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Anthem Five is a relative newcomer to the CIEM scene, with the E2 as its debut product releasing late last year. I was contacted by Pavel Gavrilyuk to review the E2 a few months ago and I took them up on their offer, leaving the design up to them as “omakase”.
Anthem Five makes use of 3D printing technology to make their customs, a process that has been gaining rapid popularity in the CIEM manufacturing circle due to the ease of mass production and overall precision. I had the STL files of my ear impressions so the process of getting my customs done with Anthem Five was extremely straight-forward; send the files over, and wait.
Interestingly, Anthem Five had my customs ready to ship out just over a day since sending them my impression files, so the turnaround time is definitely far quicker than any other CIEM company I know. Though, I’m not sure if this is due to “reviewer’s privilege” or if you as a customer can expect the same, but to be fair Anthem Five does cite their expected turnaround time as 5 business days.
My impression STL files had been used for other customs before, so at least I know that the impressions themselves are accurate. As expected, the E2 I received was a perfect fit-wise, and I had little to criticise in terms of the build quality. Unfortunately, I had other complaints but those will be addressed later below.
Product page: https://www.anthemfive.com/e2
Driver configuration: 1BA + 1DD hybrid
This E2 was kindly provided by Anthem Five.
The E2 can be described as simply… bassy. It is undoubtedly a bass forward set where the lower frequencies are pushed to the forefront, with everything else taking a back seat. The midrange sits behind the bass, and the treble even further back.
I’ll list of some of the more egregious flaws of the E2, starting with the non-audio shortcomings.
- The cable provided with my E2 was broken out of the box. The right channel was cutting out constantly, and a cable swap fixed it.
- The IEMs themselves are out-of-phase. This is confirmed with impulse measurements, and so I had to invert the polarity of one of the channels of the new (properly functioning) cable for a proper listening experience.
- The advertised Pressure Mitigation Valve (that acts as mild front volume venting) does not quite work as expected. I can still get driver flex out of the E2 if I push my customs in too far, and it can even disable the dynamic driver woofer in the worst cases. It’s no direct competitor to APEX, that’s for sure.
Anthem Five has been informed of the cable and polarity issues and had offered a rebuild. I told them it wasn’t necessary as I had the aforementioned fixes applied and did not want to delay the review.
In terms of subjective audio flaws:
- The bass is overwhelming, with very little counterbalance in the higher frequencies so the E2 sometimes presents music as if it’s “pure bass”.
- The upper treble is virtually nonexistent, and so there is little to no sensation of “air” that presents itself in higher order harmonics.
- The staging and imaging capabilities are very bad, moreso due to the overwhelming lower end response which results in a very congested and “listening from behind a wall” feeling to the sound.
Outside of these flaws, I wouldn’t call the E2 particularly fantastic at any specific area. The midrange tone is fine in that it’s not as wrong-sounding as the some of the worst IEMs I’ve tried, but it’s not like we could call it “tonally balanced” either. The resolution and detail retrieval is there once you force yourself to listen past the dominating bass, but probably not enough for anyone with some decent experience with the IEM market (more specifically, the budget IEM market at that).
It’s hard to review IEMs like these where there’s nothing to praise nor to criticise. The E2 exists as a bare minimum in terms of what I wouldn’t consider “bad”, but if it were a $150 universal IEM it would be completely overshadowed by the budget veterans from the East.
Why Even Buy One?
The Anthem Five E2 isn’t a $150 universal IEM, but a $150 custom IEM.
As far as I know, the E2 is the cheapest custom IEM your money can get you. At least, if not the cheapest CIEM, it would be the cheapest hybrid custom IEM you can buy. Most US CIEM manufacturers typically bottom out at the $200 range at the very minimum, for instance the InEarz S150 (which still has an MSRP of $275), and virtually all of these budget models are built with a single BA driver due to razor-thin margins. Now, you could go cheaper if you look to ASEAN markets, for instance Avara and their $100 AV1Lite, but I don’t know how exactly it differs from the $170 AV1 and so I’m skeptical on exactly how much quality Avara could provide for that paltry sum.
Basically, excluding the unknown outliers, the E2 exists in a whole new price bracket of its own. The only custom IEM you can realistically buy with $150 is a title that grants exclusivity within a sizeable proportion of the custom IEM niche, in which a potential buyer simply requires a custom-fitted IEM and where sound quality takes a backseat priority. Again, this is $150 for an IEM that’s custom-moulded to your own ears and is essentially one of the most bespoke things that you can get in the audiophile market, a service that typically had a barrier-of-entry of much higher than $150 historically. And as long as the final product isn’t completely garbage, nobody would complain much about the imperfections.
Of course, the concept of “you get what you pay for” rears its ugly head at this level of penny-pinchery, so you might have to roll the dice in terms of Anthem Five’s QC. Be it the problems I’ve personally experienced with my review unit or perhaps more that you might come across as a customer, but I guess that’s just to be expected.
The Anthem Five E2 isn’t totally horrible, but it’s definitely not anywhere near competitive if it were simply a universal IEM. But since it’s the cheapest custom IEM you can get, I doubt you’re expecting top-tier sound so at the very least, the bare minimum of “not the worst thing ever” has been satisfied.
In terms of value, I’d give it an honorary star for at least lowering the barrier of entry of a traditionally expensive type of product. It’s not going to show up on the ranking list since it’s not value based on price to sound performance, but I think the E2 at least deserves some credit.
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