Vision Ears Elysium => Effortless, Bold, Utterly Captivating…This is the Way.
Following is my personal review of the Vision Ears Elysium, a flagship monitor made by the (Cologne) Germany based company Vision Ears. The Elysium was originally released as a custom monitor in mid-late 2019 and roughly a year later in 2020 a universal version was released. Thanks to some what-appear-now-to-be-prophetic early reviews and impressions I have long nursed a curiosity about this IEM. I was fortunate to be able to demo the universal Elysium via Barra’s Canadian Vision Ears tour. I was sufficiently captivated that, 3 days after receiving the loaner unit, I purchased a set of the universals for myself. This review, therefore, is not motivated by anything other than convey my impressions of and enthusiasm for this unique and profoundly engaging piece of audio gear.
A few opening points and caveats:
This is my personal review and as such it will be expressed in such a way as is meaningful and authentic to me. Some will find my approach too subjective/wishy-washy/starry-eyed to be useful—to them I say that there are plenty of other sources of information out there that will better suit your needs. This is fundamentally a hobby for me and one of the ways I derive joy out of it is to share my personal experiences in writing. If this is at all useful/helpful/informative/entertaining to anyone, then great! If not, oh well.
My impressions and viewpoints are unfailingly and intimately connected to my own values, preferences, motives and inclinations. It’s taken a while for me to fully come to grips with what this entails—in fact it is the Elysium, more than any other single IEM, that has helped solidify it for me. In the ultimate sense what I am seeking through the listening experience is a degree of intimacy with my music— listener, that being listened to, and the act of listening all serenely dissolving into a unity, or at least as much as is possible. Everything else that can be said—tonality, technicality, bass, mids, treble, and on and on, is wholly subservient to the aforementioned goal. If an IEM can deliver this sort of connection I am seeking while also having great tone, technicalities, bass, mids, etc…then that is great, but ultimately a generous redundancy.
Above all the most important lesson in this hobby is—trust your own ears above all. As a corollary to this I would add: always be ready to try something new and give it a chance to express itself on its own terms, with little to no pre-conceptions or biases imposed upon you by other groups or individuals. Sometimes we don’t know what we really want until we hear it. Sometimes we are so used to a certain conception of what is preferred or thought possible that we have a hard time imagining anything beyond that. To wit: the driver configuration of the Elysium is so unorthodox that in my head I didn’t see how it could possibly work and though I’ve been curious about it for a while, I never came close to buying. Turns out it was an act of genius.
Synergy is a commonly underappreciated aspect of this hobby—sometimes an ounce of synergy can add a kilo-buck or two to the perceived value of your gear. On that note it is important to try everything you have at your disposal—different tips, sources, etc.—to see if you can find something that works for you. The reward for doing this can be very very great.
My musical tastes run a pretty wide spectrum, from classic rock, blues and jazz to various shades of Romanian minimal and dub techno, funk, rap, EDM, classical, vocal, and so on. The sources used for this review, and and pretty much all of my listening is the Cayin n6ii + E02 and Lotoo PAW S1.
All of that said, on with the review…
The Elysium is Vision Ears’ flagship hybrid and contains arguably the most unique driver configuration I am aware of— Sonion electrostats for the highs, a DD for the midrange and, perhaps most interestingly, a single BA for the lows.
'Twas the night before Christmas in the dying days of 2020 and I was just finishing a 3-week loaner stint with the MEST, an IEM I liked about as much as I could like an IEM without it making me want to sell off my gear to purchase one. The VE tour kit arrived that same day but honestly I wasn’t feeling that excited about it at the time-- I’d already bought and sold a VE8 earlier in the year and while I was curious about Elysium I’d pretty much resigned myself to the thought that it likely wouldn’t wow me. What I really wanted was to just sink in and spend some QT with my newly acquired Andromeda MW10 and I vainly imagined that after going through the motions the VE kit would languish in a corner as I focused on the Andromeda. Suffice to say that’s not how it went down.
Up until somewhat recently I was too entrenched in the basshead tendencies of my audiophile youth to seriously consider an IEM with a single BA for the bass. The Elysium was released in the spring of 2019 and at the time I remember being struck by its unorthodox driver configuration but unwilling to even consider taking a chance on what I thought would be an inadequate bass response.
After I unpacked the kit I popped in the VE8 before the Elysium to see if it was at all like I remembered from when I owned one early in 2020. In brief: it was basically exactly as I remembered—something of a thicker, darker, more intimate Andromeda. It sits in the upper echelons of my personal favourites alongside the Campfire Andromeda 2020, which I consider to be something of a spiritual sibling to the VE8 in that both IEMs specialize in the aforementioned important quality—emotional connection and engagement, ie., the ability of an IEM to draw me in, to stir my heart, to make me feel something when I listen to my music. It is this quality which to me elevates IEMs like the Andromeda and the VE8 above some of their flashier or more technical peers.
In a nutshell while I loved the VE8 the Elysium is decidedly another level to my ears…
Sound and FR Breakdown
The Elysium presents a balanced and holographic sound with a clear emphasis on an open, but not really forward mid-range. I would place it on the slightly bright with a musical leaning part of the spectrum. Vocals are emphasized slightly above instruments, but both are clearly discernible with their own air and space in the mix. Though there is a mid-range emphasis I don’t feel that any one area of the FR is over or under-represented (though some people may make this claim about the bass-- it’s a YMMV thing)-- my attention naturally inclines toward perceiving the signature as a unity. I find the bass sits below the mids and highs in a way that allows you to clearly discern all the nuance of the bass response without being distracted by it.
The highs on the Elysium come from dual Sonion electrostat tweeters. In an info card that comes in the the box VE explains that these drivers love power and will perform in different ways with different daps and cables. I find the highs on the Elysium to be crisp and lively, but never sharp; they are pronounced, detailed, nuanced and they blend harmoniously and seamlessly with the rest of the signature. The level of detail they convey is unlike anything I have heard. The closest would probably be the MEST and Z1R but the Elysium handily tops both of those, if for no other reason than refinement and (imho) more mature tuning. I found the synergy with my n6ii + E02 wonderful as that board delivers a nice wollop of power. The sabre chip in the E02 does provide nice dynamics but to my ears it adds a slight glare to the sound, which tends to exaggerate sibilance in some recordings. To mitigate this I dropped 8 and 16k each by 1.5 DB on my EQ and it eliminated the problem entirely. The Elysium seems to respond nicely to EQ though admittedly this is the only EQ I have tried.
Here we have easily the most controversial aspect of the Elysium’s presentation—the bass. This is also the element most likely to trip up someone’s subjective preferences and needs. Bass is like spiciness in foods—we all have different preferences and tolerances. What is overwhelming for some will be barely register as worthwhile to someone else. As such everything I say about the bass response on the Elysium could be the exact opposite to the experience of the next person who hears it, that’s just how it goes. In addition to spiciness in food bass response also a bit like sugar in food-- sometimes we can get too used to too much of it, to the detriment of everything around it.
So how is the bass on the Elysium? To my ears it is ultimately very satisfying. It is impactful, well extended, sufficiently dense and nuanced—coming from a bass titan like the MEST I definitely notice a decrease in quantity of bass, but all the info is there and the quality is wonderful. It stands alongside the best BA bass I’ve heard. Think Andromeda in quantity but with better timbre, texture, nuance and a vastly superior surrounding cast. Anyone who is fine with the bass on the Andromeda plus, I would wager, at least half of those who aren’t, should be fine with the bass on the Elysium.
The burning question on regarding the bass on the Elysium is surely this: will it satisfy someone who historically requires a DD and lots of slam? It might, and it might not—the key, I think, is how one responds to the topic of the next section.
The defining quality and ultimate the highlight of the Elysium’s sound is its midrange. When I first read about the driver configuration—namely a DD for the mids and the bass getting a paltry single BA I heard the news coldly and sadly…but now having had days and hours so far to fully sink my head and heart into the magic of the Elysium I’m prepared to classify its choice of driver configure a bold act of brilliance. It’s the execution of the mid-range on the Elysium that makes everything come together and justifies every concession and tuning decision to this point. Why is this so? To understand the liberating shock I felt upon coming to grips with the sound of the Elysium it’s important to understand my prior preconceptions around bass response.
Elysium aside all the hybrids I have heard to this date have opted to use the dynamic driver for the low end. This is because it has (presumably) been generally assumed that the best application of a DD in a hybrid is in providing a thick, resonant, natural timbre in the lows—which it certainly does. Mids, typically, are provided by generally-more-artificial-sounding BA drivers. The problem with this approach is that—in even the most skillfully put together hybrids—it always results in something of a timbral disconnect between the mids and lows. This problem stands out more in some hybrids than others, but it is always there to a certain extent. It wasn’t until I experienced Elysium that I understood that this approach is flawed and, in a sense, puts the cart before the horse.
A realization I have gradually been awakening to through my experience with IEMs is that the mid-range represents the emotional centre of the music. Voices, strings, instruments of all kinds…any form of expression most intimately connected with a human heart flows through the mid-range of the music. Since a dynamic driver, by nature, excels at providing a rich, deep, natural and organic timbre they are thus more suited to convey the nuance and texture of deep and subtle soul-felt emotions-- all of which, in music, have their fountainhead in the mid-range. Dynamic bass is indeed satisfying but just as it is rumoured that we only use like 10% of our brains it now seems to me, in light of the Elysium, is that we only derive a limited amount of what a DD is capable of bringing to the table by confining it to the lower registers alone. Bass can be exciting and hypnotic, but it doesn’t grip us by the core of our being the way a properly executed midrange can. What’s more is that with a dynamic midrange we get an astoundingly rich, naturally textured and alluring soundscape. Instruments and voices feel at times so natural, so alluring that they almost break the 4th wall and convince you they are right there with you—and it is on account of this mid-range voodoo that after a short time I don’t even notice the lack of bass anymore and find myself totally captivated with what I’m hearing. Ultimately the issue is that organic bass timbre cannot extend up and enliven the mids to make them feel more organic and natural, however the opposite is true – namely organic, lush, natural mids can grip us so much that the perception of “naturalness” extends up to the treble and down to the bass, leaving nothing feeling disjointed in texture. It is for this reason that the Elysium avoids the timbral disconnect pitfalls of all other hybrids I have come across.
In most IEMs I’ve tried the mid-range takes second stage to the highs and lows. With the Elysium every tuning decision seems directed towards the aim of bringing focus, body and realism to the midrange. After a couple hours of listening, by the time my brain actually wrapped itself around what it was hearing that very first time I heard the Ely, the effect it had on me was little short of cathartic and the net result was that my idea of what is possible with IEMs-- the degree of intimacy and connection they could achieve-- was so broadened and came as such a liberating shock that it feels like something of a re-birth of enthusiasm for this hobby. It seems so obvious in retrospect. The midrange is the emotional centre of music. Why not give the DD–the driver known its natural, realistic and organic timbre-- to the midrange instead of to the bass which just thumps and never really has the capacity to convey anything truly emotively deep. The mid-range presentation of the Vision Ears Elysium has been a game changer for me and quite frankly I will have a hard time going back to anything less.
Staging and Technicalities
TLDR: Top tier in all respects. Stage could be a little wider. That’s about it.
In a nutshell picture an Andromeda with a more open mid-range, slightly narrower stage but improved everything else. The most remarkable and enduring thing about the Elysium is the openness and seductiveness of the midrange. Listening to song Get Lucky by Daft Punk and I was pulled into the song like never before. All the different layers lay effortlessly open, enticing and enveloping-- and with texture for days. Fever by Peggy Lee made me swoon. This may sound cheesy and contrite but through the Elysium it feels like I’m experiencing much of my music again, for the first time, and accordingly falling in love anew. Here is an IEM that doesn’t take any “ground breaking” chances with its staging, or novel midrange diffusion a la something like the Solaris or MEST— in the Elysium everything is precisely where it should be.
The only IEMs I’ve heard sufficiently recently to provide meaningful comparisons to are the Campfire Audio Solaris SE, Campfire Andromeda MW10/2020, Unique Melody MEST, so I’ll do my best to elucidate where I feel these respective IEMs sit with respect to each other and to the Elysium.
I don’t have a lot to say here really as apart from a cursory demo to verify it was the same IEM I remember from January I haven’t had any urge at all to touch the VE8 since connecting with the Elysium. That said much of what I am going to say about the Andromeda more-or-less applies to the VE8 as well. In brief: to my ears the Elysium is a wholesale upgrade to both.
I’m not going to start waxing poetic about Andro here—chances are if you’re reading this then you know all about the Campfire Andromeda. The Andro kind of came out of nowhere to become the de-facto reference IEM for much of the audio community—a status it maintains to this day in the eyes of many. Of the Andromeda people often say “nobody, not even CFA realize why the Andro is so beloved”. Now that I’ve spent some time with the Elysium I think I understand the appeal a bit more. What both Campfire IEMs do to some extent is push the bass into the background to facilitate a more balanced presentation. Further, they both put a lot of stock in a natural and organic timbre. The Elysium, with its dynamic midrange focus, is really the next and most natural evolute of this line of thinking and it is for this reason that I maintain that the Elysium is the first IEM I have heard that constitutes a wholesale upgrade to the Andromeda…at least in terms of what I most love about it the Andromeda, namely its balanced sound, staging and capacity to sweep me off my feet and facilitate an emotional connection with my music.
Like the Elysium, the Solaris is an evolution of the Andromeda-type sound only taken in a different direction—with the DD being used to emphasize the bass. I still love the Solaris and will probably throw it on every now and again when I feel like some more visceral bass…but the approach of the Elysium has clearly won the day for me. Again, it is the first IEM I’ve heard that is a comprehensive upgrade to the Campfire flagships in terms of balance, staging and emotional engagement. One of the things I’ve always loved about Solaris is how it pushes the bass to the background a bit so as to not clog out the rest of the sig…Elysium, again, takes this line of thought and pushes it to its logical conclusion.
The Unique Melody MEST is a technical powerhouse of an IEM, and a very enthralling listen. It goes for a similar level of engagement but via a different means. Where the Elysium grips you with it’s alluring and captivating mid-range and detailed sparkly highs—the MEST opts instead to grab your attention with the awesome display of deep textured lows, technical pyrotechnics and a chamber-of-secrets like head stage. The MEST’s midrange was to me its weak link—serviceable most of the time, but not the most forward, natural or, really, engaging. In this respect it is more traditional. If big bass and sparkly highs, and addictive staging tick your boxes more than an emotive mid-range then the MEST might be for you. I love the MEST and enjoyed my time with it but the Elysium is more to my preferences.
The Vision Ears Elysium has, in a very short time, totally and completely won me over. The mid-centric presentation with its subdued bass was a bit weird at first, especially after days of rapid fire jumps from the MEST to the Andromeda to the Solaris, But once I upped the gain on my n6ii and just sat back and let the Elysium do its thing on its own term it wasn’t long before I was swept up in its beautiful textures and gentle nuances-- and the effect is still holding all these days later. Again, I was initially quite thrown off by what appears to be an almost homeopathic amount of bass—and I know of at a few people who did not get on that well with the Elysium on account of this. However the response of my own ears is that the comparative lack of bass frees my mind from being side-tracked by spectacle and pyrotechnics and allows my attention to fully engage with the midrange of the music, which is really its heart and soul. The greatest strength of the Elysium is that it lays bare the essence of what your are listening to…but not artificially as through raw detail and resolution, which can come off as sterile. Instead the Elysium forces you to forsake a little of the visceral spectacle and theatrics of a more robust bass response and instead, through a deft focus on a wonderfully alluring and textured mid-range, facilitates an intimacy with whatever it is you are listening to. Here we have an IEM that sees its role, not to draw attention to itself but to get out of the way, and let you connect directly with your music and to my ears. This connection, as mentioned earlier, is what I am ultimately seeking from the listening experience. At first Elysium’s driver configuration struck me as crazy. Now I regard it as a brilliant act of vision and daring that was brilliantly executed.
The Elysium has totally changed the game for me and is the first IEM I’ve heard that sounds a tier above everything else I’ve heard. It is, in my humble opinion, the IEM to top right now. Other than those whom I feel wouldn’t jive with its bass response I could recommend it to just about anyone. No IEM is “for everyone” but anyone who glosses over the Elysium and doesn’t get to know it on its own terms before judging it is imho potentially denying themselves one of the, if not the , preeminent IEM experiences currently possible. I know that sounds like a strong statement-- but as my days with Elysium wear on my heart just cries out “this is the way”.