Vision Ears carries on the proud tradition of German HiFi with their lineup of high-end custom and universal IEMs. EXT is close to the top of that lineup, and features a unique design with dual dynamic drivers for the bass and mids, and an array of electrostatic drivers for the treble. Is Vision Ears’ decade of experience in the IEM field and the power of German engineering enough to take an unusual design and make it into a top of the line IEM?
Build and Design
Vision Ears provides a generous package with all of their IEMs. EXT includes a 2.5mm balanced cable, a 4.4mm adapter for the cable, a metal case, cleaning cloth, and a keychain. The package is overall as expected for a high-end IEM, and all of the accessories and components are solid.
The cable has a simple black rubber finish and the construction is 8-wire 28AWG silver-plated copper. While it’s not the most eye-catching cable you’ll see with a flagship IEM, it has a good feel to it and solid construction. It’s not quite as robust as Noble’s 8-Core cable, and lacks the luxurious feel of the Eletech Project 8 Prudence. If you like cable rolling, it’s definitely worth trying out some other options, but the stock cable is solid and functional.
The IEMs themselves have a translucent black resin body and a purple aluminum faceplate. The faceplate design looks almost like the etching in a circuit board or perhaps a UFO. The EXT has an interesting fit which gives it excellent stability, but does take some getting used to. With the included Azla tips, the fit and seal ended up being possibly the best I’ve experienced in a universal IEM.
The first thing EXT hits you with is its bass. The bass is the right mix of big, tight, fast, and dynamic. The mids are overflowing with detail and character, demonstrating lifelike timbre. And the treble has incredible speed, resolution, and extension. The tuning tends towards a v-shape, with notable presence and extension in the bass and treble, and less volume overall in the mids.
The bass is right in the sweet spot of my own personal preferences. There is great slam, a slightly emphasized midbass (with a possibly slightly exaggerated subbass), and an overall dynamic performance. There’s good articulation and texture with bass instruments, and no real sense of bleed or bloat.
The midrange is pulled back in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re missing any mids. Instead it gives the sense of a little extra bass and a little extra treble, but with full, rich midrange. Vocals and instruments like guitar and piano are strongly represented, and you’ll feel a rich, natural sound particularly in the vocals. There are strong micro-details and dynamics with elements ranging from the scratchiness in analog synthesizers to the bowing of stringed instruments.
The treble is fast and energetic, giving you speed and a sense of engagement with the music. It’s present, well-extended, and also non-fatiguing. The upper mids and treble give a very strong sense of resolution giving you a tight attack and natural decay. There’s strong articulation and definition as well, notable in the way that ride cymbals don’t “over-ring,” losing the specific articulation of individual hits. What ends up being the defining characteristic of the treble is where typically I would reserve the word “visceral” for the bass, there’s an almost visceral nature to the treble as well, that’s good at delivering that physical emotional reaction to instruments like violins or electric guitar leads.
The stereo image is strongly three dimensional. The soundstage has excellent width, depth, and height in an IEM, and the imaging provides great positioning with a strong sense of realism to each instrument and voice within the image.
Billie Eilish’s vocals are warm and intimate on “everything i wanted” with EXT giving good presence to the vocal range in spite of some pullback in the midrange. The electric piano in the intro is rich and textured, and the kick drum hits with brain-shaking authority. The bass extends to the lowest lows as the music swells, while the layering of instruments and vocals in the mids and highs is excellent, as multiple layers of vocal tracks blend together. Each chorus and verse has a slightly different nuance to it, EXT gives you the detail and definition to separate and uncover each element of the sound and texture.
Clapton’s acoustic performance of Layla is a near perfect, stripped down blues song. EXT delivers rich natural timbre on the acoustic guitar, and clear well balanced bass guitar and piano. His voice has the right mix of clarity and gristle, and there’s great placement of Clapton and the backing vocals in the 3D image, with a sense of atmosphere as well. EXT demonstrates on this track that its emphasis in the treble and bass doesn’t preclude a strong, natural midrange.
On “Underground,” EXT provides a rich, textured, emotive delivery of Lindsey Stirling’s violin. The track is heavy on synthesizers and electronic sounds with Stirling’s violin sounding like it’s caught somewhere in between a natural, organic sound and a processed, electronic one. EXT gives you the nuance and detail to hear that tension in the instrument, and provides a balance between demonstrating strong cohesion among disparate elements, and separation between those elements – from the violin to the layers of synth. While EXT’s upper mids and high end extension gives you an excellent delivery of the violin, the depth and power of the bass helps deliver the impact and energy of the electronic elements. The rich, natural timbre helps everything feel just a little bit organic and not become overly processed or sterile.
On the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” EXT captures the low-key minimalist nature of the song, giving warm, emotional vocals and delivering the slight jangle of the acoustic guitar with a realism that puts you in the room with Paul McCartney. The strong detail gives you some hints of where the guitar wasn’t properly intoned or is ever so slightly out of tune. It almost feels funny how these purple UFO-looking earphones can deliver such accuracy in intimacy during such a simple acoustic performance.
Comparison - Vision Ears VE8, Vision Ears Phonix
Vision Ears is renowned for its high end IEMs, and each of their top models provides a different take on IEM performance. VE8 is an 8 driver IEM that sits atop their VE lineup, which features all balanced armature based IEMs ranging from 2-8 drivers. It delivers a sound that’s a little closer to reference, but with some similar tuning characteristics to EXT. Phonix (or Phönix or Phoenix, as you will) is Vision Ears flagship: a 13 driver balanced armature IEM which again has some similar characteristics to EXT, and again has some clear differences.
The design and fit was one surprising difference between the three. EXT and VE8 both have a very tight, somewhat demanding fit that delivers amazing seal and performance, but some people might find them a little uncomfortable. Phonix has a more traditional fit, with moderately sized shells and good comfort. In terms of looks, they honestly couldn’t be much more different. Phonix’s red and gold has an almost regal look to it, while EXT has a high tech look, and VE8 provides a more standard IEM design.
In terms of the speed and resolution, all three were similar, with EXT’s quad electrostatic top end giving perhaps a slight edge, and VE8 and Phonix both delivering very fast, highly resolving BA based sounds. The soundstage overall largely hits at the price points, Phonix delivers the strongest depth and width, while EXT and VE8 feel smaller – though they still have an excellent sense of space.
The tunings had some overlap, but also some notable differences. Phonix has the most full bodied midrange of the three, with a strong thick presence, while VE8 has a bit more lower mids than EXT, but doesn’t deliver vocals in as personal or detailed a manner as Phonix or EXT. In the treble, EXT has incredible extension and presence, while Phonix and VE8 both feel slightly smoother. In the bass, while I would believe you if you said that Phonix or VE8’s BAs were actually a dynamic driver, it can’t keep up with the impact and dynamics of EXT’s bass.
Overall, EXT has a sound that’s both fun and emotional, but it doesn’t miss out on detail and technical performance. Phonix gives you a little bit of everything, but is particularly notable for its “I can’t believe it’s not dynamic!” bass and rich, detailed midrange. VE8 does a lot of things very well, and matches different characteristics of EXT and Phonix, but comes up just short in the overall performance and sound.
The Bottom Line
According to an old joke poking fun at different European countries, in heaven, Germans are the engineers. Companies like Vision Ears are doing their best to keep this stereotype alive with incredibly built, wonderfully engineered products like the EXT. What, perhaps, defies the stereotype is the artistry that goes into tuning the complex emotional depth that EXT provides. EXT isn’t just a fun IEM or an incredible design, it perfectly captures the intersection of engineering and art.