Stereophile Souvenir Earbuds IEM/Earphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Apr 19, 2018.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone7+ with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the AudioQuest DragonFly Red/Lehmann Traveller DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Stereophile Earbuds earphone/IEM ('Earbuds' hereafter) are based on comparisons to other IEMs (Sennheiser IE800, RHA T20, FI-BA-SS etc.), to a few reference headphones, and to notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the Earbuds (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use this earphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    NOTE: This is not going to be my typical hi-fi earphone/headphone review, since this Earbud/IEM is not capable of high fidelity even with precise equalization (see EQ chart linked above), although I might have imagined it had the left and right drivers been balanced within 3 db or so. Another thing that I wondered was whether the sound might have been better with different eartips, but given the left-right mismatch in volume levels, I didn't pursue that. The music track samples listed at the end of this review will serve to illustrate the sound qualities, few as they are. The rest of the review will describe the Earbuds' physical properties.

    The Earbuds earpieces are a minimal blue-white plastic with what looks like the normal style of IEM flanges that hold the eartips. Only one set of eartips was supplied (mounted), and they appear to be a decent silicone composition. The eartip size is close to medium, based on the many eartips I've gotten with the IEMs I've purchased. Looking inside of the flanges with a flashlight, I see something that looks metallic, but that's the best I can say without tearing the earpieces apart. Being nearsighted, I can see very tiny things up close, but cannot discern anything resembling an IEM driver here. Based on the sound and the fact that I've had a number of IEMs retailing for $10 USD or less, I'd guess that these Earbuds don't contain the kind of drivers that those other low-cost IEMs have.

    The Earbuds' cable is ~45 inches long, but the Y-split isn't exactly set up for initial use. You have to pull the earpieces apart to get the Y-split to a usable distance down from the earpieces, then wrap some tape there to prevent the cable from splitting further. The cable is terminated by a 3.5mm stereo plug, but the plug is not only not anti-corrosion plated, it made for intermittent playback until I gave it a good rubbing with a coarse fabric cloth. The Earbuds came with a nice plastic case where the earpieces fit perfectly into a slot, and the cable is then wound around a triangular flange ~2.5 inches on each side. The clear plastic lid then snaps onto the case, which to me is not only a very practical design, but quite attractive as well.

    The following music track samples were played on the iPhone 7-plus with the EQ settings as shown in the EQ chart linked above. Played without EQ, the sound is difficult to describe as I've heard nothing else like it.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Decent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel a little of the weight they carry with the Earbuds.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is good, and the tambourine sound is realistic.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Earbuds reproduce the instruments smoothly with a slight spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are fairly dull, even though EQ'd.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have just a taste of the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a passable deep-bass response. Overall, the Earbuds play this music fairly well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track have a light impact with the Earbuds. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is fairly subtle with the Earbuds.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Earbuds reproduction of the 'clop' sound/tone is not totally accurate, but reasonably close.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Earbuds convey a little of that drama, and the tympani also have good impact here.

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