Vision Ears EXT - New Premium line flagship IEM

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grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Bookended with greatness
Pros: Uniquely floaty yet strong bass region
Sparkly and goosebump inducing treble
Organic sounding
Cons: Mids are lacking
Somewhat oddly shaped
Lacking TOTL level detail

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Preamble​

Many thanks to @Damz87, @Vision Ears and Minidisc for arranging the Australian tour of the EXT and the PHöNIX.

Ask anyone on the street about audio brands and the likelihood that they rattle off brands such as Apple, Beats and Bose is very high indeed. Ask people slightly more interested in the topic and you might get the likes of Sennheiser and Audio Technica. The chances of them stating “Vision Ears” are very low, and for good reason. The German company keeps a fairly low profile mostly sticking to CIEMs and some rather high-priced universal IEMs, keeping their target audience largely musicians and hardcore audiophiles. Today’s review concerns the EXT, a rather garishly coloured anomaly, even for audiophiles, in its approach to tuning and technology. But is the EXT something worth escalating to popular knowledge? Or within the confines of this audio community?

The Factual Stuff​


The EXT comes in a rather spartan-looking cardboard box containing within it, a garish purple case machined out of aluminium. Within the case contains the earpieces fashioned out of black acrylic and adorned with a wonderfully machined aluminium faceplate anodised in a handsome purple hue. Within these earpieces are a rather odd combination of dual dynamic drivers and four electrostatic drivers. The dynamic drivers are 9.2mm and 6mm responsible for the bass and the midrange respectively. The four electrostats are dedicated to the treble region.

The EXT comes with a cable terminated in 2.5mm and features 8 wires of 28AWG silver-plated copper.

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The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass​

The low end of the EXT presents a rather robust performer in terms of sub-bass with a generous amount of boost applied to the lowest depths of the frequency response curve. The result is an impressively deep and textured bass response. However, the EXT is not simply a bass-boosted monster but rather it manages to balance it with some nuance and clarity in its reproduction of the low-end. It manages to articulate the finer details of bass drums and remains fairly speedy despite the generous boost. “Ghosts” by Tchami has a rather thick and rounded bass note throughout the song, which on a lesser IEM seemingly turns into a pillowy mess with a woollier reproduction of the drawn-out note whereas the EXT handles it with great gusto. “THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack has a booming bassline in the initial seconds of the song and the EXT reproduces it with great detail and texture without muddying up the entirety of the song. There is a unique presentation to the bass notes of the EXT as it provides a rather ‘floaty’ reproduction of the low-end when compared to the likes of the Elysian Diva or the FiR Audio XE6 with both providing a very forward and in-your-face bass presentation.

Overall, the 9.2mm dynamic driver seems to be doing excellent work in the low end with a great level of presence and detail in the low-end that feels rounded and smooth to the listener. It is boosted but doesn’t remain overbearing or out of place with the tonal balance of the EXT.

Mids​

Moving onto the midrange of the EXT, there is not much else to say but it is rather good. The presentation of instruments, as well as vocals in this region, is done organically, with music presented in a very natural and analogue manner. Songs like “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac present an organic reproduction of the strumming of a guitar and the vocals of the female vocalist throughout. There is no metallic or plasticky timbre here, simply a relaxed presentation of music. In an attempt to draw out some sibilance and trip up the EXT, I threw on “4 walls” by f(x) which has a large amount of sss sounds from female vocalists singing in breathy head voice. The EXT does eke out some harshness out of these sounds and thus is not exactly the most relaxed presentation of mid-range notes but still manages to be quite enjoyable.

Otherwise, the EXT does feel ever so slightly lethargic in its reproduction of the mid-range with certain instruments seemingly lingering a fraction of a second too long and the leading edge of hard and fast notes coming from strings or a piano not presenting with the same edginess as one would hope.

Overall, the mid-range performance of the EXT is somewhat of a love-hate element of the IEM. I felt that whilst natural and organic in its presentation, it lacked the speed and edginess of what you wanted out of some notes.

Treble​

Moving on to the upper regions of the EXT, treble performance is somewhat a given considering the technology mix in the IEM. The EXT does not fail to impress in this region. The speed and detail that the EXT manages to eke out of songs wherein treble is somewhat of an afterthought is something very enjoyable indeed. “Walk With Me” by Cosmos Midnight has a tambourine and a hi-hat permeating the pre-chorus and chorus and they remain distinctly present throughout listening with the EXT. Lesser IEMs simply have these elements lost in the sauce and if they are more treble forward, still do not reproduce them with the highly detailed presentation of the EXT.

“Reckoner” by Radiohead has oodles of percussion from the outset of the song, the EXT speedily reproduces the claps and metallic tonality of the percussion with gusto, creating a tremendous sense of dynamic range as it extends from the bass up to the tippy-top of the FR curve.

The EXT is somewhat fatiguing however, It remains distinctly within my acceptable level of ear tingle and fatigue-inducing painfulness. However, this may be an element to look out for if you are particularly treble-sensitive.

Overall, the treble of the EXT flexed the muscles of the ESTs that were implemented, providing a very present treble region that sparkled and shined amongst the generous bass boost and overly produced songs wherein treble seems to be a very small element of the song itself.

Technicalities​

The EXT’s imaging chops are decent with songs such as “Fine” by Taeyeon being able to be dissected somewhat with its various layers of overlapping vocal tracks. However, for the price, I don’t think the EXT does a standout job of imaging and positioning certain sounds when compared to the likes of the Phoenix or the RN6.

The staging of the EXT is somewhat inflated by the heavy injection of air in the FR curve creating a sense of spaciousness and width that belies its in-ear nature. However, with that being said, it remains a fairly intimate sound stage with orchestral music not being fully reflective of its concert hall recording. The depth of the stage is something that is rather lacking on the EXT which I feel is partly due to the heavy emphasis on the bass and the treble but also simply due to a lack of layering and separation potential of the drivers themselves.

The resolving power of the EXT is a bit of a mixed bag, with the aforementioned props given to the low-end and high-end of the FR curve. However, the mids do not feel that they are providing all of the necessary microdetails one would come to expect from the TOTL price tag.

Overall, I feel that the EXT does a rather decent job in presenting detail and resolution in its strengths, that being the bass and treble but on the whole, it is rather lacking in terms of mid-range resolution. Otherwise, the staging is not a standout element of the EXT with the airiness of the IEM creating a “faux” sense of space but lacking a significant amount of depth and height that one would want in their TOTL.

Overall:​

With a heavy emphasis on bass and treble, the EXT takes a more U-shaped presentation and it plays to its strengths extremely well on a technical basis. However, the mid-range, despite being rather organic in its reproduction, remains a step too slow and a little undefined for my tastes. The result of this is a wonderful sound signature for a very specific portion of the audiophile community. Strong bass performance combined with sparkly treble within the context of a smoother and spacious presentation create very obvious “signposts” of a great IEM but as a result, it perhaps makes its deficiencies more readily apparent.

Comparison​

Vs RN6​

The RN6, like the EXT, injects a significant amount of airiness into the FR curve and as a result, provides a more spacious and ethereal-sounding IEM that maintains a powerful low-end. This approach means that the RN6 and the EXT share some broad tonal similarities but how do they compare? The EXT’s low-end, whilst impressive lacks the sheer force and physicality of the 10mm Kinetic Driver that the RN6 utilises to deliver its bass frequencies. The result is a much more present and powerful low-end on the RN6 but whilst intoxicating, it may be a little bit overbearing on the sound signature. The EXT feels a little more woolly and floaty with its bass compared to the RN6 and as such loses some of that physical rumble but ultimately remains more tonally balanced and more unique in its bass presentation.

The mid-range of the RN6 and the EXT are also different with the RN6 being slightly more recessed in its presentation yet remaining distinctly detailed and crisp whereas the EXT, as outlined above, is slightly more smoothed out leading to a more relaxed presentation. The upper regions of the EXT and the RN6 take different approaches with the RN6 being distinctly less sparkly and crisp compared to the EXT which lays on the treble pretty thick to heighten the crystalline nature of the upper regions.

Ultimately, the RN6 takes on a more coloured tonality and seems to push the tonal signature of the EXT to the extremes for better or for worse. I believe that the EXT is the more safe choice but the RN6’s bass performance is best-in-class whereas the EXT doesn’t have a valid claim to best of anything in my books.

Vs VE Phoenix​

The VE Phoenix was a wonderful IEM that I had spent time with and whilst not excelling in any respect, provided a sweet and enjoyable tonality combined with excellent technical performance. The Phoenix errs on the side of warm whereas the EXT, whilst still presenting a decent sense of mid-bass presence remains rather airy and ethereal in its presentation. Speed and detail are where the two most differ as I believe the Phoenix excels in providing micro and macro detail in any region in a natural and relaxed manner whereas the EXT trumps it in the treble region but at the cost of some harshness. The bass on the EXT is much more prominent and the quality of the bass is quite odd in that it feels rounded and “blobby” whereas the Phoenix provides a more fast and punchy bass presentation comparatively. The mid-range on the Phoenix is more present in the mix and resolves excellently with a natural timbre that feels fast and direct. The EXT feels more organic and relaxed in its delivery but at the cost of some detail. Both do not have the largest staging but the Phoenix does much better in creating separation, layering instruments and resolving them in a manner that creates a deeper and more dissectible stage.

Overall, the Phoenix presents what I feel is a much more enjoyable tonality that will likely be enjoyed by most people compared to the EXT where its U-shaped tonality seems to elevate the drama and engagement factor some but at the cost of long-term listening enjoyability in my books.

Synergy​

Shanling M6U​

The M6U is characterised by a slightly v-shaped tonality combined with a strong emphasis on note weight and smooth reproduction of music. The result of this with the EXT is an emphasis on the EXT’s strengths imbuing a strong sense of low-end presence and heightening the upper regions of the FR curve. Whether this approach overcooks the overall tonal balance of the IEM is a question for your tastes but for me personally, the recessing of the mids and the imbuing of strong low-end presence had the effect of muddying up the overall performance of the EXT. Whilst the emphasis on these two elements seemed to heighten the sense of dynamism and drama felt whilst listening to the EXT, I found the experience overbearing over time and ultimately something that I did not find enjoyment in after the novelty of booming bass and piercing highs wore off. Overall, this is not a combo that I would heartily recommend unless you want a more U or V-shaped tonality at all costs.

Mojo 2 + Poly​

Characterised as a slightly warm yet ultimately neutral source, the Mojo 2 provides the EXT with perhaps the most neutral representation that I can get out of my sources. The combo doesn’t seem to heighten the tonal characteristics of the EXT in any prominent manner but rather simply reproduces the music as what I believe Vision Ears would have imagined. The resolution and ability to pick out detail in any area of the response curve on the Mojo was better than the M6U and alleviated some of the concerns that I had regarding the lack of resolving power in the mids that I had highlighted in my review above. This is not to say that the Mojo cured it completely.

The crossfeed function of the Mojo expanded the stage somewhat coalescing with the already airy nature of the IEM to broaden and deepen the stage. The effect seemed slightly heightened on the EXT when compared to other IEMs when used with crossfeed.

Luxury & Precision W4​

The W4 on the stock settings (fast filter, Tune 02 and all other settings off) presents a thinner and drier reproduction of sound when compared to the previously mentioned source chains. The result of this is a more edgy reproduction of sound that is faster and more precise in its presentation. The combination of the W4 and the EXT leads to a rather mixed bag of results. The bass and the mids provide a needed sense of speed and precision that seems to correct some of the issues that I previously wrote about and imbue a greater sense of detail and resolution in these regions. However, the added thinness and sharpness to the treble sections of the EXT began to move the IEM into the distinctly sibilant territory as the edgier combination seemed to make female vocalists a bit jarring and cymbals noticeably splashier and harsher. Despite this increase in harshness, the treble was undoubtedly detailed and airy to the ear with songs that were not too treble-happy.

This is ultimately something that was alleviated with the shift to slower filters and the NOS mode of the W4 that seemed to smooth out and roll off the frequency response curve somewhat, creating a more balanced sound signature.

As a result of this, the W4 is a rather good pairing that seeks to correct some of the misgivings of the EXT but may lean too hard into its strengths. Ultimately, the W4 is a rather good choice if you don’t find that you are that treble-sensitive.

Hiby R6 Pro 2​

The R6P2 presents a highly dynamic sound signature that follows what I would term v-shaped tonality. The elevation of the sub-bass and slight heightening of the treble lends itself to a great sense of engagement and dynamism with several IEMs but given the EXT is already emphasising these elements, how would they fare together?

The bass frequencies become a bit too much for my ears with the sub-bass boost becoming slightly more undefined and muddy to the ear, perhaps owing to the already “floaty” nature of the EXT’s bass. The mids remain the same for the most part but with a very slight improvement to the resolution and rendering of micro detail of certain instrumentalization when compared to the likes of the M6U above.

The treble gets a very slight boost but not to the extent of the W4’s overly bright presentation at times. This is a more subtle addition to the already prominent treble regions but did not bother me that much in the grand scheme of things.

The R6P2 also provides a wealth of DSP to a greater extent than the W4 and is seemingly on par with the Mojo with the exception that the R6P2 isn’t necessarily “lossless DSP” as claimed by Chord. This provides you with the ability to alter the sound signature of the EXT and ultimately you can ensure synergy to a certain extent.

Overall, the R6P2 seeks to enhance the already emphasised v-shape nature of the EXT but the improvements in dynamic performance create a great sense of engagement and presence in the low-end. I would say that the R6P2 is a respectable pairing but with the caveat that some tweaking may be required.

Value and Quality of Life​


Priced at the hefty sum of 3000 USD, the EXT commands a princely price for its sound. But I cannot wholeheartedly say that the EXT is deserving of this price. The value proposition of the EXT is hard to justify with my experience with TOTL IEMs (albeit limited). The Phoenix seems to be the greater all-rounder with a safer tuning that is sure to appeal to more people and the RN6 provides a similar airy yet bassy sound signature that feels tighter and more resolving. The EXT excels in terms of treble performance and the uniqueness of its strong bass tuning but I do not feel that this avails my concerns with the price tag and the middling reproduction of the mids.

The shells are lightweight despite the hefty metal faceplate and thus feel rather comfortable to have in-ear for extended periods. The caveat of this statement is that they have to get into your ear in the first place. The EXTs, like the Phoenix, take a rather odd earpiece shape that intends to get deeply inserted and sit nicely in your ear canal. Whilst they did so with my ears, I would be reticent to say that this would work with a lot of people. As such, I feel that the earpieces would likely be a difficult fit for some folks and not as universally appealing as some other earpiece designs in the market.

The included cable is a rather flexible 8-wire cable which was fine from an ergonomic perspective but the hardware and connectors were somewhat disappointing for a product of this price class. The 2 pin connectors felt rather loose in the earpieces and it wasn’t an uncommon experience to open up the case to see that one of the earpieces was no longer connected to the cable. Pin security is not just for ATMs but is pretty much crucial when you have a TOTL priced IEM in your ear. The 2.5mm jack is a 2.5mm jack and I’ll leave it at that.

Conclusion​

The EXT seeks to demonstrate its superiority through its fairly exaggerated U-shaped tuning approach and it does so rather well. The mids, whilst seemingly an afterthought maintain a level of organic presentation that is quite enjoyable and this is book-ended by a uniquely floaty bass that remains robust and a sparkly upper-end that incites some excitement and energy in the treble.

This tuning is rather exciting but diminishes its suitability for more acoustically focused music and the technical prowess of the EXT leaves one wanting for more in terms of detail retrieval and resolution in the mid-range in particular.

Ultimately, the EXT is a rather tough sell for me at its pricepoint, I do not believe it is the best at bass regions despite having a unique presentation, is quite far off in mid-range reproduction and the treble, whilst rather good is not good enough to warrant the price-tag in my books.

The EXT is a TOTL for those looking for a rather pronounced U-shaped tonality and if that is not your bag then I recommend spending your bag on a more well-rounded IEM like the Phoenix.

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Bringing in that "X" Factor - Vision Ears EXT
Pros: +Deep, weighty & impactful bass. Definitely a contender in the stratos-fi level bass in terms of weight, texture and detail.
+ Full, weighty vocal notes
+ Smooth presentation (Dependant on sound preference)
+ Fits like a custom (On my ears personally, experiences may vary)
Cons: - May sound a little bit too dark or notes don't sound as clear or sparkly.
- Air instruments sounded a little muffled, lacking treble extension compared to other IEMs
- Bass may overwhelm the rest of the frequencies a little bit (Dependant on sound preference)
- Unusual shell shape may not fit everyone
Vision Ears EXT (Elysium Extended)
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Hello and thank you again for taking the time to read this post. We’re off to my second written experience on IEMs and we’re kicking it off with not one, but 2 IEMs from Vision Ears. The Vision Ears EXT and Phonix.

Disclaimer
Once again, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank @Damz87 for arranging this review tour in Australia and for allowing me to be a part of this journey. I am not paid in any way shape or form to write this review and Vision Ears or anyone involved in this review tour had any influence over my experience and all thoughts and opinions are my own. If you'd like to know more details about the Vision Ears EXT, you can check out them out at Vision Ear's website here - https://vision-ears.de/premiumline_en/ext . With that all out of the way, let's talk about Vision Ears EXT

For this post I’ll be specifically talking about the Vision Ears EXT, if you’d like to check out my written experience on the Vision Ears Phonix, you can check it out here

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The Vision Ears EXT, a.k.a Elysium Extended, hence the EXT abbreviation, is a $4500 (AUD) IEM which has a driver configuration of 2 dynamic drivers and 4 ESTs. This is by far the most expensive IEM, I’ve ever tried or put in my ears, only to be trumped by the other brother in the lineup, the VE Phonix but that’s another post entirely. I wish I never googled how much this thing cost because it gave me a little bit of anxiety whenever I tried these IEMs on to the point I was tossing the idea of hiring my son as a 24/7 bodyguard to make sure nothing or noone, not even dust will touch this IEM but since my son is only 2, these $4500(AUD) IEM might probably end up in his belly instead which in a way is security in itself but that idea went out as fast as it came into my head.

With this kind of price tag, it was indeed a very interesting experience for me personally as not only do I get to test and listen to what a $4500(AUD) in ear monitor sounds like, but I also get to compare with lesser priced IEMs to see if that few extra hundreds or thousands will let me discover aspects of a music that I never knew existed. With that curiosity in mind, let’s first talk about the accessories first.

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Accessories
Since this was part of the review tour, you might need to google how the retail unboxing experience would be like because for the tour, it comes with the box with a large emblem representing the IEMs, which I would make this into a magnet and stick it on my fridge if I owned this because, it looks really cool. It also comes with a lot of interchangeable eartips, the cable itself, a carry case, a leather pouch to put the IEMs in and the IEMs themselves.

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For the case itself, if you’ve owned the EJ07M Kinda Lava it’s pretty much that case on steroids. It has a twisting mechanism, it’s heavy, it’s solid, aluminium made with a design matching the IEMs. If there’s any case I would want to protect my IEM’s in, it would be in this.The cable itself is pretty standard, you’ve got that weaving like design and it has a bit of thickness but not too heavy, overall a nice, light, solid feeling cable but I do have to note that the pins are quite short so while I may not have any issues with the IEMs falling out from my testing, I still wish it could’ve been a little bit longer.


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For this tour, the cable that it comes with terminates in 2.5mm but there’s an adapter which you can plug in which terminates in 4.4mm but then it extends the entire plug so in terms of convenience, I honestly prefer the modern cable designs where we have interchangeable terminations instead of additional adapters such as these but to each their own.

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Design
If Magneto was part of the X-men and he wears IEMs when he’s crushing people with metal, I feel that this would be the IEM he’d be wearing if we’re solely talking about looks. I think this IEM looks really sexy. It’s got a little bit of that futuristic cyberpunk look with the strong lines forming the letter “X” which is a representation of its name and you have a sneak peek of the grills inside. The purple on the metal faceplate is striking but it doesn’t scream “hey, look at me I’m PURPLE!”. It just catches your attention and when it does, you can’t take your eyes off it, or at least I couldn’t.

The shell also has a smoky like see through design where you see a sneak peek of the drivers but not fully seeing it all. Overall, not much more I can say about this IEM, it just looks really good. Purple rain should be playing in the background every time you’re putting on this IEM.

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Fit and Comfort
Not going to deny it, this IEM is fairly large but it has some grooves and contours which for my ears personally, fit really well, but it feels like it goes in really deep so you have to wear smaller eartips which I’ll talk about later, otherwise you’re going to feel a lot of pressure and it’s going to get uncomfortable after a few hours of listening. However once this IEM is in my ears, there’s no moving it, I feel i could go jogging with these and it wouldn’t fall off but I don’t think I’d want to sweat all over $4000 (AUD). Shame though, would’ve been a fun jogging session.


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Eartips
Due to how wide the nozzles are, I have to be on either the small or medium sized tips to get this to fit properly, without adding too much pressure in my ear. Moondrop springtips or stock tips seem to work best for me for these IEMs but I would suggest to tip roll to get the proper fit and seal because what I’m about to describe depends on this factor

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Bass
If there’s one aspect of the sound that stands out the most, it’ll be in the bass. The EXT DOMINATES. When that bass beat hits from Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, it pounded my skull. It’s a very deep, weighty, punchy, full bass note. It’s a bassheads dream sound for pound. Unfortunately I do not have my Maestro SE’s with me at the moment to do an in depth comparison but from memory, the EXT sounds like it has a litte bit more meat to the mid bass, a little thicker, a little fuller. There’s a lot of texture to the bass as well, I’m not hearing just the slam, I’m getting all the bass details, there are some tracks where I didn’t even know there was a kick drum playing in the background and the EXT brought it into focus. Another enjoyable experience for bass. Nothing more needed to be said.

Midrange
This is yet another IEM with an “overall” sound presentation whereby the background is on the same plane as the vocals. How the low end is tuned gives the vocals a little bit of weight, warmth and thickness. However I’d say there’s a little bit of bleed from the bass into the midrange, which I feel contributes to that heavier note weight, which depending on how you like your vocals, can be a good thing or it can backfire. For me personally, I feel when it comes to studio recorded tracks, that warmth in the tuning just makes for a lush and smooth music listening session, however with how the treble is presented, it’s probably not the best for live recordings or tracks.

Treble
Treble is smooooth on the EXT which is great if you’re sensitive to treble, however I feel for me personally, it needed more treble and treble extension to cut through all that bass because as of what they did for the Vision Ears EXT, all the air instruments and their micro details took a hit from this presentation. Trumpets sounded like it was on mute or muffled, and they’re somehow sounding a little further away.

Soundstage
Not the widest soundstage due to how the sound is presented. I would say they’re forward but never reaches the realm of shoutiness. The details in bass create an illusion of depth so while the soundstage is not necessarily wide, it is quite deep with how the sound is presented, most of it contributed by the bass

Resolution
From my experience thus far, the bass-treble ratio has quite an impact on the resolution. For this case and from my personal experience of the EXT, while you can hear most of the macro details, the micro details is not as clear or as sharp as compared to other lower priced IEMs I’ve tried. For example, hi hats, snares, even hand claps, I can hear them, but they sounded soft and a little far away, often being enveloped by the bass details. However they are separated well enough that it doesn’t become one big mash potato of sound, but for an IEM at this price point, I definitely expected a little bit more. There just this blanket over all these details and if you’re one to take notice of every little detail in a track especially tracks you’re familiar with, I think the EXT might disappoint you.

Imaging
Imaging is just about average for me. The left and right sounds are distinguishable, but the positioning within the space is not as well defined or distinct.

Source
On my Hifiman EF400 I get to about 8 o clock on the dial on the 4.4mm termination

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VS Maestro SE

I think the best contender to the Vision Ears EXT would be the Maestro SE as I can’t think of a set that I own personally that presents this much bass without having too much impact on the rest of the frequencies. Unfortunately I do not have my Maestro SE with me at the time of testing the EXT which is a huge shame because in terms of bass I would love to do a head to head comparison because they both present bass at the highest level but I’m going off based on recent memory and familiarity of the Maestro SE since it was my daily driver.

Bass
The EXT hits harder than the Maestro SE but the SE reaches deeper in the sub bass. They both have a lot of bass detail and structure and bass is definitely the highlight of the two IEMs. It comes down to what you prefer, if overall bass quality and quantity is all you care about then the EXT edges out because of that slightly fuller mid bass punch, but do not be mistaken, they both hit really, REALLY hard.

Midrange
For the midrange, the EXT is a lot warmer and the bass extends to the midrange a little bit in a sense where vocal notes sound a lot fuller and thicker but the Maestro SE presents a much cleaner and leaner note weight which presents the illusion of a “cleaner” midrange. The SE is a lot more forward in its vocal positioning as well compared to the EXT so while they both have the “overall sound plane presentation”, the vocals are bit more focused on the SE.

Treble
For treble while they both present a dark presentation for me personally, the SE has more elevated highs especially when it comes to pronunciation of words but when it comes to treble extension or some would perceive that as “air”, both the EXT and SE suffers a little bit in this category. If we had just a little bit more treble extension it would open up the sound a little bit more but based on how it’s tuned currently, the air instruments sounded a little bit muffled and it’s note attack is a little softened.

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Conclusion
So to sum it all up, I’m really glad I got to listen to these IEMs first because it proves a small point that just because something carries an exhorbant price tag does not necessarily means it’ll suit your sound preference. If bass is what you want in an IEM then the EXT brings that in spades but at the same time, the fact I’m comparing this with another IEM that is almost 1/2 the price is saying something so it is always, ALWAYS important to audition these IEMs at your nearest available store if able, prior to purchasing this, or ANYTHING for that matter especially when it’ll cost you a second hand car’s worth because you’ll never know what they’re going to bring until you’ve heard them for yourselves. The Vision Ears EXT carries a sound presentation that is smooth, warm and extremely engaging. You will not help but tap your toes or bop your head when listening with the Vision Ears EXT because when the first beat drops, the Vision Ears EXT will get you hooked, BUT, as I’ve cautioned many times earlier, it comes at a cost. Is summit-fi level of bass worth a few weeks of meals? Only you have the answer to that. Once again I’d like to thank Vision Ears and Damz87 once again for allowing me to be a part of this experience. I look forward to sharing my next experience which is this IEMs bigger brother and when i say bigger, i do mean in price and possibly in sound? Let’s find out here. Otherwise, happy listening and hope all of you will have an amazing week.

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gLer

No DD, no DICE
Vision Ears EXT : Purple Reign
Pros: Remarkable clarity across the FR
Excellent build quality and attention to detail
Powerful, extended bass and treble
Vivid, detailed midrange and excellent instrument timbre
Cons: Non-traditional fit can be a deal-breaker (it is for me)
Vocals can occasionally sound etched (and dry)
Lacks sub-bass weight and decay
I received a review unit of the VE Elysium EXTended (EXT) as part of the official VE South African Tour, which also included the new all-BA Phönix flagship. The tour was made possible by Marcel and Jonas at @Vision Ears, and I’d like to once again EXTend my thanks to the VE team for their generosity of spirit and enthusiastic support of our far-flung community.

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Introduction

While I haven’t been fortunate enough to hear the original Elysium for myself, that IEM’s reputation preceded it. Famed for its ‘peerless’ midrange, I was less enthused with the idea of Elysium’s bass playing only a small part in the sound signature, with a single, sad and lonely BA driver left to do bass duty while the mids and treble got all the good stuff.

So, when VE announced a ‘new’ Elysium, that ‘course corrected’ with a full-blown 9.2mm dynamic bass woofer to go with an improved 6mm midrange dynamic driver and second-generation Sonion treble electrostatic drivers (four instead of Elysium’s original two), excitement levels hit fever pitch. In fact, it was only because of my interest in EXT that I got to hear its maternal twin Phönix, and if you read my Phönix review, you know how glad I am that I did.

But I digress. EXT, from what I understand, is about as far removed from the original Elysium as chalk and cheese. Yes, the hearty midrange was retained, but everything from bass to treble to tuning to form factor (more on that zany form factor later) was changed. You’ll find numerous reviews comparing the two, so if that’s what you’re looking for from me, you may want to look elsewhere.

What I will be doing in this review, however, is pitting EXT against my current all-time favourite IEM, the Sony IER-Z1R, mainly because on paper the two IEMs compete for a similar audience – someone like me who demands the very best in DD bass with a healthy dollop of midrange goodness thrown in for good measure.

But before I do all that, let’s take a closer look at EXT, what it comes with, how it’s made, and how well (or not) it fits the ear.

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Presentation, fit and finish

As I mentioned in the Phönix review, the tour samples of both EXT and Phönix didn’t ship with retail packaging, though from what I’m told, EXT’s unboxing experience is spectacular. I can believe it too; seeing and holding EXT for the first time, it’s clear that a lot of attention has gone into its design and construction.

The shells themselves are quite small, though not quite as small as something like Sennheiser’s single dynamic driver IE 900. Each earpiece features an aluminium faceplate anodised in a custom ‘Vision Ears’ deep purple colour. The faceplates are grooved with a striking ‘X’ design that reveals a silver-finished acoustic aluminium mesh, which does double-duty as a protective cover and dynamic driver vent.

On the flipside of the faceplate is where things get funky. The nozzle and driver housing are made of a seamless opaque black acrylic, with a flat base and an odd-looking bulb just below the thick, oval-shaped nozzle. The reason for the bulb is the four Sonion estats that VE decided to place close to the nozzle opening, most likely because two sealed dynamic drivers and a three-way crossover take up the bulk of available space, and expanding the shell cavity would have made the EXT unyieldingly large.

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There’s also a small ‘clear’ section in each nozzle that reveals some of the wiring and VE’s proprietary second-generation HALC (High Precision Acoustic Leveling Chamber) that helps tune the dynamic drivers to spec. Unfortunately, while the final design and aesthetic is one of form as well as function, it’s not ideal – at least not for me.

I have fairly small, narrow ear canals, and generally use small or medium-small tips with ‘traditional’ IEM nozzles of regular length and thickness. EXT’s are neither traditional nor regular, shaped more like a semi-custom IEM that requires some acrobatic counter-clockwise twisting to slide and ‘lock’ the bulbous, angled nozzles inside your ears.

With a little practice, they slide and lock very neatly, and if my ear canals were a millimeter or two wider, there would be plenty of room for both the bulbous acrylic shaft and its accompanying eartips. However, even with the most comfortable eartips I have (JVC Spiral Dots), I can feel the pressure of the nozzles and eartips inside my ear canals almost immediately, and while it’s not uncomfortable per sé , I’m constantly aware that I’m wearing silicone plugs in my ears (and yes, before you ask, I tried different sizes, with one size down being too small and not sealing properly).

It's all good and well if I insert them once and leave them be. If, on the other hand, I remove the earpieces regularly, as I had to do during testing, the constant chafing of the silicone from the in-out twisting motion hurts my ears, to the point where they become red and painful after an hour or two, and I have to stop listening for the day. So, while I can live with the pressure of the fit for shorter listens, I’m yet to find eartips that would allow me to wear them for longer sessions.

To be clear, I can really only talk about the fit from my own perspective and have read plenty of impressions from those for whom EXT fits like a glove, so don’t let my experience dissuade you from trying EXT for yourself. It took me almost four years to finally muster up the courage to buy Z1R despite all the negative reviews of its ‘atrocious fit’, which turned out to be anything but, and I ended up missing out on its spectacular sound quality for way too long.

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There’s a lot to like about EXT too, as you’ll soon find out, but before I get to that, a quick comment on accessories. The stock cable is an 8-wire silver-plated copper design, which, like the Phönix cable, is terminated with 0.78mm 2-pin connectors on the earpiece side and a 2.5mm balanced connector on the source side. The retail box comes with a 2.5mm to 4.4mm balanced adapter, though I used a DD Hi-Fi connector for the review as the VE connector didn’t ship with the tour kit.

Two different types of silicone tips are also included in the box: Azla Crystal and Spinfit CP-155. I preferred the SpinFits to the Crystal, which were almost impossible to fit onto the thick nozzle (eventually, with some practice, I managed). Neither were particularly comfortable though, which is why, after cycling through about a dozen different tips, I settled on the Spirals for both sound quality and, more importantly, comfort. This brings us to the part most of you probably skipped to anyway…

Sound impressions

I’ve been listening to EXT on and off for about three weeks now, mainly using HiBy’s R2R-based RS6 DAP, which I found to have excellent synergy as a pairing. I also used iFi’s xDSD Gryphon, though most of the review impressions – including the Z1R shootout – were made with the HiBy. EXT needs about the same amount of power to get to the same volume level as Z1R, and with almost 700mW into 32 ohms, the RS6 has plenty of power on tap for both IEMs without breaking a sweat, delivering a clean black background with zero hiss and ample headroom.

The following section will be slightly different to my usual sound impressions in that I’m not going to reference specific tracks but will instead talk more generically about the sound, and leave the music mentions to the shootout section that follows.

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Tonality

I hear EXT to have a warmer-than-neutral tonality but with extreme clarity as its defining attribute. Even though it has a powerful bass driver EXT can have a bright and forward sound, but again not in the way you’d typically think of a bright-leaning monitor. Its brightness comes from an elevated and very extended midrange-to-treble plateau, especially upper treble, which gives the sound plenty of shimmer and lightness. This lightness feeds back into the midrange and balances out any bass ‘heaviness’ that would have been there, were it not for that treble infusion.

If I had to describe the tonality as a shape, it would be closest to a W, but without the typical ‘peakiness’ that some W-shaped monitors suffer from. EXT is generally smooth across the board, with almost zero harshness, but depending on the recording, there can be some residual sibilants or glassiness in some vocals (mainly female vocals) because of the sheer amount of air and clarity in the signature. As such, I find EXT to be less forgiving of poor recordings than its more refined sibling.

Overall, I’d say EXT’s presentation is one of power, dynamism and energy, but with the ability to resolve even the finest feathery nuances in each of the main frequency ranges. It’s a ‘bright daylight’ type of tuning that exposes your ears to all the details and textures in the music, but for all its liveliness I find it sometimes leans more cerebral than musical, especially because the overall tone is drier and lighter rather than organic or earthy. On the whole, it still sounds very natural, but if you’re looking for rose-tinted romanticism in your music, this is probably not the monitor for you.

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Bass is the biggest change from the original Elysium, both in tuning and the hardware used to deliver it. The large 9.2mm driver is put to very good use to dig deep into the lows, though the balance is tilted slightly more towards midbass than sub-bass. There’s no midbass ‘hump’ to thicken the music, but the elevated midbass does subdue the sub-bass energy on some tracks, and so while there’s plenty of rumble where there should be in the music, it’s not a warbly, subwoofer-like rumble but rather a tighter, more measured physicality.

Where EXT really shines is bass texture, delivering subtle shades of bass that are usually the domain of nimbler BA drivers, only this time with the air movement that makes dynamic driver bass so much more visceral and natural sounding. While it doesn’t quite have the full range of tactility because of its slightly muted sub-bass response, the details that are felt rather than heard are all still there, but maybe not as obvious as they would be with a monitor that puts more focus on sub-bass weight.

This is not the world’s fastest bass by any measure, but I don’t find it slow either. Decay is actually very fast for a large dynamic, and on some tracks, I hear it to have more BA-like characteristics, in terms of decay at least, and attack is even faster. EXT has a real talent for keeping pace with even the fastest basslines, but is not as adept at sustaining the decay – something many would no doubt see as an advantage because it prevents the bass from bleeding and helps expose more detail in the midrange.

Overall, I find EXT’s bass exceptional, among the best I’ve heard from a dynamic driver IEM in terms of detail and texture. That said, it’s a fairly reserved bass, even though it’s elevated above neutral, and doesn’t punch quite as hard or rumble quite as low as class leaders like EVO and Z1R. It can also go missing altogether on bass-light tracks, and therefore may not satisfy the die-hard bassheads among us.

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Midrange is what made the original Elysium famous, and while I’ve already confessed to having never heard the original, listening to EXT I get a sense of how that reputation was forged. Lower mids, in particular, are awash with texture, male vocals presented with their full chesty tone, but they do lack the lushness of some other monitors (even with a lush vocal-oriented source like RS6).

Upper mids aren’t quite as forward, and female vocals that sit closer to the upper midrange definitely reflect the treble elevation up top. Like male vocals, they tend to be on the drier and lighter side, with notes not quite as full or weighty as I’d like, but not fluffy or brittle either. Some female vocals can suffer from a hint of hollowness, which I personally feel is the result of the overabundant air up top, and the higher-pitched the vocals, the wispier and more ethereal they sound as a result.

Instrument tone and timbre is spot on; strings ooze with texture and piano strikes shimmer with detail and realistic weight. EXT has this way of creating three-dimensional images of instruments that give them a realism I’ve rarely heard before. It also helps separate instruments on the stage and sets them apart from vocals, and although these are more technical than tonal attributes, I find it relevant to mention them here because of how big a part the tuning plays in the overall midrange presentation.

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Treble is where EXT might split opinion. I’m still undecided on whether or not I like the elevated treble tuning, but there’s no question its airiness and speed are what contribute to EXT’s overall clarity and tonal spaciousness. The upper treble elevation helps create pitch-black spaces between instruments and vocals, but also contributes to their lightness of tone.

As far as estats go, this is one of the best implementations I’ve heard, right up there with standard-bearers like Traillii. There’s so much shimmer to the music you’ll want to reach for your sunglasses, but this isn’t a glaring treble, nor is it peaky or harsh. It’s silky, but not in the sense of sounding organic and relaxed like Phönix or Z1R.

There’s a smoothness to the treble I really like, even though it lacks some bite in the lower treble region, but that can be a good thing too, depending on your preferences. This also makes it more consistent with the overall smoothness of the tuning elsewhere, and makes for a cohesive and coherent sound despite the different driver types.

Overall, while some consider EXT’s a bass-dominant signature, I somewhat disagree, finding that treble plays a bigger role, at least with the music I listen to. Thankfully treble quality is outstanding, so this isn’t an issue, and despite the prominent treble, bass is very well balanced and in the signature as a whole.

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Technicalities

There’s a sense in the community that EXT isn’t the most technically proficient monitor around, and while that’s true, it has to be taken in context. I find EXT performs at a very high technical level, with excellent resolution and detail retrieval across the board. It may not have the microscope-like resolving power of Traillii or Fourte, but it also doesn’t have the BA driver tech designed specifically to extract that insane level of detail in a monitor, especially in the midrange.

Stage is wide and natural, with a decent sense of depth but not much height. On the right tracks, sounds can stretch beyond my ears, but the stage generally lacks the sense of holographic staging I get with other monitors like Traillii or Z1R. As I mentioned earlier, EXT has an uncanny ability to render 3D instruments but lacks the tonal weight to make them sound life-size.

Imaging is very precise, and I always get a good sense of where individual instruments and vocals are placed on the stage. Separation is also excellent, as is layering, although again we’re not talking class-leading but still in touch with top-shelf monitors. I certainly don’t feel shortchanged by EXT’s technical ability, and any more would push the overall presentation too far towards clinical for my liking.

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Select comparisons

I originally intended this review to be a shootout between EXT and my current favourite IEM, the Sony IER-Z1R, but felt that would be too narrow a focus and do both IEMs a disservice. I’d already written more than 5,000 words’ worth of track notes, however (yes, that’s more words than this entire review) so, instead of throwing all that bedtime reading material away, I’m going to use this section to summarise my findings between the two IEMs and let you decide if you want to sift through the track-by-track, blow-by-blow details.

If you do, you’ll find them all in the Track Notes – EXT vs Z1R spoiler below, complete with YouTube and Tidal links, so you can listen along and come to your own conclusions:

The following notes were taken during live listening sessions with EXT and Z1R. It’s not meant as a constructive or structured analysis, but more as a stream-of-consciousness. Tracks were sometimes played several times over to get to the nuance of the differences between the two IEMs, and were chosen to maximise genre variety from my personal music library. I’ve also included a Tidal Link and YouTube clip for each track so you can listen along if you like. Warning: flowery language ahead.

Seven Lions – Island (feat. Nevve)
EDM, female vocal
Tidal Link



This track is a meme for extreme, which makes it an ideal litmus test for treble quality and upper midrange aggression. Nevve’s vocals are compressed and brightly recorded, and with EXT sound thinner and more prone to sibilance, especially in the intro section. With Z1R she sounds sweeter and not quite as forward or peaky. There’s more echo/reverb detail with EXT, with doesn’t help the already elevated levels of brightness, whereas Z1R’s smoother/more relaxed upper treble lends a pleasant warmth to this part of the track. The ‘drop’ from 1:49 – 2:23 can be quite grating at higher volumes, but both IEMs keep it mostly controlled. EXT again opens up the space for the bright effects to multiply and reverberate more than Z1R, but Z1R is slightly sharper in the lower treble region, so your tolerance will vary based on how sensitive you are to the treble at different frequencies. The rumble around the 3:00 mark is more pronounced on Z1R, lending much-needed weight to the track, while the background ticks are more clearly defined on EXT, in case you’re into deep diving for the subtle cues amid the mayhem. Overall, EXT’s is a more energetic, frenetic presentation of this track, with a brighter overall tint, while Z1R, while still energetic, dampens certain frequencies for an easier listen with a more solid bass foundation and wider stage.

Preference: Z1R

The Shins – New Slang
Indie pop, male vocal
Tidal Link



One of my favourite male vocal tracks, ever since it was made famous by Natalie Portman’s character in the film Garden State. Lots of instrumental effects and cues in both channels that keep drawing me in, with vocals and background vocals layered throughout. Right off the bat, the tambourine in the left channel and increasingly louder guitar strums in the right channel are better separated and more textured with EXT, the added resolving power and air of the estat treble clearly coming into play here. The ‘centre space’ is also darker, with sounds from both channels ‘bleeding in’ more with Z1R than EXT. The second guitar at 0:34 is also easier to pick out on EXT, but is still well defined on Z1R. When Jeremy Mercer’s vocals come in at 0:39, he’s set further apart from the instruments with EXT, and blends in more with Z1R, likely due to the longer decay on the guitar strums with Z1R, and much faster decay/treble on EXT. His voice is also warmer and more relaxed on Z1R, clearer and crisper on EXT, with slight inflections easier to pick out. There’s a scraping effect, used to good effect, at 1:17 and again at 2:02, that’s more prominent with EXT, and set slightly further back with Z1R, and the blues guitar at 2:09 sounds twangier with EXT, which actually works better for this track. The song ends with what sounds like a marble dropped on the stage, panning left before veering right, and both IEMs image this perfectly, but EXT a touch more incisively.

Preference: EXT

Two Steps From Hell – Breathe (feat. Merethe Solvedt)
Epic/Trailer, female vocal
Tidal Link



Easily one of the most powerful and emotional tracks in my library, disappointing only with its short runtime of 2:55 (as tracks made for movie trailers tend to be). Still, you’d be surprised how much you can learn about an IEM from a short snippet of a song like this one. The track starts off very softly (so don’t adjust the volume too high), the ebbing synths and angelic vocals slowly rising from the deep to take centre stage. This is a good test for dynamics, by the way, and I can immediately tell the two IEMs apart by the sharper focus on the strings and midbass drum impact with EXT and the larger size of the stage and sub-bass rumble with Z1R. There’s more of an edge to EXT that gives the impression of sitting in a smaller hall or studio, whereas the outer boundaries are less defined by the slower decay with Z1R, and the sound travels further and higher, almost cathedral-like, which works much better for this type of music. When Merethe starts to sing, her vocal (breath) trails sound sharper with Z1R, airier, and slightly hollower on EXT. At 1:33, where she starts to raise the volume and the instruments rise up in unison, there’s more impact and heft with Z1R, more air and sharpness with EXT. The subtle sub-bass rumble in this part is far more pronounced on Z1R. As she starts the crescendo at 2:11, her voice is sweeter and more organic with Z1R, but set slightly back and not as distinct with EXT, possibly due to the brighter sound of the horns and other instruments compared to the warmer and vaster soundscape with Z1R separated from the better-imaged vocals. Ultimately the Z1R brings out the emotion and majesty of this track more than EXT, which for me is the defining difference with this type of music. Anecdotally I’ve never found this track satisfying with anything other than a dynamic bass driver.

Preference: Z1R

Whitehorse – Dear Irony
Americana, female/male vocal
Tidal Link



This track is just my speed: slow, deliberate, and sweet vocals with deep yet subtle sub-bass rumble and mellow channel-separated strings/guitars that help define the shape and size of the stage. From the very first second, the opening guitar riff in the left channel gives me an idea of how wide the IEM is staging, and both Z1R and EXT show ample width here. The tone of the guitar is different, with Z1R warmer with more decay, and EXT cleaner with more edge definition. Neither is better or worse; both sound realistic, so it comes down to preference. Then, as the vocals start at 0:11, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland’s voices are imaged very closely together, with Melissa upfront in the lead and Luke close behind off her right shoulder (left of centre as heard through IEMs). There aren’t too many IEMs that I’ve heard that can separate and image the vocals so that you can hear Luke distinctly (much easier to do with headphones or speakers), but both Z1R and EXT do an admirable job here. EXT’s slightly more forward/elevated lower mids do help here, as does the thinner vocal weight in general, which makes Luke more distinct and Melissa more crystalline. In contrast, both singers sound more romantic with Z1R, their vocals enmeshed in the harmony with less clinical separation. A third obvious distinction in this track is sub-bass weight, and the resulting stage size. Whereas EXT does better at separating the various instruments and elements with plenty of air between them, Z1R uses rumble and reverb to define the stage, which is vaster by comparison. The sheer weight of Z1R’s sub-bass as it decays into infinity, especially since the bass itself is not really elevated here but rather the resulting reverbs, gives the track a warmer, earthier feel with Z1R. It’s something I always listen out for on this track, and is quite similar to another track I use to test subtle sub-bass rumble/depth/weight (Kristin Hersh’s Your Ghost), and to my ears, Z1R is peerless in this regard.

Preference: Z1R

Jean-Michel Blais – Murmures
Modern classical, instrumental
Tidal Link



This is a new artist in my library and the first track off his new album. Still, I’ve been listening to this track on repeat for a while, finding it delightfully melodic and surprisingly intricate. It’s also the first track where I feel EXT’s midrange muscle and tuning wins over the Z1R in a notable way, with its ability to render the intricate details of how the piano keys and string instruments are recorded here. The texture and timbre of the piano keys sound perfectly on point with EXT from the very first strike, whereas Z1R tends to soften and ‘romanticise’ the sound a bit too much here. Then, when the upright bass (or cello?) enters in the right channel at 0:23, the delicate texture is better defined with EXT, as are the piano mechanisms that can be heard above the key strikes. The flittering strings at 1:12 are also more vividly textured with EXT, and overall, the instruments stand apart from each other more. Where Z1R’s more liquid sound benefits this track is in the definition and layering of the track, which sounds more holistic and three-dimensional, with real depth to the stage. EXT by contrast renders very lifelike, 3D instruments, but the stage is flatter, not as high or wide. Still, for this type of track, I can help but be mesmerized by the intricate details EXT presents in great abundance, and it rightly gets the nod.

Preference: EXT

Max Richter – Elena & Lila
Modern classical/soundtrack, instrumental
Tidal Link



The opening track of one of the most remarkable soundtracks (and TV series) in recent times, Max Richter’s haunting theme for My Brilliant Friend captures the poignancy, wonder, tragedy, hope, and delicate emotion interweaved in this timeless story of love, friendship, loss, and passion, so incredibly well. The song is a slow, rhythmic progression rendered with little more than piano, soft strings, and, only at the end, some soaring upright bass/cello (possibly synthesized). Once again, EXT’s remarkable midrange timbre, texture, and detail come to the fore, revealing the intricacies of the keys and the sounds of the piano itself, as if micced both inside and outside the instrument. The strings are delicate yet vivid, and there’s a sense of depth and reverb that gives the instruments a holographic feel, even if the stage is not quite as multidimensional. Z1R is smoother, warmer, and (by comparison) softer, almost ‘veiled’ if you’re listening for pure detail and edge definition. Where it excels is creating a large, liquid space for the performance, so the notes flow in and out of each other, and are also fuller in their delivery. This is particularly notable in the crescendo at 3:34, when the gentle, rhythmic music suddenly becomes more energised, with a deep bass that rumbles and resonates around the stage, giving the music an intimidating size compared to its earlier ‘smallness’. At least, that’s what happens with Z1R; EXT is more polite, with a tighter bass that puts more focus on texture than weight and rumble, and therefore comes off lighter and less imposing by comparison. In effect, it’s almost a song of thirds; so captivating and technical in the first two thirds with EXT, so powerful and explosive in the third with Z1R. Even though I’m left more emotionally moved with Z1R in the end, I’m equally technically awed by EXT in large parts.

Preference: TIE

Allen Toussaint – St. James Infirmary
Jazz, instrumental
Tidal Link



Like classical music (modern or otherwise), this is not a genre I regularly listen to. But it’s easy enough to make heads or tails of what I’m hearing, and when it comes to accurate instrument timbre and three-dimensional texture in the midrange, EXT takes the cake with its precise, almost clinical rendering of piano strikes and strings. Every tiny scrape, echo and pluck are easily heard, with only enough decay to give each instrument a vivid shape. With this track in particular, piano, claps, strings, drums, triangles and tambourines all form part of the performance, and each is expertly rendered here. Unlike some of the earlier instrumental tracks, however, Z1R keeps pace nicely, and in fact, its fluidity and fuller, warmer notes add a different flavor without making me feel like I’m missing out on detail or clarity. There may not be as much black space between instruments with Z1R, but that just makes the music less cerebral and more emotionally accessible, for me anyway. There’s also more weight and a slower decay to the Z1R’s bass strings, and some of the subtle drum kicks (notably at 1:32 and 1:37) land with such a satisfying solidity, I can almost feel them in my chest. I was also quite surprised that the high-pitched ping (a triangle I assume) at 3:28 and 3:37 is more vivid and crystalline with Z1R, as this is where EXT’s estats usually shine. My head tells me EXT’s is the more ‘correct’ performance, but my heart tells me Z1R’s is the more enjoyable.

Preference: TIE

Alphaville – Forever Young
80s synth-pop, male vocal
Tidal Link



This song is the soundtrack of my early childhood. I’ve been listening to it with great nostalgia for almost 40 years ever since I first heard it playing on the radio while on a fourth-grade school field trip, and it defines the 80s sound for me: cheesy but catchy male vocals with delicious string synths (and synth drums) that make me want to air drum every time I hear them. So, when I tell you the bass synth drops on this very track, at 0:43 and 1:28 respectively, are the same two that made me fall in love with deep, chesty bass (and bass that only dynamic drivers can properly render, in my opinion), I’m not joking. And on these two drops alone, the Z1R wins over the EXT for me. The EXT isn’t bad, I mean the bass is tight and textured, but it doesn’t land like it does with Z1R, it doesn’t decay into the roof of the auditorium it’s playing in, and there’s no chest impact, imagined or otherwise. Everything else, from Marian Gold’s trademark vocals, to the tiny flecks of detail, to the smoother, less intense snares in the latter third of the track, make EXT a more ‘correct’ and easier listen, but emotionally and nostalgically, Z1R takes me back to when I was still listening to the song on my first Walkman, with those silly over-ear Sony headphones, wondering why the bass didn’t sound quite like it does on my dad’s bookshelf speakers (try explaining that to a 10-year-old).

Preference: Z1R

Fragma – You Are Alive
EDM/Trance – female vocal
Tidal Link



One of my all-time favourite female vocal trance tracks, and for good reason (note to Seven Lions: THIS is how you record female vocals). Damae’s lead vocals are so sweet yet so sexy, as a warm-blooded young man (which is what I was when I first heard this track) I couldn’t help but be utterly seduced. Sadly, this is not how she sounds to me with EXT. Yes, the synths, from the very first note, are sharper and more detailed than they are on Z1R, which is smoother and warmer by comparison. Yes, the tiny flecks and effects are more notable on EXT. But the minute Damae opens her mouth to sing ‘You’re doing fine, most of the time…’ at 0:32, that’s exactly what I’m thinking with EXT in my ears. Conversely, I may be missing some of the minutae details with Z1R, but the impact of the bassline (admittedly underplayed on this track), and then, more obviously, the sultriness of the lead vocal, makes me forget about the electronic lightshow and connecting with the rhythm of the music. I can go on and analyse this or that about the track, but when the one thing I lust for (literally) in this song is swallowed up by the fancy (and admittedly impressive) electronica, there’s only one IEM I’m grabbing.

Preference: Z1R

Jim Croce – Time In A Bottle
Folk/Acoustic, male vocal
Tidal Link



One of the saddest songs I know, and especially poignant given Jim Croce’s fate shortly after he sang it at a live performance. The recording is an interesting one, two different guitars panned hard left and right, with Jim’s voice dead centre (sorry!), mixed in with occasional synth highlights. There’s no question the bite and crunch of guitars are sharper with EXT, and Jim’s voice is forward and clear, if a touch dry. Z1R, by comparison, diffuses the guitar strings with a hint of warm reverb, and Jim is set slightly farther back, his voice softer and more ethereal. There’s less raspiness in the vocal with Z1R, but whether or not that’s how it’s meant to sound is anyone’s guess. At lower volume, I’ll give EXT the edge, but turn it up slightly and the brighter delivery starts to border on shouty when Jim hits the high notes. It can get peaky on Z1R too (it’s in the recording, I guess), but not as much, and overall the presentation is more mellow and melodic too. That said, I’m picking this one on timbre and midrange texture, but it's a coin toss, and could go either way on another day.

Preference: EXT (just)

St. South – Not Angry Yet
Indie pop, female vocal
Tidal Link



This little-known track from a little-known West Australian artist is exactly the type of indie pop gem that I love discovering on my musical travels. St. South is the moniker of Olivia Gavranich, whose sweet, enchanting voice is what instantly captivated me on first listen. There’s a subtle warmth to her vocals that’s just so inviting, and that warmth is sadly missing from EXT’s drier, wispier delivery compared to Z1R. The Sony is also fuller and more organic sounding, which seems to be consistent with how I’m hearing most female vocals with these two IEMs. The track also opens to some ‘door creaking’ effects that sound weightier with Z1R, and the bass drums throughout the track land with more impact with Z1R in general. Easy pick this one.

Preference: Z1R

Selena Gomez – Hands To Myself
Modern pop, female vocal
Tidal Link



This popular track sums up some of the fundamental differences in presentation between EXT and Z1R in the opening 30 seconds. The track opens with a few delicious bass drops that (should) reach deep into the sub-bass, which they do with Z1R and its elongated decay that echoes around the stage. EXT’s take is a much tighter, taughter bass, with a softer ‘slap’ and much less weight or decay. Instead, EXT presents a brighter picture, with Selena’s voice projected more forward, slightly drier, and more breathy than it is with Z1R, and the clap effects that keep rhythm in both channels are also louder and clearer with EXT. To me this exemplifies EXT’s brighter, crisper sound signature in general, compared to Z1R’s warmer, more liquid sound with its weightier, punchier bass that reaches further down the FR, and female vocals that are consistently sweeter and more organic, if not quite as forward as EXT.

Preference: Z1R

Radical Face – Welcome Home
Indie folk, male vocal
Tidal Link



With songwriting that’s both poetically insightful and catchy at the same time, Ben Cooper a.k.a Radical Face creates soundscapes with his words and clever electronic and acoustic effects that are simultaneously toe-tappingly fun and quite profound. Nowhere is this more apparent than the brilliant collection of songs based on the same theme in his masterful album Ghost. Ben’s vocals are not very deep, so his lighter tone is sweeter with Z1R than the drier EXT. Similarly, the instruments (mostly acoustic guitar and claps) are better defined and stand apart from each other more, the estat treble picking out some of the finer higher-pitched plucks and bringing them forward in the mix. Z1R melds them together more, still distinct but more musically entwined. The ghostly windchimes (a recurring theme in the album) are also more forward and obvious with EXT, but that’s not necessarily a plus here, as they draw attention to themselves more than they should, in my opinion. Overall, I can see the merit of both presentations, but yet again Z1R’s musical approach wins me over.

Preference: Z1R

Queen – The Miracle
Classic rock, male vocal
Tidal Link



Classic Queen. Not one of their more common tracks, but one of my (many) favourites nonetheless. This track has it all: Freddie’s trademark vocals, Brian’s brilliant guitar work, and perfect harmonising and instrumentation throughout, not to mention top-shelf recording and mastering. And this is also a track where EXT’s ability to create three-dimensional pockets of sound from every vocal and instrument shines through. Every guitar riff, every delicate panning effect, all the different vocal layers, each are distinct and united at the same time. I also find Freddie’s vocal perfectly articulated here. Z1R does an excellent job, but it’s a more diffuse presentation, whereas I really like following the different strands of sound with EXT in this track in particular. The instrumental melee at 3:49, complete with guitar riffs, taps, drums, snares – it all comes together so well, and as the vocals get faded back in 4:16, the different elements just click. Since bass isn’t the focus, EXT’s midrange and treble chops really come to the fore.

Preference: EXT

Quiet Riot – Cum On Feel the Noize
Rock, male vocal
Tidal Link



This is a band that’s a one-hit-wonder with this track (for me). It’s also a genre I don’t listen to very often, but when I do, it’s tracks like these that I love – fun, pacy, but more importantly, melodic, with clean vocals and not too heavy on the guitars. Once again, as with most rock, big drums aren’t the focus, with guitar-driven riffs and vocals driving the track. And this is really where EXT shines for me. Ironically the band didn’t even want to release this song, a cover of Slade’s 1973 original, but it was the track that got them on the Billboard charts for the first time and consequently took them to a much wider audience. Kevin DuBrow’s vocals are so clear and emotive with EXT that it’s a pleasure re-listening to it again, having heard it on repeat since my high school days. The guitars are clean and biting without being too edgy or overpowering, and the textures and details everywhere are quite phenomenal. Most importantly it’s a track that gets my feet tapping, which is not always the case with Ext to be honest, at least not relative to Z1R. With Z1R, the vocals are set back just a touch, with the drums and bass guitar more prominent, edging out some of the vocal details I enjoyed with EXT. The snare hits are also sharper, and overall it’s a heavier, more ‘hardcore’ performance with Z1R, so if that’s your thing, you may well like it more with the Sony.

Preference: EXT

Polo & Pan – Canopée
Electronic, female vocal
Tidal Link



Great track this, a virtual menagerie of electronic sound effects with a rhythmic drumbeat and seductive female vocals (in French, nonetheless). Your preference here will very much be based on how much you value bass impact and organic female vocals over microdetails and separation. Z1R excels at the former, EXT at the latter. Nothing more to it than that, really.

Preference: Z1R

Pink Floyd – Hey You
Progressive/art rock, male vocal
Tidal Link



An absolute classic from one of the most classic masterpieces of all time. I first experienced Pink Floyd’s The Wall as a schoolkid in an arthouse cinema (watching the film version), not knowing anything about the band, their music, or prog rock in general. I distinctly remember the scene with this track, and it stuck in my mind like the proverbial brain worm in the song. There are a few key chapters to the track: the eerie string guitar play in the intro, Roger Waters’ distinctive voice from 0:35, then (my favourite) the big kick drums and triple hits at 1:20 and 1:27/1:38, David Gilmour’s brilliant guitar solo from 2:00, the ‘worms’ creeping into your ‘brain’ from 3:30, and the quad drum hits at 3:53. Both EXT and Z1R absolutely smash this track out of the park, but each with its own strengths. Whereas Z1R lands the drum kicks with incredible impact and deep decay, EXT adds a vivid texture to the guitar riffs, and displays excellent imaging and resolution in the worm segment. Both handle vocals equally well I thought, EXT perhaps a hair more forward, but on the whole, it’s impossible to pick a winner here.

Preference – TIE

Enya – May It Be
New age, female vocal
Tidal Link



Vocal purity set to a gentle instrumental backdrop. This track is all about Enya’s enchanting voice – rich, silky, sweet as morning dew. And with Z1R, it’s simply sweeter and no less detailed than EXT. There’s also more subtle rumble to the lows, echoing softly into the distance and creating a vaster space for the vocals to rise up than they do with EXT. That said, nothing wrong with how EXT plays it, maybe a touch drier, but nowhere near as dry as I’ve heard it. There’s some hourglass hiss to Enya’s trailing breath with EXT that someone more generous than me would call texture. I call it hiss.

Preference – Z1R

Lana Del Rey – Cherry
Americana/indie pop, female vocal
Tidal Link



I consider Lana Del Rey to be one of the greatest female vocalists of our generation. She can flip through personas and vocal inflections like a chameleon, but her sultry, sexy, downright naughty-noir persona is on full display on this track. Nowhere is this more evident than the chest-sucking bass drop at 0:24. It hits like a ball on a giant drum, the slow decay and sub-bass rumble reaching deep and setting the stage for Sultry Lana to slide down the dance pole in my mind’s eye. It doesn’t hit quite as hard with EXT, and the reverb is tighter and I daresay better controlled too, creating more space for the tiny flecks and effects to cut through the mix. Lana isn’t quite as sultry with EXT though, a touch drier in her delivery, but still very believable. I think many will prefer EXT’s tighter bass and cleaner vocals, but since I’d happily listen to Lana reading the phone directory in mono, I don’t mind either way.

Preference - TIE

Evanescence – My Immortal (Band Version)
Indie rock, female vocal
Tidal Link



This is one of Evanescence’s slower songs, but the band version, my personal favourite, takes it up a notch or three as it reaches a crescendo later in the track. Amy Lee’s vocals aren’t always the best recorded, sounding harsh with the wrong IEM, but thankfully we’re not in ‘wrong IEM’ territory here. There’s still some clipping in the louder parts of the track, but that’s no fault of the IEMs, and all’s forgotten at 3:50 where the guitars and drums hit like a wave of energy (at which point, headbanging to every drum hit is inevitable). EXT rides the wave like a pro surfer, every hit and riff perfectly articulated, none of it swallowed in the melee. And throughout, Amy’s voice soars with both subtlety and emotion. EXT does a bit better with the intro piano solo, and Amy’s voice is also a touch softer, but also reaches deeper into the emotion well. Z1R is definitely warmer overall, so if you prefer your rock clean and crunchy, EXT will definitely be your preference. And for this track, oddly enough, it’s mine too.

Preference – EXT (just)

Diana Krall – Narrow Daylight
Jazz, female vocal
Tidal Link



Another genre I don’t listen to nearly enough, and mostly only when I’m reviewing! Thankfully Ms. Krall can always be trusted to deliver an impeccably recorded performance, and both IEMs oblige. Diana sounds both sweet and husky here, captured perfectly by Z1R’s organic delivery. Her voice is centred, slightly forward, and richly detailed. The piano keys strike with authority, which goes to show how important recording quality is for evaluating any audio gear, not just IEMs (piano keys not always sounding as clean as this with Z1R on other tracks). In fact, I prefer Z1R’s fuller piano notes on this track, even though EXT is technically ‘cleaner’. Diana also sounds drier by comparison but has ever so slightly more detail in her breathiness with EXT. The string guitars that come in at 1:40 are more precise with EXT, but the decay in the upright bass is more satisfying with Z1R, even though it has more texture with EXT. Another stellar photo finish.

Preference – TIE

Becca Mancari – Annie
Alternative/Indie, female vocal
Tidal Link



This luscious track by the Staten Island-based indie-folk artist is in part alternative dream pop and vocal jazz, with a mix of indie and modern classical mixed in-between, very Angel Olsen-like. Soaring string sections accompany most of the vocals, with a gently ebbing drum rhythm in the background. To me the piece de resistance of the track comes right in the intro, when at 0:12 through 0:22, five deep sub-bass drops hit you right in the chest, fading away as Rebecca’s sweet vocal comes in at 0:26. That opening 30-second sequence is enough to remind me of the two things Z1R does ‘better’, to my ears, than any other IEM I’ve heard: sub-bass drops and sweet female vocals. EXT is good, some rumble, some sweetness, but to my ears it’s not on the same playing field as far as these two factors are concerned.

Preference – Z1R

Mazzy Star – Fade Into You
Shoegaze/dream pop – female vocal
Tidal Link



For me, the full shoegaze experience is all about sliding guitar riffs echoing off the walls, intermixed with soft, shy vocals and the occasional tambourine riff. That’s exactly what I hear with Z1R and this, Mazzy Star’s breakout hit. Warm, dreamy, rhythmic. The vast sense of space Z1R creates is perfectly on point here. In contrast, EXT gives you more focus, pulling in smaller details from the instruments, setting Hope Sandoval’s pure voice aside, and ‘clearing up’ of some of its haze. If you’re into picking your musical elements apart, EXT will give you more of that clinical feeling, with a drier tone overall. Z1R, to me, presents the music in its natural form, at least when Mazzy Star’s on stage.

Preference – Z1R

Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms
Classic rock, male vocal
Tidal Link



I’ve never been a big Dire Straits fan, but I’ll admit this is one of my all-time favourite tracks. From the atmospheric rumble of thunder in the intro, to Mark Knopfler’s gravelly voice; the gentle cry of electric guitar, and the splendidly vivid stick hits that keep the rhythm ticking over. While the rumble is more subdued and distant with EXT compared to Z1R (which is, quite literally, thunderous), the guitar, gentle accordion in the right channel, and as expected, the stick hits, are all more vivid and consequently more impressive with EXT. Mark’s vocals are also a touch more forward, but no more gravelly, detailed or ‘real’ than they are with Z1R (so much for Z1R’s so-called ‘scooped’ male vocals). It’s another toss-up as to which version I prefer.

Preference - TIE

Yosi Horikawa – Bubbles
Electronic/ambient, instrumental
Tidal Link



This is a great test track for technicalities. Everything from stage width, depth, imaging, separation, and layering can be evaluated. The gentle deep bassline creates the sense of space and stage, and given everything I already knew about how Z1R creates the space, it’s no surprise that I’m hearing a deep, wide space for the ‘bubbles’ to drop into. It’s literally cavernous. Every small detail and nuance is there, though not in my face or etched to the point of distraction. I also get a good sense of where each bubble is dropping, how many times it bounces, and even how big it is relative to the others. The swooshing and electronic effects are neatly separated and rendered in their own layer, which shifts from front to back. The main difference I hear with EXT is a more intricate definition of each bubble. There’s more space between bubbles, more texture to how they drop and react in the space, and overall resolution is higher too. What’s missing is the deep sense of space, but instead the added space between bubbles creates a large spherical volume that’s wider even than Z1R’s. I think EXT really pulls ahead with its speedy treble and brilliantly textured mids here, and the bass, though important, doesn’t matter quite as much.

Preference - EXT

EXT: 7
Z1R: 12
TIE: 6




If it’s now three days later and you’ve managed to wade through all my track notes, congratulations and thank you! For the rest of you lazy buggers, here’s the executive summary.

While I consider EXT to be competitive with Z1R, it’s only in the sense that it competes for the one spot I have in my IEM ‘collection’ for a TOTL multi-driver IEM. This is the IEM I personally use for focused listening sessions, when I want the absolute best quality that aligns closest to my sound preferences. Z1R took that spot last December, and since then no other IEM I’ve heard has come close to replacing it. To give some more context, prior to Z1R, the mantle was held by Empire Ears’ EVO, Legend X before that, and 64 Audio’s Tia Fourté before that.

EXT_18.jpg

I hear Z1R to have a slightly warmer, fuller tonality than EXT. This stems from Z1R’s peerless sub-bass weight and extension, which, as those who have heard it will attest, creates a cavernous sense of space that makes instruments and vocals sound almost life-size, or as close as they can be to life-size from miniature drivers.

EXT’s sub-bass is more subdued and lighter in feel by comparison. I don’t get the same abyss-like sense of height and depth with EXT that Z1R creates with its slow, sumptuous sub-bass decay. EXT’s midbass amplitude is higher than Z1R’s by comparison, and neither EXT or Z1R’s midbass is thick enough to veil the midrange. EXT’s midbass decays faster relative to Z1R, while the Sony has a slower, more natural decay to my ears, and consequently warms up the signature more than EXT, at the expense of EXT’s greater sense of clarity.

The midrange presentation of the two IEMs is also quite different, EXT being fuller and more textured in the lower midrange, Z1R being slightly more forward and wholesome in the upper mids. Unlike many, I don’t find Z1R’s lower mids problematic, nor do I find male vocals scooped or distant, but vocals, in general, are set a row or two further back with Z1R than they sound with EXT. EXT also brings out more contrast, clarity and texture to the midrange, with a drier and lighter note weight, while Z1R has fuller notes and a more earthy, organic sound to midrange instruments and vocals.

This plays out in how the two IEMs present stringed instruments, for example, EXT with more definition in attack, Z1R with a slightly softer attack and a longer decay. Male vocals are slightly chestier with EXT, while female vocals are wispier and lighter. Z1R doesn’t have EXT’s male vocal weight, but still sounds natural to my ears, and female vocals sound fuller and more organic with Z1R. I personally don’t hear the vocals or midrange of either IEM as recessed, but objectively speaking they do sit slightly behind – or at least closer in line – with the bass.

Subjectively I don’t see this as better or worse, and in fact, it’s my preferred presentation in many ways. Too forward and vocals become shouty, especially female vocals at higher volumes, and EXT is more prone to this than Z1R in my experience.

EXT_19.jpg

Treble is where EXT and Z1R diverge even further. With four estats to Z1R’s one custom BA (which is only partly responsible for treble) and a 4mm dynamic ‘super tweeter’ driver for ultra-high frequencies, the two IEMs approach treble from vastly different perspectives. I’d actually go as far as saying EXT’s is fractionally more of a treble-focused signature, while Z1R with its powerful but narrowly-focused woofer is more bass dominant overall.

EXT’s mid-and-upper treble elevation also balances out its bass response, more so than Z1R’s relaxed (but very well extended) upper bass. Z1R has more energy in its lower treble, by comparison, with a 6kHz peak that adds some spice to electric guitars and female vocal overtones – minus the sibilants – while EXT’s has far more upper treble energy that infuses its entire signature with plentiful air and crystalline clarity. EXT, to my ears, is, therefore, brighter, mainly on account of its treble, and although Z1R is not a dark-sounding IEM by any means, it’s warmer and comparatively darker, with a more liquid sound overall.

Technically I find each IEM to have its own strengths. EXT is the more resolving of the two, with the clarity of its midrange and treble in particular making fine details easier to hear. Z1R doesn’t skimp on those details, but they’re not as apparent, and sometimes partially hidden behind the longer decay of a bass guitar or kick drum.

Both EXT and Z1R have wide stages, Z1R maybe a fraction wider, but Z1R pulls away when it comes to stage height and depth. In tracks where the sub-bass lends weight to the music, Z1R’s sense of spaciousness can be jaw-dropping, while EXT doesn’t do anything to excite in this department. Imaging and separation are neck-and-neck, with neither IEM lacking nor class-leading.

On the whole, technicalities are still very much TOTL, in my opinion.

If you’ve read my track notes, you’ll know which IEM I ultimately prefer overall, but I want to make it clear that this preference is very much based on what I consider to be important, specifically with the music I listen to.

EXT_20.jpg


If you love your sub-bass, and get a deep (excuse the pun) satisfaction from feeling the weight of a bass drop or drum rumble against your ear canals and down to your chest, few IEMs come close to Z1R, which captures that sensation almost perfectly. If you predominantly listen to female vocal-driven music, and prioritise vocal purity and feminine sweetness above huskiness or the chestiness of male vocals, Z1R is tuned to deliver.

On the other hand, if your checklist starts with midrange clarity, detail and texture, especially for male-driven vocals or instrument fundamentals, EXT is close to the top of the pile, to my ears. It literally has a dedicated dynamic driver expertly tuned to deliver that and only that. If you like your midrange partnered with a solid dose of midbass and a fair amount of sub-bass extension, but don’t want it to dominate midrange clarity and treble, that’s exactly how EXT is tuned.

Genre-wise, EXT is ideal if your library is mainly made up of instrumental music such as big and small band jazz, classical, acoustic and ambient, or if you’re into classic rock, pop and folk – especially with male vocal leads. It’s also superb for electronic music, and EDM if you like your EDM to sound relatively faster and tighter.

Z1R would be my pick for female singer-songwriter, especially if the music has bass drum or string bass elements to it. It’s also my pick for modern female vocal pop, indie pop, dream pop, shoegaze, new age and folk, along with bass-driven EDM, electronic and ambient music. Movie soundtracks and epic/trailer music are also given more gravitas and emotional impact with Z1R in my opinion.

Both IEMs are great all-rounders though, despite their individual strengths, and both play every type of music I listen to exceptionally well – especially when I wasn’t focused on comparing them. They will serve you equally well in a single or small IEM collection, and complement each other nicely in a larger collection too. Ultimately, if you have to choose, pick the one that speaks to you more with your music.

Oh, and that’s that for comparisons, sorry. I compared EXT to Phönix in my Phönix review, so if that’s of interest, click on the link. You’ll find more in @Damz87's, @Barra's, @SLC1966's and @davidmolliere's excellent reviews below too, along with notes on numerous different source and cable pairings.

EXT_14.jpg

Closing thoughts

Living where I do, it’s not often I get to hear not one but two top-tier, luxury IEMs while they’re still new on the market, but thanks to the guys at Vision Ears, I’ve now had that privilege. EXT follows hot on the heels of Phönix as a high-performance monitor designed to be as flashy and boisterous as its sibling isn’t.

Where Phönix aims for understated elegance, EXT goes for fun, with a clear, clean sound that’s balanced with solid bass at one end and silky treble at the other. At heart, this is a midrange lover’s dream IEM, with detail and texture in both male and female vocals and outstanding timbre when reproducing live instruments.

Extremely well made using premium materials, EXT follows a very different, edgy design motif based on VE’s distinctive colour, both visually and sonically. It’s a monitor that’s been expertly tuned by masters of the craft, and while it doesn’t always match my preferences, I respect how cohesively it presents the signature it’s going for.

Unfortunately, EXT’s unconventional shape is also its Achille’s Heel as far as comfort goes, and I’m not the first and won’t be the last person to find the fit more than a little testing. I’m generally fine when it comes to conventional nozzle shapes, and even some unconventional fits, like Z1R, seem to somehow settle neatly in my ears. But having to twist and fit EXT’s nozzle deeper inside my rather narrow ear canals – especially since my left ear won’t allow any but the smallest tips to pass – is a challenge, and one that despite my best efforts, I haven’t fully overcome.

It's a testament to how much I enjoy EXT’s sound that I persevered, despite the fit-related struggles. Its midrange mastery is something you have to hear for yourself, and combined with powerful bass that partners rather than merely supports the delivery is a masterstroke. Personally, toning down the treble would have thickened up the midrange and elevated the bass weight just enough for me to like it even more, but I appreciate how the treble tuning boosts the cleanliness the designers were clearly going for.

Given time, I would have liked to try EXT with different sources, and I don’t doubt there’s a set of tips out there that would not only make the experience more comfortable, but because the sound is so tip-sensitive, also get it sounding closer to my preferred tonality. I’ve read that EXT scales with desktop power, for example, giving it a more forceful bass response, and that’s one place where I feel it can use a tweak. A cable swap could possibly also add a touch of weight and warmth to the midrange, especially when listening to female vocals, which is another area where the warmer, fuller Z1R one-ups EXT for me.

All that said, I have no hesitation in giving EXT my highest recommendation, with the proviso that I strongly suggest you try before you buy. Minor sonic characteristics can be fixed with hardware and software, but a poor fit is generally a deal-breaker. That said, if you can get a comfortable fit with EXT, you’re in for a very special treat indeed.

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Last edited:
Maxx134
Maxx134
Excellent review. In the end, these were too "U" shaped for me. They did have very high resolve tho.
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vikinguy
vikinguy
Wow, fit issues with EXT but love the Sony? Don't hear that often. haha Well, the love the sony fit part anyway.
K
Kazou
Superb review 🤗

Comments

musofi

New Head-Fier
Very good reviews, makes me to try it right now. One question though. As it is a semi open version, how is the sound leaking ferom the EXT? If it is to much, it would be a deal breaker for me.. Anyone an idea on a good upgrade cable for the EXT?
Thank you in advance for the reply
 

SLC1966

1000+ Head-Fier
Very good reviews, makes me to try it right now. One question though. As it is a semi open version, how is the sound leaking ferom the EXT? If it is to much, it would be a deal breaker for me.. Anyone an idea on a good upgrade cable for the EXT?
Thank you in advance for the reply
Sound leaking from EXT and ambient sound is not a problem. The opening is really similar to any IEM with a DD. A port is needed but does not cause any outside noise issues.

On the cable front I will let someone else chime in. I am biased to PWA cables. They have the black paracord for a lot of their cables which may be stiff at first but IMO I prefer that over other cables without paracord that get stiff over time and change color etc.
 

Auricon

Headphoneus Supremus
Very good reviews, makes me to try it right now. One question though. As it is a semi open version, how is the sound leaking ferom the EXT? If it is to much, it would be a deal breaker for me.. Anyone an idea on a good upgrade cable for the EXT?
Thank you in advance for the reply

One consideration is Eletech's Raphael – GPC + gold-copper alloy 25.5awg, very ergonomic, $499USD.

Raph lifts EXT's mids and shifting it more forward providing more clarity and detail retrieval. Treble sounded more natural, less peaky. Mids and vocals sounded more balanced with EXT's impactful bass. Soundstage was improved and more holographic, layered and engaging listen over stock and my preferred ET Project8 Plato x Socrates.

Depending on what signature or shifts in EXT's sound you're looking to improve, there are affordable cables from Eletech, such as Cassiel and Azrael, and Effect Audio' Signature Series, Cadmus S (SPC, 4w or 8w), Eros S / Eros S Anni (hybrid silver + copper, 8w) and Ares S (copper, 4w or 8w) – all under $320.

https://elementechnology.com/collections/virtues-series/products/raphael
 

Barra

Headphoneus Supremus
Very good reviews, makes me to try it right now. One question though. As it is a semi open version, how is the sound leaking ferom the EXT? If it is to much, it would be a deal breaker for me.. Anyone an idea on a good upgrade cable for the EXT?
Thank you in advance for the reply
I would have to say that sound leakage is not an issue at all for me and my inner ears typically do not fit universal IEMs very well. I use these at the gym all the time and even while biking with no issues...just focused music that drives my workout.
 

Kazou

New Head-Fier
Ok I Fink i've found the perfect câble, The Liquid Link Venom IS unbeliveble, the tremble comes bit down, the médium have more density and the black ground is so deep and dark is juste crazy and a perfect match for me
 
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