I had a chance to spend a few days with Vision Ears Phönix Limited Edition (PHX LE), a demo pair borrowed from Musicteck right before the New Year. Here is what I found, focusing mostly on comparison to original Phönix (PHX OG) and a few other flagship IEMs. This is a very brief review/overview, thus a part of my in-a-snapshot series. The full detailed review of the original Phönix version could be found here.
PHX LE still has a beautiful shell design, nearly identical to original with an updated eye-candy faceplate, including etched S/N (only 222 units were made). Stock cable material is the same as the original one as well, 23awg 4wire silver-gold alloy and copper, but this time it has 4.4mm termination, finally! I only received PHX LE in its leather case (the same one as PHX OG) and a set of Azla Crystal and Spinfit eartips (like with OG). I assume the packaging and accessories will be the same or at least similar. Also, very important to note, according to Vision Ears website, the overall driver config of LE remained the same as in original PHX, but bass (BAs) drivers were updated.
PHX OG vs PHX LE – right off the bat, I hear LE soundstage to be wider in comparison to OG. Also, LE imaging has placement of instruments and vocals spreading further apart while OG has them closer to the center, creating more intimacy.
Bass has a very similar quantity, but the decay of bass notes is shorter and snappier which results in LE bass having better control and articulation, while OG blends in smoother into lower mids. Lower mids of OG are warmer and thicker, while LE’s lower mids are more neutral and less colored. LE’s upper mids are a little brighter, more revealing, and a bit more forward. Treble sounds the same.
When you look at FR graph comparison between these two, the difference is not as big, but while listening, it is more noticeable. This is another example where you have to hear it with your ears, not your eyes.
The biggest change I hear in LE version is in mids, being less colored, more revealing, with better layering and separation and more air between the layers. They are not necessarily brighter, just more revealing and more forward. I find the bass change to be not in quantity but rather in technical performance, being tighter, more articulate, with better control. As the result of changes in mids, the soundstage perception also expands.
I’m intentionally avoiding to say the “improvement”, because in reality it is the “change” which brings out a different flavor of the sound. Some might consider it as an improvement, while others might prefer the original (warmer, smoother, lusher) sound of mids in PHX. The PHX LE version tuning takes it more in a direction of other reference tuned flagships like Jewel, while PHX OG tuning is more in Traillii and MM direction.
And speaking of other flagships, here is how they compare. PHX LE was used with a stock cable and Crystal eartips, LPGT as a source, and each pair was volume matched. Volume matching in these comparisons is very important since PHX has a higher sensitivity.
PHX LE vs Jewel (w/FT cable) – with FT cable Jewel soundstage and imaging is on par with PHX LE. Despite PHX LE with BA bass and Jewel with DD, both have a tight and well controlled bass with a nicely textured deep sub-bass. The biggest difference between these two is in lower mids which are noticeably leaner in Jewel, giving it a more reference tuning in comparison to LE with a fuller body mids that have a lusher foundation. Also, LE has more presence in lower treble which pull its upper mids a little more forward. In comparison to PHX OG, LE version is closer to Jewel, but still less reference-tuned.
PHX LE vs Traillii (w/Chiron cable) – in this comparison the Bird has a bit wider soundstage and a more holographic imaging. Traillii bass has a deeper and more elevated sub-bass rumble, while mid-bass here is similar, though PHX LE bass is still tighter. Both have similar lower mids, maybe with Traillii being a touch leaner, but upper mids are more forward in LE while in comparison, Traillii upper mids are more pulled back. Also, LE’s lower treble has more presence. As a result, Traillii tonality is smoother and warmer while LE is more revealing and has more forward mids.
PHX LE vs Mentor Multiverse (stock PWA cable) – the soundstage width between these two IEMs is very similar, though MM has more height which gives it a more holographic expansion. Bass sounds similar, from the depth and elevation of sub-bass rumble to the punch of mid-bass. MM lower mids are a little leaner in comparison to more neutral lower mids of PHX LE, and upper mids of PHX LE are more forward in comparison to laidback upper mids of MM. Mid-treble is also a little more elevated in MM while smoother in PHX LE. Upper-mids and mid-treble difference does stands out in this comparison.