Sivga Phoenix: More than a pretty package?
Pros: Gorgeous looks
Bass for those who love it
Good upper range
Cons: Does it do enough to separate itself?
Extremely hard market segment (not Sivga’s fault)
Sivga Phoenix ($299, $255 on Amazon): More than a pretty package?
Sivga Phoenix site
Intro: I have the Sendy Aiva, purchasing it on a whim due to its beautiful look. After purchase and review of the Sendy, I noticed a near-identical headphone from Sivga, the P-II. My mind went, “Hey! They look identical!!!” Well, Sivga is the parent company of Sendy, and as such market Sendy as their higher-end line up. I always had the desire to compare the two but did not get the chance. That was two years ago. Fast-forward to now and Sivga contacted me, asking if I was interested in the Phoenix first. I agreed, and a loaner was sent.
Marketed below the Aiva, and specifically tailored to the Smartphone market first and foremost, the Phoenix pretty much needs no introduction, since there are numerous reviews already present on the interwebbie-thingy. I will specifically try and focus on a couple of headphones (the competition) as well as the Aiva, since, well I have them inhouse. I thank Collin for the loan of the Phoenix, and upon finishing my review, will be returned or forwarded to another.
*As per all of my reviews, the unit was opened, checked fully for functionality then placed on a unit (Shanling M0) for over 75 hours playing random music. It is my belief that the user wants to know what the unit may sound like after approximately 6 months of use. Any differences are noted in the sound aspect, if I am able to discern any. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I do not.
Driver: 50mm Dynamic Driver (polycarbonate film)
Impedance: 32 +/- 15% ohms
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
Sensitivity: 103dB +/- 3dB
In the Box:
Zebrano wood Headphone
2m fabric-covered cable OCC
3.5mm to 6.35mm adaptor
Cloth bag for cable
Pleather zippered-case, form-fitting
An extra set of perforated pleather pads, which are thicker
Sendy Aiva ($599)
Verum Audio Verum 1 ($349)
Final Audio Sonorous 3 ($299)
HiBy R3 Pro Saber
iPhone XS Max
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Tidal MQA playlist
The Phoenix comes with a nice presentation, replete with wallpapered wood as a separator between the two angular halves of the box. Laden with the light-colored logo seemingly “etched” on the box against a black background, the verbiage is refreshingly seen, not hidden like many of late. The back is laden with Oriental characters, and company information.
Opening the box, you get the semi-hard case, which is a direct copy of the Sendy Aiva case; but flimsier. The headphone shaped case mimics the look of a body part, either intentionally or not; I do chuckle every time I see it. I feel like I am grabbing…well you get it. A small handle along with a good-sized zipper highlight the case, which adds the SIVGA logo. Unzipping clamshell style, the bottom also carries four pegged “feet” so it can stand up as well.
Inside you find the headphones, and a cloth bag (of which I would assume reclaimed fiber since the Sendy Aiva is that way…) and for me I could fit the perforated pleather pads in as well. Just big enough for all of that, the size is what I would call semi-portable. I will also admit at this point that the Phoenix is a good-looking unit. Craftmanship is on par with the Aiva, which I really like. Clean and crisp lines define the shapes, but more on that below.
From the get-go, I noted the look of the Zebrano wood. With a highly polished look that is almost plastic, you have to look closely to note the wood. Finish is impeccable on the wood as a result of that craftmanship. Smoothly polished would be an understatement. I would call the overall build “industrial quality Chinese.” Which in this case is a way of stating that the build is nie-on perfect and efficient of materials. No extra material seems to be present where not needed. No extra support in the yoke or headband like some headphones I own. Svelte of size and material, the build may come across as cheap to some, but I consider it quite good with the aid of CAD programming and handcrafted workmanship as well.
The yoke and headband are thinner stainless steel and hold their shape well. Combined with the wood cups and angled pads, the fit is snug, but not with too much pressure. Plus, even though the unit is on the smaller size I could comfortably fit my average-sized ears inside. With enough rotation fore/aft and up/down I had no trouble with finding a comfortable fit. The headband comes with a pleated leather strap, that reminds me of mini pillows spaced evenly and of gradually increasing, then decreasing size. Unfortunately, to achieve a proper fit, the strap is all the way up, against the headband. A more proper adjustment system would be appreciated, but as I stated I was able to achieve a good fit.
The chrome rings around the cups tie nicely the cup to the blacked-out grill, they aren’t fingerprint catchers to my experience. I will say that while the tie helps, I find it a bit distracting to the overall appearance. Especially when the cups are so highly polished, finished and of such a good look. A minor detail to me, but one that takes away from the overall subtlety gorgeous appearance.
Even with the fit “issues,” the overall build quality is good and so is the comfort. I will also add that at this point I tried the perforated leather pads, hoping to enhance the bass a bit. What I found was a thinning of the sound, with a bit better detail. As such, I left the stock pads on for the rest of the test.
The cable is long. 1.6m long. Coming with 2.5mm jack going into the cups, there are a plethora of opportunities to upgrade the cable, but I do like the stock. Sleeved in design there is a bit of microphonics associated with it, but not much. The cable lies nicely and other than being a bit too long stays neatly out of the way. While not the looker that comes with the Sendy Aiva (along with quite stylish adaptors for pretty much all occasions), the Phoenix cable matches the price associated at this level. Purchase an aftermarket balanced cable for under $200usd and you could be good.
Using a 50mm polycarbonate filmed dynamic driver, the Phoenix does not stray too much from the norm. At least in size. With a 3mm thick high-performance rubidium iron boron magnet, the speed is supposed to increase in response to the sound passing through. This would theoretically make for faster transitions and transient sound. I am not the best judge for this, but the sound does not come across as laggy, mushy or slow. There is a certain speed to it, which may be a result of the technology involved. Aiding this is a copper clad aluminum coil, which is both light (aluminum) and strong (copper). Again, this might tend towards a faster response as well. The polycarbonate coating on the diaphragm helps to keep the driver in its pristine state and decrease long term deformation. Again, nothing earth shattering, but respectable. One could rightly state, “why mess with something when it works?”
As the parent company, you may often find yourselves trying to compete with your own brand. Think of Honda and Acura. The Civic Si is an outstanding performer, and one which could give the smaller Acura TX a run for its money. So, at what point do you “tone down” the performance of the parent model so as not to overcome the “sport” version? Such is the dilemma when we have companies such as this in the audio world.
Since arrival two weeks ago, the price has dropped from $299 to roughly $255 on Amazon. This shows the company is willing to drop the price making it more competitive in this segment. Maybe internal analyzation allowed for that to be competitive. Not a bad thing in my mind.
Upon first listen, I immediately noted how this didn’t really sound like a true open-backed headphone. Yes, I could hear outside noise, but the proverbial “hands over cups” test did not alter the signature much; if at all. In talking to another reviewer, we both noted the same thing and how there is a significant baffling layer (still thin) against the stainless-steel grill (very close to it), plus the driver seems to be housed inside a cup, aiding in the semi-closed sound. If I dared, I would take the cup apart and remove the baffling. This would be a good gauge as to how the layer affected the sound. There is a certain lack of “breathing” from the driver one would expect from a typical open backed headphone, which could help to explain its slightly warmer tone.
So, to summarize:
The Phoenix gives off a good bit of detail, not unlike those of similar price, but to me a bit behind the Meze 99Classic. Not bad, but the Phoenix does not have that last bit of air between the notes, like the Meze. As a result, the sound is a bit warmer than the Meze, but not as much as its cousin, the Sendy Aiva. I was surprised how “mature” the Aiva sounds when compared. Call the Phoenix the rambunctious teenager in comparison. Not quite sure of itself, but the desire to explore is there. Bass comes along strong, closing the gap into Audeze open back bass territory. Almost. Good depth can bleed into the mids, hindering the vocal range a bit, giving a somewhat classic V-shape, but not nearly as defined a V as the low end ChiFi could be. This isn’t bad. Vocals do come across as fairly clean, and so does the rest of the mid-section, yielding to a somewhat bright (but not overly) treble section. There is a certain amount of lilt up top, but not once did that sound become grating or hold tenuously onto my ears. Pleasantly rolled, but without losing that spunk up top would describe what I hear. A good effort, and a worthy candidate at this level, but with some caveats. Read on…
As stated, the bass of the Phoenix comes across as reaching but a bit loose. This can become a hinderance in faster tracks, which have a predominant bass line such as Alex Fox’ Vanessa. While that is a laid-back song, the bass guitar and drums set the tone for the whole song, and here the Phoenix struggled to keep up, which might help explain the hinderance towards the mids. That slight lag gave a good foundation, but one that seemed a ¼ step behind. I do like the Sivga, but down low was a bit untamed. That said, the bass was strong for such a straightforward driver, but not on the same level of say the Campfire Audio Cascade or good Audeze bass. I do like it, but don’t expect it to make up for bass-light songs.
To me, the mids are the star of the show, and this comes across in vocals. Dave Matthews voice on Dodo is sublime through the Phoenix and makes me appreciate the care with which Sivga paid attention here. That richness of Dave’s voice comes across, but there is also sufficient clarity to counter the bass. A nice combination results. Succinct in the middle section, female vocals are quite nice as well. While there is a lack of the lilt, which can come across in really detail-oriented female vocals; you still get the sense of a developed natural tone to the female vocals. This to me carries over throughout the mids providing a good tie between the lows and highs.
Some say that when you have a smoother tonality in the mids, the treble suffers. The Aiva has that smooth tendency but sounds so sweet you do not miss that sparkly note up top. Here the Phoenix takes that smoother nature and keeps the vibrant note to give a slight amount of lilt and sparkle up top. Brighter than the Aiva, but not grating, that push up top helps to provide the V-shape spoken about. The richness of tone is still there as a result. A combination of sparkle, richness and smooth tone rolled together.
Soundstage to me is deeper than wide, with a good height to it as well. Not the widest, not the highest, not the widest. Think Goldilocks and that middle bed. Just right, but nothing spectacular. That said there is the good depth (better than average), which aids imaging front to back. Think “somewhat” narrow concert venue, but with enough speakers placed around you to give good separation and layering as well. Instruments are well placed front to back as well, but a bit hindered by the average width. Not bad mind you, but nothing special. That middle bed of Goldilocks again.
Sivga Phoenix ($255) vSendy Aiva ($599):
The Aiva was a spur purchase due to the gorgeous looks. I do not regret that purchase. Priced well above the Phoenix, this may not be a fair comparison, but since the two are close cousins, this gives a good look into the genetics and DNA of the family heritage.
Upon first listen with the Aiva, I was taken in by the smooth tones emitting from within. Definitely an open back, I can hear the pecks on my MBP as Big Head Todd & The Monsters play. Slightly rolled off up top, the Phoenix provides a more vibrant signature with more sparkle as well. Bass is essentially even, but the Aiva has better control to me, especially when you run the gorgeous cable at the balanced option. Instruments tend to take a back seat in the Aiva, where even with the V-shape, the Phoenix presents a more in your face sound. The Phoenix is the ungainly teenager who wants to explore NOW. The Aiva is the mature father who tries to tell his son, “patience, it will all come soon enough.”
The head strap on the Aiva is also unacceptable to me. Thin leather as opposed to the pleated, puffed head strap on the Phoenix, it seems Sivga has learned a bit. Sharing the same yoke shape and wares, the Phoenix does fit better, and the extra weight from the Aiva can definitely be felt. If I had to choose one over the other, I would still spend the extra on the Aiva, but at that price, I do find alternatives I like more such as the Kennerton Magni (B-stock, new). But that is a closed back headphone, and not really a slam on the Aiva, for it is still quite good.
Family resemblance most definitely comes through between the two here, and the Phoenix can claim a bit on the older cousin, without embarrassing itself too much.
Sivga Phoenix ($255) vVerum Audio Verum 1 ($349):
I remember when this came out. I read some information on it and took a flyer. I had ordered the Zebrano wood, but when checkout came it showed as out of stock (even as I could choose it), the demand was such from TTVJ. I happily ordered the last Boobinga from Todd and chuckled to myself as others tried to purchase but could not. Not very nice of me, really.
The fit is wonky (I have Version 1), the look is wonky, and the unit is big. But man, oh man, that sound. The flavor then, pretty much everyone gasped, ooowed and aaaawwd, and spoke with increased verve in their voice over the fun, fruitful flavor emanating from within. Many said they had never heard such detail and clarity from this price before. It is still selling like hotcakes now, and I am still glad I purchased it.
As mentioned, it is big, but the fit is such that many long listening sessions could not dampen my enthusiasm. Mids were clean, clear, crisp and detailed. Bass was of sufficient quality to hold your attention and it did.
Listening now for the comparison here, I am reminded of the above and how damn good the Verum 1 is. I have always hated the phrase or saying, “punches above its weight,” or “competes at twice the price,” for that does disservice to some truly fine wares priced above that of which you speak. But here I might use that terminology, but instead state, “maybe the others just don’t sound good enough at the same price?” Such a statement makes me feel that those at the same price point are UNDERperforming. We as consumers demand performance in many items. And here the Verum 1 delivers, embarrassing the competition with a clarity that to me is class leading. Think of how the original VW GTi reset the hot hatch market, even if it wasn’t the fastest or best handling. It became THE benchmark for its all-around functionality and performance like few cars before it. And certainly NOT in that class.
The bass comes across with aplomb as well. Not gargantuan, but “near-Audeze” levels that keep the foundation solid and set the tone. If I want massive bass, I throw on the Cascades. If I want an open back that has such a good bass line I focus on other sounds, the Verum 1 is it in my corral.
Vocals are near-sensuous in play, and on Armor verdadero, the Afro-Cuban All Stars come across with such passion that you cannot help but tap your toes and swing your hips. Throw in the trumpet chorus behind and you get detail for days. The Phoenix simply cannot match that. It is good and acceptable, but behind the Verum 1. The Phoenix is a near-splendid unit with which to listen. The Verum 1 is spectacular.
Sivga Phoenix ($255) vFinal Audio Sonorous 3 ($299):
The Final Audio Sonorous 3 was a recent used purchase. Feeling the “need” to fill in a couple of holes in my line up, this is the perfect opportunity to compare the two. Known as one of the standards when it comes to headphones, the Sonorous 3 seems to be the “lower-mid-fi” hit in the lineup. After a couple of longer listening sessions, I would concur. This is a really fine unit, even if it lacks a bit of bass for me. Bending the yoke carefully has aided in the fit, which has promoted not only a better fit but added the bass, which was missing due to a less than stellar fit.
The Sivga easily bests the Sonorous 3 in the fit segment, and I do not really care for the wonky yoke or adjustment. While the Phoenix lacks that extra space, it is comfortable. With the 3, there is pressure on the lower pads. As said, I am still determining the best fit.
Sound-wise though, the Sonorous 3 is very, very musical. Clarity for days, one can easily pick out individual note location with excellent detail retrieval to boot. The Phoenix cannot match that. Where the Sivga can is in providing a bit lusher, richness to the tone, but that does come at the expense of clarity. The Sonorous excels at detailed guitar works as well as orchestral movements. Such a fine sound emanates from this, that I am loath to take them off.
The Sivga does provide a bit more lilt up top, but the Sonorous treble note is just about perfect. So much so that I would very much like to try the more expensive units. If you desire an inexpensive unit, that is simply gorgeous at which to look, the Sivga wins, and can provide you with a certain richness. If you prefer more detail and clarity of note giving more air between the notes, without sacrificing a warmer tonality; then the Final Audio is the choice.
Sivga Phoenix ($255) v Meze 99Classic ($309):
I can vividly remember when the 99’s came my way. They were simply stunning at which to look with impeccable build quality. Having tried many other Meze offerings, they are all impeccable. And I do believe the 99’s set the tone for entry level headphones, which happen to look beautiful in the last five years.
The sound backs this up as well. With more detail (to me) than the Sivga, it really isn’t close. The Phoenix provides the warmer tone, with that push up top. The 99 provides the user with such detailed note, that you hang on every note. Not for everyone though, the Meze excels at music, which demands detail. The Sivga provides the user with a tone that adds a bit more richness. Going back to back you could almost describe the Sivga as sluggish, but that would not be fair for it really isn’t. Simply put, the Meze offers such sound that not much can compete with it in the clarity department at this price (save the Sonorous 3).
To decide on one over the other is harder here. If you desire the utmost in detail, it is easily the Meze. But if you want a certain mid-centric sound that is V-shaped, then the Sivga might be the better choice.
I found the Phoenix plays nicely with a variety of sources, but some did stand out. While I really enjoyed the pairing of it with the EarMen Sparro/MBP, finding it to provide a vibrant, full and rich signature, the duo of the HiBy R3 Pro Saber/XDuoo MT-601 played the best to me. I was actually quite surprised, as the trio came across as smooth with the same vibrancy heard in the others, but without being thick. I know the 601 is oriented more towards IEM’s, but the Phoenix is so easy to drive, that the trio was a pure joy with which to listen.
The Sivga promotes itself as usable across different sources, and with the two listed above proves its value in the portable market and workplace setting. The duo of my iPhone XS Max/Sparrow came across as quite good, boding well for the portable market. But my favorite combination was the affordable HiBy/XDuoo combo. Nice to note that an inexpensive set up could provide me with decent listening pleasure.
At what level do we set satisfaction? I could happily live with my Thinksound ON2, and the used Final Audio Sonorous 3’s I purchased. OK, and the Kennerton Magni. But when we compare levels, the Phoenix is chipping into a market that is simply brutal to all comers. And I’m not sure the Sivga has done enough. I do really enjoy the sound, and it is beautiful at which to look. But this is something that just gnaws at me, and I still cannot wrap my gray matter around it. It is warm and musical. It also has pretty good clarity, hence the paradox.
Currently listening to Chris Cain’s You Won’t Have A Problem When I’m Gone kind of summarizes my thoughts. I didn’t have a problem when the Sivga arrived, and I won’t when it leaves. But and I do say this, I will miss it for the differences provided against some really tough competition. The gorgeous looks. The small size. The competent semi-closed back sound (due to the damping material). And the sound. I’m not sure I get the association with “Phoenix,” for to me there was no need to rise from the ashes. Especially since the Aiva is quite competent, even if fairly niche in market. But has the Phoenix done enough against that tough competition? I’m not sure they have and would kindly ask that each of you potential buyers do your own homework and take a listen. You may like it, you may not, but the time spent together will surely be worth it for comparative purposes if nothing else. The Phoenix deserves that.
I wish Sivga luck and would love a shot at the P-II to compare with the Sendy. That may better represent what Sivga is trying to accomplish here, and a better gauge at which to judge the parent company. Following a near-cult classic is tough and the P-II may just be the match. I thank Collin for the loan of the Phoenix, I did enjoy my time with it, and reluctantly send it back.