DISCLAIMER: Vision Ears provided me with the EXT in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Vision Ears for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.
One wouldn’t be mistaken in drawing parallels between Vision Ears and brands like Mercedes-Benz. The German monitor makers occupy the uppermost tier when it comes to premium craftsmanship, presentation and – by numerous accounts – performance in this portable audio industry. While they may be considered a more niche brand due to their lavishness, it didn’t stop their attempts at making 2021 their year. With the launch of not one, but two flagships catering to different listeners, Vision Ears took the audiophile community by storm. Today, we take a look at the first of the two: The ELYSIUM Extended or EXT; a DD/electrostatic hybrid that delivers life-like physicality, heaps of tactile textures and buttloads of fun.
Vision Ears EXT
- Driver count: One 9.2mm dynamic driver, one 6.2mm dynamic driver and four electrostatic drivers
- Impedance: 10Ω @ 1kHz
- Sensitivity: 108.5dB @ 1kHz @ 1mW
- Key feature(s) (if any): HALC (High-Precision Acoustic Levelling Chamber)
- Available form factor(s): Universal acrylic IEMs
- Price: €2650
- Website: www.vision-ears.de
Packaging and Accessories
For both flagships this time around, Vision Ears chose to scale back from their ornate wooden boxes or rising platforms, opting instead for a more mainstream-aligned look; vibrant colours and hi-res prints in place of lavish 3D textures. So, it is a bit of a downgrade in novelty, but I reckon it won’t really bother the audiophile whose main concern is what’s inside.
On this outermost sleeve, you, again, have 3D renders of the EXT on the front and technical specs on the back. Whether or not it measures up to the ELYSIUM’s packaging, praise ought to be given for how polished all of this looks on its own. Sliding the sleeve off, you’ll find a black box subtly debossed with VE iconography, then an EXT badge proudly displayed across the lower third; a great accent. Magnetic latches hold flaps, which, when opened, reveal the rest of what you get.
Undoing the top flap, you’ll find the EXT’s metal case safely secured in foam, which we’ll get into later. Then, beneath this flap itself is an envelope cleverly containing the product’s paperwork. In this is a Thank You and warranty card, a stylishly-branded microfibre cloth, spare mesh filters or wax guards (with instructions on how to replace them), an EXT pamphlet and a user’s manual. The latter two in particular have been illustrated and printed with premium quality; an effort often other brands neglect. As always, VE have aced these essentials. And, we haven’t even gotten to the goodies down below.
Toward the bottom half of the packaging, you’ll see the IEMs themselves in their own mini-box, nestled in foam with its included 2.5mm cable and – to my delight – a VE-branded, leather cable tie. I’d like to see at least a couple of VE’s peers take note here. Then, beneath this, you’ll find a treasure trove of extra add-ons. First is a sleekly-debossed, VE-branded card holder; again, made of good-quality leather. In it is also a hand-written-and-signed proof-of-warranty valid for two years. Next, you’ll find a leather, VE-branded carabiner or key chain. And, last is an assortment of AZLA and SpinFit tips.
As I said in the intro, presentation truly is VE’s game to lose. To me, there’s none like them out there, and I’d love nothing more than to see them keep it up. So, their competitors will have no choice but to give customers more for their money.
The Case and Cable
The EXT comes with this puck-style case, but with significant differences from the plethora we’ve seen before. It’s a much larger case, which I personally appreciate. I’ve found most puck-style cases a touch tight, which means I’d have to coil my cables accordingly. This one should afford a lot more breathing room. Then, in typical VE fashion, they’ve spruced up the aesthetic as well. The case is a near-perfect facsimile of the monitors themselves with its purple, anodised top, complete with its X pattern. Then, that lower half is in an anodised black, which matches the dark bottom-half of the IEMs too. Also included here is a leather pouch with two separate chambers for each earpiece, which, with the padded interior, provide maximum protection. It’s a great inclusion complete with matching purple stitching; yet more proof of VE’s eye for detail.
As with their ELYSIUM, VE’s EXT also comes with its own, proprietary, 8-wire cable. This one’s a 28 AWG SPC cable, so it’ll shares several similarities with the ELYSUM’s cable; ergonomically and visually. The only notable difference would be its insulation. It now has a matte-black skin, which I feel matches the aesthetic of this EXT better. And, it’s given the cable a slightly-rubberier feel as well. Its hardware is also similar in size and shape, but it now has a matte finish, which I prefer over the ELYSIUM’s chrome. Finally, I find the engraved patterns on the 2.5mm plug gorgeous as well; a stunning detail.
My only qualms here are the vague left-right indicator; a mere strip on the left side. And, I would’ve preferred a recessed socket on the IEMs, with plugs to match here too. They would’ve provided better protection against the IEMs potentially falling off their cable. I also don’t know if 2.5mm is the most modern termination to opt for, given that even their biggest proponents have started offering the much-stronger 4.4mm standard. But, it’s a compromise I’m willing to accept, since VE include a 4.4mm adapter too. It is, by the way, the best-made adapter I’ve seen yet; complete with metallic hits and a textured, engraved look that matches the 2.5mm plug barrel. Once again, VE are masters when it comes to presentation.
Aesthetics, Build and Wearing Comfort
Again, the EXT sports a 50-50 blend of matte-purple, metal faceplates and translucent-black, acrylic shells. The former is topped by a CNC’ed X logo comprised of thin, precisely-carved channels. Then, beneath it is a metallic mesh, contrasting beautifully against the matte finish. Apart from aesthetics, though, Vision Ears have sneakily included a clever feature to the faceplate too. The exposed mesh actually acts as a vent for the EXT’s two DDs, which removes the need for a pinhole vent in the acrylic shell. I think it’s ingenious how they’ve transformed something that’s been set-in-stone in the industry into a beautiful, purposeful, aesthetic touch. I’m repeating myself, but you can always count on VE to innovate with style.
Vision Ears have handed the EXT a much darker, much bolder look compared to the ELYSIUM. While the latter had light-and-clean tones, glimmering accents and a smooth, slick finish, this EXT’s got matte purples, blacks and anodised-metal faceplates. Ultimately, it’s subjective whether you’d prefer one or the other. I’m personally partial towards the ELYSIUM’s colours and the EXT’s textures. These visual shifts are mirrored in their signatures too, but we’ll get to all of that later on.
The craftsmanship on these pieces, as always with VE, is near-flawless. The joint between the EXT’s two parts is about as seamless as it could be. The contrasting materials prevent it from achieving the unibody finish. But, it gets close enough. The X logo, again, shows off some incredibly precise machining, and that anodised finish is even throughout. Additional structures like the 2-pin connectors are integrated nicely without a glue splotch in sight. Again, though, I would’ve liked a recessed socket there. And, it’s always nice to see a lip at the end of monitor’s nozzle to keep ear tips in place. It is worth noting, though, that the nozzle on this one is fairly large, so tips aren’t the easiest to get on. You have to stretch the tip in one swift motion, which may take some practice. But, those few niggles aside, VE have constructed my EXT unit superbly.
Ergonomically, I predict the EXT is going to be a bit hit-or-miss, and that’s down to the specificity of its shape. Unlike a lot of other UIEMs, which tend to shave or taper off certain bumps and turns to achieve a more universal shape, Vision Ears have done the opposite and given the EXT a somewhat semi-custom fit. To add, it has a thicker nozzle too. Obviously, it’ll work for some better than others. I personally find the shape plays nicely with my ears. Then, if I ever feel pressure from the chunkier nozzle, I can easily pull them outward a hair to relieve that. If your ears happen to match the EXT’s shape, it can be one of the most custom-like fits you’ll get in a UIEM. But, as a couple reports have shown, discomfort can come if your ears don’t match. So, it’ll come down somewhat to luck. And, I’d suggest a demo or consultation with VE, if possible.
As its name hints, the EXT’s an evolution of the VE ELYSIUM, which I reviewed with immense acclaim in 2019. Apart from having a universal-only form factor now, there are more areas where the EXT has diverted from its spiritual predecessor.
First, the EXT obviously has a new, beefier engine down low, thanks to its 9.2mm dynamic woofer. That was in response to customer feedback, who wanted a hair more oomph to the bass. This midrange DD, though kept at the same 6mm, is comprised of an all-new diaphragm. And, it’s got a new HALC unit attached to it. As we covered in-depth in the ELYSIUM review, HALC is an acoustic chamber, which physically tunes the midrange DD. The 2nd generation in the EXT features a Side-Tuning Chamber (or STC) for further fine-tuning too. Finally, the EXT also has Sonion’s 2nd-generation e-stats for the tweeters. This (and upping it to four drivers over the ELYSIUM’s two) should resolve the power demands the original had.