver Earsonics still manages to bring in rich bass energy without compromising separation, coherence, and details. Bass instruments are realistic and not overly defined.
It is not for critical listening but if you are seeking a flagship IEM that could bring you the sensation alike the glass shattering bass in your car, or matching the bass punch on the Genelec 8060, put on the STARK!
Earsonics STARK Specifications
- Sensitivity: 125 dB/mW
- Frequency response: 10 Hz -20 kHz
- DCR: 18.5 ohms
- Drivers: 1 dynamic, 4 BA drivers with a 3-way crossover.