Another week, another pair of high-profile, flagship IEMs for me to
tear apart – my bad, review. Vision Ears is an IEM company based out of Germany, and as I understand it, they have something of a cult-following in the EU. I received two of their IEMs, the Elysium and VE8, as part of a Head-Fi tour doing rounds in the US where they tend to fly under the radar. I’ve heard good things about their stuff from the circles I hang out in, so you can imagine how excited I was to try these out!
This is where I plug my disclaimer that compared to some of the other reviews I’ve seen, this one is probably going to end up being more bare-bones. At the end of the day what matters most to me is, well, the sound. There’s a plethora IEMs that are all bark – price, presentation, and hype – and no bite. Read: They sound like sh*t. And as I’ll discuss in this review, luckily the Elysium has the bark and the bite. Frankly, it’s refreshing to see a company that clearly knows what they’re doing, although I do question whether it’s worth it.
I received the Elysium as a part of a demo tour organized by Barra of Head-Fi. I am grateful for the opportunity, and as always what follows are my honest thoughts.
The Elysium arrived in nothing more than its case, so I don’t have any of the accompanying accessories. Perhaps this is for the best anyways, as presentation can color one’s assessment. Some quick comments:
- I believe there are two cases available when you purchase from Vision Ears. I wouldn’t go for the leather one, it feels cheap and malleable. Grab the solid metal case, the thing’s indestructible – it’d probably stand up to being rolled over by a car. When you have this much money sunk in your IEM, they deserve nothing less than the best protection.
- The stock cable had no L/R markings on it. I couldn’t tell which was which, plus it looked like someone might’ve accidentally bent one of the jacks slightly.
- Great build quality on the Elysium itself. The faceplates are mostly clear, and you can see all the little drivers inside! It’s just really cool to see.
Elysium takes a good amount of power to drive because of its EST drivers. All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX160. Please see here for my testing methodology, test tracks, and more information.
The Elysium’s sound signature is what I’d consider a mild V-shape. In general, I find coherency to be rather good for a tri-hybrid sans the treble, and the Elysium is one of the more “musical” IEMs I’ve heard that manages to retain its technical chops. But wait, there’s a catch! Vision Ears has swapped a BA for the lows and a DD for the mids; two EST for the highs. Totally groundbreaking stuff, I know. So how does it actually stack up?
Starting from the low end, I should note that I have a preference for dynamic driver bass. So the decision to have a BA handle the Elysium’s low-end is a questionable one to me, and frankly, I’m not really seeing the payoff. It’s fairly snappy, certainly extends well with some weight and texture; however, it’s lacking in true authority. Is it passable, even decent for BA? Sure. Is it what I’d call good? Now that’s where the 64audio U12t enters the picture.
The midrange has been hyped quite a bit, and yeah, I can certainly see why. I find myself glued to it; it’s pushed back a little further and it just draws you in. I hear a warm coloration to the midrange’s timbre which I think gives it that natural, “musical” quality many enjoy. However, it’s not quite as fast with a DD running the show and the coloration lends to a lack of clarity. Coming off the likes of VE8, everything feels a little fuzzy. Mind you, I’m nitpicking, but again there’s clearly trade-offs to be had.
Moving on to treble…treble is interesting, it definitely has a different flavor to it than BA/DD. Strangely enough, I don’t think I noticed this on the Empire Ears Valkyrie which also uses an EST. I wouldn’t say it bothers me on the Elysium, but it feels a little too distinct which is probably only exacerbated by the lift in the frequency response here. There’s good extension and sparkle, perhaps a bit too much splash. Although this is where I take issue with Elysium’s coherency, it’s not setting off any alarm bells, so well done here.
Apparently, there’s source variance with the Elysium’s treble; higher-power sources purportedly tame it somewhat. Ironically enough, this has the exact opposite effect on the Empire Ears Wraith. Anyways, I’m totally open to trying other sources – it can’t hurt, and I’d love to hear the difference. The thing is, I don’t have access to said equipment being a broke college student, and it really begs the question: Is it worth it?
There’s a quotation from Spiderman: Homecoming, where Tony Stark says to Peter Parker, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it”. Stark asserts that the high-tech suit is but a medium to enhance what Peter already has; Peter needs to be strong even without the suit. In a similar vein, I don’t believe that an IEM’s ideal performance should be predicated on an expensive, non-portable amp or DAC. For one, it’s just not a very common use scenario, and for another, it eliminates a large demographic of potential buyers. As such, I try to judge IEMs on their merits devoid of said factors, especially when scoring.
Anyways, that’s enough ranting – let’s wrap-up by talking about technicalities. No issues with the overall timbre. Staging is fairly average, but I find that it has fairly decent depth, enough to make the image diffuse somewhat. Layering capability and detail retrieval are certainly above average as well. Speed…I don’t think it’s either fast or slow, it seems to be somewhere in the middle. In general, it’s a good enough performer – I’d put it around the $1000 mark – but it’s also not playing with the big boys.
The Elysium feels like an expensive flex from Vision Ears. They’re showing that not only can they switch it up (literally too), but they can also implement the latest and greatest tech properly. And to this effect, I’d posit that the Elysium appreciates more as a piece of R&D. It’s an instance of which a company is putting everything they have into a product with no expense spared. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that – these types of things are cool to see.
Unfortunately, this comes with concessions in the name of value. I tried spending more time with the Elysium just because I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to frame my thoughts. This thing clocks in at $3200. Let me let that sink in – three, two, zero, zero. It’s certainly not bad, but the value proposition is severely lacking.
A quotation that comes to mind is “Pioneers get slaughtered, and the settlers prosper”. To this end, I get the feeling that while the Elysium is groundbreaking now – at least in its EST implementation – it’ll probably be eclipsed as other companies figure out the technology too. Your money is your money; however, make no mistake that $3200 is a lot to put on the line. I would only consider the Elysium worthy of purchase if the tonality sounds like your endgame, if supporting so-called pioneer companies is something important to you, and if you actually have the money. For all the fancy stuff going on with the Elysium, there are more technical, more “musical” IEMs for less. There’s better ways to go broke in this hobby.
Before you freak out about my scoring, I don’t use some silly grading scale that only spans from 8.5 to 10. Please see here for my testing methodology, grading breakdown, and more.
|Vision Ears Elysium||6.5/10||Engaging tonal balance and solid technical chops, but presents a series of compromises throughout its frequency response.|