All the same, I have to admit that I’m only 90 per cent convinced by the SA1’s output. On the plus side, there’s a depth and warmth to the sound that I don’t get with the Etymotic HF2s or SoundMagic’s value-packed PL50s. The soundstage is wider than you’d get from a lot of budget IEMs and – with the black, bass-heavy filters installed - the low-end has a powerful rich rumble which does wonders for electronica, hard rock or small group jazz. Firing up Justice’s bassy dancefloor anthem, DVNO, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer beef and low-end welly of the sound. Indeed, when those big bass notes come in or the pseudo slap-bass solo arrives, it’s a challenge not to grin from ear to ear. When you consider that we’re talking about a single 6mm driver per ear, this is really, really good stuff.
On the downside, however, they’re not so great for clarity or detail – even with the more balanced, mid-range focused filters installed. There’s good separation and a lovely, creamy tone at the mid-range, but the low-end lacks definition, while there’s none of the top-end sparkle you might get from Etymotic’s IEMs, or the SoundMagic PL50s, for that matter. Listening to an orchestral version of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, I found whole lines of harmony and counterpoint buried in the mix, with the SA1s struggling to resolve and separate different string instruments. And while the sound suits rich vocals and acoustic guitar, you can’t help note that high electric and lap-steel guitars sound slightly muffled.
Let’s not get too negative. The SA1s almost – almost – do an amazing job of convincing you that you’re listening to a pair of IEMs costing twice as much, and if you like your music meaty and bass-heavy, then you’re in for a treat. Kudos to Sleek for bringing in such a strong, no compromises product at such an affordable price, and while the SA1 isn’t the last word in budget IEMs, it’s a worthy rival to the Klipsch, Shure and Etymotic competition.
Luxury IEMs at a not so luxury price, with a warm, lovable low-end and a creamy mid-range making up for a slight lack of clarity and definition. The Sleeks don’t stand leagues ahead of the competition, but if you’re on a budget they’re well worth a look.