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Soundz NOVA Review – Stratospheric

Pros –

Snug yet comfortable fit, Great stock cable selection, Flawless 3D printed finish, Well-balanced signature, Exceptionally airy and open top-end, Well detailed, Wide and holographic image, Easy to drive

Cons –

Midrange voicing a little off, Bass extension could be improved, Resin filling would have improved feel and isolation

Verdict –

If you don’t mind a drier vocal presentation, the NOVA is a well-considered, versatile and technically impressive performer. It has no glaring weaknesses, but some idiosyncrasies that will limit mass appeal.


Introduction –

Soundz is the first CIEM manufacturer from Greece who build atop their foundation of expertise gained from their Earmedical hearings centres. Such a heritage speaks volumes for their audio designs, able to leverage their expertise in sound design and scale to develop more proficient consumer products. Many of the greats such as Empire Ears and Etymotic had a similar foundation. The company has been operating for over half a decade now building custom-fit and universal in-ear monitors and earplugs for audio professionals. However, the company has recently shifted their focus to expanding into the audiophile market with their new flagship NOVA leading that charge. It incorporates all of the technologies pioneered by their former models while introducing a more complex 6-driver hybrid BA + Electrostatic driver setup. Targeting a clear, balanced and highly resolving sound, the NOVA caters towards both audiophiles and professionals valuing accurate sound reproduction.

The NOVA just launched for 990 EUR. You can read more about it and browse their selection on Soundz Custom.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Alexis and the team at Soundz Custom very much for their quick communication and for reaching out and providing me with the NOVA for honest review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Drivers: 2x BA Woofer, 1x Mid BA, 1x Mid-high BA, 2x Estat super tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 2Hz-70kHz
  • Sensitivity: 110dB
  • Impedance: 25 ohms
  • Crossover: Electrical 5-way
  • Bores: 4 Bores
  • Isolation: Up to -35dB

Behind the Design –

Sonion EST Drivers

Sonion’s tweeters implement an ultra-light membrane driven by electrostatic force, offering one of the cleanest and quickest transient responses of all driver types. In turn, distortion is very low into the ultra-sonic frequencies delivering strong extension and resolution. They are, however, difficult to implement given the need for a high-voltage transformer that lowers their sensitivity, making pairing with other driver types difficult. The NOVA also uses the 2nd generation tweeter array which sports a rough 3dB bump in sensitivity, opening more avenues for precise tuning and integration into a hybrid unit.

Taking a look at Sonion’s datasheet, the frequency response of their dual tweeter setup offers twin peaks at 4 kHz and 7 kHz. This further complicates their implementation as bringing up treble response means simultaneously bringing up the upper midrange which can introduce odd timbral characteristics. Soundz have a very unique implementation here that teases out a substantially different sound than your usual EST earphone whilst retaining their signature cleanliness, refinement and extension.

Isolate & Perfect Fit

Soundz utilise the same 3D-printing tech as used by medical professionals to ensure their shells provide the highest noise isolation possible, up to 35dB. While the shells do not appear to be solid body, they do indeed isolate well. Using digital scans and 3D printing, Soundz aim to deliver perfect comfort and seal in addition to a flawless finish.

Complex

This involves maximising the quality of the chosen drivers using unique and efficient crossover design. Complex involves tuned crossover points to deliver the most coherent sound with their ideal frequency response in addition to optimising phase coherence, THD and channel matching to within 1.5dB. In measurement, Soundz’ channel matching was very close, especially taking into account increased variability when measuring custom-fit products.

Custom Cable

Soundz have partnered with Satin Audio to deliver a high-quality hand-fabricated cable straight out of the box. The Hyperion is an entry-level silver-plated cable sporting Pure SP-OCC silver-plated copper conductors in a Type 2 Litz configuration. It incorporates a nylon damping core for tension resistance and reduced cable noise. Cardas Quad Eutectic solder completes a pure sonic experience. Satin Audio’s njew SA insulation II provides greater transparency and promises not to harden over time. The company also use custom connectors made of more conductive Te Cu. In addition, Soundz use double coated SPC wires inside the earphones themselves.

Warranty

Soundz offer a 2 year warranty, 30 day money back and 60 day fitting warranty.

Customization –

Soundz’ online customizer is polished and intuitive to use with real-time graphics showcasing the chosen design. The designs are quite limited in terms of materials and colours, the company also explained to me they do not take custom designs either. In addition, certain designs are exclusive to certain models, and the customizer will limit the combinations for each. However, you can add a personal touch by adding your own logo/design onto the faceplate. In addition, you get a selection of cable connectors, 2-pin and waterproof T2 most suitable for professionals. Accordingly, several cable options are available from Null Audio, BAX and Satin Audio, all a clear step up over the generic options available from competitors. This means you can have a fairly complete and high quality package straight out of the box.

Unboxing –

It could be that my experience as a reviewer is lending this impression, but I do feel that many custom earphones still lag behind when it comes to packaging. The NOVA differentiates itself here, with a very professional and premium experience. A frosted acrylic cover slides off to reveal an aluminium carrying case with threaded lid. It feels hefty and has a quality brushed finish. Inside are the earpieces and cable, I enjoy how the cable comes coiled so you don’t have to wait for any bends to work out. Also included is a cleaning tool but otherwise, the experience is kept simple and professional, nothing wrong with that.

Design –

Soundz join the latest movement towards 3D printed customs and, as has been my experience elsewhere, this yields beautifully formed and finished shells. While their customization options are limited, the masterful execution imbues even a basic piano black finish with no shortage of depth and elegance. Of course, custom logos can be requested as well such as my website logos here, adding the personal flair so desired by most going down the custom route. The shells are not resin-filled, but also don’t feel hollow with a slightly thicker sidewall than most. Soundz demonstrate their mastery of 3D printing with a flawless finish and perfectly integrated faceplates.

The company offer your choice of water-resistant T2 cable connectors or the more widely adopted 0.78mm 2-pin standard. This review unit was optioned with the Satin Audio cable for an additional 50 Euros with standard units coming with a Null Audio cable instead. The Satin Audio cable is a pleasure to use, that said, and one of my favourite affordable custom cables. It’s a little springy but has zero memory and minimal microphonic noise transmission. It coils easily for storage and untangles easily. The 3.5mm plug has a case-friendly protrusion, and the ear guides are comfortable and well-shaped. These all contribute to a great user experience.

Fit & Isolation –

A less pertinent section for a CIEM as fit will depends most heavily on your anatomy and the quality of your ear moulds provided. I will say 3D printing has revolutionised the experience here, as you are able to simply email digital scans over if available, rather than having to ship moulds, which cuts weeks off the turnaround time. The company can also scan moulds into a digital file if you don’t have access to digital scans. Also, every manufacturer applies a different level of smoothing to the shell shape, some are more nuanced and provide greater articular fit with the outer ear. Indeed, not all customs provide perfect fit stability nor perfect comfort because of this and some factor of personal preference will factor in here as well.

With that said, I found the NOVA to be a very good compromise here, and you can tell the company has heaps of experience in the medical field with the specificity with which they sculpt their earphone shells. The fit depth is medium for a custom and the anatomical features are slightly more on the shapely side. However, none are pushed to the extent that I noticed any wearing pressure or hotspots, they disappeared over time with perfect long-term comfort. This means they have a nice, locked-in fit and they gave me a strong and consistent seal every time. While isolation is not the best I’ve experienced from a custom, it is very strong as with most and better than essentially any universal model. This makes them a great choice for use in loud environments or for travel. Note, this means they aren’t ideal if you want spatial awareness for road safety for instance, of course, this is the case for all custom in-ears.

Next Page: Sound & Source Pairings

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