Effect Audio X Elysian Acoustic Labs: GAEA

corgifall

1000+ Head-Fier
Something Unique from the Goddess of Earth
Pros: Good detail retrieval, Wonderful looks, Brighter but balanced tuning, Deeper soundstage
Cons: Brighter tuning not for all, Bass lacks a little impact, Doesn’t pair well with brighter sources at all.
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The $1000-$1600 range of IEMs has some of my favorite IEMs to date so I was excited when I heard Effect Audio was doing a collaboration with Elysian Audio and producing a new IEM coming in at $1299. I’m quite the fan of Effect Audio’s cables and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Elysian’s tuning with their IEMs. The Gaea is a 5 driver hybrid IEM design using a single Foster dynamic driver for lows and 4 Sonion balanced armatures for the rest of the frequencies. The Gaea comes with Effect Audio’s ConX IEM swappable connector system and choice of standard plug terminations.

Quick shoutout to Jordon from Effect Audio arranging a Gaea for me to review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.

In the US, the only authorized store that sells the Gaea are my friends over at @MusicTeck . In other regions, HiFiGo sells these and that is who I received my review set from. I would recommend HiFiGo for the Gaea if you wish to purchase outside of the US or HK.

The Gaea can be purchased directly from Effect Audio at their site below:

https://www.effectaudio.com/gaea

While I always prefer to order from the manufacturer directly , I’ll link to Musicteck below as well should EA run out of stock:
https://shop.musicteck.com/products/effect-audio-gaea

HiFiGo for the overseas friends as well:
https://hifigo.com/products/effect-audio-x-elysian-acoustic-labs-gaea?variant=43584567148783
Onto the review of the Effect Audiox Elysian Audio Gaea! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.

Gear Used​

IPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, THIEAUDIO V16 Divinity, Campfire Audio Solaris,Topping G5, and SMSL SU-9 feeding the SP400 amp.

Looks and fit​

The Gaea is quite the looker to my eyes and it comes with a black shell that has a beautiful stabilized wood faceplate. Every unit will have a slightly different design on the faceplate but most will have a mix of blue and orange/brown wood in the faceplate. The gold manufacturer logos on both sides are nice accents as well. The shells also have two metal vents/ports that they call the “DIVe pass II” that give the shell a really high quality look. While I can’t confirm it personally, they even include some of Effect Audio’s higher quality custom wiring inside of the IEM making the level of detail put into the Gaea somewhat over the top if not next level. The shells are a medium size IMO and I find them comfortable for long term listening sessions for at least my ears. They are big enough shells that I can’t lay on my side with them due to them sticking out of my ears a bit.
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Isolation and sound leakage​

Even with the two DIVe pass II vents on the shells, passive isolation is pretty good. It’s not as good as a sealed IEM but it’s about the same if not slightly better than most vented IEMs I have used before. It does however leak sound from those two big vents. If you listen at louder volumes, everyone near in quiet areas will absolutely hear what you’re listening to. Quieter volumes and even medium listening resulted in very little to no sound leakage so I think some could get away on say a flight or in bed with someone sleeping next to them at lower volumes.

Packaging and accessories​

The box that the Gaea comes in is a little big for my tastes. On the outside we get some wonderfully designed line art in gold. I rarely care for box art but this and Effect Audio’s other cable boxes simply impress me. A very mature and attractive art design in general in a sea of box art anime “Waifus” from other manufacturers. While my unit came from a dealer, I was surprised by the amount of unused space inside the box. Inside is a felt section that holds the IEMs with the cable installed. A note from both companies sits on top of that. Under that is a felt case that is a little oversized but it feels nice and sturdy. It does pick up lint and cat hair like crazy though. There was a box deeper in that looked bigger and inside the two mini boxes were a set of Spinfit W1 tips and the other box had a cleaning cloth and cleaning tool. At first I thought I was missing accessories since the accessory boxes were so big but after confirming with people who have the IEM, it’s just a lot of empty space. I would have liked to see maybe a second set of W1 tips included but I think it has everything needed. I always prefer slightly smaller boxes to save on space. I do however have a lot of boxes that I store long term and I prefer saving as much space as possible.
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Sound(overall)​

These final impressions were done off the SMSL SU-9 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the Gaea sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit W1 stock tips. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.

The Gaea to my ears has a brighter tuning but it’s very well controlled and finely tuned to my ears. The bass has good reach and it produces fairly good impact/slam when called for. This is by no means a bass head IEM at all but it is tasteful. While it has just enough bass thumps to make me happy and keep it out of the “lean” bass category, it still lacks a thicker sound down low. The bass hits fast and the decay is too quick for me to really enjoy more bassy tracks. The mids are wonderful here and all the instruments have great speed and great sharpness at the end of tones. Male vocals sound pretty good, though I would say female vocals are the real star of the show here. Very good presentation and presence, not the very best I’ve heard or the most natural vocals but overall great for this price bracket($1k-1.6k). The upper mids and lower treble are very much boosted and I feel they always sound on the very edge of what I find comfortable before things get too bright for me. It’s rare for me to be tolerant of strong upper mids and this is the first time in a while I’ve been ok with an upper mid focused IEM. The rest of the treble is sharp and has a good sense of air up top from my listening. As someone who really pays attention to the decay on cymbals and hi-hats, this was a very crisp set to listen to. Details came through really well on this set and I find the Gaea impressive for sure. It strikes a good balance of producing very good details without sounding too harsh in the upper frequencies. At least when used with neutral sounding source gear. I have heard better and more detailed treble from more expensive sets but almost all the other sets I’ve tried out were usually too intense for more than 10 min for me personally. While I really like this tuning, I would have loved to maybe get a stronger mid bass or whatever seems to keep the low end from sounding fuller or sticking around for a bit longer. I always prefer a stronger bass when possible however.

Soundstage/Imaging​

I found the staging was above average in width but it was very deep depth wise. This wasn’t a balanced stage but I found myself enjoying it as someone who likes a wider or balanced soundstage. This wasn’t holographic but I did find the depth to provide a good sense of placement of both instruments and vocals. All in all, the staging and imaging were great.

Note on my sound impressions​

I normally don’t mention the music I test with and I honestly tend to play random songs from a pretty big personal library of many different genres. I do however have a list of tracks I do know well enough or find unique for specific things. That being said, every single bit of audio gear I review always gets the final listen on Glass Animal’s “ZABA” album since that is one of my favorite albums and it checks a lot of neat audiophile staging/imaging checkboxes for me personally. The Gaea did phenomenal here. It’s been a while since I was like “oh wow, this sounds special with this album”.

Sensitivity/Drivability​

The Gaea shouldn’t be too hard to drive off most gear. My unit came in with the 4.4mm cable and I wasn’t in the mood to go unscrew this Pentaconn connector off the ConX connector to try on a single ended EA cable. I got to 29/100 on my SMSL SP400 and -44.5/0 on the newer Topping L70 headphone amp. Which I would call not very hard to drive. I also picked up zero hiss on any device I used with the Gaea.

Stock cable​

This is a very pretty and flashy cable. It has a vibrant solid blue and dark smoke transparent mix of stands that really make it stand out. The plug housing and Y-split both have black anodized housing which I scratched accidently so the bare metal is showing a little(pain). The inserts on the housing are claimed to be stabilized wood like the faceplate but on first look I thought the inserts were just printed and sealed in with resin/epoxy. The cable does use a rhodium plated plug which I’m not a huge fan of. I personally have issues with this and other rhodium plugs from past to present that don’t always play nice with all my 4.4mm source gear and on some, I have to twist the plug to get the channel imbalance correct. Not sure why rhodium plugs are picky on some 4.4mm gear but I would prefer to see a copper plug in general. The stock cable also comes with the ConX interchangeable connector system from Effect Audio which I really appreciate.
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Personal gripes with the Gaea​

Now onto the only gripe/concern I have with the Gaea.. The connector the Gaea uses is the Pentaconn Ear connector. I’m not sure how new this connector is and I’ve not attempted to see who else is using this connector but it looks to be a hybrid of the MMCX connector. It has a thicker pin that seems more sturdy than the fragile MMCX pin found in the connector housing and it spins freely like an MMCX connector. This Pentaconn Ear connector looks like it holds more securely than a 2 pin and isn’t a nightmare to unplug like MMCX. My issue was that when I got the Gaea in, the first day of walking around resulted in one side wiggling its way out of the connector. This was concerning and I quickly noticed the cable unplugged from both shells with little effort. I believe this is a defect in my specific unit and upon further inspection I noticed there are 4 little tabs on the female side of the connector and I very gently stuck the blade of my pocket knife in between each copper tab and with the smallest adjustment, had a secure hold from the connector that wasn’t too tight or loose. I’m not sure how common this might be in the future or if it’s an issue if you constantly cable swap on the Pentaconn Ear connector and need to adjust the tabs at some point. While I complained about the issue I had with this sample of one, I actually kinda like the concept of the Pentaconn Ear. I prefer old school long 2 pin recessed sockets(with the gaskets) but since that design is dead and very old now, I think this could be the next big thing eventually. 4.4mm Pentaconnn really changed up the balanced game so maybe this connector will do the same in a few years.

IEM comparisons​


THIEAUDIO V16 Divinity​

The V16 and Gaea are polar opposites in their tuning but they both manage to achieve similar detail retrieval. The lows are more impactful and sound fuller on the V16. Even though the V16 uses BA drivers for the bass, it really does sound much stronger and performs better to my ears. Mids are smooth and detailed on the V16 but the Gaea handles mids with the same details but sounds faster and cleaner. The vocals however do sound more natural on the V16. The treble on the Gaea is sharper and has a little extra bite that gives a better perceived detail over the V16. I find I can pick up the same impressive details across both IEMs however. The V16 does sound more relaxed though in the treble and I would say those who want more speed and accuracy will want to grab the gaea and those who want a more multi genre friendly IEM that is more on the smooth side, will want the V16 in their inventory. The staging is wider and more balanced sounding on the V16 but I find the deeper staging on the Gaea does make it sound a little more special if not somewhat strange on some tracks over others. Both are great options!

Note: I did run the V16 with its stock cable when I compared to the Gaea. I just had to retake photos so I was too lazy to swap the cable on the V16.
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Campfire Audio OG Solaris​

I really like the Solaris even if it’s a little older at this point in time. The two IEMs have brighter sounding tunings but both handle things very differently. The bass is fuller sounding and has better impact/slam on the Solaris. It simply has a bass response I wish the Gaea had and makes it a fun listen in the low end. The mids on both have good details but I find the Solaris lacks a little speed with instruments. Vocals on both are fantastic with the Gaea having a little more focus and presence over the Solaris. When swapping back and forth, the Solaris sounds a little more congested in the vocals. The upper mids on both are bright and the Gaea is very strong while just staying under my tolerance for upper mids. The Solaris has more intense peaks that hit me the wrong way. The rest of the treble is where things are vastly different, The Solaris has good detail retrieval but sounds a little hollow at times. The decay at the end of tones sound slower on the Solaris where the Gaea is much faster in decay. I don’t think one is “better than the other” in the treble however. The staging on both are pretty good with the OG Solaris sounding like you're in the middle of a stage and giving a more “holographic” sense of space. The Gaea has me feeling like I’m front row with little bits of sound sneaking behind me at times. I like both these IEMs but I find the Gaea is just a bit more refined sounding than the Solaris which I use in rotation daily at work.
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Amping Combinations​


Topping G5​

I didn’t like this pairing at all versus some of my other portables but since it’s one of my favorite DAC/amps, I wanted to include it anyway. The G5 is a brighter source but it’s perfect as my go to portable device with my laptop. I consider myself a little treble sensitive so the added brightness of the G5 pushed the Gaea a little over my comfort threshold for upper mids and treble all the time which was a no go for me. That being said, all the positives of the G5 still remain. The bass is still strong and accurate, the mids are clean and lack any lean sounding issues. The treble just has a more noticeable “ESS Sabre Glare” issue that I can notice on some IEMs over other gear. In this case I simply don’t use the pairing but for those who might not have the luxury of having multiple source gear devices on hand and might lack tolerance for sharper and brighter treble, this will be a deal breaker. If I only had a G5, it would be a dealbreaker for me anyways.
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SMSL SU-9/SP400 & Topping E70V/L70​

The Su-9/SP400 stack was used in my sound impressions above. I normally don't think IEMs need full on desktop gear to sound their best but I did find the Gaea did benefit from both this stack and the E70V/L70 stack from Topping. The biggest things I found going from a portable amp like the G5 or dongle came down to refinement and control. When the G5 got way too intense or the Lotoo PAW S1 pulled back on the treble too much, the desktop stacks I used always sounded better controlled and kept the upper mids under my limit for comfort more consistently. There was also the added sense of space in the staging that I really enjoyed from the desktop gear.
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Overall thoughts​

I really like the Gaea and I’m simply gonna call this an easy recommendation. I’m also gonna call Gaea a little more of an brighter all rounder. I think it does really well at highlighting details throughout the frequency range. It has a brighter tilt in the tuning so I don’t think it will please everyone but it’s impressive enough I would be fine using this with any genre without feeling like I’m dealing with too many trade offs. The only real problem I find with the Gaea overall is the stock situation. I’ve seen this go out of stock twice already and I’ve heard of delivery time issues on Elysian Acoustic IEMs in general. Effect Audio is handling the manufacturing I’ve been told so it seems that stock is coming in steadily as of late. I think this collaboration between Effect Audio and Elysian Audio produced quite a wonderful and special product. I look forward to checking out what may come next from both these companies in the future and I very much have Elysian Audio on my radar now. Thanks for reading!!
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tamtrum
tamtrum
Great review! Thank you for the write up. :L3000:
N
n3wman
Nice review! Agree with your pros and cons :L3000:
M
MrtBtkv
A wonderful and detailed review! My opinion about Gaea is almost exactly the same as yours. Thanks for the review!

freeryder05

Head-Fier
Unbalanced Detail
Pros: Detail
Staging
Imaging
Vocal Timbre
Fit
Cons: Bass Response
Treble Response
Proprietary cable connectors
Preface: I have had this IEM for a few weeks and I have really struggled to give it a rating. There are two main reasons I struggled with it; this is a technical champion with tuning that is just NOT for me. So this left me in the conundrum: how do I review something objectively and give it a rating that it deserves? I decided that I would give it a 3.5 because I would never listen to the Gaea by choice.

Sources used: I listened mostly with either an Apple Dongle and Spotify or My Questyle M15 and Spotify. I listened with local flacs, but I personally can’t hear the difference.

Build: This IEM is built excellently. The shells are a very nice size and are beautifully designed. They have a nice blue swirling effect with a very nice logo on each ear. The cables feel sturdy and lightweight. I don't believe that cables alter sound enough for me to think about it, but it is a gorgeous cable with a nice weave and ergonomic fit that's not too loose or too stiff. A+ for build. I can wear this all day without pain. The cable is one of the selling points of this set so while it's a bit lame that it is a proprietary cable, the stock cables are gorgeous and should be considered a major selling point of the Gaea.
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Tonality: As a general overview of the Gaea's tonality, I would call it Harman neutral specifically to 2017. My biggest problem with being "harman neutral" is that harman is ridiculously shouty. If you have read my other reviews, my ideal IEM is a reduced pinna with a bit of a U shape. I am a bass player at heart and losing bass guitar plucks and mid bass lower mid punch is just unacceptable. The treble is on the very bright side and is borderline sibilant. I don’t really like what Elysian was going for here, but it definitely fits for certain genres

Gaea Harman 2017
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Gaea compared to my target
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Bass: This is the biggest failure of the IEM to me. Bass is so masked behind the treble that I really struggle to find it. If I had to compare it to other IEMs in this price tier, I would say it's the bottom tier of kilobuck bass. Sub bass can rumble, but the decay feels unnaturally fast and hollow. Kick drums lack the slam that I expect, but can be heard. On Marcus Miller's Detroit, the bass fails to cut through the other instrumentation. This is especially odd because the instrument separation farther up the spectrum is incredible (spoiler alert). There's not much for me to say here other than the bass here is pretty bad and the timbre in the bass to lower mids isn't a strength here.


TLDR 3/10: no slam, no impact, no color


Mids: I would say the mids are actually a strength despite some of the things I said earlier about the tonality. The mids are dry as a bone. They seem to have not much going on and I actually think that's a strength for a few reasons. It allows for a very analytical listen. The details aren't lost in the color. Tom Petty's guitar work is clear and centered right in the middle. The vocal works of Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews, Jerry Garcia all sound quite natural. There is an incisiveness to each string pluck, snare hit, trumpet blast and piano hit. Having a nice and flat mids region creates a very natural sense of spacing imaging. Too much warmth and things get lost, too much brightness and it can be distracting. If you want to analyze your music, if you want to hear every detail of what's being played, this is the IEM you want.


TLDR 7/10: It's dry, but very accurate


Treble: I wouldn't say I hate treble, but I definitely don't like it. I want it to extend and be heard, but I don't want it to be the only thing I hear. The Gaea is for people who love the top end. Female vocals absolutely shine. I don't really know why, but I have never listened to much music that heavily features female vocals. I really like BLACKPiNK, which is very fitting for an IEM like this. Each vocalist comes through crystal clear and the subbass bounce matches. On songs like Spoon by Dave Matthews Band, Alannis Moriesette sounds like an angel. Ariana Grande's vocal feats sound absolutely gorgeous all the way through. It's not all perfect though. High percussion sounds borderline like nails on a chalkboard. Violins and fiddles are the absolute death of me on this IEM. Bela Fleck's Vertigo is one of my favorite tracks to test speed and separation and I couldn't make it to the end. Bluegrass can really hit that high treble in ways that are absolutely unbearable.


TLDR: 5/10 Female vocals are stellar, higher end treble like rides, cymbals, violins are very abrasive and unenjoyable


Imaging: Alright, if nothing has scared you from this point, you have made it to the good part. The detail retrieval on this is absolutely insane. You can hear the breathing of the pianists such as Keith Jarret on Live in Kolin. On Traffic's Low Spark of a High Heeled Boy the head stage is incredible. You can hear the depth of the stage with claps and other noises that sound like they're coming from all different directions. on 7 rings, but Ariana Grande you can hear background vocals that are very hard to notice if you have never heard them. At 1:41 you can hear her say things like "closet" and "beaming". I have never caught these vocal phrases on anything, not HD800s, not Verite Closed, not A12t etc. I can keep going.


Imaging 10/10. You can hear anything that's in the mix. You might even start hearing things that weren't in the mix but maybe were in the artist’s dreams. I really have no idea what I'm saying, but just trust me it's amazing.


Conclusions: This IEM is certainly not for everyone. It is sharp, lacks bass and is hyper detailed to the point of fatigue. If you want something that is engaging, incisive and purposeful, this is your IEM. Each string pluck, note sung, drum hit and trumpet blast feel like they're going to attack you; It is visceral and engaging, but perhaps too aggressive. Elysian has made something special here that I personally don't want to hear again. I like an all natural timbre with a slight mid bass punch. I need more emotion in my music and the Gaea just doesn't deliver that. It's a machine made to deliver the most detail right into your ear holes.

My recommendation for a similar IEM in the same price bracket that might be a bit more enjoyable would be the Helios. Helios is a fantastic IEM that suffers from a terrible fit. It has a similar of tilt tuning leaning more bright, but is balanced much better than the Gaea. Sonically, the Helios is a more balanced well rounder.

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Thanks for reading and please don't hesitate to ask any questions!


Also if you wanna mess with the graph a bit check out my squig at Squig Link!
trh322
trh322
Please do a review for other Elysian products aswell. I really enjoyed reading your works and looking forward to hearing about your future reviews. Thank you.
freeryder05
freeryder05
If I get my hands on them, I will be sure to review them! I would love to hear them at some point.

gLer

Headphoneus Supremus
Effect Audio x Elysian Gaea: A Clear Conundrum
Pros: Exceptional clarity and treble quality
Zero fatigue treble despite the elevation
Very well made
Quality stock cable with ConX
Cons: Upper midrange forwardness can be fatiguing
Bass lacks impact and prominence
Large nozzles can be uncomfortable for some
Unconventional tuning (can be a pro too)
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Introduction

It’s always interesting when a cable company ventures into IEM design, but unlike Effect Audio’s previous homegrown effort, Axiom, they’ve partnered with a specialist IEM maker in Elysian Acoustic Labs for their new collab, Gaea.

QM Lee, the mastermind behind Elysian’s now-famous Annihilator and X flagship IEMs, is renowned for his tuning prowess. Going against the grain of bass-fronted designs, his IEMs are in essence perfect contradictions, often featuring strident, elevated midrange or treble that somehow still presents as silky smooth and balanced, with exceptional quality.

If you’re looking for the same sort of funky tuning and Elysian DNA in Gaea, you’re in luck. This is not your traditional IEM by any stretch, and even though the marketing spiel speaks of earthiness and female vocal bliss, as you’ll soon see, it’s not exactly what you’re getting.

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Packaging and accessories

Priced at $1,300 retail, Gaea is a premium product by any measure. It ships in an environmentally-friendly gold-flecked black cardboard box, adorned with an intricate gold foiled design of the primordial Earth goddess herself.

Removing the lid reveals a translucent sheet inscribed with a feel-good greeting from (EA founder) Suyang and (the other EA’s) Lee, beneath which the blue stabilized wood earpieces nestle inside matching foam core cutouts. The top tray holding the earpieces lifts away to expose an accessory box that holds two smaller boxes, one labeled ‘Ear Tips’ – one set of SpinFit’s new medical-grade W1 tips in three different sizes; the other labeled Cleaning Kit – a lint-free cloth and wax picker brush.

EA also includes a sturdy felt-covered case with a magnetic lock and internal mesh pockets that comfortably holds the IEMs and cable along with the packaged accessories. Just be aware that the cover material will attract every bit of dust, hair and fluff it comes in contact with.

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Design and fit

This is my first encounter with an Elysian IEM, and I believe it represents the new smaller shell design Lee is rolling out for his other IEMs too. It’s still a fairly chunky IEM, nicely finished in a thick-feeling solid gloss black resin shell and lacquered blue wood faceplates. EA and Elysian logos are emboss-foiled in gold on each earpiece respectively.

While the shells themselves aren’t too cumbersome, I find the nozzles on the thick and fairly long side, which usually spells trouble for my small ear canals. Sadly, my fears were confirmed as soon as I tried to fit one of my go-to eartips, Sony’s EP-EX11, onto the bulbous nozzles. No go…they stretched over the nozzles with some difficulty, only to pop back off almost immediately. Spiral Dots were the next tips I tried, and while they slid on easily, they also slid off easily, remaining firmly wedged in my ears. Final’s E-Type tips were only marginally better; I managed to get them on, but eventually one or other tip slid off the nozzle.

Long story short, only Acoustune AET07 and the stock SpinFit eartips seemed to fit. Even then, the smallest size stock tip was too big for me, which meant the nozzles couldn’t sit very deep, leaving the earpieces to dangle from my ears, balanced on the stems. This wasn’t totally uncomfortable, given how light the earpieces are, but a word of warning to anyone with similar ears to mine: this is not the most comfortable IEM I’ve used, nor could I use it for anything but shorter sessions without some sort of discomfort.

On a positive note, I really like the colour-matched cable, with its stabilized wood splitter. The cable itself features gold and blue EA Ultra Flexi plasticated sleeving, with a combination of 24awg OCC copper litz and silver-plated copper litz wires. It also features EA’s proprietary ConX system, letting you switch from the stock P-Ear connector to mmcx or 2-pin connectors for use with other IEMs. P-Ear is meant to be a sturdier variant of the swiveling mmcx connector, though I found it to be more fragile and prone to bending than the shorter, stockier mmcx connectors I have on other cables.

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Tech and specs

Gaea is a five-driver hybrid IEM, with one Foster-made dynamic driver for bass and four Sonion balanced armatures covering mids to highs. A four-way crossover connects the bass dynamic driver with the low-mid BA, mid-high BA and two high-frequency BAs. The dynamic driver is dual vented (DiVe Pass II Dual Ventilation Technology in marketing-speak), primarily to prevent driver flex from what I understand.

With a 10-ohm impedance at 1khz and a nominal sensitivity of 102db at 1khz, Gaea is not difficult to drive. It needs 5-10 clicks less juice than most of my other IEMs, volume matched.

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Sound Impressions

First and foremost, your impressions of Gaea will depend on the tips you manage to fit on them. As mentioned earlier, I couldn’t get any of my go-to tips to fit, and even the stock tips were a struggle, both to get onto the nozzles and then into my ears. The two tips I liked most with Gaea are Final E (when they stay on), and, more consistently, the stock SpinFit W1 tips.

Tonally, Gaea has a U-shaped tuning profile, with a moderately emphasized (10dB) sub-bass shelf, a ‘generously’ elevated pinna gain/upper-midrange, and a likewise elevated but un-peaky treble response. If I were to sum up the sound presentation in three words, I’d say clear, crisp and aggressive. This is not a sit back and relax sound, nor a warm and romantic sound. It’s in your face, all the time, with no letups.

To break it down for you, I’m going to flip the usual bass-mids-treble order because I feel Gaea is a treble and mids-first IEM.

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I’m no treblehead, quite the opposite, but I respect and appreciate good quality treble, and Gaea has that in spades. Elysian is known for its treble tuning quality, and Gaea is no different. Even though it lacks the e-stat drivers of higher-end Elysian-made IEMs, the Sonion BAs used here are tuned to perfection, delivering a crisp, energetic yet smooth and evocative treble.

Listen to Miri Ben-Ari’s violin solo in the build-up to Armin van Buuren’s Intense, and you’ll hear the soaring intensity of the strings with almost pitch-perfect timbre, for example. String sections of classical pieces like Max Richter’s recomposed version of Vivaldi’s Winter 1 is another good example. But keep in mind this is not necessarily a true-to-life reproduction; I find treble levels elevated well above the norm, to my ears, and coupled with the even-more-intense upper midrange, the ‘wall of treble’ sound can be unnerving if you’re not used to it.

This makes Gaea a bright-leaning IEM. Sibilance is actually very well controlled – better, in fact, than many less-trebly IEMs – and while much of that is tip-dependent, this is still ranks as some of the better ‘elevated’ treble I’ve heard in an IEM.

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If Gaea’s treble is too much for you, hold on to your hat when you hear its midrange. There’s so much presence and energy in the midrange – especially the upper midrange – that you’ll struggle to hear anything else above the din.

Lower midrange is neutral, maybe even dipped slightly below neutral, so male vocals, come off a bit thin, especially without any added midbass support (see below). Some male vocalists like Neil Diamond sound less raspy or chesty in their performance (Hello Again a great example from the fabulous The Jazz Singer LP). Higher-pitched male vocals, like the Weeknd’s contribution to Lana Del Rey’s Lust For Life, are pushed further up the octave scale by the steep rise to the upper mids, so are generally exempt from the low midrange dip.

Female vocals, however, are where the designers seem to have set their sights. There’s a real presence and forwardness to female vocal music, even though quality swings between perfectly sweet and wincingly shouty. If you’re a fan of bright, articulated, crispy vocals of the female persuasion, you’ll find a great partner in Gaea; not so much if you’re after the soft, soothing and romantic.

Listen to Rosie Thomas singing Why Waste More Time and you’ll think exactly that (I actually turned it off pretty quickly). Rosie has a beautifully articulate and young-sounding voice, very closely micced, but Gaea makes her sound like a pre-pubescent teen. I’m not a K-pop/J-pop listener, so I’m not sure if this is the effect that lovers of this type of music go for, but if it is, they'll want to give Gaea a listen.

More energetic female vocals, like Nevve in Seven Lions’ Island, are so bright you’ll want to wear shades before pressing play…but, that could be a good thing if you want that sort of energy in your life. Likewise, Ilan Bluestone’s Will We Ramainsounds epic on Gaea, and even though I personally find it too much, I’ve spoken with many who don’t.

Real instruments, on the whole, fare quite well. Timbre is believable, and even higher-frequency midrange sounds, like stick hits and shakers, don’t land with too much zing. As midrange blends into the treble, it maintains a fairly even keel, and there are no sudden spikes up top that make instruments or vocals sound ‘off’, as is the case with some overexuberant upper-midrange and lower-treble-elevated IEMs.

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Bass is where I have most of my issues with Gaea. Even though I don’t enjoy an elevated midrange, I can respect the tuning for where it’s aiming. But I’m far more particular about bass delivery, and while I get that the bass here is mostly meant to support the upper frequencies, I don’t think it does so particularly well.

Delivered by a Foster dynamic driver (the same driver used in Elysian’s current flagship, Annihilator), the bass is focused more in the sub-50Hz sub-bass region, with a linear drop towards the lower mids. That’s not the issue, since I actually prefer a sub-bass focus. What I don’t like I how fast the bass decays. It sounds unnatural to me.

The big bass drums that kick off A Fine Frenzy’s Elements are punchy, sure, but they decay so quickly you’d think you’re listening in an Anechoic chamber. There’s also a lack of sub-bass extension that renders the subtle sub-bass rumble in Kristin Hersch’s Your Ghost almost inaudible, especially with the elevated midrange placing the accompanying guitar strums far further forward than I’m used to.

While the driver is adequately vented, giving it more room to fully express the bass notes, I actually find the bass levels too low and the delivery too fast to balance out the rest of the frequencies. As such, I find bass notes are too often masked by the elevation of the other frequencies, upper midrange in particular.

All of the above suggests the bass is tuned to play a supporting rather than a leading role in the mix, and that’s exactly how I hear it. There’s a flatness to the bass delivery that means it never dominates, even where bass weight is called for. It lacks some of the richness, detail and texture you’d expect from a more forward bass presentation, and so if you’re someone who prefers bass that lays a foundation for the music and does little else, you’ll probably find Gaea to your liking. Bassheads, or even bass enthusiasts, won’t find much to like here however.

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Technically, Gaea is a very competent performer. Resolution, partly due to its clean and extended treble, is excellent, though not quite class-leading. Stage is natural, with decent width and depth, but can start to feel cramped when music gets busy, especially bright busy. When that happens, instruments tend to smear and vocalists shout over each other. Play the crescendo to Daft Punk’s Contact and you’ll feel every shred of the violent interstellar explosion it depicts.

Instruments and vocals are otherwise well separated, but imaging is just ok. I get a good sense of where instruments are placed on the stage, but it’s more a general layout rather than pinpoint precision. That’s probably because some sounds, especially higher pitched metallic instruments and guitar strings, tend to dominate.

Gaea is quite dynamic, especially in midrange- and treble-dominant tracks. It’s an exciting, involving listen, not an IEM I could ever kick back and relax with. There’s an energy to the sound that can be quite fun with the right music (electronic music in particular), and those who love their jazzy music aggressive, their Dire Straits crispy, and their electric guitars crunchy, are going to enjoy the ride.

Conversely, it can be quite unforgiving of poorly recorded and brighter, compressed music. Modern pop would have to be well mastered to sound good without overloading, especially female vocal-fronted pop, and I’m not convinced you’ll survive a strident soprano opera with these.

Overall, Gaea is certainly…different to what I’m used to. Right off the bat it doesn’t have the bass quantity or quality I enjoy, but is not the worst I’ve heard here by any stretch. Midrange, while rich and dominant, is somewhat overdone, and treble, well, there’s lots of it too, but in a good way.

It’s not your mainstream tuning, and it can be peaky and coloured with many genres. But for those wanting something that challenges convention, and eschews the usual bass-dominant tuning of many modern (Western-tuned) IEMs, it could have much appeal. If you love your treble, and aren’t sensitive to upper-midrange forwardness, you may even find Gaea to be right in your lane.

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Pairings and comparisons

I won’t be going into source pairings in detail, so I’ll just say that Gaea seems to be quite source-sensitive. For example, I found it far more agreeable using Sony’s smoother, more evenly-tuned WM1Z compared to HiBy’s RS6, which tends to double-down on upper-mid-forward IEMs. HiBy’s new RS8 R2R flagship was even better than the Sony, although possibly less forgiving of Gaea’s upper-mid stridency.

Just be aware of this when auditioning Gaea for yourself, and unless you’re a masochist, try avoid overly bright sources.

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Campfire Audio Supermoon ($1,500). Campfire’s new single-driver planar was designed specifically as a custom IEM, so a direct comparison with Gaea isn’t really fair, especially when it comes to comfort. Sound-wise, Supermoon’s is a bass-dominant tuning, with a more neutral midrange and sparkly, extended, but not quite as elevated treble as Gaea’s.

Both IEMs have a brighter and arguably slightly ‘digital’ tonality, but I do find Supermoon sounds smoother through the bass to midrange transition, especially with vocals. Supermoon’s treble can display some metallic timbre or digital ‘glare’ on occasion, but where it doesn’t, I find it to be an easier listen than Gaea with my library.

Where Supermoon is, to me ears, unarguably superior to Gaea is resolution, cohesion and staging. Gaea is more dynamic, and the its higher frequency delivery is more natural. Your choice between these two will come down to how much brightness you prefer up top, and in turn, which one plays better with your music library.

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Sony IER-Z1R ($1,800). I find it quite ironic that the IEM that’s roundly considered one of the least comfortable for many users is significantly more comfortable in my ears than Gaea. The Sony’s thinner, shorter nozzles work better with my ear anatomy (small ear canals), and also take a much wider range of tips without issue.

Sonically, I consider the Z1R’s bass almost peerless, with a deep, weighty, powerful and articulate sub-bass to midbass elevation that gives music a cavernous space in which to play. Compared to Gaea's anaemic bass, it's no contest. While Sony's midrange is considered recessed by some, I hear it as very clear, clean and more analogue-sounding than Gaea’s. Male vocals on the Sony are quite neutral, like Gaea’s, while Gaea’s female vocal delivery is notably more forward and less natural or organic than Sony’s.

Treble is interesting, because both IEMs have excellent quality treble. I feel Gaea’s treble quality is slightly handicapped by its upper-midrange aggression, though, while Sony’s, by comparison, is sparkly and precise but also more elevated in the lower treble, which could be bothersome for those with a lower treble sensitivity. Technically, I feel Z1R has the upper hand across the board, though you could argue the two are more similar than different in resolving ability and dynamics.

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Closing thoughts

I’ve read so much about Lee and his uniquely-tuned IEMs, but until I tried Gaea for myself, I couldn’t quite make sense of them. Fast and aggressive but also…smooth? Bright and clear but also…balanced?

These are just some of the contradictions I hear with Gaea, and while I can categorically say that it’s not the type of sound I go for, I can see why so many people enjoy it.

Ironically, I like it least for the ‘theme’ it represents: earthy female vocals. Gaea makes female vocalists sound much younger and more aggressive than they are, and some male vocalists too, but I think that was the intention. If you want a warm, organic, jazz lounge-type tuning, or something to relax or mediate to, I don’t think Gaea is the right fit. But for gym workouts, motivation sessions or some headbanging fun, why not?

Cosmetically these are well-made IEMs, befitting their premium pricetag. While I personally have issues with the chunky fit, that’s specific to my anatomy, and I’ve seen very few complaints from others in this regard.

I think Effect Audio made the right move by enlisting a reputable and talented IEM tuner like Lee for their Axiom follow-up. This is a much better IEM all-round, and while it hasn't quite won my approval, it could very well win yours.

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vikinguy
vikinguy
Sadly, they go past fatigue for me into near ear pain. The upper mids are just too much for me. I should have known looking at the graph.
Ace Bee
Ace Bee
I had a slight inkling to may be go for Gaea...but after reading this, NOPE! Dodged an arrow, and thanks to you entirely, @gLer ! May be will go for something else...twilight perhaps? Let's see...for now trying to make a deal for a Custom Art Go One :)
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YungOmbat
YungOmbat
so cool looking, work of art
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