At this stage, the headphone market is under a full-blown invasion with new Chinese audio companies cropping up every 5 minutes. The IEM market is not looking saturated at every price point, the DAP’s, Amps, and DAC’s are also in full flow. Still, we haven’t seen too many high-end headphones. It seems we are entering the first wave with several new companies popping up with full-size planar headphones. This review of the ThieAudio Phantom headphone will be taking a look at one of these new contenders. We want to see where it fits in at its price point and how it compares to the more expensive and longer-established brands like Sennheiser, Hifiman, and Audeze.
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging on my set of ThieAudio Phantom is very different from what I have seen in the pictures online. It seems, at one point, these headphones were shipping with a cool gig-style case and were inserted in foam with the accessories. My set, however, came in a simple black cardboard box with the headphones set in a dense foam to keep them safe in transit. I’m not sure if the original packaging is still available, but it certainly looked like a good place to safely store your headphones when not in use. Either way, I have reached out to Linsoul for clarification.
Headphones don’t usually come with too many accessories, but in the case of the Phantoms, I am pleasantly surprised with Thieaudio going the extra mile to provide a very well rounded package.
In the box, you get a lot of options about how to use them.
2x Earpads - one installed on the headphones and the other free in the box. They are both a fabric velour style with one seeming to have a slightly longer fiber length than the other.
2x cables - One terminated in the standard 3.5 mm and a second more premium balanced 2.5mm cable.
2x adapters - 2.5mm Socket to 3.5mm TRS Jack / 4.4mm TRS Jack.
1x headphone carry case - it is the standard OEM variety with no specific Thieaudio branding present, but it is custom molded to fit the Phantom headphones. It is an excellent compact way to add protection if you are ever transporting them. It also has a small pouch on the inside with room for the extra cables and adapters.
Build Quality and Styling
Build quality is good, but it’s not outstanding. Indeed, the more expensive products from Audeze and Hifiman have them soundly beaten when it comes to having a premium feel. That said, there is nothing that gives me any concerns about the long-term durability of the Phantoms. They are well made and feel capable of taking plenty of abuse.
The design is straightforward and very similar to many planar designs we have seen over the years. Its simplicity and lack of committed branding give a hint of the possible OEM design. For instance, I would have expected a company logo on the grills.
You have a thin wooden ring that acts as the housing and the outer part of the headphones have a large metal grill. Being an open back design It’s very well vented which lets the driver breath freely and has a side effect of making the headphones very light. The driver components and the ear-side baffle is mounted on a metal plate that is seated within the wooden enclosure.
The inner part, which you can see when you remove the earpads, is a metal module with the driver and baffles integrated. This is the heart of the Phantom headphone.
The earcups are suspended from a fully 360-degree x-axis articulation but not on the Y-axis. This means that the headphones (without the cable attached) can face outwards for monitoring but that they cannot be rotated to lie flat on a table. The choice to not include some y-axis articulation is unusual, but there the headband is sufficiently compliant and will conform with your head shape. The attachments are metal and on the inside where it connects to the headband section are a small number of notched grooves to provide resistance and user-adjustable fit.
The headband is the cheapest feeling part of the headphone. The connection point is very average plastic, and I am no big fan of the logo. The headband is well padded and very comfortable, but you can quickly tell that they have used a lower grade protein leather for the construction.
As mentioned above, it’s a well-made headphone, but its nothing revolutionary. It gets the job done, looks good, and should last for many many years without issue. The earpads are replaceable, and there should be plenty of cheap aftermarket pad options due to its non-proprietary shape.
Comfort and Isolation
The nature of the planar magnetic design in the Thieaudio Phantom dictates that these are going to be awful headphones when it comes to isolation. The drivers need a lot of ventilation to work correctly, and although some companies do offer closed-back planar headphones, it is not optimal or the norm. That means that the Phantom offers almost no relief from external noise ingress and that they will also leak sound profusely to the outer environment. With that in mind, I would suggest keeping them as either a home HiFi set or for use in a personal office segregated from co-workers.
Comfort, on the other hand, is outstanding. I can’t think of a lighter set of full-size headphones on the market today. They make my Sennheiser HD800s seem bulky, and even my Kingsound Electrostats lose out.
It’s not just the lightness of the earphone that counts for the comfort. On the Phantom, the large and air ear pads, well-ventilated drivers, dual cable design, and perfect clamping force all combine to make them a joy to use for long listening sessions. Yes, you can put in the hours with these cans, and there is no build-up of heat friction hot spots to speak of.
Sound Quality is excellent. One has to look at this in terms of an overall value perspective. Where it stands against all other headphones on the market and not just compare them against the new wave of Chinese headphones. If We look at it that way, they offer a serious issue for value propositions against the more established audio brands. However, for me, it isn’t as preferable to the excellent Blon B20 which decimates many of these more expensive companies and costs just $100 more than the Thieaudio Phantom. On the other hand, $100 is a hell of a lot more money to spend, and the Thieaudio is at least on a level with other Planars 2x-3x its price. I guess what I am trying to say is that the value proposition of entry and mid-level headphones from Audeze, Hifiman etc, when we use sound as the sole basis of comparison, is poor to say the least.
The Phantom is a very natural sounding headphone with a full and airy presentation to them. The midrange is forward and the bass fast and responsive but somewhat lacking in depth of sub-bass response treble is on the brighter side but falls off well before coming too hot to handle. Clarity is excellent, but I feel it is the week point of the headphone and the overall presentation is slightly veiled. Detail retrieval is also good, but the Blon and even the Monoprice Monolith resolve more micro details and display them with greater ease for you to appreciate them. With the Phantom, I find myself struggling to get a little more out them.
It’s not as musical sounding headphone and its not analytical. At first, I was kind of twisted with my brain needing a few hours to burn in and adapt, having just come off a review of the Fearless Audio Roland and its more engaging signature. After a few hours though the phantoms clicked on Rodrigo y Gabriela’s the just sound very pure and accurate. There is no biased one way or another; there is no artificial sound or overly forced purity. It might not be technically perfect, but for the money and with the right music (Rock, acoustic, classical), they sound great.
Blon B20 - I’ll take the lower price of the Blon over the Sendy any day, and I truly think they are one of the best prices to performance headphones on the market right now. They are more musical and engaging than the Phantom and have a better low end on them as well. Build quality is a step ahead, but they don’t have the balanced cable in the box, and there is no carry case if that counts for anything. The Phantom is also far more comfortable. The Blon is comfy, but the lighter weight of the Thieaudio headphones makes a difference.
Upcoming Comparisons - LCD-2, Monolith, Hifiman Sundara
The Thieaudio Phantom I expect is a great value headphone that offers buyers great value for money when it comes to out and out fidelity. The build quality is excellent, and we don’t foresee any issues over the long term. However, the more expensive headphones do have a more premium feel to them. I like a bargain though and care less about a refined finish and looks. At the end of the day, if its the sound you care about, then the ThieAudio Phantom is a great option. It has an amazing sound for a planar at this price. That said, if I did happen to have an extra $100 lying around the house, I would still opt for the Blon B20.
The Thieaudio Phantom Planar Magnetic headphones are now available to buy from Amazon.com, Linsoul and other vendors worldwide.