This Bird is on Fire!
PROS: beautiful design, solid build, comfortable fit, balanced sound sig, fuller body natural tonality, premium custom accessories.
CONS: price, higher sensitivity.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
While not being the first or the most expensive multi-kilobuck IEM, Vision Ears Erlkonig was one of the first popular IEM releases to cross $4k+ price threshold after its introduction in the summer of 2018 when it was announced at CanJam London. Back then, it was still a rather pricy IEM, yet I came across a lot of the proud owners, highly praising it on Head-fi and FB groups. Thus, it came as a surprise to many that regardless of its demand, this first universal release from VE was a short-lived one, discontinued two years later in 2020 with a final run of 200 Limited-Edition units, also setting a record for how fast it sold out.
I don’t know the exact details of why Erl was discontinued, though have a feeling that manufacturing pure silver shells with a complex 4-way sound switch was not easy. But one thing for sure, the switch setting #2 was hailed as the most popular sound tuning by many owners of this “King of Elves”, per my Googling of ERLKöNIG origin. And just like the end of Erl which came as a surprise, its resurrection in the form of Phönix was unexpected too. I had to think about the ö and how to spell it, and decided it will be more appropriate to call this rebirth by its correct name of immortal bird from Greek mythology, Phoenix.
So, is this just a born-again Erl with a tuning per setting #2 or more? That was a big question I had in mind when I received and started testing Phoenix. I have spent a lot of time with these IEMs and have featured them already in a number of my reviews, as part of comparison and pair up examples. And I still get reminded by a number of people, almost weekly, asking me if they missed my full review of Phoenix or urging me to hurry up and finish it. Thus, my apologies it took that long (and I will save more apologies when VE EXT review is out). But in a way, it also shows Phoenix relevance even months after the release. Now, without further ado, here is what I found.
Unboxing and Accessories.
The unboxing of VE IEMs, especially their upper end models, is the experience unlike anything else. Some people say that I pay too much attention to unboxing details, and I agree, because I’m fascinated with anticipation of opening the box and seeing what’s inside of it. There are many manufacturers who include fancy storage boxes or throw in a ton of accessories, but not everything can add up to a truly “WOW” unboxing experience. With VE, this experience is layered with surprises. Starting with just a clean carboard packaging box you conveniently unfold to get to the actual product box. Then, you slide out the sleeve, with a colorful print of Phoenix, to unveil the actual product box, a giftbox with two magnetic flaps and a round emblem of the fire-bird. More unfolding reveals a pocket with instructions, product description, replacement nozzle screen filters and cleaning clothe, a custom genuine leather case and two shiny sapphire faceplate shells of Phoenix eyes staring at you.
As you start to remove more layers, you will find a genuine leather business card holder with a stick-on emblem of Phoenix (the same one already applied to the main box), and a personalized card informing you about 2-year warranty from the date of purchase. They didn’t have to include a leather business/credit card holder just for that, but they did, and it adds a very luxurious touch. With that out of the way, you have access to another compartment with accessories, including brand name set of Azla Crystal (3 sizes) and SpinFit CP145 (4 sizes) eartips, a custom 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter, and a leather keychain for the case. The detachable cable also comes with a leather strap organizer. The leather case itself is custom with a unique shape. Inside the case, you will find an elastic band and clasp organizer to hold iems and cable secure during transport.
This is not just about the quality or the quantity of accessories, but the presentation with a satisfying experience of unfolding and removing layers of the packaging to reveal everything inside.
While the original Erl shells were designed using pure silver material and their Limited-Edition models had black rhodium platting, VE received a lot of feedback from users about extra weight which for some was uncomfortable during extended listening sessions. That was addressed with a new shell design machined from a pristine mono block of aerospace-grade carbon fiber material, resulting in a unique look of every shell due to natural lines of carbon block structure under a smooth polished surface.
The faceplate of Phoenix is composed of three-layered materials, anodized aluminum base in either golden or matte black finish (you have a choice when ordering), domed sapphire glass on top, and dark red chrome layer with Phoenix logo inside. The Phoenix logo is very unique, paying a homage to the original Erlkonig. If you look closer, you will see a crown of Erl logo with an added tail and head transforming it into a phoenix bird. Ironically, the sound of Phoenix is also derived from Erlkonig, drawing a parallel to its logo transformation.
Inside, you still have the same 13BA design structure, with 4BA lows, 4BA mids, 4BA highs, and 1BA ultra high super tweeter, but this super tweeter driver was updated, along with an overall finetuning of the sound I will describe in my sound analysis section of the review. The partition of the drivers is accommodated by a passive 5-way crossover. Also, worth mentioning, the tip of the nozzle has a screen protector with extra ones included if you need to replace it.
While the cable and its black rubbery jacket doesn’t have a premium look from outside, looking more generic, inside it is packing 23AWG thickness silver-gold alloy and pure OCC copper litz wires. The cable has 4 wires, thicker due to 23AWG, with a loosely braided design to keep it flexible. Cable plug is 2.5mm TRRS terminated with a custom etched metal housing (diamond shapes with VE at the crossings) black connector. Y-split is small and round, all metal and in black, similar to their previous cables, with VE logo, and chin-slider is just a small rubber piece. 2pin connector have a matching black metal capsule-shape housing, and designed to connect flush with a shell, so you can’t use this cable with other IEMs that have recessed 2pin plugs. Left connector plug housing has an etched ring around it for an easy id.
It’s a nice lightweight non-microphonic cable. It doesn’t look fancy, but it uses quality wires and has a good solid build. I will go over other cable alternatives I tried later in my review. But one thing I do want to mention is the included adapter. It is a straight short 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter, using the same matching etched custom housing as the cable plug, but I encountered the issue with it. Using that adapter, I’m constantly hear hissing. At first, I thought it would be expected since Phoenix has high sensitivity, but I switched to other adapters, and hissing went away. I even tried the exact same adapter included with VE EXT, and still hear the same hissing. I think the all-metal construction of the adapter, like an antenna, picks up some noise or interference. It’s a great looking adapter, but I had to switch to using other ones.
Very comfortable custom-like fit with great sound isolation. It has the same shape of the shell as Erl, but due to a lighter weight, the comfort level scales up.