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Empire Ears Empire Studio Reference

  • Hardware:

    iBasso DX228 (Mango OS, High gain, Apodizing filter), Fiio 4.4mm-2.5mm adapter.

    I acquired these from a fellow headfier after being captured by their sound at the recent London Canjam.
    They came with a single-ended Ares II cable which I sent back to Effect Audio in Singapore to be upgraded to a 4.4mm balanced 8W. I had bought a second hand 2.5mm balanced Ares II 4W just before the upgrade offer was released so will also be comparing the 4W to the 8W.

    3 balanced armatures with a custom 4-way crossover.
    Frequency response: 10Hz - 40kHz.
    UPOCC 26AWG 2-pin Effect Audio Ares II cable available in single ended and balanced terminations.

    Design and Fit:
    A rather bland and uninspiring form factor. The acrylic universal shell is a little thicker in the midsection compared to my iBasso IT04s. The resultant shallow depression straddling the helical crus means that they protrude a little more and feel less secure in my ears. The short nozzle also contributes to this feeling of relatively shallow insertion. I used the supplied bi-flange silicone tips.

    Playlist: A mixture of 16/24 bit FLAC and DSD256, ripped from CD via JRiver Media Centre.

    Level 42 – Children Say (acoustic version)
    Hot Chip – Hungry Child
    Daft Punk – Voyager
    Goldfrapp – Anymore
    Boards of Canada - roygbiv
    Robyn – Dancing On My Own
    Anden – Walls (extended mix)
    Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer
    Level 42 – Dream Crazy
    Bjork – It’s In Our Hands
    Jo Hisaishi – The Sixth Station
    Imagination – In The Heat Of The Night


    Lows: The midbass is mellow but a little dry. Still articulate though. On Hungry Child I notice that the subbass does not bleed into the mid bass or mids leaving the vocals and keyboards clear. On Sledgehammer the fretless bass loses some texture and timbre. I would say a good example of BA bass overall but lacking a little attack.

    Mids: Overall smooth delivery of horns, keyboards and guitars. Full male vocals and brass. The piano and strings on The Sixth Station are particularly rich. Unfortunately female vocals are sweetened and ever so slightly thin. Not what you want from Bjork or Goldfrapp!

    Highs: Textured and crisp transients but occasionally sweetened. Not particularly energetic or “fun”, though.

    The soundstage is moderate in width and depth but lacks that “out of head” feeling or presence from other monitors (e.g. IT04).

    My notes from listening to the 8W all have the same statements: “increased definition and separation”, “wider soundstage”, “increased channel steering”, “better grip on lower frequencies” but also “female vocals still a little sweetened”.

    Would I buy the 8W over the 4W? Absolutely. If I already had the 4W? Probably, as I am always chasing that ever elusive magical sound shower.

    Summary: I would describe the ESR sound as balanced with no part of the tonal spectrum emphasised over another. A little warm and dry but non-fatiguing to listen to.

    It would be interesting to compare the copper Ares II to a SPC or hybrid cable as I have a feeling that these might cool the sound and open up the soundstage a little more. Stay tuned for that review…..


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