Vision Ears Erlkönig: What thee of a legend?

Pros: Exceptional sound signature.
Magical bass tuning.
Tuning options.
It’s made of silver!!!
Vocals are to die for…

Cons: It’s heavy.
Cost.
Limited availability.
It’s heavy.
Cost.
Not mine.

Vision Ears Erlkönig ($4500): What thee of a legend?

Erlkonig

Link to David Molliere’s excellent review. Use it for comparison, then you can see what an actual writer can do (him). https://iem.reviews/2019/11/17/vision-ears-erlkonig-the-fairy-king/



Intro: I was lucky enough to participate in another of @Barra tour. This time the excellent VE8 & Elysium tour. As an added bonus, the Erlkönig was offered as an aside. Through the course of the tour, there was a delay. My sincerest hope is that the delay before me is safe and at peace. Sometimes our hobby takes a very much warranted backseat, and this was a time for that. To hear the Erlkönig is a treat of a lifetime for many, and that alone can be cherished.

Back on track, the travel from Arizona to Missouri took the form of, “HEY! Let’s stop at every diner between AZ and MO and add four days!” While the delay here was neither mine nor Barra’s fault, it did also put into perspective how far we have yet to go for some semblance of normalcy. Delays happen, and I am just thankful the unit arrived unscathed. More later on the “unscathed” part.

The Erlkönig…denoting a Danish ballad legend in von Goethe’s poem (here) of a child losing their life to a “demon” or “Elf King” the death was of a supernatural being. Loosely told, the father and child ride through the forest on a dark and windy night (not unlike my night right here, right now), surrounded by the Erlkönig and his daughters. The father dissuades the son at every turn when asked if he could see the king or daughters. Brushing off the child’s remarks, the father rides faster, arriving at their farm only to find the child is dead.

The purity with which the child saw, and father denied cannot be mistaken. Protecting until the end, the father denied the child his seeing’s in order to protect. Unsuccessful, the child must still haunt the forest today one could easily imagine. This is the purity of sight that Vision Ears tried to instill into the Erlkönig. A purity of such nature that we mere mortals will be either taken in by that sound or rushed off through the forest avoiding the trap of becoming entwined in the wind. Stuck in the forest forever if we fail.

The wind here is steady (no, I’m not listening right now, I’m saving that for tomorrow…) and slowly growing. This comes on the heels of Tropical Depression Cristobal dumping several inches of rain across the area in which my abode lies. It has been a crazy year as is, but throw in the weather we have had of late including the aforementioned Cristobal and wind along with a very rare Mesoscale Convective System BACKING INTO ANOTHER MSC right over us (6.5” of rain, 60mph winds), and you can see why the emotion of the weather leads the way into my review.


*My first 30 minutes of listening earlier were superb. Detail and purity like never heard. Period.

Specs:

13 drivers, 5-way crossover
Sensitivity-105dB
Impedence-16ohms
Frequency Range-15-45kHz


In the package:

This will be short, since I believe you can customize the set up somewhat. The case is an aluminum hard foam-lined affair, complete with buckle. On the top side (inside) there is a flap to keep the IEM safe, and two mesh pouches for tips, or whatever. Also included was a nice Van Nuys IEM wrap made of Cordura. Insert the IEM into each “pocket” and place the ear guide under individual Velcro straps. Then carefully wind the cable around the whole set up. While this is a nifty idea, I’m not sure I would place my expensive IEM’s in such a thing. Especially since the cable must be wound every time.

Numerous tip choices are included, based upon color and size. One could easily achieve optimal fit, except that the muzzle is just about the widest I have ever seen. I had to move on to my Comply Comfort T-600 sized large to attain a good fit. And with that, I had to roll the tips every time to maintain a good seal. Not so with the silicon tips.

Gear used/compared:

Shanling M6 Pro
Cayin N6ii
MacBook Pro/ifi Pro iDSD
XDuoo x10t ii/ifi xDSD
XDuoo x10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD

Vision Ears Elysium (from review)
Vision Ears VE8 (from review)
Empire Ears Legend X
Empire Ears Wraith



Songs:

Dave Matthews-Come Tomorrow, Away From The World
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World, Midnight Radio
twenty one pilots-Blurryface, Trench, Regional at Best
Van Morrison-Three Chords & The Truth
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Ziggy Marley
Damien Marley
Bob Marley
Santana
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Whatever my fancy of the moment

Build/Fit/Finish:

When one spends as much as I spent on my 1979 Triumph Spitfire, one had better expect and get perfection. And with the shell made of silver, it is exceptional. And, it is heavy. This is the heaviest IEM I have used to date. And your ear can feel it, as the ear guides on the Effect Audio custom cable are less prominent than I would like. I was able to get good fit, which alleviated some of the mass but there is no denying its heft.

A word about the finish. If one spends this kind of money on pretty much anything, one would take care of it. Cherish it. Treat it like well…silver. Unfortunately, the unit came to me with several small dings and marring of the finish. I’m not sure if it is due to the multiple handling of the critter over a short period of time or that the unit is not our own. But this is now two tours in a row (another from separate vendor) where the unit has shown at my door with marks that would take me a lifetime to make. My point is, that it is an honor to have these tours, and one should treat the unit in hand like it is a borrowed unit and you want to return it in better shape than upon arrival. The tour guides take their time and effort to arrange these items, please treat them with much more respect.

The Erlkönig is built impeccably well. Sublime curves give a sensuous shape to the silver and there is enough sheen to give subtle hints to that curvaceous shape. I do not mean this to be an object of desire, unless you think in that manner of a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Then, the description is quite apt. Think of a finely hewn hand-crafted Ferrari of yore. Hand shaped fenders that were perfection in shape and match. It really took the eye of a craftsman to discern the slightest flaw, which was promptly and lovingly corrected. This is what I think about with the Erlkönig, sublime curves lead your eyes around the shape as you hold the unit. Caressing the curves in the same manner that the craftsman sported his fine ware of a fender. Just marvelous.

Continuing through the 2-pin cable, the same cannot be said of me with regard to the over-ear guide. While it is present and supple, it is too short and too thin. For something the girth of the VE, one needs better support. It does work but is too flimsy and shapeless for such a critter in hand. That “flimsiness” continues for me on to the cable. I myself have several Effect Audio cables, and one came standard on my Legend X. But this one is quite special. Made of OCC purse silver, the cable transmits sound effortlessly, but it too is too flimsy to me. It also tangles far too easily. Keeping its wound shape too much (especially when wrapped around the Van Nuys), it takes time to undo the winds. I would have preferred a more supple shape and lay of cable. The jack itself seems to be nice. Only nice, not stellar. I also had to screw the cap back on a few times before it would stay. Of course, many will listen, then move on to a fine balanced cable in concert with the OEM Effect Audio. More on that in sound impressions. As stated, the cable does sound marvelous and matches well with the Erlkönig as it should.

The nozzle as stated is one of the widest I have encountered and as such requires wide-bore tips. Luckily, I have a large selection of Comply tips as well as the included silicon’s (the included Comply did not fit, the bore was too small). I used my Comply as a result approximately 75-80% of the time but did try the included silicon tips for comparison.

Speaking of comparison, there are four nifty “sound signature” settings under the etched cover plate. The plate is smartly held on by a magnet and can be ordered customized as well. The included etched model replete with crown logo is worthy of being called a piece of art. Using the included small driver, the plate comes off easily without fear of marring the finish. Many current models of IEM’s utilize some sort of “adjustment” to change the sound signature, so this is not new, but on a model of this ilk having that ability certainly makes it more versatile while giving the user the ability to tailor from genre to genre very quickly. A nice touch.

The four “signatures” are:

4-Baseline
3- Baseline +2dB above 4kHz compared to 4
2- Baseline +3dB at 100Hz compared to 3 (+3dB at 100Hz and +2dB at 4kHz)
1- Baseline +3dB at 100Hz compared to 2 (so +6dB at 100Hz overall and +2dB at 4kHz)

Going from 4 to 1, you get increasingly more bass presence (quantity). This is the way the unit came to me, and so far, my preferred choice. All four will be analyzed using the same source and songs.

*Sound will be broken into source comparisons as well as the signature comparisons utilizing the same source(s) and song(s) as in Sig-1 will be compared across the Shanling and Cayin as well as to the other signatures using the same songs on the same source (Shanling to Shanling for example). This should give a good representation of sound across sources and differences of signatures in enough modes for the reader to make an informed decision. Of course, if one is looking at the Erlkönig for purchase, they most likely have already…



Sound across sources:

Signature 1:


Starting with the Shanling M6 Pro I found the sound to be simply put, amazing. I am still in the honeymoon phase using the M6P, but I can already note that the sound from it is amazing. I first checked to insure all was good, then put the M6P on continuous loop using the Shozy From 1.1, running continuously for approximately 75 hours. After that, I had time to update and install Google Play Store according to Shanling’s guidelines. It took two tries (mainly because I had already installed Tidal and played it a bit), but installation was successful. This had no effect whatsoever on the SD card music but is mentioned so that protocol is noted.

I would note that the sound coming from the pair was full, rich and the most detailed of anything I have heard to date, IEM-wise. I consider that the function of the Vision Ears unit. Detail of Dave Matthews voice on I’m Weary and Here On Out was sublime and coming from inside his lungs. Instead of a front row seat, I was the provocateur who enabled him to breathe and produce the tonality of song. I was pushing air out the lungs in concert with note in perfect harmony and unity of song. I was 15 minutes in and already realized that this was a case of complete immersion and a specialness afforded only certain times within one’s life. Like that quiet time with your loved one where all you do is immerse yourself into the other. Deeply gazing into her eyes, you realize how deeply you love her, and that overwhelming feeling cannot be taken away, no matter the moment. Or maybe it was the song.

With a slightly brighter signature, I was moving out of my comfort zone here, but I thoroughly enjoyed the pairing nonetheless, such was the treat. That brightness transpired into and exaltation of higher sound. Not at all sibilant, piercing or grating, no. Thoroughly tamed, but free the sound emanating from the duo defined what top tier treble should be. I do believe I came away from the experience with a new appreciation of incredible higher-note as a result.

Mids were sublime as mentioned. One could easily draw yourself into the note, experiencing firsthand what that vocal note should sound like as well. Slightly elevated in the three-dimensional form, but just about perfect of sound, the mids sang as well as the treble and bass. I do believe it was here, in the upper mids, which gave me a bit of paucity with regard to a “slightly too bright” signature to my liking. Of the two, the Shanling came across “brighter” than the Cayin, quite possibly due to the dual-DAC usage.

The Cayin N6ii followed the Shanling, using the E01 motherboard as my preference. Switching between Class-A and Class-AB I found the Class-A to be my favored pairing. The AB, which provides a more forward sound was still quite excellent, but not like the incredibly detailed sound of pure Class-A. There is a reason that Class-A on the Cayin uses more battery power…all of the internal resources go towards providing the very best sound possible from the portable DAP. And it worked. The E01 motherboard is a marvel in itself and one quickly realizes that with proper IEM’s or headphones, you need not worry about balanced options. Hence the pairing with the Erlkönig fit the forte.

Of note to me is the warmer signature, which the E01 provides, which fits my tastes better. Paired with the Erlkönig, that warmer lush tonality came through without overshadowing the tone. Detail is still astounding in the pair, but the warmer tonality does hinder just a bit the clarity of said sound. This would be like that Grand Tour episode with the Holy Trinity of cars…each drag race ended differently depending upon the settings involved. Mind you all three of the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari & Porsche 918 are at the absolute top of the chain car-wise. In other words, it does not really matter which won the race, all are incredible. So, take that “slightly” less-clear sound as a sign of the warmer tone added from the Cayin. Switching to Class-AB, the sound is bumped up approximately 6dB in sound and it shows. With better detail, the clarity came back in line. I preferred the richer tone of the Class-A setting. That is my preference. Using Drunken Soldiers again, there is a warmer sound, which fits the time in which I picture the song taking place, the high seas pirate days of the late 1700’s. Tough times, with tougher people. I would say I experienced the song a bit more on the Cayin, but both have and are simply wonderful on the song. Swashbuckling on the Shanling, emotive on the Cayin.

After a talk with Barra about the “positives” of the Erlkönig his words were, “wait until you get it on a good desktop amp.” So of course, I plied the trade with my ifi Pro iDSD next. Running at 9dB gain, which is my standard setting and switching between the Gibbs Transient Optimizing (GTO) and Apodizing, I went back and forth. BitPerfect and BitPerfect+ were good on the filtering but I prefer the formers to the latter’s. Starting with Isle Of Flightless Birds, I fell into my normal songs. This TOP album, their first, is underappreciated I do believe, and the sheer simplicity of song can be a possible reason. But, when you listen to the underlying lyrics and the accompanying sound you are drawn into the music, which gives one good reason to enjoy the song and album. The Erlkönig obliged.

The bass was strong and rich on said song. Cymbal hits came true and taut. Vocals while a bit lifted were nonetheless superb. On signature one the bass was definitely the highlight of the show and did tend to overshadow the treble and mids a bit. This did not diminish my sensory enjoyment, though.

Signature 2:

Going in the same order as above, the Shanling M6 Pro proved itself again to be the “brightest” of the three here. And that was all right. Running the dual-DAC’s and High Gain, sig-2 gives that airy note a bit more than sig-1. As it should, since the bass is not as dialed up as much. I found that I had to do one of two things: dial the dual-DAC back to single or drop the gain to low. Even running a scant 22 out of 100 on the volume wheel gave me too much. My favored setting here was the dual-DAC and low gain, with a volume of 25. Still a bit too bright, but the song has much to do with that as well. I did prefer sig-1 on the M6P.

Switching from the Shanling to the Cayin N6ii again, I appreciated the change. Even these tired old ears could fathom the added “quality” wrought from less of a bass-boost.

The ifi Pro iDSD immediately sound a bit withdrawn on signature 2. That said, it did allow the mids to move a bit forward. They were stellar in their presentation, adding the right amount of lift to the song, without drawing too much towards them. More of a connection instead. I enjoyed the combination in the TOP song, as it allowed the mids to come through in the crescendo period later in the song. A bit cleaner in presentation, I appreciated the added clarity.

Running Class-A, the sound was a bit thinner than the ifi listed below, until the bass hits. Then what could have been described as delicate here was actually an airier note. The E01 shows its mettle as a richer sound than the A01 I also have, but the ifi is warmer yet. This could have been the difference. The Cayin was simply splendid in signature 2. Switching to Class-AB, and that “delicacy” was gone. I wouldn’t call it robust, as that would call it warmer, but the faster attack of the AB definitely made sig-2 sing. The combination of N6ii/Erlkönig in this signature seemed destined for each other. Especially when one can switch between the slower decay of Class-A, adding that smidge of warmth (closer to sig-4 on the VE), or AB and have that fast, precise sound, without being analytical. Even though the M6 Pro is my new kid on the block, the N6ii still is an incredible unit to me, as it should be.

Signature 3:

With no bass boost, and a mild 4kHz boost, we are moving onto the lighter side of the signature. Those that favore clarity are now showing their heads and ears, so to speak. The Shanling M6 Pro is becoming a DAP on my brighter side of life, and this does nothing to dissuade that feeling. I will note that this isn’t as “light” or thin as I thought it might be. Of course, it may be that the sheer cost of the critter (VE) deters the tonality from that all together. Once the complicated part shows on Isle Of Flightless Birds, the signature comes across as crisp and clean. Almost too much so in the mids section. I sense a bit of strain from the additional keyboard notes in this section, but nothing that is too bothersome. Not my preferred signature, but still superb. To think that an IEM of this range can vary its tone so quickly to meet your needs and do so, without harming the sound is indeed a treat. Others that have promoted this “changeable tune” with filters and such have not been so lucky. Some have, but with some I do believe I have “lost” the filters of which I care nothing.

Starting with the more resolving Class-AB, the Cayin N6ii seemed a bit lifeless, and I had to move the volume up to counter that “sense.” It was an odd encounter, as I had the exact same volume setting each time on the same DAP. I definitely preferred the slower attack and response of Class-A here. That more laidback character fit the song signature better here, which seems to be the antithesis of the Shanling. This shows how using the same song on the same DAP can be adapted to your preference based upon one IEM signature. This is doubly useful with the tunability of the VE. Having the ability to change the signature of the DAP is nice. Having that done so well on the IEM simply adds to the versatility. This was not my favorite signature on the Cayin, though.

Starting with a warmer more mellow character such as the ifi Pro iDSD does here helps soften what I called that “lighter tone” above. The ifi is simply a wonderful unit, with much adjustability. Even though I have other amps, the ifi is the stalwart of my rotation due to its versatility. Using this signature, the sound came across as passionate and honest. Not the lift of the Shanling, but not that tameness of the Cayin, either. Call it the middleman that does the dirty work. I really enjoyed this signature together. I would even go so far as to state it was my preferred signature on the ifi. This coming from someone who relishes superb bass presentation and the warmer, rich side of signatures. An interesting twist, which shows how good both really are together. I let myself get carried away into Drunken Soldier as a result. I did miss that poignant rumble of bass at the opportune times from this song, but the clarity of note was such that it more than made up for it. Sublime.

Signature 4:

As the baseline signature a couple of reviews called it thin and their least favorite. I look at signature 4 as the baseline of unattached additions. Nothing added, so the true signature shows. And as a standalone the sound, which emanates from the Erlkönig is true to the music. If this is what they call their favored signature to the flagship of Vision Ears, then this alone could sell many examples. It’s kind of like when Mazda sold a stripped racing version of the Miata to the public. Under the guise of provide a starting point for racing, the stripped model in itself was an absolute hoot to drive. Untethered from many amenities, the Miata sang in the hands of an experience driver. Many still consider that the finest Miata ever made (well, besides the first-year production, which we have, haha).

The Shanling M6 Pro comes across at the lightest level with this combination. But I think it lays bare any qualms that some might have with as purchase of the M6P. At its barest essentials, the combination is thoroughly wonderful. For some reason, the baseline sounds stellar here. And yes, I know it does not have that 4kHz push, which adds to the lifted mids. As a result, I thoroughly enjoyed this setting here. Some might call it boring, or uninspiring, but I call it an honest representation without the frills. For that, I truly appreciated both models. Not my favored, but this was what to me sounded possibly the best using this duo. An interesting conundrum.

Starting with Class-A this time, the Cayin N6ii comes across as a very competent participant, but with an asterisk. That is, the upper mids and lower treble shown through as a bit piercing. Where on the brighter Shanling, the compliment was togetherness. Here, the combination seems not to work and play well together. Not my favored signature here, but still quite good. If you prefer brighter signatures, this along with the Shanling in signature 2 might be your best option.

The ifi Pro iDSD on the other hand was wonderful paired this way. Lighter in tone, but with the darker nature of the ifi, the pair definitely played well together. This is a good pairing (GTO filter on the ifi) and one in which I could raise the volume without bothering my treble-dislike. Enough down low (from the ifi I assume), and the splendid natural sound of the VE, the pair was the Yin and Yang of togetherness. Working in harmony, I felt again inside, this time in Tyler’s voice, experiencing the song from within. This is a treasure to be relished. I played the song three times to make sure what I was hearing was really what I wrote. It is, and it was. My goodness.


Separate sources, ones in which I really like:

Running the Dethronray DTR1/HA-2 in concert and the DTR1 solo gave me a good impression of what the Erlkönig could do with a solid source only, that may or may not be heard by many. I really enjoy the Dethonray pair, and singularly the DTR1. Using signature 3 (sig-4 gave even me too much bass and the sound was somewhat of a poorly tossed salad), the bass came through rich and perceptive in detail. Vocals were strong and present in fortitude up front. Not only the Erlkönig but the DTR1 showed how versatile they could be. Finding the right signature quickly is just a brilliant manner for the VE to do. As noted here, changing sources leads to different signatures. And the ability of the VE to be able to modify and adapt to that source pays dividends.

While I have accepted that there are matchings, which simply do not work well together, I have tolerated some because I enjoy that sound so much. Here with the Erlkönig though, you can easily adapt to those differences. Of course, it comes at a price. A large price.

Another favorite is the XDuoo x10t ii/ifi xDSD, which I often use as my go to portable set up when not reviewing. I like the added personalities of the ifi in conjunction with the no nonsense sound from the XDuoo. A combination of which I hole in high regard. Warmer, warmer, warmer. Those “three” words can describe the iDSD and we could leave it there. But, just like the Erlkönig, the ifi is multi-dimensional. The most adaptive desktop amp I own. Changing filters to meet your source or song is as easy as changing the filter knob (little one on the near-left). As such, you could almost think of yourself as a sound engineer what with the multi-sigs from both the ifi and VE. Suffice to say that no matter the song, I could find an excellent combination quickly and without fuss. Simplicity is one thing I love, but the ability to bring out the absolute best of your source, song, IEM and amp is worth all those extra knobs sometimes.

Comparable IEM’s:

Vision Ears Erlkönig ($4500) vs Vision Ears Elysium ($3140, from review):

From my conclusion: My time is up, and I am glad. Why? Because the next lucky person will get to listen, while I remember. I will remember pecking out these words as music streams through my cranial and be glad. Glad that I had the opportunity to listen to an excellent pair such as the VE8 and Elysium. I had heard one iteration of a Vision Ears and it was good. These are truly excellent and deserving of top spot TOTL status. They cost a decent percentage of a good college education’s year. But that is the nature of this TOTL hunted beast. One in which we strive for the best. One in which some will get there, while others such as myself will only give a brief listen. And this makes me glad that I was given that brief window with which to compare to my other wares. There truly is not a winner here, but only differing purveyors of company visions. And that makes me glad.


The Elysium was a fabulous representation of sound, the Germanic way. It was clean, clear, crisp and detailed. A bit bass-shy (compared to the VE8, and Erlkönig), but nonetheless worthy of the perfect score given. One can debate “how can more than one be given a perfect score?” They would be partially correct but think of it this way: The Porsche 918 is an incredible driving machine, and well worthy of a perfect score. Very, very few cars on the planet can come close to its overall performance. Does that mean the lowly Mazda Miata is not worthy of the same perfect score? It is not as fast but can handle quite closely to the Porsche. The 918 will indeed run circles around the Miata at the Nurnenburgring, as it should. But to me that does not diminish the Miata’s performance at all. Every time I get in ours, I get that same $hit-eating grin on my face because it is so much damn fun. Would I take a 918? You bet, but the 1990 Miata we own is perfect to me.

In that same regard, both the Elysium and VE8 can be considered “perfect” even in comparison to the Erlkönig. They are superb examples of the VE sound, and the new flagship can take nothing from them whatsoever. But, the Erlkönig does indeed “raise that bar” of performance, enhancing all that the previous iterations set forth, doing so with reverence to the past accomplishments of VE. I think I respected VE after listening to the VE8. I added reverence after listening to the Elysium and Erlkönig.


Vision Ears Erlkönig ($4500) vs Vision Ears VE8 ($2600, from soon to be published review):

So, based upon that last comparison you might think that you should run right out and purchase a Da Vinci X. You would appreciate it, but this is about the VE8. And the VE8 will be a very fine choice for those who appreciate a mid-forward signature with enough air between the notes to allow you to drive a Kenworth through (look it up if you don’t know). Add in the clarity of that first clear blue 70-degree cloudless, windless day and you have the makings of a wonderful sounding critter. You would be right. The details wrought from it are as good as any I have heard. But I just cannot get by that mid-forward sound unless I was always angry and wanted to turn the volume up to ear-damaging levels. I would and do not fault anyone who thinks this is an excellent IEM, for it is. It simply does not match my sound character. Now go try one and prove me wrong. It will not be the first time.


Based upon what I wrote about the Elysium, the previous paragraph summary may come across as harsh towards the VE8. It is not. It is just that the mid-forward signature emitting from it was not my favored signature. As noted, the clarity could be all one needs to choose the VE8. Let’s put it this way: if someone were to “permanently loan” a VE8 to me, I would gladly accept it, and be glad. For it provides an alternative to some I have in my collection now. And that alone would prove its worth, giving an alternative sound when needed.

As for comparing against the Erlkönig? You definitely hear the connection. Air between notes. Efficient use of the drivers. Rich full sound stage. Bass that is fast, respectable and full when needed. But we have approached something costing 2x the amount within the same line of product. You might think that, “well…you compared the Miata to the 918??!!” you would be correct. The two here might more appropriately be the Miata vs the Mazda6 or Mazda6 vs the Mazdaspeed6. One is really quite brilliant. The other is off the charts brilliant.


Vision Ears Erlkönig ($4500) vs Empire Ears Legend X ($2200):

Another tour listen initially, I ended up purchasing one after the tour on discount. If I could only have one IEM, it would be the Legend X. I was completely embraced at the bosom of bass wrought from the LX. Taking me in, coddling me closely and deeply, the LX had me. Smitten would be too weak a word. Obsessed would be closer to the truth. I love that sound signature and thought, “I am done.” Then…the Erlkönig came along almost rewriting the record book. What an incredible sound emanates from the VE. Better control of the sound, and this isn’t really a fair competition. This does not in any way diminish my love for the LX. It only adds another flavor I have had the honor of enjoying.


Vision Ears Erlkönig ($4500) vs Empire Ears Wraith ($3500, B-stock $2600, from review):

From my conclusion: The duo is headed east to NYC at the moment, and I lament their loss. They are marvelous from two differing directions. The Valkyrie is certainly not a baby-Legend X, but a wonderfully affordable unit, which espouses terrific bass and the electrostat pulls the rest together. The Wraith on the other hand is meant for purity of sound, with a solid thump as well. Not like the Valk/Legend, but cleaner and respected for the overall slightly warm tone, which presents itself rightly as a TOTL. This is not kids play. This is serious business when you reach this point. To flippantly flail out $3500 on an IEM would be foolish no matter what us hobby-gentlemen state. I would state the same with the 64Audio pair mentioned often here as well. When one reaches this point, you had better listen, lest you find out the tuning is not for you. That said, the Wraith is forgiving enough that you would quickly adjust. And I do think that is one of its greatest strengths…the ability to win you over, once you listen. I still like the Valkyrie more, but the Wraith won me over in the end with its solid build, fabulous electrostats, and a sound, which the industry should take notice of…or be jealous on the sidelines as EE passes them by. Splendid, indeed.


From the above you should note that I preferred the Valk. I still do, as it more closely mimics my LX. But the Wraith raises the collective EE-brand bar and brought notice to other high-end IEM makers that they had better still pay attention to them. And in that, the Wraith is not only aptly named, but worthy of the comparison. I have yet to hear a better controlled bass than the Wraith (although the 64Audio U18 Tzar comes to mind as well…). Signature-3 on the Erlkönig comes as close as I have heard. And yes, that includes my beloved LX. The LX is bass quantity and quality with that old-west untamed, dirtiness that I love. The Wraith is that surgically sharp sickle quality of bass that is strong, and tight. In the end a bit too tight for my tastes, but that did not diminish my overall respect for it, no. The other aspects worked so well in concert, that it is worthy to be named in connection when talking about summit-fi. Each company wrought their own signature at that level, and the Wraith would be a worthy competitor to the Erlkönig.

Where the Erlkönig wins out over the Wraith is its ability to change sound in a moment’s notice. You want near-Legend quantity bass? Signature-1. You want crystalline sound for your classical music? Signature-4. And the Wraith simply cannot do that.

Finale (finally, they say):

I finish the review part (but thankfully not the listening part…) while raising the volume of the TR-Amp/MBP/Tidal trio laying loudly to twenty one pilots. This is a character that did not come out until I could sit back and enjoy the Ride, so to speak. Just sitting back and enjoying the marvelous sound wrought from the 13-driver critter. Hearkening back to a song played our son’s freshman year of college soccer often, A Sky Full Of Stars seals my impressions. This is an incredible unit, which has the ability to change tone and personality at a moment’s whim. The song is very special to us, as it was generally played at halftime and we began to think of that long drive home. The separation started at that moment, and we relished the second half of was most often a win (perennial powers in college soccer they are). But it brought emotive responses of appreciation that also allowed us to be fully immersed in the moment.

As such, I stop writing and just enjoy the moment. Watching the Bundesliga has brought some normality to our times, and rather than listen to fake crowd noise, I turn the Erlkönig up a notch. Probably more than I should, but it is so stellar a unit that it deserves the added benefits wrought from the music. Song For America from Kansas and days of yore affords me the pleasure.

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