Pros: - proper, well-done EST implementation
- impressive tri-hybrid design
- solid technical performance and depth
Cons: - bass lacking in true dynamic slam
- midrange is mostly unremarkable
- treble is disjoint from FR
Another week, another pair of high-profile, flagship IEMs for me to tear apart – my bad, review. Vision Ears is an IEM company based out of Germany, and as I understand it, they have something of a cult-following in the EU. I received two of their IEMs, the Elysium and VE8, as part of a Head-Fi tour doing rounds in the US where they tend to fly under the radar. I’ve heard good things about their stuff from the circles I hang out in, so you can imagine how excited I was to try these out!
This is where I plug my disclaimer that compared to some of the other reviews I’ve seen, this one is probably going to end up being more bare-bones. At the end of the day what matters most to me is, well, the sound. There’s a plethora IEMs that are all bark – price, presentation, and hype – and no bite. Read: They sound like garbage. And as I’ll discuss in this review, luckily the Elysium has the bark and the bite. Frankly, it’s refreshing to see a company that clearly knows what they’re doing, although I do question whether it’s worth it.
I received the Elysium as a part of a demo tour organized by Barra of Head-Fi. I am grateful for the opportunity, and as always what follows are my honest thoughts.
The Elysium arrived in nothing more than its case, so I don’t have any of the accompanying accessories. Perhaps this is for the best anyways, as presentation can color one’s assessment. Some quick comments:
I believe there are two cases available when you purchase from Vision Ears. I wouldn’t go for the leather one, it feels cheap and malleable. Grab the solid metal case, the thing’s indestructible – it’d probably stand up to being rolled over by a car. When you have this much money sunk in your IEM, they deserve nothing less than the best protection.
The stock cable had no L/R markings on it. I couldn’t tell which was which, plus it looked like someone might’ve accidentally bent one of the jacks slightly.
Great build quality on the Elysium itself. The faceplates are mostly clear, and you can see all the little drivers inside! It’s just really cool to see.
The Elysium’s sound signature is what I’d consider a mild V-shape. In general, I find coherency to be rather good for a tri-hybrid sans the treble, and the Elysium is one of the more “musical” IEMs I’ve heard that manages to retain its technical chops. But wait, there’s a catch! Vision Ears has swapped a BA for the lows and a DD for the mids; two EST for the highs. Totally groundbreaking stuff, I know. So how does it actually stack up?
Starting from the low end, I should note that I have a preference for dynamic driver bass. So the decision to have a BA handle the Elysium’s low-end is a questionable one to me, and frankly, I’m not really seeing the payoff. It’s fairly snappy, certainly extends well with some weight and texture; however, it’s lacking in true authority. Is it passable, even decent for BA? Sure. Is it what I’d call good? Now that’s where the 64audio U12t enters the picture.
The midrange has been hyped quite a bit, and yeah, I can certainly see why. I find myself glued to it; it’s pushed back a little further and it just draws you in. I hear a warm coloration to the midrange’s timbre which I think gives it that natural, “musical” quality many enjoy. However, it’s not quite as fast with a DD running the show and the coloration lends to a lack of clarity. Coming off the likes of VE8, everything feels a little fuzzy. Mind you, I’m nitpicking, but again there’s clearly trade-offs to be had.
Moving on to treble…treble is interesting, it definitely has a different flavor to it than BA/DD. Strangely enough, I don’t think I noticed this on the Empire Ears Valkyrie which also uses an EST. I wouldn’t say it bothers me on the Elysium, but it feels a little too distinct which is probably only exacerbated by the lift in the frequency response here. There’s good extension and sparkle, perhaps a bit too much splash. Although this is where I take issue with Elysium’s coherency, it’s not setting off any alarm bells, so well done here.
Apparently, there’s source variance with the Elysium’s treble; higher-power sources purportedly tame it somewhat. Ironically enough, this has the exact opposite effect on the Empire Ears Wraith. Anyways, I’m totally open to trying other sources – it can’t hurt, and I’d love to hear the difference. The thing is, I don’t have access to said equipment being a broke college student, and it really begs the question: Is it worth it?
There’s a quotation from Spiderman: Homecoming, where Tony Stark says to Peter Parker, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it”. Stark asserts that the high-tech suit is but a medium to enhance what Peter already has; Peter needs to be strong even without the suit. In a similar vein, I don’t believe that an IEM’s ideal performance should be predicated on an expensive, non-portable amp or DAC. For one, it’s just not a very common use scenario, and for another, it eliminates a large demographic of potential buyers. As such, I try to judge IEMs on their merits devoid of said factors, especially when scoring.
Anyways, that’s enough ranting – let’s wrap-up by talking about technicalities. No issues with the overall timbre. Staging is fairly average, but I find that it has fairly decent depth, enough to make the image diffuse somewhat. Layering capability and detail retrieval are certainly above average as well. Speed…I don’t think it’s either fast or slow, it seems to be somewhere in the middle. In general, it’s a good enough performer – I’d put it around the $1000 mark – but it’s also not playing with the big boys.
The Elysium feels like an expensive flex from Vision Ears. They’re showing that not only can they switch it up (literally too), but they can also implement the latest and greatest tech properly. And to this effect, I’d posit that the Elysium appreciates more as a piece of R&D. It’s an instance of which a company is putting everything they have into a product with no expense spared. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that – these types of things are cool to see.
Unfortunately, this comes with concessions in the name of value. I tried spending more time with the Elysium just because I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to frame my thoughts. This thing clocks in at $3200. Let me let that sink in – three, two, zero, zero. Hi-fi was never a value proposition,but this really is pushing it.
A quotation that comes to mind is “Pioneers get slaughtered, and the settlers prosper”. To this end, I get the feeling that while the Elysium is groundbreaking now – at least in its EST implementation – it’ll probably be eclipsed as other companies figure out the technology too. Your money is your money; however, make no mistake that $3200 is a lot to put on the line. I would only consider the Elysium worthy of purchase if the tonality sounds like your endgame, if supporting so-called pioneer companies is something important to you, and if you actually have the money. For all the fancy stuff going on with the Elysium, there are more technical, more “musical” IEMs for less. There’s better ways to go broke in this hobby.
Pros: tribrid design with BA/DD/dual-EST, beautiful shells, natural revealing tonality, captivating mids/vocals, soundstage approaches holographic level, premium packaging and accessories.
Cons: price, the sound (bass and treble) is impacted by eartips selection, treble might be a bit too vivid for some.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my review blog, and now I would like to share it with my readers on Head-fi.
Manufacturer website: Vision Ears. Available for sale directly or from authorized retailers. Intro.
Introduced over a year ago as part of their Premium Line, Vision Ears Elysium (Ely) is not exactly the new kid on the block. But due to its popularity and overwhelming feedback from audiophiles who tried the universal demo of their original custom model, recently, Ely got re-introduced as universal version. I never had a chance to test any other VE model, though heard great things about their popular VE8 and ultimate Erlkonig. And, I can’t really say that VE flew under my radar, but I was still hesitant about custom versions due to my not-so-ciem-friendly earcanal shape of left ear.
After a number of questions from my readers about Ely and being curious about their design choice of BA/DD for bass/mids, I finally contacted Amin, one of the co-founders of Vision Ears (you have to read their Handcrafted in Cologne story how VE started). It took a while before I got my ear impressions done which worked out to my advantage since then I was made aware about upcoming universal version and finally had a choice. It was a bit of a torture waiting for the final product packaging to be ready before Ely could be shipped, but the wait was definitely worth it! Now, after spending a few months with Ely, I’m ready to share about my experience!
Unboxing and Accessories.
I didn’t understand at first why Amin asked me if I want to receive Ely by itself or wait for the final packaging. But after reading other impressions describing unboxing of VE products as an experience you don’t want to miss, I decided to be patient.
When the box arrived, it was surprisingly big. We are talking about 14” x 8.5” brown cardboard box, probably 2-3 times bigger than what you would expect for universal pair of IEMs. The cardboard packaging kind of reminded me of boxes you get with laptops. It had their own branded packaging sealing tape around it, a printed label with product info and my name, and a side pocket with a handwritten warranty card and confirmation of 2-year warranty from the date of purchase. One interesting detail, the inner flaps of the box were cutout just enough to have a clearance around magnetic latch of the product box.
Inside, you get the actual product box with a truly jaw dropping giftbox presentation: from silver ELYSIUM print on each side to a glossy top cover with a weaving pattern (kind of reminding me a bit of Ely’s faceplate artwork) and magnetic latch with VE VISION EARS label holding both sides of the top cover together. But the real Wow-factor is when you open the halves of top cover which brings up the suspended inner tray with “Purity of Sound” printed on the side and the rest of the goodies inside of it. The effect of raising the suspended tray was very clever, making me forget for a second about the actual IEMs.
From the top you can see Ely on display of a sturdy board cutout with a cable wrapped around it. Next to it was another compartment with additional accessories, such as 3 pairs (S/M/L) of SpinFit CP145 eartips, 3 pairs (S/M/L) of EPros horn-shaped tips, microfiber cloth, 6 wax-stop replacement meshes, Thank You card with a detailed info about EST drivers used inside Ely, and a VERY detailed manual booklet.
With a top tray removed, at the bottom you will find VE branded round blue leather carry case with ELYSIUM model name stamped inside, a matching blue leather snap-button cable tie with a stamped VE logo, and a cotton VE branded draw-string cotton bag. The top cover of the leather carry case also had a weaving pattern reminiscent of Ely’s faceplate artwork design.
As many of my readers aware, I do enjoy talking about unboxing experience of products I review because from my discussions with manufacturers I know how much effort they put into packaging. Plus, it is always helpful to know what accessories are included stock with a product. VE unboxing experience was unlike anything else I have seen to date. Period.
Ely comes with a nice-looking premium silver-plated copper custom cable. The cable has 8 SPC 28awg thick conductors with a clear soft shielding. The main part of the cable has a tight square braid, yet the cable is still soft and flexible. Above the split, you have each side with a looser 4 wire braid going to a 2pin connector with a pre-shaped clear heat-shrink earhook.
The cable comes standard with gold-plated 2.5mm OYAIDE balanced connector plug with a nice diamond cut grip. The y-split is small and round, with a matching silver finish like in a plug, and with VE logo and “Made in Germany” printed on the back. Chin-slider is a tight clear rubbery piece. The housing of 2pin connectors is like two small silver bullets with an indent id ring on the left side and the actual 2pin connector designed specifically for non-recessed socket of Ely.
The cable connected to Ely shells was very tight out of the box and it took me a little bit of force to separate it, until a few reconnects later it loosened up when I started my cable rolling which I’m going to cover later after the sound analysis section.
It's a nice lightweight non-microphonic cable, and my only wish here would have been for a matching 3.5mm and 4.4mm adapters, perhaps something similar to DDHiFi adapters.
Since I’m reviewing universal version of Ely, I didn’t have to go through VE on-line Configurator tool for CIEM models where you can customize the shell color, logo, etc. With universal Ely you get instant gratification of their signature design with a clear transparent shell and a special unique faceplate with a weaving blue line pattern. Ely’s acrylic shell with its lacquer layer finish doesn’t look like a typical generic universal design, and instead looks more like custom model.
The shape of the shell is flat and fits comfortably in the concha area of the ear. Depending on eartips selection which going to control the insertion depth among other things, you can get the shell to sit nearly flush in your concha area. While I never tested Ely demo before, a number of people mentioned that universal Ely shell is nearly identical to their demo of custom model. And that makes sense because the ergonomics of the demo design was intended to give you the sound and the experience of the custom version. And just like with a demo, universal design has a thicker nozzle to use with eartips. Plus, at the tip of the nozzle you will find a replaceable ear-wax mesh screen with extra spares included with accessories.
The clear shell gives you inside look of the driver arrangement where you will find a 3-way tri-hybrid system with 4 drivers on each side: BA (lows), DD (mids), and dual EST (highs). The dual EST driver with a common separate voltage transformer is most likely by Sonion, but in my opinion the most interesting part of the design was the switch between BA and DD. Hybrid models typically have Dynamic driver bass and Balanced Armature mids/highs. Here, VE decided to use BA drivers for lows and DD for mids.
The selection and the tuning of BA bass driver felt almost like listening to a dynamic driver with a speed of BA driver. The natural tonality of dynamic driver mids was shaped with a help of VE’s exclusively designed HALC (high-precision acoustic leveling chamber) which you can see surrounding the DD inside the clear shell. And for course, the vivid presentation of highs was courtesy of dual EST drivers.
I will dive into more intimate sound description details in the next section of the review.
I analyzed Ely sound performance paired up with LPGT while playing a variety of test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Dua Lipa “Love again”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. I had about 150hrs of burn in before I started with a critical sound analysis.
I find Ely to have a natural revealing tonality with a balanced w-shaped signature and impressive timbre accuracy when it comes to both natural and synthesized instruments as well as male/female vocals. I have used "natural revealing" in sound description before, but my experience with Elysium gave it a whole new meaning. Typically, I would consider tonality to be natural when it is more organic, smoother, not too thin or too thick. But it also means that smoother tonality will have to compromise retrieval of details and the level of clarity. Revealing, on the other hand, often refers to bright, micro-detailed colder sound which shifts its focus toward a more analytical performance.
Natural revealing is a combination of both where manufacturer tries to find a perfect balance between two extremes. In my opinion and based on how I'm hearing it, VE hit the jackpot with Ely tuning. Using three distinct building blocks of BA bass, DD mids, and dual EST treble, they managed to establish a perfect Yin and Yang balance of both, natural and revealing tunings.
Due to a nature of universal design, bass quantity will seriously dependent on the selection of eartips size and type which also happens to be quite subjective due to individual ear anatomy. My large earcanals got lucky with the included stock SpinFit CP145 large tips that enable me to hear a deep textured sub-bass rumble, and we are talking about not just sub-bass quality by also quantity. Mid-bass is fast and its decay is shorter and well controlled, typical of BA driver performance, but the level of sub-bass rumble was a pleasant surprise, definitely not what I would expect from BA driver since its sub-bass performance reminded me of DD. The bass is not too elevated, though I do hear it to be boosted, nicely extended, and well controlled.
And speaking of DD, that's where mids come into play. It was a very bold decision to switch BA and DD in the driver config of Ely, and it paid off. Mids here is what gives Ely's tuning its natural tonality. And it is not just the quality of mids tuning, but also its presentation, without being pushed too forward or too back. Lower mids are a little above neutral, giving just enough body for instruments and vocals to sound full and natural. Upper mids are clear, detailed, layered, but without too much "air" between the layers. It has just enough for a perfect layering and separation of the sounds.
Treble is vivid, vibrant, detailed, with a well-controlled level of clarity and definition which despite its more revealing nature still keeps it natural and airy. That was another interesting phenomenon where you almost expect treble to be bright and harsh, but instead it is very detailed and vivid and still well controlled. Again, have to pay close attention to eartips selection where I found eartips with wider bore opening or softer cap to make treble sound harsher and even sibilant to my ears.
Despite tri-hybrid design with BA/DD/dual-EST drivers, overall tuning is surprisingly coherent, with all drivers working in a nearly perfect unison.
Soundstage is wide and deep, approaching holographic level. But I also found an interesting phenomenon with imagining and positioning of instruments and vocals. Imaging has a good placement of instruments and vocals with a very accurate and convincing positioning allowing to pin-point every element in the song. The imaging is nearly 3D, putting you as a listener right in the middle, surrounded by the sounds. But, in a number of tracks I found vocals to be closer to me, giving them a little more intimacy. It wasn't like that in every track, but some had vocals placed closer to me while the rest of instruments where spreading further out. Part of it was also related to eartips selection.
Of course, isolation will be eartips depended as well, but in general Ely felt like a custom CIEM in my ears with a very secure fit and excellent sound isolation.
As I already mentioned, eartips selection plays a very important role in Ely's sound-shaping.
EPros Horn-shaped - while these included eartips might work with some other IEMs, here it was clearly a wrong choice since the diameter of inner core was too small and required some effort to stretch these over the nozzle, and even with Large size pair, the soft rubber cap killed the seal and attenuated the bass. Personally, I would not recommend these with Ely.
JVC Spiral Dots - fast neutral bass, more transparent mids, extra vivid bright treble.
Final Type-E - neutral lean bass, more transparent brighter mids, very vivid treble.
Symbio F - more elevated balanced bass, transparent natural mids, clear natural treble.
I was going back and forth between AZLA Sedna, SpinFit CP145, and Symbio F. I love isolation and grip of Sedna, but after a while my ears got a little sore since I preferred to use larger eartips and the nozzle of Ely is also quite thick. CP145 spent more time in my ears since its olive-shaped tip wedged more comfortably into ear canal, but treble was a little brighter. With Symbio F (foam) tips I had to step down to Medium due to larger size of Ely's nozzle, but it also gave me the most natural and less aggressive treble response, while still keeping natural organic mids and deep sub-bass rumble. Symbio F losses a little bit of air in sound, but having more natural less harsh treble was a big plus. But I still continue to switch between these three.
The comparison was done using Ely with a stock 2.5mm SPC cable with DDHiFi 4.4mm adapter and LPGT source, volume matched in every comparison.
Ely vs 64 Audio U18t - Ely soundstage is wider, creating a more holographic spacing, while both have the same soundstage depth. When it comes to bass, Ely has more sub-bass rumble, while U18t mid-bass is just a little bit faster and with noticeably less sub-bass. Mids is where I hear the biggest difference, with Ely being more organic and natural, while U18t mids/vocals being leaner, brighter, and a little colder/dryer. Despite a comparison of EST vs Tia/BA driver, treble is actually quite similar, vivid, crisp, and airy. But because of a bigger contrast between uppers mids and treble, Ely's treble sounds a little brighter and a bit more aggressive in comparison to U18t where brighter upper mids are more in line relative to its crisp lower treble. (U18t used w/EA Leo II cable).
Ely vs 64 Audio Fourte - very similar soundstage expansion between these two IEMs. With bass, both have a similar sub-bass rumble, even a similar level of sub-bass quantity, but mid-bass has more impact and more punch in Fourte. Mids are different between these two, with Ely being more organic, more natural, and with closer presentation, while Fourte mids/vocals being a little more distant and not as natural, more colored in tonality. (Fourte used w/PlusSound PPH8 cable).
Ely vs FirAudio M5 - Soundstage expansion between these two IEMs is very similar. The biggest difference here is in bass. M5 bass has a noticeably bigger slam with more elevated sub-bass and more mid-bass impact. Mids have a similar tonality, with Ely being just a little more organic, more natural. But the presentation of mids is a little different with M5 pushing them further out of our head, while Ely bringing them closer. Despite each one using similar Sonion EST drivers (M5 single, Ely dual), treble tuning is a little different with Ely being more vivid and a little more elevated, while M5 being crisp but less elevated and with a little less sparkle. Maybe dual driver config has something to do with it. (M5 used w/Scorpion 8-core SPC cable).
Ely vs Empire Ears Wraith - Ely soundstage width is more expanded between these two. In comparison of bass, they trade with each other, Ely has a deeper sub-bass while Wraith has a punchier mid-bass. Mids are a little different here as well, with Ely being more organic, more natural, and with closer presentation, while Wraith mids/vocals being more distant with a brighter and not as natural tonality. Also, Ely's treble has a more vivid definition while Wraith treble is a little smoother in comparison. Wraith sound improves with a powerful amp source, but my comparison here was done using LPGT (Wraith used w/EA Cleopatra cable).
Ely vs Noble K10UA - Ely soundstage width is a little more expanded. When it comes to bass, K10UA has a little more impact with both sub-bass and mid-bass being relative lifted in comparison to Ely. Mids of K10UA are more revealing, dryer, and more distant in comparison to smoother and more natural mids/vocals of Ely. With treble, both have a vivid crisp treble, but K10UA treble is brighter and splashier in comparison to Ely. (K10UA used w/stock SPC cable).
Ely has 16.4 ohm impedance and a bit lower 105dB sensitivity, but I still found it to be very efficient and easy to drive from any portable source I tried it with, though I did have to push volume about 10 clicks louder.
Cayin N6ii w/E02 - still a natural revealing tonality, but upper mids and treble were a little bit brighter, especially treble and vocals were a little bit thinner.
A&K SP2000 SS - similar to LPGT, with a natural revealing tonality, punchy bass, natural organic layered mids and vocals, and while treble sounds natural it has a little more sparkle and air.
Sony WM1Z - very similar tonality and sound presentation as LPGT, but here the bass goes deeper with a little more rumble and mid-bass is a touch more elevated.
HiFiMan R2R2000 Red - this pair up threw me off-guard because Ely sounded very different here. The sound was very smooth and warm and not as revealing as in any other pair up. It was not a bad pair up, but it was just too dark for my taste.
iBasso DX220 MAX - very similar tonality and sound presentation as LPGT, but with a wider soundstage and a slightly more textured analog tonality of mids.
L&P P6 - in this pair up the signature became a little more mid-forward, with less sub-bass rumble and more forward presentation of mids/vocals. Also, treble was a little crisper.
In general, with an exception of two R2R DAPs (P6 and R2R2k), the pair up with all DAPs was relatively consistent with just a small variation where I actually like LPGT, WM1Z, and MAX the best. Surprisingly, R2R2k Red tonality was completely off, and P6 (R-2R DAC) signature changed a bit as well.
I’m aware that some people don’t believe in cables and have very strong opinions about it. It's not my intention to trigger the argument, and instead I would like to share what I hear during my testing. What makes sense to me, a metal wire is a material with physical properties of resistivity, conductivity, purity, and unique geometry, all of which put together act as a filter between your source and headphones. Variations of these physical properties can affect the conductivity of analog signal, resulting in a sound change, from a subtle to a more noticeable level. If the talk about cables upsets you, please skip this section.
Effect Audio Leo II octa - adds a little more bass punch and a little more body in mids, and a touch smoother treble.
Dita OLSO - mids and treble are a lot of smoother, great organic transformation, but some resolution is lost.
Satin Audio Athena - nearly identical to Leo II octa, with a little more bass, and a touch smoother treble.
PlusSound PPH8 - tighter sound with faster bass, more transparent mids, and natural sparkly treble.
Effect Audio Code 51 - adds more sub-bass rumble and makes bass faster, more transparent and more forward mids, natural sparkly treble. Reminds me of PPH8 transformation, but mids are more forward and more focused.
For those who might think that a title of this review “Get lost in music” sounds too cliché, it actually does describe my experience of listening to Elysium from the time I got it out of the box. From the dictionary, Elysium means a happy and blessed afterlife, literally saying that it can give you a feeling of “dying and going to heaven”. I really did get lost in music every time I sat down to analyze Ely’s sound, realizing an hour later that I didn’t take any notes and instead was skipping through my favorite songs or switching between different DAPs to hear the pair up or just eartips/cable rolling. After all, why worry about afterlife Elysian Fields, when you can enjoy the sound now and be able to share it with friends since this is a universal pair of IEMs.
I have been testing and reviewing a lot of high-end IEMs, and sometimes feel jaded listening to another flagship earphone. With Ely it was a different and quite refreshing experience. I don’t know if Vision Ears reinvented the wheel by switching BA driver for the bass and Dynamic driver for the mids, and dual EST treble drivers are no longer a rarity. But Ely’s tuning was done so well! A natural tonality that hits the sweet spot with realistic timbre of instruments and vocals (thanks to DD mids) and vivid details without adding too much harshness (thanks to dual-EST) and a bassline foundation with textured analog rumble (surprisingly good for BA lows). I guess the quality of German Engineering doesn’t just apply to cars, but also to a fine-tuned sound!
The title of course refers to the number of different drivers within. The conclusion? Well when one hits it out of the park. I switched spots with @Ike since he had obligations and requested to move up. I was in no hurry. But once he started posting such gushy wordology regarding the liquidity of the Elysium, waxing lyrical replete with platitudes and such, I became angry. That was MY spot he took, and I simmered, stewed & smoldered…OK actually, I did not and enjoyed reading his diatribe as it inched closer to my time. He lamented that the critter(s) were leaving his fair state of Kentucky and making the brief safe trip to Missouri at the end of his time, but to be honest…his loss is my gain!
I am thoroughly happy that Ike enjoyed his time with an astounding pair of IEM’s known the world for being amongst the very best, and will do my best to pay homage to others who came fore with reviews awash with voluminous verbiage paying tribute to the maker known as VE.
I thank @Barra for another wonderful tour without which I would not have had the opportunity to hear the pair. For that I am grateful as ever and will thoroughly enjoy my week (I’m on day 3).
Tech: Four driver three-way hybrid system with a BA, dynamic, and 2 electrostatic driver
Drivers: 1BA for bass – 1 dynamic for mids – 2 electrostatic for highs
Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL at 1 mW
Impedance: 16.4 Ohms at 1 kHz
Empire Ears Legend X ($2299)
Vision Ears VE8 ($2544)
Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X ($2499)
Cayin N6 mk2
MBP/iFi iDSD Pro
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Since both IEM’s came only wrapped in their respective carrying case, I felt a tinge of that smoldering anger again, since I had read about the really cool unboxing affair, which is had by owners. I will admit while reading that in reviews, I envisioned the coolest cupholder I have ever seen, but unfortunately was not reliable. The early 2000’s Mercedes has the “blooming flower” cupholder, which would rise and “open its petals” upon the push of a button. I had a 2003 C-class loaner (often unfortunately) while my 2003 Saab 9-5 Aero wagon was being worked on, and the look on mine and my brother-in-law’s face was pure mechanical ecstasy. He was a mechanic at heart, and a damn good one (RIP), and we proceeded to take turns pushing the button over and over, haha. Anyway, from what I hear the unboxing comes with a “rising platform,” which would give the owner a similar whimsical fancy I would imagine.
So, alas, my “joyous unboxing” was limited to opening the small USPS Priority box and pulling both cases out. It was still neat to see that both made it just fine. Much has been written about the excellently cool case of the Elysium, likening it to a blue of oceanic variety, lined with the finest “Corinthian leather” or whatever. I do like the case, but if I’m going to spend 3-grand on an IEM, I would expect a better case. One, which I would not have to worry about being crushed were I foolish enough to venture on commuter lines with, much like the VE8 or Legend X. TOTL means case, as well. Again, I like the case, but it is flimsy and to me not what one should expect at this price.
As one would expect, the finish is exquisite. Most definitely TOTL stuff, and darn near flawless. I can feel the edges where the face plate attaches to the shell, but I do believe it is meant to aid in grasping the whole critter. It used to be that I did not like seeing the innards of an IEM, for the construction was usually drab, with wires and miscellany showing a jumble. Nowadays though, showing one’s guts can be pure art just like the VE8 or Elysium. I for one really like the look of the insides here what with the variety of color, shapes and logo-laden accoutrements. Add the aquarium-colored streaks on the backside, which all can see, and you have a pretty much stunning critter in which to look. Like a stunning Swiss mountain sunlit day, the innards are worth the look.
The Elysium comes with a premium white 8-wire spc 28AWG cable with a 2.5mm OYAIDE balanced connector standard. The 2-pin connectors have no typical red/not red markings, but the left side does have a circle on the connector, so one can easily (hopefully) remember. The Elysium only comes with a 2.5mm balanced termination but the kit also came with two excellent DD Audio adapters as well. So, using the Elysium in balanced mode in the N6ii was easy with the included 4.4bal jack. Note: this is only in the tour kit, this is not part of the Elysium purchase.
Using the included silicon tips, isolation was much better than I expected, providing a very good seal, without it being “vacuum-like” in the seal. Pairing the two, isolation was wonderful and the sound darn near extraordinary. Everything so far thus exuded TOTL, and quality. This is among the very best overall presentations including fit and finish of any unit that has graced my ears. Wonderful indeed.
Typically, a review of this sort goes into the separates of sound, isolating all tenets so that the user can discern whether each sub-unit fits their bill. Whether the parts match one’s taste and then meld together for the finale. Here with the Elysium I do believe it is important to take a backward approach. Look at the overall, then discern the separates (or not at all because after the description one may not need it).
Taken as a whole, the Eylsium is stunning. Amongst the very best I have heard, period. From memory, the tia Forte might have emitted a bit better detail, but also a bit more antiseptic in sound. Mind you at the time, I thought the Forte was the very best “sound” I had ever heard, and still ranks among the very best. I did like the U18 Tzar more for that sound fit my tastes better. And here I would rank the Elysium as a melding of the two 64Audio signatures. That luscious, sumptuous virtuosity of emotion, wrapped in the detail retrieval one would expect from a something having that precision Germanic influence. Think the bullet-proof solidity of a Mercedes wrapped around the street cred of an M-class BMW and you would not be far from the truth. Mind you both marques exude their own character, but a melding of the pairs determines an excellent character of each, defining what makes both great. A most definite whole is greater than the parts anacronym.
Some pick the Elysium apart for having mids that are simply melodious and clear, laden with the clarity of a Swiss-mountain summer day, but short on treble sparkle and bass reach. They would not be completely remised, but to me here is the greatest strength of the Elysium: the marrying of the parts to bring those “shortcomings” into strength of fit. On Warna from Joey Alexander, the opening drum take folds effortlessly into his initial piano solo, followed by the staccato of precision key stroke impeccably. I am new to Joey Alexander, but thoroughly devour all he has for they are precise, unimpeachable and emotive. I do find his fast-paced sound a bit tedious and immature in the Jazz vein, but that is the beauty of a world-class 16-year-old Jazz pianist. With sheer precision that cannot be taught, but bred, he drives Jazz into the modern South American swivel-hipped style effortlessly. Here the Elysium lays bare any fallacy that might be had within. And there is none. I can hear his fingers grind on each key. I can hear his bassist move fingers across string and actually hit the bass itself. This is extraordinary.
The young man is phenomenal even if he needs to “mature” into the slower paced Jazz piano setting. But to me that is where he melds his own style into the reverence of past. And the Elysium allows that style to exude perfectly in tandem with the music. Many “TOTL” IEM’s would barge their way in with their own style tacking target over the music, overriding the author. Not the Elysium. The perfection of sound, which emits from his playing matches the character of the Elysium quite well. Not overly warm such and the Legend X, but not analytically neutral like the Forte leans either. A modern mix of an excellent sound character, which gives the music the chance to show what the artist intends. I do thoroughly enjoy that character and applaud Vision Ears for making a stunning statement in the TOTL lane of the highway.
Not the widest of sound stage, but just about what one would expect with the character emitted. Thoroughly inviting and encompassing, the stage fits the personality of the Elysium perfectly. I will admit that on artist such as Tedeschi Trucks the sound stage does feel a bit pinched in the middle. Midnight In Harlem is such a wonderful song just to listen to, but using it to judge layering and instrumentation can show a devices true limitations. And here the Elysium does feel a bit tight. But, if that is the only shortcoming, then I for one can listen and “live with that.” The sound is superb. On par with the best I have had and heard. It is an extraordinary critter of top-class quality as one would expect (and hope) from the price.
If I had to break the individuals down, I would do so in a short paragraph as such below. The overall to me is much more valuable than the parts, but if you must…Bassis a bit shy to me. I prefer a weightier bass with better feel and punch. That said, the quality of this bass is as good as one can have. Tight, “punchy” with excellent quickness, and a nice tautness to it that I much appreciate. I do miss the decay of my Legend X though. Mids simply put are amongst the very best I have heard. Weighted perfectly (to me), with enough emotion to emit that sensuous nature when needed without being syrupy. Succinct, with excellent control and vocal representation show through like few I have heard. And I appreciate hearing the separation of the vocal into a distinctness, which allows vocals to come forth with impunity. Good stuff indeed. The treble comes across clear and crisp, but without being crispy, crystalline or thin. There is no feigning of hand here. Where some such as my CTM Da Vinci X present excellent treble, but with a degree of brittleness, none is had in the Elysium. It’s those darn parts working together again for the whole…
Vision Ears Elysium ($3140) vs Empire Ears Legend X ($2299):
After another excellent Barra tour of TOTL IEM’s, I took the plunge and purchased the Legend X. Not wanting to fuss with a CIEM, I “settled” for the universal and do not regret it in the least. That sumptuous, sensuous double W9 bass took me in cuddled in those boosom’s and caressed my soul. I do not regret it in the least. Matching my want, or need for a warm, rich bassy sound; the LX fits my listen perfectly. Even after hearing the Wraith and Phantom, I still held the LX in its highest regard. That bass is the best I have heard, even if some call it bloomy and bleeding into the mids. I do not care what others think, I love this sound. Listening the Tedeschi Trucks in this comparison as well as Joey Alexander reaffirms my choice. As good and pure, and wonderful as the Elysium is, I come home to those boosom’s. They hold me tight and tell me everything will be all right. And they would be correct.
But if I must, the Elysium has more clarity of sound. The mids come across as more controlled and distinct. There is no denying that the Elysium mids are exemplary. One in which all TOTL makers should shoot for, should their signature preference lean that way. In this regard, I am a bit jealous that the LX does not emit that distinctness. But in the overall sound, I still prefer the LX. The Elysium is astonishing, and emits almost perfection, but the LX has my soul.
Vision Ears Elysium ($3140) vs Vision Ears VE8 ($2544):
I will admit that upon first listen, I liked the VE8 more than the Elysium. And I would not be battered and feathered for that opinion, as many consider it one of the best TOTL IEM’s out there and responsible for raising other companies’ game. I would agree that it should be considered there and worth the challenge.
The first difference would be that the VE8 is easier to drive. It also has a brighter sound (to me), but not analytical. Just brighter across the spectrum. Using Tedeschi Trucks again, the volume difference on my N6ii is about 5-7 to attain the same volume. And no, I did not test it with my sound meter, just seat of the pants. I also feel that as good as the VE8 is, the mids take a more frontal approach to the mids than I like. I do really like the sound, but those mids would prevent me from raising the volume too much. Bass is extraordinary, but a bit untamed when compared. Deeper reach by a smidge, but with a bit of bloom; this keeps the “quality” of bass behind the Elysium. So, based upon that, who would like the VE8? Those who appreciate a forward-based sound, with crisp vocals and treble, which exudes more sparkle than the Elysium. This is definitely a more in-your-face sound. I really do like the VE8 and would consider it for my personal TOTL had I not have the Legend X in the stable. But when compared to the Elysium, the overall package just fits better with the Elysium.
I will add that on Midnight In Harlem, the sound is of a sublime quality that I truly appreciate. The stick of drum hitting is perfection, and precise. Susan’s voice is heavenly and appreciated. Wonderful stuff. Just not enough when compared to the Elysium.
Vision Ears Elysium ($3140) vs Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X ($2499):
The Da Vinci X was pretty much a buy after a tour. I still do not regret it as I consider it my baseline “neutral” with a bit of bassy-note to it. Shoving all those drivers in it (all 10), the shell is quite small and fits very well. It is all metal and can be cold until warmed up, but the sound it quite good. The biggest difference between the two would be how the mids are presented. With the Elysium the mids are sumptuous and distinct. The piece that holds the signature together. On the Da Vinci, the mids are more brittle and forward. A bit piercing, they are not as delicious as the Elysium. But they are crisper and more detailed. Where the Elysium melds, the Da Vinci separates into distinctness. The Elysium marries all together, giving sound in the mids its own space, but works effortlessly together. The Da Vinci separates and isolates, allowing the distinct mid tone to show off individually. Not bad mind you and an excellent judge in which to judge individual sound character of music, and thus in comparison. But not as harmonious as the Elysium. I thoroughly enjoy the Da Vinci and use it much less than I would like, but it provides me with an excellent complement to the Legend X, and I do believe it really is an unsung hero of the TOTL talk. Just wonderful tonality on the individual level where the Elysium harmoniously pulls all together.
I could write this in one sentence: The Elysium sounds wonderful with any source I used. Period. Using the adapter for the N6ii, the pairing is magical. One in which the term “end game” would be pictured in the dictionary. But of course, end game is thrown around like money to a professional soccer player during the transfer window…too often. Using the warmer A01 module, the Cayin warms a touch that distinctness of the Elysium sound. But I do not mind as it really shines with the music. Harmonious would be an excellent descriptor.
Moving to the iFi Pro iDSD/MBP/XDuoo x10t ii iterations, that warm, rich sound moves a bit further what with the tube sound emanating. The XDuoo is an extraordinarily clean honest sound in its own right. And when paired with the iFi, make for a magical sound. One in which I listen often. Combine that with the Elysium and you have a fantastic trio. One in which you could happily spend your hours while working and forget about the world. Productivity in that vein would increase markedly as the sound extraordinaire would emanate from your ears. You would thus win company productivity awards and promotions abound. Soon you would become company CEO as a result of the trio, and corporate would then purchase the trio for all employees, while you lead the company to the very top of the Forbes list, become famous, buy a Ferrari, and a house in Monaco and happily work from your ocean view. That would be an extraordinary tale were it true, but the sound to back that story up is legit, honest and true, so there’s that.
My time is up, and I am glad. Why? Because the next lucky person will get to listen, while I remember. I will remember pecking out these words as music streams through my cranial and be glad. Glad that I had the opportunity to listen to an excellent pair such as the VE8 and Elysium. I had heard one iteration of a Vision Ears and it was good. These are truly excellent and deserving of top spot TOTL status. They cost a decent percentage of a good college education’s year. But that is the nature of this TOTL hunted beast. One in which we strive for the best. One in which some will get there, while others such as myself will only give a brief listen. And this makes me glad that I was given that brief window with which to compare to my other wares. There truly is not a winner here, but only differing purveyors of company visions. And that makes me glad.
I thank Barra and VE for the loan of the wonderful pair. They are wonderful examples of a company’s forward thinking, while still relying on the past. They are good, truly good and should you have the opportunity; do not pass it up for that listen. You will be glad as well.
@Erfan Elahi I haven't heard the BGVP personally, but the Trinity is a very divisive IEM... When I listened to it I found the treble extension to be completely lacking, while others found it too bright. My personal guess is that it is extremely source dependent
Of the estats that I have listened to, my No1 is the Elysium, followed by the FiR M5. The issue with the second is that its sound sig is impossible to alter using cables, sources etc
The Khan is a great IEM imo, with very intense, in your face treble
The Wraith I'm not a huge fan of, it sounds like it's sizzling all the time
The 64 Noir has a great top end Imo, even though that's 64's tia and not a proper estat