Phoenixes in ancient mythology were often perceived as immortal. Dying, only to come back again, rising from the ashes. Similarly, albeit less dramatic, the Vision Ears Phonix LE rises from the ashes in place of the standard edition Phonix. Vision Ears has certainly given audiophiles plenty to enjoy, whether it's the bone rattling EXT, or the highly resolving VE8, the German brand is masterful with their creations. However, is the Phonix LE a necessary revision to the Phonix, especially with its substantial $4,400 price tag?
Build and Design
The unboxing of the Phonix LE is quick and to the point. The genuine leather case, and added case strap to attach to a bag or purse, is not only stylish, but durable as well. Next is the cable, a 2-pin 4.4mm four-wire 23 AWG silver-gold alloy and OCC copper-litz cable. It’s light, feels good to the touch, and doesn’t get tangled or have any memory fresh out of the box. It certainly gets the job done, and is crafted well, but I would’ve loved a bit of pop with the cable, given how limited the IEM is. It’d certainly be cool to have a cable that looks and feels limited as well.
Moving along to the knick knack portion of the unboxing experience, you will find a leather card holder that stores your very own “Vision Ears Phonix” token sticker, as well as a thick warranty card that would impress any colleague in a business card showdown. Spinfits are included as well as AZLA eartips exclusive to Vision Ears. Now, my favorite part of the Phonix LE’s unboxing certainly has to be the pen… yes, the pen. With just enough weight and heft, every signature will leave its mark with the Vision Ears pen.
“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.” – John Ruskin. Intention, precision, and care are how I can best describe the Phonix LE. While the unboxing is simple, the look of the Phonix LE is anything but. Vision Ears’ intention of making sure a limited edition item was truly unique came to life when they decided to use aerospace-grade CNC machines to carve out carbon fiber, thus resulting in a 1 of 1 look for every Phonix LE made. The deep purple on the faceplate exhibits royalty, and the carbon fiber additionally adds a sense of grit to the design. The intrepid phoenix is front and center on the IEM, and what houses the faceplate is sapphire glass. The engraved serial number adds a bit of flair, flaunting the scarce quantity of 222 units worldwide. Overall, the Phonix LE showcases thoughtful craftsmanship and intelligent design.
But true beauty is often found in the heart, and in this case, the sound. And oh, what beauty the Phonix LE so easily radiates. In a 5 way crossover with 13 balanced armatures, 4 for the bass, 4 for the midrange, 4 for the highs, and 1 balanced armature super tweeter, all come together to create something truly unique.
Starting in the low end, with incredible power and rumble, the Phonix LE’s way of maintaining control over its shockwave of bass is truly remarkable. With some of the deepest extension in the low end I’ve heard in an IEM, the deep frequencies of music have excellent texture. Most notably on “Dream Is Collapsing” from the Inception soundtrack, chills creep down your arms and spine, with the overwhelming sense of urgency at hand, as waves of bass are accompanied by high pitched strings, creating a feel for a quick and immediate course of action, filling your ears with pure low end bliss.
As for the midrange, Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” gives a glimpse into the rambunctious and infectious style of Jimi's ability to shred, as his guitar is front and center, with bold and highly resolving vocals coming from the left and right. With such a well balanced tuning, the midrange in the Phonix LE brings such presence and weight to the music that can often be so lost by bloated low end, but what happens when the midrange is able to maintain such presence and body, in addition to enormous bass, is truly stunning, and the Phonix’s ability to do that is a spectacle.
In the treble, high frequencies are captured in stunning resolution, putting Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ full range of talent on display with their record “Concierto de Aranjuez: Adagio.” Miles Davis’ trumpet, and array of other instruments and strings, give the Phonix LE an open field to run free in the high frequency range, delivering clarity and airy treble, with timbre that's natural and sharp. The Phonix LE’s ability to deliver treble in a way that's natural, yet so musical, can only be described when hearing it, as it’s truly both an analytical, yet emotional listen.
The stereo image presents itself incredibly well, with a very tall and wide stage. As mentioned before in the low end, that wave illustration I gave comes to mind quite a bit when listening to the Phonix LE. The sound consumes you, it’s all around you. When Pink Floyd’s “Time” track is played, each clock and chime is distinct, and deciphering where they are and the space between them is a stimulating treat.
Comparison: Vision Ears Phonix
“Well, of course I know him. He’s me.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi. Yes, but also no. As stated by Vision Ears, the Phonix LE’s biggest draw was an improved low end that had better bass extension and control, aside from the cosmetic differences. Did this drastically change the sound signature of the Phonix LE in comparison to the Phonix, or did Vision Ears achieve exactly what they were going for?
Same source, same tips, and to keep things interesting we’ll save the low end for last. Starting off in the highs, I actually found the Phonix LE to be slightly less veiled than the Phonix in my listening. While both maintain crisp highs, the LE’s treble was a bit more airy and had that extra smidge of sparkle that made a small, but noticeable difference in the high frequency range.
Both Phonix LE and Phonix produced lush and energetic mids that created a beautiful tonal balance throughout the entire sound signature of the IEM. The midrange was certainly a highlight in Steve’s review of the Phonix, and I believe that to remain true here for both.
The stereo image as well remains the same here. Both do a great job of keeping the stage natural with instruments having good separation and space in between them. I didn’t find one over the other to particularly present a better stereo image, but what I can emphasize again is just how wide and tall the sound stage is. Vision Ears captured that sense of holographic imaging incredibly well in the Phonix, and I’m glad that carried over to the LE.
Vision Ears made good on their promise, as the low end was the big ticket item that sold me on the LE over the Phonix. With a deeper and more textured bass, the Phonix LE’s deep frequencies not only have more punch, but they’re fuller and make every song feel larger. From booming 808s, to even hard strummed strings of instruments, everything has weight and body to it, and it fills your ears with this brilliant bass. Although I still believe the OG Phonix has a great low end as it is, Vision Ears’ decision to focus on improving the bass in the Limited Edition version was extremely well executed.
Vision Ears had a simple goal in front of them, use the same blueprint for an already great IEM, and improve it slightly with a sexy and exclusive new design. What Vision Ears accomplished, however, is much greater. While Phonix LE might not have been a necessary revision, it is certainly one that was executed, both visually and sonically, quite brilliantly.