Sleek Audio is a fairly new name in the custom audio business. They are best known for their recently announced Sleek by 50 headphones which were announced two months ago at the 2011 CES. Still, they are a growing player in in-ear monitors. Their first offerings were plagued by reliability issues but more recently they have been innovating and improving quality control and are quickly becoming a major player in the business.
The Sleek CT7 is their newest addition to their custom products line joining their single driver CT6. The CT7 is quite a bit more expensive but with the extra money you get an extra driver for improved imaging and frequency response. You also keep the option to use their wireless streaming audio system which has been well reviewed so far.
Sleek Audio’s major contribution to the scene has been the ability to adjust your earbuds to your sonic liking with a customizable filter and a customizable port. This is seen featured in their universal IEM. Their custom offerings do not offer this ability but sound great and are customizable at the time of purchase.
In 2009, Sleek announced their CT6. This was their first attempt at a custom monitor. They were pretty new to the audio game, but the father-and-son founders have run a family owned custom hearing aid business for years together. They started with universal IEMs and eventually moved onto universals pairing their audio technology with their expertise in custom hearing products.
This year, Sleek has released their CT7. It’s an upgrade of sorts to the CT6 with two balanced armature drivers instead of one. The addition of another BA driver allows the monitor to split the signal into a high and low range creating a more balanced sound with the ability to stretch more into higher and lower frequencies. Their dual driver design appears unique with the crossover as part of the dual driver unit. This is unlike products from JH Audio and Ultimate Ears which have a crossover located remotely.
The CT7 shares its connector with Sleek Audio’s other products. Instead of a two prong connector such as those used by JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, and Westone– Sleek uses a coaxial connector which allows free rotation and easy replacement. This is both good and bad. The coaxial design allows for a flexible position to be used– either keep the wire above or below your ear. It also lets you swap cables very easily allowing for the use of Sleek’s Wireless kit. Unfortunately, they do not color variations or have memory wire for over-the-ear use. This may be a nice area for a third party cable manufacturer to enter.
As for my experience in getting my CT7s: Upon my arrival at the Sleek Audio CES booth, I noticed a lot of big guys. Really big. Like NFL offensive lineman big. Then I noticed 50 Cent. I quickly went to a corner of the booth and was shown their new products. After 50 Cent was done, it got less crowded and I was able to have impressions made for the CT7. I was told that the CT7 were going to be quite competitive with other offerings at the same price range.
A few weeks later a box arrived at our office along with another box from Ultimate Ears. I suddenly had thousands of dollars of headphones waiting for me to test out. Excitedly, I put the CT7 in first because they have yet to be reviewed anywhere I could find online. They were beautiful with a carbon fiber faceplate. Unfortunately, they did not fit– I could not get a good seal at all. I sent them back with my UE 18’s to be re-made since apparently Sleek Audio’s audiologist at CES had become fatigued from the hundreds of impressions made. That’s not too crazy to imagine. Soon after sending the CT7s off, they were back. Now they fit perfectly and looked fantastic still. Instead of using carbon fiber (which isn’t even officially available) the shells were made from clear acrylic and the faceplate was a slightly translucent black.
The faceplates were made differently from one another. Sleek used a technique I have not seen before. The right monitor was a rough plastic with smooth embossed lettering and the left was slick glossy plastic with rough imprinted lettering. They looked awesome. I am very impressed with Sleek’s ability to create highly detailed text. My original set of CT7s in carbon fiber didn’t look this good. Still, they were made with red text on top of the CF and it looked quite good. Unfortunately, they haven’t quite figured out how to get carbon fiber to not delaminate yet, but I am convinced that once they do they will have a very high quality look as well.
Now the sound. This is what everyone really cares about. The CT7 simply rocked. I did not expect them to be as good as they are. In fact, I greatly prefer them to all of my universals and even to my $1350 Ultimate Ears UE18 Pro. They have a very balanced sound signature, fast drivers, and a great soundstage. They are not as crisp or accurate as the UE Reference Monitors but as a general purpose IEM they are probably my favorite. Yes, I do like them more than my JH16 Pros. That isn’t to say they are the best in every circumstance however as the UE18 are about the best for treble filled classical music and the JH16 are best for super-low head shattering bass tracks. I think the CT7s are my favorite if you are willing to give up a smidgen of sonic fidelity for a great all-around in-ear monitor. The construction is robust, they are simple, and they sound fantastic.
The real question is: Are they worth $300 more than the CT6? Well I haven’t tried the CT6 but I think they definitely hold their own in their price range. Similar costing IEM are the UE 5 Pro for $600 with twin drivers and the UE 7 Pro for $850 with triple drivers. I haven’t tried either. They are however the same price as the JH Audio 7 Pro which are highly regarded. Still, since I haven’t tried anything else near this price range and think this is a better all-purpose custom IEM than some more expensive ones, I can still say that this is an extremely good value and is a great first custom IEM. It’s in high demand though, so expect your order to take a little longer than normal since it’s so new.