Empire Ears Phantom

General Information

Empire Ears Phantom
  • 5 Proprietary Empire Balanced Armature Drivers
  • 2 Low, 1 Mid, 1 High, 1 Super High
  • 5-Way synX Crossover Network
  • A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
  • UPOCC 26AWG Handcrafted Cable by Effect Audio


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Pros: Exquisite tonal balance; ripe for professional work
- Organically natural instruments
- A high degree of transparency towards the chain (track included)
- Outstanding bass performance
- Full-bodied, dynamic and nuanced mids
- Top-class build and accessories
Cons: Darker tilt is an acquired taste
- May lack upper-treble sparkle and raw, immediate clarity to some
- Slightly dulled transient attack
- Not the most defined in clinical separation
- Lower-treble peak may react poorly to select tracks
DISCLAIMER: Empire Ears provided me with a discounted price on the Phantom in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Empire Ears for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Empire Ears are on their way to becoming a household name. The family-run enterprise – formerly known as EarWerkz – have been putting out hits for years, including the venerable Legend-R average_joe reviewed in 2015. But, they’ve only recently broken into the mainstream with their statement piece behemoth; the 14-driver, switch-clad Zeus-XR. Looking to ride that momentum into the proverbial sunset, Empire Ears have taken 2018 by storm, putting out two brand new lines of in-ears tuned with a think-tank-like collective of industry pros. Headlining the EP (Empire Professional) line is the Phantom: A revelation in tonal transparency; one of the most natural, sophisticated and refined in-ears I’ve ever heard.

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Empire Ears Phantom

  • Driver count: Five balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 10Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 117dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): synX crossover technology, A.R.C. technology, proprietary balanced-armature drivers
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $1799
  • Website: www.empireears.com
Build and Accessories

Among the myriad of in-ears I’ve reviewed over the past year, Empire Ears clearly have the best-packaged ones of them all. The Phantom comes in an uber classy, onyx black box – complete with the company’s Bentley-like logo glimmering on top and a magnetic strip lining the latch below. Lifting the lid reveals a quick start guide, small and large fabric pouches, a branded micro-fibre cloth and Empire Ears’ personalised Aegis case. Within the case are the in-ears themselves, the default Effect Audio Ares II cable and an included cleaning tool securely set within foam cut-outs. Although I wouldn’t mind replacing one of the pouches for a mini semi-hard case, this is surely a package as complete as I’ve ever seen one.

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The provided Aegis case is a touring musician’s dream. A black, fine-textured finish shrouds the enclosure, topped with an engraved, aluminium faceplate and two tenaciously robust clasps. Density and weight throughout the vault suggests a great degree of durability, without sacrificing look or feel. The one complaint I’ve heard online is the narrow profile, which may inadvertently cause pressure on the in-ear monitors when mispositioned. A face-down seating position is required. But overall, Empire Ears’ Aegis case possesses a suaveness that all but telegraphs the quality sitting within.

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When customising your Empire Ears custom in-ear monitor, you’re given the option of 29 shell colours (21 standard and 8 glitter) and a whopping 62 faceplates. The latter consists of the 29 colours that are available in shell form, in addition to multi-coloured swirls, wood, carbon fibre and multi-coloured graphics – almost like vinyl on a race car. On top of that, you’re also given the option of adding Empire Ears’ logo in gold or silver, a field of Swarovski crystals or your own custom artwork that you can submit on their online designer. Although the tool isn’t as sophisticated as JHAudio’s (which allows the user to rotate the designs in a 3D space), it’s on an equal plane as those from 64Audio, Custom Art and Vision Ears.

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In terms of build, cosmetics, comfort and isolation, the Phantom ticks all boxes with ease. My personal pair came in onyx black with carbon fibre faceplates and gold emblems; emulating the class and luxury a high-end in-ear monitor should. And, nowhere is that more clearly reflected (besides in sound, of course) than in finish. The monitors are evenly and illustriously lacquered with neither a bubble nor a rough edge in sight. Even the horn bores – notoriously difficult areas to get clean – are flawlessly structured with utmost finesse. In the ear, they’re vanishingly comfortable – balancing pressure and ergonomics better than a large majority of my collection – and they isolate very sufficiently as well.

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Finally, as mentioned, Empire Ears includes Effect Audio’s acclaimed Ares II wire as the in-ear’s stock cable. Relative to other Effect Audio cables I’ve owned, the braiding isn’t as uniform and silky – probably so because the’ve had to keep up with massive demand. But, they still exude infinitely more quality than most stock options in the industry today.

synX

synX is a proprietary crossover system developed in-house by Empire Ears, which they claim designates more individual audio bands per driver than any other crossover technology currently in existence. In essence, it splits the load across more transducers, so that they possess more headroom and – therefore – lower distortion. This is especially true when you wish to apply any form of EQ. You’re allowed more leeway to push certain frequencies before the drivers begin to operate outside of their comfort zones. This is useful for me as a sound engineer, if I were required to use EQ for – say – a mixing console with sub-optimal output impedance, a specifically coloured audio player, etc. In addition, Empire Ears claim synX improves stereo separation, phase response and SNR, through handpicked resistors, capacitors and filters.

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Image courtesy of Empire Ears
A.R.C. Technology

A.R.C. (Anti-Resonance Compound) technology is comprised of two separate parts existing inside and outside of the balanced-armature drivers. The first is ferrofluid that they’ve implanted between the magnets and the armatures within the drivers. What this does is dampen the driver sufficiently, such that it removes any unwanted distortions, peaks and vibrations, whilst maintaining a crisp, clear sound. This also eliminates the need for a damper in the sound tube. The second part is a proprietary coating that they spray on every component of the IEM – including the drivers, crossovers, tubes and shells – to add solidity; acting as – again – a damper to remove any resonances that may render them out-of-phase. Empire Ears claim increased clarity, deeper bass and an overall more efficient monitor as a result of A.R.C.

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Image courtesy of Empire Ears
Presentation

The Phantom possesses a relaxed, organic signature defined by great robustness, a natural sense of body and excellent tonal transparency. Despite its handful of ingrained, fundamental traits, the Phantom is unique in how it lets the chain determine its tone and soundstage. Like other mastering in-ears – such as JHAudio’s Layla – the Phantom is capable of distinctly distinguishing shifts in production, mixing and mastering. An example would be the change in saturation in Tom Misch’s voice between Lost in Paris and South of the River from his Geography album. Or, the shift in vocals between Sam Smith’s Burning and One Day At a Time. While most IEMs aim to provide a generally pleasing, musical performance, the Phantom’s M.O. is infinitely more altruistic: A true, unadulterated representation of music with little compromise.

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But, this ability can only exist when a strong technical foundation has been set in place. Fortunately, the Phantom possesses excellent spatial performance. The EP flagship has been gifted an impressively stable black background with high resolution, by virtue of strong end-to-end extension. Because of this, no matter the hue or size those instruments embody, they’ll always be sat within a well-defined, well-layered and well-resolved soundscape. Despite its transparency, the Phantom does have its quirks in timbre. It’s a predominantly rich-sounding monitor with ample harmonic content, because of its prominent lower-midrange. In addition, a linear upper-treble limits sparkle, crispness and raw clarity. If you’ve grown accustomed to brighter, airier signatures like those of the HD800 or the A18t, the Phantom will likely require some getting used to. But if warmth is your cup-of-tea, it’ll fit like a smooth, snug and transparent glove.

Bass

One of the Phantom’s most prominent features is its thick, voluptuous low-end – contributing heavily towards both vocal richness and the overall organic tinge in its tone. It’s not a particularly forward-sounding low-end. Rather, its role in the overall ensemble is to fill out the bottom; pairing articulate transients with equal harmonic content. Outstanding balance is maintained between the sub- and mid-bass, resulting in a transparent response that I’d call neutral in tone. Alternating between the synthetic bass lines on Royce da 5’9″‘s Caterpillar and the uprights on Sarah McKenzie’s That’s It I Quit is a giddying experience – watching the low-end shift between guttural authority and warm emotionality. Again, it’s a rich, well-balanced and full-bodied bass that comes across uncoloured, but neither is it sterile or dull by any stretch.

This is because the Phantom’s bass possesses wonderful technical performance. Although the low-end isn’t necessarily coloured for fun, it maintains gobs of musicality through authority and extension. The Phantom’s sub-bass is excellent despite its balanced-armatured nature. The dynamic range, texture and resolution it possesses is second to few. But, most impressive is the headroom it’s able to maintain at the same time. There’s an effortlessness in the way it doles out waves of bass, that you’re able to objectively appreciate and subjectively head-bob simultaneously. Layering is strong as well, because of the Phantom’s low-end balance. You get just the right amount of everything, while high extension and low distortion make those individual elements pop. In terms of cons, I can see some preferring less upper-bass for cleanliness and definition. But for my money, this is a quality, balanced-armatured low-end I wouldn’t alter one bit.

Midrange

The Phantom possesses a thick, euphonic and resonant midrange; relatively even bar slight bumps around 1-2kHz and 3kHz. The former elevation contributes a characteristic chestiness – perhaps where the Phantom is least transparent throughout its entire frequency range. When combined with the in-ear’s full upper-bass and lower-midrange, vocals and instruments alike possess great body, as well as rich harmonic content. Although the Phantom then produces images with wetness and body, overall warmth remains minimal – granted by a well-controlled mid-bass and an extended top-end. So despite the harmonic content, the midrange never sounds cloy or congested. Instruments are organic in timbre, but refined too. When paired with the in-ear’s black background, the result is high resolution and tonal transparency.

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This refinement also stems from the its light, breezy upper-midrange. Unlike most musically-tilted in-ears, the Phantom does not possess a particularly dense or concentrated midrange. Instead, it chooses to assume a more feathery profile that projects through the chesty fundamental, rather than the throat or mouth. This aids its chameleon-like quality. Comparing two tracks like David Benoit’s Drive Time and Sarah McKenzie’s We Could Be Lovers, the Phantom showcases how distinct the two are in terms of real estate, rather than colouring both to sound inaccurately engaging. The former is spacious and theatre-like, while the latter bathes in intimacy. Where this may falter is in physicality. Certain higher-pitched instruments may lack concentration and density; failing to sound punchy at times. But again, this favours the engineer: Where tones, timbres and textures are easily discerned, with little distraction stemming from vocal saturation.

Treble

The Phantom’s treble is perhaps its most unique attribute and – consequently – its most polarising as well. Unlike most flagships in this day and age, the Phantom employs a flat, unexcited upper-treble; forgoing raw clarity, crispness and air in favour of tonal transparency. The Phantom is the antithesis of in-ears that “sound good with everything.” Because, its philosophy as an unbiased, uncoloured tool wills it so. The main areas of compromise lie in micro-detail retrieval and transient attack. With instruments like snare drums and cymbals, those accustomed to brighter, crisper transducers will immediately notice what sounds like dulled articulation. Transients don’t strike as quickly or as sharply as they normally would. In addition, tiny nuances in the music aren’t as prominent. Funnily though, the smoothness this tuning grants does allow you to focus on more data in a single sitting. But before you can do so, you have to search for them first.

Instead of the upper-treble then, the Phantom’s 6kHz peak provides clarity and articulation. With the right tracks, transients can come across clear as day, yet infinitely refined. These include RVRB’s Faded EP, Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyedand David Benoit’s Drive Time. But other tracks like Charlie Puth’s Done For Me may end up sounding brittle. This was done to maintain as clear a timbre as possible, so it does not sound crisp or tizz-y when it isn’t supposed to. Despite allthe compromises listed above, the Phantom’s treble does reward handsomely as well. Top-end notes – while softer – leave zero trace as they decay. The soundscape remains free of any bright harmonics, haze or chemtrails. This results in a perpetually black background; an essential foundation to accentuate the true colour of the track. This aids dynamic range as well, as instruments flow clearly between different loudnesses for an endlessly engaging experience. Finally, excellent extension preserves detail retrieval, revealing impressive nuance once you grow accustomed to its sensibilities.

General Recommendations

In the current crop of high-end in-ear monitors, the Phantom is certainly an acquired taste. It’s uniquely tuned withoutan eye for raw detail and air – rather, an ear for timbral and spatial shifts. These three are what the Phantom excel at:

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Tonal transparency for mixing and mastering: The Phantom’s uncoloured sonic palate serves as a great foundation for ruthless pro work. Tiny shifts translate with immense clarity – whether it be in EQ, stereo imaging or overall balance.

A rich, emotionally-resonant midrange: For playback, the Phantom also possesses a wonderfully transparent midrange – among the best in dynamic range, balance, tonal accuracy and resolution. If your playlist largely consists of vocal-oriented music, you can always rely on the Phantom to bring the best (and worst) out of your favourite balladeers.

An outstandingly well-rounded bass: Among the vast array of balanced-armatured low-ends I’ve heard, the Phantom is definitely in contention for the throne. Although it’s nowhere near basshead territory, it possesses a sense of balance present both in-and-of-itself and within the Phantom’s larger frequency response. Extension and authority allow it to maintain this, whilst sounding fun too. It strides the line between fun and work with outstanding prowess, effortlessly.

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Because of how far it strays from mainstream sensibilities, the Phantom does have its fair share of what can be perceived as cons. If you prioritise the following three traits highly in an in-ear monitor, the Phantom may not be for you.

High clarity, crispness and transient performance: Derived from its laid-back upper-treble, the Phantom’s articulation can be perceived is stunted; dulled. It isn’t as clinical or clear-cut as most modern flagships. Transient attack may sometimes lack too with more rhythmic genres. If fun and attack are what you’re looking for, Empire Ears’ X Series will be for you.

Contrast-y, clinically-defined instruments: The Phantom’s fuller upper-bass and lower-midrange (relative to the treble) also results in wetter, bloomy-er instruments – not as cleanly defined as on brighter, leaner monitors. There’s certainly an emphasis on harmonics. If you crave detail and definition, the EVR and ESR from Empire Ears’ EP Series will do the job.

A forgiving lower-treble: Despite the overall smoothness the Phantom possesses throughout its frequency response, its lower-treble is a particular point of caution. Although it provides natural clarity, tracks, cables or sources that emphasise 6kHz may end up sounding brittle or sibilant. Again, the Phantom definitely pulls no punches – if it’s there, it’ll be heard.

Select Comparisons

JHAudio Layla ($2699)

Jerry Harvey’s Layla is a bonafide classic – the weapon of choice for dozens of professional engineers worldwide. So, how does the veteran compare to the new kid on the block? Surprisingly (or the opposite, rather) the Layla and the Phantom share several striking similarities. In tone, the two share the same track-first philosophy. The colour the soundscape assumes is determined by the recording and the chain, but both in-ears regardless maintain a sense of organicity; a lush humanity to the way instruments are presented. Where they ultimately differ is how much this lushness intrudes upon the proceedings. The Phantom possesses more flair. There’s a confident, muscular timbre to it that stems from its harmonic lower registers. On the other hand, the Layla comes across more strict; more cool, calm and collected.

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The Phantom has a warmer bottom, a livelier midrange and a peppier treble, while the Layla’s all display a similar level of quiet confidence. There’s a nonchalance to its delivery that may come across less musical, but will appeal to engineers who are looking for the utmost truth; no more, no less. The Layla’s beauty, then, stems from quality. Its low-end digs among the deepest I’ve heard from balanced-armatures, and its resolution across the board is stunning. This is further exemplified in stage reproduction. The Phantom has an immense technical foundation, but the images that occupy it loom large and full. The Layla compacts its instruments, such that its expansive stage feels even more grand. It provides a theatrical experience that some may consider detached relative to the Phantom. As always, it’s a matter of preference.

HUM Dolores (¥200,000)

The Dolores is HUM’s brand new flagship. Like the Phantom, it’s posited as a reference-grade engineering tool. Although the two share similarities, they ultimately diverge in their interpretations of life-like. Although it shares the Phantom’s linear upper-treble, the Dolores posits a cleaner, more neutral tone – courtesy of a 10kHz peak and an attenuated low-end. Transients sound brighter and punchier, but they aren’t much crisper than the Phantom’s. Rather, they’re far more prone to brittleness with hotter recordings, like J. Cole’s verse on Royce da 5’9″’s Boblo Boat. So, the Dolores is cleaner in timbre, but far less forgiving. And although it lacks the sub-bass prowess or mid-bass warmth of the Phantom, the Dolores’s low-end scores high in speed, control and definition. Extension imbues it with sufficient physicality as well.

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Space is where the two are most alike. Excellent bidirectional extension gives the Dolores a stable, well-resolved and richly-nuanced stage. The two are indistinguishable in width, but the Phantom wins out in depth. This is because of its laid-back upper-midrange, while the Dolores’ is more saturated. The former has a blacker background as well, but in terms of detail-led transparency, the Dolores has the edge with its sharper transients. Micro-details possess greater vibrance and attack. However, this compromises tonal transparency. Although it’s capable of discerning shifts in midrange structure, the Dolores doesn’t alter much from one recording to another in overall timbre and hue. So, I’d posit the Phantom as the mixing and mastering tool, while the Dolores is most viable in editing first and mixing second.

Verdict


The Phantom is a modern classic – discerning, resolving and soulful all the while. Veering from vogue, Empire Ears’ co-flagship forgoes fabricated pizzazz to deliver music in its truest, purest form: A balance built for the professional. But, that’s not to say it’s without its own eccentricities. A harmonic heft tinges its sonic palate, as well as an adamant refusal to conjure any form of hard-edged transient attack; a slip away from the veiled cognomen. But years of experience have come to the Phantom’s rescue, for Empire Ears have truly instilled it with a wonderful technical foundation. Taken together, it’s not a signature all will love – especially those who live on air, crispness and crystalline clarity. But for the listener eager to explore the different flavours, fibres and hues that music has to offer, the Phantom reigns supreme.

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Pros: Resolution, bass/ treble extension, coherency
Cons: Dull uppermids, lack of sparkle, somewhat dry
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My model is a universal version so there might be some variations from a custom model.

All listening is done using hugo2 optical out as source.

I will skip the build and design as you can find a more in depth explanation at empire ears web page.

Instead of going for a more conventional mid forward tuning, the latest models of the empire ears phantom and legend x have a more neutral midrange, partly due to the enhanced bass response in these models.

In its original configuration with ares ii cable it has a warm and somewhat dark tonality due to it prominent bass and relative flat lower treble.

I perceive it to have a gentle L shaped sound signature. Bass extends deep and transits smoothly into mids that are neutral in positioning. Treble has good extension, contributing to the impressively dark background, imaging and good note resolution.

Bass has one of the best reach i have heard from IEM with balance armature drivers. Rumble is emphasized with good balance throughout the mid and upper bass such that it does not come across as discontinuous or bloated.
Instruments such as the kick drums are portrayed naturally with an articulate rumble and a realistic reverberation in the note decay.

Midrange is well resolved and smooth. But the highlight for me here is the excellent note sustainability. Acoustic and acapella tracks really shines as its dark stage surrounds the listener, with detailed echoes and reverb of each note at their conclusion.

Treble takes a backseat with a more forgiving presentation. This is not a rolled off treble as it has excellent extension, rather its a more rounded treble that highlights note contours rather than transient note edges.
There is a genuine quality with this treble; you wont find any jarring spikes or harsh sparkle regardless of recording.

Though, the lack of treble sparkle results in crash cymbals strikes and guitar strums sound uncharacteristically smooth in certain tracks when they are supposed to convey impact.
Some female vocals can sound husky and closed in due to its relatively flat upper mid range. The slower note decay also impacts separation and while its layering is good, instruments can sound congested in fast and busier passages.
I sometimes hear a tendency for female singers to sound shouty when they are belting out in the track, likely due to presence of an upper treble peak.

These are the few tracks sampled:

The socialites (dirty projectors)
There is an upper midrange dip that make the female singer sound boxy and not as sweet.

Cold shoulder (Adele)
Vocals starts to get shouty on second half of the track when singer belts out towards the end.

Even if we try (night beds)
Very convincing vocal reverberation and mood in this capella track

All of the lights (Kanye West)
Bass beats with good impact and is able to keep up and maintain track rhythm. Passages consisting rap and chorus are well separated and dont sound congested.

Dark star (Polica)
The echoes and deep bass hits work really well in this electropop track

Cable rolling
Tried a few different cables with phantom and i only like this 2 pairings.

EA horus

Crash cymbals doesn't some as flat anymore with better defined attack and decay. There seems to be some brittleness in the treble though. Soundstage seems bigger with a darker background. Uppermids sounds sweeter and less dull. Bass is more agile and better defined at the expense of some naturalness due to an attenuation of upperbass for a cleaner stage with less warm air. Female vocals benefit most, having a sweeter tone but there is a tendency to sound shouty on certain tracks. This is my favourite pairing.

Leonidas II
Better treble presence but not as noticeable as pairing with horus. Background is darker with a wider and deeper soundstage. Bass sounds a bit more defined. Uppermid dips are still present in female vocals similar to stock cable.

Comparisons
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VE8 (universal demo)

Both have pretty accurate timbre but VE8 edges out here due to its more realistic portrayal of upper mids and harmonic based instruments. Soundstage is wider in VE8, depth wise maybe slightly more in phantom.
Phantom has the better bass extension but VE8 has wins in PRaT due to a less prominent emphasis on upper bass which contributes to better dynamics and rhythm.

Lower mids sound pretty similar with phantom having a slightly richer body while ve8 having more density in its notes. Uppermids is where they differ with phantom sounding duller with some female vocals while ve8 sounds lighter and more natural.

Treble has slightly better extension in phantom, but Ve8 has better linearity. The result of this linearity is reflected in the tonal quality and balance of its instrument and vocals. Transient attacks are more defined in ve8 making it the more engaging option for live music, such as rock and metal.

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Inear SD5 (demo)
This is similarly a 5 driver iem with an organic and musical signature about half the price of phantom.
Bass has more dynamic impact and better separation on SD5 as a result of a faster dip from the sub bass onwards. Bass extension, texture and definition wise goes to phantom. Mids are more forward in their positioning with more density but is not as smooth and rich sounding as phantom especially lower mids. Uppermids dont suffer from dullness but tends to get more shouty and edgy than phantom especially with power vocals. Treble has more sparkle with better attack transient but is not as controlled or well extended as phantom.

Lime ears Aether (universal demo) switch off position
Another 5 drivers again, this time with a closer price gap and a clash of natural tunings. Like the Phantom, aether possesses excellent timbre and tonality. Starting with bass, aether focuses more on sub bass but is unable to reach the same extension as phantom. The bass lines can sound a bit woolly and there appears to be some bleed into the lower mids.

Similar to the Phantom the upper bass imparts warmth and body to the midrange but phantom has more defined bass to mid transition. Mids are more forward on Aether with better presence and linearity in low to upper mids transition. This imparts it with a better ability to express emotions in songs compared to a flatter but higher resolution midrange in phantom.

Treble takes different approaches in both but manages to derive a fatigue free listen.
Aether has more prominent peaks in the treble region giving it better clarity with more sparkle and liveliness. But its dampened treble results in a sparkle that is well controlled without any sharp spikes. Phantom relies on its treble extension and a 7k peak for detail retrieval and yields a better resolution.

Jomo samba (custom)
If phantom invokes the ambiance of a small concert hall the presentation samba exudes belongs to one found in a studio setting.

At first glance/listen the jomo samba can be considered as the opposite of phantom. But a closer examination will show several similar traits which they derive their performance from. Starting with stage, samba has less width but slightly more depth. Both have an upper treble peak that generate a dark background, but phantom's background is darker and more stable in comparison. This is impressive considering that phantom has thicker low-mid notes, but samba offers a cleaner stage from its leaner more precised notes and an upper bass dip.

The notes that samba creates flashes like sparks while the Phantom notes are like fireworks with a slower and more sustained decay. Transients are expressed in samba with better precision and liveliness while phantom has further extension at both ends and fuller bodied instruments. Both can be considered somewhat dry, samba due to the lack of warmth in its midrange and phantom due to its neutral and flat upper mids.

Final comments:
The phantom's dark and smooth signature with its unwavering note sustain and emphasis in low/mid harmonics is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It does not play well with every genre, but what you will get here is a relatively fatigue free listen and an appreciation of note texture and overtones in the your everyday track.
Pros: Warm Sound Signature
Energetic and powerful kick at the lows
Good quality stock cable
Choice of termination
Cons: Cable rolling is needed to fine tune
Could be a little source dependent
Disclaimer

I bought this IEM with full retail price. This is not a sponsored review


Introduction
The Phantom is the result of constant reinvention. The ambition to push for more. To go beyond the conventional. With precision crafted performance as the touchstone and innovation as its creed, new ways were created to engineer, design, and build a revolutionary in-monitor. Introducing the Phantom - a pure IEM tuned in perfect balance, created and crafted to master every genre with absolute fidelity.

I have been listening Empire Ears for long and finally decided to write a review on the Empire Professional (EP) Series TOTL, Phantom. The EP series started with the Empire Vocal Reference (E.V.R) then Empire Studio Reference (E.S.R) and finally the Phantom. I like how sincere Empire Ears is when designing their IEM. They chose Effect Audio Ares II as their stock cable. The cable is rigid, and it matches well with the phantom most of the time. Minimum effort is needed for cable rolling.

The Phantom is Empire Ears bold assertion to challenge the status quo; a new take on a reference iem that performs at the highest level concerning both timbre and performance, rather than a compromise between either. Offering a sound befitting its name, the Phantom's sole mission is to disappear, and let the trueness of the music shine through. Besides industry-leading tonal accuracy, the Phantom promises both high resolution and transparency, with a versatile signature aimed to please both musical professional and audiophiles.

Building forth on Zeus' impressive vocal display and three-dimensional stage, the Phantom adds a touch of warmth to achieve its perfect timbre, as well as a smoother sound. A mission fulfilled by a beautiful lower treble, and excellent top-end extension. Finally, by relying on deep low-end extension and a tastefully lifted bass, the Phantom's bass makes a compelling argument when called upon, while equally taking a step back when required.


Technical Specifications

  • 5 Proprietary Empire Balanced Armature Drivers
  • 2 Low, 1 Mid, 1 High, 1 Super High
  • 5-Way synX Crossover Network
  • A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
  • Impedance: 10 ohms @ 1kHz
  • Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 40kHz
  • Sensitivity 117dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • UPOCC 26AWG Handcrafted Cable by Effect Audio
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Accessories

  • In Ear Monitor
  • Empire Aegis Case
  • Empire Dust Bag
  • Empire IEM Pouch
  • Empire Cleaning Cloth
  • Empire Cleaning Tool
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Technology
Empire Ears embedded a few technologies in the creation of Phantom. The technologies such as synX Crossover Network and A.R.C Resonance Mitigation Technology are explained in detailed on Empire Ears websites. For those who are interested can browse and read through.
https://empireears.com/collections/ep-series/products/phantom-universal-in-ears#tech
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Fitting
I chose Universal with 3.5mm terminated when I order this IEM. The shell is Piano Black with Empire Ears Logo on it – shiny and nicely done. I love the colour matching. The shell could potentially be huge for those who have relatively smaller ears. I would recommend them to opt for Custom fit for the best result.

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Pairing
I used Opus #3 and 2.5mm terminated Effect Audio Ares II Cable for this review. In the latter part of the review, I will introduce a bit on source matching and cable rolling which are done by me when auditioning the Phantom.


Test Track

  • Hotel California (DSD) - 100/160 on low gain
  • Somewhere, Somebody (DSD) - 100/160 on low gain
  • Beat It (24 bit/96 kHz FLAC) - 70/160 on low gain
  • Animals (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain
  • Shape of You (24 bit/ 44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain
  • Lonestar (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain
  • I Knew You Were Trouble (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain
  • Hello (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain
Sounds
The overall sound signature of this IEM is warm and smooth. It is relaxing to enjoy the music with this IEM. There is a slight emphasis on the lower frequency as compared to others over the frequency spectrum. The soundstage is relatively wide – Zues’ shadow can be seen here. There is sufficient amount of air and space - the imaging and separation is supreme. All these signatures hits what I desired – I love it. The depth is good – deeper as compared to a lot of the IEMs in the market but not as deep as Legend X.

Lows
I am not a bass head, but I do appreciate good bass especially energetic kick. Overall, the lows are nicely tuned – Rich body. The attack can be considered hard and fast with a short decay time. However, on some of the track (Hotel California and Hello), I find the lows can be a little tubby. This could potentially be mitigated through cable rolling or source matching. When I am listening to Beat It, how Phantom creates the kick impressed me – energetic and powerful. I will highly recommend the community to try this especially Michael Jackson lovers! Another fascinating point is how Empire Ears designed the bass presentation of Phantom. To me it sounds like a subwoofer kind of bass. I find that Legend X is the closest in term of subwoofer bass presentation, but Phantom is close too. Well done Empire Ears!

Mids
If you read my previous review on Campfire Audio Solaris, you will know how much I appreciate good vocal presentation as a mandopop lover. Overall, the mids presentation is pleasing for me. I love the presentation. However, the mids sometime can be blanketed by the over-power lows presentation. I suspect choice of cable could be the culprit and yes, I will further explain this in the latter part of cable rolling. The female vocals are silky smooth. For Somewhere, Somebody is played, Jennifer Warnes sounds gentle, smooth and full of soul. The layering is precisely and accurately tuned. Phantom makes Adele and Norah Jones sound extraordinarily sweet. The mid highs are breathy. However, the body of mid high could be a little thicker. For male vocals the body is sufficiently rich. I love how Ed Sheeran sounds. On some of the track, the mid can be slightly recessed because of more emphasised on the lows frequency but again cable rolling does help to overcome this.

Highs
The cymbals sound crisp on Phantom. The highs are well extended with good roll-off. The overall presentation is well delicate without piercing. However, if we compared in term of the emphasis in the frequency spectrum, I would for the emphasis to be shifted a little bit to high. I am a bright IEM lover and this IEM could be a little too warm for me. I know the full potential of Phantom is not unleashed yet with the current pairing. Do continue reading and I will unleash the full potential in a while.

Cable Rolling
Effect Audio Thor Silver II+ (2.5mm terminated)
The mid highs have a better extension with this cable. Adele sounds sweeter and smoother in this pairing. The low mids is slightly pulled back. The overall separation between mid and low is improved. Overall, the sound signature becomes more airy and brighter.


Effect Audio Eros II+ (2.5mm terminated)

The lows is more well controlled with this cable. It improves the attack and decay speed of the lows as compared to Ares II. For mids, I always like how Eros II+ present the rich and soulful mids. The mids now have more emphasis. The treble is improved too. Although it is not as much as Thor Silver II+, I think it is sufficient. The general sound signature is more balanced with this cable. I find that this is a good match with Phantom. Maybe Empire Ears can include this option.


Source Matching

Sony WM-NW1Z
I used my Ares II (2.5mm balanced terminated) with a 2.5mm to 4.4mm adaptor on this DAP. The depth is now better as compared to Opus #3. The high is more sibilant, and the lows is faster (both attacks and decays). The overall presentation is now more balanced and smoother, especially the mids. This pairing could yield more favourable micro details presentation.

Astell & Kern SP1000M
This is a more musical pairing unlike NW1Z. The presentation is more fun and livelier. Soul and spirit are now further added to this IEM. The highs are further extended but still without piercing or fatigue causing. The overall sounding is now more forward.

Comparison
Empire Ears Legend X
As mentioned in the earlier part of this review, the lows on Legend X is more like a subwoofer. The attack is as fast, but the decay is longer. This caused it to have a more “V” shaped sound signature. The soundstage is wider as compared to Phantom. Legend X would be a better choice for bass heads.
[No picture for this because they look exactly the same!]


Campfire Audio Andromeda

This is the fight between penta-drivers IEMs. Andromeda exhibits a brighter and more analytical sound signature. The lows are faster and more precise as compared to Phantom. However, in term of strength and energy, Phantom did a better job here. The micro details on Andromeda is better because of huge amount of air and space in its sound signature. Close fight!
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Campfire Audio Solaris

Solaris is a more well-balanced IEM. The price of these 2 IEMs is pretty close. The bass on Solaris is more well controlled but with Effect Audio Eros II+, this could bring Phantom up to the arena again for the fight. Another close fight!
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Westone UMPro 50N
Seldom see reviewers bring this IEM up for comparison. The fitting of this IEM is better because of its smaller shell. It sounds more balanced and the presentation of micro details is better. UMPro series is designed more for monitoring rather than listening. This could cause a little bit dull and lack of soul in the sound signature. Phantom gives a good uppercut of UMPro 50N.
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Sony IER-M9
This IEM sounds darker, way darker than UMPro 50N. It is power hungry as well. I always pair it up with a dedicated amp to enjoy it at the fullest. Phantom is more engaging and fun when compared with M9. Definitely, M9 is more power efficient and this make it more pocket friendly when travelling or commuting.
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Verdict
Phantom, nicely tuned by Empire Ears with a lot of efforts and technologies embedded in. The overall sound signature is pleasing and the accessories in the box is generously provided. Cable rolling and source matching can be done to fully unleash the potential – creating a Phantom Assassin that wins your hear in the dark. Stay tuned to my Instagram Page. Let me know which IEM you wish to see in the next review!
https://www.instagram.com/the_audiolocheese/?hl=en

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