While hybrid, tribrid, and quad-brid are all the rage in the IEM world – and I’m assuming “quint-brid” will be here soon enough – some manufacturers prefer to keep the driver selection simpler. It may have 13 drivers, but being all balanced armature, there’s a simplicity and elegance to Phönix that the current crop of EST/BA/DD/BC IEMs lack. But can you truly achieve $4k sound without all that extra tech in the mix?
Build and Design
Phönix wears its namesake bird of fire proudly on the faceplate, with a red background featuring the gold-outlined phoenix with either black or gold trim. The rest of the IEM is carbon fiber, offering durability and low weight. In terms of fit and comfort, the nozzle is wide, and the IEM itself is moderately large. It’s a simple design that will make for an easy fit for most people, but is probably too big for those who have smaller ears.
You also get a case, cable, and other assorted case candy in the box. The cable looks like a fairly standard black cable, but underneath the coating is a mix of silver-gold alloy and OCC copper. The cable is terminated in 2.5mm balanced, but a 4.4mm balanced adapter is also included in the box.
Phönix is defined by its natural timbre and lush take on a flagship IEM. There’s an organic feeling which balances detail and technical performance with an enveloping warmth. Phönix’s performance is certainly flagship level, but it eschews the sometimes exaggerated, in your face nature of flagship tunings to provide a more relaxed, inviting sound.
The bass is more focused in the midbass region with some slight euphonic bleed up into the low mids, offering a fat, punchy sound. The subbass rolls off into the lower registers, but overall the bass gives the impression of a dynamic bass, with a similar texture to the low end in IEMs like the Campfire Audio Solaris or Noble Sultan.
Midrange is focused towards the lower mids, offering a rich timbre with acoustic instruments and male voices. It also avoids fatiguing ranges in the upper mids, and provides a touch of sweetness to female vocals.
The treble gives you just what you need to hear good definition and a touch of air, while remaining largely relaxed. The goal of Phönix seems to be to deliver the details and intricacies of the musical performance without allowing any harsh or fatiguing tones into the mix.
Jazz/Fusion powerhouse Snarky Puppy provides thick grooves and virtuosic playing on “What About Me.” Phönix delivers those grooves with a tight punch to the kick and a strong texture to the bass, along with incredible layering and separation of the band as a whole. Snare hits are snappy and cymbals crisp, but nothing crosses over from having “energy” to creating fatigue. The guitar solos soar as Phönix demonstrates strong spatial characteristics and imaging to go along with the highly detailed and textured instruments.
Hans Zimmer’s “Time” from the Inception soundtrack, offers big dynamics, with a slow build and a range of texture and sounds to explore. From the soft atmospheric piano to huge swells of strings, Phönix captures the low pulsating echoes of the timpani that provide the foundation of the song, and layers each piece on top of the next, resulting in a massive dynamic change that Phönix handles brilliantly, delivering among the best macrodynamics I’ve heard in IEMs.
Phönix presents up close, personal vocals on Harry Styles “Late Night Talking.” The general instrumentation is fairly sparse, with the foundational beat, and the odd synth stab and sample, with the highlight of the song being the vocal arrangement. The lead vocals present as right in front of your face, while various vocals are placed all over the stereo image. You get a sense of the basic backing vocals, flanking the lead – just to the left and right of center – while other lower tones, accents, and echoes seem to hit from every angle. The combination of clear separation of each vocal part with a sense of cohesion and blending, along with the holographic placement, demonstrates Phönix prowess in imaging and vocal delivery.
Phönix seems a near perfect choice for complex layering and broad soundscapes of a band like Radiohead, and it doesn’t disappoint on “Planet Telex.” There’s a slightly warm, lush feeling to the presentation, but each part is cleanly separated, allowing the listener to pick apart the wash of ambient guitars or the thick, textured bass with ease, while appreciating the unified whole. Phönix also captures the dynamic shifts as the song builds through the final chorus, only to bring back the thinner instrumentation of the verse as an outro.
Comparison: Noble Viking Ragnar
Speaking of IEMs with an array of different drivers, Noble Viking Ragnar sports two dynamic drivers, four balanced armatures, and four EST drivers, making it a ten driver tribrid. With Viking Ragnar and Phönix both being priced around $4000, and featuring double-digit driver counts, Phönix vs. Viking Ragnar is a great comparison of what you can do with an all BA arrangement as opposed to more complex driver setups.
In terms of the build and design, Viking Ragnar is tough to beat, with one of the best feeling cables I’ve seen bundled with an IEM, and a gorgeous Damascus steel faceplate. Phönix’s carbon fiber shell offers a similar level of quality, but I find that the faceplate design requires careful examination to appreciate the level of craftsmanship and quality, while it’s less impressive when viewed from afar.
In terms of sound, it would be hard to find two IEMs at this level that sound more different than Phönix and Viking Ragnar. After a few days of listening to nothing but Phönix the switch to Viking Ragnar was jarring, and I needed a bit of time to re-acclimate my ears. Viking Ragnar puts much more emphasis in the treble, with a stronger sense of air, definition, and stronger resolution, while the bass is tight and linear, but feels lean by comparison to Phönix. Switching back to Phönix the low mids seem slightly bloated, and the overall feeling is less transparent, and definitely less spacious and airy.
These are clearly two very different IEMs tuned for different tastes – or at the very least, different scenarios. Viking Ragnar is the choice for more analytical, edge-of-your-seat listening, while Phönix is the choice for a more relaxed experience. What’s important here is that while Viking Ragnar puts detail more at the forefront, Phönix’s detail retrieval is at the same level, but some of those details are simply further back in the layers of music. While Viking Ragnar surfaces everything on the first listen, and challenges your brain to process it all, Phönix beckons you to come back for the second or third time through a song to unwrap all the layers.
The Bottom Line
If you want flagship detail without the reference tuning or analytical presentation, Phönix gives you the top tier resolution, but with a more “lean back and close your eyes” sort of delivery. For listeners craving that more relaxed experience, Phönix is the perfect flagship, delivering music with lush, intricately layered detail that envelops the listener in all of its beauty.