Meze 99 Neo ($199): The Meze 99 Neo is a warm and dense portable headphone that shares a beautiful aesthetic and build with the Phoenix. It is even more bass orientated with a more laid-back midrange. Its bass, however, is quite linear with just a little upper-bass emphasis that is mostly responsible for its warm and full sound. The Phoenix is a little cleaner and more dynamic, the 99 Neo is a thicker sounding headphone with greater bass presence but at the cost of being less textured and articulate. The Phoenix has slightly better extension on top, granting it a higher energy bass despite being less bassy overall. The midrange is clearer and cleaner on the Phoenix with higher contrast and better separation.
The 99 Neo is warmer, fuller and more laid-back. It sounds more coherent with a denser upper-midrange which makes it sound noticeably thicker and less open. Both sound quite natural, but the Phoenix strikes a better balance to my ears. The 99 Neo has a more pronounced lower-treble, especially by contrast to its more recessed upper-midrange. The Phoenix is slightly more detailed and also offers greater headroom, though neither are especially resolving at the very top. The 99 Neo, despite its closed back design offers almost the same soundstage width. The Phoenix offers better separation and sharper imaging.
Sennheiser HD6XX ($220): The HD6XX is a staple around this price range, its clean and natural tonality making granting it timeless appeal. From a technical point of view, however, it’s easy to see how the industry has progressed over the last decade. The Phoenix has noticeably stronger extension in the bass alongside a generally fuller and more emphasised low-end. Both are warmer headphones, the Phoenix more so. Despite having more bass, the Phoenix has stronger definition and dynamics down low. The midrange is cleaner and more linear on the HD6XX in addition to being less vocal-forward.
The Phoenix is clearly more coloured, having greater clarity and articulation in addition to greater body and warmth, it sounds higher contrast. On the contrary, the HD6XX is more even and accurate, it’s a little over-articulated but altogether, a cleaner and more natural sound. The treble is more forward on the HD6XX but also less detailed with a hazier transient response. The Phoenix sounds more focused in the foreground and has a bit more headroom. In turn, the Phoenix also has a noticeably more spacious soundstage and I find it has sharper imaging too.
Hifiman DEVA/Sundara: The Hifiman models are all staples around this price range. The DEVA is basically a bumpier Sundara with a little less range but at a substantial discount and with wireless functionality. Compared to the Phoenix, the Hifiman headphones are clearly more balanced and linear, the Sundara especially so. The bass extension is clearly the best on the Phoenix and it has the most mid-bass on top, having the fullest voicing and greatest note weight, the Phoenix has the best dynamics by a good amount and hits the hardest down low. The Sundara and DEVA are both lightly warm but mostly balanced headphones, both are more separated and defined than the Phoenix with greater speed and sharper note attack. The Phoenix is actually the most vocal-forward of the lot, the Sundara being u-shaped, the DEVA a touch more vivid.
The Hifiman headphones sound more even, slightly smooth in the case of the Sundara, slightly clear for the DEVA. By comparison, the Phoenix has more upper-midrange presence and noticably stronger contrast. It is more articulate but also less refined. The treble tells the same story, the Phoenix being slightly more energetic than both, but also less detailed. The Sundara especially has noticeably better extension and headroom, being generally more linear, accurate and resolving in the treble. The Sundara has the largest soundstage, the DEVA being about on par with the Phoenix. The Phoenix has more defined layers but the Sundara and DEVA both have more accurate localisation alongside stronger separation due to their more balanced tuning.
The Phoenix is a fairly unique headphone and this means you should keep your expectations in check. Due to its colouration, those wanting a pure sound should look elsewhere and, accordingly, do not expect perfect genre versatility either. This headphone wears its colours on its sleeve, what buyers receive is a punchy, dynamic yet articulate sound in an aesthetically striking shell; a positive impression further reinforced by a premium build and accessory set. On the contrary, this isn’t the most detailed nor extended sound out there and those requiring large headband adjustment range or with wider ears may find the Phoenix’s compact dimensions challenging. It cannot be denied that Sivga have admirably executed what they set out to achieve; balancing a hearty bass with a clear yet natural vocal range and energetic high-end without introducing fatigue at any level. This is not so easy to achieve and demonstrates careful consideration on Sivga’s behalf. Though its unique combination of qualities and thoughtful execution, the Phoenix is able to carve out a reasonably uncontested niche in the audio market for bass lovers who still value clear vocals and a spacious soundstage.
The Phoenix is available from Sivga (International) for $299 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Sivga or Capsico and receive no earnings from purchases made through these links.
Track List –
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Archive – Controlling Crows (Parts I – III)
AKMU – SAILING
Bob Segar – Night Moves
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How Your Really Feel
Eric Clapton – Unplugged
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Fleetwood Mac – Greatest Hits
John Legend – Once Again
MAMAMOO – reality in BLACK
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Modest House – Good News For People Who Love Bad News
NIKI – lowkey
Nirvana – Nervermind
Radiohead – OK Computer
Social House – Haunt You
suggi – cheer up!
TOTO – Toto IV
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Vaundy – strobo