Well whatta you know. This is my first review of anything at all, let alone a review about a headphone on Head-Fi. So be nice guys! Let me start by saying I am by no means a self proclaimed audiophile, but merely a 59 year young regular guy who loves music. My body, soul, mind and attitude is still like a 30 year old. Once upon a time I was an accomplished musician back in the day. What do they say?.... once an alcoh….er, I mean, once a musician, always a musician. I listen to music to relax and enjoy the sounds, not to pick it apart because of the headphone I'm listening to. That doesn't mean every once in a while I don't get down and dirty listening to every little detail the music has to offer. I enjoy critical listening at times but I get so darn involved in it that I totally forget I'm supposed to be enjoying myself, not criticizing a piece of gear I own. I also need to be upfront and say I do suffer from slight to moderate tinnitus so take that for what it's worth.....which could be a lot to some of you. My hearing is still really good and I know what I'm listening too and what a headphone has to offer. Lastly, I'm not going to use all these fancy audiophile terms trying to be someone I'm not. The old Head-Fi saying that everyone's read is, everyone has their own ears and we all hear differently. Please, this review is based off my ears with my gear so keep that in mind. I'm just a layman and I'm gonna keep it real. Hopefully that works for you!
Driver Type: Rinaro Isodynamic Hybrid Array
Frequency response: 4 - 110,000 Hz
Impedance: 31,6 Ω
Nominal SPL: 100 dB (1 mW/1kHz)
Maximum SPL: >130 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0.1%
Weight: ≈ 430 g (oh so nice)
Custom built desktop PC> Schiit Mjolnir 2> Schiit Gumby Gen 5> Various tubes a plenty. Everything balanced.
This is where it gets tricky. I have a special set of musical skills which may not tickle some or most of your fancies. But, hey this is what I got to offer. Progressive metal, progressive instrumental metal, progressive rock, instrumental progressive rock, classic rock.
Bands I listen too most often would include but not limited to; Haken, Dream Theater, Symphony X, Pagan's Mind, The Helix Nebula, Earthside, Icefish, Voyager, Polyphia, Distorted Harmony, TesseracT, Leprous, Circus Maximus, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, many, many others
It won't be fair, but these are a few of the headphones I own which I can A/B against a little later in the review versus the Empyrean.
- Focal Clear
- Klipsch Heritage HP3
- ZMF Aeolus
A stunning beauty to hold your most coveted belongings which in this case (no pun intended) your Empyrean. It's sturdy, ergonomic and everything fits inside snug as a bug. To put it simply, it does the trick. It kind of reminds me of the old Samsonite luggage commercials that used to air many years ago. No matter what you do to it, you can bet whatever's inside will stay safe and sound. This is probably the nicest case for a headphone I've seen to date. Even though the Klipsch Heritage HP3 is a stunner, it's more a "showcase" piece with a glass cover. Yes, it's VERY cool but personally, I don't think it's best for the safety and longevity of your quite the pricy headphone that you want to keep years on end.
- There are 2 sets of earpads, one real leather which you cannot see but they're there, and the Alcantara.
- 3m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 6.3 jack connector
- 1.3m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 3.5 jack connector
- 3m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 4 pin XLR connector
Supremely built by hand, one at a time in Romania with the finest materials. I apologize in advance if this is corny, but just looking at these bad boys the first time, I felt like Gollum thinking to myself "my precious". What can I say, that's what I was thinking. These are simply the most aesthetically pleasing headphones my eyes have ever gazed upon. Seriously, just look at them and tell me I'm wrong! Didn't think so.
- Isodynamic Driver
- Isomagnetic earcup to earcup coupling technology
- Rinaro Isoplanar diaphram
- Carbon fiber Headband
- Fully aluminum skeleton. 20 hours of milling time on each frame.
- Leather Headrest
But, are they easy to drive?
At 31.6Ω and an SPL of 101dB, they are for just about all home set-ups. I'm not sure if I'd want to go portable though. For one thing, why would you even want to take these out of your house? Go ahead and get the 99 classic or Neo if you like Meze's house sound for portable, but....and this is important. DON'T TAKE THESE OUT OF YOUR HOUSE!! Keep them under lock and key and treat as a family heirloom.
You can run these through some modest gear but of course, the better the gear, the more you're going to be able to squeeze out every ounce of performance they have to offer. I wish I had more gear as I'd really like to hear how they scale up. So with that said, I only have the gear I have so for Schiit's and giggles, I hooked these up to my Dragonfly Red and Oppo HA 2 and?....well I could get below normal (for me) levels of sound out of the DFR but it just didn't have enough juice to power them to the volume I'm comfortable with. They just sounded thin. It lacked the bass impact versus running through my desktop and the treble ever so slightly seemed a bit veiled. I had my iPhone 7+ maxed out with volume and it just didn't cut it. You just gotta have some more headroom. The Oppo was a different story though. They have the juice but again, it just didn't serve it justice versus my desktop set-up. Through my balanced MJ2 and Gumby on low gain, I hardly had to turn the POT past 9AM. Of course that won't be the same for everyone because it's dependent on what amp you're using. Are you balanced or single ended? Single ended worked just fine with plenty of juice and sounded great when I tried them out SE. Are you running SS or tubes? I don't own a SS amp and strictly am a tube guy. I have a variety of tubes where some of them are high gain and others not so much. In a nutshell, they're not too difficult to drive and whatever AMP/DAC combo you may have at home, I'm pretty sure you'd get the juice you need to power the Empyrean.
Bass Wow, these dig down deep. They hit you in the most delicate of areas of your anatomy and can you feel it when the track calls for it. I'll admit it, I'm a bass guy but it's an absolute must that it's NOT fat/boomy, bloated and slow. It must be clean, tight, fast and won't bleed into the mids or treble. If it does? not for me.
It's full of body, rich, clean and tight, all encompassing in the sound when it digs down low. As much as an oxymoron this might sound like, it's natural and is emphasized just enough where it's colored and just north of neutral. At times, dependent on what you're listening too, it can get a bit loose. I don't EQ so I just live with it. By no means is this a deal breaker and I actually like it at times when you just want to hear a bit of sloppy bass. It's no fault of the Empyrean and is track dependent.
Listening to prog metal, there's a ton of fast kick passages where separation and air is so important if you don't want to hear a smear between kicks. The Empyrean on just about every occasion, comes through with flying colors. I don't hear each kick blending into each other which is a welcome change from some of the headphones I've owned or auditioned in the past. They are perfect for the kind of metal I listen too. There is a nice warm and pleasing mid bass bump. Not too much, not to little, the goldilocks affect. Just right! You can hear the sub bass all the way down to 20 Hz and it's immersive. I just dig it. This is the type of bass that I've always wanted to hear and the Empyrean does it for me.
Stunning. The only other headphones I've heard for my tastes that are equal to the Empyrean mids would be basically all the ZMF's. That's huge because I never thought I'd say that. I have my tastes and it's hard for me to change my mind because I can be stubborn. Since being introduced to the ZMF sound, it's been "the" sound for me. Well, the Empyrean has equaled what Zach has churned out with one headphones after another. A perfect balance where nothing is lost between the other 2 frequencies. You never hear the guitar, vocals, bass, drums bleed into each other but renders a perfect balance between all. They are perfectly balanced and you can hear every nuance in the song. Again, progressive metal and rock both are guitar emphasized and they've never sounded better. They're crunchy, solid and full, crystal clear, a distorted bliss which has a razor sharp sound at times, blended and balanced perfectly. Very detailed as you can hear the pick hitting the strings during those more quite passages. Yes, there's plenty of quite passes in metal....think Dream Theater. LeBrie's vocals (which at times is hard to take) make him sound good all the time. The overall tone of his voice, breaths taken between notes, power and balance make it a pleasure listening to him again. Petrucci's guitar playing has never sounded cleaner, tighter and fast as it does listening to the Empyrean. I use Dream Theater as just 1 example for how beautiful the mids sound. No matter what or who I listen to, instrumental or with vocals, they sound great. This is a very forgiving headphone and it shines it's brightest when you really listen to the mids. The thing is, they just do distorted guitar right! As much as I love the bass on these, the mids steal the show.
So you say you like it bright because that's the only way that you can hear all the little details that you believe you'll miss out on? That's what detail is all about so it's got to be bright. Forgetaboutit. These are detail monsters but definitely not bright in the least. They're not rolled off but instead, they're very smooth and relaxed with just the right amount of sparkle. Listening closely (or not) you can hear every little detail that the song can offer. They're very detailed with plenty of energy to keep the most ardent treble fans happy. There's nothing sibilant about these headphones at all. Creamy smooth butter that you can cut with a piece of paper. These are as non fatiguing as it gets and you can listen for hours on end and never feel like you just got punched in both ears a hundred times. I'm looking at you TH900. Even though I really like the aforementioned headphone and the qualities it posses, it gets fatiguing quickly. If you can't listen to a headphone for over an hour, ever, why? The Empyrean's treble just sings like a bird, is very airy and like the bass and mids, blends in perfectly. As you can tell, I believe this is a very balanced headphone where a lot of thought went into it's signature sound. I didn't hear any strange weird peaks and valleys but just smoothness with a lot of energy.
Not a whole heck of a lot to say other then the Empyrean has a very nice and solid soundstage. It excels in both width and depth and it feels like the sound is all enveloping. I'm not going to get into "it sounds like I'm sitting in the 7th row, or on stage or the front row" because I don't have any kind of recollection of what the heck that would even sound like. Pure nonsense if you ask me. By no means can this compete with say the HD800s but it holds it's own against most other headphones in it's price bracket. I've read a few comments here and on other sites stating they think they're intimate and polite in it's stage but I feel they're a lot better then that. Versus every headphone I personally own, this is the most expansive soundstage of them all and I like!
Comparisons. All open backs
The 3 headphones that I'll use as comparisons if you so happen to own one of them, or all 3, have really no resemblance to the Empyrean. They're that different but also serve as excellent compliments if you wanted to add to your stall.
-vs- Focal Clear
Can you say night and day? If ever there was a perfect compliment of 2 headphones, this would be it. The Focal house sound has always been in your face. They are extremely energetic, in your face, fatiguing for long listening sessions with excellent detail retrieval. The Clear has energetic treble with not nearly the bass slam and emphasis as the Empyrean. It's clean, tight and punchy, but doesn't have that full body flavor (not the same level of mid bass) as the Empyrean. The mids are noticeably recessed versus the Emp but they're still no slouch in their own right. I just love this headphone and based off my preference, I like it "almost" as much as the Utopia. The reason? The price. I get most of what the Utopia offers at a third of the price. But versus the Empyrean, it doesn't offer the same attributes that I'm looking for in an endgame headphone, if there is such a thing. It's bright, overall more neutral, bass response doesn't have the body/texture and slam and has slightly recessed mids. The soundstage is very polite and intimate where the Empyrean is huge comparatively speaking. The Empyrean excels in each of those areas but I still love the Clear as It's a perfect compliment.
-vs-Klipsch Heritage HP3.
Out of everything I own, this headphone is my go to every single time and my favorite….until I purchased the ZMF Aeolus which will be discussed below. The HP3 has a few similarities with each having plenty of bass slam and great soundstage. The HP3 would be more V shaped with the emphasis on the bass and treble response. Where it's so much better then most V signatures, the mids are not nearly as recessed as say something like the TH-X00 variant or the Fostex TH900. What I really like about the HP3 versus the Empyrean is how it sounds like you're at a live concert. This headphone takes you straight to the venue and has that vibe. It emulates it's sibling speakers so if you like Klipsch's tower speakers, you'll probably like the HP3. Where the Empyrean really excels is in it's mids and it's definitely a more smooth sounding signature. It just has better detail retrieval and an overall more relaxed and smoother sound, organic. Not saying the HP3 has a poor sound, it's just the Empyrean sounds better to my ears because it does "everything" right and is so balanced across the entire frequency range. The HP3 is one HP I'll never trade, sell or give away as it's a keeper for sure. It also compliments the Empyrean and they belong sitting right next to each other with no problems for when you want a different flavor.
-vs- ZMF Aeolus
Well Zach did it again. I was fortunate enough to have all 3 headphones (Aeolus, Verite, Empyrean) for our meet in the Phoenix area a few weeks back. I had very little head-time with the Verite, thus the reason the omission on a comparison. I liked the Aeolus so much that I never sent it back and just bought it outright. Sure, it's not new but it looks and sounds exactly like it was. If any headphone that I've heard or own that "could" compare to the Empyrean it would be this guy. I cannot or will not say I like the Aeolus more then the Empyrean because I don't. The Empyrean is that great of a headphone and it would be a disservice to say anything else so I'll just to leave it at that. Once again, the Empyrean just does everything right and better as they nailed it every and any which way you look. The Aeolus is a warmer sounding headphone with a much stronger mid bass bump which is a ZMF trademark. The sub bass extends down low as the mid bass bump is toned down versus it's closed back brother the Atticus. The Atticus always had great sub bass but that mid bass hump just overshadowed it so you didn't have the opportunity to hear it as well as the Aeolus. The Empyrean definitely has more sparkle up top. The Aeolus is not rolled off per say but is smooth and relaxed. Mids are quite similar and both steal the show. Aeolus still has a plethora of detail as you can hear every little intricacy in the music but the Empyreans extra energy up top gives the impression of more air and space. The soundstage isn't small on the Aeoluis and is very good in both width and depth, but the Empyrean does it better. Bottom line, both are great headphones and would be excellent compliments to each other. But when push comes to shove, the Empyrean stays with me all day long as it IS the sound signature I'm looking for.
If you have the discretionary income and you're looking for an endgame top of the line headphone, this could be the one for you. Is it for everyone? No. For me? no doubt. At our Head-Fi meet, the most stringent audiophiles "almost" all said they loved this headphone. They were never on my stand and were always being listened to by one of the guests. I'd love to insert some of their comments but that would be hearsay, which I already kind of did.
If I could only keep one headphone, this would be the one. This is a very organic, leaning towards warm, fun, relaxing, forgiving, detailed, slamming all encompassed sound signature that I've been searching for since I got into this hobby more then a few years ago.
Well this is the end of my first review and I gotta tell you, it's a lot of work but well worth it. I know there's a lot of reviews out there that are a lot more technical then this one. I just wanted to do something a bit different and NOT get all technical while just sharing what I hear from a music perspective. My hope is my experiences and personal take has helped you in some way and that maybe we could relate to one another.