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 VE8 has the bark and the bite. Frankly, it’s refreshing to see a company that clearly knows what they’re doing.
I received the VE8 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 VE8 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.
- Great build quality on the VE8 itself. The faceplates are stunning, and you can see all the little drivers inside! It’s just really cool to see. I did notice that one of the cable pins was a bit loose, but it’s a demo unit, so I can’t comment further on that.
I had no trouble whatsoever driving the VE8, and as with most full-BA setups, it’s crazy efficient. All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX160 using the stock cable and silicon tips. Please see here for my full testing methodology, test tracks, and more information.
The VE8’s tonality leans towards neutral with a slight bass boost. At this price point, excellence is the standard and the VE8 nails most of the things I’m looking for tonality-wise. To this effect, I think it makes more sense to focus on what it’s not instead of what it is, so let me outline some concessions:
- Bass is, well, characteristically BA. In typical fashion, it hits fast and decays fast. There’s a slight hollowness to the mid-bass and the sub-bass is missing some rumble. This lends itself to a lack of authority. It’s certainly decent, but far from being a dynamic driver substitute.
- Treble rolls off at the top. This is what makes the VE8 so fatigue-free and gives it that “smoothed” characteristic. A lack of treble extension generally carries over to technical performance; however, I don’t think it’s a big concern with the VE8. Overall, it’s a sacrifice I don’t particularly mind.
What does bother me is the midrange presentation. It’s pushed forward, robust, and plays well with most vocalists. And yet there is a not-so-subtle spike in the upper registers that presents itself with a harshness to some consonants. A prime example is on Taeyeon’s “Feel So Fine”. At various instances, her voice has a slight screechiness as she drags out some notes. Wow, does it grate on my ears. According to some friends I asked, there’s a tiny peak at 6kHz that’s probably responsible for this. And tragically, it mars what would be one of the best midranges I’ve heard.
Now preferences are preferences, but despite the minor niggles I’ve cited, I struggle to see someone finding fault with the overall tonal balance. It is nothing short of exemplary. With the exception of a few songs, the VE8 played well with anything and everything I threw at it – it’s an excellent all-arounder. In general, just the way it images and shapes presentation is stellar; it feels like you’ve been given a front-row seat to the action.
To this effect, I can’t help but feel that tonality is VE8’s standout. It’s no slouch technically, but does leave something to be desired. Let’s briefly compare it to the 64audio U12t, my personal benchmark for technical performance. VE8’s midrange resolution is extremely crisp, trading punches with the U12t’s which has a very slight haze to it. Other than that, though, it doesn’t quite match the U12t when it comes to the general intangibles: That is to say layering capability, micro-dynamic detail, and overall speed.
There’s also evidence of BA artifacts in the timbre; Vision Ears seems to have tried to mitigate this with a warm coloration. It’s a weird, weird amalgamation that I picked up on immediately. Something about it rings artificial, dissimilar to the coloration with a DD that I actually happen to enjoy. It fades after some listening time for me; nonetheless, A/Bing with other IEMs makes it quite obvious. All this to say that there are clear divides even between some of the best: VE8 is no doubt a strong technical contender, but it’s fighting a losing battle against some of the other, established giants.
How does VE8 compare to Elysium, Vision Ear’s exorbitant flagship? Well, if you ask me, it’s actually the better IEM. In terms of technicalities alone, it has a clear edge on the Elysium. It’s got quicker transient speed and, frankly, makes the Elysium sound fuzzy in the midrange. That being said, they differ slightly in their tonality and presentation. Elysium has a mild V-shaped sound signature with a livelier treble and more dynamic bass. There’s also some more haze to the timbre which lends itself to a more “musical” listen overall. I can certainly see that appealing to some listeners. But in the most objective sense, VE8 is the superior IEM. Once you stack on that ~$500 upcharge for the Elysium, it’s not even a question of which one I would go for personally.
Am I being uncharacteristically harsh on the VE8? You bet I am. It’s clocking in at the more expensive end of the flagship spectrum. This is a price at which I can’t help but feel there are comparable – even better – options for less. And when there’s this much money on the line, you’d better know damn well what you want. Don’t buy the VE8 expecting visceral bass, treble extension for days, or a crazy clean timbre. It has none of those things.
But if you enjoy a more neutral tonality with some warmth and life, this very well could be the IEM for you. And make no mistake that the VE8’s one of the better, safer flagship IEMs. It really plays well with most anything, and I found myself racking hour after hour on it. I do think it’s bordering on overpriced, but hey, consider the VE8 a recommendation from this reviewer if you can foot the accompanying $2700 bill.
|Vision Ears VE8||7/10||Solid, all-rounder that leaves something to be desired in the plasticky timbre and treble roll-off.|