I finally tried an Empire IEM. Generally, I have an aversion to anything that has been hyped up. That’s why I still haven’t watched Schindler’s List. So, when everyone is telling me, “You have to try the Phantom!” I just didn’t want to do it. Furthermore, any IEM that costs over $1500 gets me mildly annoyed. But Jesus, these are good. Let’s find out why in this Empire Ears Phantom In-Ear Monitor Review.
IN the BOX
A generally comfortable fit, although the back contours of my ears began to hurt after a couple of hours of wearing them. Still, they’re light, and the smoothed edges help to provide a nice seal against the ears. Sound isolation is decent. (Note: no foam tips included)
We’ve got 5 proprietary balanced armature drivers, with a 5 way crossover network. The drivers use Empire’s “A.R.C” technology, which is designed to dampen acoustic peaks and minimize vibrations. This design feature is what came through the most for me while listening to the Phantom. I’ve heard very few IEM’s with such little resonance.
Phantom employs the Ares II cable, made from Litz copper and designed by Effect Audio. The Litz might also be adding to that dampened feel. The cable has 2 pin connector (which is becoming more of a standard) and a 3.5mm, 24k Oyaide gold plated right angle plug, which looks super sturdy.
Overall Impressions: sonically solid feel, well-balanced and versatile. Magnificent. Yes, pricey.
With a bass dryer than a bottle of Moet Brut, and a grip tighter than Federer’s forehand, I have to say, pop music feels great. Super punchy, without any annoying subby resonance, Britney Spears sounds incredible. (She would sound incredible through tin cans, but I digress…) Listening to rock, I was equally impressed. I got the satiating solidity of the lows without any bleeding into the higher frequencies. Certainly, the well-cut separation give the lows a concrete and neat feel.
The first thing I noticed about the mids was the even balance and placement of vocals. The vocals avoided being too forward, and allowed the instrumentation to really come through. I love this kind of sound profile because you can crank up the volume (careful kids) without suffering any harshness caused by overly present vocals. Put that together with well-balanced frequencies, and you feel like you’re getting the entire breadth of the mix. I fell in love with percussion instruments too. Snares, for example, had so much hard edged oomf that I couldn’t stop playing songs that featured drums in the foreground. (John Lennon’s Watching the Wheels). So, I found these buds perfect for rock choruses or anything designed to convey a full and meaty feel. Folk music sounded just as impressive. Acoustic guitars revealed fantastic separation, detail and a ton of resolve. Indeed, these buds handle both, full-bodied mixes and delicate acoustic melodies with an equal amount of skill.
Not a mind blowingly transparent sound in this range when listening to string solos. But smooth, sibilance free and easy to listen to, while still retaining an emotive quality. Even the highest registers avoided piercing my ears, and the slightly soft character of the highs made saxophones and other brass instruments sound romantic and brooding.
One of the most impressive things about these earphones is the soundstage. Extremely accurate and spacious imaging, and perhaps the best I’ve heard at this price point. The precision of these buds is good enough to rival some of the 64 Audio models out there. And the abundantly clear sense of height and depth made the music a broad and multidimensional experience.
There’s no denying the integrity of these IEM’s. With a sound that’s sturdier than brick house, the Phantom shows off such superb balance, separation, detail and soundstage, that the obscene price tag is almost warranted. If the high frequencies had a tad more transparency, I would call the Phantom flawless. That being said, it comes close to being the perfect all rounder for those who listen across many genres. Forget your retirement fund. So, you’ll die poor with tinnitus. Rock and roll, baby.