Anthem Five E2 Review: Moving ‘AF’

A representative from Anthem Five contacted me via Head-Fi.org, asking if I was interested in reviewing an upcoming CIEM (custom-fit IEM). Having had troublesome experiences in the past with custom monitors, I was a bit reluctant to accept (though definitely intrigued). The process is more complicated than just ordering a set of earphones and popping them into your ears — there’s the whole ear impressions process, as well as dealing with fit issues and whatnot. What eventually piqued my interest was hearing the expected price point for these custom earphones — the Anthem Five E2 would be available for an unexpectedly reasonable $150.

For more information, feel free to check out their recently launched website. I found a bit more information on there that took me by surprise — they offer a 5-day lead time from receiving your impressions, which is absolutely nuts in comparison to the majority of CIEM companies on the current market.

AnthemFive Website

The official driver setup consists of one dynamic driver + one balanced armature: a hybrid earphone only available in custom fit for $150. The rep described it as a ‘slight v-shape’ type tuning with built in pneumatic pressure relief system — sounds like a very solid package at its price point, given performance is up to par. I especially am fond of the affordability aspect of these monitors, as the $100 – $200 region is very accessible to many of those looking to get into higher-end audio.

Though I received the earphone for review, I’ll be giving my honest, personal opinion — I’ve been burned by fake hype before and I’ll do my best to gauge any bias. I’ve had the E2 for about 2 months now, and can make a firm statement on the quality of this product.

Misc.

The Anthem Five E2 is only available in custom-fit, which requires the user to provide ear impressions upon purchasing. I’ve had issues getting proper impressions done a few years back, and ultimately resorted to purchasing the mold materials and making my own. It’s a bit cheaper, and I can make sure they come out right — for some reason, audiologists in my area were having trouble capturing outer-ear information in the impressions.

As mentioned, Anthem Five’s projected lead time is 5 days from receiving your impressions. At most CIEM companies, this would be considered a ‘rush service’ and cost you an addition $400 or so. I’d expect a positive correlation between lead time and order count, however.

Build & Design

Though I was given various options to customize the shell of the E2, I simply opted for the basic, standard black shell. I was told that shells are available in standard colors + some metallic options, and wooden faceplates will soon be available. The Anthem Five logo is selectable in both silver and gold. I wish I had a definite list of all customization options and pictures to go along with it, but it seems official information is not yet available.

Their website has an IEM designer, which showcases 4 color options and their matching faceplates. I don’t see the proposed wooden plates, but perhaps that’s still a work in progress. That being said, their metallic colors look great in combination with the logo, and I’ve got to admit that I’m feeling a bit of remorse with the plain-jane black.

The result was as expected: a sleek, all-black body with gold logos on both monitors. The shell looks mostly pristine, though I noticed some tiny bubbles around the logo on one monitor (other monitor is flawless). The gold inset is surprisingly nice: it’s a concave circular plate with an “AF” scripture negative; lines are crisp and edges are perfectly smooth. It doesn’t look cheap. The concave surface plays very well with the light, and it looks better than many customs I’ve seen at higher price points.

The set I have at the moment are considered a prototype — the final product will also have mesh screens in the nozzle to protect from earwax / debri, as well as full packaging, accessories, and case.

Fit & Comfort

I ran into a ton of troubles with custom fits a few years back, so I was surprised to see that I had no fit issues on first attempt here. Of course, YMMV as it is mostly a conglomeration of many factors, primarily the quality of ear impressions sent in. Though it was a bit tight to get in at first (due to needing the cymba to ‘lock’ into place), I had no troubles after getting used to the motion. Fit is very secure and there’s not a worry in my mind of it accidentally slipping or falling out. Isolation is also very good, as expected with a good seal.

I consider these to be a bit more comfortable than my 64 Audio U12t, which isn’t exactly ‘uncomfortable’ in the first place. With the U12t (and many other universal fit earphones) there’s a mild “this tip is in your ear and trying to stretch it wider” sensation, while there’s nothing like that here with the E2.

I don’t really like the memory wire on the stock cable included with the E2, but the wire itself is pretty ordinary and unobtrusive. There is no chin slider, but microphonics are pretty low and it’s not rubbery. At this price-point, I’m not expecting much in terms of luxury accessories.

Sound

When I first stepped into custom earphones over two years ago, I was looking for something I’d describe as a “thick bass response complementing warm, smooth, and lush midrange”. Though my preferences have certainly changed as time went by, I think these may have been a potential contender for my initial criteria. The Anthem Five E2 has a shamelessly boosted midbass from its dynamic driver, warm undertones present throughout its midrange, followed by a safely restrained treble. What makes the sound especially interesting is the staging. Soundstage feels well-shaped and very immersive, making for an engaging listen.

Lows

The E2’s bass is boosted very well above neutral, with considerable slam and a slightly drawn-out decay. The result is a decently low-reaching subbass rumble and slightly sluggish midbass hits that can overwhelm on certain tracks. Result? A midbass focused response. However, the dynamic driver provides a satisfying kick that doesn’t come off as cheap or lacking in character: I think bassheads would like the E2 for what it is. It’s a very bombastic low-end tuning that reminds me a lot of my experience auditioning the Empire Ears hybrid line (with less ridiculous subbass) — sometimes a little slow sounding in the bass with a tendency to overshadow, but intentionally tuned towards a ‘guilty pleasure’ type sound rather than reference purposes.

Midrange

This section bothers me, but probably not for the reason one would typically expect. Beneath the otherwise boosted midbass, the mid-range on the E2 has a very pleasant tone which is a bit infuriating. If the midbass weren’t as heavily boosted, I would be all over this earphone hyping it with no remorse. Lower mid-range is a fairly-bodied following the midbass hump, lending vocals a generous warmth. Center mid-range is a bit dipped but begins to rebound a little early up into the upper mid-range. Upper mid-range avoids being peaky; as opposed to the typical chi-fi v-shape, this is more reminiscent of something like the Periodic Be with a bit more clarity and aggression. The upper midrange / lower treble can sometimes be a little intense, but more so seems to be a result of mastering / mixing. The result is something that comes off as warm, textured, a bit soft in note attack but with excellent note weight and tone — it’s kind of a guilty pleasure, as it doesn’t sound exactly refined or clean, due to the hashy lower treble / upper midrange. I’d actually go as far as to say that the E2 could be considered an “bassy warm” or “m-shape” tuning over a “v-shape”.

Highs

The E2’s treble straddles a careful balance between what I’d consider a too-gentle presentation, and being just fine. There’s one primary peak just above the midrange that lends the sound a decent amount of sharpness and presence. It’s not quite up to neutral in energy past the lower treble, but doesn’t sound dark or veiled. As a result, perceived detail in some high percussion can sound subtly dull, almost lacking the energy to make them shine while lower-treble hits can be sharp and pronounced. Air up top is also just enough to compliment the E2’s immersive staging, but extension and sparkle isn’t going to turn any heads here. To conclude, treble heads will not find what they’re looking for with the E2, but those sensitive to upper high-frequencies may take quite a liking to this signature without giving up too much.

Comparison to Final Audio E5000

To help eliminate bias and try to ground my opinions to a more concrete reference, I’d like to draw a comparison to another monitor I have on hand at the moment. The Final Audio E5000 is a very beautifully designed earphone with a tuning that is hard to dislike. Compared to the Anthem Five E2, it takes a ton more juice to power to high listening levels. The E2 has a far more immersive staging — the stage feels more three-dimensional, and gets the listener more involved in the music while the E5000 feels more like a very clear rendition of the music on a screen. The E2 also displays a boomier and looser bass control with its strong midbass hump, resulting in more frequent muddling into the lower mid-range than the E5000. Both earphones have a sort of mid-range charm, the E2 comes off as warmer and more sweet, while the E5000 is cleaner and more resolving. However, the E2 surprisingly still takes the cake for separation in complex passages. Tracks like “ODESZA – It’s Only feat. Zyra (ODESZA VIP Remix)” get pretty hectic in the later sections. The E2 remains composed, while the E5000 actually seems to become a bit of a jumble — I’d directly pin the fault of this to the E2’s clearer imaging, it feels like each instrument has its own identifiable source, while in the E5000 they seem to be mostly coming from a set of stereo speakers. Isolation isn’t even a contest, the E5000 is pretty poor in this regard while the E2’s perfect fit is very attenuating of outside noise.

Conclusion

Neutralheads, stay away; the E2 is definitely not up your alley. To the bassheads and those looking for a warm signature with a heavy emphasis on low-end (particularly midbass), the E2 might find its way into your heart. Characterized by a strong midbass bloom, proper vocals, and a soundstage that continues to impress, I’d say that Anthem Five’s first CIEM makes a lasting first impression in combination between its involving sound and affordable price point. The E2 plays well with many electronic genres, as I found myself moving to the music all-too-often while trying to get a solid impression of the sound. From a purely sonic perspective, what hurts the most is that the otherwise pleasant midrange timbre / tone is often overshadowed by the strong midbass emphasis.

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