Reviews by riverground


Headphoneus Supremus
Fourté Blanc: Elegant in Appearance, Fun on Sound.
Pros: Aesthetics, Enjoyable sound presentation while still maintaining a detailed sound. And did I say aesthetics already? Because it’s just so beautiful.
Cons: Honestly, it’s just the price for what is practically 2016 tech in 2022. Aside from the new DD implementation. But hey, it’s a very limited product release and it’s apparently the last one they’ll make for the Fourté.
64 Audio Fourté Blanc
Initial Impression



Let’s start off this short impression of the new 64 Audio Fourté Blanc with a big thank you to the guys over at Bay Bloor Radio in Toronto for allowing me over 2 hours in a private room to have a small shoot and do a comparison to the regular Fourté.

The Blanc is much like the Noir that came before it, being an alternative flavour to the already amazing Fourté. And just like the Noir, it is also a limited edition item with only 500 available.

I adored the Noir when I heard it. In my opinion, the Noir gave a more meaningful impression than the regular Fourté. So, I am delighted to say that the Blanc gave me the same emotional “hit” as the Noir. Even though I may have not heard the Noir for a very long while now, I can still recall the feeling I had listening to it. The overall presentation of the Blanc doesn’t step too far away from the formula the 64 Audio team had made for the Fourté. As most of you here checking my impression may already have an idea of how the Fourté sounds, my impressions will mostly focus on what makes the Blanc different from the Fourté. And hopefully, it’ll help you decide whether the differences might be right for you.



First off, the difference in the design of the Blanc is well… it’s Blanc! (laughs)
Gone are the bright orange faceplate and the black shell of the Fourté. Instead, we get the beautiful ceramic-coated white metal shells on the Blanc. Even the “oxidized” copper faceplate gets this thicker layer of lamination, making the faceplate look more like the Nio’s and U6t’s elevated faceplates. I really like this addition, and it’s extremely pleasing to look at. While I loved the all-black design of the Noir, the Blanc just has this elegance in its design. I really wish I had one to take back to my home studio for a proper shoot. Maybe 64 Audio could help with that? (wink)



Alright, moving on with the sound differences. (Do note that the unit was just freshly unboxed, so if you believe in “burn-in”, that might change some of the “disadvantages” I’ll be mentioning below. I’ll definitely come back to the shop after a week to see if those disadvantages are still present after the shop has been burning them in.)

The bass of the Blanc has a tad more impact and a longer-lasting rumble compared to the Fourté. The Blanc definitely has the better bass presentation for me. However, the downside of the added impact and decay is the lack of clarity and speed in its bass technicality. As an example when the drop hits in the track Naughty by Irene & Seulgi, the added warmth in the Blanc’s mid-bass masks a bit of the sub-bass notes, making it sound somewhat slower and less “detailed” compared to the Fourté’s snappier response. Nonetheless, it is important to note that although the Blanc somewhat “underperforms” compared to the Fourté with faster bass tracks, the Blanc’s overall “fun factor” is still superior in the bass department. For this type of tuning, I’d take the more “fun” approach than the “technical” one.

Another difference to note is that snare hits on the Blanc have better snap and attack compared to the Fourté. Cymbal hits have more weight to them on the Blanc as well. But the Fourté has that edge and spice up top. The Blanc is just ever so slightly softer in the upper treble, so it’ll heavily depend on what type of treble presentation you like better between the two. The track Real Life by Senri Kawaguchi shows these differences clearly.

Moving to the midrange, to my ears, the female vocals have a bit more air and bite over on the Blanc. I would really like to view the measurement of the Blanc to see if there are some changes over on the upper mids compared to the Fourté. It’s not a huge difference, but definitely noticeable for higher-pitched female vocals like Soutaiseriron’s vocal performance on the track Kerberos. In general, female vocals just sound sweeter and quite a bit more engaging on the Blanc. Much like with female vocals, the added forwardness makes the string instruments that much more pleasing to listen to.

In terms of imaging, I didn’t particularly notice much difference from the already excellent imaging from the Fourté. Though in the staging department, the Blanc appears to have a touch smaller staging. This might be due to the more intimacy in the midrange. It’s still a sizeable stage, just not as large as the Fourté.


64 Audio wanted to give the fans another chance to experience the Noir through the Blanc, and they’ve done a splendid job. They made this release for those who weren’t able to snag up the Noir when it had been released. Even so, I still would’ve liked to see more “improvements” or “differences” on the Blanc as it commands such a high price from a model with the majority of its technology from 2016. But as it is a limited release and the retail model comes with a special cable, I would still say the Blanc is up on my wishlist of IEMs I wish to own, and it sits at the comfortable 5th spot on my current top 10 rankings. I honestly would love to see the next Fully Tubeless Tia model have a removable APEX module, as I would see having the ability to tune the bass without having to rely on EQ as an added advantage. But hey, I know it’s wishful thinking. Though, I’m sure the 64 Audio team will be up to the task with that one.

Until the next review guys! (I do have two full-length IEM reviews on the backlog and a somewhat short headphone review coming up soon.)


My Review Playlist:

Apple Music



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@toaster oh definitely! It’s just that, while I also don’t like what the other brand/s do/es, it’s just that with how “old” the tech is now inside the Fourté it’s just a little hard to look past it but hey, for BA tech, nothing can sound better than Tia still though. That’s why I wish I had the funds to get the Blanc. It’s the same with the PHöNIX for me for example. I love it, but it having no pressure relief it made it painful to my ears. I definitely put the U18s even on top of it. Heck, I even found the U18s more pleasing overall than the bird up top. But the bird has better bass and mids. But being a fully sealed IEM as well. It can’t stay in my ears for longer than an hour max. Same thing why even though I loved the Wraith I still sold it. I dislike being sensitive to ear pressure build up.
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Yup…the lack of pressure relief was a big reason why I ultimately let go of traillii and erlky. Both are fantastic iems, but I’ve decided that moving forward I’m sticking to vented offerings. It helps that jewel and xe6 don’t sound too shabby, either…also pretty keen on mentor, and still considering picking one up in the future.

64a iems have great pressure relief, of course, with apex. And they also sound pretty good as well. 😎
@toaster Jewel is definitely great! Xe6 too for some genres. But yeah, them having vents are a bonus lol

I wonder how the Mentor would be since it's not vented like the Mason.


Headphoneus Supremus
To Be or KnØt To Be?
Pros: Transparent, Technical, Clarity beast, Ergonomic, Non-microphonic, Gorgeous hardware
Cons: The cons aren't so much cons but if I had to really nitpick, I would like to see better 2-pin/MMCX hardware to match the beautiful Y-Split and Termination plug.
Hapa Audio KnØt Review



Hapa Audio is somewhat of a newcomer in the audio industry as a boutique cable maker.
Led by the genius of James Wong, the company is one of the most, if not the most, unique of cable makers out there. His cable design is truly something that can be compared to jewelry. From wire materials, hardware options, and braiding techniques, Hapa Audio is here to provide a truly unique experience. Today, we’re going to be looking at Hapa Audio’s flagship cable, the “Knot”. Keep reading to find out my experience with the unique company’s vision of what an audiophile cable should be.

Visit Hapa Audio’s website to learn more about the company and James’ audio adventure.



The packaging is very simple. In the box, we get the Knot cable and a leather case with a matching lanyard with the cable attached to it. It’s these small touches that really set Hapa Audio apart from the rest. The only downside I experienced was how tight the case was when the Knot is attached with the IEM. Given the thickness of the cable itself, a slightly bigger case would be nice to have. Other than that, the included accessories are all you need.

Design and Build


I went with their Copper and Silver Hybrid wire configuration. As the IEM of choice, I chose the colours based on my beloved Tia Fourte from 64 Audio. I left it to the genius of James to make me a cable that matches the Fourte’s looks.

The finished cable is such a stunning product to look at. Despite only giving him a photo I shot of the Fourte as a reference, James managed to make it match the Fourte extremely well.


The hardware used is another story to look at. I believe the ones that came with mine are made out of titanium, and according to Hapa Audio, no one piece is the same. It’s a beauty, from the Y-split and chin slider to the 4.4 plugs. The only thing I want to be improved is the 2-pin connectors. They just don’t match the rest of the hardware in terms of aesthetics and build. I’m sure this is something Hapa Audio could improve on in the near future. A matching 4.4 plug and a 2-pin or MMCX plug would be amazing to see.


To learn more about the technology and specs of the cable, check out the link below.



Although the Knot is quite hefty, it’s actually quite comfortable to use. I was surprised by the lack of microphonics. With other cables of such thickness, I’d usually have problems with noise when the cable brushes on my clothing when I move around ever so slightly. As a result, it’s great to see or hear that this isn’t an issue with the cable at all.



Now, I know there are several cable non-believers out there, and honestly, I was also one of them in the beginning until I delved quite a bit deeper into this cable rabbit hole. Do cables make a difference? Yes, yes they do. Are the changes night and day? No, of course not. If an IEM or headphones doesn’t sound good, no cable or source would fix that. Cables are there to just give a bit of “fine-tuning” to the IEM’s sound.

So what does the Knot provide to my 64 Audio Tia Fourte? For starters, the Knot is a very resolving cable. I mentioned earlier that the wire configuration I went with is the Copper and Silver Hybrid. I would’ve really liked to try out all of their options to hear the differences since the site distinguishes between the 3 configurations. The Copper is “warm and robust sounding” and the Silver is “neutral and incredibly detailed”. Meanwhile, the Hybrid is a combination of both conductors’ strengths and it is quite noticeable compared to my other pure silver and pure copper cables. It has a warm tonality while still retaining high amounts of detail retrieval.

Bass: The Tia Fourte is quite known for its unique sound, and it produces one of the best bass renderings from an IEM. One caveat for me is that I prefer a bit more “fun” in the bass, just like the Noir version of the Fourte. The Knot provides a bit more warmth in the midbass region, which gives bass notes a touch longer decay, thus providing me with a much more enjoyable listen. This might be the copper doing its job here.

Mids: The warmth from the midbass also extends a bit in the lower midrange, giving male vocals just a bit more fullness. Upper mids do retain their edge, and the Knot provides a bit more presence in the upper mids that give slightly more clarity to female vocals. I wanted just a touch more energy in the upper mids/lower treble on the Fourte and the Knot gives me exactly that.

Highs: On the treble side of things, I do hear a slight bump in this department as well. Some might find it harsh since the Fourte is already bright in the first place. But as someone that has recently become somewhat of a treble head, it’s a welcome enhancement. Now I’m a bit curious about what the pure silver cable sounds like.

Technicalities: From the technicalities standpoint, the Knot does very well in this category. It’s highly proficient in both staging and imaging. While the stage width is excellent and precise, I do find it a bit narrower than some of the other TOTL cables I’ve tried with the Fourte. It’s in the depth and height that the Knot truly shines in my ears.



Overall, even though the Hapa Audio Knot cable has its slight “imperfections”, its uniqueness and the “made for you” experience of ordering gets a recommendation from me. Keep in mind that’s just from the design and aesthetic perspective. The sound improvements or enhancement alone is also something that gets the Knot a seal of approval. I hope you guys will give the Hapa Audio Knot a chance to be a part of your cable collection or rotation.

I wanna thank the Hapa Audio team again for the opportunity to review such a well-crafted and well-balanced cable as the Knot. I look forward to trying more of your other current and future products!

Jason Wong
Jason Wong
Thanks for the wonderful write up!

To clarify, yes all the fitting with the exception of the headphone end connectors are titanium.

I took a lot of time in the development of KnØt FS and even more with KnØt IEM. The main function of the specific braiding geometry is to maintain parallel pathways between signal plus and signal minus of a balanced headphone output.

While others might attempt to do something similar by merely twisting their geometry together, KnØt accomplishes this while retaining proper 90 degree channel separation as well as proper +/- parallel signal distance.

All of this is to say, the sound quality of our geometry far surpasses other designs that merely braid wires together as a means of keeping the wires together.
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Headphoneus Supremus
A very dangerous listening session for my wallet (& My IEMs)...
Pros: Moderate power to drive
Lovely Bass, even lovelier mids, and smooth but sparkly treble
Grand Soundstage for a closed-back headphone
Compact folding design
High Passive Isolation
Excellent Comfort
Stealthy design (see what I did there? *wink*)
Cons: Some might want a bit more bass
Some might want a bit more treble
Some may find the price to be a bit too much

None of these are cons to me though... well maybe the price haha
But if you have the money... get it and make me jealous *sad noises*

I'll have to do a thorough review first before I could really put my finger on the cons and if deserves any.
NOTE: I just want to thank Charles over at Headfoneshop for letting me hog the Stealth for an hour. (I'll definitely come to visit you and try these again haha)

To my fellow Canucks and Toronto boiz do checkout Headfoneshop when you get the chance! He has a few stuff on sale and he's an authorized dealer for Dan Clark Audio.

Dan Clark Audio Stealth​

Initial Impressions​

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Recently, I decided to visit my local audiophile shop before going into my orthotics appointment nearby to listen to the Shure KSE1500 system once more since I miss how they sounded. To my surprise, Charles, the owner of the shop, showed me that he has the Stealth in for demo. So how can I not listen to them? Well, how was my experience you say? Keep reading to find out.

Build & Design​

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As Charles handed me the unit, I was expecting a heavy set, but as I took it, I was surprised to discover that it’s actually quite a light unit. The cup design borrows the design cues from the ÆON series with some added “aircraft” styling and is quite stunning to look at. The mixture of carbon fibre and aluminum materials was so appealing to my eyes that I just had to take out my phone right away to snap a couple of shots (I did wish I had my camera and lighting setup though). Another great thing about Stealth’s design is the folding gimbal from their ÆON series. This design feature enables the Stealth to fold compactly into a small case, which is crazy enough for a flagship planar headphone of its kind.


On the comfort side of things, I am delighted to say that these are insanely comfortable. The headband design is a bit reminiscent of their ÆON headbands but with some added hypercar style stitching and padding. To top it off, the headband now comes with a bit more width to cover a wider area of the crown to spread the weight of the headphones evenly. The ergonomic cups and along with their new vegan suede and “leather” earpads also help out a lot with the comfort and the great passive isolation of the Stealth. The Stealth might just be equivalent to the Meze Empyrean/s comfort level, making it great for my sensitive crown. I do have to mention that the self-adjustable suspension mechanism of the Stealth’s headbands makes it the more convenient headphone to use compared to the Empyrean’s manual adjusting headband. Of the two, I prefer the Stealth’s headband mechanism a bit more. I gotta compare these two a lot more the next time I get the chance to do so.


For the demo, I had the Stealth plugged into the Woo Audio WA11 Topaz which provided the Stealth with more than enough power to come alive. Though I’m sure the Stealth would scale up well with “better” desktop sources/amps, the WA11 Topaz and the Stealth proved to be quite a suitable combo. The WA11 Topaz was set on High Gain and the volume wheel at around 10-11 o’clock.

Bass: Stealth probably has the best-textured bass I’ve heard thus far from a closed-back headphone. It goes deep while keeping things controlled without any sort of bloat. It brings bass instruments some very delicate textures, and it’s such a fun listen. While bass heads might want more bass presence, this is more than sufficient for me.

Mids: The midrange is the highlight of the Stealth. Low mids are presented with enough weight and my goodness… the upper-midrange has the special sauce that brings it perfectly close to my preference. Female vocals are presented with high amounts of air without sounding overly forward. Wind instruments sound phenomenal with that additional air it produces. And while I highlighted the female vocals, male vocals are quite superb as well. Personally, I just listen to a lot more female vocal fronted music.

Treble: Treble is very well extended and it just sounds effortless. The Stealth has the ability to render the treble with such smoothness while keeping a detailed sound. It’s such an easy listen, and I can see myself listening to these for long periods of time. Sparkle is quite satisfying too. I ended up listening to quite a lot more Jazz tracks because of this. Cymbals and Hi-hats just sounded so beautiful on these headphones that I couldn’t stop focusing on them.

Staging/Imaging: Am I really listening to a closed-back headphone? The Stealth sounds sooo open! The stage just sounds enormous. I don’t know what kind of sorcery Dan Clark has done to achieve this, but my lord is it mind-blowing. Imaging technicalities are also superb. The instrument placement and separation on such a grand stage is brilliant. I really need to have another session with the Stealth and compare it to other closed and open-back cans at the shop.


Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed by the Stealth’s performance that I totally forgot about its price (5200CAD)... Ultimately, it’s still a very expensive item and it’s really hard to say if it’s worth every penny. But with the amount of enjoyment I received while listening to it for just an hour, it was completely worth it for me. Now, as hard as it is to say, I may really need to move some stuff in my collection to afford one...

I’m hoping to get a chance to properly review the Stealth at the comfort of my home and to take photos of it in my home studio as well. We’ll see if that would ever happen (laughs)

I hope you guys liked my “quick” initial impressions of the Stealth.

Until the next review!

I've owned AFCs, now A2N, and love them dearly...a massive improvement over the AFC. That said, the feature in the Stealth I keep fixating on oddly is the elastic suspension strap mechanism, which seems like such a QoL improvement! I hope this doesn't trickle down into the rest of the Aeon lineup, otherwise ill have to do yet another Aeon upgrade haha.
Yes, I'm sure Audeze will also follow suit with an "elastic suspension strap mechanism" soon enough.....
I can't imagine someone wanting more bass. These match my TH900 in bass which are already close to being bass cannons. Maybe the amp wasn't quite powerful enough? I drive mine with a Topping A90D which has a ton of power and I have to turn it up quite a bit.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Neutral Presentation
Solid Vocal Performance
Pretty Decent Technicalities
Highly Comfortable
Cons: Tangly Cables
Shell build could be better
Treble could have a bit more energy for my preferences
Bass can be a little too anemic for some
AudioFly AF1120 MK II Review



The AF1120 MKII is my first foray into AudioFly’s products. I’ve read about the Australian brand a few times here and there, but I’ve never had the chance to try their products until now. As you can see with the name, this is the 2nd generation of their flagship AF1120. I, unfortunately, haven’t heard the OG AF1120 but I’m sure the 2nd gen is the better of the two. The OG had a keyed MMCX connector, making it hard to use 3rd party cable offerings. But thankfully, the new lineup has normal MMCX connectors.

First of all, I would like to thank AudioFly for sending me their flagship IEM for review. Secondly, I would like to apologize for taking so long to finish writing this review. I’ve just gotten busy with other things. However, I’m finally getting around to clearing my review backlog, so watch out for my upcoming reviews soon!



AudioFly didn’t shy away from providing the AF1120 MKII with a generous amount of accessories in the package. You get a pelican type hard case with a soft velvet interior, a very nice white braided single-ended cable, a black balanced cable (I do wish they could’ve gone with the same material as the single-ended cable, as this cable is extremely tangle-prone), an assortment of different types of ear tips including both Dekoni and Comply foam tips, Airplane and 6.3mm adapters, and cleaning tools. Everything you need to get started is included. Kudos to AudioFly for such a complete package!

Build and Design


The design is reminiscent of what Shure and Westone have pioneered. They’re quite small considering they pack 6 BA drivers inside. My Shure SE846 only has 4 BA drivers (They do have a bit more complex design tho) but they’re just ever so slightly thicker. If I may nitpick on the design though, it would be the shell colour. I wish they could’ve gone with a different translucent colour instead of the off-white one they used. It honestly looks quite cheap in comparison to even the cheaper-end Shures out there. Not to mention, the AudioFly branding on it just wears off a little too fast. In less than a week into my testing, the logo on the right earpiece is already half gone. Not a great look for the price, unfortunately. On the build side of things, it could be better too. It’s just two plastic shells joined together and while the Shures are like that too, the joint section feels more seamless compared to the AF1120 MKII. The AF1120 MKII’s build does make it easier to repair, but it just looks somewhat cheap.



The fit is similar to the Shure and Westone style IEMs I’ve mentioned previously. They just fit a larger variety of ear sizes compared to the bigger “semi-custom” shells other competitors are releasing nowadays. To my ears tho, I’ve never had any problems with bigger shelled IEMs. In regards to comfort, the AF1120 MKII is so comfortable that it doesn’t feel like I’m wearing them at all. And hey, if you’re the type that listens to music to fall asleep, these are flat enough to be worn even when you turn on your sides. A definite plus in my books.



The AF1120 MKII’s overall sound falls in the reference category with a bias in the midrange. This IEM is great for vocalists and string performers. I’ll go into further detail about each range in the next section. Detail retrieval is one of its great strengths along with that excellent midrange performance. Now let’s head over to the next section to see how each range sounds like on the AF1120 MKII.

Bass: On the bass, the AF1120 MKII has a dead-on flat response with a slight bump in the mid-bass. The extension is there, but I do wish it had just a bit more presence in the sub-bass region. I would even say that to my ears, the Empire Ears Zeus XR-ADEL has a touch more bass presence than the AF1120 MKII. I’ll be using the Zeus as a big reference here as it’s the most similar to the AF1120 MKII in terms of sound. Take the AF1120 MKII as a baby Zeus. With that said, if you’re after a flat bass response while keeping good texture and extension, the AF1120 MKII brings that to the table.

Mids: Okay, the mids… well, it’s just darn amazing. The AF1120 MKII’s midrange is just engaging. It has an even reference flavour but with a touch more emotion than the more analytical Empire Ears ESR MKII that I just reviewed recently. The midrange of the AF1120 MKII does remind me a lot of the emotive Zeus. It may not have the spacious and encapsulating presentation, but the core is there. Vocals are just more front and centre for the AF1120 MKII. I can see vocalists having a great time using these for the stage. If you’re a vocal lover, be sure to have a listen to these lovely IEMs.

Treble: So going back to the Zeus as a reference, take the more energetic treble of the Zeus and dial it down then add some butter. The AF1120 MKII’s have a smoother and tamer treble response. Although sparkle was present, it seemed to have a softer and faster decay than what I like. But to sensitive listeners, this would be really great. The treble never got fatiguing on my daily commutes when I used the AF1120 MKII as a daily driver for the duration of my evaluation. If what I mentioned ticks your preferences, do have a go with the AF1120 MKII.

Staging/Imaging: Stage width and depth are pretty decent. It does present frontal depth better though. But with that said, it’s still more on the intimate side. And for stage use, I say that’s more than good enough. Imaging is as accurate as any IEM in this price bracket. No complaints there. That was easy, but I just don’t find any faults in this section with the AF1120 MKII.

So there you have it, that’s pretty much everything I have to say in the sound section. I do wish I could’ve gotten a vocalist friend to try them out when performing, but unfortunately with the state we’re in, live gigs wouldn’t see the light of day for quite a bit longer. So you’ll just have to take my word for the vocal presentation of the AF1120 MKII coming from a dude that is obsessed with vocals lol

Perhaps when things get better, I’ll get a chance to ask a friend to try them out to perform.

Next up on the review is gonna be the comparisons!



Vs JH Audio Layla

For this review, I went ahead and set the Layla to 1 o’clock as this setting presents a more monitoring/mastering tonality and is closer to the 1120’s tonality.

Bass: Even with this “flatter” setting, the Layla still shines in the bass department. It presents itself with more warmth and a punchier bass response. It’s also a tad bit more detailed. Bass hits and drops had better texture. The power of the Layla’s bass dial is tempting as you can go even flatter to match the 1120, but this is the lowest I’d preferably go for the Layla. But the Layla can go way higher and could present itself with an almost DD-like texture and decay when dialled up to 2 O’clock or even MAX setting. Then again, the 1120 is way smaller and way cheaper.

Mids: In the mids section, specifically in the lower mids, they’re quite similar but I’d say the Layla presents male vocals with quite a bit more thickness, while the 1120 gives the male vocals a bit more edge and air. On the female side of things, I’d give it to the 1120, while I do love the thickness and body the Layla gives to the vocals, it lacks edge and air. The 1120 has that while still sounding sweet and intimate.

Treble: This is the same in the treble section. The Layla has thicker notes but does leave you desiring a bit more air and sparkle up top. However, I do have to say that the Layla is quite a bit more detailed even though the 1120 sounds a bit more treble forward. Even after 5 years, the Layla is still my go-to when I need a monitoring/mastering IEM. Nonetheless, I can confidently recommend the 1120 as a substitute as it does indeed come close to the performance of an IEM that has double the amount of BA drivers. Plus, it’s cheaper and more comfortable too.

Vs Empire Ears Zeus XR-ADEL


While listening to the 1120, it reminded me of the Zeus quite a bit. Hence, I decided to include it in the comparisons. This comparison is done in the “R” mode with the M20 APEX module.

Bass: While both have a more neutral bass rendering, the Zeus has a bit more punch and warmth to it. The Zeus also edges the 1120 in bass clarity and texture, although they are both using dual BA for the bass. It might be due to EE using larger BA drivers for the bass that makes the Zeus that much better. The 1120 is no slouch, however. It’s just that the Zeus has a more pleasing bass presentation to me.

Mids: The mids share the same warmth in the lower mids, while the brighter Zeus takes the upper mids to my preferred signature. This upper mid elevation makes female vocals shine for me. The Zeus gives female vocals just enough body to not sound “nasally” but adds an insane amount of air without it ever sounding thin. The Zeus just might win me over my favourite female vocal IEM, the TG334.

Highs: There is no competition here. The Zeus is glimmering with detail, clarity, and sparkle. It has everything that I look for in treble. But if you’re highly sensitive in this area, the 1120 will do a better job of delivering detailed highs without the harshness that may come with the Zeus’ treble response.

With all that said, the 1120 still performs quite superbly even compared to the mighty Zeus, so I can say that if you like the Zeus tonality, without the insane size of the IEM, price, and the “brighter” treble response, look no further than the 1120.

Vs Empire Ears ESR MKII

I have just recently finished doing my written review of the ESR MKII, and it is my new reference monitor. I wanted to see how AudioFly’s offering compares to a new 5 driver EST+BA hybrid setup.

Bass: I consider both to be on the “flatter” side of things when it comes to bass response. But the ESR MKII does have a bit more warmth to it, giving the bass some needed punch, while keeping it even and cohesive with the rest of the frequency range. It never feels out of place. On the other hand, the AF1120 MKII gives a deeper hit when called for but it does seem more isolated at times. It somehow feels disconnected from the rest of the range. Nonetheless, both still lack the kick and slam I love in terms of my enjoyment preferences in the bass. But for reference monitoring, both are respectable. However, I do have to give it to the ESR MKII for giving just a touch more warmth to the bass while staying cohesive with the rest of the frequency range.

Mids: This is where I find more enjoyment with the AF1120 MKII. Its mid-forward presentation just gives more emotion to the vocals. Meanwhile, the ESR MKII gives you a more detailed approach to the midrange. It doesn’t give the emotive vocals the AF1120 MKII can give you, but in exchange, it gives you a more resolving presentation with any instruments in this range. The ESR MKII doesn’t favour a single instrument, so everything is even across the board. I can tell one is tuned for vocalists in mind and the other is for sound engineers. If you’re after an intimate and forward vocal presentation, the AF1120 MKII would suit your needs better. But if you know you’re gonna be mixing or if you’re the type that just prefers to have details in a track thrown at you effortlessly, the ESR MKII would be the sauce for you.

Highs: The AF1120 MKII has a softer approach to the treble. It gives instruments just enough sparkle to be engaging, while the ESR MKII just gives you more bite and edge to the instruments, creating a truly engaging listen. The ESR MKII is also better at effortlessly presenting microdetails. So if you’re not overly sensitive with the more energetic treble presentation of the ESR MKII, and you could afford to shell out a bit more money, the ESK MKII is the better choice in my opinion. However, if you’re after a softer approach on the treble, the AF1120 MKII takes the cake.

Vs Shure SE846

The SE846 has been around for quite a long time now, and I’m sure it was and is still a lot of people’s first introduction to the more “high-end” side of earphones. I’ve had the SE846 since the beginning of 2015, and it isn’t going anywhere. So how does the newer AF1120 MKII compare against such a classic? Well, read down below to find out.

Bass: In the bass region, this is where the SE846 shines and reminds me why I picked it up in the first place. It has a deeper reaching bass, and that rumble is honestly still mind-blowing until now. It’s crazy to think it’s coming out of a BA driver. The SE846 just has a boosted bass tuning compared to the flatter tuned bass of the AF1120 MKII. To my ears, there’s no doubt I prefer the SE846’s overall bass performance between the two. But if you like a flatter response, the AF1120 MKII definitely delivers well-extended and well-textured bass. The AF1120 MKII still does give a decent punch, just not as hard-hitting as the SE846.

Mids: Moving on to the mids, the lower mids have a meatier tone on the SE846. This gives quite a bit more thickness on the Male vocals. The AF1120 MKII does have a full-bodied lower mids but it’s more on the neutral side. On the upper mids, I feel that the AF1120 MKII has the thicker tonality this time around while the SE846 gives an edgier and sharper presentation. This edge seems to create harsher “S’s”. So if you’re sensitive to that, either change the filters to the black ones or use foam tips. It doesn’t bother me, but I’m sure it can bother those who are sensitive to sibilance. With that said, the AF1120 MKII’s midrange is overall a bit more pleasing to my ears, especially for female vocals. They just have a thicker overall tone while keeping an airy presentation.

Highs: The AF1120 MKII has a softer treble presence but retains pleasing sparkle. On the other hand, the SE846 has more bite and an overall energetic treble, but still nothing that bothers my ears. They both have good treble extension. You’ll just have to pick whether you prefer a softer presentation or an energetic one.

Vs Sony XBA-H3


The H3 has been with me since 2014, and it’s been my go-to daily IEMs.

Bass: In the bass section, the H3 rumbles deeper and is just way more elevated in its sound signature in comparison to the 1120’s neutral close to flat bass response. The 1120’s bass does extend well and gives a warm rumble when called upon. Another thing to note is that while the H3’s bass is fun, it is quite uncontrolled. It can bleed into the mids to a degree, while the 1120’s are cleaner and don’t muddy anything.

Mids: The H3’s mids, while sounding warm and full, just sound farther away in the mix than the 1120’s sweeter and more intimate rendering; this is especially the case when it comes to vocals. The 1120 just presents the vocals with more air and a touch more clarity. Instruments that fall into the midrange spectrum sound clearer and have more bite to them.

Highs: In the highs, even though both IEMs give enough presence and sparkle to the treble, the H3 presents itself with thinner notes while 1120 paints the treble section with more body and clarity. These two have more of a laid-back sound up top, but the H3 does seem to have a darker tonality overall while the 1120 has a more neutral approach. This does make sense as the 1120 is a monitoring device.



We’re finally at the conclusion, dear readers. Thankfully, it’s not as long as my ESR MKII review but I still had a lot of fun reviewing the AF1120 MKII. Aside from its somewhat cheap-looking exterior and ever so tangle-prone cables (the latter can be mitigated by switching to a third-party cable), the sound that comes out of the AF1120 MKII is deserving to be heard. If you are into a reference tuned IEM with a touch more forward vocal presentation and an easy to listen to treble, the AF1120 MKII should be in your “to hear list”.

I hope my review helped you guys in your search for your next IEM.

If you have any more questions, just leave a comment below or PM me on Head-Fi or a DM over on IG @melstonaudio

Until the next review!

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Audio Fun
Audio Fun
Great review!! Love my 180 too! Unfortunately, I think they have close down their business
@Audio Fun yeah, it’s really sad to see them go. I wish I was able to write faster but oh well. I’ll just have to get better at writing.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: True "Reference" sound, Excellent detail retrieval, Even Vocal presentation, That treble goodness...
Amazing distorted guitar rendering.
Cons: Bass doesn't carry enough weight to be enjoyable and engaging but as a reference tuned IEM that is to be expected. Still needs a decent amount of power to have a bit more "body" to its sound.
Alpha-IV cable is quite a bit stiff for my preferences.

These are all nitpicks now though...
Empire Ears ESR MK II Review



Let’s have a bit of an intro about the brand. The company has been around for close to 7 years. Some of you may know them by their previous moniker “EarWerkz”. In 2015, Jack Vang together with his father, Dean Vang, joined forces to create one of the best IEM manufacturers based in the US. That brand is what we now know as Empire Ears.

Today, I am proud to present to you one of their latest IEMs, “The ESR MKII”.
ESR stands for Empire Ears Studio Reference. The ESR is Empire Ear’s take on what an In-Ear Studio Monitor should be. To them, this presents the “flattest” rendition of what the recording should sound. The IEM we’re looking at today is the 2nd generation of the model. It now comes equipped with dual EST drivers handling treble duties.

The current ESR MKII comes in two flavours, the universal version at US$1,099 and the custom version at an additional US$200 premium. It’s not cheap per se, but it’s not overly expensive as well. At this price point, the ESR MKII falls into the EP line as its entry-level option. It falls just behind the Phantom as the “middle point” and the Wraith as the flagship.

Since I’ve never heard the original ESR, I am unfortunately unable to give you guys a comparison. However, what I could give you is what has changed from the 1st gen ESR. The 1st gen had a simple 3-way, triple BA driver setup. So, that’s 1 driver for the lows, 1 for the mids, and 1 for the treble. The MKII now comes in a 5 driver configuration with those dual EST drivers handling the super highs.

You can read up more about the other tech inside the ESR MKII on Empire Ears’ website.



The ESR MKII was packed in a rather elegant white box. The previous Empire Ears box was black, so this was quite a surprise for me. I believe their new line now comes with this box. This change started with the release of the X Series flagship Odin, and its release companion, the more “budget-friendly” Hero.

Inside the box, we also get the usual accessories: Final E tips, metal case, cleaning cloth, owner’s guide, and the awesome Empire Ears stickers.


The ESR MKII also comes with the new Alpha-IV cable. The cable is still manufactured by Effect Audio. I believe that the cable might be a reworked Effect Audio Ares or Maestro cable. You have the option to pick between 2.5mm balanced or 3.5 single-ended terminations. My review unit comes with the latter. For my reviews, I usually try to stick to the stock cable as that is what the manufacturer had intended for its users to use. Plus, Empire Ears take a lot of time picking cables for their IEMs. It would be a waste not to use theirs.

Design and Build


The Model Name & Serial Number are now located on the side of the shells instead of the back

The IEMs themselves look absolutely stunning with the brushed aluminum faceplates and the silver Winged Empire Ears logo to top it off. The shell is made out of a single acrylic unibody, making the build look seamless and sturdy. I am confident to say that it’ll stand the test of time. It may not be as extremely sturdy as full-metal shells with the likes of the Sony IER-Z1R, but with its lightweight semi-custom shell, it’ll definitely fit a majority of ears better than the Z1R.



*The IEMs can actually go even deeper than the photos show. I was in a rush to take these that I didn’t check the depth.

For the fit, I feel like Empire Ears had done a great job with how they shaped their new models. I have read that Empire Ears had taken the shell format of the Odin and incorporated that into their “MKII” lineup. This lineup includes the Valkyrie, Bravado, and the ESR that we have here. Now, several people have stated that the shells are quite a bit chonkier compared to their “Asian” counterparts, especially considering the 1st gen Valkyrie was quite a bit thinner in comparison. But with comfortability, seal, and fit, they fit me like how a custom IEM should.

It’s been a documented fact over on Head-Fi that my ears just swallow up even the chonkiest of IEMs (I’m looking at you Layla :wink: ). Heck, I am even able to force-fit a few people’s custom IEMs quite comfortably. So fit has never been a big issue with bigger shells. Super long nozzles with thinner shells, however, is a different story (Sorry Lola, but you’ve been hurting me lol). So thankfully, Empire Ears have a “shorter” nozzle on their IEMs. However, a more pronounced “lip” for a more secure fit for eartips would be ideal. Other than that, I’m a huge fan of the overall fit of the ESR MKII. Now we’re finally moving on to the sound section! So keep reading… don’t leave okay? I promise it’ll get better… maybe lol



Finally, we’re in the sound section of the review, but this is still just the middle part. There’s still so much more after this, so hang in there, dear reader. Please don’t be too bored with me :sob:

I’ve mentioned earlier that these are Empire Ears’ take on a Studio Reference sound. So have they done it? Do they deliver on that promise? To me, the answer is yes!

Okay, the review is done :joy: Okay, no no no, sorry, it was just a joke, don’t go yet. I’m gonna be going through how they sound like next.

The overall sound signature of the ESR MKII does fall in line with their promise of a reference sound. But they’re not “flat” to the point of boredom. Instead, they are neutral with enough warmth and energy to sound great with casual listening as well.

Now let’s get into the range breakdown!


Alright, let’s start with the bass. In my opinion, the ESR MKII’s bass presentation is just a pinch north of neutral. It gives this section just enough presence and warmth to make it a little less boring for casual listening sessions. The bass goes fairly deep but I do have to say that it isn’t the ESR MKII’s greatest strength. But when the mix calls for it, like with the track ‘All Mine’ by PLAZA, it does deliver decent enough rumble. When it came to bass texture, speed, and control though, it performed well above my expectations. On heavier and meatier metalcore mixes, like the track ‘Coma Blue’ by Annisokay, the bass has never fallen apart with the presentation. This control makes sure you can still hear details in the mix even in the lowest of breakdowns. Drum kicks are quite nasty (in a good way lol) as well. In this price range, this is a great IEM for mixing drums especially. But for stage monitoring, I still think I’d need more bass energy and presence than what the ESR MKII can offer when I perform. Also, I have to mention that it comes close to the Layla’s bass presentation at around 12 o’clock. However, unlike the Layla, it does not have the option to adjust the bass to the listener’s liking. I’ll elaborate in the comparison section of the review.


Moving on to the mids!
I still believe this is the ESR MKII’s strongest suit. The overall mids presentation is full-bodied and just has enough thiccness in the lower mids to bring the likes of male vocals enough forwardness to go along with the excellent airiness of female vocals. One of the things I love most about these is that they don’t seem to favour a single vocal registry. I’ll leave the track ‘Cigarette’ by offonoff (Feat. MISO, Tablo) on here for you to checkout. It’s a very chill song having both male (2 actually, offonoff sings, and Tablo raps) and female (MISO has a breathy yet warm vocal tone. I love this type of female vocal tone) vocals and they all sound even in range. For bigger K-Pop groups like IZ*ONE, consisting of 12 members, the vocal layering sounds amazing on the ESR MKII. I’ve mentioned this and it shocked me during my first initial impressions video. With their song ‘Spaceship’, It made it easier to pinpoint the members’ different voices when they all sing together. The harmonization just sounded that much more revealing, which is excellent for mixing. But would it be my go-to IEM when I listen to my usual vocal-heavy music? Uhh...Unfortunately, no. While it is great at layering, its reference “flat” tuning makes it stellar for pretty much just that. It is great to use for referencing mixes and making sure nothing is out of place, but lacks the sense of air and emotion that some of my other vocal go-to’s can offer. I’ll be comparing it to some of my vocal-heavy hitters on the comparison section to explain more on what it lacks outside of it being a stellar studio reference monitor. I also have to mention that I’m enjoying how the ESR MKII handles distorted guitars. Acoustic and classical strings sound amazing too, but man, the way electric guitars sound on it is just a joy to listen to. Have a listen to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ song ‘Jump Around’ as an example. If you’re into rock music or metal and you don’t need an overly THICC presentation, the ESR MKII should be on your radar.


Alright, we’re getting there guys! Only one more section left for the sound section and we’re gonna get to the comparisons, so bear with me a bit more lol

Personally, I think the ESR MKII’s highs are its second strongest suit. It extends well to the highest regions while keeping sibilance in check. They have enough treble energy to not sound dull in this section. Sparkle is present and sounds oh so delicate and never piercing. This energy helps give edge and detail to string harmonics as well. Instruments that fall within this range, such as the mighty TRIANGLE, just sound so satisfying. Like in the song ‘Glass Iro No Natsu’ by Negicco, the triangle in the chorus and the chimes throughout the song gives off such a nice timbre and edge with the ESR MKII. Honestly, I had never noticed that triangle was in the mix before. It may have been there, but it was never presented to me the same way as the ESR MKII.

I don’t have anything else to say about the treble. Since I have only recently been somewhat turning into a treble head, my treble explanations aren’t as detailed as the rest of the range. I’ll work hard on that part in my future reviews!

Soundstage and Imaging

Here it is guys, the last part of the sound analysis is here. But there’s still the comparison section so hang in there, dear readers! haha

The ESR MKII’s soundstage isn’t exactly the biggest. It’s more on the intimate side. But this helps out with keeping things within reach when mixing. While it may not be massive, the stage is still wide enough to have a sense of space between instruments. Imaging is another one of the ESR MKII’s strengths. Instrument placements and positioning are highly accurate. Nothing falls out of place with the presentation. As lame as it sounds, it does have a studio feel to the staging and imaging of the ESR MKII. It feels like you’re at the studio with the artist performing for you lol. But yeah, no complaints with the staging and imaging performance of the ESR MKII.


We’re here now guys. We’ve finally reached the comparisons section of my review.
That was quite the journey, but I hope you’re still with me. I have decided to choose five other IEMs to compare the ESR MKII to. Four are potential “upgrades” or “options” depending on how you see it. And one is a much older IEM that’s been in the industry for a while. I want to compare to see (or in this case, hear) if the ESR MKII would be in the upgrade path of the Shure SE846 owners out there.


Vs JH Audio Layla (-12BA- CIEM: $2,199 AION: $3,499 USED: <$1,000)​

When I was doing my first initial impressions of the ESR MKII, there were parts of sound that reminded me of my “oldest” TOTL IEM, the JH Audio Layla, that I still have on hand. I’ve had them for close to 6 years now, so I’m extremely familiar with how they sound. They’ve been my go-to reference tuned IEM when I used to perform live drums and when I mix tracks I cover. So let’s get it started!

Bass: In the bass department, I decided to go with the 2 o’clock setting on the bass dial of the Layla. It is the most common setting people use, and it is what I used with previous comparisons as well. Do also keep in mind that it’s this bass dial that makes the Layla and the other JH Audio IEMs a lot more flexible in the bass area.

Due to having less energy in the upper-mids, the bass of the Layla feels like it punches harder and comes out more forward than the tamer, yet still a pleasing bass response of the ESR MKII. I also have to mention that it’s a 4BA vs 1BA bass, so it’s quite impressive to hear such a pleasant bass presentation from the ESR MKII. To even out the bass on the Layla, I usually go to 12 o’clock, and this matches more closely to the ESR MKII’s overall “flatness”. This also evens out the “dipped” upper-mids of the Layla. But it still bears its fangs when you listen to IEMs that have “elevated” upper mids and go back to the Layla. I will go into further details about it in the mids section.

Although I enjoy both of the IEMs’ bass presentations, if we’re talking about bass texture, detail, control, and the flexibility to change the amount of bass, the Layla wins this department.

Mids: So 4 BA vs 1 BA for the mids as well. The Layla’s THICC and lush mids were what charmed me to get them when I first heard them. It was perfect for the majority of the music I used to listen to. In the past, I used to listen to more “Metal” music. This was during the time I had a break from Asian Pop music, and the Layla’s mids were just eargasmic to my ears. But with my music taste shifting more towards Asian music now, I noticed the lack of upper-mid elevation and energy. The Layla suffers in its overall midrange presentation. This is where the tonality of the ESR MKII’s midrange wins me over. It has more than enough upper-mids energy even for my casual listening. When it comes to vocal texture, I do have to give the Layla the edge for male vocals, but when it comes to female vocals, the ESR MKII’s presentation just coincides with my preferences better (The Layla’s THICC vocals are nice tho, just lacking the added “air” I usually like with female voices, especially higher-pitched ones). So if you’re looking for an IEM that has a more “even” vocal presentation and doesn’t favour one vocal range, the ESR MKII would be my recommendation of the two. But if you have a huge sensitivity to elevated upper-mids (Not that the ESR MKII is overly elevated in this regard), the Layla’s softer and lusher upper-mids would be more pleasing.

Highs: Due to the Layla’s softer upper-mids/lower-treble, it does somewhat make it appear “darker” in comparison to the ESR MKII’s more energetic rendering. The Layla does give off a pleasant sparkle, but it’s nowhere near as present as the ESR MKII’s. To my ears, the added treble energy that the ESR MKII has does make it easier to distinguish micro details. The Layla is still highly technical, but with its “darker” presentation, it was a little lacking in bringing those micro details as forward as the ESR MKII. But this will vary depending on the individual’s preferences and sensitivities. So in that regard, just pick the one that would be a more comfortable “listen” for you; especially when it comes down to long sessions in the studio.

Staging/Imaging: When it comes to the soundstage, I feel that both have a different presentation. The Layla has more width from left to right, while the ESR MKII takes things slightly more towards the front. This presentation does make it seem like the Layla gives a more “You’re with the performers on stage” feel compared to the ESR MKII’s “Monitoring the band in the studio” feel. In the imaging department, while both are precise, the ESR MKII just presents the instruments clearer, thus making them easier to pinpoint.

With all of that said, I still have great respect for the Layla. I’ve been with her for over half a decade after all, so it shows. I’m excited to hear the new Jolene as well. Which to me, seems like a hybrid born from the Layla and Lola. But as of right now, with my current taste and preferences, I’ll have to pick the ESR MKII as my new go-to “Reference” IEM.

Wait, wait wait, but the Layla is still more expensive and it’s a TOTL IEM you might say. Well yes, it is still more expensive if you buy “new”. The custom and the AION universal are more than double the price of the ESR MKII. Here is where “preferences” truly come into play. Not only that, you also gotta remember that the Layla has 2015 tech inside of it. Also, I don’t know how much “better” the AION version is from the 1st generation Layla that I have (aside from the better and smaller shells). But you can easily get the same one that I have or even the Full Metal Jacket version, which is even sturdier and a tiny bit smaller, for way under $1000 USD. If you have similar preferences as I do, I’d definitely give the ESR MKII a listen. But if you have the sensitivities to the regions I have mentioned, you cannot beat the Layla. And hey, you can find them cheaper if you buy them used. Just make sure the larger shells the Layla have fits you well, because she’s quite the THICC one.


Vs JH Audio Lola (-6BA, 2DD- CIEM: $1,599 Uni: $1,599 USED: <=>$1,000)​

Shoutout to the great KuroKitsu for loaning me his JH Audio Lola for me to write a review about it.
So why not compare the Lola with the ESR MKII as well?
In the used market, you can get the Lola for around the same price as a new ESR MKII. Why would you want to consider the Lola rather than the ESR MKII?
Well, keep reading to find out! :wink:

Bass: Just like the Layla, I have set the Lola’s bass dial at 2 o’clock as well.
The dual BA lows setup of the Lola gives a more sub-bass focus in the bass department. As a result, it gives the bass notes a deeper rumble while the single BA from the ESR MKII has a mid-bass bump, giving you more warmth and a heavier punch. It’ll come down to your preferences again on which type of bass presentation you’d prefer. To me, while I do love the mid-bass punch the ESR MKII gives me, the deeper sub-bass focus of the Lola is quite a bit more enjoyable. Not to mention, you can always dial up the bass slightly to get a bit more of that mid-bass punch the ESR MKII has.

Mids: Dual DD mids vs single BA mids… I’ve mentioned that the ESR MKII’s midrange performance was its greatest strength. Well, how does that compare to the Lola’s? A lot of people that have heard the Lola swear by its midrange organic presentation and texture. And I do agree with them. The Lola’s midrange is very natural, not as overly THICC as the Layla’s but has more than enough body to give instruments and vocals that fall within this range a meaty presentation. But again, just like the Layla, it suffers from a lack of energy in the upper mids. While it gives pleasant rendering to male vocals and acoustic guitars, it just doesn’t have the same edge and detail the ESR MKII’s midrange has. I thought the Lola would be better with electric/distorted guitars since it’s Slash’s favourite IEM when performing, but I have to say that I favour the ESR MKII’s rendering of electric guitars better. Meanwhile, I prefer the Lola’s thiccer notes for acoustic guitars more. Ultimately, it’s a difference in preference. So be sure to try both out before you decide whether you prefer the meatier more musical mids of the Lola vs the technical and more detailed midrange from the ESR MKII.

Highs: The Lola has a bit more energy in the treble compared to the Layla, but it still sounds softer and somewhat thinner compared to the thiccer notes the ESR MKII produces for the treble. The Lola has a nice shimmer but it’s way softer when you A/B it to the ESR MKII. It sounds less detailed as well. In regards to technicalities, I would consider it as one of the downsides of the more organic and musical approach JH went for with the Lolas.

Staging/Imaging: Much like the Layla, the Lola seems to deliver a width-focused presentation for the stage. Its presentation is wider than the ESR MKII. The ESR MKII does take the cake with their frontal depth and centre imaging though. I feel the ESR MKII has better pinpoint accuracy with its imaging capabilities than the Lola. But at this point, this is nit-picking. Both are great performers in this regard. You only have to take into account which stage presentation you’d like better. No complaints here from me!

Overall, as a performer’s monitor, I would definitely choose the Lola. But as a studio monitor, it’s hard to beat the presentation and technicalities of the ESR MKII.


Vs Empire Ears Zeus XR ADEL (-14BA- CIEM[Special Order]: $2,479* USED: <=>$1,000)​

The flagship of Empire Ears’ Olympus line was released back in 2016. Since then, it had quite a few iterations: the original XIV, followed by the R, then the switchable XR, and finally the XR with ADEL tech. The XR-ADEL model is what we’re gonna be comparing with the ESR MKII. Will the older previous flagship still hold a candle to its newer yet cheaper sibling? Let’s start the comparison now!

Bass: The Zeus that I have is the one with the ADEL tech, which is similar to 64 Audio’s APEX module that most of you might be familiar with. And funnily enough, I am using the 64 Audio M20 APEX module on the Zeus. This gives us an added -20dB of noise isolation with pressure relief and has the “best” bass rendering out of the ones I’ve tried so far. But even with that module together with the switch being in the more energetic “XIV” mode, the slightly “anemic” bass of the Zeus can’t hold a candle to the warmer yet neutral bass rendering of the ESR MKII. Bass presence isn’t the Zeus’ strong point. And I do have to say that the Zeus is a more specialized IEM. While it may be anemic, the Zeus’ bass, whether in the Reference mode or the XIV mode, is still highly detailed. It just doesn’t have the same deep-reaching rumble and heavier hitting punch as the ESR MKII. If you’re after a true “flat” bass response, the Zeus is your best bet. But if you want something north of that while not being overbearing, I would choose the ESR MKII.

Mids: Alright, so we’re getting to both of these IEMs’ strongest suits. Personally, I think the Zeus is a midrange specialist IEM. While the ESR MKII has full-bodied and even midrange across the board that doesn’t favour either vocal range, the Zeus gives even more thiccness to the midrange but does favour female vocals on the XIV mode. It just pumps more blood into the veins of the midrange. Voices just come out with more emotion on them compared to the more analytical vocal rendering of the ESR MKII. But if you switch the Zeus to the R mode, it does bring it to a similar reference and even rendering for vocals. This softens the energy on female vocals and brings them more in line with male voices. For midrange musical pleasure, it’s hard to beat the Zeus. But for an overall more neutral approach for reference purposes, the ESR MKII still comes out on top.

Highs: Alright, we’re moving on to the highs now. The Zeus produces a softer treble presentation here. Sparkle is still present and still produces some nice micro details, but not to the extent of the ESR MKII. I guess the difference in tech and age just gives the ESR MKII an advantage here. The energetic and very well-controlled highs of the ESR MKII is just a more pleasurable listen to my ears whether for casual listening or mixing. The more I compare the ESR MKII’s treble to other IEMs, the more I’ve been thinking that the treble might be tied with the midrange as the ESR MKII’s strengths. Or perhaps that might be just my inner treble head wanting to come out haha

Some of you may have troubles with an energetic treble presence. If that is the case, the Zeus’ softer treble might be a better choice for you.

Staging/Imaging: There’s no contest here. The Zeus’ staging dwarfs the ESR MKII’s.
It’s just enormous comparatively. Vocals on the Zeus’ stage just surround and encapsulate you. The spatial cues are just magnificent on the Zeus. That’s not to say the ESR MKII is lacking. It’s simply a difference in presentation. So once again, it will come down to your needs and preferences. The imaging details of the ESR MKII are a touch more forward, thus making it easier to understand instrument placements.

Overall, with technology, age does seem to creep in on the Zeus. While the midrange performance is still top-notch and that enormous stage is such an experience to listen to, the newer ESR MKII just trumps it in detail retrieval and its overall bass and treble rendering. Empire Ears has done a great job with the ESR MKII. I’m enjoying every bit of it.


Vs Empire Ears Wraith (-7BA, 4EST- $3,499 USED: <=>$2,500)​

The Wraith was released back in 2019 and is still holding onto its title as Empire Ears’ flagship in its EP line. The first time I heard the Wraith, I was honestly taken aback by how detailed and effortless it sounded. So how does the “entry-level” of the EP line stack up to its flagship sibling? What are you waiting for? Read down below :joy:

Bass: Both of the IEMs reach pretty deep in the sub-bass. Both give pleasant texture. Though I do have to say the ESR MKII gives it a bit more presence and it also has a more satisfying rumble and a slightly meatier punch. But overall, they’re quite similar in the bass section. I do have to say that the Wraith does seem to be more detailed in the bass. Even though you don’t feel as much of the bass as the ESR MKII, you can hear the bass guitar strings decay quite a bit better. It’s quite the experience honestly. I don’t know how much of this is due to the Wraith having dual BA’s for lows compared to the single BA found on the ESR MKII, but the difference in detail is definitely noticeable. It might be minor but it’s there. So if you’re after a meatier bass section between the two, the ESR MKII is your pick. On the other hand, if you want less presence but more detail in the bass, the Wraith is your bae.

Mids: The Wraith is just similar to its predecessor, the mighty Zeus, as midrange monsters, but just with a slight difference in presentation. The Zeus had a spacious presentation in the midrange, allowing the vocals to surround and encapsulate the listener. Meanwhile, the Wraith is more intimate and more romantic with its presentation. This presentation makes the Wraith’s midrange more engaging than the ESR MKII. Vocals, guitars, and other instruments that fall in the midrange just sound majestic and sit perfectly within my preference. The ESR MKII is still definitely capable and has a more even presentation across the vocal ranges. And I may even favour its distorted guitar rendering better than the Wraith. But other than that, the Wraith is just a few steps above it. In my opinion, if you like the more reference approach to the mids, the ESR MKII is the definite choice. But if you prefer a more intimate and that oh so romantic midrange, there is nothing better than the Wraith.

Highs: Both IEMs have a very nice treble presence. To my ears, I would say the Wraith has more sparkle up top than with the ESR MKII. I mentioned the mighty triangle in the Negicco song on the treble section of my review. Well, it’s even more prominent on the Wraith. It’s just a step above the ESR MKII. I enjoy the Wraith’s treble presentation quite a bit more. I should write my Wraith review soon, but I still have like 7 more reviews in my backlog to do lmao. So my IEMs will just have to wait.

The ESR MKII’s treble appears to have more edge on the tail end of cymbal crashes compared to a smoother tone on the Wraith though. Again, it will depend on your personal preferences. Some may prefer a smoother presentation, while others may prefer an edgier one. My vote goes to the Wraith since they don’t tire my ears out and I get to experience amazing sparkle.

Staging/Imaging: I’ve mentioned that the ESR MKII has nice frontal depth to the staging. Well, the Wraith makes that even deeper and more spherical. Another amazing thing about the Wraith is how it makes vocals sound intimate while everything else around it feels more spread out. On the imaging side, the Wraith might have a very slight edge since it’s able to keep its accuracy even with an even bigger stage. The Wraith shows who’s the flagship here. But do keep in mind that the price of the Wraith is equivalent to 3 ESR MKIIs.

In conclusion, I believe the ESR MKII is the better reference IEM while the Wraith is more of an all-rounder. Even though the Wraith doesn’t have the “fun” bass I usually like, it destroyed everything else I’ve heard so far in the vocal department. So if you can afford the Wraith and have similar preferences as I do, do give it a listen. But for the performance to price ratio, I can’t deny that the ESR MKII is quite appealing.


Vs Shure SE846 (-4BA- $999 USED: <$700)​

Alright, we’re coming down to the Shure SE846. I included this since I wanna give people that own one a comparison. I’m sure there are quite a lot of people that own one of these since they’ve been around for ages. Even today, you can purchase them for US$100 cheaper than the ESR MKII.

So how does this 2013 tech compete with the newer ESR MKII? Is the ESR MKII a worthy upgrade to SE846 longtime owners? Or is it a better option for people looking at the SE846 as their next IEM purchase at a $100 premium? That’ll be my job to compare these two to the best of my abilities. So read on to see which is right for you.

Bass: Man… the Shure SE846 still impresses me with its sub-bass performance. The bass goes deep, like really deep. It’s still crazy to think that this has a BA driver handling the bass. Shure has done a great job with creating the woofers on these as it still satisfies the basshead in me. The ESR MKII just couldn’t touch the Sub-bass presence of the SE846. The ESR MKII also goes deep, but just doesn’t provide the same satisfying rumble as the Shure. The ESR MKII shows more bias on the mid-bass side of things, and it’s in this section that gives bass hits a bit more punch. But due to the more neutral tuning of the ESR MKII, it just doesn’t compete when it comes to bass enjoyment. I can tell that the SE846 was meant to be more of a performer’s monitor in this regard. The Shures can definitely be used as mixing monitors as well. But the ESR MKII just has a slight advantage when it comes to detail. But man, the basshead in me is just rooting for the old-timer SE846, so I’ll give the cake to the SE846 in the bass section. Let’s see how the SE846 competes in the other ranges.

Mids: Alright, mids… yeah, I kinda knew where this was going already even before doing the A/B comparison. As expected, the Shure just couldn’t compete with the detailed, and evenly sounding mids of the ESR MKII. The ESR MKII gives more body to the vocals, especially towards male voices and just has a better rendering to my ears. The Shure could still satisfy and perform well, but the ESR MKII is better in this department. I’ve also noticed that the Shure favours female vocals a bit more by giving them more weight, while the ESR MKII gives a bit more edge and clarity to female voices. That’s the biggest difference I noticed. If you listen to a majority of female vocal-heavy music, I would recommend the Shure as the detailed and “edgy” female vocal rendering of the ESR MKII might bothersome. But I personally quite enjoy it being “edgy” lol. So if you’re just like me, then I’d pick the ESR MKII.

Highs: For the SE846, I am using the White filter that gives more treble presence, and it is my go-to filter. Although the Black filter gives an even warmer bass response, the treble loses focus and just sounds meh to my ears. With the white filter, the treble does seem to be more aggressive on the Shures. In comparison, the ESR MKII gives you tamer and less harsh sounds. Detail wise, I say I’d still give it to the ESR MKII as it accomplishes sublime detail retrieval without being overly aggressive. I can imagine the SE846 to get quite fatiguing sooner than with the ESR MKII. Both give me a satisfying treble tho, so it’ll all be down to your preference as usual.

Staging/Imaging: I’ve mentioned before that the ESR MKII doesn’t have the biggest stage. But in comparison to the Shure, it does present you with a wider left to right presentation. And to add to that, the ESR MKII has better frontal depth perception. Imaging seems to be pretty close, but the ESR MKII does give you a slight edge with it having more clarity in between notes. I hope my explanation made sense to you guys lol

I’m still fairly new to the reviewing scene but I’m learning more and more with each review I make, so bear with me.

Overall, do I think the ESR MKII could be an upgrade to the SE846? I would say no, not really. They have quite a different tonality. The SE846 has an overall neutral presentation but it also gives you that exciting bass boost that the Empire Ears doesn’t have with their warm neutral approach. If fist-pumping bass is something you desire, the ESR MKII isn’t it. But if you want something very technical and precise, the ESR MKII would be the better option.



Is anyone still with me?
Well if you are, thank you very much for keeping me company with this review!

It might’ve been quite a bit longer compared to my other reviews, but that is because I had a way longer time with the ESR MKII and the fact that it grabbed my attention as a potential mixing monitor.

While I’m sure there is someone out there that would enjoy these for both work and play, its overly “reference” presentation would keep me from taking it on my daily commutes. I need a bit more “fun” or “character” in the IEMs I take with me in my rotation.

But other than that, the ESR MKII is a highly technical and revealing IEM, with an even midrange presentation. It has pleasing treble energy with enough sparkle to keep you engaged with the mix. For the price and for what Empire Ears intended it to be, the ESR MKII is worthy of your attention.

As I end this review of mine, I just wanna thank @JoshWatkins over at Empire Ears again for sending me the ESR MKII to review!

I hope you all liked my review, I gave it my all lol

So until next time guys!

Have a good one and stay safe!!!



Headphoneus Supremus
A "short" Impression of the Almighty ODIN
Pros: SOLID Tonality, Highly detailed, Vocal placement, control, and texture is one of the best out there, Faceplate is just GORGEOUS, Cable is pretty up there in terms of quality.
Cons: Price (This is debatable, but I still have to say it. As much as I think it's totally worth the price, to some it's just too much), Nozzle lip please, plug termination option would be nice.
NOTE: With much self debate, I finally decided to post my quick impression of both the Hero and the Odin (08/18/2020) from the EE Thread in which you can read HERE.
I'll definitely write a more detailed review when I get the chance to bring the IEMs home for at least a week.

Empire Ears Odin "short" Impression

I usually start with introducing the brand in the first part of my reviews and impressions, but I feel like Empire Ears don’t need an introduction. They’ve been killing it for the past few years, giving us hit after hit. They have the most expansive line-up of products catering to different types of audiophiles and performers. Today, we’re going to take a listen to one of their newest releases, their new TOTL flagship, the Odin. (I’ll try to keep this short as I only had a little over 3 hours of listening session for both of the IEMs)

(The All-Father)

Finally, he’s here! The god of gods has arrived. Odin is finally among us mere mortals. We are now worthy to be in our lord’s presence!


Was that a little too much of an introduction? I think not (lol), Well, here it is guys, what we’ve all been waiting for has finally come to reality. It took Empire Ears years of R&D since Project Odin was mentioned. I have to give the team the utmost respect for not giving up on the project. It must have been quite a hard fought battle to bring forth the almighty Odin. We also have to consider that the team was able to price the Odin just under the previous flagship, the Wraith.
With the long development and the price, does the Odin live up to the hype? Read on to find out!

Design & Fit

The Odin comes with a newly designed faceplate dubbed “Bifröst” (A little shameless comment here, but I correctly guessed that’s what they were gonna call it when I saw the design lol).
The Bifröst is also known as the Rainbow Bridge in Norse mythology, which is honestly fitting for the Odin. On the right earpiece, we have the usual gold Empire Ears winged logo. While on the left earpiece, we have the fitting Valknut symbol a.k.a. Odin’s symbol. The Odin and the Hero are actually the first EE IEMs to adopt a nameplate and a symbol on the faceplate aside from the usual winged logo. A nice touch in my records! Kudos to the design team as the new faceplate on the Odin is just absolutely astonishing to look at! The way it reacts to light is just such eye candy.
As for the fit, I found it a tad bit smaller than the Wraith. This might be good news to those who are thinking of getting a custom version of the IEM, and while the Odin were designed to be universals, Jack mentioned that they were looking into making customs as well. Will they actually do it? That’s something we have to see in the future. As with my comments about fit on the Hero, it’s the same with the Odin. It’s noticeably THICCER (:wink:) than the Hero but still manageable. Again, to my ears, they fit like they were made for me. So in that regard, I truly am blessed, and I can’t say that enough.

OdinFit copy.jpg


Okay, so they look beautiful, but do they sound as good as they look? Well, ladies and gentlemen, THEY DO!
No surprises here. The team took their time to perfect the sound of the Odin, to the point of actually going with a different cable maker to produce the Odin’s cable called “Stormbreaker”.
Stormbreaker is one of Thor’s weapons and one of its greatest assets is its ability to summon the Bifröst. Empire Ears is truly out here telling the full Norse mythology in one IEM. (I also wanna mention that the cable also features a Valknut symbol as a Y splitter)
Back to choosing the cable, the team went through a pile of different cables from different makers just to see which one would actually pair up well with our lord Odin.

I mean, just look at this madness that Jack shared of their process of finding the best cable!


The sound coming out from the Odin left me speechless. I’ve never heard such an IEM that covered every aspect that I like about music. The tonality of the Odin is SOLID and I can’t find any faults with its tuning (This is in accordance to my preferences, so what sounds “perfect” for me might not be your flavour of boba). The Odin is created to be a one all be all TOTL flagship meant to take on everything you throw at it and with authority at that. I would describe the Odin as a more “pleasing” and an all rounder version of the Sony IER-Z1R. As much as I hate to say it, the Odin matched the Z1R’s bass response and added a bit more warmth to the mid-bass. But man, that sub-bass rumble is as organic as the Z1R. I believe having the new and larger dual W9+ Dynamic Driver subwoofers each work separately for sub-bass and mid-bass improved the overall bass control of the Odin instead of the two working in unison for the full bass range as with the Legend X (correct me if I’m wrong here). Having heard the Odin would have dual W9 drivers, I was honestly a little sceptical as I was afraid it would just be like the Legend X, but boy was I wrong. I am now a believer of dual DDs for delivering great controlled bass. But hey, you still gotta give some props to Sony for choosing to use a single LARGE 12mm driver for the bass though (A little smaller than their previous Hybrids but still huge in comparison). It’s still the best bass I’ve heard in an IEM and now it’s joined by the Odin at the top of Asgard.

So moving on to the mids, while the Hero took its mids from the more mid-forward tonality of the Wraith, the Odin incorporates the excellent midrange tonality of the Legend X with even more detail and resolution. Using 5 BA drivers solely for the midrange really gives the Odin much more resolving prowess. Throw any instrument that falls in that midrange frequency to the Odin and it’ll throw it back to you with heft and shock like Thor throwing Mjölnir your way. (Just not as deadly, of course lol)
Vocals take advantage of this as well! This is also where I say that the Odin is more of an all rounder version of the Z1R, The Z1R suffers a bit in the lower midrange as male vocals lose quite a bit of body, and while it excels with female vocals by giving them a more airy rendering, this type of tonality also makes them sound a few rows farther away in the stage. On the other hand, the Odin adapts more to the recording placement of the vocals. If the vocals were intended to be more intimate, the Odin follows. Likewise, if the vocals were a bit more further back, the Odin makes it as such. This was very impressive. Since I listen to a lot of K-Pop where there are multiple members in a group, there are a lot of times the members would be ad-libbing and harmonizing with each other, and the Odin faithfully places each of their voices with pinpoint accuracy. (All the tracks I’ve listened to throughout my listening session are placed at the end of the post)

Now we’re finally reaching the end of my impressions of the Odin, it’s gotten quite a lot longer than I expected. But then again, I’ve spent most of my time listening to the Odin so it’s not really that surprising. Even though I knew that Empire Ears were developing the Odin with the purpose of showcasing their electrostat tech for the highs, I still had a bit of skepticism about their performance. So I threw in the idea of them using a DD driver for the treble a la IER-Z1R since I absolutely love the treble energy of the Sonys. But Empire Ears chose to stick with their guns and give the Odin 4 electrostatic drivers similar to the Wraith. But this time, they’re only using a single EIVEC transformer to unite and power the quad electrostats within the Odin, making the Odin much less of a source dependent IEM unlike the Wraith that needed more power with its dual EIVEC transformers. In return, the Odin gives a pleasant and more present treble tuning. Even with the most treble intensive songs I threw at it, it never became peaky or shouty. It just delivered brilliant detail and shimmer. I feel like this was how the Wraith should have sounded but because of its power hungry nature in the treble section, the highs became muted. Now, I’m all in with the EST for treble crowd. Going back again to my comment about the Odin being an all-rounder version of the Z1R, it’s in the treble as well. The Z1R’s treble could be a little too energetic at times and this makes it more of an attention grabber type of IEM and can be tiring for some.


All hail Odin! All hail Odin! All hail Odin! Oh I soooo want the Odin… As you may have noticed if it wasn’t obvious already, I have mentioned the Sony IER-Z1R a LOT in this impression. I highly regard the Z1R as the best IEM I have heard for my preferences, and having the Odin come at me makes me really want them, even with my overly obvious bias of the Z1R and being a self-branded Sony fanboy as I am. That says something about the Odin. I am not simply impressed but I am truly enamored by the Odin. I honestly wish I could afford the Odin right now. But being just a warehouse worker at the moment, Asgard is too far away for me to reach.
(But hey, my birthday is coming up in September...So guys, I’m open to gifts! Just kidding! Or am I? #sponsorthisbrokeaudiophile #iamdesperate)

Would I recommend the Odin? Even at its price, yes absolutely! It’s a work of MARVEL (see what I did there?:smile:)
As long as you can afford it, go for it! Make me completely jealous and cry in the corner.
To the people that liked the Z1R but was put off by the slightly recessed lower mids, energetic treble, and the painful fit, look no more than the Odin as it pretty much corrects all of those aspects. And again if you guys actually do buy it, just remember that I am in the corner crying and wishes for one too, so please feel pity and gift me one… (*sobs in sorrow*)

A huge thanks to Charles of Headfoneshop for letting me have more than 3 hours of listening time with the Hero and Odin! If any of you are from the Greater Toronto Area or are visiting, make sure to stop by the shop and let Charles feel appreciated! He’s been there at the start of my journey and without him, I probably wouldn’t be broke...I kid. Charles, I love you man!

And to Empire Ears, you guys are just miracle workers! The Odin is without a doubt a god-tier IEM worthy of its name!

Note to self: Never try an IEM you’ve been excited before (*cough Noble Audio Sultan *cough) right after the Odin.



Onkyo DP-X1 and Sony WM1A (WM1A/Z++ mod)


Evening Calm, Somewhere, Fireworks by Yorushika

TRANSlated by Survive Said The Prophet

Grand Escape by RADWIMPS feat. Toko Miura

Heartache by ONE OK ROCK

Lucky Mother by JYOCHO

Sobakasu by JUDY AND MARY

Zero Gravity (Disco Fries Remix) by Nulbarich

Curiosity by LOONA

Harmonia from the Anthem of the Heart OST

Alaska by Maggie Rogers

Hakujitsu by King Gnu

SELFISH by Moonbyul (MAMAMOO) feat. Seulgi (Red Velvet)


Hiraite Sanze by Akiko Shikata

Seattle Alone by BOL4


Wherever You Are, Wherever You May Be from the Violet Evergarden OST

Dance Tonight by Pyotr (Vo. J R Price)

Rise Above by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk] feat. Yosh

Watashi by iri

Chronicle by onoken feat. Chata(茶太)​
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Headphoneus Supremus
A Quick & Short Impression of the Hero
Pros: Likeable tuning, Shell is one of the most comfortable I've used, Bass impact is pleasant without getting bloated, Mids are intimate and engaging, Treble has enough shine to make me notice them. PRICE to Performance is at the peak here.
Cons: The nozzle could use some lip (this goes for all EE IEMs). I've read people have a bit of an issue with the treble (wasn't really the case for me), other than that, I honestly don't have other complaints.
NOTE: With much self debate, I finally decided to post my quick impression of both the Hero and the Odin (08/18/2020) from the EE Thread in which you can read HERE.
I'll write a more detailed review when I get the chance to have the IEMs for at least a week.

Empire Ears Hero Quick Impressions

I usually start with introducing the brand in the first part of my reviews and impressions, but I feel like Empire Ears don’t need an introduction. They’ve been killing it for the past few years, giving us hit after hit. They have the most expansive line-up of products catering to different types of audiophiles and performers. Today, we’re going to take a listen to one of their newest releases, their “budget” but flagship level of sound Hero. (I’ll try to keep this short as I only had a little over 3 hours of listening session for both of the IEMs)



No one really saw this one coming from EE, since everyone was so hyped around the release of the Odin. But approximately a week before the announcement of the Odin, @Jack Vang surprised everyone with an announcement of a new IEM that will be released alongside the Odin dubbed as a “baby” Odin of some sorts. People got really excited knowing this would be a more budget friendly option to the ever skyrocketing prices of high-end IEMs nowadays.

Design & Fit

First, let’s tackle the design of the Hero. The hero comes in with a more monotone black and white swirl faceplate reminiscent of their “Black Tie Swirl” premium faceplate option for their custom IEMs with a black winged EE logo on the right piece, and a black Hero nameplate on the left.
When the first photos of the Hero emerged, people started comparing it to the Noble Audio Khan’s faceplate design. I can see where they were coming from, but in person, it’s completely different. The Khan has more of a matte metallic sheen, while the Hero is a glossy liquid swirl.
The Hero is actually quite a bit smaller or almost the same size as the Valkyrie. A little disclaimer here, but I feel like I am absolutely blessed with my ear structure as almost every universal IEM I’ve tried fit me like a custom (that includes the overly large universal JH Audio Layla ver 1, and the “correct” but still unorthodox shaped Sony IER-Z1R). Having said that, the Hero fits flush on my ears just like with the Valkyries.


I can also confidently say that Empire Ears is the current master of universal IEM comfort and fit. Based on my previous experience, I used to think FitEar had the most comfortable universals. However, EE really took it up a notch. I must also mention driver flex as it is very apparent, both on the Hero and the Odin. This has been something I’ve noticed with Empire Ears IEMs though, even the DUNU Luna I reviewed a few months back had driver flex. Driver flex typically occurs when the IEM is being inserted into your ear. The sudden flow of air builds pressure and produces a clicking sound. Not that it’s a big deal breaker though, as it doesn’t seem to affect the sound at all.


The Hero’s overall tuning is quite a bit more in the mid forward side of things, but that’s not to say that the bass and treble are nonexistent. In fact, I was so impressed by its performance that I couldn’t believe it’s priced on the “lower” side of the spectrum. To keep it short, let’s just say that the Empire Ears Team took what they have learned from making the Legend X, Valkyrie, and Wraith (Hold this thought later for the Odin as well) and incorporated that to the Hero. They took that fun and exciting bass response of the Valkyries, the Legend X’s resolving and detailed not in your face “Hey I’m here, listen to me and just me” highs, and finally the Wraith’s highly engaging mids -especially in the vocal side of things.
In terms of soundstage, because they’re more mid forward in tuning, things are a bit more intimate. It still is able to give you a wide stage but it’s not something over the top. Imaging on the Hero is also quite superb. Instrument placement is accurate, but again, because of the more intimate sound, it’s just not expansive enough for bigger recordings.


Overall, the Hero impressed me more than I expected. At this price range, it’ll eat up the Valkyrie’s spotlight and sales. It’s the easiest recommendation I have to give to anyone looking for an upgrade. For those who thought that the Valkyrie had too much of a hollowed out midrange, this is the IEM to get. And hey, they’re cheaper too! So it’s a Win/Win. But for the people that have bought the Valkyries, don’t feel bad about the purchase, as the Valkyries are still up there for their fist bumping and head bobbing sound. The Hero is just in a completely different category in tonality. It’s more for the people that want to have just one IEM that could handle everything they could throw at it without it being in the TOTL flagship pricing territory.


Onkyo DP-X1 and Sony WM1A (WM1A/Z++ mod)


Evening Calm, Somewhere, Fireworks by Yorushika

TRANSlated by Survive Said The Prophet

Grand Escape by RADWIMPS feat. Toko Miura

Heartache by ONE OK ROCK

Lucky Mother by JYOCHO

Sobakasu by JUDY AND MARY

Zero Gravity (Disco Fries Remix) by Nulbarich

Curiosity by LOONA

Harmonia from the Anthem of the Heart OST

Alaska by Maggie Rogers

Hakujitsu by King Gnu

SELFISH by Moonbyul (MAMAMOO) feat. Seulgi (Red Velvet)


Hiraite Sanze by Akiko Shikata

Seattle Alone by BOL4


Wherever You Are, Wherever You May Be from the Violet Evergarden OST

Dance Tonight by Pyotr (Vo. J R Price)

Rise Above by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk] feat. Yosh

Watashi by iri

Chronicle by onoken feat. Chata(茶太)​
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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Excellent Build Quality
Beautiful and Elegant Design
Small and Compact footprint
Genius Cable System
Fast, Accurate, and Punchy Mid-bass
Sensational Female Vocal Representation (Best I've heard)
Spacious Soundstage & High Precision Imaging
Cons: "Lightweight" Sub-bass
Treble section could be overbearing depending on tips used
Some might have trouble with having a secure fit and seal


DUNU established itself as its own brand in 2006. They may sound like a fairly young company, but the people behind the brand have been in the development and manufacturing of pro and consumer goods since 1994.
With their amount of experience, impressive staff, their own high end testing equipment, production facilities, and in-house driver development, it’s no wonder they’re making quite a buzz in the audiophile world.
“To innovate for music lovers” is DUNU’s mission. They highly cater to the taste of audiophiles around the globe, and their most recent flagship is a testament to that mission.

So here I introduce the LUNA.


The LUNA is DUNU’s latest flagship, and it’s their first set to cost $1,699US.
DUNU’s claim to fame is their development and use of the “World’s First” Pure Beryllium Dynamic Driver inside the heart of the LUNA.
So why is it such a big deal? Well, Beryllium is well known to be the ideal material used in high-end speakers and a few full sized headphones, such as Focal’s well regarded co-flagships, the Utopia and the Stellia; which costs $3,990US & $2,999US respectively.
I will expand on Beryllium later.

First, let’s talk about the build and design of the IEM’s.

For the build, they’ve used a custom-modified grade 5 titanium alloy that is an aerospace grade material. This makes the LUNA one of the toughest IEMs out there. But using such a material is known to produce ringing. Therefore, DUNU’s engineers reformulated the alloy with the use of other rare earth metals to minimize it. In turn, this allows the unrivalled driver inside the LUNA to show off its unique sound.

Next, let’s talk about the design.


If it isn’t obvious already, DUNU’s concept for the LUNA is its relation to the moon.
Having been 50 years since humankind’s first journey to the moon, they wanted to reflect the spirit of the landing and wanted to elevate the manner in which IEMs are perceived.
The main body of the LUNA serves as the representation of the ever changing phases of the moon. This is shown whenever light hits the circular concave faceplate at different angles.
While the main body represents the moon, the cable connector interface symbolizes the Apollo spaceship. I do think their approach was done quite brilliantly, and I am a fan of the design.
As for the fit, they’re actually compact in size at almost the same volume as the Shure SE846, which itself fits in almost every ear. The LUNA fit nicely in my ear, but I had to do some tip rolling to find the best seal. In the second section, I’ll talk more about how tip rolling could help LUNA’s quirks.

While the star of the show are the earphones themselves, I also have to mention the cable that comes with the LUNA.
The cable is made out of combined strands of OCC Copper and DHC Silver, with a Silver-Plated OCC Copper Shield Surround.
While the materials are impressive, it’s the cable system that I’m completely sold on!
It features their patented Quick-Switch Modular Plug system, which comes with all the needed terminations a person would use.
This terminates (see what I did there? *wink*) the need to completely switch the cable or the need to use an additional conversion dongle when switching between your DAP to other DAC/AMP systems you might have.
This on its own is pretty genius!

Now comes the most important part.

How do they sound?
Well...the short answer is, they sound AMAZING.
But you’re not here for that right?
So here I’ll go into detail on how the LUNA handles each frequency range.

I chose to use my Onkyo DP-X1 to do this review. While it might be showing age already, it’s still a very capable DAP. (but then again if I had more money, I’d love to have an upgrade either from Sony’s, A&K’s, or FiiO’s flagship offerings. Someone, sponsor me please…*laughs*)

First, let’s have a go at the BASS section.

To me, the LUNA’s bass sounds more neutral with a bit of fun and warmth on the mid-bass side of things. To many, the sub-bass region might sound a bit lightweight. In comparison to my other IEMs I have with me, I do have to agree. Testing out the sub-bass, my go to track is LA PARISIENNE by BFRND. The Intro just hits you with a full course of BASS, and sadly, the LUNA just doesn’t give much rumble down low to bring tears to my eyes. But do try it with your IEMs. It's a fun track to test out sub-bass rumble. Now onto that fun and warm mid-bass. The LUNA is amazingly detailed here, it gives so much body to bass instruments. For example, the fretless bass on the track, Pictures, by Kozo Suganuma, just sounds as lifelike as it gets. The LUNA also gives a nice rendering to kick drums and toms.Bring me the Horizon’s song, Run, is a good track to showcase this. On the 2nd verse, it’s filled with drum fills (*wink-wink*), which sounded really enjoyable and didn’t sound muted on the LUNA.

Let’s move on to the Midrange.

Okay, GUITARS, VIOLINS, and pretty much any string instrument sounds full and engaging on the LUNA. On the guitar side of things, listen to the track, Say Yes, by TWICE. The acoustic guitar throughout the song just sounded so lively and pleasant to my ears. Another great track for strings is the track, Ink to Paper, from the Violet Evergarden OST. The LUNA made me get lost in the beauty of the strings.

While still part of the midrange, I wanna talk about Vocals on the High Mids of things as I listen primarily to a lot of female vocal centred tracks.This is a frequency where female vocals on the LUNA truly shine for me. But I also want to say that male vocals are still just as impressive. For example, on the track, Daijoubu by Radwimps, the vocalist’s voice sounds well modulated and lush and never thin sounding while being on the higher register.

Now onto the High Mids.

Personally, the high mids on the LUNA is the special sauce. The elevation from 1kHz to the peak at around 4kHz gives female vocals such an airy and encapsulating sound.
Breathier vocals such as the ones in the track, Leyre, by Akiko Shikata. Her vocals just sound so ethereal and intimate on the LUNA. It’s here where I think they might have outshone the FitEar TG334/MH334 as the best IEM for female vocals. (Now, this is just based on memory, but the excellent performance of the beryllium driver and the way it has been tuned by DUNU has given me a sensation with female vocals that no other IEMs have ever given me. Though, there is one other IEM I wanted to have more ideal listening time with. The Empire Ears Wraith had ear catching female vocals as well, but I haven’t had a chance to formally take them home to have an extended listen to judge it. So for now, I have to say the LUNA’s are by far the best IEM for female vocals I have heard thus far.)
While the high mids are great for female vocals, the elevation and peak at 4kHz does have its drawbacks, but this is where the tip rolling I mentioned earlier might help you out as well.
I’ve started out using both the JVC Spiral Dot tips and Final E tips and having favoured the former for giving the most “Air”. But due to that, some instruments, especially the “bagpipe” (not too sure what the instrument is) in the track Hiraite Sanze, by Akiko Shikata, got quite a bit overbearing to my ears. So here came the Sony Triple Comfort tips from the IER-Z1R. People have said this helped them tame the energetic highs of the Z1R’s, but since I didn’t have that problem with the Z1R’s, I had them just sitting in the box. So low and behold, I used them on the LUNA and IT WORKED!
The tips have calmed down the shoutiness of the bagpipe and any other instrument that got overbearing in that section.


The Highs.

I actually like the highs on the LUNA. To me, it just sounds neutral-bright without sounding scrawny. Woodwind, percussion, and especially music box instruments take the front stage here. The overtones they generate get very well highlighted on the LUNA. For example, on the instrumental version of the track, Kasuka na Kaori, by Perfume. The intro’s music box section and other instruments at the higher frequency used throughout the song sounded dense while still being delicate. The highs never got too energetic to the point of sibilance. It has stayed well controlled and has more than enough attack to be engaging and detailed.

Okay moving on to imaging and soundstage.

While the LUNA does have an impressive soundstage, its mid-forward tonality gives it a more intimate rendering, especially on the vocals. However, it still gives more than enough width and height to the stage. On the track Wherever You Are, Wherever You May Be, from the Violet Evergarden OST, the LUNA gave it quite a spacious yet intimate staging. This is more than enough room for even bigger recordings.

Now, for imaging and instrument separation, let’s use the track I just mentioned. All the instruments are rendered with high precision. I’m very impressed by what the engineers at DUNU have done to achieve this with a single driver.
It has turned me into a believer in the “less is more” approach. This is also what I’d like to say about the Sony IER-Z1R, which consists of only 3 drivers. I strongly believe that the Z1R is one of the best, if not, the best IEM for the incredible staging and highly detailed imaging it produces. I’ll talk more about it in the comparisons.

Now, we’re finally moving on the final part of the review!

I’m surprised you’re still here lol
Well, thank you for keeping up with my ramblings.
You deserve a cookie!

(For the comparison, I used the same tracks I’ve mentioned in the review.)


Sony IER-Z1R (-2DD,1BA- $1,999US)

These two can’t be any more different from each other.
The Z1R has a slight V-Shape tuning, while the LUNA’s are somewhat “warm-neutral” with a high-mid elevation.
You’ll be able to hear this clearly as the Z1R are more about fun and energy, while the LUNA’s are “lacking” the Z1R are overflowing with.
In the sub-bass section, the Z1R hits deeper and with higher authority.
Here’s where it gets tricky. To me, the LUNA’s mid-bass sounds just as organic as the Z1R. But it does punch a bit more than the more controlled mid-bass of the Z1R. While the Z1R wins in the more organic sub-bass rumble, the LUNA wins it by a hair in the punchier mid-bass presentation. Moving to the mids, there’s no contest here. Guitars and other String instruments just sound more rounded and leaner on the LUNA. While the Z1R is still impressive on its own, it’s just a little more hollow sounding in comparison. As a result, male vocals take a hit on the Z1R. It just sounds anemic compared to the LUNA's meatier male vocal presentation.
Now, here is where both are equally impressive with just a difference in presentation. Female vocals on the Z1R are just as full bodied and airy as the LUNA, but are presented farther away from you. The LUNA’s more intimate presentation allows the listener to almost feel the vocalist’s breathing in their ears. The effect is absolutely ethereal. So I must give the LUNA the edge in the female vocal presentation.
In the highs, the Z1R has the edge overall. The highs on the Z1R just sounds more extended and presents more flare. While it may be energetic, it never gets sibilant. The LUNA’s highs sound calmer and smoother in comparison. Both are very well detailed up top, but the Z1R just gives it more shimmer.
In the soundstage department, the Z1R never ceases to amaze me every time I compare them with other IEMs in the market. With that being said, I do have to say that the more intimate nature of the LUNA does have its own charms. Although the LUNA is not on par with the Z1R’s 3 dimensional staging, it still presents a wide soundstage. But then again, I still haven’t heard another IEM that beats the Z1R in staging.
However, when it comes to imaging, I didn’t really hear much difference between the two. Both are great in that regard, but I just have to give the edge to the Z1R because of how it handles space the imaging just goes along with it.

JH Audio Layla (-12BA- $2750US)

For the Layla, I always have the bass dial set at 2 O’Clock. This gives the neutral low-end a bit more excitement. Let’s talk about that low-end, the Layla’s sub-bass has more rumble than the LUNA. But while the Layla may have deeper rumble and sub-bass quantity, the LUNA has better mid-bass presentation. The mid-bass of the LUNA is really where it’s at, it just sounds organic and very reminiscent of the Z1R’s but with more punch. With this, bass instruments just have more weight to them compared to the Layla’s “neutral” mid-bass response. Moving to the mids, it’s pretty much the same deal here. The LUNA gives more life to instruments that fall into this range. String Instruments especially just sound more natural on the LUNA. The Layla unfortunately also suffer in the higher mids, as vocals, especially female vocals, just sound flat and hollowed out compared to the LUNA’s airy and dense vocal voicing. Next, we arrive at the Layla's biggest weakness; the highs. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the Layla’s highs when I got it; it was smooth and detailed. But when comparing it to newer flagships, it falls flat and almost dark. The LUNA’s highs could get a little sharp but it never fatigues my ears. In comparison to the Layla, the LUNA is more detailed and gives you more excitement in the higher regions. It really comes down to your preference here. A lot of people, myself included, still like the Layla’s sound signature, as it's a very easy to listen to IEM. It’s also one of the reasons why I liked the Empire Ears Wraith. A lot of people think it sounds dark, but to me, it’s one of the most analytical and relaxing IEM to listen to. In my opinion, it’s pretty much an evolved Layla.
The only area the Layla does have an advantage over the LUNA is the slightly deeper soundstage. The Layla does go a touch deeper with similar width and height as the LUNA. In Imaging though, I have to say the LUNA is cleaner and a touch more accurate with better placement and separation.

FitEar Monet17 (-4BA- Roughly about $1560US converted from Japanese Yen)

These two are quite similar in some aspects but very different in the others.
Sub-bass response is one of the differences. The LUNA’s sub-bass is truly its “weakness” It just doesn’t give excitement. While the Monet17 isn’t as impressive as the IER-Z1R, it comes fairly close to how organic the rumble is presented. I gotta say it’s one of my favorite sub-bass presentations from a Quad BA Driver IEM. Both IEMs have similar mid-bass warmth and punch. But I do have to say, the LUNA gives a bit more air and space in this area while the Monet17 gives more heft.
In the midrange, they’re also somewhat similar, both are full bodied, and offer rich male vocal presentation. When it comes to string instruments, especially on guitars, it becomes a bit interesting. The LUNA is better at rendering clean guitars while the Monet17 crushes it with distorted guitars. The “Tuned especially for Anime Music” becomes clearly apparent here with the Monet17. When you pair it with exactly that genre, they become quite unbeatable. It’s also quite apparent on the high-mids. Monet17’s high-mids are smoother with just enough air and sparkle to make it easier to listen to the usual higher pitched female vocals on Anime songs. Moving to the highs is where it differs again, the Monet17 produces a bit more energy and sparkle while the LUNA gives it a bit more clarity and extension. I gotta say while comparing these two, I’ve come to love the Monet17 quite a bit more now. I’m impressed with the tuning. Being able to keep up with how unique sounding the LUNA is, is quite something. Especially having been 5 years its senior.

Shure SE846 (-4BA- $999US)

Boy oh boy, the good old SE846s. I’ve had it pretty much since it got launched. It still holds a special place in my ears. But unfortunately, like the Layla, while they’re still quite impressive on their own, comparing them to newer IEMs is hard to take in. Either way, we still have to compare the two as it was requested by a user on Head-Fi. So let’s begin.
The deep reaching bass response in the SE846s is still honestly quite impressive for a full BA specced IEM of its age. But unfortunately that’s just about it now. In all other aspects of the spectrum, it’s rather boring and lifeless in comparison to the much livelier and unique sound being produced by LUNA. The LUNA’s mid-bass extending to the midrange just sounded fuller with so much warmth to spare; high-mids have more edge, and have better detail and extension in the highs. It’s sad to say but the SE846 have been completely outclassed by the LUNA.



Here we are guys, we’re finally at the end. It’s quite the journey for me writing this review.
I still have so much to learn about writing, I’m not even sure if what I wrote made sense to you, but thank you so much for giving me your precious time to read my ramblings. I will do even better the next time I write a review.
So after doing an extensive listening with the LUNA, I really have to applaud the whole DUNU team for creating such a unique sounding IEM. I’ve stated this in my first impression post, and I still stand by it. The uniqueness of the LUNA is what makes it a hard IEM to ignore, especially if you’re like me who enjoys a lot of female vocal centric music.

A HUGE shoutout to the DUNU team for the opportunity to be a part of the US/Canada Tour!

I’ll have darker days from now on, as I’ll be saying goodbye to the LUNA. She will now move on to the next lucky person along the tour. I’ll definitely miss listening with them.

I’m excited to hear what their skilled engineers bring to the table next.

Hope you all find my review helpful enough for you to decide if the LUNAs are the right IEMs for you.

Until next time!


Nice Review sir!
Thank you very much everyone!

I'll work even harder on the next review!
Everyone agrees --- it's an incredible first review effort! Truly a great read!