Astrotec Phoenix6 ($1599): Astrotec aims for the moon and hits it with flames!
Pros: Gorgeous looks
Solid sound, which may appeal to many
Mids are sublime
Cable is soft & subtle
Cons: Not as well known as other TOTL brands
A large reach for the company?
Astrotec Phoenix6 ($1599): Astrotec aims for the moon and hits it with flames!
Intro: A good review friend of ours loaned me the Phoenix6 for listening. I liked it so much, that I am turning it into a (late) review. I graciously thank this fellow for the loan of the IEM. It will be returned (late!) to this fine fellow upon completion.
Astrotec is known for many models in the $100-300 range. They have also produced some successful TWS bud, expanding into that market. But, the Phoenix6 blows right on by these moderately priced items straight into TOTL range. This fits squarely with the Campfire Audio Supermoon Custom ($1500) as well as the THIEAUDIO V16 Divinity ($1499), the Fearless Audio ACME10 ($1799) and the Unique Melody MEST MKii ($1499). This is a tough bracket, and well above what Astrotec has done in the past. From my initial listening’s, and further; the Phoenix6 can certainly hold its own in this “near-TOTL” category.
The company’s first tribrid deserves a deep look.
>Astrotec’s First Tribrid Configuration.
>Four Sonion Electrostatic Super Tweeters.
>One Sonion Balanced Armature Driver.
>One Customized Dynamic Driver.
>Unique design with Titanium Alloy cavities.
>Lively, Detailed Sound Performance with sweet vocals.
>Balanced tuning with good extensions at both ends.
>High-purity silver-plated OFC cable.
>Cable: high-purity OCC 4.4mm+silver-plated 3.5mm.
>Frequency response: 5Hz-50kHz.
>Input Power: 1mW.
>Max Power: 5mW.
CFA Supermoon Custom ($1500)
UE Live Custom ($2200)
Astell & Kern ACRO CA1000
Astell & Kern 120 Titan
Many companies of late have gone with Anime artistry for the design of their boxes. Astrotec’s box is similar, but with gold lettering and a constellation on the back, you guessed it; the Phoenix. Laden with much useful information on the back, and a tasteful image of the IEMs on the front; the sleeve is well done. Opening the clamshell type flap like a book, you have another black paper cover with a nice thank you note from Astrotec.
Lifting that off, you are met with a tannish colored IEM case on the bottom, wrapped in soft foam; and the IEMs in the middle, surrounding a block of metal complete with serial number. A hole in two corners allows you to add this block to a keychain. It is of good heft as well as looking shiny and bright. Above that is a hard foam insert complete with silicon tips of three sizes and formulations along with two sets of foam tips. Tips for vocal & bass treatment are included as well as tri-flange in two sizes. Under that is the accessories pouch in a sleeve, in case you would rather carry the Phoenix in that as opposed to the hard case. Under that is the warranty card, and round inspection card to complete the package.
Tasteful and fairly efficient (and protective) of space, the presentation is a good one.
Coming with two gorgeous white-silver colored cables, the start of the Phoenix is stunning. It is a trick, though as both cables are of High-Purity OCC Copper. The Titanium shells look fit for jewelry with a tasteful sheen to them that is neither too garish, nor too subdued. The shells are still heavy, but not so much in the ear.
The Phoenix are elegant at which to look as well. The Titanium shells and faceplate lend a more traditional old-world look to them, which I appreciate. It seems we are moving back into the garish look, and these thankfully go the opposite direction. I am glad they did this. Those six-sided pressings on the faceplate look handmade, and shaped, lending even more credence to the old-world look. These would be at home in an old Medieval castle scene as in our ears. The white silver OCC Copper cable looks and functions wonderfully as well. Somewhat soft to lay, with no microphonics, there is a good ear guide coming out of the longer 2-pin connection. While somewhat stiff, it does not hinder comfort.
That Titanium shell has a single vent hole on top, which is nice to see. Some that are placed on the inner side can be covered up while wearing, which defeats the purpose to me. The “nub” on the inside is small enough not to bother (unlike many…), but large enough to help do the job of keeping the IEM in place while wearing. And as expected, the shell is acoustically tuned to maximize performance of the drivers involved. While the IEM is on the slightly large size, it fits almost flush using the included foam tips.
Four Sonion EST drivers take care of the high and ultra-high frequencies, while the balanced armature takes care of the highs and mids. The custom dynamic driver takes care of the lowe end.
Many IEM’s of late proclaim to be worthy of TOTL level sound, and accordingly carry the price. Some of another ilk claim to carry TOTL sound, but with mid-fi pricing. While I do not dispute either claim, as the lines seemingly become blurred over time; I take it with caution. When one has to too their own horn, that should be of concern. The Phoenix6 is not of that sort. Not proclaimed, but letting the sound speak for itself, I would certainly consider this a worthy flagship from the manufacturer. Even handed in signature, with good, solid, taut bass along with wonderfully musical mids, the treble to me is the icing on the cake. Sparkly but not to a fault, those highs transcend across the whole of the signature tying it all together, but with a smooth character reserved for few at this level. But do not insinuate that it is boring for it isn’t. Punctuating, but with character and a reach, which should satisfy all involved, those treble notes speak well towards an even tolerant signature.
An excellent, coherent mid-section comes across as smooth and rich, but without becoming soft or sloppy. By adding a small push in the upper mids, those sumptuous mid tones carry into the aforementioned treble note, as witnessed on “L-O-V-E,” by Nat King Cole. When the trumpet enters and his vocal range rises with it, we get the best of both sections, excellent mids with strong but not overly cumbersome carrying note into tight, but musical treble notes through that slight upper mid push. Thoroughly musical.
Bass to me seems slightly relaxed, but not slow or sloppy, simply flowing in nature. A decently deep reach (especially with foam tips) carries those notes to a nice extension, as witnessed on Nils Lofgren’s excellent live “Keith Don’t Go.” His guitar work echos into the top, but carries into the mid-bass region with a tautness, which compliments it being slightly relaxed. To me, this goes into the clarity with which the song permeates across that smooth signature. It does reach well into the sub-bass region with good attack and decay (even to me, hence smooth) on Grant Green’s superb “Idle Moments.” If you have a chance, listen, and pay particular attention to when the sax solo comes in. You can feel the reed vibrate and the blow of air across it making simply sensuous notes permeate the senses. This is one of the best transitions into a smoothness, which not all headphone (or speakers for that matter) can successfully carry. Here is the perfect fit, with the Phoenix6’s smooth character giving us excellent detail, but smoooooth. Bass is still fun, engaging and accurate, even with the smooth character.
Mids bear that smooth character, but sit slightly behind the others, which gives the Phoenix 6 a slight-V signature with maturity. On “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” from Big Joe Turner, the percussion sits behind the rest, but carry with it good detail and spatial clarity. Not overshadowing, but not shrinking either. Vocals sound natural and succinct, with no dawdling about. A thoroughly mature, engaging signature here, without becoming intrusive.
As mentioned by Ryan Soo in his superb review (when are his not superb?), the treble note tends to be perfect for jazz. And to me it is. On “Soul Kitchen,” from The Red Garland Quintet, the piano reaches into that upper range, and does so with authority, but not overly done. Hence slightly laid-back as well, but with good reach. Just about perfect for my tastes. The EST’s are heard here with a sound described by Ryan as “whispy,” and I would concur. Some lilt is there, but this does not make the upper notes thin or lacking. Smooth with good character and depth of notes makes for a natural sound. This can come down to a smooth front end, which does not bite as hard of note as some. I find it thoroughly pleasant.
Soundstage comes across as cubic all around, which good expansion within that frame. Air can be discerned from across the three dimensions, adding to the voluminous feel to the song. Not beyond expansive like some, but fully taking into account every last bit of space within its reach. Every spot has a purpose, whether that be in support of the clarity giving tight airiness, or the depth of reach down low. Not confusion, but fulfilled.
Astrotec Phoenix 6 ($1599) v CFA Supermoon Custom ($1500):
The Supermoon to me represents a superb interpretation of what CFA is trying to achieve. The Solaris 2020 & Ara 2020 (and Andro2020) are three of my favorites for different reasons. The Supermoon slots in perfectly, providing the richness of character from the Solaris, and the laid-back nature of the Ara. Couple that with “almost as good” detail representation from the Andro, and you pretty much have the best of all worlds in the Supermoon.
Deeper in reach of bass than the Phoenix 6, and with more reverberation, which bleeds into the mids hinder the comparison. Taken singularly, the Supermoon stands well, but compared to the smoothness of the Phoenix 6, it falls behind. The CFA model is harder to drive as well, and with a slight tizziness in the upper mid-range. Nonetheless, it is a superb example, with a smoothness that is slightly “less smooth” than the Phoenix and even more laid-back. The fit is superb and the Smoky Litz cable, legendary; even with its detractors.
This would come down to whether you like a more forward smoothness or a bit deeper reach, with less control and a less smooth character.
Astrotec Phoenix 6 ($1599) v UE Live Custom ($2200):
A custom I came about through T.H.E. Show last summer, this is a purchase I do not regret. The Live defines clarity and a detailed signature in an IEM. Custom helps, but even the model I tried was excellent and easy to see why so many musicians go this route.
The signature is definitely more forward than the other two. Bass is taut and deep reaching as well. Mids are simply sumptuous and a defining character of the Live. This is of course by design, for artists, and it shows forth with clarity and detail to be envious of. Still not as well-known as other manufacturers, artists know and they are right. On some songs, the reach up top can be a bit too much for me, and I have to turn the volume down, but on jazz such as Kenny Barron’s excellent “Isfahan,” I find the enticing piano work gravitates me towards raising the volume. And the detail wrought becomes even more enveloping.
Where the Phoenix 6 is smooth, the Live is detailed. Where the Phoenix 6 is semi-laid-back, the Live presents itself with the best mids of the lot, and some of the best if not outright best details in signature I have heard. Stunning comes to mind. And of course, one would hope so fir a price 50% higher than the Phoenix 6.
When the fellow reviewer sent me the Phoenix 6, I set it aside due to deadlines and general laziness. Once I heard it, I figured that my errors were a huge misstep and disservice to the Atrotec model. Instead of building it into other reviews, I had to bring others to it. And while that is all right, I believe I missed a tremendous opportunity. But one, which is now caught up.
The Phoenix 6 is a splendid IEM, and worthy of the moniker of TOTL in their lineup. Stunningly smooth of character, but without become boring or flat, and it eschews the novelty of the Harman Target Curve. I for one am glad, especially since the very engineers who designed that “target” came out with an update, which pretty much blew the HTC out of the water as a baseline for “all that is well and good.” Thankfully, Astrotec went their own way as they have; and even though they fly under the radar, to me they are one of the best Far East manufacturers out there currently. In so much, they deserve huge applause and acumen for going their own route, without following the herd. A rarity, and if the Phoenix 6 is the result, please; PLEASE keep going this way.
Affordable for a flagship, superb build, gorgeous looks and fit simply compliment the excellent sound characteristics of the Phoenix 6 and it is well worth a serious look if you are in the market for “something else,” which others do not have.
Well done, Astrotec.