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Yep, that's the iFi xDSD.
Interesting, what are you using it with? Haven't had a chance to try it yet, but seems worth checking out. How long have you had it?
About a month, not long enough to give an accurate assessment. I previously owned the micro and nano black label and performance of the xDSD seems closer to the micro. I have been using as my desktop DAC/Amp though my PC and also on the go, bluetooth-ed to my Pixel 2. Retains the iFi house sound - very clean and detailed with just a bit of warmth injected to not have it sound digital.
What's that cable you're using with the ce-5?
Listened to the CA Comets and Atlas yet?
The CE-5 and the Mk2 (now Reborn) cost roughly the same, don't they?
How does the layla compare to the legend x or 64 audio offering ?
How do you like Westone W80 comparing to UE18+pro and UERR.
I am trying to look for an IEM that sounds real (meaning the guitar sound sounds like real guitar, the vocal sounds like real ppl speaking etc.)
^ would like to know an IEM that does this as well!
(ER4SR kind of does it).
Been too long since I heard the Layla. Will have to get back to you on that.
I would consider the UE18+ and the most natural sounding IEM to my ears based on my other reference gear. Of course, the definition of "real" is different from person to person, so I can't help you a lot besides to tell you to just try things out with your own two ears.
And on that topic...
Empire Ears Phantom: An Analysis
I'm sure I'm going to get some sort of flack for this, considering the fanbase that Empire managed to build around the pedestal that is the Phantom. Sometimes it seems like it's Noble and their K10 all over again, but I digress.
Let's start with the positives because I believe a review cannot be completely positive nor completely negative. The Phantom has a very unique sound, one that is unoffensive and non-fatiguing to most ears. It is smooth listen, very coherent and absent of jarring peaks as far as I could tell. The treble is very well done, presenting ample amounts of energy and yet controlled in a way that minimises harshness and strays clear of most sibilance. The high frequencies are a tough beast to tame and I'm happy to say that Empire Ears has managed to do so with flying colours.
One of my main issues with the Phantom is its technical ability. Its dynamic range is low and as such its resolution lags behind the competition. Before anyone asks, power does help a little but does not ultimately save it. Perceived detail also takes a hit due to what I believe to be an overabundance of lower midrange emphasis, creating an aural sensation reminiscent of mud, veil and muffledness. This issue seems to be even worse than the UE18+ (which I consider to be already stepping on the boundary of being veiled) and results in smeared transients that is readily apparent in faster tracks with lots of percussion instruments.
Now, that is not to say that its technical ability is bad. Everything is relative after all; sound signature aside, the Legend X presents details better, as does the Andromeda. On the other hand, the Phantom does edge out the ER4.
I will say it outright. The Phantom is NOT a "natural listen". Now of course, the definition of the word "natural" is different for so many, especially with everyone having different reference gear. For my reference gear which is a mix of various TOTL headphones like the HD800 (EQ'd), the Utopia/Clear and the Stax L700, various TOTL IEMs like the UE18+ and the Andromeda, and certain speakers like the LSR305, the Phantom does not sound right to me. Apart from the aforementioned issues regard veil and slow transients, the Phantom has a few issues regarding tone and timbre.
Vocals are rather coloured, prioritising males over females. Female vocals can get husky in certain tracks (where they're not supposed to) which detracts from the feeling of "naturalness". The vocals in general can also take on a nasally quality at times depending on the pitch and inflection. The timbre is off in many instruments, more particularly in those that are higher in pitch such as violins and flutes. On the other hand, it does bring focus to instruments that are lower in pitch such as cello and bass guitars, making them sound richer, meatier and much more pleasant and satisfying. In terms of personal preference, this is up to the listener (and the potential buyer) to decide if the tradeoff is worth it. In a semi-objective sense though, I'd say that calling the Phantom "natural" might be a bit of a stretch.
S tier? The Campfire Andromeda is what I'd consider to be the "S tier gatekeeper". Whichever IEMs that have the potential to be the best of the best (to my ears at least) will have to survive a comparison against the green goblin. To keep it short, the Andromeda is superior in dynamic range, perceived detail, soundstage width and positional ability. On the preference side of things, the Andromeda has more clarity while the Phantom is a denser, fuller sound. The Andromeda has a upper treble boost whereas the Phantom is more-or-less linear throughout.
A tier? My "A tier gatekeeper" would be the legendary ER4; XR for this listening session. In terms of tone, I'd consider the ER4 to be my personal benchmark for neutrality, keeping everything in check and leaving bias out the door. In terms of timbre though, the ER4 does lack weight to its notes, giving it a very light-footed and almost plasticky feel. The Phantom in comparison is very obviously skewed towards the lows in tone and is far from neutral in terms of vocals. In sheer technical ability, it does seem that the Phantom barely edges out the ER4 in resolution, though timbre-wise the Phantom is on the opposite end of the spectrum; where the ER4 is too dry and light with its notes, the Phantom is coloured and heavy on each hit.
Versus Legend X
I'll add in this section here because I'm sure someone will ask for it. The Legend X and the Phantom, as many people will point out, are two veeeeery different signatures. The Legend X is heavy on the bass and has a more energetic top-end, a V-shaped signature to the Phantom's warmish downsloping signature. The midrange of the Legend X is also coloured but in a different way to the Phantom; where the Phantom goes for richness and heft, the Legend X boosts the upper midrange to counterbalance its already thick and warm bass presentation courtesy of its powerful dynamic drivers, giving vocals a certain sort of sweet quality to it.
Final words and afterthoughts
At the end of the day the audio game is mostly preference, so if the Phantom jives if your genres then by all means go for it. However, I think it needs to be noted that the Phantom should not be considered a "safe pick" considering how coloured and unique it is. It's not a sound that is common in the market, not because Empire Ears managed to figure out a special sauce tuning that works with anybody but simply because it's a different sound and thus should be treated as such.
So, here you go. In my opinion, the Phantom is an odd fellow that has its strengths and weaknesses but ultimately not a general purpose IEM. Definitely one of those "try before you buy" IEMs.
Great post. Especially liked the part about Andromeda being the S tier gatekeeper and ER4 as the A tier gatekeeper. I find this to be true for myself personally.
I demo'd the Phantom briefly and I did not like it. It's very smooth + coloured imo. I liked the Legend X a lot more.
@crinacle Have you tried the Bravado or ESR yet? I own the Bravado and actually prefer it to the Phantom.
How n8 compare to legend x its about 600 less do you feel like its a better value ? Would have to fly to another city to try both kinda looking for my end game iem
This part had me chuckling. I couldn't agree more.
To my humble ears, the Phantom's ultimate vice is it's lack of proper treble presence. The highs fall off drastically at some point and it shows in its lack of crispness and perceived clarity. This is unacceptable for a flagship costing as much as the Phantom does. Its tonality did sound fine to me though, specially once I got used to the pervasive warmth.
The Andromeda is truly a benchmark in the high end iem segment. It's the best value among iems costing upward of 1000$. Little else comes close. In fact it's so good that even Campfire Audio seems to be out of depth themselves trying to surpass their own creation. A/B comparison of the Phantom and the Andromeda left me feeling as if someone blew out the tweeters.
The best sounding iem from the EE lineup to me is the ESR. Just a lovely balance of neutrality and musicality. Sort of like the Jomo Samba, but not as aggressive sounding and a touch thicker overall.
Agree with your point about the Phantom vs. Andromeda.
The Andromeda sounded perfectly balanced and complete to me. I would have kept it if not for fit and resulting isolation issues (darn short nozzles)!
The Phantom sounded lacking balance (perhaps that’s what it strives for? Warm and smooth) but did not impress me considering it costs $1000 more.