Playing around with the DIY Smabat Proto is akin to building Lego blocks for audiophiles!
Have you ever wanted to solder or customize a pair of IEMs, but you do not have required DIY skills? Have you ever wanted to tune your own IEMs to your heart’s content, but do not have the necessary tools?
Enter the Smabat Proto 1.0. The Proto feature an innovative modular plug-and-play concept. Included is an array of bass and treble dampers to attach to the Proto’s shell, and one can purchase different replacement drivers. Swap and tinker to your satisfaction, there’s a mind-boggling amount of possible tuning permutations!
No soldering is required!
The Smabat Proto 1.0 are aptly named after protozoa, which come in a multitude of different shapes and sizes. This prototypical concept of a single species diverging to other branch species can be seen with the Proto, as the base shell just requires fitting the various components in to give a totally different sound signature!
- Solid build
- Good soundstage
- Innovative plug and play modular concept – no soldering is needed
- Mind-boggling permutations to play with in terms of treble/bass damper and aftermarket drivers to give different sonic signatures to suit different genres and preferences
- Stock tuning features a very balanced tonality with good technical performance
- Organic timbral accuracy
- Can be worn cable down or over ears
- Below average isolation
- Comfort may be hit or miss with the larger shells
- Aftermarket drivers need to be purchased separately
Smabat is a Chinese audio company that features unique patented designs and innovative concepts for their gear. They are actually better known for their earbuds than IEMs, and are quite a big player in the niche earbuds scene.
Most run-of-the-mill earbuds achilles’ heel is poor sub-bass. Some of the Smabat earbuds feature a labyrinth acoustic design that boost sub-bass much more than average, and can even get levels close to IEMs.
Smabat recently released the Smabat M0 and the M2s Pro earbuds, both of which feature a similar plug and play modular concept, with various dampers and drivers that one can swap into the shell, without soldering.
Smabat has some other well received earbuds in their stable, including the Smabat ST10S Black Gold and Black Silver, and the original Smabat ST10 (which is sadly no longer in production). They also released a few cult favourite IEMs such as the X1, Black Bat and NCO.
- Form: IEMs
- Drivers: 1 x 10mm Titanium Diaphragm driver (stock driver); various alternative drivers are available for purchase
- Impedance (Ohm): 16 Ω
- Sensitivity (dB): 110 dB/mW
- Frequency Response (Hz): 10 Hz – 22 KHz
- Removable Cable: Y
- Cable: Unfortunately, there are no provided details on the materials used for the cable
- Cup/Shell Plug: MMCX
- Mic: N
The Proto come in a small navy blue outer packaging. Opening it reveals an inner white box with their bat logo and the words “smart bat”.
In the box
- SMABAT Proto 1.0 IEMs
- 3 pairs of silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
- Leatherette pouch
- Various dampers
Even Batman would be pleased with the provided toolkits to modify the Proto’s tuning.
The provided cable has zero microphonics, and is quite nice haptically, though it may be a bit tangly.
Well I am not a fan of MMCX connectors in general, due to their shorter lifespan with frequent cable changes. Thankfully, the MMCX quality here seems quite good, both earpieces lock into the cable with a good click without too much spinning or being too tight.
The included leatherette pouch has the Smabat words emblazoned on it, and it looks quite elegant.
In keeping with the modifiable concept of the Smabat Proto 1.0, the shells are quite industrial looking, and probably would not win any beauty awards. Different strokes for different folks, but I would take a good sounding IEM with average looks over a beautiful IEM with bad sound.
Thankfully, the Proto fall in the former category, which we will talk about below.
Isolation on the Proto is unfortunately below average due to the open-back design. This is a double-edged sword, as they do provide a good soundstage, though at the expense of isolation.
The Proto are quite sturdy yet light, though they lie on the larger side and comfort may be hit or miss due to the size. I foresee some with smaller ears may find them less ergonomic, though I have used them for marathon-long sessions without much discomfort.
I didn’t experience any driver flex, but driver flex is partially dependent on ear anatomy and the types of tips used, so it is a YMMV situation.
The included driver in the Smabat Proto 1.0 is a 10mm titanium diaphragm driver, but there are various aftermarket drivers that are available for purchase, which we will talk about below.
The stock driver is quite easy to drive, but like most dynamic drivers, this driver scales better when amplification is used.
Smabat Proto 1.0 Sound
With the stock configuration (10 mm titanium driver, no treble damper and the golden bass damper), I would describe the Proto as having a U-shaped balanced signature. Timbral accuracy is excellent as per this driver’s single DD roots. Soundstage has good width and depth, while soundstage height is about average. Imaging, layering and instrument separation are good, assisted by the big soundstage.
On this stock tuning, mid-bass is north of neutral, punchy and clean, with minimal mid-bass bleed. Sub-bass extension and rumble is good. Bass timbre and texture is excellent.
With this configuration, treble and upper mids are forward but without going into shouty territory. Sibilance is mild. The Proto aren’t an analytical or hyper-detailed set, but everything sounds natural and organic. Cymbals sound as they should, some budget CHI-FI counterparts can sound jarring and splashy in contrast.
The above sound impressions are just with the stock configuration. There’s many more permutations to play with!
We will be discussing the various dampers and aftermarket drivers below, adding or removing these can change the prototypical protozoa into various other forms! Let me assure you, this set’s tuning dampers really work, they ain’t gimmicks!
There are four dampers included with the Proto 1.0 – one treble damper (blue), and three bass dampers (red, silver, gold).
In addition to the dampers, there are 3 additional aftermarket drivers one can buy. And if one adds different eartips, sources, and even cables (for our cable believers) to the equation, then the various sound permutations are really mind-boggling.
Changing treble dampers
The first potential area of modification is with the treble damper at the Proto’s nozzle. This involves using the blue damper, or having no damper in the nozzle. Without any treble damper, the upper mids and lower treble are boosted. With the blue damper installed, this area is tamed.
Changing bass dampers
The next possible area to modify is via the bass dampers. This is done by just sliding the gold, silver or red dampers into the bass damper hole.
As per the store provided graph below, the silver damper gives the least bass (around neutral levels of bass), the red damper gives the most bass (basshead levels with some mid-bass bleed), and the golden damper is a midpoint of just being north of neutral.
Sound impressions – treble damper ON
|Bass Damper||Sound permutations with treble damper ON - ie blue damper is on the IEM nozzle.|
|Silver||This tuning is cold neutral and rather flat. Bass lies at neutral levels with an anemic sub-bass. Midrange is also neutral. Music may sound boring with this configuration, with some lack in pinna gain and dynamics.|
|Gold||This damper gives a midpoint between the silver and red bass dampers, and the bass quantity is just slightly north of neutral with a tickle of sub-bass rumble. The sound is rather balanced with a mild U-shaped tuning. Vocals take a slight backseat and music is very non fatiguing.|
|Red||This gives an L-shaped tuning that will delight our basshead brethren. Sub-bass can give a robust jaw-rattling visceral rumble. Mid-bass unfortunately does bleed and encroaches into the midrange. Vocals are furthest in the background with this configuration. Clarity takes a hit and music can be a bit muddy.|
Sound impressions – treble damper OFF
|Bass Damper||Sound permutations with treble damper OFF - ie no blue damper on the IEM nozzle.|
|Silver||Bass is neutral with this configuration, giving a neutral bright tuning due to a lack of mid-bass warmth. Sub-bass rolls off early. Would be a good option for vocal and acoustic music lovers and those that prefer a thinner lower midrange.|
|Gold||This is the default configuration of the Proto, giving a balanced U-shaped tonality. Bass is just north of neutral, with moderate sub-bass rumble. Vocals and upper mids/lower treble are forward without veering into shouty territory.|
|Red||This configuration gives a V-shaped tuning with the bass approaching basshead amounts. Sub-bass extends well with good rumble and extension. Mid-bass bleeds a bit, with a lot of warmth added to the lower midrange. Upper mids are also forward with some bite added.|
One can change the dampers with the provided tweezer, just grip the protruding part of the damper and wiggle it a bit. Here is a video on how to do it, many thanks to headfier axhng for his kind video demonstration here. It looks difficult but once you get the hang of it, these dampers can be swapped out in mere seconds.
Switching the dampers isn’t as easy as flipping switches on a tunable IEM, but in essence, once someone likes a particular sound signature, I think we will just keep to that tuning config and not make regular changes.
I do foresee however, that those with weaker eyesight or poorer coordination might have issues changing the dampers, but practice makes perfect. Do explore the various dampers and see what suits your music library or preferences; personally I’m a fan of the stock configuration.
The stock configuration is with the golden bass damper without any treble damping, and this is my favorite combination.
So far we have only talked about the dampers. Are you still adventurous for more tinkering?
The driver can be changed by removing the front panel on the IEM, here’s a video from SMABAT on how to do it.
I purchased the aftermarket red fiber membrane, and did my comparisons against the stock titanium driver using the golden bass damper without any treble dampers, with the same source and volume.
|Stock titanium (16 Ohms)||Using this stock driver gives a balanced sound with faster transients||This stock driver is very balanced sounding, giving a good mix of technicalities, timbre and tonality.|
|Beryllium plated (32 Ohms)||“The three frequency bands of treble, midrange and bass are average and natural, suitable for various types of music styles.”||Pending delivery|
|Fiber membrane (16 Ohms)||“Strengthen the output of high frequency and low frequency, have protruding bass and have very good treble.”||This driver gives a more recessed midrange, with blunted transients and more rounded note edges. This fiber membrane driver is slower compared to the stock titanium one, and perhaps fans of a more chill and relaxed signature would prefer this driver.|
|Dome LCP (22 Ohms)||“Enhanced high-frequency characteristics, with strong treble penetration.”||Pending delivery|
Where to Buy
Smabat brings the innovative concept of Lego combined with IEMs with the Smabat Proto 1.0. Everything is plug and play and no soldering or DIY skills are needed, creating accessibility for the masses.
The Proto can easily be seen as a jack-of-all-trades, but they are very competitive in terms of technical performance and timbral accuracy when compared with other single DD sets at this price.
The stock tuning on the Proto is excellent, featuring a big soundstage, good imaging and layering, coupled with a natural timbre and balanced tonality. It is my favored configuration. However, that’s just scratching the surface, the tip of the iceberg so to speak, as there’s many other areas to play with in terms of dampers and aftermarket drivers to influence the sound.
Once the protozoa of the stock configuration takes on different dampers and drivers, a different beast evolves to greet you!
Basshead tuning? Check. Neutral tuning? Check. Balanced tuning? Check. Treble boost? Check. The Proto offer all these, and more.
This set is definitely different from the hackneyed V-shaped and harman sidegrades that are released each week in the CHI-FI market. Using the various dampers and drivers, the Proto have the versatility to suit different music genres and sonic preferences.
One might even save money with the Proto. Instead of buying multiple IEMs, one can just keep the shell and accessories, and just feed the protozoa inside with a different driver or damper to get a different beast. The sky is really the limit with the Proto, and I do think most of us will find something to like with the various tuning permutations!