Vision Ears EXT: Purple Reign – An In-Ear Monitor Review

Presentation

Though it, at some point, may have started as the ELYSIUM-with-a-DD, this EXT really is anything but. It’s an entirely new IEM with an all-new skillset, the most prominent of which is raw, utter physicality. While the ELYSIUM was an IEM that, to me, specialised in creating light, floaty, sweet-sounding images, the EXT excels at the exact opposite: Giving instruments weight, substantiality and truckloads of texture. Whether it’s a kick drum, a floor tom, a rippin’ guitar or a cymbal stack, the EXT will make ’em seem like these hefty, tactile images genuinely moving back-and-forth. Compared to the ELYSIUM (or PHöNIX), that does mean it’s the most riled-up or high-octane of them. But, this doesn’t mean it’s messy either. Great top-end extension hands it a backdrop perfectly-suited for 3D layering and wide stereo spread. Then, its notes, although attention-grabbing and meaty, all sustain specificity in separation. It’s an organised buffet of textures that’ll simply feel alive.

Tonally, the EXT also strays away from that subtlety and light-footedness the ELYSIUM had; now far earthier, bolder and more contrast-driven. Lower-end rumble and mid-treble bite are its primary outlets of energy, with the upper-midrange taking a tiny step back by comparison. This means you won’t get horns that are too brassy or bright, neither will female vocals sound like they’re an inch away from you. Again, it is physicality, texture and there-ness that this EXT is selling. So, do not expect the sweet ooh‘s and ahh‘s of a Reneé Olstead to beam as they would on the ELYSIUM. But, do expect power and drive when it comes to the Blackbird’s earthy belts or Mark Lettieri’s chugging guitar riffs. The EXT also does a great job maintaining sharpness despite its body. Low-lifted IEMs will typically have these softer, pillowy-er transients, but the EXT, despite its visceral low-end strength, manages to keep its instruments – in large part – snappy and defined.

Bass

The EXT’s bottom-end will likely be its biggest talking point, given its departure from the original ELYSIUM’s approach. It isn’t without merit either. The EXT certainly strays from its predecessor in its presence, size and weight, now armed with big, enveloping lows that lay claim to a decent portion of the monitor’s headroom. Thankfully, that shift wasn’t executed without taste or finesse either. It’s not a bass that ever dominates, nor is it one that shoves everything to the back when it comes in. On a track like Nas’s Death Row East, you can follow his voice with ease with the lows bellowing below. And, whether it’s the synth lead or its peripheral flourishes, the keys on Anomalie’s Metropole are never the least bit undercut whenever a drop comes in. That is due to clever levelling of the bass against the rest, as well as the tuning of the region itself, which we will get to. Overall, it’s a beefed-up bass that’s hungrier for the spotlight, but never at the cost of others.

Coming back to levelling, the EXT’s been given a slightly sub-bass-leaning curve, but only very slightly. This isn’t a bass that hits, then blooms or expands. Slam and decay occur evenly – measuredly – which lends the lows control, despite its oomph. It hasn’t got chunks taken out of the mid- or upper-bass for headroom either. So, it’s an even bass that’ll ensure consistent, un-jarring dynamics with genres like EDM or trance. And, it’ll reproduce kick drums with a well-rounded tone as well. Completing that is the attribute I praised most in Presentation, which is the EXT’s ability to give instruments true weight and motion. Kick drums aren’t ever pillowy or hollow, nor do they need lifting to really thump. All that’s taken care of by the in-ear’s tactility and texture; clearly resolving the skin of the kick drum, and the power of the hit as well. These nuances are what bring the EXT’s bass to life, and what gift this in-ear its collaborative, yet boisterous engine down low.

Midrange

It’s been collectively agreed that the original ELYSIUM’s greatest strength was its midrange; textured, evocative and oh-so-detailed, courtesy of its HALC-ed out DD. I’m elated to say the EXT has virtually maintained all those strengths, and, in the right framework, it’s capable of achieving those highs, but we’ll get to that later on. The EXT’s midrange could be described as balanced and neutrally-positioned, with the only bit of colour stemming from the weight of its bottom-end; minimal at best, even. Images are neither paper-thin, nor are they rich and fat. They’re solid, substantive and tight, and they come off measured in tone. That results in clean portrayals of drums or guitars; appropriately snappy and crunchy, yet robust as well. Horns aren’t overtly brassy or shouty either, thanks to this EXT’s calmer high-mids. So, if you’re after a midrange that shines through texture and physicality, rather than heaps of bite or smoky tones, the EXT’s is a shoo-in.

I’d say this midrange presentation is ideal for tracks with a focal instrument, like Blackbird’s Fix You; for the most part, a vocal-and-piano duet. The in-ear’s richly-textured midrange make those two sounds an orchestra, and its sensitivity to dynamics – the movement I’ve been describing – further bolsters their ebbs and flows too. Where it can’t quite reach the heights of the ELYSIUM is with busier tracks, when the lows and highs start to take over. Obviously, trades like these are inevitable when tunings change. So, depending on how much you want your mids to shine, your mileage will vary. This is a midrange with tons of depth too. Compared to even the high-end of BA mids, the EXT’s have this three-dimensionality to them. On Snarky Puppy’s Big Ugly, for example, which was recorded with lots of drums and percussion, you get a sense of precisely how far apart they are in the picture; not only by location, but by the different power levels they exude too. Resolution, texture, physicality and precision are these mids’ forte; punchy and tactile, but always dynamically-correct.

Treble

Continuing the theme of texture, the EXT has a treble with edge and grit to it. It isn’t a top-end that’s ever wishy-washy, diffuse or blunted. There’s this bite to it that stems from the mid-treble. Thankfully, though, it’s been levelled nicely with the rest of the mix; level with the mids and lows, and – at times – a smidgeon above the upper-mids. Then, it also isn’t a treble with lots of glare or spritz to it. VE have been cautious around the 5-6kHz mark not to add too much splashiness or sheen. So, if you have a sensitivity to the area – where vocal sibilants can peak and break up, or where cymbals may attack and tizz – the EXT will fare just fine. Again, the only colouration I’d mention is the powdery-ness around the mid-treble. It’s tough to describe besides being this sandy sort-of texture to transients. So, as long as you aren’t opposed to that, I feel this top-end cleverly rides the line between being the counterpoint to its lows and a mostly-smooth operator.

Technically, the EXT’s quad-tweeter set-up capably carries its load to my ears. The heft and textures that lie in its lows and mids never become overbearing, congested or compressed. There’s always space, stability and specificity to it, for which VE deserve great credit. With that said, it is not the most effortless heavy-lifting I’ve ever heard either. As said in Presentation, the EXT is more riled-up or high-octane-sounding than the ELYSIUM or the PHöNIX, so the latter two have the edge for me in terms of elegance, grace and ease; the ELYSIUM due to its lighter lows, then the PHöNIX because of its superior technique. You can tell at times when a track is pushing the EXT’s limits, which can be a guilty pleasure too. But, in raw quality, I’d have to give it to the PHöNIX. That aside, though, the EXT’s clarity here is superb. In terms of the quickness and precision in its attack, as well as the detail it brings, it won’t disappoint as far as a flagship is concerned.


General Recommendations

The EXT’s signature is defined by its multitude of technologies and driver types, which imbue it with a unique palate and skillset. Down here are three of those standout attributes, and why this EXT could be the flagship in-ear monitor for you:

Weight, texture and movement throughout the frequency range: The EXT’s most prevalent trait is its physicality, which imbue notes with real presence, tactility and a sense of movement as they inch closer towards or away from you. You’ll get the sense that they aren’t just sound waves simulating physical instruments, but a step above. So, if you’re, say, a lover of jazz and you want that substance to every press of the piano or pluck of the bass, the EXT does it like no other.

A warm, lush, yet well-edged presentation: The EXT’s unique texture, as well as a mid-treble emphasis, gives it a tone that’s both warm and clear-cut. It doesn’t have the tizz or glare you’d typically find in brighter sigs, but it has that edge and grit, which aids clarity and separation. So, it’s ideal if you want an earthy and subdued tone with sharpness as well.

Tell-tale, DD-driven hits and decays: That density, texture and substance owes itself in large part to the EXT’s dynamic drivers as well. Compared to the BA-driven PHoNIX, there’s a tactility – a physical heft – that’s evidently more present there. So, if you crave that realistic, earthy drive that only a DD can deliver, the EXT is your best bet in VE’s line-up.

However, the EXT’s tonal colourations will narrow its audience a tad as well. It’s not the universally-lovable monitor that, say, the PHoNIX is. So, if the three traits below are critical for your tastes, this EXT may not be the ideal monitor for you:

A breezy, floaty, light-footed delivery: While the ELYSIUM championed an airier, easier, more melodic sound, the EXT doubles down on earthiness, muscle and heft. The EXT isn’t an in-ear that’ll glide or serenade. It’s more contrast-driven and heavier-handed. So, If you’re thinking about upgrading, but you wanna keep the ELYSIUM’s breezy tone, I reckon you’re better off sticking with it.

A strictly-neutral tone, or a vibrant, beaming upper-midrange: The EXT colours its frequency response to maximise its texture and physicality, so it isn’t an in-ear that anyone could call reference or flat. So, if you’re looking for a more even-handed in-ear or one that’ll give more credence to the upper-mids, the PHoNIX would probably be the VE TOTL for you.

Vast, expansive and clinical imaging: The EXT also sacrifices sheer spaciousness for its big, boisterous instruments. It’s got a decently-sized stage with great precision and stereo spread, but it gets filled fairly quickly as well. So, if you want a more orderly, tidily-imaged UIEM with evenly-spread instruments, I’d, again, recommend the PHoNIX this time around.

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ABOUT AUTHOR

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Deezel

Church-boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel Lesmana’s world revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing live for a congregation of thousands, engineering records in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, you’ll find him on his laptop analysing audio gear with fervor and glee. Now a specialist in custom IEMs, cables and full-sized headphones, he’s looking to bring his unique sensibilities - as both an enthusiast and a professional - into the reviewer’s space; a place where no man has gone before.

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