Elysian Acoustic Labs (or simply “Elysian”) is brand founded by Malaysian DIYer Lee Quan Min, though rather overlooked in his own home country. His products mainly thrive on the Japanese market, where he communicates in their native language and amassing a decently sized fanbase there.
I’ve met Lee quite a few times, more notably at the end of 2018 in which I criticised a few of his products for being either mediocre or overpriced. He had since taken many of these criticisms to heart and basically refreshed and upgraded his entire lineup, some based on my very rough feedback on tuning.
In December, I met up with him once again to have another go at his lineup. Regardless of what comes out of this meetup, the fact that Lee was willing to seek my criticism again despite my (frankly scathing) comments on his previous lineup is laudable, and speaks volumes to his work ethic and confidence in his own abilities. I sure hope more manufacturers can follow his example.
Now I know I’ve left you all on a cliffhanger (pun intended) in my previous article, but it’s for good reason. The Annihilator is the flagship of the Elysian lineup and, in my eyes, the big “halo model” of the company. A showpiece product with showpiece pricing, but such a revolution that it almost justifies it. The DIO on the other hand, is simply the Annhilator with a cable called “The World”. Weebs, eat your heart out.
Driver configuration: 2EST + 4BA + 1DD
Let’s begin with a rant.
I think at this point everyone knows of my disdain of the Sonion EST drivers. Not actually electrostatics, real finnicky to work with, most companies just shoving them into IEMs without any thought just for the marketing boost, the usual things I’d start monologuing about when given the opportunity.
The examples are plentiful, but for the sake of time and clutter I’ll just focus on the three I find most egregious: the Shuoer EJ07, the Fearless Roland and of course, the notorious $3,500 Empire Ears Wraith.
If just looking at this graph gives you the heebie-jeebies, imagine how it was actually listening to these IEMs. The muffle, the darkness, the near-absolute lack of any sort of sparkle or high-end energy, it just sucks all the joy out of listening to my music.
Now I’m not a treblehead by any means, in fact quite the opposite: I’m rather senstive to treble and would listen to a warm, smoother IEM than a bright and sparkly one. But even I recognise the concept of “too little”, and in many implementations of the Sonion EST drivers they are just that: far too little treble for the average person. Almost a disgrace to actual electrostats.
After all, when you think of electrostatic headphones one thing usually comes to mind.
Boundless, infinite extension. A far cry from the models we’re seeing on the IEM market today.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Sonion ESTs. After all, it’s not an inherently flawed driver but rather a very hard to implement one. And so it only stands to reason that with enough patience and research, someone will eventually get it. And someone eventually did.
As I’ve said before in my cliffnotes for the Elysium, it was the one to exceed my expectations for the first time. Actual treble out of an EST IEM! I could almost cry when I first heard it.
But upon further analysis, the treble was honestly nothing special. I felt that a standard BA tweeter array could do the job just as well, probably for less cost too. The launch of the Elysium was defining moment for sure, but nothing mindblowing. It showed me that the Sonion ESTs weren’t simply vaporware and that you could coax out some decent treble response out of it with enough effort, but didn’t justify the added cost or complexity required at the time.
I thought that perhaps, this was the pinnacle of EST technology. Pack it up, we’ve seen all we needed to see. But then I met up with Elysian and tried his wares.
The Annihilator is probably the biggest punch in the face to the rest of the industry at this point. It was as if Elysian just decided to put in a ridiculous amount of treble into an EST IEM just to say “Hey jokers! This is how you do it. Take notes.”
Compared to the Elysium, the Annihilator certainly has far more treble but more importantly, a significantly less peaky response:
And this comparison looks even better next to the other ESTs:
But enough comparisons, let’s just talk about the Annihilator by itself.
The tone of the Annihilator is nowhere close to neutral, being one of the more coloured IEMs I’ve heard. It’s still decidedly V-shaped with an emphasis in bass and obviously treble, with the mids (lower mids in particular) taking a back seat.
The midrange tuning is not unnatural by any means, but it is certainly focused towards the upper midrange frequencies. Shoutiness is a potential concern, as is overly-thin notes, but all still within the bounds of reasonableness in my personal opinion.
The bass response is focused towards the mid-bass, a tuning choice that I don’t personally vibe with but isn’t inherently wrong by itself. The Annihilator’s bass is more punchy and impactful rather than deep and rumbly, so for those who prioritise percussive presentations this may be the bass for you.
And of course, the treble.
The Annihilator has its niche: trebleheads. And while I am not personally one to enjoy huge amounts of treble, I can at least put myself in the shoes of someone who does. The Annihilator has a lot of treble, perhaps far more than the average person may take, but I will say this: it is excellent treble.
Yes, there is a lot of high frequency energy and the the Annihilator leans into that signature with its entire being. It’s beyond bright and I would happily describe as a supernova, but here’s the interesting thing: I didn’t think it was piercing. It was certainly far beyond the bounds of my personal enjoyment, but not once did I find the treble of the Annihilator painful or strident. There was just… a lot.
I think I could partially explain it as being due to the lack of any huge, contrasting peaks or dips that usually made certain treble spikes sound much worse than they showed on the graph. Perhaps it was this lack of pain that I couldn’t stop listening to it despite my treble sensitivity, like some form of mild masochism. And the speed and texturing of the treble… it’s certainly no Stax, but it comes closer to the Shure KSE1X00 than any other IEM I’ve tried. And that’s a real electrostatic.
But of course, the other problem is the price. At $3,680, it blows past the Elysium and even the Wraith, though it’s arguably better than the both of them. Does it beat all the IEMs resting on my lauded “S tier”? I’d say that it’s a definite no, but say you switch up the question a little.
Is it worse than all my S-tier IEMs? That’s where my answer gets a little cloudy.
At any case, let’s look beyond the perceived value of the Annihilator because that’s a wholly subjective thing. For the achievement of proving to me that the Sonion ESTs can, in fact, be superior to traditional BA tweeters, I bestow upon the Annihilator the full ★★★. I look forward to more from this one-man team.
Grade: S- ★★★
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My usual thanks to my loyal supporters and shoutouts to my big money boys: