Softears’ Studio4s are excellent in-ear monitors for those who prefer a neutral and transparent sound signature, albeit with a slightly warmer tint. It won’t wow you with massive bass or super-bright treble, but it lives up to its “studio” moniker with clean, detailed sound perfect for music and gaming.
|+ Clean, neutral sound signature|
+ Excellent midrange and clean treble
+ Comfortable shape
+ Light, ergonomic cable
+ Good-quality carrying case
+ Unobtrusive aesthetics
+ Competitive pricing
|- Sound may be a bit boring for some
- Not for bassheads
- Mediocre stock ear tip selection
Softears doesn’t quite have the mainstream prominence of other Chinese hi-fi (“Chi-Fi”) brands, likely due to their focus on high-end, $1000-and-above products. But the Studio4 IEMs made a notable splash when they launched earlier this year, offering a “studio”-style sound signature at a reasonable (for audiophile gear!) $450 MSRP.
Such was the praise that I ended up blind-buying these, even though that’s an absolute no-no for IEMs, especially ones costing this much. Did I make a mistake? Should you consider these if you’re shopping for an endgame-worthy IEM at the $500 price point? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: I purchased these Softears Studio4 IEMs with my own money, with no communication between Softears or HiFiGo and me.
Packaging and Accessories
Softears has links to perennial Chi-Fi favorites Moondrop, but the company thankfully avoids following in the waifu-dominated aesthetic that Moondrop (and other Chinese IEM manufacturers) favor. Instead, we get a plain white slipcover over a white cardboard case.
Open the cardboard box, and you’ll see the Pelican-style Studio4 case, with each earpiece in its own drawstring pouch. The cardboard box also holds extras like ear tips, a Softears-branded microfiber cloth, a cleaning tool, and an instruction manual-cum-warranty card.
I like the case a lot. It feels higher quality than many IEM cases, and Softears even claims it’s waterproof. It’s also a reasonably roomy case, with ample space for the Studio4s, my JCally JM10 dongle, a short USB Type-C cable, and spare ear tips.
My only issue with the Studio4 package is the paltry selection of stock ear tips. While it’s fair to assume that anyone spending $450 on a pair of IEMs will have a handful of ear tips on hand, I’d still have liked to see more than the six (a pair each of small, medium, and large) medium-bore silicone ear tips you get with the Studio 4s.
The ear tips are decent, at least, so it’s not all bad. But when you consider that much cheaper IEMs—like the Truthear Hexa—come with three types of ear tips in multiple sizes, only getting one ear tip style with the Studio4s is a bit lackluster.
Before we dive into how they sound, let’s take a quick look at the Studio 4 IEMs themselves.
The Softears Studio4s are four-balanced armature (BA) driver IEMs with three-way crossovers in each earpiece. Softears claims that the driver and crossover setup allows the Studio4 IEMs to provide “accurate and natural high-resolution audio playback … suitable for studio monitoring.”
For the uninitiated, balanced armature drivers are the same ones you get in hearing aids. They’re known for their detailed sound and compact size (which is why companies can fit four or more into a single IEM). However, they often struggle with bass frequencies. Is that going to be the case with the Studio4s? We’ll find out later.
Design, Comfort, and Isolation
Softears houses the Studio4s’ BA drivers in minimalistic all-black shells with silver branding. The shells, 3D-printed using “medical resin,” are of medium size and should fit in most ears without issue. They sit securely in my ear and are remarkably comfortable; I regularly wear them for three or more hours and have never experienced any discomfort.
Some of you may not be keen on the minimalistic look, but I’m a fan of the Studio4s’ aesthetics. They won’t look out of place anywhere, whether you’re jamming to tunes on the subway or using them on stage. The glossy black finish is a fingerprint magnet, though, as you’ll see in some of my photos.
The Studio 4s have non-ventilated shells, so they isolate very well. They’re not silent, but they’re still great at blocking out the sounds of a busy cafe or public transportation. This lets you listen to your music without cranking the volume up too high and damaging your hearing.
Softears ships the Studio4 IEMs with an equally minimalist cable made of twisted-pair oxygen-free copper with a black PVC-like outer coating. It has a single-ended 3.5 mm jack connecting to your source and 0.78 mm 2-pin connectors that plug into the IEMs.
It’s a comfortable, lightweight cable with minimalist ear guides that don’t interfere with my glasses. I’m generally not a fan of ear guides or ear hooks, but I have no issues with these. The only possible problem with the cable is the lack of a chin slider, but I haven’t missed it.
Here are the technical specs for the Studio4 in-ears:
- Impedance: 12 ohms
- Sensitivity: 123 dB/Vrms @ 1 kHz
- Shell: 3D-printed medical-grade resin
- THD: <1% @ 1 kHz
- Frequency Response Range: 5 Hz – 40 kHz
- Effective Frequency Range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- Interface: 0.78 mm 2-pin connectors
Sound Signature and Overall Listening Impressions
I’ve spent the past week or so listening to the Studio4s at home, using my Topping DX7 Pro.
As I mentioned earlier, balanced armature drivers aren’t known for their bass prowess, and that’s the case with the Studio4s. These aren’t bassy IEMs and won’t offer the massive thump and rumble that bass heads demand from their music and games.
However, the bass that is here is impressive. It’s not the thickest bass, but it extends reasonably well into the sub-bass region and conveys a decent sense of rumble when the music calls for it. It’s also punchy and controlled and excels at reproducing the texture of bass instruments. Electric and acoustic bass guitars sound great on the Studio4.
It’s also worth pointing out that the lack of bass “thump” has the upside of ensuring that the bass never intrudes on the midrange. Sure, the bass isn’t as visceral as a bassy IEM, but the upshot is a more balanced sound where the bass never overwhelms other instruments.
Let’s take Pinch’s “Battered” as an example. It combines big dubstep bass with female vocals, a challenging combination for many affordable bass-heavy IEMs and headphones. But the Studio4s do a great job, the bass rumbling away competently while the female vocals sound clean and clear.
The midrange is the star of the show with the Softears Studio4s. It’s clean and remarkably transparent, with crucial mid-range details such as guitar and vocals coming through really well. There’s no sense that any frequencies or instruments are over- or under-emphasized; everything sounds coherent and transparent, for lack of a better term.
Midrange detail is also impressive, with the Studio4s capable of articulating overlapping layers and sonic elements without breaking a sweat. I heard details in songs that I’d never noticed before—always the sign of a good set of IEMs or speakers.
Songs: Ohia’s “Peoria Lunch Box Blues” is a great example of the Studio4s’ midrange prowess. The female vocals are right, sounding neither overly bassy nor sharp. At the same time, other midrange-heavy instruments, such as the electric guitar, sit in the mix perfectly. It’s really sweet, if perhaps not as rich as a good dynamic driver IEM.
The Studio4s’ treble has excellent extension and detail, with a decent amount of sizzle and sparkle present as well. It’s very linear, too, with no strange peaks or dips in the treble response to my ears.
However, it does all this in a low-key way without emphasizing or pushing the treble forward. Take Markus Stockhausen’s “Mona,” for example. The ringing cymbals and acoustic guitar come through crystal clear with excellent detail, but without calling attention to themselves.
I think it’s just about the most natural treble I’ve heard, at least for my tastes and music preferences. However, one person’s “neutral” is another person’s “boring,” and hardcore treble-heads likely won’t enjoy the Studio4s as much as I do.
The best way to describe the Softears Studio4s’ sound signature is “neutral.” Sure, the slightly restrained treble will make the Studio4s feel a bit warm to some, but they’re very balanced overall. They’re excellent if you listen to various genres of music and want a set of in-ears that don’t overly favor one genre (or genres) over another.
From black metal to 2000s dubstep via Songs: Ohia and Bernard Herrmann’s film scores, the Studio4s have handled everything I’ve thrown at them. They don’t always excel, admittedly, but they’ve never sounded bad with anything I’ve tried. Crucially, the Studio4s do this without sugarcoating or over-emphasizing weaknesses. If it’s a good recording, it’ll sound good on the Studio4s. Bad recordings will, unsurprisingly, sound bad—but in a way that’s faithful to the recording itself.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve spent with these over the past week or so. So much so that I’ve preferred listening to music with these instead of my Genelec 8010 studio monitor speakers. I wouldn’t change a thing about these.
I also have to give a special shoutout to how the Softears Studio4s depict well-recorded acoustic drums. There’s something about how they convey the sense of resonance, thump, and moving air to the listener that I find quite special. For example, the drumming on Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” brilliantly captures the resonance of the drums and the room in which they were recorded.
As much as I like the Studio4s, though, I have admit that they aren’t exciting in-ear monitors. They’re tasteful and balanced, both of which I prize highly, but they’re admittedly not very “fun.” In that sense, they live up to the studio branding, offering unadorned sound that stays out of the way and lets the music speak for itself.
If that’s what you’re after, these in-ears are perfect for you. But not everyone wants that, of course. If you want a bigger, more “fun” sound, then the Moondrop Variations and Xenns Mangird Top are probably the ~$500 IEMs to consider instead.
So the Studio4s are excellent for music, but what about gaming? Does the neutral, studio-style tuning translate to a good gaming experience?
Generally, yes. The Studio4 in-ears, in my opinion, excel at competitive shooters and fast-paced games, where their clean midrange and controlled bass ensure that you don’t miss any audio cues. Whether it’s enemy footsteps circling you or a tell-tale reload that gives away a camper’s location, the Studio4s won’t disappoint you in games where sonic clarity and precision are paramount.
I blasted through some levels in Amid Evil’s excellent The Black Labyrinth DLC and played some quick Quake Champions games with a few friends. The Studio4s worked brilliantly in both games, and I could hear all the sound cues necessary to stay alive. Footsteps were crisp and spatially accurate, distant gunshots came through clearly, and the audio never felt mushy.
However, the Studio4’s neutral and no-frills sound isn’t quite as impressive for single-player games focusing on immersion and spectacle. Gunshots, explosions, and melee combat (for example) don’t quite have the impact that a bassier set of headphones or in-ear monitors provide. You get decent sub-bass rumble, sure, but the Studio4s don’t have that meaty mid-bass that you may want here.
Another potential issue is that the Studio4s can’t entirely present the “3D” soundscape that I feel is essential to truly lose oneself in a slower-paced open-world game. Don’t get me wrong: they’re decent, but they’re not on par with the best open-back headphones when it comes to sheer immersiveness and soundstage.
So the Softears Studio4s aren’t quite a home run for gaming. Despite that, they’ll do a solid, sometimes excellent, job in games. To be clear, you shouldn’t buy these specifically for gaming, as they’re just too expensive. But their gaming prowess is a handy bonus if you’re an audiophile seeking a great pair of in-ears for music and games.
I really like the Softears Studio4 IEMs. They aren’t necessarily the final word in excitement or raw detail, but I find their broadly neutral, tastefully-tuned sound signature a joy to listen to. If you’re seeking a balanced, accurate set of in-ears, then these will be perfect for you—provided you’re willing to pay the price.
Because while these aren’t too expensive as far as audiophile-tier in-ear monitors go, $450 is still a lot of money to drop for a pair of in-ear monitors. I think they’re worth it, but I wouldn’t recommend these unless you’re already deep into the head-fi hobby and want an endgame-tier pair of in-ear monitors.