Empire Ears HERO

KuroKitsu

Headphoneus Supremus
Empire Strikes Back Pt 1.: The HERO
Preamble:
I had pretty high hopes for the Hero between: the marketing of it having DNA from the LX and Zeus and Jack Vang & Jude calling it an Odin Jr. Plus the price bracket it was aimed at, if it meet those claims would blow CFA out of the water and establish a place for Empire. Anyhow, I was HYPED for Hero, plus I didn't have any rich uncles or organs to sell for the Odin so if anything, the Hero would be the one entering my stable.

Design + Testing stuff:
I spent a bit of time looking at the shells as I got my tips on, and swapped out the 3.5 mm cable (from a prior demo) for the stock one in 2.5mm because I refuse to use the 3.5 on my WM1A. The shell is pretty thick, but par for a hybrid and the shape is a bit closer to the semi-custom shape that plays well with my ears. Still no lip on the nozzle and they're rather short, so a couple points docked there.The faceplates seemed a lot less appealing in person than in photographs for some reason and felt a bit cheap to me, but not a major issue since it's Empire. The stock cable was confirmed to be an Aries II with the Vogue hardware and some Empire branding by Jack Vang when I commented on it, oddly enough the feel of the cable seemed more like the Vogue series copper than the Aries II. Fit was really good, par for the course for Empire (excluding the Zeus R), good seal. Wasn't hard to drive, 55 on my 1A with low gain on the balanced, so far so good, par for the course with hybrids and tribrids.

Preamble Pt2:
My impression of the Hero having the DNA of the LX and Zeus was that it would put the best from the each and put that together in one franken iem (Cue Jack and Dean cackling about how the Hero is alive when they finalize the tuning) and it does that.... to an extent. Similar to the Phantom's bass and treble being an improvement of feedback from the Zeus, it does that, but doesn't really hit the bullseye and ends up in the vicinity. Then there was the Odin Jr claim, which was interesting considering the lack of estats on the Hero, could BA's really compete with well done ESTs? (Tia says yes). Before hearing the Odin, I could see that vein seeing that the Hero was tuned in the way of their house sound and the Hero really followed that to a T. After hearing the Odin, it becames emphatically no. The Hero and Odin are completely different signatures with the Hero being more of a mini Zeus than anything else.

Bass:
Subbass extension is sublime, the W9+ shows its chops and this addresses the biggest issue I've had with the Zeus being subbass anemic. I do wish it was slightly more prominent than it sits.The midbass has plenty of slam and impact and isn't shy about it, however it ends up being bloated and I heard some bleeding into the mids where midbass was a prominent feature of the track. As a whole, they're significantly more controlled than the LX's dual W9s, but still bleeding, this was either a tuning choice or how the W9+ was engineered (Clearly post Odin, this was the former than the latter). It ends up being a compromise being the bass cannon of the LX and the anemic subbass of the Zeus whereas I was expecting a controlled bass (This instead made it to the Odin, which I'm certainly not complaining).

Mids:
The mids are interesting, they're reminiscent of the Zeus's astounding middrange and you can hear an echo of it in the tunning. One of my complaints about the Zeus was the stage was some times too expansive and some tracks felt like there was a lot of space for certain tracks that couldn't take advantage of that or just needed a smaller stage.Hero's mids dials that down to a more reasonable size where it can handle both with ease, though at the opposite expense of resulting in more spacious tracks feeling just slightly squeezed for space. An acceptable compromise. Another issue with Zeus was with how forward the mids were, they could end up fatiguing for more extended listening sessions. Hero ends up taking a step back, the mids are slightly forward so that they're always clear but never to the point of fatigure, similar in vein to the Athena in the previous Olympus series. All in all, the mids really can't compare to the 6 BA's allocated on the Zeus, but it improves all the issues I had with the Zeus mids and that sounds like the "DNA of Zeus" that they seem to be alluding to despite my wildest fantasies in the extreme. Well done Empire.

Treble:
A lot of people seem to be finding the treble bright, I assume it's fit related, but I had no such issues even with the stock cable. While it ran close to the edge for me, it never crossed that line. Overall a huge improvment from the LX treble (Feels non existence once you've heard the dual W9s for the first time) and a big improvement of the Zeus treble being overly bright for certain tracks. I actually listened multiple times to the Hero on the tracks where Zeus had bright treble to make sure and I just couldn't here it. The treble seems to line up to my expectations of the "DNA" Empire alludes to much more than the bass or mids do. Very very well done Empire.

Conclusion:
When I step back and take a logical take at my notes, it really seems to be more of expectations being so high rather than a failing of Hero. It stepped out to produce a sound in the vein of the LX and Zeus, given it's price bracket and suceeded. The signature isn't my cup of tea, but true to the marketing, it does have the DNA of the LX and Zeus, it lives up to that claim. Overall it hits that sweetspot between the Zeus and LX at a lower price bracket than both and worth the consideration if you can get a good fit, even more certain is if you're looking for a lively v shaped tuning that doesn't scoop out the mids whilst snapping your fingers, tapping a pen ...etc to the music, the Hero is an excellent fit.

I've been listening to SNSD (Girls Generation for those of you newer Koreaboos) while writing this and my feelings as a fan as they are currently is an apt analogy to how I feel about the Hero. Been a fan since their debut and was pretty sad that they lost a couple of members, SNSD will always be the original nine to me, but as long as they continue, I will continue to be a fan. It's not the same without all nine girls, But SNSD will always be one of my favourites.
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TomKorn

100+ Head-Fier
Empire Ears Hero: Thor unleashed
Pros: - Engaging, detailed, fun sound with a lot of punch
- Beautiful and well made IEM and cable
Cons: - Slight tendency of sibilance (depending on your gears & ears)
- Cable is rather stiff
Intro

Meet the latest entry in Empire Ears (EE) broad range of in-ear monitors (IEMs), the Hero. At a retail price of $1349, it sits somewhere in the middle of their offerings.

Hero_03.jpg


The HERO belongs to EE’s X Series which is, as far as I understand, mainly targeted at consumers rather than professionals. Those are covered by EE’s
EP, or Empire Professional Series.


Specifications

4 Proprietary Drivers, Hybrid Design:
  • Universal in-ear monitor
  • 1 Next Generation W9+ Subwoofer - Sub-Bass/Bass
  • 3 Proprietary Balanced Armature Drivers - 1 Mid, 1 Mid-High, 1 High
  • 4-Way synX Crossover Network
  • A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
  • Impedance: 17.6 Ohms @ 1kHz
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 40kHz
  • Sensitivity: 105dB @ 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. All pictures were taken by myself unless stated otherwise.


Review gear

Burson01.jpg


  • 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.

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

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 black or 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.

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.

Josh from EE told me that the tips were meticulously chosen for the best sound- and comfort experience through rigorous testing and since I had a lot of discussions with him, I can see that EE are very dedicated to delivering the best possible product to their customers. I could honestly feel the dedication which, at least for me, makes for a good brand experience.

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

The build quality of the HERO is simply excellent. They look flawless with no visible seams between faceplate and in-ear. In the past I refrained from anything IEM related that was not metal. I felt that plastics are just cheap. So when first buying an IEM made of resin, I was dumbstruck, as it did not look cheap at all, on the contrary. Same goes for the HERO. They just look classy in my opinion.

Hero_01.jpg


Fit and comfort, at least for my ears is very good with rather long nozzle enabling a good seal for me. 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.

Hero_02.jpg


What I don’t like so much is the rigidness of the cable. When I first removed it from the package, it took me some time to straighten it out. It’s still rigid and, for me, flexibility, especially for an IEM cable is an important factor. I clearly prefer softer, more flexible cables. I gave the feedback to EE and I am curious if other customers had similar remarks or I am the only one.

However, the cable noise is still at an acceptable level / no issue. Soundwise I have no complaints whatsoever. After all, EE tested A LOT of cables. I saw the pictures of their workshop with I-don’t-know-how-many cables hanging and lying around, so here again, they went through a lot of trouble to find the best match.


Sound

Let’s come to the bread-and-butter now, shall we?

Overall tonality

I consider the overall tonality of the HERO as musical/emotional rather than analytical with very good impact and detail. I believe the goal was to create an IEM that delivers a fun experience across various genres. It’s definitely not made to dissect music but rather to enjoy it.

Treble

Acoustic- and electric guitars sound clear and detailed throughout. I really enjoy the representation as I listen to a lot of acoustic guitar music and rock music in particular. There’s certainly no lack of sparkle and detail for sure. I would describe the treble representation as slightly forward/emphasized. Since I don’t do measurements, I cannot back that impression up with data though.

This slight treble emphasis occasionally leads to a certain sibilance, most apparent in “s”- sounds, depending on the music and source (DAC/AMP/DAP) that is used. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable and sometimes it is. It will also depend on how sensitive a person is in that regard.

Midrange

Voices, male and female alike, are just so slightly pronounced and overall quite enjoyable. The midrange to me seems rather balanced and unspectacular in a positive sense. I don’t miss anything and I don’t hear anything special there, apart from the aforementioned slightly forward voice representation. It’s certainly enjoyable to listen to acoustic/unplugged recordings with the HERO.

Bass/Sub-bass

Thanks to the excellent “Weapon-9+” subwoofer that is also found in the Odin, the HERO naturally excels in this department.

There’s not too many IEMs out there with this kind of impact and sub-bass rumble for sure, making orchestral soundtracks, live sessions, Hip-hop and basically any kind of recording with a good dynamic range a treat. If you’re the kind of person that enjoys just having some fun time without worrying about a neutral representation, the HERO will tick all boxes in that regard. It’s almost on a similar level with EEs Legend X here, being (in)famous for punching deep and hard.

Soundstage

I would describe the soundstage on the Hero as rather average than large. Recordings like Alice in Chains “MTV Unplugged” from 1996 feel like you are part of the audience standing right in front of the stage in a small club rather than being in a large theatre. This gives me a more intimate feeling which I quite enjoy. Listening to Anneke van Giersbergen’s “Symphonized” album, the stage is larger but not huge.
I guess it depends on a person's preferences really.

Channel separation

Channel separation is good, slightly above average I would say. I heard in-ears with a much more pronounced separation making for an almost uncanny listening experience at times (EEs own Legend X for example). Again: this is very much up to personal preference. I personally like the HEROs capabilities in that regard.

Neutrality

The HERO certainly is not an in-ear that I would consider neutral. It emphasises bass and treble but leaves the midrange pretty much untouched making for a colorful, fun experience.


Amplification/Matchability/Scalability

The Hero certainly scales well with the source and is not particularly hard to drive. I would recommend using a rather “warm” source over a more neutral one mitigating the effect of the occasional sibilance.

Going from the Burson to a Cayin N8, in balanced mode there is noticeably more bass and sub-bass impact. Moving to tube-output, the bass is tamed a bit and becomes more civil. As one would assume, sibilance becomes less of an issue here as the tubes do what they’re supposed to do. In single ended (solid state) mode, some of the massive energy from balanced is lost, retaining the same overall tonality.

When I first listened to the HERO on my Astell & Kern SP1000M, I did not particularly like the synergy as the Sp1000M, while being an excellent device, has a tonality that leans closer to neutral than, say, the Cayin DAPs. I guess the Burson desktop DAC/Amp sits somewhere in between. That being said, I did listen with the SP1000M with the HERO fresh out-of-the-box, so no burn-in time.

I did a little cable-rolling as well and switched from EE’s Alpha-IV cable to Satin Audio’s Medusa II (259,-$), just out of curiosity. I don’t want to go into details here, but let’s just say that you can tune the sound of the HERO further to your liking with a bit of experimenting on that side.

As of the time of writing this review, the HERO still has below 10 hours of usage, so I will give it 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 & AAW Pola39 (950,-US$)

The Pola39 at 950$ is somewhat in the price range of the HERO. It features a proprietary 10 mm dynamic driver plus DUAL electrostatic drivers. It features a crazy 10Hz-100kHz frequency range due to the electrostatic drivers. It needs significantly more power than the HERO hence is a bit harder to drive.

The treble is not what you would expect here given the specs but rather soft and silky vs. the much more forward treble on the HERO. Detail retrieval is good on the Pola39 but better still with the HERO. Voices are more pronounced on the HERO too. Both IEMs have a nice bass- and sub-bass impact but HERO just punches a bit harder and goes a bit deeper. I would describe the sound of the Pola39 as more relaxed and laid back vs. the more engaging presentation on the HERO.

The Pola39 is a fair bit smaller than the HERO and also has a more shallow insertion depth making it more suitable for small ears. For my medium sized ears, the Pola39 just disappears after a while making it more comfortable to wear.

Both IEMs certainly have their merits and as often, it comes down to preference or maybe the mood you’re in while listening.


Empire Ears Legend X (2199,-US$)

Switching to the Legend X (LX), there are quite some similarities within the family. The bass and sub-bass reproduction are not that far apart with a slight edge maybe for the LX in terms of impact and tonality. Overall, there’s more bass “foundation” noticeable on the LX, defining the whole sound signature while the bass on HERO is a bit more contained and separated from the rest of the spectrum.

The perceived stage on LX is larger, actually pretty much everything on LX seems larger due to that voluptuous bass elevating everything. Treble on the LX is smoother with pretty much the same detail retrieval than on HERO. There is no sibilance noticeable on LX.

It’s really hard to describe the differences as the basic sound signature is quite similar but also different. The overall experience, at least for me, is superior on the LX. It feels more refined, coherent and effortless which is no surprise given the +850$ surcharge on the LX.


Empire Ears Odin (3399,-US$)

Going to the Odin, this one is just a very different beast from everything else I know.
The adjectives coming to mind are satisfying, effortless, natural. The last bit of artificial tonality is gone, this is pure bliss, really. Yet the inheritance is undeniable.

You get a similar tonality and overall sound signature with HERO. I think it could very well be Thor, the son of Odin. While Thor (HERO) is brimming with energy and enthusiasm and once in a while does something stupid, Odin is just that more well controlled, wise and well matured - it’s perfection. I can almost taste the guitar strings in Alice in Chains “Rooster” on their MTV Unplugged album and it instantly makes me smile.

Again: at 2050$ more, that should be no surprise. Both IEMs are great in their own right and market segments.


Verdict

The HERO is a fun IEM rather than a surgical instrument. Still, there is plenty of detail to be discovered. It inherits some of the DNA from Odin as well as the fun factor of the Legend X. Is it as good as those two? No, but at 1000 or 2000 $ less respectively, I guess that cannot be expected.

The HERO scales well, so “more power” certainly does not hurt and with the right source (and cable), you can pretty much tailor the sound to your liking quite a bit.

Attachments

  • Hero_02.jpg
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riverground

500+ Head-Fier
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)


Hero
(Bēowulf)


_CCZ9297.jpg

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.

HeroFit.jpg

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.


Sound

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.


Conclusion

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.


Sources


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


Tracks

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)

AYAYAYA by IZ*ONE

Hiraite Sanze by Akiko Shikata

Seattle Alone by BOL4

POP/STARS by KDA

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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CL14715

Headphoneus Supremus
Empire Ears Hero
Pros: Price to performance beast. Great technical abilities. Bass is strong and doesn't bleed. Mids are clear. Treble is energetic. Scales well with copper cable and balanced connections
Cons: Treble is lively; may bother the very sensitive. Some tracks may approach sibilance with certain pairings.
Empire Ears Hero (Founders Edition)

MRSP: Universal fit $1349 USD

The Hero can be purchased from the retailers below:

Bloom Audio

Hero6_1200x_aa989e06-9c37-47c9-9db7-3c1666899736_1024x1024-300x300.png

The Specs:

  • 1 Sub-bass/Bass Next Generation 9mm W9+ Subwoofer
  • 1 Mid Proprietary Balanced Armature
  • 1 Mid-High Proprietary Balanced Armature
  • 1 High Proprietary Balanced Armature
  • 6-way synX Crossover Network
  • ARC - Chassis and Components treated with our Anti-Resonance Compound
  • ALPHA-IV (A4) 26AWG UPOCC Copper Litz Cable
  • 105 dB SPL @ 1kHz
  • 5Hz - 40kHz Frequency Response
  • 17.6 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
The Hype:

THE VOCAL LEGEND
Hero is relentless, fierce and unapologetic – a renunciation of rules, preconceptions and
everything that’s expected from it. It represents a tour de force of Empire’s expertise and
craftsmanship, elevating musicality presentation to a level non-existent in its tier. With DNA
sourced directly from Legend X and Zeus XIV, Hero reveres our past to emulate flagship levels
of performance without the flagship admission.
The heart of Hero is a proprietary quad hybrid configuration comprised of proprietary triple
balanced armatures and a next generation W9+ subwoofer. This staunch combination generates
legendary bass response while delivering lush, intimate vocals and supreme detail retrieval via a
4-ways synX crossover network backed by ARC resonance mitigation technology.
Hero’s sophisticated design, proprietary technology and extraordinary audio reproduction
capabilities make it a class-dominating masterpiece.

A HEROIC HYBRID
Boasting two of the industry’s most advanced driver technologies, HERO is truly a standout
hybrid IEM with an uncompromising performance ethos focused on delivering the purest
connection between listener and IEM.
W9+ Subwoofer – Sub Bass/Bass
Our signature W9+ dynamic driver brought serious performance to the IEM world by
combining the breakthrough of an enclosed woofer in a tuned bass-reflex system. Elevating the
W9 design formula to its highest level, the W9+ boasts a larger internal coil diameter, more
linear excursion envelope along with a more capable suspension to handle peak-to-peak
excursion while mitigating distortion. W9+ extinguishes any limits the previous design had and
delivers breathtaking bass on all fronts.
Three Precision Balanced Armature Drivers – Mid, Mid-High, High
Hero comes equipped with 3 proprietary balanced armature drivers to deliver the signature
midrange that the world has come to know and love from Empire Ears.

LEGENDARY CROSSOVER SYSTEM
Genetically dissimilar from the rest of the IEM world, our synX crossover system truly stands
out with countless bespoke methods and technologies protecting it as a unique masterpiece. A
marriage of 2 different driver technologies become symphonized by a unique, proprietary 6-way
synX crossover system designed to maximize performance from each and every driver.

ALPHA-IV
At Empire Ears we believe that an extraordinary IEM requires an extraordinary cable. We’re
proud to introduce Alpha-IV (A4); a premium handcrafted 4 core cable comprised of a
proprietary 26AWG UPOCC Litz Copper with multi-size stranding. The advantage of multi-sized
stranded design within the same encapsulations enables A4 to achieve distinct highs and details
due to the signal transmission speed in thinner cable strands, while the thicker size cable
strands deliver smoother bass and mids.
A4 features a durable, overmolded .78 2-pin connector offered with either a 3.5mm right angle
or 2.5mm balanced termination and improves upon the previous cable design. 2.5mm to 4.4mm
adapters are available here (attach link).

BLACK TIDE
Donning a monochromatic black on white theme, Hero features our exclusive “Black Tide”
faceplate with the classic Empire wings spanned on the right and “HERO” on the left.
“Black Tide” is proudly handmade in the USA.

**ECT** Titanium Blizzard
Hero makes an even more powerful statement, inside and out, with the ultra-exclusive
“Titanium Blizzard” faceplate.
“Titanium Blizzard” is proudly handmade in the USA.

Empire Ears:

Operating from Norcross, Georgia, Empire Ears has created some of the most radical and technically sophisticated IEM’s to date. Founder Dean Vang is an absolute mad scientist of sorts and meeting him in his lab recently, and it was quite the experience. It allowed me to see the day to day operations and the inspiration for what precisely the team over at Empire Ears has set out to achieve. Many familiar with Jack Vang, the VP of Empire Ears, know he is a significant factor in the design, sound, and execution of the final product as well. He often spends endless hours in the lab over-seeing operations and managing the logistics for distributors overseas.

Additionally, I spent quite a while chatting it up with Josh Watkins, who handles most, if not all, of the domestic-related marketing. Fun fact, he’s quite knowledgeable about IEM’s and schooled me on how they are constructed, tuned, and the countless revisions that never see the light of day. All in all, the visit made me appreciate Empire Ears even more so. It is one thing to think you know how the process is managed, but to see with your own eyes, is another thing altogether. The undertaking involved is humbling. Hat’s off to Empire Ears for the unbelievable hospitality. I would highly recommend anyone who is a fan of their work to spend a few hours at their facility, and you will not be disappointed.

Fun fact, the Founders Edition Hero I will be reviewing today was hand-picked for me by Dean Vang. How awesome is that?!

My hard-earned money was spent on the Hero. There was no discount, nor was there a promise of anything in the future for a favorable review. I had the luxury of hearing these first hand , if I didn't like them during my listening session, I wouldn't have purchased them. In writing this review, my honest feelings are scribed. What I hear and what I feel.

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Visuals:

The Hero has an elegant, simple black and white swirl type design but only to the untrained eye or poorly lit photo. In-person, the white in the shells has a deep white, almost layered marble appearance to them. The black swirling in adds depth and contrast that make them pop. I like the look of them a lot more after seeing them in person. What appears to be a simple color scheme, really opens-up and shines when you get to see them up close. Like most of the Empire Ears line, the Hero is made of hard acrylic. The acrylic can be great for resisting annoying blemishes from use but can be detrimental if dropped, so keep that in mind.

They can be strong but delicate if dropped on a hard surface. Luckily, Empire Ears stands behind their product and include the following warranty:

“Custom In-Ears Limited 2 Year Warranty Empire custom in-ear monitors are warranted against material defects and workmanship defects for a period of twenty-four (24) months from the original shipping date or manufacture date, whichever is later. During this period Empire will, at its discretion, repair the defective unit or replace it. Universal In-Ears Limited 1 Year Warranty Empire universal in-ear monitors are warranted against workmanship defects and material defects for a period of twelve (12) months from the manufacture date or original shipping date, whichever is later. During this period, Empire will, at its discretion, repair the defective unit or replace it.”

In addition to the warranty, if you are a complete dufus and bust them up, you can always send them in to be repaired for a fee, of course.


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What’s in the box:

  • (2) Hero in-ear monitors
  • ALPHA-IV (A4) 26AWG UPOCC Copper Litz Cable
  • Metal Pandora case (circular)
  • Final Audio E Type silicon tips (from SS to XL)
  • Cleaning tool
  • User Manual
  • Empire Ears branded stickers
The Founders Edition is limited to 100 units and exclusively includes:

  • Personalized serial number
  • Engraved serial number plate in place of the thank you card
  • Dean Vang's (Founder & CTO) signature on the shell
  • A photo of Dean building the IEM with a personalized thank you signed by the entire EE team


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Review Setup:

  • Fiio M11 Pro (2.5mm)
  • Fiio BTR5 (2.5mm)
  • FLAC files
  • Tidal MQA streaming
Sound:

I tested the Hero on the 2.5mm balanced termination of my listed devices. There were Chord products available for me to use, but after a bit of listening, I determined it was not necessary being predominantly a mobile setup guy anyways.

The first thing I thought of when listening to the Hero was, “Damn… this is good.” There was no apparent sacrifice to achieve what many consider to be “fun neutral.” The holographic-ish soundstage was there, the clear vocals were there, and the plentiful treble was there, but what else was there? One word, bass.

Hero takes bass that is to the likes of the Valkyrie and improves the quality. The bass is executed well. The sub-bass grunt extends to the depths and reminds you there is an Empire Ears proprietary Weapon IX+ inside. The mid-bass is slightly elevated above neutral, but as far as I am concerned, there is no bleeding into or interfering with the mids, so party on, right? I love well-executed mid-bass enhancements because they provide that impact that is natural to many percussive instruments. Without that “feeling” mid-bass delivers, I often feel something is lacking. I understand the audiophile accepted parameters for neutral tuning, but having stood in front of a drumline, neutral and accurate means, you feel it.

The mid-range of the Hero is noticeably clear and present. It may not be the forefront of the sound signature, but it is not sitting back in the mix by any means; it is centered or slightly forward. The vocals just come across as dead-natural and crisp. Male vocals sound on point, and Female vocals sound exceptionally invoking.

Treble, the good ol’ make or break of many in-ear monitors. I am happy to report that the Hero provides enough treble energy and detail to satisfy the treble-heads and avoid harming the sensitive folk. The treble falls right on the line of reference and energetic and sounds like accurate treble should; lively. It is present in the signature, but it is not overpowering the mix, all while remaining crisp and impactful.

Overall, the Hero provides an incredibly unique sound that teeters on the line of reference and energetic, without being harsh or boomy. I perceive a decently wide stage, approaching holographic if you will, with fantastic imaging. Every sound has its place or location and is easily identifiable. The Hero is a coherent in-ear monitor that resembles a W shaped tuning to the likes of many other $1500 to $2300 IEM’s, except it is $1349. This thing can do it all and puts up a strong contention for an excellent price to performance ratio.


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Comparisons:

Campfire Andromeda 2020

Bass is more impactful and accurate with Hero (DD vs. BA). Hero mids are more transparent and more engaging. The treble is a toss-up for me and is dependent upon what you want. The Hero provides a crisper and slightly more centered treble, whereas the Andromeda has a smoothed out but recessed treble from previous iterations. That said, I find the Andromeda 2020 preferable over the Solaris 2020 because of its improved tonality, it is just not quite at the level of the Hero.

Campfire Solaris 2020

The bass on the Hero is deeper and more present while not ruining anything, whereas the Solaris extends deep but often leaves you feeling that some passages were not as pronounced as they should be. The Hero quells that insufficiency. The mids are a hint warmer on the Solaris and a bit more etched but not cold on the Hero. The Hero comes off as more reference in the vocal region, but the lack of coloring here bodes well as you hear the vocalist precisely as intended. The Solaris is not bad by any means, but it is slightly colored for warmth. Sometimes I noticed that warmth and the bumped mid-bass of the Solaris 2020 sounded congested or veiled. The treble of the Solaris 2020 got a nudge back, so it is now less pronounced.

The Hero retains the likes of the previous Solaris models treble but adds a smidgen of flare. Some may perceive this as energetic, but in my view it as just squeezing out the last bit of detail without over-doing it. To be completely blunt, my feeling is they recessed the treble too far in the Solaris 2020. The original Solaris and the Special edition are closer competition for the Hero and will primarily come down to preference.

64 Audio Nio

This is just an odd comparison, but I will put it out there. First and foremost, they sound nothing alike. The Nio is highly capable but smooth and relaxing listen. The Nio’s bass is more emphasized in the mid-bass region, less so in the sub-bass. The Hero has an about even amount of sub-bass and mid-bass to offer. Neither which overpower the mids. The mids of the Nio are smooth and lush while the Hero lean more towards clarity and resolution. Both do vocals supremely well. The treble is more recessed or smoothed out on the Nio, and this is the most immediate difference upon first listen between the two. Just think Nio, soft treble, Hero, crisp, and more present treble. Hero is more oriented towards detail, and the Nio is more for smoothness.

Conclusion:
I feel that the Hero is a solid buy, and in the sea of $1k something IEM’s, it holds its own and even flaunts it’s worth. There are several factors when purchasing in this price range, and it’s tough to ignore how dynamic and well-executed the Hero is. I foresee many jumping from the Solaris train and getting aboard the Hero train. I also see the Hero making the Valkyrie obsolete, but I am confident the crew over at Empire Ears knows that as well. The Hero has better bass than the Valkyrie, better mids, better vocals, and the treble is cooled down enough to be still present but not so polarizing. Oh, and it’s also cheaper.

If I likened the Hero to any other IEM, it would be the 64 Audio Trio. They both possess much detail that presents a W shaped sound that some confuse as “V-shaped.” The difference lies within the Hero having more bass, both sub, and mid-bass, in addition to a warmer signature and more powerful overall sound. The Trio is brighter but softer and feels more open, or maybe elegant would be the word. The Trio is what most would consider the more technically proficient IEM, but I would say to be in the company of the Trio, Empire Ears knocked it out of the park with the Hero at $1349.

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Last edited:
CL14715
CL14715
@npZONE its on the more energetic side of neutral but I’d recommend hearing it before you buy if sensitive. It does not sound as exaggerated as measurements suggest to my ears.
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CL14715
CL14715
@kahaluu hard to say, do you mean small ears as a whole or small inner ears?
kahaluu
kahaluu
I guess it would be small inner ears.
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