Empire Ears Phantom.
This was a bit hard to do; my Phantom is custom, with a balanced 2.5 mm cable. I dug up an adaptor to allow me to go single ended into the National (and, to use the Liquid Carbon, I needed that adaptor, and another to allow me to go into the ¼” unbalanced input). The Phantom is a bit easier to drive, needing a bit less on the volume switch. I put on Israeli tenor sax player Oded Tzur’s “The Three Statements of Garab Dorje” , some more small group jazz on ECM (Oded Tzur Quartet, Translator’s Note, FLAC ripped from CD). The Phantoms give a closer up, wider perspective (the Zombie stage is deeper, though). Oded’s sax tone is unique; it has a bit of flute tonality to it, and he is interested in Indian, microtonal music, and he varies his touch, tone, edge of notes constantly. This is more clearly rendered on the Phantom than on the Zombie, with the smallest variation in dynamics and texture rendered. On the other hand, the tonality of the sax is more fleshed out with the Zombies. Similarly, bass notes were stronger and richer on the Zombie, tighter on the Phantoms. And cymbal sounds were much more aggressive on the Zombie, with maybe a bit too much bite up top- if you’re sibilance sensitive, beware (though I’m usually pretty allergic to splashy highs, and generally didn’t find it bothersome). Since I was in Israel, I switched to Rona Keenan’s “My Prison by the Sea” (a free download on Bandcamp, https://ronakenan.bandcamp.com/track/my-prison-by-the-sea, part of a great album I downloaded from there. Einayim Zarot). Keenan’s voice has a bit more “natural” tone on the Phantom, more sense of 3D voice from a body, closer up. It’s close with the Zombie; she’s maybe a bit flatter, but she’s surrounded by the band, and sounds enmeshed in the music. I listen to Classical occasionally, but much more to other genres, but was curious how these handled orchestral music, so I went with the Allegretto, a Deutche Grammaphone Beethoven Symphony, #7 in A, Op. 92, Herbert Von Karajan (24/96 HDTracks download to FLAC). This section builds to a powerful orchestral passage about 2 minutes in. While the Zombies do give a good, powerful rendering, with space and grit, the Phantoms are just much cleaner, keeping each section sounding like it should; strings, particularly, get a bit of a metallic taste with the Zombie, and the tonality of sections is not quite as preserved. For male vocals, went to Peter Perrett’s “How the West Was Won” (WAV rip from CD). Perrett has one of those voices you’ll love or hate-not a “Pro” or studied sound, but very expressive. I dig him…The two were close, with easy to understand vocals, richness/cragginess to his voice, with the Zombie a tiny bit more sibilant, set back a bit more (Lyric highlight: “just like everyone else, I’m in love with Kim Kardasian, she’s taken over from J-Lo as my number 1”). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYuGlD3XSOw
Rapsidio Galaxy (v1)
This is the old version of this high end iem from Rhapsidio, which has since been replaced by an upgraded Galaxy. This is single customized DD driver iem. It shares its cousin’s coherency and emphasis on pace, being a very involving headphone as well. It has a closer perspective, with the vocalists slightly closer on the stage. It also has a brighter sound, from more emphasized high frequencies, which opens up the stage, opens up the space between instruments, but also has a bit more sibilance. Listening to “The Shape I’m In” (Stage Fright, 24/96 FLAC), There is more detail through the Galaxy, with a clear sound of Robbie Robertson’s and the electric keyboard on the right, which sound a bit like 2 guitars on the Zombie, and harmony vocals spread nicely across the stage. Richard Manuel’s vocal is slightly back, and the various instruments are quite separated. The Zombie adds more “flesh” to the vocals, body to the instruments, thrust to the bass, while still having a wide stage, and lots of detail. Garth Hudson’s organ solo just drips with richness with the Zombies-makes me feel like I need to diet…To listen for female vocals and detail, I put on “I Can See For Miles” (Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out, m4a rip from CD). This was a bizarre cover of what was a strange album to begin with. Haden, on a dare, the story goes, multi-tracks her vocals to recreate all the vocals and instruments on the original album (the results are fantastic!). Both iems do fine with all the details Haden adds in, the odd wailing sounds (to recreate guitars), the vocal percussion accents, but the Zombie presents it as more of a seamless fabric, everything integrated into the whole, and has less sibilance, but less open space as well. And Haden’s chorus of herself JUST ROCKS! The Zombie just NAILS it on this. In Terms of ergonomics and use: driver flex seems nonexistent on my Galaxy; the body is smaller, but I have an easier time with fit and comfort with the Zombie.
To Sum Up
I really enjoyed my time with the Zombie. It has enough warmth to put meat on all the instrumentalists and vocalists, and coherence and drive to make listening to music exciting. Well worth auditioning if you’re shopping in this price range