Source Matching and Hiss:
Phantom is a very efficient and a sensitive IEM. Just a smartphone is more than sufficient to drive it to its full capabilities. But it does scale well with transparent sources. But I would advise caution when using powerful devices like Hugo 2 or desktop amps, as Phantom is prone to picking up hiss just like the Zeus. For tonal synergy, I would shoot for a neutral sounding source, but with a smooth treble so that the treble peak doesn’t become prominent. I will also stay away from high Output Impedance sources. I haven’t tried all DAPs out there, but the one that I though was the best of many DAPs I tried was, the Sony WM1A (through the 4.4mm balanced). The large stage of 1A helped expand the stage width on the Phantom and the smooth treble of the 1A made sure the treble peak of the IEM was mostly in check.
Phantom Vs. Legend X:
Legend X is a very different sounding IEM compared to the Phantom. LX is a bass centric IEM that goes for a fun tuning. Its tuning is somewhere in between L and U shaped, but more towards L shaped. Meaning, between the bass, midrange and treble, bass is the most prominent, followed by the treble, and then the midrange. But the mids aren’t recessed to a point of sounding U shaped. The presentation is also very different on both the IEMs. LX has a wider stage than the Phantom, but its depth and layering is not as good as the Phantom. But it displays better lateral separation and provides a better sense of space. Phantom has a forward placement, whereas LegX has a touch laid-back placement. The imaging precision is fairly similar on both.
The bass on the LX is considerably more prominent than Phantom’s bass. LX’s bass is focussed towards the sub-bass that lets the IEM rumble and growl. But it does that with excellent quality. So its not just a very boomy bass. The upper-bass and the lower-mids are more neutral, so the midrange notes aren’t thick, but the midrange is still on the smoother side, as the upper-mids on the LegX are toned down a bit. Phantom does male vocals nicely, but does not do well with female vocals. While the LX doesn’t shine with the vocals, it has better balance between male and female vocals. While I hate to use the word veiled or recessed to describe the mids of the LX, it can leave you wanting more when it comes to mid-range focussed genres. LX’s treble comes across without offence as the bass helps soften the treble peaks. But the peaks make sure there is clarity, sparkle and air in the presentation. It is a treble tuned to complement the bass and support the fun tuning and is not tuned with accuracy in mind. LX works great for electronic, pop and modern synthetic music. Not that it doesn’t work for genres like rock, but that’s not its specialty. But it definitely doesn’t work well for classical.
Phantom Vs. Zeus XIV:
In terms of stage presentation, both the IEMs are quite similar than otherwise. Both have a cube shaped stage and a touch forward placement. Zeus has a slightly larger stage and a more precise imaging. Zeus is also a tier above the Phantom in all of the non-tonal aspects such as resolution, separation, layering, transparency and detail retrieval. But the 2 IEMs differ greatly in the tuning and tone. Zeus has a bit of a mid-centric tuning with a neutral-bright overall tone, while the Phantom has a warm tone. While Zeus is a bit mid-centric, I would say, it is more linear than the phantom when considering the entire spectrum.
Zeus goes for a more neutral bass that is technically proficient but weak in terms of power next to Phantom’s bass. In the mid-range, Zeus displays better balance between the lower and upper midrange. As a result, male and female vocals and all the instruments are given equal weightage. Phantom’s midrange is simply thick but I wouldn’t call it full-bodied. Zeus’ midrange is not thick, but it is full-bodied. Zeus also displays better transparency and resolution in the midrange. While the Phantom goes for a toned down treble, Zeus goes for a tipped up treble that results in the overall neutral-bright tone of the IEM. Phantom can be more forgiving than the Zeus but the Phantom’s lower treble peak can get harsh with the wrong type of music.
While I see many people describing Phantom’s sound as natural, it doesn’t fit my definition of natural. But I do appreciate EE’s vision to shoot for a natural sound for its co-flagship IEM, when the competition is focussed on pumping out that last bit of resolution. If EE has plans of pursuing this sound again for its next iteration, I would recommend adding a 7dB bump at 3kHz, toning down the lower treble peak a little, rolling of the upper-treble more gradually instead of abruptly and extending the stage width a little bit.
But in its current state, I would describe Phantom as a, coloured IEM which sounds warm and thick with good articulation. Unlike EE’s hybrid flagship, the Legend X, which is an easy recommendation for bass lovers, Phantom’s warm and rich presentation may or may not appeal to the masses. But then I have talked to a few Phantom owners, who seem to be genuinely happy with the way the Phantom sounds. So, I guess the tuning of the Phantom, does have its appeal, despite falling short of my expectations. And for that reason I can only say, try it before you buy.
One thought on “Empire Ears Phantom”
Several (actually, almost ALL) of your remarks about Phantom remind me very much of my experience with the original Spiral Ear SE-5.