The Phantom Assassin - Empire Ears Phantom

Updated: Jan 16, 2019



Disclaimer

I bought this IEM with full retail price. This is not a sponsored review


Introduction

The Phantom is the result of constant reinvention. The ambition to push for more. To go beyond the conventional. With precision crafted performance as the touchstone and innovation as its creed, new ways were created to engineer, design, and build a revolutionary in-monitor. Introducing the Phantom - a pure IEM tuned in perfect balance, created and crafted to master every genre with absolute fidelity.


I have been listening Empire Ears for long and finally decided to write a review on the Empire Professional (EP) Series TOTL, Phantom. The EP series started with the Empire Vocal Reference (E.V.R) then Empire Studio Reference (E.S.R) and finally the Phantom. I like how sincere Empire Ears is when designing their IEM. They chose Effect Audio Ares II as their stock cable. The cable is rigid, and it matches well with the phantom most of the time. Minimum effort is needed for cable rolling.


The Phantom is Empire Ears bold assertion to challenge the status quo; a new take on a reference iem that performs at the highest level concerning both timbre and performance, rather than a compromise between either. Offering a sound befitting its name, the Phantom's sole mission is to disappear, and let the trueness of the music shine through. Besides industry-leading tonal accuracy, the Phantom promises both high resolution and transparency, with a versatile signature aimed to please both musical professional and audiophiles.


Building forth on Zeus' impressive vocal display and three-dimensional stage, the Phantom adds a touch of warmth to achieve its perfect timbre, as well as a smoother sound. A mission fulfilled by a beautiful lower treble, and excellent top-end extension. Finally, by relying on deep low-end extension and a tastefully lifted bass, the Phantom's bass makes a compelling argument when called upon, while equally taking a step back when required.


Technical Specifications

  • 5 Proprietary Empire Balanced Armature Drivers

  • 2 Low, 1 Mid, 1 High, 1 Super High

  • 5-Way synX Crossover Network

  • A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology

  • Impedance: 10 ohms @ 1kHz

  • Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 40kHz

  • Sensitivity 117dB @ 1kHz, 1mW

  • UPOCC 26AWG Handcrafted Cable by Effect Audio


Accessories

  • In Ear Monitor

  • Empire Aegis Case

  • Empire Dust Bag

  • Empire IEM Pouch

  • Empire Cleaning Cloth

  • Empire Cleaning Tool


Technology

Empire Ears embedded a few technologies in the creation of Phantom. The technologies such as synX Crossover Network and A.R.C Resonance Mitigation Technology are explained in detailed on Empire Ears websites. For those who are interested can browse and read through.

https://empireears.com/collections/ep-series/products/phantom-universal-in-ears#tech


Fitting

I chose Universal with 3.5mm terminated when I order this IEM. The shell is Piano Black with Empire Ears Logo on it – shiny and nicely done. I love the colour matching. The shell could potentially be huge for those who have relatively smaller ears. I would recommend them to opt for Custom fit for the best result.



Pairing

I used Opus #3 and 2.5mm terminated Effect Audio Ares II Cable for this review. In the latter part of the review, I will introduce a bit on source matching and cable rolling which are done by me when auditioning the Phantom.



Test Track

  • Hotel California (DSD) - 100/160 on low gain

  • Somewhere, Somebody (DSD) - 100/160 on low gain

  • Beat It (24 bit/96 kHz FLAC) - 70/160 on low gain

  • Animals (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain

  • Shape of You (24 bit/ 44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain

  • Lonestar (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain

  • I Knew You Were Trouble (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain

  • Hello (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 75/160 on low gain


Sounds

The overall sound signature of this IEM is warm and smooth. It is relaxing to enjoy the music with this IEM. There is a slight emphasis on the lower frequency as compared to others over the frequency spectrum. The soundstage is relatively wide – Zues’ shadow can be seen here. There is sufficient amount of air and space - the imaging and separation is supreme. All these signatures hits what I desired – I love it. The depth is good – deeper as compared to a lot of the IEMs in the market but not as deep as Legend X.


Lows

I am not a bass head, but I do appreciate good bass especially energetic kick. Overall, the lows are nicely tuned – Rich body. The attack can be considered hard and fast with a short decay time. However, on some of the track (Hotel California and Hello), I find the lows can be a little tubby. This could potentially be mitigated through cable rolling or source matching. When I am listening to Beat It, how Phantom creates the kick impressed me – energetic and powerful. I will highly recommend the community to try this especially Michael Jackson lovers! Another fascinating point is how Empire Ears designed the bass presentation of Phantom. To me it sounds like a subwoofer kind of bass. I find that Legend X is the closest in term of subwoofer bass presentation, but Phantom is close too. Well done Empire Ears!


Mids

If you read my previous review on Campfire Audio Solaris, you will know how much I appreciate good vocal presentation as a mandopop lover. Overall, the mids presentation is pleasing for me. I love the presentation. However, the mids sometime can be blanketed by the over-power lows presentation. I suspect choice of cable could be the culprit and yes, I will further explain this in the latter part of cable rolling. The female vocals are silky smooth. For Somewhere, Somebody is played, Jennifer Warnes sounds gentle, smooth and full of soul. The layering is precisely and accurately tuned. Phantom makes Adele and Norah Jones sound extraordinarily sweet. The mid highs are breathy. However, the body of mid high could be a little thicker. For male vocals the body is sufficiently rich. I love how Ed Sheeran sounds. On some of the track, the mid can be slightly recessed because of more emphasised on the lows frequency but again cable rolling does help to overcome this.


Highs

The cymbals sound crisp on Phantom. The highs are well extended with good roll-off. The overall presentation is well delicate without piercing. However, if we compared in term of the emphasis in the frequency spectrum, I would for the emphasis to be shifted a little bit to high. I am a bright IEM lover and this IEM could be a little too warm for me. I know the full potential of Phantom is not unleashed yet with the current pairing. Do continue reading and I will unleash the full potential in a while.


Cable Rolling

Effect Audio Thor Silver II+ (2.5mm terminated)

The mid highs have a better extension with this cable. Adele sounds sweeter and smoother in this pairing. The low mids is slightly pulled back. The overall separation between mid and low is improved. Overall, the sound signature becomes more airy and brighter.


Effect Audio Eros II+ (2.5mm terminated)

The lows is more well controlled with this cable. It improves the attack and decay speed of the lows as compared to Ares II. For mids, I always like how Eros II+ present the rich and soulful mids. The mids now have more emphasis. The treble is improved too. Although it is not as much as Thor Silver II+, I think it is sufficient. The general sound signature is more balanced with this cable. I find that this is a good match with Phantom. Maybe Empire Ears can include this option.


Source Matching

Sony NW-WM1Z

I used my Ares II (2.5mm balanced terminated) with a 2.5mm to 4.4mm adaptor on this DAP. The depth is now better as compared to Opus #3. The high is more sibilant, and the lows is faster (both attacks and decays). The overall presentation is now more balanced and smoother, especially the mids. This pairing could yield more favourable micro details presentation.


Astell & Kern SP1000M

This is a more musical pairing unlike NW1Z. The presentation is more fun and livelier. Soul and spirit are now further added to this IEM. The highs are further extended but still without piercing or fatigue causing. The overall sounding is now more forward.


Comparison

Empire Ears Legend X

As mentioned in the earlier part of the review, the lows on Legend X is more like a subwoofer. The attack is as fast, but the decay is longer. This caused it to have a more “V” shaped sound signature. The soundstage is wider as compared to Phantom. Legend X would be a better choice for bass heads.

[No picture for this because they look exactly the same!]


Campfire Audio Andromeda

This is the fight between penta-drivers IEMs. Andromeda exhibits a brighter and more analytical sound signature. The lows are faster and more precise as compared to Phantom. However, in term of strength and energy, Phantom did a better job here. The micro details on Andromeda is better because of huge amount of air and space in its sound signature. Close fight!


Campfire Audio Solaris

Solaris is a more well-balanced IEM. The price of these 2 IEMs is pretty close. The bass on Solaris is more well controlled but with Effect Audio Eros II+, this could bring Phantom up to the arena again for the fight. Another close fight!


Westone UMPro 50N

Seldom see reviewers bring this IEM up for comparison. The fitting of this IEM is better because of its smaller shell. It sounds more balanced and the presentation of micro details is better. UMPro series is designed more for monitoring rather than listening. This could cause a little bit dull and lack of soul in the sound signature. Phantom gives a good uppercut of UMPro 50N.


Sony IER-M9

This IEM sounds darker, way darker than UMPro 50N. It is power hungry as well. I always pair it up with a dedicated amp to enjoy it at the fullest. Phantom is more engaging and fun when compared with M9. Definitely, Phantom is more power efficient and this make it more pocket friendly when travelling or commuting.


Verdict

Phantom, nicely tuned by Empire Ears with a lot of efforts and technologies embedded in. The overall sound signature is pleasing and the accessories in the box is generously provided. Cable rolling and source matching can be done to fully unleash the potential – creating a Phantom Assassin that wins your hear in the dark. Stay tuned to my Instagram Page. Let me know which IEM you wish to see in the next review!

https://www.instagram.com/the_audiolocheese/?hl=en



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