The Phantom’s unique signature makes it a little difficult to find similar sounding monitors, so this section will focus on similarly priced competition as well as Phantom’s siblings in the Empire Ears range.
All mentioned prices are for the custom models, some manufacturers offer their universals at a lower price. Comparisons have been done with the respective stock cable.
Empire Ears – Zeus XIV (14BA, 2099$)
Phantom has been considered by many to be the successor of Empire’s former god of IEMs, the Zeus. These two are very different animals though and have only little in common to me.
The Phantom has a more visceral bass with bigger body, whereas the Zeus is lighter and more south of neutral in response. The Phantom’s bass has higher resolution and goes deeper. Zeus’ bass has good body in its mid and upper segments, though they don’t have the weight of the Phantom.
Zeus has a more resolved and open midrange, with more air in it, which gives instruments and vocals more room to walk through. Vocals have always been Zeus’ strong suit, and it comes out as the clear winner in this for me. Phantom’s midrange is thicker and heavier compared to Zeus, whereas the XIV is more emotional. Zeus portrays the midrange more forward than Phantom, and stretches a wider and deeper sound stage.
Zeus brings out a good number more details with higher accuracy. That’s due to the brighter treble tuning of it. Zeus’ treble brings in significantly more air to the picture than Phantom’s is able to do.
Empire Ears – Legend X (2DD/5BA, 2299$)
The Legend X is the flagship offering of Empire’s X-line. It sports their proprietary dynamic Weapon IX drivers coupled with five balanced armature drivers. The Legend’s bass has a more present sub-bass response, with higher impact and authority.
Phantom’s bass reaches a bit deeper and has a more coherent flow into the lower mids. Legend’s bass has even better texture and resolution. It comes out with more rumble and air in it. However the bass can ask for quite some attention at times.
When we look at midrange, Phantom has the denser vocals with more weight and body. Legend X is also powered by a lifted lower midrange, but is not as warm as the Phantom. The Legend has a more holographic appearance with wider and deeper sound stage. It creates a bigger venue for the musicians to perform at. Both have very good imaging, but I give the nod to the Phantom.
Treble wise these couldn’t be more different. The Legend X is richer up top with higher clarity and energy. Phantom is more laid back and comes across as being more shy, in contrast to the Legend X.
64 Audio – N8 (1DD/8BA, 1699$)
Both 64 Audio and Empire Ears have reached out to the Pro scene to get feedback for their models. The N8 has been made in conjunction with Nathan East, while Empire has worked with Michael Graves.
The N8 throws a harder punch and has more air in the lows, while Phantom goes deeper with more resolution and texture. The N8’s bass seems softer to me and gives less coloration to the lower mids.
Phantom is the warmer of the two, though N8 also isn’t exactly neutral or cold. The Empire Ears monitor sports a thicker midrange with denser vocals. They also enjoy heavier weight, while the N8 is lighter and more air-infused.
Sound stage wise the N8 goes wider and deeper, but not by a big margin. When it comes to resolution it’s also the 64 Audio CIEM that comes out on top. Imaging however is the Phantom’s win.
High notes could again not be more different. The N8 comes with a single tia high driver, which produces an energetic and airy, yet silk covered and bright treble, that has no problem with the authority and prominence of the bass. Phantom is a little more in the back of the scene and has a more relaxed appearance. If you don’t like bright and fast treble, the Phantom is your pick.
JH Audio – Lola (2DD/6BA, 1745$)
The Lola has a similar signature to the Phantom at times, yet it is definitely the darker of the two. It’s also the one that’s harder to drive right. Lola demands a lot of juice to unleash her true potentials.
Lola’s bass is lighter and a bit loose in comparison to the Phantom, which has more extended lows with better control and texture. Both monitors transport a decent amount of warmth from upper bass to lower mids. Phantom though certainly is the warmer of the two.
I have always considered Lola to be the reigning queen of mids, as there hardly ever was a monitor that could come close in reproduction. Enter the Phantom. These two are very much alike, however Lola is a touch lighter and airier in comparison to Phantom. The Empire Ears CIEM again is the thicker of the two, Lola comes out as the more energetic, but Phantom is the one that convinces more.
When looking at technicalities these two are head to head in many ways. Their sound stage is about the same size, with Phantom going a hint wider. They both have excellent layering and imaging abilities. The resolution on Lola might be a tick in the front though.
Both also share some similarities in their treble, however Lola is the more veiled of the two, which has a more laid back and recessed tuning. Phantom brings out more details and has better shimmer.
FAudio – Symphony (7BA, ~1650$)
FAudio is a relatively young Chinese brand, however they have a lot of knowledge and experience in making In Ear Monitors. Their main designer has developed many models in the past for other manufacturers and has built himself a very good reputation behind the scenes.
The Symphony is their seven driver flagship model and it features a very well balanced and neutral sound. It features a dual low, single full-range mid, dual high and dual super tweeter BA configuration.
When looking for similarities between the two, one has to look very close. The Phantom has a more forward bass tuning, which reaches deeper with a more visceral sound. Body wise these two aren’t too apart though. The Symphony also reaches deep, yet does it with more impact when needed.
Symphony sports a more balanced signature, with a slightly forward midrange. The Phantom’s mids are thicker and denser, though the Symphony’s are more open and airier. Which makes the sound appear more in front of you. Vocals to me are more emotional on the Symphony, whereas they are heavier on the Phantom. Mids overall are richer to me on the Symphony, especially upper midrange has a serious glow in them.
Both models have excellent imaging, where I can’t pick one out as top dog. Symphony’s stage stretches wider, but Phantom’s goes deeper. Phantom has to take a step back is resolution, which is higher on the Symphony.
High notes are more agile and energetic on the Symphony, both don’t come across as sharp, piercing or sibilant. The Symphony has a more forward and present treble tuning, where the Phantom appears more in the back in comparison.
A lot has been said about the Phantom in the past ten months since it’s introduction. I clearly can see why some people go nuts about it, it holds a very special place in today’s market with its unique way to portray music. It features a signature that doesn’t simply lock in, but requires some time to let your brain adjust to it.
Once that is achieved, you will have a hard time letting the Phantom go. It has one of the most harmonic and organic sounds in the scene, which enables the listener to kick back and relax for long sessions. The Phantom’s warm and soothing sound, coupled with the dense vocals and superb imaging makes sure that you will enjoy your favorite tunes with a grin on your face.
Empire Ears has created a one of a kind beautiful signature with their Phantom, it’s not about blowing your socks off with technicalities, but to convince you with realism and harmony. If you’re in the market for exactly that, it might just become your personal end-game IEM.