Pros: Excellent detail retrieval and driver speed, crisp punchy sound, fantastic texture, sound superb with guitar based music
Cons: Housings can get a little heavy, a slightly thicker midrange and bass would be ideal, can be a little sharp on occasion
These IEMs were very kindly loaned to me for a few weeks by a fellow UK Head-Fi’er (@TheUKMrT) for the purposes of this review, and to compare to my Campfire Audio single dynamic driver models. Many thanks for the loaner, Paul – it’s been an enjoyable few weeks!
About me: recent convert to audiophilia but a long time music fan, also aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Recently started converted my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. My ideal tuning for most IEMs and headphones tends towards a musical and slightly dark presentation, although I am not treble sensitive in general. Please take all views expressed below with a pinch of salt – all my reviews are a work in progress based on my own perceptions and personal preferences, and your own ears may tell you a different story.
Rhapsodio are a Hong Kong based audio manufacturer specialising in IEMs and after-market cables, with a well-respected audiophile at the helm (the ubiquitous Sammy, who will be well known to anyone who attends any of the various CanJam events or other notable audio conventions). They are one of the few CIEM/IEM manufacturers to have both a TOTL all-BA flagship (the Solar) and a single dynamic driver TOTL flagship as well (the Galaxy). Sammy has been quoted previously as saying he prefers single DD setups due to the tuning possibilities and overall coherence of the sound, and uses his own proprietary dynamic driver tech (the UltraMag driver) to get the best sound possible. I haven’t heard the Solar as yet, but the Galaxy is definitely punching in the flagship bracket – my time with the Galaxy was both a refreshing change and a timely reminder of what exactly can be achieved from one small dynamic driver with the right tuning and design.
Unboxing and aesthetics
The Galaxy are an unusual looking IEM, with a solid metal constructions and a vaguely rhomboid design reminiscent of a cross between a Jerry Harvey Siren Series model (without the brain-tickling stem length) and a pair of metal ball-bearings. The machining feels solid and weighty, with enough heft to feel like a serious piece of gear without feeling like you have a pair of Frankenbolts in your ears. Coupled with the heavy duty after-market cable these usually ship with (the Rhapsodio Pandora Dwarf, although the review set also came with the SG 2.98 from Rhapsodio’s cable line), these are a very good looking set of IEMs. The one area that could use a bit more polish is the actual branding – the dark silvery surface is polished to a mirror like sheen, but doesn’t actually carry any branding at all, with the only indication this is a Rhapsodio product coming from the mildly incongruous circular sticker (yes, a sticker) applied to each ear on the inner face of the IEM. While that looks quite cool at a distance, given the close proximity to the skin of the listener, I imagine they may start looking a little more worn over time and eventually come off, so for the future I wouldn’t mind seeing Sammy and his team looking at a more permanent method of brand awareness.
In terms of the overall packaging, the Galaxy V2 again feels top notch, with a solid hardboard box in black and adorned with a simple company logo opening up to reveal a mini-attache case nestled in some protective foam. Opening the attache case (a serious step up in both visual and practical terms from most normal CIEM cases for permanent storage, even if it is more back-packable than pocketable), the IEM sits nestled inside in a heavy foam padding, with separate sections for tips and cables as well. The usual loadout of accessories for something in this price bracket are all present and accounted for, without any major surprises. Overall, simple but functional outer box and a great looking and earthquake proof steel case make this a package deserving of the price tag.
Potential subheading for headphones/iems: Comfort
Once you have settled on a suitable set of tips, comfort is very good with these IEMs. I personally use foam tips, using the same style as come with my Campfire Audio gear, which I find is a good tradeoff between the ultimate isolation of Comply and the durability of the harder foam brands. The smoothed curves on the inner face of the IEM and the unusual shape allow for a close fit in the bowl of the ear – the IEM is too deep to sit fully flush with your ear for in-bed listening, but it sits securely enough for stationary listening or use while out and about. The shells are slightly too heavy to recommend doing any serious exercise wearing them, as the weight would eventually unseat them, but I’m sure there aren’t too many people who would take an £800 IEM on a 10 mile run, so that isn’t much of a black mark in my book. The nozzle length is just long enough to get a good fit without causing fatigue for me (I have very wide ear canals), and overall the Galaxy feel very snug and comfy in my ears for extended listening.
One area that can be a little more cumbersome is with the included cable – I have used both their included copper upgrade cable and a similar silver cable, and the thick braiding and relative stiffness on both cables makes this a little less flexible for everyday wear, with the silver cable in particular feeling very heavy over the top of the ear. Neither cable had anything in the way of appreciable microphonics, however, with the the extra weight to the cables helping deaden any contact noise, Overall, a decent fit and good comfort without any major issues.
On first listen, I will admit that the Rhapsodio took a little getting used to. Coming from the rich smoothness of the recent Campfire Audio dynamic drivers (Lyra II and Vega), firing up the Galaxy was like a splash of cold sharp water into the ears. Cold, crunchy treble and a lean and angular sound greeted my ears, with a little more bass than true neutral, but definitely weighted more towards texture than physicality. After a few days of listening (and the requisite “brain burn-in” as my ears adjusted to the sound), the Galaxy opened up for me, giving a presentation that is textured but not overly thick, and clear and crystalline rather than smooth and warm. The treble is sharp and detailed, with a great sense of crunch and energy as it moves down through to the midrange, playing very nicely with guitar based music and orchestral pieces. The bass is just thick enough to stop the sound feeling cold, with a nice sense of speed and a raspy texture that helps accentuate detail. Overall, a very different signature than I have been used to listening to recently, but very enjoyable with the right music once you adjust.
The lower frequency range is a nicely taut affair, with a decent if not overly heavy sense of body and good sense of speed from the UltraMag dynamic driver technology. This certainly isn’t bass that will make a hardcore basshead weak at the knees, but there is certainly enough there to start the foot tapping or head bobbing with the right track.
Starting on ny usual breakdown tracks, “Bad Rain” by Slash and Myles Kennedy kicks off proceedings, the snarling guitar intro underpinned by a crisp and thudding kick drum beat and opening into the snarling rasp of the bassline with a sense of menace. The bass notes sound textures and raw, hitting low and allowing the listener to hear the sound of the strings vibrating in between notes, which can be lost on some less capable drivers. Switching out to “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel, the texture and rasp is still present in the bassline, with the usually chocolate-smooth bassline still filling the lower end of the song with presence, but with a more dry and physical feel to the sound. Again, the drums kick with good impact and snap in this track, imparting a sense of energy to the snare hits and bass beats and pushing the track along with plenty of energy.
Moving to more electronic music, “Get Lucky” from Daft Punk highlights the excellent extension of the driver into sub-bass territory, with the cavernous bassline scraping around on the floor of my ears, hitting every low note with definition and again bringing good energy to the track. Once more, texture is the order of the day over sheer quantity, but the track certainly not lacking in bass, showing that the Rhapsodio driver is more than capable of kicking out some serious low end when called for. Going in search of more sub-bass, “Heaven” by Emile Sande highlights where the bass starts to thin out, with the usually voluminous rumble that starts the track generating only a light tickle rather than a real head-shaking throb in the inner ear. It still feels solid and detailed like the mid-bass, but definitely isn’t a tuning designed for sub-bass fanatics.
In summary, the bass is textured and nimble, thick enough to be enjoyable but lean enough to keep all the detail on the surface rather than buried in the body of the sound. If this IEM were a boxer, it would probably sit quite nicely at super-middleweight, packing plenty of punch and possessing a decent blend of power and precision to worry all but the serious heavyweight contenders. As long as you aren’t looking for the last word in slam or mid-bass quantity, the Galaxy present a nicely tuned and very detailed lower end that works very well with rock and guitar based music, and anything without too much sub-bass emphasis.
The midrange follows on from the bass in terms of texture and definition, presenting a lean and muscular sound with plenty of edge. Guitars chug with a frosty crispness that wouldn’t be out of place on a Canadian beer commercial featuring the world’s favourite Belgian martial artist, crunching and slashing through the musical foreground. The sound isn’t overly full or warm, staying just on the right side of neutral for my preferences, able to carry a song without sounding thin but leaving plenty of space between instruments. Listening to “Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses highlights the snarling energy the drivers are capable of, riff after riff landing in jagged one-twos and the twin on-beat/off-beat guitar rhythms the band are so fond of sitting on either side of the listeners head without getting mixed in the middle. You can clearly hear both Izzy and Slash duelling with each other in each ear in between each soaring chorus, with the notes sounding positively electric. This track also highlights a possible weakness, with the sharpness of the sound becoming almost unpleasant in some sections of the song and feeling slightly “etched” in my ears. To be clear, this IEM isn’t sibilant for me, and the sharpness never actually becomes unpleasant, but it is definitely about as far as I want to go with an IEM tuning in this regard.
In terms of tonality, the Galaxy excels with both electric and acoustic guitars, the acoustic elements ringing out clearly into the black background and the more electric riffs hitting hard and fast in the foreground of the sound. The midrange feels neither recessed or forward, sitting nicely in balance with the bass and treble frequency ranges.
Concentrating more on vocals, Foy Vance comes up next, with “Coco” and “Upbeat Feelgood” both sounding exceptional on the Galaxy. The opening guitar scuffs are easily audible on “Coco”, with Vance’s mixture of velvet and gravel coming through like a well mixed Irish Coffee straight into your ear, the nuance in the singer’s voice carrying across well and transporting the listener easily into the heart of the music. Sticking with velvety singers, “High Note” by Mavis Staples is also excellently rendered, the tom tom hits sounding real and true and the wonderful gospel chorus of this track blending well with the silky strumming of the acoustic guitar to paint a beautiful background to Staples’ impassioned vocals. The positioning of the singers in the wall of choral sound is also top notch, with individual voices popping out on the left and right without distracting from the overall effect of the chorus line. Piano also sounds very true to life on this IEM, with a realistic timbre and crisp presentation.
Overall detailing level in the midrange is high, with plenty of micro-detailing revealing itself naturally through the slightly leaner sound signature allied to the high separation levels the driver is capable of. This is a little too musical to feel truly analytical, but the Galaxy definitely doesn’t feel lacking in either resolution or clarity, digging plenty of information out of the landscape without distracting the listener from the main body of the song – in my opinion, the tuning here strikes a very good balance, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. Sometimes the emphasis on retrieval and texture can leave the impression of a slight graininess to the sound, but that is very fleeting in most cases, and very track dependant.
If the bass and mid ranges are characterised by a light to medium thickness and muscular sound, the treble is definitely the lean and mean sibling. It flows into the ears like a blast of artic wind, sharp and cold and carrying a sense of detail that cuts into the nice warm surroundings like a freshly minted snowflake. As mentioned in the midrange, the Galaxy isn’t a sibilant listen for me (unless the track is riddled with it – it certainly isn’t a serial smoother of rough edges), but it does carry a crispness and crunch that throws detail into sharp relief and can become mildly fatiguing for me on long listening sessions with certain genres of music. I should point out that I am sensitive to treble that borders the high-mid / lower treble “hot zones”, so for listeners who aren’t bothered in those particular sonic ranges this probably won’t be an issue.
Kicking straight into my usual test tracks, “Starlight” by Slash and Myles Kennedy is up first, the dissonant guitar intro sounding crystalline and beautiful without bringing any wincing, the high notes of Kennedy’s voice sounding pure and soaring over the simple bass guitar and guitar licks that sit underneath. The texture and gravel in the singer’s throat comes through clearly here, hitting the back of your eardrums with precision. The cymbals in this track are quite muted in comparison, with a fairly natural emphasis but not overly long decay, hitting with authority and then fading out just as quickly rather than splashing around.
After handling the rapier, I pull out the sonic sandpaper and pop some Chris Stapleton into rotation to test for sibilance. While still being one of my favourite songs at time of writing, “Whiskey And You” from his debut album has a section near the chorus that takes the beautiful room sounds and smokiness of the singer’s voice throughout the rest of the song and pushes them through the aural equivalent of an office paper shredder on the wrong gear, the mastering prodding at the listener’s ear with a scalpel on certain lines. The Galaxy is good but not great with this track, just flirting with unpleasantness at the 1:46 and 3:06 marks in the track but climbing back out of the red zone just in time. The rest of the track is sublime, however, with the room echo and small micro-details from the simply recorded track all living where they should in the periphery of the listener’s ears.
Trying out some electronic music, “Saturate” by The Chemical Brothers has a nice swirl to the synth runs and a delicate feel to the higher notes which contrasts well with the heavy drum and breakbeat backbone. Moving to more orchestral fare, the high violins and chimes of “Requiem For A Tower” and “Palladio” by Escala sound exceptional, the sound feeling laser-sharp in its delivery and cutting through the soundscape straight into the brain. The Galaxy copes very well with a lot of modern classical and fusion recordings, with various soundtracks I have in my collection (Hans Zimmer, Trevor Rabin etc) all sucking the listener in admirably, the texture of the mid and lower ranges helping accentuate the sharper top end of the tuning to give a great sense of engagement and dynamics to the sound.
Overall treble extension feels good on the Galaxy, extending well past my (probably limited) hearing without any loss of strength, unlike the more anaemic sub-bass. The general character of the treble for me leans more towards open and airy with a crystalline sparkle rather than clean and clear – something like the Vega or Lyra II present treble like a smooth cool glass of spring water, the Galaxy feels more like crunching your way through an icecube, with an altogether colder and occasionally sharper feel.
Soundstage and separation
The Galaxy has a good but not outrageous soundstage, sitting nicely outside my ears on the X-axis, with a more oval presentation – to me, the sound almost feels like it is arranged in a U shape with my head at the base of the U, with good forward extension on the edges of the sound to present a feeling like you are a couple of rows back from the stagefront, almost “in the pit”. Height is again decent but not stellar.
Separation is very good on the Galaxy, with the highly detailed driver and the not overly thick signature able to keep multiple sonic strands clearly defined. This is especially noticeable in guitar based tracks – “Kashmir” by Escala ft. Slash has multiple instruments playing in similar sonic ranges throughout the track, and an element of “double tracking” in the main guitar riff, which the Galaxy takes in its stride with ease, keeping just enough distance between all the threads to allow them all to register individually in the ear. In terms of layering (the 3D “stacking” of different layers of sound) the Galaxy is less impressive, but certainly no slouch, presenting the sound in very closely packed layers rather than a fully blown-out engineering diagram (to my ears, anyway).
Campfire Audio Vega – the Vega is the current darling and co-flagship of the highly acclaimed Campfire Audio range, sporting a metal shell and single dynamic driver like the Galaxy. In terms of sound, the Galaxy has a leaner and crisper sound than the Vega, with a more emphasised bass presence and weight to notes. The Vega feels slightly warmer in tone than the cool and crispy Galaxy, with a much more emphasised physical impact in the lower registers. Bass extension is won by the Vega, which while possessing only a little better actual extension to my ears, stays strong a lot further down into the sub-bass than the comparatively lighter Rhapsodio effort. “Heaven” by Emile Sande is a good track to quantify the difference between the two, with the Galaxy painting a nice sense of rumble across the inner ear as the into kicks in, but the Vega really rattling the furniture behind your eyeballs at the same volume. In the midrange, the Galaxy again sounds colder and leaner than the Vega, with a similarly level of clarity and resolution. The Galaxy actually feels more resolving than the Vega to my ears on some tracks, but this is mainly due to the thinner sound allowing the brain to pick out the different strands of music more easily – on closer listen, the Vega spits out the same level of detailing across the board, but the meatier musicality blends it all a little closer together on initial playback.
Moving up to treble, the Galaxy definitely feels more “etched” than the Vega, with a cleaner and crisper sounding treble that flirts on the edge of sharpness but doesn’t get sibilant for me in my usual hotspots around the higher mid-range and lower treble. Again, the Vega wins on actual weight, with a more solid feel to hi-hat percussion but less sense of air and sparkle. Soundstage is similar in size between the two, with the Galaxy feeling slightly wider to my ears due to the extra space between the edge of each note, but the Vega presenting a more real and “3D” feeling stage for me. Separation is a draw, with the presentation edging towards the Galaxy but the Vega still keeping everything neatly segmented if you want to pick out a particular instrument in the crowd.
Looking at build and ergonomics, this is a close battle, but for me it is edged by the Vega. The shells are lighter and better designed, fitting more easily in the ear without the constant danger of dislodgement I feel with the weightier Rhapsodio earpieces. The Rhapsodio feel more like a handmade piece of high quality jewellery, whereas the Vega look like a highly engineered piece of technology. With regards to cabling, the excellent ALO SPC Litz cable that comes as standard with the Campfire models is usually head and shoulders above mose included cables I have seen yet, but in this case, the Rhapsodio copper litz cable beats it in both ergonomics and aesthetics, being a high end after-market cable in its own right.
Overall, these two IEMs present two very different approaches – the Galaxy emphasising edge and attack at the (relative) expense of overall thickness, the Vega feeling more muscular and energetic, with a denser feel to the sound. For particularly complex musical passages, the Galaxy is probably easier to follow the individual strands of the music, but loses some of the Vega’s engagement and sheer musical magic as a result. For fans of a more analytical and clean signature bordering on neutral, the Galaxy will probably win out here – for people looking for a little more body and soul to their music without sacrificing on technicality or detail, the Vega will pull ahead. If I had to choose just one, I would go with the Vega for my personal preferences, as I feel the unique tuning it offers is just that bit more enjoyable across all sectors than the more clinical Galaxy, but if I could only listen to the Rhapsodio IEM for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t feel unhappy.
Campfire Audio Lyra II – The Lyra II are the second high-end dynamic driver in the Campfire Audio range, with the same shell design as the flagship Vega model, but a different beryllium driver diaphragm. In terms of build and ergonomics, the Lyra II shares a slight advantage to the Galaxy (in line with the Vega), just losing out with the more pocketable but far less sturdy Campfire carry case in comparison to Rhapsodio’s far more solid metal mini-attache case.
Sound wise, the Lyra II presents a smoother and fuller sound than the Galaxy, but in a slightly more laid back fashion than the more energetic Vega. Bass-wise, the models are far more evenly matched, with the Lyra II having a shade more substance to the mid and sub-bass, but being far closer in overall tuning. Drum sounds are a little more realistic on the Lyra II, with tom-toms carrying a more authentic weight in comparison to the more emphasised Galaxy. In the mids, the Galaxy again come across as more lean and neutral than the Lyra II, but again to a lesser degree than the Vega. The vocals carry more sharpness and edge in the Rhapsodio tuning, with the Lyra II managing to add a dash of velvet to both male and female singers that makes for a more relaxing overall listen than the crisper Galaxy. In the treble, both are reasonably extended, but the Lyra II is far more laid back than the crystalline Galaxy, so will definitely lose out to fans of a sharper and more present treble, gaining ground with people who prefer their higher end sounds clear and smooth rather than hot and crunchy.
In terms of detail, both have good clarity and presentation of micro-detailing, but the Galaxy feels like the more resolving of the two due to its overall tuning. Staging is again a little wider on the Galaxy, but feels more solid and 3D on the Lyra II, with a more realistic “feel” to the presentation compared to the more hyper-real Rhapsodio.
Overall, these two IEMs aren’t that far away in tuning, but serve very different listening purposes for me – for singer/songwriter and more laid back acoustic or downtempo music, the velvety smoothness and rich sound of the Lyra II is excellent (and even tops the Vega for me with some genres). For more guitar-heavy rock music or uptempo electronica, the crisper and more aggressive Galaxy adds an extra dash of crunch and detail that really brings some tracks to life in direct comparison. Not as simple as the straight win for the Vega above, so I would say the honours are definitely even in this case, with me probably edging towards the Galaxy if I could only have one.
|Frequency Response||10 – 23000 Hz|
|Included cable||Rhapsodio Pandora Dwarf 6N OCC Litz Copper cable|
Writing this review was a timely reminder of “brain burn in”, or how quickly we adjust to a particular sound signature. On first listen, the Galaxy felt like they may be a little too sharp for my preference, with a crystalline brittleness to the high range and just too much sharpness through the high mids to really engage my preferences. Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the about-turn on my opinions is almost complete – while I still have moments where the Galaxy is just a tad too frosty for me, the beautiful texture and nicely judged weight in the lower ranges and the energetic and crispy highs have made me a convert, bringing a sense of life and electricity to some of my music that I wouldn’t have appreciated by sticking to my “usual” tunings. They are marketed as a TOTL single dynamic driver, and in comparison to the other top end DD units I have heard to date, they are definitely worthy of a place on the top table. Crisp, dynamic sound with bags of detail, a nice presentation (both sonically and aesthetically) and a good overall package make the Galaxy V2 an easy recommendation for those who aren’t after the last word in body or bass, but prefer a sharper and leaner take on things with just enough musicality to keep the soul of the song alive. As highlighted by my comparisons above, this isn’t my personal endgame (if there is such a thing), but I can easily seeing it ticking enough boxes at its current retail price to make a lot of users more than happy.