Empire Ears Apollo X

MikePortnoy

Reviewer at Headphone.Guru
Pros: Smooth signature, Non fatiguing treble, Perfect craftsmanship, Superb Comfort
Cons: Overall resolution could be higher
Introduction:
 
Empire Ears was known as Earwerkz in audiophile world. They have changed their name and released new product line a while ago. Their flagship is now a 14-driver unit, Zeus; and Apollo is their second most expensive custom in ear monitor in the product line. Apart from these Olympus series two custom monitors, they also offer lifestyle line, which has hard-wired cable and lower profile fit. In addition, they produce Delta series hearing protection monitors. In sum, Empire Ears has a very rich product line.  
 
I am always impressed by Earwerkz customer service and they seem to carry this tradition in hands of Jack Vang, Empire Ears Co-Manager. There was a big problem with my package shipping due to USPS fault, but Jack took care of it and tracked the package very carefully. At the end, it was delivered safely, though a bit lately.
 
apolloson.jpg
 
Design, Fit and Accessories:
 
Apollo utilizes 10 balanced armature drivers per side, 2 for lows, 4 for midrange and 4 for highs. There are also 3 acoustic bores as well as 5-way and 4-point passive crossover network. Apollo has 119 dB of sensitivity with 17 OHM of impedance.
 
The fit and craftsmanship is simply awesome. There is no sign of error with the craftsmanship and Apollo can be listened for hours without getting fatigued. Apollo has the most comfortable fit among my customs. No complaint at all, simply perfect.
 
Apollo has detachable two pin cable; as far as I can see on Empire Ears website, Apollo is shipped with BTG Starlight Cable for a limited time. Starlight has very good memory wire section for an aftermarket cable, but its built quality is not very soft.  As accessories, there is an impressive Aegis Case, on which my name is printed, a dust bag, an IEM pouch, cleaning tool and cleaning cloth. Honestly, I feel myself special by looking at this impressive Aegis Case.  
 
apollo2.jpg
 
Sound:
 
Apollo-X has a little bit warm sound with smooth note reproduction. It has slightly distant stage, but not a completely laid back one. As Earwerkz products, Apollo has non-fatiguing approach with controlled treble. Overall, Apollo has a balanced quantity structure between frequencies.
 
Low Frequency:
 
Apollo has natural sub-bass hits; they are neither so powerful nor too light. It has nice rumble with medium area of impact on the stage. Sub-bass is not very tight, but controlled and fast enough to not to get messy. Hitting to depth ability is good and they hit from an effective distance on the stage.
 
Mid-bass has a slightly warm tone, but doesn’t fill in the general atmosphere with too much warm air. In this regard, mid-bass is very well controlled and doesn’t tighten the stage. Additionally, there is a nice tonal and quantity balance between sub-bass and mid-bass. However, their resolution and texture is not the best.
 
Mid Frequency:
 
Like overall spectrum, midrange has a placement that is slightly distant to listener, but it has full-bodied notes and this prevents midrange from being completely laidback. Even if Apollo is not very dynamic, average note thickness is close to thicker side and it is able to create both thin and thick notes well, but stays behind Spiral Ear SE5 in this regard. Thanks to thick and bodied notes, center and lower midrange has a natural tone, but with a slight coloration. Detail level is high, but center image resolution is not the best.
 
Upper midrange is smooth and detailed; I found its resolution and transparency level better than center and lower midrange. Also, there is sibilance depending on tracks, but it is below ear piercing levels. Vocals are slightly distant, but still intimate in accordance with large portions on the stage.
 
apollo1.jpg
 
High Frequency:
 
Apollo has non-fatiguing treble presentation with a nice resolution. It is neither too laid-back nor too prominent. Overall it is slightly warm, but it is colder when compared to rest of the spectrum. Due to slight coloration, its notes don’t have completely true tone, but not metallic either. As for listening to metal tracks, the speed is enough to have a good resolution and separation. Even if the extension is not the best, there is a high level of detail.
 
Soundstage and Separation:
 
Apollo doesn’t have a very wide stage, but the depth is impressive in accordance with slightly distant located background. Additionally, the stage size is good and there is not a congested instruments placement.
 
The best part of Apollo is its background and separation. Indeed, the background has a very good level of blackness and the stability is impressive. In very fast and crowded tracks, Apollo is able to create a strong instrument separation. Imaging is also good, but not the best among my others.
 
 
Selected Comparisons:
 
Apollo vs Spiral Ear SE5 Ref:
 
apollospiral.jpg
 
In general, SE5 is intimate sounding unit with forward mids, while Apollo’s stage is slightly distant. Apollo has a warmer presentation when compared to Se5’s more transparent and resolved approach.
 
Both have similarly located sub-bass hits with similar hitting to depth ability. SE5 has better texture and resolution, while Apollo has softer touches. In addition, SE5 has more clearer and tighter punches with a better speed. Apollo has slightly more prominent mid-bass with a little warmer tone. In comparison, SE5 has more resolved and less warm mid-bass presentation.
 
In midrange, Apollo has cleaner notes, but SE5 has more resolved and transparent note reproduction. Both have thick notes with a natural tone, but SE5 is better in terms of creation of both thick and thin notes. Both have strong vocals, but SE5 gives more dimension and resolution in a more intimate way. Apollo has a mellow midrange presentation in comparison, while SE5 is more alive with a truer tone.
 
Both have a smooth treble presentation, but SE5 has a truer tone overall with less colored and more extended notes. Detail level is similar; Apollo has slightly more prominent treble, while SE5 is more resolved during fast tracks.
 
Both don’t have overly wide stages, but do have impressive stage depths. In general, Apollo creates longer distances between instruments, while SE5 has clearer/less warm spaces between them. The separation level is similar, but SE5 has speed and resolution advantage during fast tracks.   
 
Apollo vs Lear LCM-BD4.2
 
apollolear.jpg
 
In comparison, Apollo has warmer signature with slightly thicker and smoother notes, while Lear is brighter and sounds with thin notes. Lear is more spacious overall with a bigger picture creation.
 
Lear has more natural sub-bass tone in accordance with dynamic driver. Texture is better on Lear, but Apollo has a faster sub-bass presentation. Lear uses a larger bass-room by putting air behind punches. Mid-bass is more prominent on Apollo with a slightly warmer tone.
 
Apollo has thicker, warmer and more bodied midrange notes, while Lear sounds brighter, more transparent and slightly more distant. Detail level is similar, but Lear is better in terms of center image resolution. Apollo has darker note reproduction; on the other hand Lear has clearer notes in accordance with thin sound structure. Vocals have more body on Apollo with a smoother touch; both may have sibilance depending on tracks, but Lear tends to have it more. Both female and male vocals have better dimension/size on Apollo.
 
In treble section, Apollo is smoother with a more natural tone, while Lear sounds metallic and more prominent in comparison. Transparency level is similar, but Lear is slightly more extended, while Apollo is faster.  
 
Lear has significantly wider and more spacious stage, while Apollo has slightly deeper one in accordance with its more stable and blacker background. Lear creates longer distances and less warm spaces between instruments. On the other hand, Apollo allows focusing easier, while Lear has slightly better coherence.
 
Final Words:
 
Empire Ears Apollo-X custom in ear monitor is a good alternative for who is looking for a smooth sound with non-fatiguing treble notes. Additionally, its separation and background blackness is very impressive. I must say that Empire Ears does a very good job in terms of comfort and fit, the best that I have ever tried. Simply perfect!
 
For Empire Ears website: http://empireears.com
 
For Apollo-X info and ordering: http://empireears.com/model-overview/?ap=726
 
MSRP for Apollo-X: 1599 USD.
MikePortnoy
MikePortnoy
Thank you mates, 
 
@moedawg140 I tested it on both 901 and Lotoo Paw Gold. 
AmberOzL
AmberOzL
It feels like it lacks the technical capabilities you expect from this price range. Great review as usual my friend, keep up the wonderful work.
MikePortnoy
MikePortnoy

veindoc

New Head-Fier
Pros: High resolution, detailed wide sonic presentation with no sibilance or artificial or fatiqueing qualities with great comfort and isolation
Cons: Bassheads may want a more highly accented bass
Review of Empire Ears Apollo-x custom
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This is my first review for Head-fi and I will give it my best shot. My background has predominately been as an audiophile, and I am not a musician. My tastes include live jazz and blues, vocal jazz and a few rock bands. Mostly really love the holographic nature of my current audio system, being in that sweet spot in a room that has being treated acoustically to minimize early reflections and bass boominess. I rate my room a 9.5 but occasionally my better half likes the house a little quieter, being on the road or at the gym made me want to get a comfortable audiophile quality CIEM. I have had inexpensive CIEM and universal earphones but recently decided to upgrade to hopefully enjoy current state of the art CIEMs and so I began my journey with music and attended the Head-fi show in Bay area.
 
I was armed with hirez recordings of 4 songs that I am very very familiar with and thankfully met Jude within 10 minutes of entering show. My music was the following cuts:
1) Beck-Morning from Morning Phase
2) Brian Bromberg-The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers from Wood
3) Dead Can Dance-Nierika from Spiritchaser
4) Diana Krall-S'wonderful from Live in Paris
 
These cuts produce great emotionally involving vocals and strings(1), dynamic realistic plucky bass with ability to hear fingers sliding down the strings(2), profound musical envelope with audio gymnastics and sounds jumping left and right(3) and lastly beautiful vocals with excellent soundstage and separation of musicians and occasional sibilance on female vocals on lesser systems.(4)
 
After doing my research prior to the meeting I knew I was very interested in auditioning-Kaiser 10 and Savant from Noble audio, Angie from JH audio, 1964 ears V8(Adel not available at this time) and Ultimate ears 18Pro and their new digital shell modeling system. Jude guickly also gave me  univeral versions of Fitear, Sennheiser IE-800, and Layla to demo. At the end of 6 hours and trying about 20 models, I keep coming back to the 2 Noble models and the Angie after I added a little bass to the adjustable cable. I knew from my custom previous ear impressions that my external ear anatomy was not truly user friendly for several reasons, especially if I wanted to go to an larger 8-10 driver BA model. I have a very deep hollow that insures proper fit may lead to a very very large look, somewhat akin to a tumor protruding from my ear. I left meeting with my subjective biases of what I liked and did not like.
 
Next began the process of reaching out to the various companies and seeing how they were to deal with prior to placing my order. To me this is where the rubber meets the road. At this price point I wanted quality sound that fit my tastes, great fit and comfort, excellent isolation and good looks and lastly someone knowledgable to ask followup questions or to call if things did not turn out right. Also a realistic concern was the potential hassle of dealing with a non USA based company if my shells did not come out well or need modification.
 
What I quickly experience was not good or user friendly with the bulk of my interactions. No followup emails or returned calls, lack of knowledge and frankly I was often just referred to their website. Pleasant exceptions to this were Noble Audio and Custom Art. Thankfully,I literally stumbled on to a thread about Jack Vang and Earwerkz and the feedback he got from previous customers was consistently positive and he clearly really made himself available thru out the process. I called, he answered, we chatted for about 30 minutes, told him about my musical tastes, what I liked or dislike about other models I had demoed and he recommended at least auditioning 2 reference models that he thought would appeal to my ears. These were both new models, yet to be released but he was very willing to send them without any obligation.
 
Fast forward and I quickly realized the unnamed at this time 10 driver model was something special. Next began the discussion about how to make a shell that could be modified to minimize my external ear anatomy, still house 10 drivers and yet have a relatively slim look. What I quickly realized was all digital ear modeling processes lack, even though they are very very accurate is a way to modify or customize certain less desirable features of external appearance. Mr. Vang after seeing my impression quickly accessed that doing multiple castings and only one form of the Apollo-X custom would be complimentary to housing all 10 drivers as well as having a slim great fitting CIEM. Their Lifestyle products would not allow quite the same degree of custom modification.
 
To my understanding a cast is made from my impressions and they know how much internal volume is needed to fit all the various drivers, Next the first casting is redone and modified to be slimmer but still allow for all 10 drivers to fit. If they shrink the models too far then you can't fit all the drivers. I have included images of the initial castings.
 

 

 

view of low profile in my ears.

 
Next I focused on how my CIEM would look. As much as I really love the creative talents of all the Noble artwork I really was focused on a more simple look. One of the problems I initially found out with some of the digital modeling systems companies can only be clear or black which was too simple for my tastes. I am sure this will improve with time. I choose a turquoise blue shell with black canal tips with solid ABS black faceplate. I am extremely happy with final appearance, great comfort, profound isolating when I ride the train or workout at my gym and the stock cable that came with unitound very good.
 
To Mr. Vang getting units shipped in 2-3 weeks, as compared to 1-3 months with many other Companies is a high priority. However getting it right is an even bigger priority. In my case my 10 driver(2-low,4-mid,4-high) 3 bore, 4 crossover network 5- way design was very close to shipping within a couple of weeks. I next got an email from Jack saying he was redoing my units. Apparently even though their team of engineers loved what they initially developed, most recently different x-over and a new BA was discovered that so greatly improved resolution that they could not ignore this improvement. Jack did this with no charge and certainly could of just sent the CIEM as was initially constructed but he choose to take the path of providing the client with the best possible product. My sincere thanks for doing this Jack-He took a great product to the next level!
 
Listening-I am a 57 y.o. male with good but probably declining normal hearing. With that in mind,everything I say is totally subjective to my ears, music I am familiar with and how this music sounds on my speakers, older CIEMS, and all those I auditioned thru friends and shows. Obviously it is hard to compare the sound and fit of a universal model to a well executed custom CIEM. I used an Oppo HA-2 for all listening, cables varied and I am still waiting to use my Cavelli Carbon amp to enhance my listening even more when it is combined with my balance Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC and a balance Norne cable with a Kobiconn termination.
 
Firstly, although musicians or bassheads may love accented v- shaped earphone sound curves-I found many of these initially produce "wow" but after 3-4 cuts it just did not sound natural or anything like real live music. Either too much sibilance or bass for me and soon everything else sounds out of wack. Certainly the IE-800 fell into this category. The K-10 and and Angie models were much closer to a more balanced reference plus with a little wow mixed in that gave me a very involving listening experience. The Savant like some of the UE models I heard hear were a true reference non  accented presentation. But for my ears what was missing was excitement or pop on cuts I was very familiar with.
 
So what did I initially like and then love about my newly named Apollo -X CIEMs by a newly formed company now called Empire Ears and do I have any regrets with my choice. Firstly I will deal with possible regrets about other CIEMs I could of purchased. I certainly got excited as a listener and physician about the new hearing loss protective ADEL technology that now exists. However what I have learned is my custom fit and really great(-28db) isolation has truly changed how I listen with earphones. The volume is so much lower that I feel much more comfortable about not risking my future hearing. I know very well that venting energy and eardrum reflexes may protect my hearing as well. However I really love a quiet black background and adjustable vents will probably influence this isolation which for me would cause me to turn the volume up. I still hope new advances will continue to emerge to protect my ears. I also think the top of line UE PRM tuned specially for your tastes and hearing may be something to consider down the road. It sounds very similar to customizing your audio room to compensate for abnormalities in the room itself. Lastly the new Stax KSE 1500 universal electrostatic  earphone with active isolation(36db?) if it ever becomes available as a CIEM sounds like a great future product.
 
The Apollo-X was burned in for 100 hours(even if it does nothing with BA designs) before any listening was done. My typical listening was done over 3 weeks mostly 1-3 hour sessions. This hopefully also allowed me to get an honest appraisal of comfort after prolonged listening. More than anything I love an involving non-fatiqueing listening experience. If the wow becomes tiring or too loud or shrill it just drives me crazy. The Apollos were a delight from day one. The comfort and isolation gave me a new low noise floor and elements that I never had heard before in certain music. High resolution, detailed and 3-d like presentation(still not quite as holographic as my floor standing audio  speakers) was very apparent with each session. I also listened to some classical and less than optimally recorded music to see how these faired. The Apollos are a great reference CIEM that has provided me hundreds of hours of great listening. They are so resolving and produce great female vocals with zero sibilance. Bass is fast, involving and real, never bloated but natural sounding. I'm sure bassheads may need a little more but treble extension and mids are very well executed. Airiness or floating of notes on a vibraphone or piano sounds great as well.
 
My new Pelican style case just arrived. photos included.
 

 


In conclusion Jack Vang & Empire Ears provided me a great customer service interaction, highly customizable products with a natural sounding very emotional  involving sound that fits my ears perfectly. I strongly encourage anyone who has been turned off by rude, hard to reach non personable user friendly companies to give JV and EE an audition soon. I could not be happier.
 
Nick

Edited by veindoc - Today at 6:07 am View History
 






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veindoc
veindoc
Hopefully this is finally in correct part of website.
Nick
Wyd4
Wyd4
It is great to see that there are still people out there that will go out of their way to help and offer truly excellent support.
I can mirror CustomArt and Noble service/response, I have always had fantastic experience with them.  It is good to see there are others out there doing the same.
I hope you enjoy these jems!  It doesn't sound like they are to my tastes, but that is irrelevant here :)
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