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ngoshawk

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Fit.
Finish.
Good sound at this price.
Solid Bass.
Cons: You will want the Phantom or Legend after this...
Empire Ears Bravado-What’s all the fuss??!! ($599usd)


synX Crossover Technology

Basically, this is a special crossover technology that provides more audio bands per driver. This will allow for lower distortion, Best Signal to Noise Ratio and an Ultra-Wide Frequency Bandwidth. More info about this tech in the following link: https://empireears.com/collections/x-line/products/bravado-universal-in-ear-monitors


synX advantages

synX powered in-ear monitors have remarkably high stereo separation and smooth phase response, leading to more dynamic realistic imaging and staging for both live and studio use. synX features a myriad of other advantages including:

Ultra-Wide Frequency Bandwidth: The ESR produces a super-wide frequency range, offering listeners unparallel sound quality and details that bests even the most high-end headphones on the market.

Best Signal-to-Noise: In order to ensure that all of the industry-leading sound quality is heard in your ears we’ve worked to create a unique combination of handpicked resistors, electrolytic capacitors, and filters in order to ensure the cleanest signal path possible while offering an exceptionally low noise floor.

Low Distortion: Extremely low distortion means that every nuance in your mix will be reproduced faithfully without audible artifacts.

Maximum Signal Transfer: Every driver and crossover is individually wired and insulated with 7-strand, UPOCC Litz wires to eliminate acoustic feedback and further soldered with highly conductive, ultra-pure silver and gold Mundorf Supreme for maximum signal transfer.



Technical Specifications:

2 Proprietary Drivers, Hybrid Design
1 W9 Subwoofer, 1 Mid-High
4-Way synX Crossover System
A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
Impedance: 22 ohms @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 8 Hz - 40kHz
Sensitivity: 98dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
26AWG UPOCC Litz Copper Cable, Handcrafted by Effect Audio



Gear used/compared:

Campfire Audio Jupiter (3.5se cable)
64Audio U8 (2.5 bal cable)
Simgot EM5 (3.5se cable)

Thebit Opus #2
Macbook Pro/iFi xDSD
Shanling M5/iBasso PB3
Questyle QP2R



Songs used:

Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

twenty one pilots-Trench


Unboxing:

Coming in a rectangular black box, laden with the EE wings (looks like the pilot wings I got as a kid for flying, not a bad thing either…), there is a loop used to open the box sideways. Upon opening you are met with not one, but two black draw string bags of differing sizes. One big enough to fit the whole Pelican-style case in and the other small enough to harbor the IEM’s and a cable. A nice feature. A simple quick start guide, and cleaning cloth add to the cover.

Under is the aforementioned pelican-style case wrought with two clasps. Nice and tight. Water-resistant as well. Opening said case reveals a very well protected interior with a foam cutout shaped to keep the IEM and cable protected in separate compartments. A bit cumbersome with the tips on, but it does work. I did find myself getting the Effect Audio Ares II cable somewhat tangled when trying to put the critter to sleep. But the main point is protection, and this is among the best protected I have seen. And the largest case I have seen for an IEM. I can live with it.


Fit-n-Finish:

Made from a singular molded piece, the quality is evident. Even if the black glossy sheen draws fingerprints. This is not the first black glossy IEM I have encountered, and ALL of them draw fingerprints. But that cleaning cloth can come in handy. With a solid 2-pin connection, there is nothing of note to discern the Bravado from the ESR save the slightly more organic curves and dips of the Bravado. Plus, the labeling present on the Bravado as well. The nozzle is fairly narrow and long-ish so fit is good. The Final-E tips are a bit of a pain to draw on to the nozzle, and the isolation, while excellent is a bit disconcerting to me. Almost like gaining altitude in a plane. But, once the music starts, all is forgotten.

I have no qualms with either the fit or finish, both are top notch and what I would expect from a top tier maker such as Empire Ears, and at the respective prices.



Sound extraordinaire:

I listened to the Bravado before the ESR. A big mistake. Why? Well, I like a bassier warmer sound and as a result, found the ESR too neutral for my preference. But, after much listening, I understood the ESR well. It is meant for that neutral, reference taste/sound and as such performs quite well. It is very, very good.

The Bravado on the other hand is meant as an entrance in to the Empire Ears world. Providing a sound, which is more straightforward, with better reach of sub bass (but not necessarily better quality), the Bravado does its job nicely. After my initial listen, I immediately put it up there with my current offering at this price point, the CA Jupiter. Coming at that sound with much different approaches, I liked how the Bravado presented the sound: with a good bit of detail, but not meant to be clarity-king. No, to me the Bravado is meant to present and honest sound, which can be built upon with EQ, or without. Enjoying it that way on the Opus #2/iFi xCAN rig, I preferred having the XBass+ and 3D+ off. The Bravado presents itself well without any additional input, a good sign.

The bass of the Bravado can become quite intoxicating. This is no basshead IEM mind you, but the realism with which it presents itself is a marvel. Especially at the price point marketed. Nicely done, with a bit of rumble, good presence and feel, without bleeding into the mids. What more could one ask for?

Vocal presentation in the mids can be defined as somewhat muted. Pink Floyd’ live version of The Great Gig In The Sky typifies this reluctance to be too far forward, especially during that sublime solo. A stunning voice, presenting itself with reverence for the historical aspect of the song. Follow that with Junior Brown’s deep reaching voice in Just A Little Love, and you get the sense that EE wanted the Bravado to represent music with a nod to nostalgia or history. Junior’s voice penetrates pretty much anything, and still does so here, but not with the authority of other IEM’s I have heard. I do not consider this a fault at all, but a nicely done differentiation from the crowd.

Turning the volume up, oftentimes I have a hard time keeping the volume up due to the harsh way some treble is presented. Nothing of the sort happens here. The drum stroke of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Riviera Paradise can become harsh to me, as can SRV’s impeccable solo. But not here. I raised the volume, taking in full force that sublime solo. Having seen this exact solo four times when he was alive, the song and SRV mean the world to me. This is one of my all-time favorite songs, and he is my favorite artist. Not one thing bothers me through the trio of #2/xCAN/Bravado during this song. I only reach to turn the volume down, for it was quite loud.

Each note, each pluck of string is where it should be as well. Enveloping the stage, you understand who and what is the center of attention as the support flows back into their respective roles, only coming out for their individual solo. A magnificent song presented quite well here. If you cannot tell, I am rather enjoying the Bravado, and do understand what the fuss is about.



Comparisons:

Empire Ears Bravado ($599) vs Campfire Audio Jupiter ($799):

The Jupiter is considered by many (including myself) to be the flagship that started it all for Campfire Audio. Not really a true flagship since the Andromeda followed fairly soon, but the note that set the stage for the others in the line to follow. The mids are to die for. Sumptuous, full, rich and forward the mids make this an intoxicating sound. And just like the U8, it does take time to adjust to that forward sounding mid. But the wait is well worth it. With a bass that supports the sound as well as it can in support, the two are on par with each other. And both are of good quality as well. If you want a bit of soul to your mids, then the Jupiter might just be the ticket. But the Bravado is not far behind.


Empire Ears Bravado ($599) vs 64Audio U8 ($899, B-stock):

The bass on the U8 is amongst the best I have or have heard, period. Deep, rich, voluptuous, voluminous and rumbly; the U8 provides you with that downhome blues bass note. And that is why I purchased it. The overall signature did take me a while to adjust to, as it can be somewhat flat of note. But, once adjusted you relish that deep, dark varnished tone. This is the IEM I reach for when I need my single malt scotch. Not when I want one, no…when I need one. That said, the Bravado provides a very good bass. Not the quantity of the U8, but sufficient enough and of such quality that it can hold its head high, while drinking that single malt.


Empire Ears Bravado ($599) vs Simgot EM5 ($499):

The Simgot comes in with a very good fit. Comfortable to wear and a wonderful cable allow the user to forget about wearing the EM5. With a fairly neutral sound, the bass falls well shy of the Bravado. I would state that the EM5 has a much brighter sound as well. Treble is definitely emphasized and can get a bit tedious at higher volumes or after longer sessions. I do like the simplicity of sound from the EM5, but it fall short of what the Bravado brings to the table.


Empire Ears ESR ($899) vs Empire Ears Bravado ($599):

An inhouse comparison might not be fair, but it can draw one down the road of which Empire Ears travels. As stated already, the lines of EE proceed on different routes. And that is good for each forges their own path. The Bravado’s path is one of more bass quantity and a warmer signature. The ESR is as neutral as I have heard. And, as stated elsewhere many prefer the Bravado for that more personal signature. Vocal treatment falls behind the ESR as one would figure, but there is more of a “feeling” in those vocals. You understand the singer better I believe. You get more personal with the Bravado, and that is all right in my book. So, choose wisely for it may be harder than you think.


Well…what is left?

This is a rather short review, and I will admit that I went more into the esoteric listening as opposed to the analyzation of sound. Not that I’m any good at analyzing sound anyway. But I feel with the ESR/Bravado off-the-cuff thoughts are where it should be. Not bad mind you.

So, from all of this, what should you reap? Heck, what should I store? Well, an initial understanding of a top of the tier IEM company first of all. Second, and probably more important is an appreciation for what Empire Ears does to not only their top IEM’s, which receive a huge following and appreciation; but from their entry and mid-tier. Often times this aspect can be lost when going from one line to another with IEM’s. I won’t mention anyone in particular, but it does happen. They try to trickle down the sound from their top IEM to the mid/lower items. And it just does not work.

Happily, here, EE has not chosen that route (or so I think). Each line up presents their own take on that EE sound. And I am happy to say it works. The Bravado is quite a good unit and could very well replace my current unit at this price. That is about the highest praise I can give.
Tommy34
Tommy34
Both of those headphones you mentioned got decent reviews. I guess it's a little tricky to get the sound I like through planar magnetic headphones. But I'm definitely going to look into getting the Cascade headphones down the road. That one seemed to receive praise, especially in the bass region. I think it's safe to say closed backs are my best bet. But I really do enjoy open backs as well. Hopefully I'll discover one I truly enjoy. Thanks again for your help. Take care!
Tommy34
Tommy34
Oh hey real quick...do you have any experience or thoughts on Fostex or Denon headphones? I heard they offer plenty of bass as well. I was just curious. Have a good one!
ngoshawk
ngoshawk
I had a pair of Fostex T20RP some time ago. Closed back and to me the nest bass of the lot. I did sell them. As for the Cascade, I heard a pair (borrowed time review) and after returning the pair purchased a set for myself. That was over two years ago and I still enjoy them. The bass is really quite good to me.

pali

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Fun. Flexible. Forgiving.
Cons: Driver Flex
Introduction:

Thanks to Empire Ears and Devon Higgins, I was able to listen to the Bravado as part of the review tour. I am no stranger to Empire Ears and their wonderful gear as I own one of their flagships, the Phantom, and I can't get enough of it. Paired the Bravados with DX200 AMP1 so all the below impressions will be from a very neutral and analytical source. Only used them with the stock Ares II cable.

Sound:

Fun (bass): These IEMs got me literally dancing when I had them. The bass energetic and heart-thumping but not overpowered. There is also depth and texture, especially when compared to the Phantom. I especially enjoyed listening to pop, 80's, and techno.

Flexible (mids): Unlike most V shaped signatures, I feel like I can still listen to Jazz on these - the mids take one small step (not one giant leap) towards the back. Listening to Louis Armstrong's Azalea or Chet Baker's September song, I could still appreciate the mids on the tracks. The timbre does not suffer too as they do not seem too artificial. They are not Phantoms but they also didn't make me want to put them down because they sounded artificial.

Forgiving (highs): The highs on these are very forgiving. I tried tracks that I sometimes avoid because of high background noise or sibilance but the Bravados let you enjoy the music without tiring you down with all the micro-details. Don't get me wrong, these still get you all the details but will not really sparkle like 10+ driver IEMS. There are no treble peaks with these, and I wouldn't change it one bit.

Others: These are a little harder to drive than my Phantoms, which I appreciate because of the lower background noise. They do suffer from a little driver flex but nothing a good old ear pulling can't fix.

**I imagine that these would do even well with a silver cable - it should give the Bravados a little more sparkle and also further improve the texture and clarity.

Overall: Warning! These are highly addictive! If you are looking for an energetic and fun IEM that doesn't break the bank and lets you listen to all genres of music without ever tiring you out, the Bravados are THE ONE.

pinkzeppelincult

New Head-Fier
Pros: Powerful bass
Balanced treble
Strong price-to-performance ratio
Cons: Unnatural timbre
Genre pickiness
Introduction

Just to be upfront, this section has little to do with the Bravado. It's more a brief one of those "My Audiophile Journey" essays. It's there for those who are interested, but the proper discussion of the Bravado begins with the Sound section below.

Anyway, back when the best (and only) IEM I had ever heard was the Etymotic ER4PT, I had a punkish attitude: I was a "true" audiophile because my humble reference monitor was objectively better than all the more expensive and colorfully tuned products out there, which obviously were just glorified Beats. I've since grown up: I'm no longer such a glib prat; and I've recently discovered that while I do appreciate and enjoy a well-executed reference product, I greatly prefer a tonally accurate mid-centric signature for everyday listening.

Yet, in a temporary backslide, I fully expected when I signed up for this review tour to prefer the ESR's (hypothetical) refinement to the Bravado's (hypothetical) hooliganism.

The Bravado was all too happy to prove me wrong.

Sound

Presentation: The Bravado comes out of the gate fists a-fly. No chill. Hard in the paint. It's a scrappy bugger that gets in your face and dares you to judge it based on its price point. It reminds me of a skilled teenage bare-knuckle boxer: its bass punch is authoritative; impressive are its poise and technique. However, this spirited, pugilistic attitude does come at the expense of sophistication: the Bravado sneers at the concepts of soundstage and timbre, crippling its versatility. Not that anybody was looking to the Bravado as a classical or jazz specialist, but the Bravado's limits are even tighter: it refuses to play nice with anything that relies in any way on acoustic instruments. Yet, it equally refuses to be outclassed (at its price point) when it comes to EDM, rap, hip-hop, rock, or grunge.

Bass: The Bravado's bass is its distinguishing feature, giving it an obvious L-shaped response. I don't think it will quite satisfy the proper bassheads out there, but it's still a strong, relentless bass, always at the fore. Put something on with a good beat and you'll be up and about in no time. Attack, however, is not particularly aggressive. There's actually very little impact to its bass, just serious volume. I'm no basshead, but even I think the Bravado could use a little more bite. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, as it reduces fatigue without becoming muddy. Decay is satisfying and very natural, perhaps a little to the fast side: even when the bass is whumping away far above the other frequencies, it never gums up the air in the stage. However, fast-moving basslines can still outpace the Bravado, especially as they get deeper into sub-bass. That said, bass extension in general is just fine—mid-bass takes priority over sub-bass, but there's no noticeable roll-off.

Bass texture suffers with the Bravado's timbre, which is to say there isn't any: everything just sounds like bass frequencies, not bass instruments with overtones and all that. Again, this doesn't matter much for synthesized and distorted genres, but it's almost disorienting to hear a string bass as a drone with an utter lack of woodiness or resonance. I don't recommend the experience.

One might say the Bravado's bass bleeds into its mids, but I don't think that's quite accurate. The bass is unequivocally dominant, but it doesn't seem to directly affect the mids beyond drowning them out.

Mids: I'm tempted to begin this section by inquiring, "What mids?" That's not entirely fair, however, because while the Bravado's mids are entirely subordinate, they are neither anemic nor poorly rendered. The mids are tuned more for solidity than utmost clarity, but there's a reasonable amount of detail to both vocals and instruments, and they don't sound inherently veiled even when they're being overshadowed by the bass or treble. All told, the Bravado's mids are pretty unremarkable. They're there, and they do their job: you can hear vocals and guitars over beats—or rather under them—just fine, but don't expect anything exceptional. The mids are just not the Bravado's focus at all.

Treble: Treble is a similar story, but it's more elevated than the mids, though still below the bass by a good margin. I never noticed sibilance where it wasn't already in the track, and the treble never became fatiguing. You can't always hear everything going on with a full drum kit, but the treble is crisp with plenty of detail and a surprising amount of air. Together, these traits make the Bravado's treble almost dry, but a touch of shimmer and sparkle densify the treble enough that it coheres with the rest of the Bravado's bodied signature. The treble gets lost nowhere near as much as the mids, and this contributes significantly to what balance the Bravado is able to present (which, mind, is still not one of its defining characteristics). In all respects, the treble feels correct for the Bravado; one might even say it makes the Bravado: adding polish and excitement to what could otherwise be a blandly loud L-signature without becoming tizzy or obnoxious like what happens with more pronounced V-signatures.

Resolution: Further thanks to the treble, but also due to some deal Empire Ears has clearly made with the devil, detail retrieval on the Bravado, like all their IEMs, is superb. The bass can overwhelm at times (i.e. often) and make micro-details difficult to pick out, but I assure you it's all there. Even more impressive, this doesn't ruin poorly recorded or mastered tracks, which is important considering the Bravado's preferred genres. Transients are pleasingly quick from the mids up, but the bass can smother these as well.

Also, to reiterate, I promise for the last time, the Bravado's timbre is entirely artificial. It has strong detail retrieval, but this alone does not mean you should try using it for music of the classical, jazz, or singer-songwriter varieties, or again for anything else that prominently features acoustic instruments. You should not. Keep to the electronics and the Bravado will thank you, as will your ears.

Soundstage: The Bravado's soundstage is unimpressive but adequate. Fairly wide but neither tall nor deep. Live performances sound like your head is where the microphone should be, which I suppose makes sense but doesn't actually sound very agreeable. Separation, however, is perfectly fine: the stage may be small but it doesn't feel claustrophobic, and you can usually pick out different instruments—if not always their locations—with ease.

Build/Fit

Build feels solid. The included Final Audio Type E tips come in a good range of sizes and are grippy, isolating, and comfortable (although the SS tips wouldn't stay on the left nozzle longer than a couple seconds—also the case with the ESR, but not with the Phantom for whatever reason). The shells stick out a good bit, but the fit was secure: no sharp edges, pressure points, or excess weight. Overall a quality product.

Comparisons

Etymotic ER4XR: Bravado has significantly more powerful bass response and better bass detail, but the ER4XR wins on texture and transient response. The Bravado is much more sensitive and will certainly work with smartphones. The Bravado's isolation is not as good as the ER4XR's. Its detail retrieval is close but falls just short of Etymotic's titan, especially when the Bravado's bass is busy dominating the treble. On a similar note, the ER4XR is more balanced: a slight V compared to the Bravado's distinct L. The Bravado has far better separation. The Bravado is more danceable but less goosebumps-exciting, especially with vocals. Neither have a good soundstage, but the Bravado's is slightly better, as well as its imaging and separation.

Pairings

Sources

iBasso DX200 (Amp 1)
: I suspect the hyper-transparent, slightly cold Amp 1 is partly to blame here, but this pairing was not ideal. It gives the Bravado a bit too much freedom, making it sound raw and uncouth, shouty and unbalanced. Other amp cards probably patch this pairing up, but I don't own any at the moment, so all I can say is that Amp 1 is no good.

Audio-Opus Opus #2
: The difference between this and the DX200 is subtle, but the Opus #2 makes some important improvements. Its touch of warmth greatly improves the Bravado's timbre and moderately improves the balance without stripping the Bravado of its character, and detail retrieval, soundstage, and imaging are all (slightly) superior to that of the DX200. The DX200 lets the Bravado run wild, but the Opus #2 gives it a soothing touch that makes it much more pleasant company.

Cables

Effect Audio Ares II 8-Wire: An interesting pair-up, but not a particularly good one. The 8-Wire noticeably improves all technical abilities of the Bravado, but it also weights it even further towards the low end, both by pumping up the bass and airing out the treble. For me, it upsets the balance and PRaT more than the minor improvements in soundstage, etc. are worth. The Bravado is already not a particularly versatile monitor, and the 8-Wire seriously exacerbates this problem. Nor does it bring the Bravado into proper basshead territory. I'd advise against this one (and perhaps the included Ares 4-Wire as well in favor of something more neutral).

Conclusion

It would be easy to read the above and think that I dislike the Bravado or recommend against it. That is not the case. The Bravado may not be my own ideal monitor, but I can appreciate what it is good for. And what it's good for, it is indeed excellent for, especially for its mid-fi asking price. However, I do caution the prospective buyer to make sure that they will be able to take advantage of the Bravado's strengths and allow its weaknesses, which means a library consisting mostly of genres seriously intended for powerful—but not truly overpowering—bass. No, it isn't good for much else, but if your music is appropriate, I can heartily recommend the Bravado.

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