The sound comparison was done using Phoenix with a stock cable and LPGT source; volume matched in every comparison, and volume noted with “v”.
Phoenix (v30) vs VE Erlkonig (v30) – Lows and Mids of Phoenix are quite similar when compared to Erl (#2), while lower and mid-treble of Phoenix are slightly elevated, benefitting upper mids and overall tuning to have extra clarity and higher resolution without any additional harshness or sibilance. It also improves the layering and separation of the sounds, gives tonality a more revealing characteristics, changes tuning to be more balanced, and even opens up the perception of the soundstage width, making Phoenix soundstage a little wider. While the driver config is similar, the new and improved super-tweeter finetunes the sound of the original Erl.
Phoenix (v30) vs VE EXT (v45) – I have been asked by quite a few people about this comparison, even so tuning is very different. To start off, EXT is a lot less sensitive thus I had to turn the volume higher. The difference in soundstage width is also quite noticeable, with EXT spreading wider while Phoenix having less width and the same amount of depth. The overall signature of Phoenix is more balanced while EXT is mildly U-shaped in tuning. With that, EXT sub-bass is noticeably more elevated, even higher in quantity than its mid-bass, while Phoenix bass is more linearly tuned between sub-bass and mid-bass. EXT lower mids are more neutral, even a bit leaner in comparison to fuller body lower mids of Phoenix. The contrast in lower mids adds more impact to the bass of EXT, while Phoenix bass is less aggressive in this relative comparison. Both have clear and detailed upper mids, though Phoenix upper mids sound a touch more forward. With treble, they both have a great presence without any sibilance or harshness, but EXT treble has a noticeably better upper treble extension and brings more airiness to the tuning. So, Phoenix and EXT have quite a complementary tuning without too much overlapping. For a more balanced natural tonality, go with Phoenix. For a basshead level of punch, EXT is the way to go.
Phoenix (v30) vs Oriolus Traillii (v39) – starting with a soundstage I hear Traillii to spread wider, while both have the same depth/height expansion. Not too many similarities, though many parts of the tuning do come close, but not exactly matching. When it comes to the bass, Traillii has more elevated sub-bass rumble, not as high as EXT, but it is elevated higher than Phoenix sub-bass. Mid-bass punch is similar. Then, mids are different with Phoenix having a fuller body thicker lower mids while Traillii having a noticeably more neutral and slightly leaner lower mids. Then, upper mids are similar between these two. Treble is where Phoenix has more presence, especially lower treble with a more forward presentation, while Traillii is a bit scaled down and smoother. But, the biggest and the most noticeable difference in sound here is related to fuller thicker body mids in Phoenix and more neutral mids in Traillii.
Phoenix (v30) vs Aroma Jewel (v42) – a lot of differences in this comparison as well. One thing to keep in mind, I’m using Jewel with FirstTimes cable which expands its soundstage and improves imaging to a more holographic level, expanding it wider than Phoenix; I can’t use Jewel with its stock cable due to annoying microphonics, but with a stock cable the soundstage of Jewel is on the same level. Both have a very similar deep sub-bass rumble with a slightly elevated presence, very similar texture despite Phoenix having BA bass while Jewel having DD bass. But the bass decay between these two is different, with longer decay of Phoenix blending into fuller body lower mids versus a shorter, snappier decay of Jewel mid-bass which makes its bass tighter, separating it further from its lean lower mids (in Jewel). Upper mids tonality and presentation is nearly the same, giving clarity and excellent retrieval of details to vocals and instruments. Their treble extension is similar too, but lower treble region is a bit scooped out in Jewel, which gives Phoenix a little more crunch and sparkle in treble. But the biggest difference here is in lower mids, with leaner Jewel and fuller body Phoenix.
Phoenix (v30) vs 64 Audio Fourte (v40) – very similar soundstage expansion in both of these IEMs, with a similar width and more depth/height than width. Fourte sub-bass rumble goes deeper and more elevated in comparison to Phoenix, but the mid-bass punch is stronger in Phoenix while Fourte mid-bass impact is slightly scaled down. They both have fuller body lower mids, adding more organic tonality to mids/vocals, but Fourte’s dip around 1.5kHz and around 4kHz makes Fourte vocals sound a bit hollow and disconnected while Phoenix maintains coherency throughout the entry frequency range. Treble is another area where they part their ways in tuning with Fourte tia driver being brighter, more resolving, more aggressive, to the point where for my own personal preference I need to use foam eartips, while Phoenix lower and mids treble peaks have a better control, making its treble sound more natural.
Source pair up.
Phoenix is easy to drive considering its 125dB sensitivity and 13ohm impedance. Actually, it is too easy to drive due to its high sensitivity, thus I had to keep the volume lower relative to other IEMs. In general, with most of the DAPs no hissing was detected, but there was a bit of a waterfall in a few cases. The most important thing here if you want to avoid all the hissing is to stay away from the included adapter. For your reference, here are my brief pair up notes. And by brief, I just focus on any changes related to a sound sig and general tonality, without going into too many details of technical performance difference.
Lotoo LPGT (baseline) – balanced sound signature with a warmer fuller body natural tonality, deep sub-bass rumble, average speed mid-bass, fuller body organic mids, well defined natural clear treble.
Sony WM1ZM2 – very similar sound presentation with a bit more weight in sub-bass and warmer lower mids, giving vocals more body and smoothness. Definitely smoother vocals.
Cayin N8ii – had to go from P+ to P in order to switch from Class AB to Class A because AB made Phoenix sound a bit too brittle. With P and Class A, along with NuTubes, the sound is more natural, sub-bass rumble is a touch less elevated, being more even with mid-bass, mids/vocals are a bit more forward, still natural, but more micro-detailed, and treble has more sparkle and crunch. N8ii transforms Phoenix into a more revealing reference sound tonality.
Shanling M9 – I usually refer to M9 as a “hybrid” source and in pair up with Phoenix I hear a deep sub-bass rumble and fuller body lower mids in contracts with a more revealing upper mids and lower/mid-treble. This makes M9 pair up with Phoenix to be right in between of warmer tuning of LPGT/WM1ZM2 and more revealing tuning of N8ii.
A&K SP2000T – here, I don’t even have to refer to the source as “hybrid” because it is a hybrid in reality, keeping the amp section in hybrid SS/NuTube mode. Here, the sound has deep sub-bass rumble, fuller body lower mids, but also smoother upper mids. But the lower and mid-treble have more energy, more sparkle, making it more revealing which actually works quite well in this pair up.
iBasso DX320 w/amp11 mk2s – balanced sound signature with a warmer fuller body natural tonality, very similar to LPGT but with a little smoother treble presentation, making the overall sound more organic. The only thing here was a very faint waterfall hissing, even at low gain. After all, Phoenix is a pair of sensitive iems.
Out of all these daps, I preferred LPGT, WM1ZM2, and SP2000T which kept the mids of Phoenix more organic.
As they say, the king is dead, long live the king! In my opinion, Vision Ears never closed the book on Erl. It just closed one chapter to make room for another one. We are still dealing with the same 13BA driver design, though super-tweeter driver was updated. We are still dealing with the same ergonomically shaped universal shells, though it has been improved while being machined out of solid block of fiber, making it much lighter and more comfortable to wear during extended sessions. It even retained the same coherent tuning of the bass and the mids as found in setting#2 of Erl, so you can call it Erl v2 if you want to.
The Erl king is not really dead, it has been resurrected like phoenix, or actually, in a form of VE Phoenix model, with an improved tuning that lifted lower- and mid-treble to improve the upper mids and the overall sound tuning with extra clarity and higher resolution without any additional harshness or sibilance. I know of quite a few Erlkonig owners who will not part with their IEMs and its unique silver shell design with interchangeable faceplates, keeping it as a collectible item. But I think they will be pleased to know that Phoenix is not just a fixed sound tuning of Erl’s setting #2, but a finetuned version of their favorite IEM. And those who missed the opportunity to hear the original Erl now will have a chance to hear the updated version of that classic.