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Review: Vision Ears VE10

Vision Ears (VE) is one of those tentpole brands that any self-respecting IEM audiophile will immediately recognise. The Cologne-based boutique manufacturer, founded in 2013 by Marcel Schönen and Amin Karimpour, has been at the forefront of in-ear monitor innovation for most of the past decade. 

Some of its flagship creations, like the exclusive Erlkönig, have an almost cult-like following among enthusiasts, and only recently the company released a new set of designer faceplates for Erlkönig devotees, even though the IEM itself was discontinued a few years back. 

VE has two product lines: the VE line and Premium line, both of which share the company’s tuning philosophies, but diverge slightly for specific audiences. VE line IEMs are usually numbered, while Premium line IEMs typically have their own individual theme and branding, Erlkönig being a prime example.

VE10 marks the 10th anniversary of both the company and the VE line. As with previous VE line models, VE10 showcases VE’s custom and universal IEM craftsmanship, although we’re still waiting patiently for news of a VE10 custom model (more on this later). 

I have to admit, hat in hand, that VE10 is my first experience of a VE line IEM. I’d previously reviewed the company co-flagships, EXT and Phönix, on a different platform, but that was a while ago, so I’m approaching this experience with fresh ears. Based on what I’m hearing so far, though, I hope this is just the start of many more VE experiences to come. 

The Red Pill

Legend has it that VE was teasing a new, mysterious IEM at last year’s Head-Fi.org CanJam in New York, in the form of two ‘prototypes’, red and blue (cue the famous Matrix scene). 

While subjective preferences were split, most enthusiasts agreed the red proto came closest to the company’s ‘house sound’, with an alluring midrange and overall cohesiveness, while the blue proto was very un-VE, more technically-oriented but too forward and aggressive. 

When VE10 was announced late last year, there was a cumulative sigh of relief that the company had gone with the ‘red pill’, give or take some minor tweaks.

The reason for the warm reception is obvious from first listen: this is a sumptuous IEM. It sucks you in with a sound that’s both hyper-focused and naturally lifelike, often at the same time. I’ll get to describing what this means in more detail later, but once I clicked with what VE10 was doing, I couldn’t unhear it, and then started craving the same bodied detail, instrument texture and vocal nuances in every other IEM too. 

Sound aside, VE10 breaks new ground for the VE line. It’s the first IEM in the series that features a dynamic driver, for example, something that was previously limited to the Premium line. It’s also the first VE line universal IEM made with a metal shell (previous models were made with resin in both universal and custom formats). 

I’m told that a resin-based custom VE10 is supposedly in the works, but the first two quarters of 2024 have come and gone without a sign of one. Could the delay be because the sound chamber design – one of the potential motivators behind the use of a printed metal shell – makes a custom version too complex? Whatever the case, for now we only have a universal VE10, and honestly if that’s all we end up getting, it’s more than enough. 

Packaging and accessories

Customisation is part and parcel of the VE experience, and this extends all the way through to the delivery box. On opening the courier bag, I thought VE had mistakenly sent me a VE10 sample in a throwaway cardboard box, only to realise this was just the outer packing carton…complete with VE-branded packing tape!

The box proper is made of a more substantial, sturdy cardboard, with thick walls and a magnetic latch that opens up to reveal the leather case and accessory pack inside. The box is subtly decorated with clear foil decals in soundwave-like patterns, a silver foiled VE logo on the lid, and a repeat of the ‘May The Sound Be With You’ message, also in clear foil, that matches the same decal on the slipcover. 

The black leather case has the same magnetic latch design as the box, and the accessory pack is thoughtfully designed with small cut outs that make it easy to pull open. 

Speaking of accessories, VE includes two sets of branded tips: SpinFit CP145 (in a custom black colourway, and in four different sizes), and three sets of the all-new Azla Sedna EarFit Origin tips. The SpinFits are my go-to tips for most IEMs, and so they proved for VE10 as well. 

I have a love-hate relationship with Azla tips, and although the Origin tips are made from much softer silicone than (ironically) the original EarFits, their shape just doesn’t seem to like my ears. 

Turning my attention back to the carry case, VE also included an oversized split-mesh bag for the IEMs, which came pre-attached to the stock 6N OCC copper and silver-plater copper cable. For some reason my sample shipped with a 3.5mm single-ended cable (which Moritz confirmed was in error), but given how easy VE10 is to drive, it turns out the cable was just fine for most of my testing. 

There is something very elegant about the minimalistic black and silver styling VE used in the design of the packaging and accessories that flows all the way through to the design of the IEM itself. While not exactly screaming luxury, there’s plenty of class and quality in equal measure, and despite the premium pricing, the presentation certainly doesn’t leave me feeling short-changed in any way. 

Design, fit and specs

While VE10 is the first IEM of its kin to feature metal shells, it’s not the first VE IEM to do so. In fact, my first thought on seeing the final VE10 design, especially the ‘ribbed’ underside, was that it had more than a passing resemblance to EXT. 

Thankfully VE did away with EXT’s horribly un-ergonomic, bulbous nozzle, replaced by a much slimmer but still oddly angular nozzle. While initial fit felt good, the longer I used the IEMs, the more I started feeling some outer ear pressure. I realised the raised ridges on the shell press up against a particularly sensitive part of my outer ear, but as long as I don’t move too much (or repeatedly swap VE10 in and out with other IEMs as I do when testing), I don’t really feel it.   

Despite the potential fit issues, the 80s retro styling and harder lines on VE10’s faceplate are just for show. They’re not sharp, with rounded corners and smooth aluminium surfaces that makes the shells feel refreshingly cool in ear. Isolation is good, although the underside of the shells don’t quite conform to my outer ear shape as well as some resin IEMs. 

Closer inspection of the shells reveals exemplary attention to detail. Every curve and join is machined precisely, and the two-tone matte black and silver anodisation is applied very evenly too. Truth be told I wasn’t sold on the design at first, but having become familiar with it over the past few weeks, I now appreciate how well it’s been put together.  

Internally, VE10 is a 10-driver hybrid monitor (another first for VE, by the way), with four sets of dual balanced armature drivers, one balanced armature supertweeter, and an 8mm dynamic driver.

A five-way crossover directs audio signals between the dynamic driver lows and the low-mid, midrange, mid-high, and upper treble BAs. Three horn-shaped tubes connect the five sets of drivers to the mesh-covered nozzle to reduce distortion and help shape the sound, especially the highs. 

Rated at 8.4Ω @1kHz and a sensitivity of 118.6dB (100mV, 1KHz), you can probably power VE10 with a gentle breeze. I’ve read that VE IEMs have mostly been very easy to drive, but VE10 surely takes the cake for sensitivity. With today’s ever more powerful sources, I have to wonder why this is so; I mean, it’s cool that I can play these loud just by looking at them, but who does that with a $3,000 IEM? 

Seriously though, there’s no need for external amps to get VE10 grooving, but with a decent-sized dynamic driver and sophisticated crossovers, VE10 is actually far less ‘noisy’ than I expected it to be. Even though I’m not particularly sensitive to amp noise, I’m yet to be disturbed by unwanted hiss in my testing, even with my most powerful sources. Still, I’ll try find some for you, in the name of science of course, in the select pairings section.  

But first, let’s get a feel for how these fascinating IEMs sound. 

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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