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Review: Elysian Annihilator 2023

In the boutique niche of high-end in-ear monitors, few names hold more reverence than Elysian Acoustic Labs. Founded by mechanical engineer and audio hobbyist Lee Quan Min in 2015, Elysian is responsible for a range of high-performance IEMs that generally break from mainstream tuning conventions.

Of all Elysian IEMs, Annihilator is the most famous and, seemingly only recently, also the most popular among high-end enthusiasts. Annihilator debuted in 2021, but its 2023 revision – produced in partnership with, and distributed by, cable maker Effect Audio – has seen a mini-revival of sorts that makes this IEM feel fresh and very contemporary. 

My personal curiosity was piqued when the ‘new’ Annihilator started being lauded by many of my peers as a flagship-level all-rounder. I’ve always known Annihilator to be more of a treble specialist, with what’s widely considered the ‘world’s best treble’ in an IEM, but I got the sense that its bass performance was lacklustre. 

The 2023 revision, among other things, supposedly changes that, with a more prominent bass tuning that brings it closer to the bass-driven IEMs I enjoy, and a slightly warmer tuning profile as a result of this change. 

So, when a local enthusiast told me he was about to purchase the new Annihilator from our good friends at MusicTeck, I made him promise to let me borrow it for a week so I could finally hear it for myself, and share my impressions with all of you. Would the ‘Treble King’ live up to its hype, and would I still find the bass lacking for my basshead preferences? Let’s find out.  

Inside Annihilator

Elysian’s Annihilator 23 is the company’s current flagship 7-driver tribrid IEM, comprising a Foster dynamic driver for bass, four balanced armatures for mids and treble, and two Sonion electrostatic tweeters for upper treble, coupled together with a four-way crossover. It also features some of Effect Audio’s Japanese-made wiring internally, which supposedly further tweaks its performance compared to the original.  

Annihilator’s hard-to-drive Sonion ‘stats’ make it one of the least sensitive IEMs I’ve used, with a rating of 94dB/100mV/1khz and a 22Ω impedance. Not since FatFreq’s Maestro SE (reviewed here) have I tested such a power hog of an IEM, although to be fair, it’s not quite as stubborn as MSE and only slightly less sensitive than my benchmark IEM, Sony’s IER-Z1R. 

Elysian claims to use two ‘unique’ air chamber designs for Annihilator: DiVe Pass, a front-and-rear air chamber for the dynamic driver that tightens bass response and prevents phase cancellation, and 3D AccuPost, a separate air chamber for expanding the stage and refining the imaging. Ironically, both of these aspects are also what I personally consider to be Annihilator’s ‘weaker’ points, which might explain why they’ve been highlighted in the marketing materials.

Design and fit

Since I don’t have the original packaging with me, I’ll jump straight to the design and fit of this rather beautifully-made IEM. 

Annihilator’s earpieces are made from a clear resin or acrylic, possibly the clearest I’ve seen to date. The material feels thick, sturdy, yet very soft to the touch, and has remarkable clarity that gives full view to the IEM’s neat but complex internals. I’m not usually a fan of this see-thorough design in IEMs, but I must say that Annihilator 23 sets a new benchmark for quality in this regard.   

The Annihilator I have to test is the standard ‘gold’ version; it’s also available with a standard brushed stainless steel faceplate and nozzles, and, for an extra $200, a ‘premium’ titanium finish. Some claim the titanium faceplate and nozzles slightly alter the sound profile, so if you’re in the market for Annihilator, consider your preferences before choosing the right version for you.

Unfortunately for me, the new Annihilator inherits the same nozzle Lee has been using on all his IEMs since the Effect Audio collaboration; a thicker, longer nozzle that I first experienced with his Gaea and then Diva 23 IEMs. 

As much as I disliked the sound profile of those two IEMs, it was their nozzles I found most offensive, and Annihilator is no different. My ears still hurt from the last few days of tip rolling these monster nozzles for my delicately small ear canals, but of course, your own fit mileage will most likely vary. 

Speaking of tip rolling, my suggestion for those with smaller ear canal openings is to try out the new AZLA Sedna EarFit MAX ASMR tips. They’re soft, low profile, and you may find their treble-taming narrow bores to be a good fit for Annihilator’s sound – as well as your ears. 

Cable

I’d be remiss not to mention the stock cable that accompanies Annihilator 23: Liquid Links’ Martini modded by Effect Audio with P-Ear ConX connectors. This 8-wire, 26awg, palladium-plated silver and gold-plated copper cable has to be one of the best-looking, best-made, most ergonomic stock cables I’ve had the pleasure of using. 

Yes, it’s on the thicker side, and yes, it has heavy hardware, but it’s so soft, tightly-braided, and non-microphonic, I believe most people will just love how premium and comfortable it looks and feels. Best of all, this is not an ultra-expensive cable like those that have started shipping with some modern flagship IEMs; the $350 sticker price is on the ‘budget’ side of premium cables, and I can honestly say it’s worth every penny.

The only ‘downside’ is the P-Ear connector which, while actually being very resilient, is not that common. Thankfully the ConX system means you can switch it out with different connector types, and use the cable with other IEMs too.    

Continue to sound impressions…

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Guy Lerner

Guy Lerner

An avid photographer and writer 'in real life', Guy's passion for music and technology created the perfect storm for his love of portable audio. When he's not playing with the latest and greatest head-fi gear, he prefers to spend time away from the hobby with his two (almost) grown kids and wife in the breathtaking city of Cape Town, and traveling around his native South Africa.

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2 Responses

  1. Excellent review and comparisons.

    Would suggest trying the liquid links venom that Elysian supplies with the “X”. Tames the treble and brings about some more warmth and richness to the mids.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I haven’t tried the Venom myself, but if it does what you describe then yes, I can definitely see it working with Annihilator.

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