Vision Ears PHöNIX IEM

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
A bird in hand is worth...3900 USD
Pros: Excellent natural tonality
Excellent resolution
Relaxed yet detailed listening experience
Cons: Price
Doesn't blow your socks off in any particular regard
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Many thanks to @Damz87, @Vision Ears and Minidisc for arranging the Australian tour of the EXT and the PHöNIX.

Preamble​

The amounts commanded by the top-of-the-line (TOTL) IEMs in the market are something to behold. These sums would likely be seen by some to be inordinate and perhaps obscene but what do you actually get from this sum? Some would say that the increasingly high sums that you pay yield less and less results, and that much is true. But how much do you value the last 5% of something? Today’s review concerns a TOTL level IEM, the Vision Ears (VE) PHöNIX, and like the FiR Audio kit that I had reviewed earlier this year, this is a highly-priced IEM that seeks to appeal to a small percentage of music listeners who are seeking the absolute best of the best. But whether the PHöNIX can deliver best-in-class is a question that I seek to delve into today.

The Factual Stuff​


The VE PHöNIX comes in a rather spartan-looking cardboard box that belies its rather hefty price tag. Within the box are some basic literature, basic accessories and a handsome leather zip case containing the IEMs, a 4-wire 23 AWG silver-gold alloy and copper litz cable terminated in 2.5mm and a 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter.

The earpieces are made from carbon fibre shells accompanied by a faceplate made of aluminium and sapphire glass with a PHöNIX underneath.

Within the shells is a 13-driver setup consisting of four balanced armatures (BA) for the lows, four BAs for the mids, four more for the highs and finally one BA for a “super tweeter”.

These are all put together with a 5-way passive crossover.

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass​


The low end of the PHöNIX is something that I would term as distinctly controlled and measured. The sub-bass thump is something that is present when required and the mid-bass punch is also quite good, however, the PHöNIX ultimately seems to have an emphasis on mid-bass rather than sub-bass. These never descend into the territory of being overbearing on the rest of the frequency response (FR) curve but rather imbue a sense of fun into the listening experience. The mid-bass lift imbues a sense of warmth and excitement into the low end creating a thumpy experience. On lesser IEMs, this particular tuning choice may lead to a less distinct mid-range and perhaps some boominess in the lower end but I feel that the PHöNIX manages to balance it well to not detract from anything else.

The quality of the bass is distinctly good, it remains speedy and well-textured managing to provide a dynamic rendition of low end that is readily dissectible. There is a common adage for BA drivers being used for bass and that is that it generally pales in comparison to a dynamic driver. Prior to listening to the PHöNIX, I did not make any efforts to look into the driver configuration and it was somewhat surprising to hear that it was an all-BA construction. The bass quality and quantity are good and hearty and provide a distinct sense of physicality to the music. However, when A-Bing the PHöNIX against the likes of the Fir Audio XE6, with its massive 10mm Kinetic Bass Dynamic Driver, one could see that there is sometimes, no replacement for displacement.

Despite this shortcoming that is only really apparent when A-Bing against the crème de la crème, the PHöNIX holds its own and manages to provide a detailed, warm and impactful low end.

Mids​


The mid-range of the PHöNIX, by virtue of the aforementioned mid-bass boost, is imbued with a sense of warmth and stronger note weight. This is made readily apparent in the lower registers of the mids wherein certain male vocalists reside. Songs such as “Ain’t no Sunshine” by Bill Withers present a deeply bodied and robust rendition of Bill’s voice that one could say is venturing into unnatural but to me, remains readily detailed and not overly done.

Higher registers of the mid-range presided by female vocalists remain distinctly sparkly and forward in the mix. “Billie Bossa Nova” by Billie Eilish and “DFMU” by Ella Mai present their voices in a natural, intimate and sweet manner. Belting from Whitney Houston also manages to straddle the line of being slightly discomforting in an enjoyable manner with certain sibilances starting to creep in. You may read this negatively, but I feel that any female singer belting in a real-life situation will cause you some form of slight sparkle in the ears and a tingle through the spine.

Instruments remain distinctly characterful and analogue in their presentation. The strum of guitars and piano keys striking resolve wonderfully and with a natural timbre that is rather sweet to the ear. I feel that the PHöNIX again, belies conventional thinking for BA drivers in that timbre manages to present in a wholly natural manner.

Overall, the mid-range of the PHöNIX is rather well done with a healthy amount of warmth and a slight lift in the upper mid-range creating a delicately balanced mid-range that manages to present with strong note weight as well as with some bite and sparkle.

Treble​


Moving on to the upper regions of the FR curve, the treble on the PHöNIX is something that remains delicately balanced with the mids and the bass. Listening to songs such as “Lomsha” by Air Hadouk, with its subtle and delicate percussion in the background, the PHöNIX remains sparkly in its rendition and there is a tremendous tingle-inducing crystalline quality to the hi-hat throughout. “Reckoner” by Radiohead, similarly has percussion throughout and the PHöNIX renders it with a strong shimmery quality that reflects what I feel is a critical element of treble tuning, that is, a very slight sense of sibilance that manages to not delve into the fatiguing realm.

In an attempt to render some fatigue from the PHöNIX, I jumped into “4 walls” by f(x) and “You & Me” by Disclosure and Flume, two tracks that present a fatiguing level of sibilance with nearly any IEM with strong treble. The PHöNIX remains distinctly fine with these songs and demonstrates a slightly subdued approach to the highs in that they are not the star of the show but a more critical listener is able to discern the quality at which it is rendered.

Overall, the PHöNIX is not going to wow you with its treble extension and heightened sense of sparkle but rather does a respectable job of rendering notes in this region with a speed and sense of sparkle that ensures a balanced and enjoyable listen.

Technicalities​


Staging on the PHöNIX is somewhat unremarkable in that it doesn’t particularly extend wide out nor super deep like some of the standouts in this category. However, I feel that it doesn’t really need to. The PHöNIX manages to render orchestral pieces in a manner that is respectable with decent depth and height to the staging. Overall, this aspect of the PHöNIX isn’t particularly amazing but there is not much to fault, it doesn’t feel overly confined nor does it feel diffuse to the point of being unengaging.

Imaging and resolution is a key element of what I think makes the PHöNIX special. The ability of the PHöNIX to resolve in a manner that is coherent yet clearly layered allows the more critical listener to accurately dissect certain instrumentalizations but also the laid-back listener to simply just sit back and go brain dead whilst enjoying their music. Busily produced tracks maintain a sense of layering and detail. Hardstyle is a genre of music that I definitely do not enjoy very much in my day-to-day listening for the fact that it has a tendency to sound like a cacophony of random synths and sounds with everpresent basslines. “The Calling (Da Tweekaz Remix)” by TheFatRat alternates from sparse instrumentalization and focussed bridges and heavily produced hardstyle sections and the PHöNIX handles both with gusto, rendering each note and beat with the requisite speed required and not smearing all of it into one mass of sound.
“Fine” by Taeyeon has a number of voices layered on top of one another in the reprise and the PHöNIX correctly and accurately distinguishes them from one another and places them distinctly in certain areas of the headstage.

Overall, the PHöNIX, whilst not remarkable in terms of its staging, its imaging and resolution seem to be very TOTL in nature. I do not feel that there is much left of the table despite its rather subdued treble tuning. And that is potentially the only knock on the PHöNIX in my books is that a slightly more aggressive treble could really draw out the microdetail on the PHöNIX.

Overall​


With a warmer tilt, the PHöNIX may alienate some listeners looking for a more dry rendition of music to readily dissect. However, the PHöNIX presents a tremendous amount of resolving ability and detail combined with an easy-to-love tuning. In doing so, the PHöNIX may shoot itself in the foot by not presenting itself as being singled out as the “best” in terms of any aspect of the FR curve but rather does a great job of being the all-rounder. Whether that is worth the TOTL price tag when nothing will really jump out at you from the first listen is a question for yourself.

Comparison​

Vs FiR Audio RN6​


The FiR Audio RN6 was something of an anomaly when it crossed my desk in that the IEM, along with its fellow FiR compatriots in the Neon and the XE6, were quite unique in their tuning, opting for a very coloured tonality. The RN6 is perhaps the closest comparison to the PHöNIX owing to its more ‘neutral’ tonality out of the three FiRs. The RN6 injects considerable air into its FR curve creating a very spacious sound that is book-ended with strong bass performance and a rather neatly tuned treble region. The RN6 takes a more coloured approach to tonality when compared to the likes of the PHöNIX with the former presenting a much more prominent low-end that imbues a strong sense of physicality through the Kinetic Driver that seeks to leverage bone conduction to add to the bass. The PHöNIX is distinctly more “pedestrian” in that it is a warm-neutral tuning. The PHöNIX, however, seems to cut an advantage over the RN6 in its more balanced tonality and ability to render detail at both a macro and micro level. The RN6 takes a more aggressive approach to engage listeners with exaggerated elements of air and bass whereas the PHöNIX doesn’t necessarily excel at anything in particular but rather just provides an easy-going listening experience.

Overall, the RN6 presents a unique tuning profile combined with strong technical capabilities however in doing so, loses its ability to appeal to all people. The PHöNIX, whilst decidedly more “boring” in its approach, does so with such precision that it seems to be more universally appealing.

Vs VE EXT​


Another entry in the Vision Ears line-up, the EXT utilises 2 dynamic drivers and 4 electrostatic drivers to deliver its sound signature which seems to emphasise bass response and treble response over mids.

The EXT seeks to take a more engaging listening experience to the end-user with its bass quantity pushed up over the PHöNIX. However, I feel that the PHöNIX remains distinctly more detailed and more speedy than the EXT. The EXT remains distinctly more physical and robust in the low-end but I feel that it is at the cost of some speed and detail which I believe are more appropriately done with the PHöNIX. The mid-range is a range that I would readily give to the PHöNIX in that it manages to achieve accurate timbre, a relaxed listen and maintain detail throughout. The EXT, whilst no slouch in the mid-range, remains distinctly recessed and somewhat of an afterthought in the mix.

The treble is an element that I believe that the EXT does better than the PHöNIX in terms of its ability to replicate crashing cymbals and harrowing synths. However, the PHöNIX is smoother and more rolled off in its presentation, lending itself to a more long-term, relaxing listen compared to the hyperdetailed EXT.

Overall, the character of the two IEMs are rather different and the EXT, perhaps like the RN6 seems to take a more coloured approach to tonality in order to jump out at the listening and engage them with heavily emphasised strengths being the low-end and sparkly upper-end. However, the PHöNIX remains the stalwart all-rounder and I feel it is the better choice for most.

Synergy​

Shanling M6 Ultra (M6U)​


The M6U is a device I would characterise as imbuing a warmer and richer presentation of music with a greater emphasis on note weight and a stronger sense of presence.

The M6U places greater emphasis on the already warm PHöNIX and creates a hearty sense of sound that is more rounded and smoother in nature. The caveat of this injection of silky goodness is that the PHöNIX becomes less defined and elements such as microdetails, subtle nuances and textures of whatever you’re listening to become a bit smeared in the grand scheme of things.

This is not to say that the M6U and the PHöNIX coalesce to create something that is an undefined mess it is simply just not as resolving as it is with a more neutral source.

Overall, I feel that the diminishment in technical prowess ends up providing a more relaxed listening experience that softens the hard edges of the PHöNIX further but I definitely feel that the already warm PHöNIX likely doesn’t need this synergistic pairing.

Chord Mojo 2 + Poly​

The Mojo 2 is something I would characterise as a slightly warm-neutral source with tremendous DSP capabilities and an emphasis on detail sharpening.
The Mojo 2 and the PHöNIX combined to provide a rather excellent if a little underwhelming combination as oxymoronic as that sounds. The Mojo 2 simply represents the PHöNIX with perhaps a touch more resolution and focus on microdetail when compared to the other sources in this review without any particular emphasis on tonality apart from (maybe) a slight more warmth and presence in the mid-bass. The result of this is an excellent IEM with slightly more excellency to the listening experience. There is not much to write home about with this pairing but rather a simple conclusion that it works and it works well at that.

Hiby R6 Pro II:​


The R6P2 is a source that I would characterise as more v-shaped in its tonality, seeking to elevate sub-bass and place some edge on the treble region of whatever IEM you are listening to. It also benefits from a perceived boost in terms of dynamic performance in which swings of volume are much more pronounced, creating a sense of greater dynamic range and a more enveloping listening experience.

The R6P2 matches well with the PHöNIX for those who are looking for a more engaging and less laid-back listening experience. The heavy emphasis on sub-bass injects a fun factor into the PHöNIX with certain songs and the dynamic swings between silence and blistering volume create a heavily engaging listening experience that retains the control and detail of the PHöNIX.

Ultimately, I feel that this combination is definitely one to note for those who may find themselves a little bored of the PHöNIX upon first listening. Unlike the Shanling M6U which seemingly colours tonality on the whole, the R6P2 seeks to boost regions that don’t detract from the overall character of the IEM but rather simply inject some engagement into the mix.

Value and Quality of Life:​


Coming at 3900 USD, the PHöNIX is a TOTL-priced IEM that commands a hefty price tag for its sound. In terms of a value proposition, it is impossible to say that this is 200x better than a Moondrop Chu but rather it is important to look at its competitors in the price bracket and consider what the PHöNIX does better than the rest.

I do not have a huge amount of experience with TOTL IEMs but when compared to the FiR kit that I had (the RN6 and XE6) with somewhat similar pricing, I feel that the PHöNIX is a much more liveable and enjoyable listening experience for the long-term. Whilst the PHöNIX doesn’t necessarily blow your socks off with any particular element, it retains an easy-going listening experience with a healthy amount of warm and technical prowess that elevates long-listening sessions into a wondrous experience.

The PHöNIX doesn’t stand out on first listen and this may be disappointing to anyone paying as much as the PHöNIX commands but it remains something that I feel would be a stalwart within a person's collection, something that remains distinctly enjoyable despite not being able to point out anything in particular. The PHöNIX is a reference for what is possible when someone simply wants to sit back, relax and put on some tunes without being punched in the face with bass or treble. It is a simple experience, but there is excellence in this simplicity and as such, I don’t feel remiss saying that the PHöNIX is worth 3900 USD when contextualised against other TOTLs in the market. I would simply just ask you to temper your thoughts on first listen and give it some time.

The PHöNIX takes a rather exaggerated approach to ear-piece design and seeks to sit very neatly in your ear canal and while it was successful with my ears, I feel that this IEM is likely not going to be suited to ears of all shapes. The weight of the earpieces is a definite bonus with the carbon fibre construction seemingly reducing weight to the point of being unnoticeable over long listening sessions.

The cable included in the package is sufficient from an audio and ergonomic standpoint but nothing particular stands out about for the rather hefty price tag. The zip-case is well made from leather and the included accessories are a bit spartan comparatively speaking but other, the accessory package is half decent.

Conclusion:​


The VE PHöNIX is a wonderful listening experience that attempts to go for a more low-key sonic tuning. Opting for warmth and a rather smoothed-out response curve, the PHöNIX is the quintessential relaxed listening IEM in my books. One would generally expect standout portions of the IEM for the price tag commanded and unfortunately, I do not feel that the PHöNIX offers that. However, becoming used to listening to the PHöNIX and drawing out all of the great detail and natural timbre over long listening sessions leads to a huge sense of wanting when switching to lesser IEMs. There is simply no real deficiency that I can see in the PHöNIX despite not having any real standout strength. Whether balance and subtle excellence are enough for 3900 USD is a question for you and your wallet but I am simply enamoured with the PHöNIX and would love to one day own one.

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o0genesis0o
o0genesis0o
Nice review, grumpy Pepe :dt880smile:

I love these IEMs. There is something utilitarian about them that make them so good for EDC, though their price make it scary to take them anywhere. Does the crossfeed of mojo helps with the staging of the phoenix?
grumpy213
grumpy213
@o0genesis0o day 1938 of you asking about stage improvements 😂

It does but probably not to the lofty standards of In Ear Gems 💎 I find that the cross feed on the Mojo never blows my socks off but rather just subtle improvements to all IEMs in my experience.

I’ll be sure to start addressing DSP more directly on the synergy section for the Mojo from here on out!

o0genesis0o

Headphoneus Supremus
Vision Ears Phonix - The Wings of Songs
Pros: Pleasantly coloured tonality
No harshness or sibilance
Dynamic sound
TOTL resolution and detail
Razor sharp instrument separation and placement
Cons: The soundstage does not feel large
Upper treble could be more highlighted
Price
If you go to the website of my local Head-fi store, Minidisc, and sort all of their IEMs by price, you would see Vision Ears Phonix at the top of the list, just one step behind the UM Multiverse Mentor. The Phonix itself is the reincarnation of the legendary VE Erlkönig, another IEM that broke the price barrier. What kind of sound can you get for the same amount of money as a used car or months of rent? Today, we look at the birds - VE Phonix.

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Forewords​

  • What I look for in an IEM is immersion. I want to feel the orchestra around me, track individual instruments, and hear all of their textures and details. I’m not picky about tonality, as long as it does not get in the way of immersion.
  • I rate IEMs within with a consistent scale from 1 (poor) to 3 (Adequate) to 5 (outstanding). Ratings are assigned by A/B tests against benchmark IEMs, regardless of the retail price.
  • Ranking list and measurement database are on my IEM review blog.
  • This review is possible thanks to the Australian tour arranged by @Damz87, Vision Ears, and Minidisc Australia. The unit retails for A$6000 at the time this review was published. Aussies can find out more info and get yourself a unit from Minidisc
Sources for listening tests: Shanling M6U (DAC) + Topping G5 (Amp)

Local FLAC files ripped from CDs or bought from Qobuz were used for most casual listening and A/B tests. My playlist for A/B tests can be found on Apple Music here.

All of my listening was done with the stock Spinfit CP155 ear tips. I listen at a medium volume. I usually turn up the volume until the midrange is fully audible and detailed, unless a treble peak or overwhelming bass prevents me from doing so.

Specs​

  • Driver: 13 BA drivers, 5-way crossover
  • Connector Type: 2-pin 0.78mm
  • Impedance: Unknown
  • Sensitivity: Unknown

Build and Comfort​

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Accessories: The Phonix comes with a set of accessories that consist of a 2.5mm cable, a 2.5mm-to-4.4mm adapter, spin-fit eartips, and a custom leather case. Among these accessories, I found the case to be particularly appealing. It not only offers a protective enclosure for the IEM but also provides a comfortable fit, unique aesthetics, and a luxury feel. It is important to note that the accessories included with my tour sample may differ from those provided with the official retail units of the Phonix.

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Stock cable: The stock cable of the Phonix has a plain appearance, primarily due to the shiny black plastic sheathing and black metal hardware. In terms of functionality, the cable is soft and well-behaved, exhibiting minimal tangling and coiling tendencies. One aspect that disappointed me was the default termination with a 2.5mm connector. This design choice, combined with the use of a 4.4mm adapter, resulted in a longer and potentially more delicate jack, making it less suitable for portable use. It is worth mentioning that, unlike some of the recent IEMs I have reviewed, I did not observe any noticeable sonic improvement when swapping the stock cable with an aftermarket cable, indicating that the stock cable of the Phonix is of high-quality.

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Earpieces: The Phonix stands out as one of the most visually captivating IEMs I have come across thanks to the reflective faceplates that create mesmerizing color shifts under varying lighting conditions. These earpieces are crafted from a lightweight resin material, ensuring a comfortable wearing experience. However, it is worth noting that the earpieces are on the larger side, and the nozzles feature an oval shape, which adds to their substantial size. To accommodate the size of the nozzles, I had to use the provided CP155 ear tips, as the nozzles proved too large for my CP145 and W1 ear tips. For individuals whose ear canals can accommodate the chunky nozzles of the Phonix, the fit should be comfortable. Personally, the Phonix fit my ears as if they were custom-made, providing an optimal seal. However, during extended listening sessions, I did experience some pressure build-up, which may be a potential concern depending on individual comfort preferences.

In terms of isolation, the Phonix performs well when used indoors. I did not test these A$6000 IEMs in outdoor environments such as walking or commuting, so I cannot speak to their performance in those scenarios.

Tonality​

Frequency response of Phonix against the Andromeda 2020 and U12T. Measurements were done with an IEC-711-compliant coupler and might only be compared with other measurements from this same coupler. Visit my graph database for more comparisons.

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It is helpful to think of an IEM as a filter that highlights or subdues different parts of the incoming audio signal. This effect can be measured objectively by the squiggly lines above, called Frequency Response (FR) graphs, which measure how loud an IEM is at different frequencies from 20Hz (bass) to 20kHz (upper treble). Subjectivity is how your ears and brain interpret the effect of that filter on your music and decide whether it is “enjoyable.” There are some “rules of thumb” when it comes to tonality, but most interesting IEMs usually bend the rules masterfully.

In one sentence, the sound signature of the Phonix can be described as natural-warm or “mid-centric” with excellent resolution and detail.

The midrange of the Phonix exhibits a warm coloration, reminiscent of the Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020. This characteristic makes it appealing to those who prefer a deviation from the flat midrange found in many IEMs today. At the same time, the coloration of the Phonix’s midrange remains within the realm of “natural,” without pushing boundaries like the FirAudio XE6. Despite what the graph suggests, the Phonix sounds more natural and balanced, possibly due to the use of balanced armature (BA) drivers rather than “slow” and woolly dynamic drivers.

Listening to “Jolene” by Pentatonix and Dolly Parton, I found that the Phonix renders all the voices naturally and realistically, with a pleasant warm hue. Each vocal is equally present and natural, without any noticeable sibilance. The voices are positioned more forward and closer together at the center of the stage, creating an intimate soundstage. Similarly, when I listened to “Livin’ On a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, I didn’t detect any sibilance or harshness, even at higher volumes. Bon Jovi’s energy remains intact without any harshness.

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The Phonix’s midrange also excels with instrumental music. For instance, when listening to Mozart’s String Quintet No. 3 in C Major by Quatuor Ebene & Antoine Tamestit, I noticed that all instruments had a warm yet natural tonality. The BA drivers contribute to a slightly thinner note weight, balanced out by the warmer tuning. Another advantage of Phonix is that is can faithfully reproduce the dynamic variations in the recording, offering a sense of ebb and flow and is sometimes missing with my Andromeda 2020. Even in dense orchestral pieces featuring multiple cellos, the Phonix maintains clarity without muddiness. For example, in “Game of Thrones Medley” by 2CELLOS, the background strings cut through the foreground cellos, allowing discernment and tracking of the violins placed at the periphery of the stage. Even during the intense sections from 1:30, the lower midrange remains clear, making it easy to pinpoint and appreciate the nuances and details of the cellos.

In terms of instrument balance, nothing stood out or felt buried. The bass was present, vocals were prominent, and cymbals and hi-hats were clearly audible. What sets the VE Phonix apart is its ability to maintain razor-sharp instrument separation and placement, extracting nuanced details from the midrange despite its warm and colored tuning.

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The bass response of the Phonix relies solely on BA drivers and does not attempt to hide the “BA timbre.” This means that the bass notes have sharp attacks and quick decay, lacking the noticeable “bounciness” and decay found in high-quality dynamic drivers. This effect is evident when listening to drums in tracks like “Battle Bar” by Yuki Hayashi and the opening drum line of “Hotel California” by Eagles (Live on MTV, 1994).

What surprised me about the Phonix was its ability to reproduce dynamic swings, or rapid and large jumps in loudness. In simple terms, Phonix is an energetic and toe-tapping IEM. During impactful moments like the downbeats played by the orchestra in “Let the Battles Begin!” by Square Enix Music and Nobuo Uematsu, the Phonix delivers powerful slams. The slams created by the bass guitar and drums in “G.O.A.T.” by Polyphia are also faithfully reproduced. Due to the bass decay of the BA drivers, the bassline remains clean and “fast” despite the dynamic swings.

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The treble response of the Phonix takes a step back, providing support to the midrange and bass. Cymbals and hi-hats in “G.O.A.T.” are present and easy to track without being overly loud or overpowering. The Phonix maintains a comfortable and non-fatiguing treble presentation, even with tracks that tend to emphasize sibilance. At the same time, it excels in reproducing details and texture of high-pitched instruments. When paying attention, one can discern a multitude of small details rather than just high-pitched splashes. The tonality and timber of the treble are also natural, evident in the authentic-sounding claps at the beginning of “Synchro (Bom-ba-ye)” by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.

If there is one aspect of the Phonix’s treble to criticize, it would be the reserved upper treble. In comparison to IEMs with strong treble extension, the Phonix feels milder and less extended. For instance, when listening to Bach’s “Flute Partita in A Minor, IV: Bourree Anglaise” by Emmanuel Pahud, it was slightly harder to discern the reverb and decay of the flute in the venue compared to my U12T and Andromeda 2020.

Soundstage Imaging​

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Stereo imaging or “soundstage” is a psychoacoustic illusion that different recording elements appear at various locations inside and around your head. Your brain creates based on the cues in the recording, which are enhanced or diminushed by your IEMs, your DAC, and your amplifier. Some IEMs present a wide but flat soundstage. Some present a “3D” soundstage with layering, depth, and height. In rare cases, with some specific songs, some IEMs can trick you into thinking that the sound comes from the environment (a.k.a., “holographic”)

The Phonix demonstrates excellent imaging capabilities. It excels in accurately placing instruments with precise boundaries, allowing for easy tracking of individual instruments and voices even in busier sections of the music. In addition to the well-defined left-to-right separation, Phonix is also effective at conveying a sense of distance and layering among the instruments. This results in a soundstage that goes beyond a flat plane, creating a three-dimensional sphere where instruments can be positioned closer or further away, higher or lower. There is noticeable separation between the foreground, such as the singer and the band in “Hotel California,” and the background elements, such as the cheers of the audience.

However, the Phonix does have limitations when it comes to the overall shape of the soundstage. Most instruments tend to be concentrated around the center of the soundstage rather than spreading out widely across the stage. Furthermore, the center of the soundstage feels more localized within the listener’s head. As a result, the Phonix may not convey an expansive perception of soundstage size like some other top-of-the-line (TOTL) IEMs.

Resolution​

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Resolution is a fascinating subject due to the difficulty of pinning down what it really is. To me, “resolution” can be broken down into three components: (1) Sharpness, incisiveness, or “definition” of note attacks (see the figure above). (2) The separation of instruments and vocals, especially when they overlap on the soundstage. (3) The texture and details in the decay side of the notes. The first two give music clarity and make it easy to track individual elements of a mix. The last provides music details and nuances. Smooth and well extended treble response plays a crucial role.

The VE Phonix impresses with its exceptional resolution, evident in various aspects such as instrument separation, note definition, and detail retrieval. The strong separation between voices in songs like “Jolene” by Pentatonix, featuring Dolly Parton, allows for effortless isolation and tracking of individual voices, even during dense sections of the music from 1:30. Each voice line is rich in detail, surpassing the performance of my venerable U12T. A similar observation holds true when listening to “Livin’ On a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, where it becomes easy to follow individual instruments, especially the guitar on the side of the stage.

Moreover, the Phonix excels in revealing background ambience and details that might often go unnoticed. In “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, I could hear electronic sounds acting as the background ambience, particularly noticeable on the far right of the stage. This background ambience is something that I missed with most of my other IEMs. Similarly, the background cheers in “Hotel California” (Live on MTV, 1994) by Eagles were crisp, clear, and detailed, while still maintaining a sense of distance within the soundstage.

Comparison and Rating​

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Tonality: The tonality of the Phonix is pleasantly colored without becoming niche or unnatural. This tonal characteristic synergizes well with the characteristics and timbre of the BA drivers, showcasing the tuning prowess and refinement of the VE team. I would rate it as excellent (5/5).

Percussion Rendering: Aria (3/5) < Blessing 2 (4/5) < U12T / E5000 (5/5) = Phonix (5/5)

While Phonix’s bass utilizes BA drivers with their distinct “BA timbre,” it manages to turn this characteristic into a strength. The result is energetic and clean bass lines with satisfying dynamic swings. Personally, I find the bass to be excellent (5/5).

Resolution: SE215 (3/5) < Blessing 2 (4/5) < Andromeda 2020 (4.5/5) < U12T (5/5) < Phonix (6/5???)

Despite its warm and colored tonality, the Phonix effortlessly outperforms my benchmark for excellence, the venerable U12T, in terms of resolution. The resolution of the Phonix is among the best I’ve experienced in an IEM. It is truly outstanding (5/5).

Soundstage: SE215 (3/5) < Blessing 2 (4/5) < Andromeda 2020 (5/5) = Phonix (5/5)

The Phonix boasts exceptional imaging capabilities, accurately placing instruments on the stage with razor-sharp precision. It also excels at pushing the background layer of the soundstage, such as the cheers in live recordings, into the surrounding environment, creating a holographic presentation. However, the overall shape of the soundstage may be considered relatively small due to the thick and warm midrange. Nevertheless, the impressive instrument separation and placement compensate for this, resulting in an excellent soundstage (5/5).

Conclusion​

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The Vision Ears Phonix is undoubtedly an impressive top-of-the-line (TOTL) IEM. Its unique sound is a result of masterful tuning skills combined with strong technical performance. Phonix boasts a pleasantly colored tonality and avoids any harshness or sibilance, ensuring a smooth listening experience. At the same time, it delivers TOTL resolution and detail, showcasing its ability to reproduce intricate nuances in the music. The razor-sharp instrument separation and placement further contribute to its impressive technical performance.

As for cons, the soundstage may not feel particularly large, which might be a drawback for those seeking a more expansive and spread-out soundstage experience. Additionally, some listeners might desire a more pronounced emphasis on the upper treble frequencies. And, of course, the price tag is shocking.

In terms of target audience, the Phonix is well-suited for individuals who appreciate a colored and musical sound signature, along with top-notch resolution. If you prefer a more intimate and closed-in presentation, the Phonix could be an appealing choice.

Pros:

  • Pleasantly coloured tonality
  • No harshness or sibilance
  • Dynamic sound
  • TOTL resolution and detail
  • Razor sharp instrument separation and placement
Cons:

  • The soundstage does not feel large
  • Upper treble could be more highlighted
  • Price
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Updated: July 9, 2023

hssong85

New Head-Fier
Vision Ears Phönix: revive your music
Pros: Its price tag is a lot but you won't be able to get better experience by spending ONLY 4k than this.
It's a piece of jewellery (I felt design of it contributed about 3~500 dollars)
Very smooth and soothing sound signature.
Detail retrieval is otherworldly.
Cons: Price
For extreme sensitive users, its BA signature is still there.
Introduction

This is the most expensive IEM I have ever listened to - I listen to IEM only. My daily go to is Jomo Audio Trinity which I bought when it was on sale. I thought I was finally going crazy spending more than 2k for earphones - I ended up using a lot more for other gears, sigh. Apparently, this is double the price. So with its price tag, I am going to be very critical on how this IEM can resurrect music (this is a little spoiler).

Yes there are many that claim headphones are the way to go. Endgame is always the speakers. I agree with some parts and disagree with some parts. I am not a fan of headphones due to comfort issues and a personal reason. I can't use speakers in my 600sqft condo unless I am inviting my neighbour for a medieval duel. Hence, I have to look for other means to satisfy my listening needs.

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Gears used:
iFi Zen Dac Signature + Schiit Jotunheim V2 headphone Amp
Shanling M8

Can't comment on non-audio components as it was loaned to me as a part of Canadian IEM tour setup by Rockwell (Would like to express my gratitude and respect to him once again)

Comforts

I was using Azla Xelastec tips. While it was comfortable, it was heavier than other IEM's I have tried. I don't have exact weight though. However, with support from cable and balance of the weight, long time listening was not an issue. At the same time, I've never had comfort issue with high-end stuff. I think that's the minimum requirement.


Tonal characteristics:

I am not good with talking about treble, mid and bass. All I can say is that it was very neutral, not particularly emphasizing any frequencies. Once again, this is the characteristic of high-end gears and I feel it's bare minimum requirement for the price. We have standards when spending 4k on IEM and it meets them all

Having said that, since I am skipping treble, mid and bass, I am going to do this review with different methods. My main gear is Jomo Trinity SS + Shanling M8 for portable and Zen Dac + Schiit for sitting down listening. I am going to go over songs in my playlist and how it sounds compared to my current and previous gears that I have listened with. I strongly recommend you check the music out if you haven't heard this song!



P!nk - Try
I feel P!nk (Pink) is one of the misunderstood artists. Yes, she dresses up weirdly with short hair and is seen dancing naked in front of the camera. However, she sends out strong messages in her song. How this song is mixed is very interesting. During the verse, there isn’t anything that’s special about the song. Some pop/rock instruments here and there, Pink vocal is positioned very intimately, etc. However, when it reaches the chorus, the vocal is sung from the back of your head. This decision coincides with the theme of the music. There are going to be many hardships in life that make you fall, but you still have to get up and try. She’s helping you to get up and helping you get up and carry you from the back. This style of mixing doesn’t get revealed with gears that don't have good staging and 3d projection of sound. Phoenix does it immaculately.

The thing is, I knew this from Jomo Trinity. However, Phoenix showed me one holysh*t moment. I have always thought vocal positioning from the verse and chorus is disconnected. So the vocal in verse is intimate -> there is an instrumental part before chorus -> chorus is positioned a step away from the back of your head.

I was wrong.

Phoenix showed me that the chorus starts out as intimate but within 1 seconds, she moves back. This changed the portrayal of music. She was walking with me, I fell. So she moved to the back and tried to help me. This kind of detail retrieval in 3d imaging was not produced by a permutational combination of my gears: Jomo Trinity, empire ears odin, hifiman Ananda, ibasso dx300Max, etc. This was truly holysht moment which I love about music as a whole.

IU - Celebrity.

IU is one of the most popular k-pop artists in Korea. She’s not just a singer but writes her own lyrics and songs. Amount of effort and fine detail she puts in her song is worthy of praise. The entire song is pretty straightforward except it uses marching band style drum beats. Instruments used are quite minimal. This is to build up the emotion for the chorus. When the chorus begins, there are three lines of vocals: main line, and right and left whispering. This whispering is not just a backing chorus because it is there to seduce you with an alluring voice: this is the whole goal of this song. Balance between three vocal lines is everything in this song.

My Jomo Trinity fails in this aspect. It produces a beautiful main vocal line, even more so than Phoenix, tbh. However, it somewhat ignores the whispering lines. Odin did somewhat ok by portraying well on the whispering line but was a little harsh on the main vocal line (why I didn’t keep Odin over Jomo Trinity).

VE did awesome. It found it’s very thin balance very well and gave me a goosebump when she was whispering her words to me. I still have to say the strong emotion of the main vocal line was tad (like 0.001%) lacking than Jomo Trinity (this is THE reason for Trinity’s existence though).

Once again, I had to applaud for detail retrieval, staging and 3D holographic imaging of Phoenix.


Aimer - Ref:rain

Jpop and Jrock were dominating asian pop culture in the 90s and 00s. Unfortunately, it started to take a big downturn around mid-00’s. I am going to say it because I was such a fan of Jpop. Overall, it sucks. However, I want to introduce you to one of few hopes in Jpop: Aimer.
This song is interesting because detail retrieval and 3d holographic imaging don’t play a big role in this song. Rather, portraying the vocal's emotion and dynamics of background are what decides the song. Its ambiance is very solemn. Sometimes it’s very quiet. Sometimes it’s super wide, like wider than any song I know. On top of everything is her vocal and the vibrato: very, very emotional and personal. You can almost imagine how she is singing: crouched forward, holding mics in front of her heart.

When I was first listening to this song, I was asking myself: is this pure BA IEM? (I didn’t look into details so it doesn’t cloud my judgement.) Yes it was. For me, the most iconic example of BA sound signature is the Westone w80: super sterile sound. Phoenix showed very little sign of it. And it was not working well with the song. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed listening to its core. However, compared to Jomo Trinity, it lacked that 0.001% of emotion which was everything to this song. If I didn’t own Trinity, I wouldn’t know this btw.)

However, Aimer's song's high needs fine tuning from the IEM because it can get harsh. It's a fight between getting massive stage vs being slight harsh. Trinity does it really well producing massive stage and stays just before it is harsh. Odin was harsh but massive stage. VE was not harsh and bigger stage than Trinity.

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Conclusion

Vision Ears Phoenix is otherworldly. It resurrected the music that I was so used to and showed me even truer form. I don’t think you can get this experience with 4k USD or 3k USD (used). I stress this because this IEM is easy to drive and not very source dependent. If you want a good music experience and have about 3k to spend, I recommend finding used and stop right here. It will give you all the eargasm you will ever need. You won’t have to look for something better, especially, something better will make you enter the 10k arena.
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GiullianSN

Previously known as CrocodileDundee
The (Re)birth of a Legend
Pros: - Technicalities
- Smooth, but detailed sound signature
- Premium Design and accessories
- Fit
- Perfect premium IEM to rule them all (all-rounder)
Cons: - Price (average for the premium market)
- Miss that DD low end extension
- May sound too warm for some
Disclaimer

Just to get this out of the way first. These IEMs were provided as a loan as part of the South African Tour of the PHöNIX and EXT co-flagships, free of charge, by VE in exchange of my honest review/impressions. No request was made by the company in any respect and everything has been completely transparent from both sides. Thanks for @gLer for organizing the tour and Jonas from @Vision Ears to let me be part of it.

Before even starting I would like to remember that I’m not a professional reviewer and I do this for fun and love for the music. Sonic impressions are completely subjective and, in this case, it’s my unique opinion. Feel free to have yours, but always remember to respect your forum colleges.


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Introduction

As I used to do in my impressions, I will tell a bit about how I heard about VE for the first time...

I first heard about VE while a quick visit to e-earphone in Japan. Back than I was looking for a new CIEM and wanted to try what they had there. As we all know they are a huge retailer there and have everything you can imagine about portable audio to audition. First, I went straight to EE's, JH's and UE's range. Then the guy said that this German company just released an amazing IEM and I should try. So, I did. I tried the just released Elysium and the already legend VE8. Both amazing IEMs that blew my mind straight away. Unfortunately, I couldn't order neither from Australia (I didn't want to deal with importing myself back then to order directly from VE). Almost 3 years later the Elysium is still in my mind. Since then, I have been following VE steps and releases, hoping one day I would be able to hear and, who knows, own an IEM from them.

Then we have the almighty ERLKöNIG, that is praised in everyone's collection as a classic and collectable item with a tuning that many would say it's the best all BA of all times. With deep and extended low end, incredible imaging and separation, great tonality and the praising just keep going. But the price was prohibitive for myself and many others. But it was never VE’s intention to make it a popular IEM, but a premium and exclusive feeling piece of gear.

A few years passed and VE heard all the comments from its customers and decided to make the ERLKöNIG that is more accessible to a broader range. Because the world should have a chance to hear by themselves what the ERLKöNIG was about, but still have the premium feeling of its predecessor. Then the PHöNIX was born.


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From Wikipedia: "The phoenix is an immortal bird associated with Greek mythology (with analogues in many cultures) that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor."

So, the name of the new product was meticulously chosen, as the PHöNIX is the ERLKöNIG reborn with the basis on the original "position 2" and same driver configuration (4 Low, 4 Mid, 4 high, 1 Super Tweeter), but with crossover improvements and a brand-new super tweeter was implemented.


Design & Comfort

The design of the PHöNIX is nothing short of premium. The golden ring and reflective red chrome faceplate are a show by themself. I personally would prefer the back ring option as is more discrete. But I fully understand the aesthetics to resemble the bird’s myth of its name. But what got smiles on my face was the beautiful stealth carbon fibre shell. I have a bit of a crush on Carbon Fibre shells since my Layla Silver Matrix. On the PHöNIX it looks amazing and hard to show on picture. It must be seen.

After a bit of play with ear tips I settled down with the Xelastec Crystals Small that is part of the package. After finding the right tips, the water drop shape of the PHöNIX has some magic to it that it fits perfectly well inside my ears, just seating on my ear’s concha and with a spot-on nozzle angle that I could only get with the InEar SD5. This is a rare combination that makes the PHöNIX to stay in my ears without popping out every few minutes like every other IEM. But everyone’s ear shape is quite different, so your experience may vary a bit.

The cable is something that I wasn't expecting when I had it in my hands, it felt like the new 64a stock cable, but what is under the black cover is what really matters. In this case we have a new developed premium 4 wire 23 AWG silver-gold alloy and OCC copper-litz cable terminated in 2.5mm, but fear not, it comes with a 4.4mm adapter in the box. This is not the common blend you find around, so one can see that was carefully chosen for the best results.


How does it sound?

*All my listening was done with iPhone, Apple Dongle, Cayin RU6, Hiby RS6, stock cables and Apple music. Just to keep it simple and easy to replicate. :)

My experience with the Phoenix is based on general and relaxing listening. Mostly because every time I try to evaluate this IEM I get myself just enjoying it. I put it in and after a couple songs my mind is already surfing away on the soundwaves. Don't get me wrong that is an amazing achievement and just a few IEMs got me this way. The majority of the time I am using an IEM is just for relaxing, not dissecting the songs. Another small disclaimer, I'm not the traditional "audiophile", that praises female vocals, Jazz and Classical music. If you like Rock and Hip-Hop, stick around and let's have some fun.

We all have that IEM that pull your attention to it no matter what. It doesn't let you relax, with details in your face all the time. PHöNIX deliver a great amount of details on an smooth and textured way that is almost palpable. Never fatiguing. It reminds me a lot of the 12t, but improved in every point. For example, in Pink Floyd’s “Sign of life" I can hear all the details of the person paddling on the boat. The paddles hitting the water, the guy moving it and so on. Then even when the music starts to ramp up, I can still hear the paddling on the background, even with the amazing guitar and sound effect going on. Pink Floyd’s “Is there anybody out there?" never sounded so involving, I can get the radio turning on, cars passing by, the song evolving and surrounding me. Simply amazing experience that must be heard.

I said once that the JH Jolene should have been called Jimi, as that was the best reproduction of Jimi Hendrix I've ever heard, until I heard the PHöNIX and started questioning that. Jimi is a good example of artist that we can get good examples of soundstage, imaging and separation. Like in "Fire" and "Foxey Lady" that you have Jimi well centred, guitars on one side and back vocals on another and bass guitar a bit further in my back. All aspects of the sound well separated and easy to pinpoint from where it's coming from, even on further instruments it is still extremely detailed. If I close my eyes, I can easily imagine myself within the stage. But I notice the soundstage with better depth than heights.

But the Jimi's song to really put any IEM to the test is "Crosstown Traffic", this is a busy song for Jimi's standard and the producer/mixer plays a lot with left to right imaging and depth. The drums can be a bit harsh in many IEMS, but PHöNIX delivers it perfectly, with the right amount of energy without being fatiguing.

You don't like Jimi, but like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath? Give a chance to "Rumble on" and "Planet Caravan" respectively on your PHöNIX and you will hear what I am talking about. Robert Plant's vocals in Led Zeppelin’s songs are a bit behind the whole band in many V shaped IEMs, especially the cymbals and high hats of the drums, but PHöNIX brings everything to a textured and smooth balanced harmony, where some IEMs tend to be bright and fatiguing when trying to bring Robert forward pumping the volume. Another example of the full technicality achievable by the PHöNIX is "Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody", that is raw technicality on an old school analogue recording and mixing. The notes have weight and texture to them, the staging is well defined and you can just hear/imagine the recording tricks the band used at the time.

Going for something more modern in the technical music, Polyphia and Animals as Leaders are a must try to anyone that loves guitar and general instrumental rock music. Start with Polyphia's "G.O.A.T." and "Nasty" and AAL's "Micro-aggressions" and "Physical Education", these songs are one of the most technical songs I've heard in the last feel years. They are an amazing test for dynamics, imaging, technicalities, separation and everything else you can extract for fast and technical rock songs. They have deep bass and kick drums with high distorted tones of guitars right on top of each other, with added compassed high hats and some electronic compressions. Just masterpieces that PHöNIX deliver every single detail of these song in every nuance, but still smooth as the base of this IEM sound signature presentation, easily to hear the almost whisper sound effects on the background while the magic of the band happens in the front.

Want to go even deeper in the left side of the FR? Definitely, PHöNIX won't let you empty handed. It has one the best low-end BA and finally an IEM to beat the 12t’s low end. Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" and "How to Love" can be good examples of deep kick drums and cymbals’ hits with vocal in the middle showing the PHöNIX can quickly and controlled go from deep bass to highs, without feeling muddy and bloated. IEMs like LX struggle with these songs, becoming quite bloated. Other good example of how deep, extended and detailed the PHöNIX can go is with Wiz Khalifa's "Big pride" and "On my level", you can hear a good and deep hip-hop low-end extension that is close to what I would expect from a well-controlled DD, together with high hats hitting without being fatiguing. On the other hand, Lil Wayne's "Don't Cry" and Wiz Khalifa "What you deserve", asks for that long extension on the low end that PHöNIX unfortunately doesn't deliver, these are within the only songs where I thought it could be better.


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VE PHöNIX & 64a A12t

Within the IEMS in my possession now and recently enough to be able to compare with the PHöNIX, I think the A12t would be the biggest contender considering the driver configuration and sound signature, especially considering it is almost half of the price of the PHöNIX.

Right from the packaging you start to notice why we have this distinct price difference. I haven’t received the retail boxes, but there are pictures everywhere, so we can see the presentation is already a few steps up from the 12t. then you go for the design and details. The carbon fibre, golden ring and red chrome details brings the difference even further. Just there you can bring a good portion of the price difference to a more relative place.

But, what about the sound? Ok, as mentioned before, PHöNIX is like an A12t way better, in every aspect. Wiz Khalifa “On my level” hits harder and more detailed on PHöNIX. Polyphia’s “G.O.A.T” and Animals as Leaders’ “Physical Education”, has better dynamics on these fast and technical songs. The mid highs to highs are a step forward in the mix than my A12t, but on a way that shows more details, not fatiguing.

Jimi and Led Zeppelin has its instruments and vocals a tiny bit more separated and placed a bit further on the stage on the PHöNIX. but I would not notice (care) much if I was just listening for relaxing instead of analyzing them.


Closing Thoughts

As I said on the beginning, the PHöNIX is an IEM that the first thing that comes to mind is relaxing and I can say that I did that a lot during my time with it. It's the kind of IEM I want to get back home after a long day at work, open a beer and get my mind lost in the music. Relaxing, but at the same time, it has all the details, technicalities and tonality I would expect from a TOTL. After all, this could beat my beloved A12t as an all-rounder.

For someone that is looking for a premium design, premium build, premium all-rounder sound, PHöNIX definitely gets my full recommendation and should be on your short list to try. It will fill your eyes with its beauty and your soul with the full bodied sound signature that goes well from old analogue songs to compressed modern ones. Make sure you give it the pleasure of a good DAP or source, even though it is sensitive enough to sound quite good with a simple Apple Dongle, a source on the PHöNIX level of details will make wonders to the final pleasure.

Last, but not least, it wouldn’t be a South African Tour if they were not on a Safari (Crocodile River with Elephants on the background)... I hope you all enjoyed this small journey.

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(PS.: No animal or IEMs were harmed during this tour)
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claud W
claud W
Great Review! Are those Warthogs roming your front yard?
Scuba Devils
Scuba Devils
Great review. I regret not trying them for longer when I was in Cologne - I really didn't want to complicate my EXT decision!
GiullianSN
GiullianSN
@claud W , this are statues on the hotel I stayed that weekend. But it is quite well done and from a distance looks real.

@Scuba Devils , don’t regret, you’re well served with the EXT as well, it’s review will come sometime soon.

gLer

No DD, no DICE
Vision Ears Phönix: Effortless Elegance
Pros: Masterful musical performance
World-class technicalities without the usual flashiness
Warm and easy on the ears with a natural, spacious stage
Luxurious build quality and materials
Cons: Bass extension and physicality will be lacking for some
Can be a little sedate in its delivery
Vocal tonality not always on point
Very expensive
I received a review unit of the VE Phönix as part of the official VE South African Tour, which also included the new VE Elysium EXTended (review to follow soon). The tour was made possible by Marcel and Jonas at @Vision Ears, and I am humbled and grateful that they saw it fit to send their new flagships to my part of the world, asking for nothing but my honest opinion in return. These guys know a thing or two about impeccable service, so thank you, sincerely.

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Preface

Believe it or not, Phönix is my very first experience of a Vision Ears IEM. For one or another reason I never thought to actively chase down a VE monitor before, but with the ‘new Elysium’ EXT piquing my interest, Phönix was part of an enticing double-act that I just had to hear for myself.

If you know anything about me or my preferences (hint: check my sig), you’ll know I’m not the biggest fan of all-BA driver IEMs, or at least non-dynamic driver IEMs. There’s something about the physicality of dynamic driver bass that’s essential to the engagement I want from my music, and without it – generally speaking – the music I listen to is a bit like my favourite broth with a missing ingredient, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors.

With all that said, I promise I’m not setting Phönix up to fail, but I want to be clear that any prejudices that might come across in my review stem from this preference, so please keep that in mind.

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About Phönix

Rising from the ashes of Vision Ears’ limited edition Erlkönig (a mistranslation of Elf King), Phönix features the same number (13) of balanced armature drivers as its predecessor. Four drivers each are used for the three main FR ranges (bass, midrange and treble), one open-top super tweeter for ultra-high frequencies, and a passive five-way crossover that makes them all sing together.

With a sensitivity of 125dB/mW and 18Ω impedance at 1KHz, Phönix is exceedingly sensitive, but less so than the infamously sensitive Andromeda and Solaris IEMs from Campfire Audio. Unlike Erlkönig, Phönix ditches the dip switches and settles on one sonic presentation (according to VE, a close match to Erlky’s ‘2’ setting, if that means anything to you), Since I generally dislike fiddly switches on IEMs, that’s a good thing in my book.

At an eye-watering retail price of $3,900, Phönix has unabashedly taken the flagship mantle as VE’s most expensive current IEM (Erlkönig was even costlier). Whether or not that represents good value is not for me to say, but hopefully there’s enough information in this review to help you make up your own mind in this regard.

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Presentation

I’ve heard great things about VE’s legendary unboxing experiences. Unfortunately, the tour packs for both Phönix and EXT are not the same as the retail versions. Both IEMs were sent in plain-looking black boxes, packed inside their respective carry cases, with extra tips in separately-packed black pouches and clear plastic bags. I can tell that the care and protection afforded this functional rather than fancy packaging was still of the highest level, so I have no doubt you’re in for a real treat when it comes to the actual unboxing.

Phönix’s carry case is bean-shaped, zippered, and made from what appears to be PU leather (apologies if it’s genuine). The earpieces are kept apart by a clip attached to the felt-lined lid of the case, though there’s nothing protecting the earpieces themselves from the cable and connectors. Speaking of which, the stock cable is a 4-wire silver-gold alloy/OCC copper-litz 2-pin affair, soft and pliable to the touch with a rubberised black finish that can get a bit tangly at times. The cable features pre-shaped ear guides without memory wire, but the 2.5mm connector is so 2019. The review packs didn’t ship with the 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter that’s included in the retail box, so I used a DD HiFi adapter instead.

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I’ll admit to being underwhelmed by the photos I’ve seen of Phönix to date, but in person, the earpieces really look every bit as premium as they feel. There’s some heft to the carbon fibre shells despite being ultra-light, and the ruby red faceplates and floating gold phoenix logo are subtly elegant and impressively reflective when held against the light. It’s an understated look that doesn’t scream ‘bling’ like some recent designs, yet quietly exudes luxury, and that’s precisely what you’re buying here.

Fit-wise, the shells are relatively small and nicely rounded, with a shape that lends itself to nesting inside my outer ear. The nozzles aren’t too long but are quite thick, and don’t have a lip to hold tips in place, though I haven’t had any issues with tips coming off in my ears (oops, I just did as I wrote this, so user beware).

The review kit came with several pairs of SpinFit CP145 tips and one pair (one pair!?) of Azla Xelastec tips, but I imagine you’ll get a full set in the retail box. Comfort is good with the pre-installed SpinFits (I don’t like and didn’t try the Xelastecs), though not the best I’ve had, since I find you need a fairly deep insert to get the best sound quality, which is not my preferred fit.

Switching to Spiral Dot tips improved the comfort some, and Phönix is certainly more comfortable than larger IEMs with longer, more intrusive nozzles. Anyone with wider and longer ear canals than mine should have no issues with comfort whatsoever using any of the supplied tips.

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Sound impressions

I tested Phönix over the course of the week using HiBy’s RS6 DAP and iFi’s xDSD Gryphon, though most of the review impressions were taken using the more neutral Gryphon. I only tested with the stock cable and a DD HiFi adapter into 4.4mm balanced outputs, even though Phönix is sensitive enough to not really need an amp, let alone a powerful balanced amp. Despite its sensitivity, I detected no waterfall hiss at my moderate listening volume.

More than 30 tracks were used, spanning a variety of genres, though I generally gravitated towards material I found more suited to Phönix’s sound profile. Artists included Lana Del Rey, Bjork, Holly Throsby, BEYRIES, Vera Sola, Billie Eilish, Heidi Talbot, Jethro Tull, Agnes Obel, Angels of Venice, Ocie Elliott, Max Richter, Ottmar Liebert, Eagles, Carpenters, Abba, Angel Olsen, Alphaville, Katie Pruitt, Brandi Carlile, and many more. No metal, rap, RnB or hard rock was allowed anywhere near this review.

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Tonality

The Phönix eschews colouration for a more balanced sound profile, where no one frequency stands out from the rest. That said, the relatively flat bass profile and early sub-bass rolloff puts more focus on the midrange, to my ears, but not excessively so.

I wouldn’t necessarily call Phönix’s a neutral tuning, because it has a good amount of warmth and fullness to the notes, but it’s still a very balanced presentation. As such, if I was to describe the tonal shape, it’s fairly linear, not your more common U, W, V or L shaped curve, because it doesn’t have any notable dips or peaks anywhere, not that I can easily perceive anyway.

Bass is admittedly the ‘weakest’ part of the tuning for me, but only for the reasons I already mentioned above. While Phönix has excellent bass speed, texture, detail, and definition, and is some of the best BA-driver bass I’ve heard (second only to Traillii), it lacks the physical weight I enjoy in an IEM.

The balance is also skewed more towards midbass than sub-bass, which suits some tracks over others. The thicker bassline in Massive Attack’s Angel, for example, is rendered with authority throughout, but the visceral sub-bass of Billie Elish’s NDA sounds meek by comparison.

The lack of bass weight affects the realism of physical instruments like bass guitars and drums, to the point where I’m always aware that I’m listening to a high-fidelity recording – excellent as it is – rather than a live performance. Babatunde Olatjuni’s Stepping, from his Circle of Drums DSD, is awash with the texture and rhythm of the drumbeats, but lacks the sense of realism you’ll feel with a high-end dynamic driver IEM like EXT or Z1R.

Many people actually prefer a more subdued or ‘descriptive’ bass that supports the other frequencies and acts as a foundation for the music, rather than taking centre stage or calling itself to attention, and if you’re one of those people, you’ll find lots to like in how Phönix does bass. Also, if your ears are sensitive to the physical vibration of a dynamic (sub)bass driver, then Phönix may be just the tonic you need.

If you’re like me, on the other hand, and get a thrill from the physical force and natural decay of a real kick drum (or bass drop), and are willing to give up some midrange nuance for tactile engagement, there are better IEMs for the job (like Phönix’s purple brother, for example).

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Midrange is where Phönix comes into its own, with near-perfect low-to-upper midrange tuning. Vocals have a soothing, almost halo-like feel to them with plenty of depth and an incredible amount of detail. Both male and female vocals are on point, neither recessed or too forward, though Phönix does tend to project vocals more than many of the IEMs I’ve compared it to. Holly Throsby and Mark Kozelek’s respectively sweet and chesty vocals on After A Time play off each other with a satisfying contrast, the bassline literally playing second fiddle here.

Midrange clarity is one of the benefits of keeping the low-end in line, and the sheer quality of the tuning is readily apparent, even on first listen. It’s not an intense midrange either, and doesn’t force the sound into your head. I can kick back, relax and lose myself in the music without the impulse to toe tap to the rhythm. A party-out fun IEM Phönix is not, but rather a more refined, mature, and elegant performer.

It’s not all glory, though. Switching between Phönix and other IEMs I do sometimes miss the natural realism of a dynamic driver midrange, and at times Phönix sounds more like an excellent facsimile rather than the real thing. I can’t really put my finger on it, but vocals occasionally sound ‘off’, at least compared to other IEMs in my collection, but I stress that brain burn-in generally compensates for this on longer listens. Heidi Talbot’s alluring voice in Cathedrals is flatter than I’m used to hearing it, but then sounds fine after a while, especially when I’m not comparing.

The same can’t be said for instrument timbre, where guitars (and stringed instruments in general) are among the most realistic I’ve heard, although again, the physical tactility of piano keys and some wind instruments is conspicuous by its absence. Both Angels of Venice’s Trotto and Jethro Tull’s The Waking Edge dial instrument timbre to 10, despite never hitting the physical heights that I know these tracks to have with other IEMs.

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Treble is the standout FR, for me, with virtually limitless extension, plenty of sparkle and air, without a hint of sibilance, harshness or peakiness anywhere. It’s at the same time inoffensive and engaging, and I thoroughly enjoy the subtle highlights Phönix imparts to the music, cutting across everything else without being cutting, if you know what I mean.

The smallest details are easily discernible, and the texture and speed in violins and other higher-pitched string instruments is often mesmerising. Nils Lofgren’s guitar licks in Keith Don’t Go are so incisive, I can virtually see the reverberations on the strings as he plucks them. Likewise, the string sections of Max Richter’s Winter 1 are easily discernible, which is not always the case with other IEMs, and even the upright bass weight is somewhat satisfying.

While I generally wouldn’t recommend energetic EDM like Seven Lions’ Island (featuring Nevve) for an all-BA IEM like Phönix, this track has become a bit of a meme for me, and I now regularly use it as a treble/brightness torture test. I have to say Phönix does a remarkably good job with it. It’s rare that I don’t wince listening to this track, but not only did I not wince with Phönix, I was actually able to make out many details I missed with other IEMs.

All that said, this is not a treblehead’s IEM. It’s not a forward or brash treble, nor is it cool or clinical. There’s a warm musicality to the tuning regardless of genre, but most apparent in acoustic and classical pieces. There’s no glittering shimmer like that of EXT’s or Traillii’s estat treble, but in many ways, I prefer Phönix’s more natural and less ethereal treble presentation.

Overall, I describe Phönix’s tonality as musical reference. It sounds ‘right’ more often than not, even though it lacks the physicality I prefer, with an air of warmth that thankfully never sounds clinical or surgical. There’s a simple joy to Phönix’s delivery, from the faintest vocal shiver to the boldest orchestral crescendo. It’s the perfect IEM for listening to music, even though it’s not always ideal for feeling it.

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Technicalities

As you’d expect from a TOTL flagship IEM, Phönix is technically outstanding. While not quite as dynamic as some IEMs, dynamics are by no means lacking. That’s not the focus here, however.

Phönix’s sense of space is excellent, with a large, natural stage along all three axes. It’s not ultrawide, like Traillii or Fourté, but more than wide enough to never feel cramped. Depth is very good too, and Phönix’s ability to separate and layer instruments and vocals without sounding surgical is refreshing. Where Phönix excels, technically, is imaging, with an uncanny ability to place musicians and instruments delicately and precisely across the stage, with a good sense of depth and distance between them where necessary.

I don’t hear Phönix’s stage as completely holographic, though, so if you’re looking for a holodeck-like experience, that’s not quite what Phönix is about. Think of it more like a 3D TV, with the effect of being able to see deeper into the music, sounds fading into the near distance, but never quite reaching out around or behind you.

Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra’s binaural rendition of La Luna is a case in point, with a wonderfully wide and deep effect of the recording spreading outward but rarely behind or above, as it can do with some IEMs. Other reference-quality recordings like the Eagles’ live performance of Hotel California spread outward, with a lifelike sense of depth, but lacks a certain physicality to its stage.

Detail, as I’ve intimated before, is top tier. You’ll literally hear everything in the recording, and some things you didn’t even know were in the recording. Importantly, though, that detail isn’t shoved in your face, like it is with some treble-forward IEMs or overly-aggressive pinna gains.

In that regard, Phönix is a fairly forgiving IEM, with less contrast to the notes and absolutely no harshness anywhere. It’s more about the bigger picture than the microdetails, a smooth listen with a satisfying fullness that gives the music a wholesome richness lacking from more clinical IEMs.

Overall, I’d say Phönix stands shoulder to shoulder with the best technical performers on the market, past and present, but leads with its musical sensibilities rather than its technical acuity.

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Select comparisons

Vision Ears EXT
($2,960). I’ll cover VE’s new ‘co-flagship’, Elysium EXTended, in more detail in its own review, but it’s worth comparing and contrasting VE’s two new Premium Line monitors, if only because they’re so different from each other.

Right from the unboxing, Phönix’s sleek and elegant carbon fibre shell and warm red-and-gold inlays are a telling contrast to EXT’s brash, bold metallic purple styling, with its angular lines and silver mesh representing the overall gestalt of its exciting, lively, and powerful sound. EXT is also more aggressive in its fit, locking in like a semi-custom and taking no prisoners if you have small, sensitive ear canals like mine, whereas Phönix is less intrusive and more ‘traditional’ by design.

Sound-wise, where Phönix is fairly balanced and even across all frequencies, EXT is unashamedly bold in its bass, midrange, and treble presentations. EXT’s bass extends further down and elevates further up, with a sub-to-midbass split that favours midbass but still sounds bigger and more natural than Phönix. Where I felt Phönix lacks a certain physicality down low, EXT more than makes up for it, and tuning aside, that’s simply the benefit of using a full-size dynamic bass driver – if this is your preference. I also hear EXT’s bass with more detail, probably because it’s easier to hear and feel the bass in the mix compared to Phönix.

The two midrange presentations couldn’t be more different either. Both Phönix and EXT share what I’m told is VE’s astute midrange DNA, but where EXT loads up its lower mids and reflects the brightness of its upper treble in upper midrange harmonics, Phönix is more even-keeled, with a fuller, more organic sound that’s left completely untouched by both extremes. Phönix’s mids are also slightly warmer and fuller, while EXT’s are drier, thinner and crisper, especially notable in stringed instruments, piano strikes and female vocals.

Treble, like bass and mids, can be said to be a tale of two driver types. EXT’s quad estat drivers have a shimmer and extension that goes beyond their elevated upper treble tuning. It’s a crisp but super high-quality treble that’s able to feather even the softest high-frequency sound and make it radiate around the stage, lending EXT’s stage a certain depth and grandness of scale, but can occasionally sound strident.

Phönix’s treble, by contrast, sounds more grounded and natural, with an effortless air that renders only what’s in the music without overemphasising harmonics, like EXT tends to do. Trebleheads will get more bite from EXT, but Phönix won’t disappoint either; it’s really a matter of preference and will likely come down to your music choices.

Both monitors are technical champions, though Phönix edges EXT when it comes to raw resolution, imaging precision and stage size. EXT is possibly faster up top, with better clarity, but imaging suffers a bit from its midbass forwardness compared to Phönix, as does layering and separation. To be honest though, neither IEM is hamstrung by any perceived technical ‘shortcoming’, and both are tuned better for their respective sound profiles than far more technical IEMs I’ve heard at this price point.

Overall, Phönix and EXT are designed to complement rather than compete with each other, but depending on your musical taste and preferences, you might find yourself gravitating to one much more than the other. EXT would be my pick for anything with visceral bass – electronica, EDM, epic scores, rock and modern pop – whereas Phönix would be my pick for orchestral and small ensemble classical music, folk, acoustic, and singer-songwriter music, and jazz.

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Sony IER-Z1R ($1,700). Some will say Sony’s flagship is getting a bit long in the tooth now, but to my ears it holds its own against Phönix cosmetically and sonically.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I still consider Z1R to be the best-looking, best-built monitor I’ve used to date, an opinion that VE’s unquestionably beautiful Phönix hasn’t changed. I also find Z1R fits me better and more comfortably, allowing for a shallower fit that exerts less pressure on my ear canals despite the added bulk of its solid zirconium shells.

Like EXT, Z1R couldn’t sound more different to Phönix, but there are more similarities between the two than there are between the VE twins. I’ll get to those shortly, but the biggest difference is Z1R’s peerless sub-bass. Both extension and quality far surpass Phönix’s reserved low-end personality, with a cavernous presentation that gives the Sony a grand, cathedral-like stage unlike any other monitor I’ve heard, Phönix included. Interestingly Phönix has slightly more midbass presence than Z1R, which lends a thickness to its notes the Sony lacks by comparison.

Z1R’s midrange is generally regarded as its ‘weakness’, especially its relatively flat lower midrange, yet I find Sony’s male vocals benefit more from its bass presence than Phönix’s, and female vocals, while a touch more distant on Z1R, are nonetheless just as clear and organic, and I daresay more natural-sounding too. I mentioned earlier that Phönix’s vocals sometimes sound ‘off’ when I compare them to EXT and Z1R, and that still holds true. I also prefer Sony’s instrument timbre, with everything from drums to piano and strings sounding more present and physical, even though Phönix is easily the better monitor for sheer detail and texture, which lends to a heightened sense of realism.

Both Z1R and Phönix share a natural, relaxed and extended treble, though Z1R puts more emphasis on lower treble while Phönix is more even-keeled with a better sense of air up top. Cymbals strikes are crisper with Z1R, more elegantly rendered on Phönix. Some people find Sony’s lower treble forwardness spicy as a result, though I’ve always considered it the smoothest, most articulate IEM treble I’ve heard. Phönix easily matches it in quality without any harshness whatsoever, and tonally at least I enjoy both treble presentations equally, moreso than I do EXT’s.

Technically Phönix one-ups the Sony with its imaging ability, speed, and detail retrieval, but I find Z1R to be more dynamic, with a more grandiose, holographic stage. Phönix is also better at layering and separation, and sounds more coherent across the board, though I’ve never had any issues with Z1R’s coherency.

Overall, the two share a richness and warmth to their sound, though Phönix is more easygoing and effortless, while Z1R can be more dynamic and intense at times. Phönix will give you more insight into the music, while Z1R is all about engagement and fun, especially when the woofers are pounding. As with EXT, Z1R’s boldness can be the perfect complement to Phönix’s refinement, depending on your musical tastes, though I find Z1R a better all-rounder and more suited to a wider range of music than Phönix and EXT respectively.

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Senneheiser IE 900 ($1,300). Why gLer? Why would you compare a single dynamic driver IEM to a 13-driver BA behemoth that costs a full $2,000 more? Only because I can, and, if you still haven’t heard it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what this little guy can do.

Fit-wise, nothing in my experience touches the Sennheiser. I can wear IE 900 all day (and all night) and almost forget it’s there. Small, sleek, and built like a tank, IE 900 is easily the most comfortable IEM I own, and for that reason alone it has a permanent place in my collection.

Sonically you’d think Phönix is on a different plane, and on the whole, it is. There’s a polish to Phönix’s detailed soundscape that’s hard for any monitor to match, let alone a tiny aluminium tot like IE 900, but the Phonix doesn’t have it all its own way. IE 900 is almost peerless when it comes to bass quality and quantity, for example, in my opinion surpassing the legendary Legend X, and bettered only by Legend EVO, Z1R and EXT. If you want – or, like me, need – that physicality in your drum kicks and bass guitars to properly connect with the music, IE 900 does it bigger and better than Phönix.

From the bass up, however, IE 900 can’t really match Phönix’s precision. While I personally enjoy the gentle rise from lower mids and slight recession in the upper mids and lower treble of the IE 900’s tuning, Phönix strikes a better balance here. That’s not to say I find IE 900 unnatural – that, for me, is its biggest strength – but Phönix’s realism is off the charts, even if its vocal timbre, by comparison, is occasionally off.

Phönix’s treble is also better articulated and less ‘peaky’, with IE 900 tending to every so often over-emphasise some mid-treble frequencies. I still consider both treble presentations above average, with Phönix redefining what’s possible to achieve with BA drivers, and IE 900 making a mockery of the so-called ‘limitations’ of a single DD design, albeit with the benefit of Sennheiser’s cleverly-engineered Helmholtz resonators.

Technically it’s much less of a contest, with Phönix outstanding across the board, and IE 900, while excellent in its own right, not quite at the same level. That’s not really surprising given all the tech that’s crammed into Phönix, though I’ll say the IE 900 is naturally more coherent. IE 900 is also more dynamic, but now I’m really splitting hairs.

Overall, I find IE 900 is the ideal everyday carry, and probably the best all-rounder I’ve heard from a fit and sound perspective. Anything and everything sounds good on the Senn, while Phönix reaches far higher sonically and stylistically, but only with specific genres that play to its strengths.

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Conclusion and verdict

Phönix is a statement piece. At a time when exotic usually means multidriver IEMs with all manner of electrostat, bone conduction, and open-ported bass technology, Vision Ears have gambled on a straight-up all-BA flagship with a summit-fi pricetag that doesn’t need to flex to be fancy.

You’ll struggle to find a more natural, effortless sounding IEM anywhere else, at any price. Even though some – myself included – might prefer a slightly different tuning or more physicality than Phönix can muster, there’s no question this is an IEM that breathes rarified air right at the very top of the portable hi-fi pantheon.

I’ll leave direct comparisons to the other ‘bird’ I consider its direct competitor – Traillii – to others who own and use it regularly, but based purely on my listening notes, the differences between them come down to tuning and preferences, significant price disparity aside. Comparing Phönix to the IEMs I do own and listen to isn’t exactly like-for-like, given I have a penchant for dynamic drivers, but I’ll happily concede that, for the vast majority of music in my library, Phönix would be an easy pick for almost any chillout session.

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It’s an easy listen, which is not always a given at this extreme performance level. Many IEMs are made with tuning quirks that set them apart from the pack, with over-emphasised bass or mids or treble that grab the attention. Phönix has no use for such party tricks. It simply plays what you give it with a smoothness and fidelity that goes beyond what any reasonable enthusiast would consider premium.

I can almost picture a jazz musician or concert pianist coming off stage after a live performance, kicking back with a glass of port wine and a pair of Phönix, and wearing a knowing smile when the music starts to play. It’s not a rock-out IEM; it’s made for leather loungers and Cuban cigars, smoky bars, and quiet moonlit nights, when you want to connect with the essence of your music and savour every nuance it has to offer.

If you can afford it, if luxury is something you value above novelty, and if measured refinement is your speed, Phönix has to be part of any conversation when it comes to the world’s finest in-ear monitors. It’s not something I would necessarily recommend to newcomers to the hobby, because the subtleties it offers aren’t always obvious to the first-time or casual listener. A blind buy it’s not, in my opinion, but if the asking price doesn’t make you blink, I couldn’t think of a safer suggestion. Highly recommended.

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Last edited:
Damz87
Damz87
Awesome review, man! One small correction though, the stock cable for Phonix is a 4-wire silver-gold alloy/OCC copper-litz. The 8-wire SPC is what comes with EXT :)
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NM70013
I really appreciate your reviews over most other reviewers. You are not overly positive or negative. You are very detailed, objective and let your own preferences be known with pertinent comparisons. I also have similar preferences and own/love the ZIR, so your thoughts are even more valued. Thanks much!
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Barra

Headphoneus Supremus
Vision Ears Phönix: A Very Worthy Successor to the Erlkönig
Pros: Exotic or god-tier performance, unique VE etheric rendering, supersized soundstage reminiscent of an in-ear HD800, best-in-class clarity, full-sized performance.
Cons: Only available in universal fit, expensive – but worth it.
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The PHöNIX is Vision Ears' replacement for their extremely popular Erlkönig, arguably the best in-ear of all time when it was launched. For the Erlkönig, Vision Ears went all out with a pure silver design with interchangeable magnetic faceplates that hid a four-way switch within each unit to offer variability in sound. This was an all-BA 13 driver design that enjoy a top-of-class, best-of-the-best rating for quite a while. But the reign had to come to an end eventually and it was discontinued last year to the disappointment of many.

From the ashes rises the PHöNIX, to reclaim the throne. Again, an all-BA 13 driver design, the PHöNIX captures the god-tier sound quality of the Erlkönig but this time, without the variable switch options. Switched in position two was the Erlkönig’s most popular configuration and this is the tuning of the PHöNIX. Now rather than silver, the PHöNIX is carbon fibre with a metal faceplate in a glowing red firebird design. Yes, the "PHöNIX" is not spelled as "Phoenix" as in the mystical bird, but it is clearly a play on words implying sound while borrowing from mythology.

Tour: Vision Ears PHöNIX and EXT Flagships

For those that do not know me, I am active on AudioTiers and HEADFI under the username “Barra” and have been hosting product tours for almost a decade now. During this time, I have been able to hear all the greats and experienced the evolution of CIEMs/IEMs and all the associated equipment. From that experience, I can say without a doubt that Vision Ears has always been on top of all the lists in terms of performance and unique tuning capabilities. I have managed a number of tours for Vision Ears and am very excited to now offer another 2022 flagship tour for the Phonix and the EXT. To sign up and to hear the EXT and the PHöNIX for yourself, please go to the tour thread and follow the instructions: https://audiotiers.com/tour-vision-ears-phonix-and-ext-flagships/.

As always, my goal is not to just offer my opinion, but to offer tours so you can hear this equipment for yourself. If you are not already an AudioTiers tour member, please go to AudioTiers.com and follow the instructions in the “Getting Started” box on the Tours page: https://audiotiers.com/tours/.

Vision Ears Tour Kickoff Video



The Vision Ears Family

Vision Ears is a premium CIEM manufacturer out of Germany that has a full lineup of premium IEMs and custom IEMs and are longtime favorites on HEADFI and AUDIOTIERS. Their lineup has always made the top of the charts in performance including the VE8, Elysium, the now-retired king – ERLKöNIG, plus the new EXT and PHöNIX. To learn more about Vision Ears, their lineup, or to purchase the PHöNIX from this review, please visit their website at: https://vision-ears.de/.

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The Vision Ears PHöNIX


The PHöNIX is a new dual flagship from Vison Ears sharing the top spot with the new EXT. The EXT is being seen as an upgrade from the Elysium while the more expensive PHöNIX is a replacement for the now-retired ERLKöNIG. While this review is on the PHöNIX specifically, many readers are comparing these two to decide on a purchase as they are very close in overall performance with sonic preference being the key determining factor. Therefore, I will offer a number of comparisons within this PHöNIX review.

Universal Format Only

Both are only available in universal format only. While this was always the case with the ERLKöNIG, so it is not surprising in its replacement, the Elysium had a custom option so not having that option in the EXT was a disappointment for me. Having a custom option is very important to me as I have fit issues that are eliminated by having a custom IEM. My perfect fit allows me to wear them in an active environment without losing my seal forcing me to continually readjust and ensuring that I always have perfect performance so I can hear to the extreme ends of the frequency spectrum and I can experience the full impact of the bass response.

While I would love for both/either of these models to gain a custom option, this is not likely. It was explained to me by Vision Ears that: “Both new models are just available as universals and it is not planned to make them custom - would be difficult anyway because the shell and faceplate material is an essential part of the design and not so easy to transfer to a custom version.”

FIT: While it would be preferable for me to have custom options – both the PHöNIX and the EXT offer fantastic fits for me and I am thrilled how easy they are to use in comparison to my custom fits that require more effort inserting and removing. In this case, I don’t think I would trade either my EXT or PHöNIX for a custom fit if I had a chance and that is saying a lot. Great job Vision Ears!

Configuration – Yes, it is still an all-BA 13 Driver Design

The PHöNIX is a traditional 13 BA configuration – 4 low, 4 mid, 4 high – same as the ERLKöNIG with a new super-tweeter. From memory – I don’t have the ERLKöNIG on hand currently to compare directly - the sonic results are similar to the ERLKöNIG on its popular second switch. The PHöNIX in contrast has no switch. As the ERLKöNIG is rated at GOD-TIER status, just matching performance is quite a feat. I am hoping to get the tour ERLKöNIG sometime soon to be able to compare directly.

Per Vision Ears, Oliver Marino: PHöNIX Changes - "The new PHöNIX tweeter is a spoutless tweeter, so there is no spout in front of its output. This changes the resonance of this driver a lot. And for sure we did some other little magic tricks to tweak it here and there."

In comparison, the EXT is a tribrid IEM with four electrostatic drivers – same as the Elysium – to create a wide-open landscape of lush details, an additional new 9.2mm dynamic driver with loads of power in the very low end replacing the Elysiums single BA bass module, and a new upgraded 6mm dynamic driver for the mids replacing the 6mm dynamic that was found in the Elysium. Yes, you hear correctly, there are two dynamic drivers, a 6mm for the mids and a larger 9.2mm for sub-bass. This configuration similarity is why the EXT is looked at as an upgraded Elysium, it is the same configuration with the addition of a new 9.2mm dynamic driver for the lows and an upgraded 6mm for the mids. However, the tuning and crossing is very different which will be detailed in the comparison section.

Per Vision Ears, Oliver Marino: Elysium to EXT Differences - "The EXT has a new 6mm midrange driver with a double N52 magnet to increase the SPL and reduce the THD, an Al-Mg Alloy diaphragm with LSR (liquid silicon rubber) surround, and some more features. We needed to tune a new mid driver in order to better match with the DD low and the 4 Estats and we also developed the 2nd Gen HALC, which includes a side tuning chamber that allows for more precise tuning."

Build

The EXT feels noticeable smaller and lighter than the PHöNIX. While side-by-side pictures don’t echo this feel, the EXT disappears and sucks into the ears while the PHöNIX just feels more substantial overall. They are both comfortable, but the EXT does a better job of disappearing while listening to music. I can actually lay with my ear on the pillow with the EXT while listening to music at night where I wouldn’t do this with the PHöNIX. The Elysium is not comparable as it is a custom fit. In addition, the Elysium is one of the most recognizable faceplates in the world of IEMs and is extremely beautiful - see below.

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The EXT feels solid and uses a nice aluminum while the PHöNIX feels heavier and more solid in a good way. They both are beautiful and well built, but the PHöNIX was obviously the one designed to win the beauty contest and is priced higher to match its looks. The carbon fibre in the picture below is very beautiful but is dark and not immediately noticeable unless in the direct Arizona sunlight. The PHöNIX faceplate does pop and appears fiery in the sunlight which is extremely beautiful. Apparently, the PHöNIX likes it here in Phoenix. 😊

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Fit​

The fit and seal for both the EXT and the PHöNIX is superb, but the seal on the EXT is better for me. The EXT somehow is sucked into my ear offering a custom-like fit and seal while the PHöNIX feels more external while still offering a great seal. Both have a good enough seal that they work well in an active environment. My Elysium is a custom fit so there is no comparison – it is perfect. As a traditionally custom-only company, Vision Ears has only recently begun offering universal versions of its extended lineup. Previously, only the ERLKöNIG was offered in universal. As a traditionally custom-only company, Vision Ears is one of the best in the business at getting a perfect custom fit. In fact, my Elysium is the best custom fit that I own.

For universal tips, I only go silicone due to the inner workings of my ears. With a significant bend in my ear channel, the silicone offers a wedge to seal the IEM and get full performance. Therefore, I have not tried any other tips to offer other suggestions.

The PHöNIX Sound

The name AudioTiers comes from my attempt to offer performance tiers to provide perspective on these various in-ear offerings and the surrounding gear. While we have definitely hosted mid-tier and some entry-tier IEMs, we have mostly focused on the top-tier offerings with some mid-tier. The best of the best are termed exotics for their ability to be unique and stand above the crowd. The top 5 of the exotics are awarded GOD-Tier status. The ERLKöNIG is among those 5 GOD-Tier IEMs but will lose its position soon as it is no longer available since being retired by Vision Ears. The PHöNIX has a good chance of replacing the ERLKöNIG, it is that good. The EXT is almost neck-to-neck with the PHöNIX as it is also that good but the opposite in tuning. However, we never award exotic or God-Tier status to new entries until we get consensus from our membership which is likely to happen soon. My expectations are that they will both fall into the exotic category at the minimum.

To describe the PHöNIX signature in a nutshell – it is euphoric and rich in a supersized sound stage with powerful texturing from end to end of the frequency spectrum. While the PHöNIX sports the famous Vision Ears incredible BA bass, it is not comparable to the EXT double dynamics, but that is not a bad thing as it excels in quality output. The best way that I can describe the PHöNIX sound is to compare it to the Sennheiser HD820 connected to an extremely high-end audiophile tube amplifier – the soundstage size stands out as does the detail, but in an extremely rich and euphonic presentation.

Optimizing and Pairing

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As I did not find either the EXT or the PHöNIX lacking in any area, I did not feel that rolling cables at this point would be a benefit. The stock cables are wonderful and the resulting sound is satisfactory. So this optimization section is mainly about pairing given that we have all already made investments in gear that we would like to use with our purchases. My preferred DAPs are the Sony WM1a and the Calyx M as I have sold my AK and other DAPs that were not being used. The Hugo 2 rounds out my setup by offering top-tier performance using my Sony or iPhone as a source. My desktop DAC/AMP is the Burson C3R offering 7.5 watts of pure performance to test the limits of scalability. Based on experience, the C3R wattage scales my dynamic drivers to the extreme but is not necessary for BA-only setups. Here is what I found.
  • iPhone 11: Amazon HD Music is a new app on my iPhone that has improved my sound quality considerably. From the standard Apple Music app, the PHöNIX sounds great, but better on my better DAPs. The new Amazon app takes this up several notches and gets the iPhone closer to my dedicated DAPs mentioned below. In fact, the music discovery on the iPhone has made it my preferred method to listen to the PHöNIX on the go. Either way, the music sounds full-sized from the iPhone, just more filled out with the Amazon app. But the dedicated DAPs are clearly better overall. I just wish that I had access to the Amazon music app with these DAPs. As mentioned above, the only weakness of the iPhone is that in crowded or dynamic passages there can be some clipping at first. However, for whatever reason, the clipping seems to disappear, and the fullness of the note returns after the iPhone warms up with 15 minutes or so of constant playing. Of note is the need to turn my iPhone about 80 to 90 percent volume with the EXT vs. around 50 percent volume or less with the PHöNIX. The iPhone doesn’t feel colored in the signature offering a very revealing look at the PHöNIX but may not extend to the extremes like my better sources. Ultimately, I would say that the PHöNIX scales up better than it scales down.
  • Calyx M: The Calyx M is famous for its sound quality implying that the 9018 is responsible. While the stats don’t speak to this, the amp is likely to be the bigger influencer burning up a giant battery in less than four hours to meet that quality output. The clarity and transparency offered in the colder Calyx M signature offer more detail than the Sony below. In comparison, I used to like the Calyx M better than the Sony until I got a custom firmware upgrade on the Sony. The Calyx takes the audiophile performance up a notch with more and tighter detail, while Sony can actually be more fun. An advantage the Calyx has over Sony is that volume slider that allows me to perfect the volume for each song instantly and to play the PHöNIX louder than normal for short bursts. The clarity of the Calyx M boosts the detail even more on the PHöNIX and the powerful amp boosts the texturing. The M is a great pairing with the PHöNIX offering a slightly different signature than the Sony which comes across as warmer and punchier. The PHöNIX loses some of the tube-like euphonics on the M offering more clarity bringing it closer to the EXT signature.
  • Sony WM1a: The Sony was almost sold last year as it didn’t pair well with my CIEMs until I got the new custom firmware. The new firmware now plays nice with all my CIEMs. The PHöNIX pairs ok with the Sony offering retaining its warm tint to its performance with a nice girth to the note and more resonance and textures. The Sony with its superior battery life and UX is my go-to DAP for the PHöNIX. While Sony moves the EXT a little in the direction of the PHöNIX signature, the PHöNIX signature stays the same on Sony. Both the EXT and the PHöNIX sound fantastic on Sony.
  • Hugo 2: The H2 takes the experience up significantly on the PHöNIX with a better DAC and AMP. The pairing is more in line with the Calyx M but on steroids. The bass comes out more, the detail is at another level, and the sound gets fuller – more euphonic. However, as with the M, the H2 brings out the clarity/transparency of the PHöNIX for more of an audiophile sound rather than the more fun Sony. The problem with the H2 is that it is a stack that is not always convenient, so this is not as normal of a pairing as the Burson C3R which takes it up even another notch given the additional driving power if I have to deal with the inconvenience. The PHöNIX performance is significantly improved with the H2 with an additional gob of detail and scales significantly more than the EXT. This is a wonderful pairing for the PHöNIX.
  • Burson C3 Reference: Going desktop, the Burson C3R is my favorite pairing supersizing the overall SQ significantly and in a fun musical way that crushes the Sony. It should also be mentioned that I am employing the Amazon HD Music application as a source and running it through my Sonarworks True-Fi application tuned to my HD800 headphones that work well with the PHöNIX signature. Playing through iTunes with True-Fi turned off brings down the sound quality noticeably, so some may consider this a cheat. Regardless, the C3R drives 7.5 watts into the PHöNIX and offers a significant boost to the low end with more punch and more clarity. While the C3R is slightly warmer than the H2, not by much. The soundstage also grows with the C3R. Applied to the EXT which requires more power it reaches the peak of performance and closes the gap on the PHöNIX, perhaps matching it. The traditional BA configuration of the PHöNIX doesn’t handle the power boost as well as having to keep the volume down to 1 out of 100 or it can sound overdone. However, the PHöNIX does grab another boost in detail and soundstage offering peak performance with the C3R as well. With the C3R, we are splitting hairs and the performance is around the same with two slightly different signatures – EXT offers more punch and dynamic bass with clarity throughout whereas the PHöNIX reminds me of a wonderful tube amp performance rendering the musical romance that can be missing from modern music.
Overall, I find that the BA offerings like PHöNIX or the ERLKöNIG do best with DAPs being somewhat overpowered by the desktop. While they sound great scaled down to the iPhone, this is not what they were built for and is a waste at this price point. The EXT and the Elysium require more volume than most to drive them at satisfactory output levels. However, they do play nice with the iPhone even though the volume is most of the way up. The desktop does offer a good amount of scaling as the Elysium and the EXT like the additional power, but they do not need it to reach most of their potential.

Comparisons

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To compare to the other IEMs, we used the sources described in the previous section. My music ranges from EDM to classical to rock to metal to pop to new age and easy listening. My preference in listening is to play all genres randomly to jolt my senses while getting a wide sampling of music. While I have already offered some comparisons for the EXT, ERLKöNIG, and the Elysium, I am also in possession of the new Lime Ears flagship, the Pneuma for comparison. Here is what I found.

ERLKöNIG (Head-to-Head)​

Before listening to the ERLKöNIG (ERL) and the PHöNIX side-by-side, my first impression is that the PHöNIX reminded me of the ERL switched to setting two, my favorite setting. The PHöNIX brings back my memory of that high-end tube amp euphonics that I enjoyed so much with the ERL with exotic detail retrieval, supersized sound stage, and that famous Vision Ears BA bass. However, upon hearing them together, it is immediately apparent that the PHöNIX is warmer and more intimate than the ERL which is a couple rows back and more transparent.

Fit Difference: However, there is something about the fit difference between the two that exaggerates this effect. The silver shell of the ERL is cold to the touch and takes a while to warm up and melt into your ears where the plastic/carbon fibre shells of the PHöNIX fit well immediately. To get the bass to work with the ERL, I need to cup my ears for a while to get the right seal until it warms. When the ERL warms up and I get a good seal, the exaggeration is gone, but the PHöNIX is still warmer and more intimate.

Tuning Differences: The transparency of the ERL allows the details to show through a bit better, but the treble is a sharper more traditional BA sound where the PHöNIX is richer and more integrated into the overall frequency range. Both have gobs of that high-end tube-like euphonics, but the PHöNIX has more of this effect and is even more addictive. There is also an obvious difference in impedance where the ERL takes more juice or volume to reach the sound level of the PHöNIX – the PHöNIX is much easier to drive. For example, my 7.5-watt Burson Conductor 3 overpowers the PHöNIX even on a volume setting of 1 out of 100 where the ERL manages the power more gracefully. To manage this excessive power, I, unfortunately, have to reduce the digital volume on the computer.

If I could only have one: While both are god-tier in performance – if I could only have one, I do prefer the richer more intimate presentation of the PHöNIX . When I get comfortable with that decision, the ERL sneaks up on me sounding better in some circumstances making me second guess myself, so don’t count it out. But in the end, in most cases I prefer the PHöNIX signature and even looks as well as the unswitched design simplicity.

EXT

These two IEMs are both exotic and offer stellar sound quality. They both offer full-sized sound and an extreme frequency range with the power to drive textures and detail from end to end. The difference is mainly in the clarity focus of the EXT vs. the euphoric richness of the PHöNIX. They both excel at bass, but the EXT bass is definitely more present and dynamic. I am splitting hairs, but I would also say that the PHöNIX sound stage feels like more full-sized headphones with the EXT being slightly smaller. In the end, the key difference is the EXT clarity focus vs. the warmer, more euphoric PHöNIX. When I listen to one, I am not missing the other as either are fully satisfying. However, it is always nice to switch as they both are slightly different.

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Elysium

The Elysium is very different than the PHöNIX. The Elysium focus is on the mids, while the PHöNIX is a full spectrum performer. I love my Elysium and will run to it for vocalists or instrumentals and even live intimate performances where it shines. The PHöNIX has an extremely large soundstage whereas the Elysium is a more intimate presentation. That being said, comparing these two very different IEMs reignited my love for the Elysium as well which will always be my go-to driver for intimate vocals. At the risk of overusing the exotic term, the Elysium has exotic mids that are unbeatable.

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Lime Ears Pneuma

The Pneuma is Lime Ears brand new flagship and is phenomenal. Where the PHöNIX is a traditional BA configuration, the Pneuma is a hybrid with a dynamic driver for bass and four BA drivers closer in configuration to the EXT. There is very little in common with the PHöNIX in tuning or intention, so it is better compared to the EXT. However, while these are two top-class performers, the PHöNIX is a league ahead and priced accordingly.

What is different about the Pneuma vs. the EXT is the smaller 7mm (vs. 9.2mm in the EXT) titanium dynamic bass driver which is extremely fast and punchy. The results are a very resolute bass note with a fast decay that etches out the details that other bass drivers may miss. The smaller driver sacrifices some of the extremely low rumbles but gets clarity in exchange while still offering an enormous and satisfying punch. In contrast to the EXT, the Pneuma bass driver is responsible for a broader range where the bass duties on the EXT are divided between the sub-bass and the mid-bass. However, the effect is similar as the EXT uses a smaller 6mm dynamic driver for the mids as well so the EXT has that rumble separated in addition for those that find that 20-40 hertz bass to be critical and desire power in this range. Of note, there is a switch on the Pneuma that allows you to switch the bass from forward to neutral. In real-world use, you probably would not buy the Pneuma if you didn’t like its significant bass response so there is no practical reason for turning it down. I left it in bass enhanced for this comparison and found no advantage for switching.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Pneuma BA treble offers much more shimmer than I have been finding lately in the new offerings. Treble junkies may find this shimmer to be to their liking as it is very compelling and adds a lot to the overall signature. This is a very smooth audiophile shimmer and never approaches sibilance. The Pneuma is a fantastic IEM and is a very good value at its significantly lower price range and will appeal to those that miss the more traditional shimmer that a BA offers. These two IEMs are more complementary than competitors as the endearing characteristics of each are different. One last comment about the Pneuma, it is quite beautiful as you can see in the picture. However, the picture doesn’t do it justice as it looks even better in person.

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Concluding Thoughts

The PHöNIX and the EXT are both easy recommendations for those that can afford them. They offer peak performance checking all the boxes of modern technology and easily reach my exotic performance tier and the PHöNIX is a candidate for my god-tier award. The only downside is the lack of a custom option, but I find these both offer a solid seal even in the universal format where this is not as much of a concern. Regardless, if you live in the US, then you are free to join our EXT/PHöNIX tour and hear them for yourself so you can decide for yourself – the way it should be. 😊
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AlfeedE
AlfeedE
As I have the Phönix for almost 3 months now I can acknowledge that the sound is otherwordly and that they are extremely well build. The sound even grows on you over time. Sorry for my bad english.
Quartex
Quartex
Thanks for the raving review and especially the great insides from Oliver Marino. I became a fan of the Phönix too, pure joy.
Just one thought regarding your statement: "Yes, the "PHöNIX" is not spelled as "Phoenix" as in the mystical bird, but it is clearly a play on words implying sound while borrowing from mythology.": the minute you appreciate that there are different languages spoken on this planet, "Phönix" magically turns into "Phoenix", the mystical bird. It's just the German spelling, nothing else.
S
sinuet
Thanks for this thoughtful introduction into VEs premium past and presence.

SLC1966

1000+ Head-Fier
The Vision Ears PHöNIX Gestalt!
Pros: Craftsmanship
Price compared to other TOTL IEMs
Erlkonig genes
Impactful non fatiguing sound.
Extremely coherent.
Cons: Price as compared to non TOTL IEMs
2.5 terminated cable but comes with a 2.5 to 4.4 adapter
Those that want a bass head IEM should look elsewhere
The PHöNIX Gestalt: An organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

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I have the pleasure to drop a Vision Ears PHöNIX and a Vision Ears Elysium Extended (HERE) review on the same day.

For these reviews I brought back my untrusted friend Bob. Bob is the Sexy but fictitious interviewer that will only work with Vision Ears. He thinks he is a Freundchen with Oliver and Marcel from Vision Ears. In reality, he is friends with the style of beer called Kölsch that originated in Cologne, Germany where the Vision Ears headquarters is located.

Let’s get you started on this Gestaltich journey and figure out why the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and why in my opinion modern masterpiece has been created by Vision Ears.


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Bob: Hello SLC! It is wonderful to see you again. I have been travelling the world and I am ready to interview you and the Vision Ears team again. I am a physical guy and I want to know more about the shape and fit of the Phonix. Please do not reference your shape or fit. I know that has all changed over time. Tell me about the Phonix shape and fit first and how it compares to Erlkonig please. The Erlkonig because it is the Vision Ears (VE) predecessor to the Phonix.

SLC: The Phonix is easy to describe because the shape is almost the same as the Erlkonig. The base of the nozzle has a little more prominent shoulder on one side from what I can tell. It might be a psychosomatic hump though. We all have those. Otherwise, they are the same. And the build quality of each is bar none. As far as fit goes, the Phonix is extremely comfortable for me. No issues whatsoever. They are extremely light. The carbon fiber is as light as any acrylic IEM. The Erlkonig took a while to get used to due to the weight. Now the Erlkonig is very comfortable. I ended up putting a thick 8 wire cable on Erlkonig with a strong ear guide. Then when lifting the cable with the Erlkonig attached, all felt secure. They are like having a weighted blanket in your ears. Very comforting now. The initial cold feeling silver followed by them warming up is a special experience (Bob, please do not make fun of this joy in life I have).

The Phonix is so light that I cannot even tell they are in. This is also because of the perfect fit for me. The feel of the fit reminds me of the Traillii fit. You cannot even tell it is there. It brings no attention to itself. That is ideal. Really a pleasure to have in the ears. The carbon fiber looks amazing but in a discrete way. The sapphire glass faceplate is rather unique to an IEM. The black ring around the faceplate keeps the IEM discrete or there is an option of a gold ring which adds a lot of flare to the Phonix.


Bob: The Package! Was that not your nickname in 10thgrade? VE is the packaging King! Please show me the Phonix packaging:

SLC: Yes, and yes. I will show you the package in pictures:



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Bob: I know you are a fanboy of Erlkonig. Please first tell me about the sound differences between Erlkönig and PHöNIX.

SLC: Yes, I do enjoy the sound of Erlkonig. I have spent a lot of time listening to Erlk and now I am spending a lot of time listening to Phonix and I have compared them directly a lot.

My take is that there are of course a lot of similarities but what it seems to me that VE did is they took Erlk bass from position number 2 and kept that. They then either through the new super tweeter or tuning or both increased the staging on the Phonix. This allows a lot more breathing room for the instruments. It does take away from the Erlk intimacy and warmth. But it has added an amazing amount of detail retrieval and has turned it into a more mildy W shaped sound leading to a more forward sound than Erlk. Warmth is still there. Just less than Erlk.

The sound on the Phonix comes toward you more than Erlk. It is not there for you to go to it like with Erlkonig. Yes, there is still intimacy with the Phonix and the mids are still amazing and engaging and there is still the emotional piece. Emotions coming at you that is. The sound is a coherent more forward sound.

With the stretched-out staging and more forward sound, the bass has become more controlled and has more bite to it. With the opened-up stage the sub bass has room to come out and be part of the action. Both the sub and mid bass are more impactful on the Phonix. A lot more impactful.

The sound on the Phonix is more realistic with the amount of detail it gives versus the very musical Erlkonig. I find both to be excellent. I like the timbre of both but the Phonix timbre is more realistic. The Erlkonig sound has a little halo above each note which adds to the appeal of the musicality and enjoyment of the Erlkonig.

Here is another way to compare the two. Setting number 3 is my preferred setting with Erlk. The reduced bass with 3 allows the instruments to breath better. It also allows room for the sub bass to come out more when there is this perceived increase in staging with number 3. I could listen to Erlk on number 3 for hours and never get fatigued but still have an emotional attachment to the music and there is still enough detail.

What I am hearing with the Phonix sound is that they took Erlkonig on number 3 and added steriods to the sound from the top to the bottom frequency.

Both Erlk and Phonix can coexist because they shine at different things. Both are enjoyable for different reasons.


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Bob: SLC it is time to stop dilly dallying and compare directly Phonix and Extended. Please do this first with its individual parts, then my next question will be about how they compare as a whole.

SLC: Yes, I can do that Bob but for me tearing apart each section of an IEM does not really reflect what the whole of the IEM really is. I shall attempt to break them apart and then post next about the big picture differences.

The mids of the Phonix are more forward than the EXT. I will start with that. The mids of the EXT are further back than the other parts of its signature. To me saying “V shaped” feels negative to me. So I will say the EXT mids are further back compared to the Phonix mids. The Phonix mids are placed in a mild W shape in the same place as the treble and bass i.e. it is a really cohesive monitor. Not to be cliché but the Phonix mids have an amazing timbre for BA. Supernatural. Not as natural to me as a DD mid but wow did they nail the timbre on the Phonix for an all BA IEM. The mids of the EXT come across like the mids of a Planar HP. Warm and true to an “analogue” sound. EXT to me is true to a warm HP like the LCD 3 but with a bigger bass bump and appropriately crisp treble.

The bass of Phonix and EXT share some things in that they share equal billing between the mid and sub bass. They both fit in well with the overall signature of the IEM. The EXT bass is such classic DD bass. That is what VE was going for and they nailed it. The air movement is there. The thump of a DD bass is there. Depending on the cable the bass can stand out more than the rest of the EXT signature. The stock cable of both works well with their signature. The Phonix stock cable adds more warmth and clarity, and the EXT stock cable also adds more warmth with a signature slant toward the bass.

The Phonix bass to me is mind boggling for a BA bass. The bass of the Phonix is impactful and true to the timbre of how I like to hear bass. The BA bass of the Phonix is reminiscent to me of the BA bass of the Traillii. With both IEMs I find myself asking how they made the BA bass sound so good and so right. Tight and impactful with an excellent sub and mid bass combination.

Treble treble treble. My weak point. I have not met a treble I would not spend the evening with. To me the Phonix treble has the crispness that goes along with the rest of the signature. Mildly forward. The EXT treble comes across warmer to me. Not as crisp. This fits perfectly with the rest of the signature. I find the EXT to have a warmer sound to it overall. Hence a crisp forward treble would kill the signature. The notes overall with the EXT are thicker and with less detail than the Phonix (sorry Bob, that was a big picture comment).

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Bob: OK big picture boy, can you talk about the Phonix and Extended as a whole rather than the parts. I hear you think you are groovy now thinking that your two newer VE partners do different and special things for you? I am referring to Phonix and EXT, not Marcel and Oliver.

SLC: Bob oh Bob. Yes they do different things for me. Right down to the shape of their body and the width of their nozzle tip. EXT and Phonix that is. Analogy time: The Phonix is like the perfect partner. So refined and always is elegant and extremely appropriate in public and in private. EXT on the other hand is a social being with a mild lack of social filtering. Can be appropriate in public and in private but oofta, it can she be inappropriate at times. EXT leaves you a little on edge. You may get elegant, or you may get someone feeling rather playful. You may get super fun and experimental or you may get poetry night!

The Phonix for me is the most refined and detailed IEM I have ever heard that is also musical and engaging. It stays musical and engaging which can be a fault of some “refined” and “detailed” monitors. You must peel away numerous layers to find fault with the Phonix.

Lets get to a few possible faults. Some may find it too linear forward. I still consider Phonix mildly W shaped. Not enough to bring attention to itself and is still linear. It is enough W that it keeps the engagement and fun happening as well as non-fatiguing during long sessions.

It may not have enough bass for some. The bass fits in perfectly with everything else. I do really feel like when called for, air is moving like a DD bass. The sub and mid bass are equal. Neither lacks versus the other nor stands out versus the other.

The Phonix is about the whole versus each part. VE could have named this monitor Gestalt rather than Phonix. Gestalt: an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts. That is what Phonix is about. You are enjoying all of the music with Phonix. You can analyze each instrument or note of the Phonix but you have to make a concerted effort to do that. Phonix does like to be called “G” for Gestalt at time. Good morning G. I hope your day was a pleasant one G. Always proper but engaging!

Phonix is the Roger Federer of monitors. He is about Gestalt also. He is one fluid machine that always performs and one asks when watching him how he does it. He is so smooth and enjoyable. You have to make a concerted effort to analyze each stroke on its own. When you do that you realize each stroke is so flawless that none brings attention to itself.

EXT on the other hand is the Rafael Nadal of monitors. Whan watching Nadal each stroke jumps out at you. The quirky motion of his serve, the volleys that are not refined, the forehand that takes away too much of his energy, the backhand that lacks extension. But Nadal puts it all together to defeat almost all his opponents. You walk away from his game shaking your head in bewonderment.

Each part of the EXT is right in front of you and is easy to pick out. With some songs the timbre of the mids shine. With other songs the movement, texture and the layering of the bass shine. With other songs I hear the cymbals shining through in a new and enjoyable way.

The EXT is the partner that you will have more fun with in general, but you never know which EXT you will get that day. You are drawn to living on the edge with her.

Each part of the EXT can be seen as greater than each part of the Phonix. The whole of the Phonix can be seen as greater than the EXT. The EXT treble can be more textured. The EXT mids have a timbre that is even more realistic than the very realistic timbre of the Phonix. The EXT treble can sparkle more. As a whole the Phonix bass, mids and treble come across as more realistic than the EXT until you start analyzing each one. I analyze instruments and musical space more with EXT. I enjoy the big picture with Phonix i.e. the Gestalt!


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Bob: Hey Markie Mark by the way, SeeSax invited me to your text messages. He just did not tell you. I see you are talking a lot about cables with him. Please elaborate. Remember as I say often, when cable rolling, shallow insertion preserves the 2 pin housing.

SLC: First off Bob, please do not call me Markie Mark. I go by SLC on Head-Fi. Only my fourth cousin and about 12 others call be that and I need to talk to SeeSax about privacy.

I got Phonix and put a 1950 cable on it. I did that because that was my favorite pairing with Erlkonig.

I put the stock cable on and Phonix was similar and as enjoyable as with the 1950 cable. I do like to find a cable that has good synergy and then stick with it. And yes Bob, shallow insertion to preserve the 2-pin housing.

I wanted to compare the Phonix with a clear sounding cable (1960 4-wire), a neutral to clear cable (Monile 2 wire), a neutral cable (1950 cable), and a warm cable (1960 2-wire).

On a side note, the VE IEMs 2 pin is a miniscule narrower than PWA and Plussound. PWA and Plussound are the standard .78 to me. Old EE 2 pins were larger and Rhapsodio 2 pins are very large. The new EE two pins are just a tiny bit wider than PWA and Plussound. Be careful the first few times cable rolling. I would not do a full insert until you are using the cable you want to use.

Also, I love the 2-pin housing on the VE cables. They go flush with the IEM. Just like I love how Traillii allows the standard 2 pin CIEM housing to be inserted fully in the IEM so it is also flush.

So here is my take on cable rolling with Phonix:

Stock: warm warm warm. Non fatiguing detailed sound. Does everything right. If you want warmth and engagement, then this IEM is the standard to shoot for. Not boring at all. Still super engaging. A stock cable that one can use and be totally fine with it. That is rare.

1960 4 wire: With Phonix Subdued mid bass. Added sub bass. Clarity added. Added staging.

Monile 2 wire: Preferred cable with Sultan until Sultan met Horus X. With Phonix same bass. Less warmth. Added clarity.

1950: Forward forward forward. The sound calls for your attention. Amazing prominent bass. Mid and sub bass. At the EXT level of bass. Fatigue could set in for some. Fun will always be present. My preferred for sure because I like lively. And a little on the aggressive side.

1960 2 wire: Preferred cable with Odin. With Phonix Super warm sound. A lot of bass. more mid bass than sub.

What did I learn from this project that causes a lot of anxiety since I do not like messing with 2 pin housing? I hate to say it but the stock cable does 100% justice with the sound of the Phonix. The cable is soft and not annoying. I can lay it in my IEM drawer without a clasp and they will stay put.

It also verified for me the importance of cables and the synergy with the IEM. These are all wonderful cables. They just each do different things to the sound.

I will be using the stock cables for the rest of the review process. I will then go with 1960 4 wire due to my fear of adapters mainly and the added clarity, sub bass and staging.

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Bob: What about other IEMs and how they compare to Phonix?

SLC:

Phonix as compared to EE Odin:
13 BA versus 2 DD/5 BA/ 4 Estat

Well, oh well when I compare the two, I am struck by their similarities. They are both amazing with how much detail they provide. They both give you that “wow” feeling of holy batboy there is a lot going on here. Someone spent time tuning these two. Impactful bass, impactful mids and impactful treble. All there to be heard in their glorious detail.

Then there are the differences. The Phonix is a tamed Odin. Those that love Odin will think “this is a fun IEM that I could marry rather than just spend a short weekend with like the Odin.” Those that could not handle the intensity of the upper mids of the Odin will think “hello, beautiful, playful, detailed, textured, sound! I could get old with you.”

Both Odin and Phonix are masters at being impactful. The Phonix has a coherent W sound. The Odin has a W sound that is not an even W. Some parts of the W go up higher i.e. the sub bass and upper mids. The Phonix notes are a little bit richer with a little bit more texture all the way around. When I A/B the two that is a huge difference that comes out.

The Phonix sound is not jumping at you right away when first listened to. It is a more mature sound that ages super well and slowly undresses in front of you. The Odin jumps into bed au naturel and then works backwards and tries to warm up the environment after it starts with hot! Phonix goes from cool to warm. Just a different way to approach the same endgame.

The Phonix is not going to put some people off like Odin. The Phonix takes a little time to discover the rich taste. It is a Bordeaux rather than an injection.

Once again, I lack the ability to describe each specific detail of the Phonix. The Phonix is about an impactful Gestalt. The whole is so much greater than each part. With Odin the parts are very distinct. I am not saying one is a better approach than the other. Just different ways of enjoying sound.


Phonix as compared to the Noble Sultan: 13 BA versus DD/4 BA/2 Estat

The two of them share a similar amount of clarity and warmth. They have both. That is what makes each special to me. Warm and clear. Just the right amount of fluid to keep the flow clear.

The amount of bass is similar as how impactful they are to the overall sound and with a mid and sub bass focus. The Sultan bass is obviously DD with a slower attack vs the BA tightness of the Phonix bass.

The notes on the Sultan are a tiny bit thicker. The notes on the Sultan as I have said before have a little fun halo around them. That decreases the exact timbre of a live performance but increases the enjoyment of the notes. Both have a W shape to me. The Phonix W sound is extremely coherent. Fun is had all around. The Sultan W has a bass and treble bump.

Once again, the Phonix wins on overall texture and realistic fun. The Sultan wins on thick analogue sound with surreal Opium den fun. The Phonix is already put together and mature. The Sultan is a little rough around the edges in a good way. Each one gives me goose bumps at times with how well they do what they do.


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BOB'S INTERVIEW WITH VISION EARS:


Bob: With Phonix, I know the Super Tweeter changes some things with the sound. Did you also tune the Phonix differently versus Erlkonig? There is a difference in warmth, clarity, heaviness of notes and some width of stage between the two.

VE: Just as we wrote on our website, changes were made cautiously because we know that there is some magic in the sound of the ERLKöNIG and we didn’t want to spoil it. So, we first changed the tweeter and then made some tiny adjustments on the crossover to find a good balance.


Bob: And what else can you tell me about the Phonix super tweeter? It seems like an audio “coup”!

VE: Thank you. Actually, it is just a spoutless tweeter, so there is no small tubes in front of the output of this tweeter, this changes the resonances of this driver a lot. And for sure we did some other little magic tricks to tweak it here and there :wink:


Bob: Could you tell me more about the carbon fiber shell? Was it more challenging to work with compared to the Erlkonig Silver shells or acrylic shells in general? Are there any other benefits to using Carbon fiber other than weight reduction and beauty?

VE: We like the carbon material very much, but every material has its own challenges when using it for a product. It was almost the same difficulty compared to the silver shell, we are very strict in tolerances, so we had to adjust the machining process a lot. Using acrylic is quite easy because we are very experienced in using this material. From our perspective, the beautiful look and the low weight are the most important factors for using this material. We simply love it, and we love challenges!


Bob: Can you tell me more about the cable used with Phonix? Is there a benefit to using a gold-silver alloy on Phonix compared to Erlkonig’s pure silver cable?

VE: We thought that this cable would match better to the sound of the Phönix because it is a little bit more natural and less cold in the high frequencies.


Bob: I am still very interested in the Phonix bass. You have stated that the Phonix bass is based off the Erlkonig bass on setting number 2. The bass of the Phonix is more impactful and shares sub and mid bass duties well. The Erlkonig bass on 2 has more of a mid bass slant. Is this difference due to a bigger stage on the Phonix?

VE: The bass drivers are exactly the same as with the EK and only a small change was made on the crossover to improve the performance. Because as soon as you improve the highs due to a new driver, the old balance is lost, so you need to adjust the other parts to get back everything into balance.



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Conclusion:


Vision Ears is at the top of my list of professional and innovative companies. They purposefully push the envelope. They take the time needed to turn their vision into reality. They took a classic such as the Erlkonig and replaced just one BA and changed the tuning to what I would consider a must hear for anyone that is into IEMs and into sound in general. I know this an emotional statement, but they really have created a masterpiece with the PHöNIX. The PHöNIX is the Gestalt IEM of IEMs. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I would like to thank the sexy but fictitious Bob for his time. Also thank you Marcel and Oliver from Vision Ears for putting up with Bob during the interview process. Your Kölsch beer gets him every time.


Here again is the link for the Elysium Extended review (HERE). Finally, I would like to thank you for going on this journey with me.



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AlfeedE
AlfeedE
I have the pleasure of owning a Phönix and can say that I feel the same way about them. Previously I had the Odin but I prefer the sound signature of Phönix!
AlfeedE
AlfeedE
I just now listen to Tron by Daft Punk and WOW there is an abundance of bass
Deferenz
Deferenz
A really good review
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