Empire Ears Bravado MKII (2021)

gLer

Headphoneus Supremus
Empire Ears Bravado MkII – Big, Bold and Bashful
Pros: Excellent package, build quality and craftsmanship
Big, bold sound with outstanding bass emphasis
Driven and dynamic, with good technicalities
Well-priced for all the tech inside and performance level
Cons: Deep insert fit and large shell can be uncomfortable for smaller ears
Needs power to get the subwoofer going
Bass can be over-dominant at times
Upper-mid emphasis tuning is not for everyone
Bravado (bra-va-doh) – noun – a bold manner or a show of boldness intended to impress or intimidate.

Empire Ears does nothing by halves, and that also goes for the naming convention of their IEMs. The Bravado MkII (which I’m going to call B2 for brevity) is everything the name suggests it is. That’s not giving anything away, though if reviews aren’t really your thing, you can just take the title at face value and be done with it.

B2 is my second bite at the Empire Ears cherry, so to speak, the legendary Legend X being the first. And here’s another spoiler: despite the similarities in name, shell shape and bass emphasis, the two are nothing alike.

I’ve also seen the B2 labelled as an ‘entry-level’ IEM, and I suppose in the context of the Empire Ears line-up it is. But that’s like saying an Audi A3 is an entry-level car. Make no mistake, B2 is a luxury IEM. I’ll be comparing it to a real entry-level IEM (BLON BL-03) and a real flagship IEM (Legend X) in the course of this review, but that’s purely semantics. Entry-level high-end IEM would be a more appropriate moniker, so keep that in mind as you’re reading this.

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Let’s get started

For anyone unfamiliar with Empire Ears, the company founded and personally managed by a genius IEM designer and all-round good guy called Jack Vang, I’ll refer you to any number of articles on the company (Google ‘Empire Ears’ and you’ll see what I mean). Their website is also a good place to start.

Likewise I’m not going to spend too much time labouring over the design and specs of the B2 itself, because again, several comprehensive reviews have already covered that ground better than I could, or care to do (the best of which is Alex Twister’s review here).

But I should mention some basics that make B2 a rather unique IEM on its own, especially at its relatively affordable price-point for a high-end IEM.

Firstly, the packaging and accessories are similar to those you’ll get with any other Empire Ears IEM, which is to say top shelf. The presentation box is sturdy, compact and cleverly segmented, with a magnetic latch lid for the inner compartment and a pull-out drawer for the case and ear tips. You can almost smell the care and attention to detail in the construction and printing, always a good sign for a product that’s been lovingly made.

Second, the accessories themselves are not just throwaway add-ons that even high-end IEMs are often bundled with. You get genuine Final Audio E-Type silicone ear tips (all sizes), a genuine Effect Audio Ares II cable with custom labels and splitter, and Empire’s custom all-aluminium Pandora carry case, made from what feels like a solid block of chiselled metal.

Third, the IEMs themselves are made from a high-quality resin polymer and high-gloss lacquer finish, complete with what Empire calls the ‘Deep Field’ faceplate unique to B2. I’ve seen and used $6,000 IEMs that don’t look or feel this impressive, so rest assured you’re not being short-changed when it comes to build quality for your sub-$800 outlay.

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It’s not all sun and roses, however, and if there’s one issue I have with B2 (in its universal form anyway – a custom version has just been announced at the time of writing) it’s the size of the damn thing. For some reason Empire Ears decided to launch B2 in the US (along with the other MkII variants) using the larger shell first seen in the flagship Odin. Compared to the Legend X (a 7-driver IEM), the 4-driver B2 is thicker, wider, taller, and has a notably longer nozzle that only allows for a deep insert fit.

It’s a strange decision considering the Asian versions of the MkII IEMs are all made with Legend-sized shells. The first time I put B2 in my ears I immediately knew fit would be an issue. Now, fit is a very personal thing, and I admittedly have smaller ears (with smaller canal openings) than what your average American lumberjack must have, because the smallest (SS) E-Type tips just about managed to sneak into my canal and felt somewhat comfortable, while my regular (MS size Sedna and Spiral Dot) tips put intense pressure on my canal opening and made the shells dangle awkwardly from my ears.

That’s all I’ll say about the fit, given many people won’t have any issues with it and considering how well the Odin was received, but it’s something to note if you found Odin too bulky or deep fitting. I likely wouldn’t have said anything if I had the original Asian version for review, but I can only write about what’s in front of me.

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Let’s move on

If you’ve read this far, you already know that Empire’s most affordable luxury IEM is built as well as its flagships and comes with the same premium set of accessories. It may or may not fit as well as some of the others, but chances are it will, so all good there.

By most accounts, B2 bears little resemblance to the first iteration of its namesake. For one thing the driver configuration is completely different, with a pair of brand new premium electrostatic drivers joining the new Weapon IX+ (9+) subwoofer to reinforce B2’s formidable sonic firepower. In fact B2 has twice the number of drivers, but is only marginally more expensive – that’s what I call an upgrade.

The overall tuning also seems to be slightly different (if I’m reading Crin’s graphs correctly), taking on more midrange, upper midrange and mid-treble energy than the original, in line with what seems to be Empire Ears’ tuning shift towards higher-energy, higher-clarity sound. It’s not a change I’m entirely fond of (as you’ll gather from the sound impressions below), but at the same time I can understand the popularity of this type of tuning, and it’s not disagreeable with the right type of music.

Speaking of tuning, what you’ll hear can and will be influenced by the tips you choose. B2 is the first IEM I’ve used – ever – that makes sense to me with the E-Type tips. Not only are they very comfortable (even though I object to the deep fit), they attenuate the mids and treble to the point where any harshness in those frequencies is mostly mitigated. Using Sedna or Spiral Dot tips, for example, exposes the brighter (and shall we say less refined) upper frequencies, making some tracks sound rougher around the edges than they should. So my tip with B2 is to stick with the stock tips (and repeat that last sentence ten times just for fun).

As per usual with Empire Ears you get a smorgasbord of modern tech with your IEMs, and B2 is no different. From the 6-way synX crossover to resonance-resistive A.R.C. coating and Empire’s proprietary EIVEC e-stat transformer, nothing has been left on the cutting room floor to get the price down.

But sound quality is ultimately where the rubber meets the road. I’ll dive into more detailed sound impressions below, but if you want a TL;DR, B2 has a very fun, rather forward, somewhat steep U-shaped tuning, with bass (that’s BASS) and treble taking centre stage. Vocals are not recessed enough for me to label B2 a typical V-shaped IEM, and depending on the mix you might even hear it as a W on occasion. Make no mistake, B2 is every bit as bold as the name suggests, so if you’re after a laid-back, deckchair type of sound, you might want to look elsewhere.

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Let’s dive in

At first listen, B2 is all about bass. Knowing the Legend X as well as I do now, nothing quite compares to Empire’s subwoofer-like dynamic driver, and B2 has the latest version of the Weapon IX doing bass duty. Of course having the most powerful woofer in IEM-land doesn’t automatically make an IEM a bass canon, but it seems that’s exactly how Jack’s designed the B2.

Out the box the bass is loose and rather flabby, but it quickly tightens up with some extended burn-in (something I’d recommend for any dynamic driver IEM). After a few days of constant playback, the flabbiness is gone, and what remains is a sleek, muscular bass response that unashamedly dominates any track with even a hint of a bassline. It’s a deeper, and I daresay meatier bass tuning than even the legendary Legend, but as I’ll discuss below, it doesn’t have nearly the same level of finesse or control.

Still, I hear the bass to be very fast – especially for a dynamic driver – and very well textured. The intro drums in Toto’s anthemic Africa are thicker and warmer than I’m used to with this track, but also very dynamic and bold, while the bassline that comes in at 2:38 in Yosi Horikawa’s electronic masterpiece, Bubbles, is deep, thick and warm, albeit with a hint of midrange bleed.

Compared to the bass, midrange is slightly dipped, notably the lower midrange where some male vocals and lower harmonic fundamentals are a little muted. That quickly changes as the mids slope upward towards an elevated upper midrange that gives female vocals and upper frequency harmonics much more zing and verve, with the danger of some vocals becoming shouty when poorly recorded.

In Lana Del Rey’s masterful Dark But Just A Game (off her latest LP Chemtrails Over The Country Club), the usually sultry vocals have a slight edge to them, not sibilant per se but ever so slightly glassy, and I suspect the elevated 5kHz and 8kHz peaks have something to do with that.

Interestingly in Chainsmokers’ radio mix of Closer, Halsey’s vocals are slightly more recessed than the lead male vocals, and also in relation to the instruments, except for the upper registers which are sharper and edgier and touching on shouty at 3:29. B2 definitely shows more zing with this track, which should appeal to those who like their modern pop more in-your-face than chillaxed.

Treble, while more elevated than the mids, is done very well, with a fair amount of detail and no real harshness, not that I heard anyway. Also like the mids, it’s not the last word in detail, nor is it particularly articulate, but is nonetheless fairly smooth and nicely extended.

In Heart’s Under The Sky, off their 80s superhit LP Brigade, most of the instruments lean to the slightly thinner, slightly brighter end of the FR, especially guitars, in what’s already a bright-leaning track. Staying with instruments but of a completely different kind and completely different pace, Max Richter’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s Winter 1 is telling in how precise B2’s treble energy can be (in the strings). It’s incredibly fast too, although the bass hits with a slightly bloated weight that masks some of the energy from the strings.

My treble impressions are coloured, excuse the expression, by my personal preference for a smoother treble presentation. I don’t mind elevated treble, but B2’s treble is, on occasion, slightly jarring. I’m not quite sure where this edginess comes from, and I might well be confusing upper-mid forwardness with excessive treble energy, but there’s a zing to the treble not unlike the one I heard with Trio, for anyone familiar with that otherwise excellent IEM. Definitely not a showstopper, but something to keep in mind.

Overall, I hear B2’s tonality as mostly natural, but with a harder edge around female vocals and some instruments. It’s quite a high-contrast sound, not compressed but one that emphasizes contrasts in the music. The upper midrange lift gives it a fair amount of clarity, so you’re not getting a thick, droll sound despite the elevated bass and midbass, and the e-stats take care of the sparkle and air that’s often missing from lesser IEMs in this price range.

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What sets B2 apart from higher-end high-end IEMs is not so much tonality, but technicalities. That’s not to say it fails technically, far from it. Stage is decently wide, but I hear more depth than width, and it’s not what I’d call holographic. Resolution is very good, but details are more macro than micro, and a detail monster it certainly is not. Nor is it particularly clinical or precise; imaging and instrument separation are both good, sometimes very good, but not something I’d list in the honors roll.

Listening to Bubbles, stage depth is actually quite impressive, but it’s not an extremely wide presentation – which this track has in spades with the right IEM. Imaging is good, with easy-to-place effects, and I’m not struggling to tell the various ‘ball’ effects and synths apart.

Switching lanes, Heidi Talbot’s catchy folk tune Cathedrals shows up B2’s lack of absolute resolution. This is a simple track, with a simple melody, yet richly nuanced and layered, with a massive, dynamic bassline and heart-wrenching vocals. Detail is down a few notches here, and the vocals are notably more recessed (except for the sharper upper registers). Vocals are also edgier, and not quite as sweet as I know them to be.

Overall, there’s not much to say about B2’s technical acuity other than it’s very competent and pretty much at the level I expect it to be given the combination of quality drivers, tuning and placement in the lineup. Which is to say, it’s better than what I’d expect from many IEMs in this price range, and certainly better than what I’ve heard for less money, but it’s not going to challenge the kilobucks at this year’s technical excellence awards.

Let’s compare

I don’t have any other IEMs in the $500 - $800 price range to compare it to, so my entry-level daily driver (the BLON BL-03) and TOTL kilobuck (the Legend X) will have to suffice. Of course this isn’t a fair comparison, but it should still give us a good yardstick on how B2 sounds compared to known quantities, especially if you’re familiar with said IEMs.

Starting with the BLON, I keep it as a daily driver for one reason and one reason only: it has almost pitch-perfect tonality for my preferences. I’m not even going to mention technicalities here; B2 easily eclipses the BLON in every technical metric except, oddly enough, stage width, which for me is part of the BLON’s magic formula.

Neutral with bass boost is a generic description of the BLON’s tonality, but that’s exactly what it is. Comparatively speaking, B2 is slightly warmer, punchier, edgier and more dynamic. BLON is more easygoing, with an articulate bass response that’s more sub-bass than midbass focused, with even and natural mids, and a relaxed treble that’s never sibilant or harsh.

Strange as it sounds saying it, BLON is far closer to the Legend X in its tonality than B2. In fact I’d sooner call the BLON a baby Legend X than I would the B2. I’m not sure what the B2 is a ‘baby’ of, but it’s not the Legend X.

Compared to the Legend X, B2 is bolder, more bashful, less nuanced, less balanced. It can get rather aggressive at times, whereas the Legend is almost always measured and very composed in its delivery. Subtle is not something B2 does well, whereas for all its power Legend X is equally adept at rendering music with a featherlight touch.

The biggest difference with Legend X, though, is technicalities. While the B2 is, technically speaking, a very capable IEM in its own right (as it should be given its price point and heritage), it can’t really compare with the technical acuity of its older and far more accomplished sibling.

Nor does it need to, frankly. In my opinion these are two quite different IEMs designed with different audiences in mind, and can actually be complementary in a collection if you’re into both types of signatures.

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Let’s wrap

So where does all this leave us? I’m still finding my way around Empire’s design and tuning philosophy, and in B2 I now have a very different, contrasting experience to the one I had with the Legend X.

It’s no secret I prefer the Legend X – in fact it’s not even close – but given the $1400 price difference and years of fine tuning and refinement that went into the Legend’s design, that’s not really surprising.

Despite the differences between the two, there are some crucial similarities. The package, build quality and accessories are second to none. Seriously, Empire Ears is right at the top of the tree when it comes to making you feel special about an IEM purchase, and the personal service and communication I’ve had with @Jack Vang and @JoshWatkins from halfway across the world has been my best experience in audio thus far.

From a functional perspective, both IEMs sport Weapon IX drivers, so both are equally hard to drive. Whereas the BLON is easily driven by the powerful HiBy R8 in low gain mode sans Turbo, I’m regularly setting the R8 in high-gain Turbo mode using the 4.4mm balanced output for both Empire Ears IEMs.

Sure you can drive B2 from a phone, but you’re not going to get maximum sound quality or control without a decent amp. It also scales nicely with better sources, and although I don’t see the point of driving IEMs with desktop amps, I’ve heard from many users who have done this successfully.

B2 is made with same care, using the same DNA, as all of Jack’s creations. It has an accessible, modern music-friendly sound, and even if I don’t personally think it’s squarely in my lane when it comes to tuning preference or comfort, the margin of difference is small enough for me to recommend it unreservedly.

If you’re looking to take the next step up from a cheap(er) Chi-Fi clone that’s been expertly crafted, want a warmer take on neutral that also satisfies your inner basshead, or want an IEM that isn’t afraid to let loose with some seriously dynamic, speedy sound, you’ll find it in this newly-revised but altogether new take on the ‘Bravado’ sound.

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SBranson
SBranson
I just got these and agree mostly with what you've said about the sound. I was pleasantly surprised by these as I owned the original Bravado and these are a very big step up from that version..
Also as one of those "lumberjack" types who wears size L tips, I love the larger size and longer nozzle. Suits me perfectly..
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gLer
gLer
I wish I had lumberjack ears. I'd never need customs.
O
obende63
Thank you for your review.How do these headphones compare to Valkyrie?Thanks.

TomKorn

100+ Head-Fier
Empire Ears Bravado MKII (2021)
Pros: - Warm, engaging sound with a lots of detail and good stage
- Impactful but not overdone bass
- Scales well with source and recording quality
- Well made, attractive IEM and cable
- Very good price-/performance ratio
Cons: - Slightly artificial upper midrange and treble (still on a very high niveau)
- Rigid cable
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Intro

Empire Ears are opening 2021 with some new and exciting products. One of them is the BRAVADO MKII, the next iteration of their best-selling IEM. At a retail price of $799, it marks the starting point of their entire collection. This is a markup of $100 over its predecessor.

The reason why is quickly explained: While the original Bravado had 2 drivers to get the job done, the 2021 model is way more complex being a 4-driver tribrid design.

The BRAVADO MKII belongs to EE’s X Series which is mainly targeted at consumers rather than professionals. Those are covered by EE’s EP, or Empire Professional Series.


Specifications

4 Driver, Tribrid IEM Design:
  • Universal in-ear monitor
  • 1 Next Generation W9+ Subwoofer - Sub-Bass/Bass
  • 1 Proprietary Balanced Armature Driver - Mid
  • 2 Premium Electrostatic Drivers - High, Ultra High
  • 4-Way synX Crossover Network
  • EIVEC - Empire Intelligent Electrostatic Control Technology
  • A.R.C. Anti Resonance Compound Technology
  • Impedance: 4.0 Ohms @ 1kHz
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 100kHz
  • Sensitivity: 99dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • Handcrafted Alpha-IV 26AWG UPOCC Copper Litz Cable
Disclaimer

My review consists solely of my own thoughts, opinions and impressions of the product. I paid for the tested product, it was not given for free. All pictures were taken by myself unless stated otherwise.


Review gear

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Burson Audio Conductor 3X Reference (main testing source)
Astell & Kern SP1000M DAP
Cayin N8 DAP
Cayin N6 II DAP with E02 module
Empire Ears Alpha-IV cable (2.5mm balanced)
Satin Audio Medusa II cable (2.5mm balanced)


Music selection/Testing playlist

Voices, midrange, acoustic guitars etc.

Tenacious D - Tenacious D - Wonderboy
Marily Manson - The Pale Emperor - Day3
Chris Jones - Moonstruck
Sara K. - Hell or High Water - I Can't Stand The Rain, Stars
Ana Tijoux - 1977 - Partir de Cero

Channel separation

Tenacious D - Tenacious D - Kielbasa
NIN - The Downward Spiral - Hurt
Johnny Cash - The Essential - Ring of Fire
Stephen Coleman - Westworld Season 2 Soundtrack - C.R.E.A.M.

Soundstage, treble, electric guitars etc.

Alice in Chains - MTV Unplugged - Rooster
Korn - MTV Unplugged - Freak on a Leash
Anneke van Giersbergen - Symphonized - Feel Alive
Howard Shore - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Blunt the Knives

Dynamics, bass, subbass

The Diary - The Gentle Storm - Endless Sea |Gentle Version|
Wardruna - Runaljod: Ragnarok - Tyr
Hans Zimmer - Man of Steel OST - Look to the Stars
Hans Zimmer - Pearl Harbor OST - Tennessee
Ice Cube - Raw Footage - Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It
Andreas Vollenweider - Vox - Enchanted Rocks


Packaging & Accessories

The packaging for all Empire Ears (EE) products is more or less the same which to me makes sense, because it shows consistency throughout their whole range. You get a very nicely designed white cardboard box with the Empire Ears Logo and the name or logo of your particular product. It’s not too big or small and radiates class and style. It consists of an outer “slider” cover and a sturdier inside box.

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Once you open the magnetic flap of the box inside you find a compartment with a quick manual and a “thank you” card from EE congratulating you to your excellent purchase :wink: Underneath looms the IEM and cable ready for you to rip out and enjoy the music. A classy drawer underneath reveals an aluminum sheet containing various Final Audio silicon tips to choose from. The great thing here is that Empire Ears not only gives you the standard S, M and L sizes but XS, S, M, L and XL instead, which simply gives you a wider range of tips to match to your ears.

As my ear-canals are slightly different in size, it makes it easier for me to get a good fit. However, I would have wished for a selection of foam tips as I generally prefer foam over silicon. The included tips work well though.

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Last but not least you get EE’s phantastic Pandora case, a black aluminum capsule to safely transport your precious in-ears. It’s built like the proverbial tank and is engraved with Empire’s logo and the name of your product.


Build quality & Fit

IEMs

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The build quality of the BRAVADO MKII is excellent, just as it is with any of EE’s in-ears. I actually haven’t seen any difference in build quality from their entry- to top-level products to be honest. To me, that’s simply a sign that they make no compromise in quality no matter the price. I like that!

The new BRAVADO MKIIs are black with gold logo and some sparkling gold dots on the faceplates. The design update is rather subtle and that’s just fine. I have seen some early prototypes of the MKIIs with a very flashy, daring design that I did not like very much. Apparently I was not the only one and Empire Ears changed it for the final product. The BRAVADO MKIIs went through several iterations design- and soundwise as EE took the feedback of their alpha- / beta-testers to heart. To me personally, as a user experience designer, this is a philosophy that makes this company very sympathetic.

Fit and comfort, at least for my average sized ears is good with rather long nozzle enabling a good seal. Hence the IEMs do not sit flush in my ears but stand out a couple of millimeters, which is no problem for me.

Cable

EE are using a variation of Effect Audio’s Ares II which they call Alpha-IV or simply A4. You get to choose from 3.5mm single ended or 2.5mm balanced. I always go for balanced but that’s my personal preference. It’s a beautiful, classy and well made cable and I particularly like the sleek connectors and super small y-split. Yes, that cable looks gorgeous in my opinion.

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What I don’t like so much is the rigidness of the cable. I have mentioned this several times in previous reviews as for me, flexibility, especially for an IEM cable, is an important factor of good usability. I clearly prefer softer, more flexible cables. However, cable noise is at an acceptable level / no issue. Soundwise I have no complaints whatsoever. It’s a good cable.


Sound

Now what can you expect soundwise from the BRAVADO MKII?

Overall tonality

I consider the overall tonality of the BRAVADO MKII on the warmer side with good impact and detail level. I think the goal here was to create an IEM that will play nice with most popular genres and give you some bang for the buck and bang you get for sure.

Treble

The dual electrostatic (e-stat) drivers deliver a slightly elevated but nicely detailed treble spectrum without being harsh or annoying. Strings and guitars sound like you expect them to, maybe sometimes just a little bit compressed and a tad artificial. But that’s really complaining at a very high niveau. There is enough sparkle and shine to make you happy and despite using 2 e-stat drivers, the overall treble presentation is rather tamed than overly pronounced. There are other IEMs that deliver more detail but at a much higher price.

An important factor here is the quality of the recording as the BRAVADO MKIIs are not very forgiving. Excellent recordings sound excellent, bad ones sound, well, as bad as they are. I did not notice any sibilance at all so you should be able to use them as your daily drivers without a problem.

Midrange

Voices, male and especially female ones are a bit pronounced and nicely rendered with a very slight artificiality in the high tones. The upper midrange, just like the treble, seems a bit elevated putting certain instruments and vocals in the foreground.
I suspect an overall w-shaped tuning here, but can’t confirm that with measurements.

Bass/Sub-bass

Once more the excellent “Weapon-9+” subwoofer is providing the necessary foundation for an overall engaging and pleasing sound.

I am listening to Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra and the sub-bass is providing the necessary warmth and depth to make those relaxed sessions a pleasure to listen to. Switching to Ice Cube’s “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do it.”, the BRAVADO MKIIs punch hard and deep so I can feel the baseline rather than just hear it.

The bass is not overblown but rendered with a certain level of control. Of course, it’s not as massive as with Legend X or as well controlled as on the Odin, but very very enjoyable.

Soundstage

The soundstage seems to me above average. Live recordings sound spacious and you will actually be able to enjoy the “live” experience on the BRAVADO MKIIs. The stage appears more wide than deep. All in all pretty nice for the asking price. I think I am starting to see that this universal IEM is quite universal in terms of music genres too.

Channel separation/Instrument separation

Channel separation is good, slightly above average. Instrument separation capabilities very much depend on the recording quality here. I stated before that the BRAVADO MKIIs playback will simply represent the recording be it good or bad. Nothing added, nothing taken away.

Neutrality

The BRAVADO MKIIs are once more not neutral sounding IEMs as is none of the X-Series products from Empire Ears - and that’s ok, that’s the idea: Get some emotions out of your music because listening to music is all about emotion. (At least for me)

Amplification/Matchability/Scalability

The BRAVADO MKIIs are a bit of a special case I think. Their performance very much varies with different sources and the recording quality. Also they scale well with the rest of the equipment. I dare say that, with the right source, they can punch way above their price point. So when you try them, make sure to try them with different sources if possible.

A very good match is the combination with my Burson desktop DAC/Amps which I mainly use for reviews as I consider them neutral and well balanced.

Cayin DAPs will get you more warmth and bass and seem to have a good synergy with the BRAVADO MKIIs. (And with most of the other EE IEMs I tested). Treble is particularly smooth and detailed here as well. Going from N3pro to N8 shows how the BRAVADO MKII can scale. Color me impressed!

I did a little cable-rolling as well and switched from EE’s Alpha-IV cable to Satin Audio’s Medusa II (259,-$) mainly for usability reasons. It seems a little experimenting on this side could be rewarding too.

As of the time of writing this review, the BRAVADO MKIIs still have below 10 hours of usage, so I will give them a bit more time for either my ears to adjust and/or the IEMs to burn-in, however one might prefer to call it.


Comparisons

Shozy Black Hole ($799)

I am comparing those two for one reason only: the same price. In fact, those are so different that it’s hard for me to compare them at all, but here goes…

Tonality and sound signature could not be more different due to the very different designs: The BRAVADO MKIIs a 4-driver tribrid and the Black Hole (BH) a single dynamic driver (DD) with semi-open-back design. Both are excellent in what they deliver for the money and this one is purely about preference and maybe even the usage situation.

While the BRAVADO MKIIs sound like a very good IEM, the Black Hole sound a bit more like over-ear headphones. While the BRAVADO MKIIs isolate you from the outside world, the Black Hole lets sound from the outside through on purpose.

Treble is certainly more engaging on the BRAVADO MKIIs with their 2 e-stats per side whereas the single DD on the Black Hole delivers a more relaxed treble performance. That is not to say it is missing detail! Detail rendering on both IEMs is pretty much on the same level, just the tonality is a very different one.

Voices tend to sound more natural on the Black Hole whereas the BRAVADO MKIIs have more bass- and sub-bass impact. All in all the BRAVADO MKIIs provide a bit of a warmer sound vs. a more neutral one on the Black Hole. As I said, the overall very different sound signature is making them hard to compare.

Personally, I use both in-ears in different situations, depending on my mood and the use case (on the go vs. sitting at home, studio recordings vs. live recordings etc.) So in the end, you will need to test and decide yourself, I can’t possibly make a decision here as both are very good options in their own right - one is not better than the other per se.


Verdict

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I wish I had the original Bravado to compare to and see if/how EE have improved upon their best selling IEM. Unfortunately, I could not get my hands on one although I really tried. So I’m left with summing up my experience with the BRAVADO MKIIs.

From a technical standpoint, I think it’s impressive what Empire Ears have crammed in this IEM for the price. Yes, it’s 100$ more this time around, but there’s a lot more high end-tech in the BRAVADO MKIIs than was in their predecessor.

Fortunately, the technology goes to good use here making the BRAVADO MKIIs another price-/performance champion, just like its older sibling. You get a very good IEM with little limitations that has lots of potential to scale as you upgrade your gear along the way.

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L
Lu Mazzmarill
So no hisses or any other noise even in balanced?
TomKorn
TomKorn
With Conductor 3XR there is some background noise floor as the low gain still has too much power. This amp /dac is not made for in ears though. On the Soloist 3XP no or very little noise in balanced using a 2.5mm to 4 pin XLR adapter.
On all devices no hiss though.
O
obende63
Thank you for your review.How do these headphones compare to Valkyrie?Thanks.
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