Empire Ears Valkyrie

General Information

The Valkyrie is the energy of a live performance distilled into an in ear monitor. A rich and tight low end drives a listening experience akin to being in a crowded arena with your favorite band. The crisp and detailed highs are airy with enormous treble extension while the mids are lush and ripe with clarity. With the Valkyrie you hear everything and feel everything. Valkyrie is a tribrid IEM, meaning it utilizes dynamic drivers in the form of the Weapon IX subwoofer for the lows, a balanced armature driver for the mids, and an electrostatic driver for the highs. These three technologies are precisely controlled via a 4-way synX crossover network and our new proprietary EIVEC technology - Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control, for a seamless sound signature across a substantial sound stage. The Valkyrie comes standard with an Effect Audio Eros II bespoke cable.

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Pros: Most fun CIEM I have ever heard with best bass and treble implementation. At top TOTL tier performance levels at half the price.
Cons: Not the widest sound stage
The Most Fun CIEM Ever!

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For those that don’t know me, I have been hosting numerous TOTL CIEM and cable tours on Head-Fi in the US for the last several years now including most of the top manufacturers ranging from moderately expensive to very expensive options. This has allowed me and my tour participants access to hear some of the most incredible mobile audiophile equipment in existence. Even in the few years that I have been managing these tours, I have seen significant advances in technologies and performance to the point that it is rare to hear any product at this level that I do not like. They are all different in signature appealing differently to different people, but they are pretty much all very good at this point. While most purchases from my tours are safe purchases, at this price point it is very important to have a way to hear an assortment so that you can dial in your preference and make the correct purchases. Therefore, when I say that the Valkyrie is the most fun CIEM that I have heard, this is based on a significant comparison…as well as my preferences of course.

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The Valkyrie has given me a “Sugar Tooth”
What makes the Valkyrie so special and so much fun is the gobs of TOTL audiophile goodness that it offers in both its dynamic bass and electrostatic treble presentation. Hands down, this has the best bass and treble that I have heard for my preferences. While it is not the widest or the most balanced presentation for technically perfect audiophile performance, once you hear this signature, it is very hard to go back to my other vastly more expensive CIEMs as I am addicted to that sugar. While I have better performers like its big brother, the Empire Ears Legend X, moving to the X makes me feel like I have to leave an extremely fun party with all my friends to put on a suit and tie and behave myself quietly at the opera. The whole time at the opera, I am thinking about how I am going to get back to the party. That is the Valkyrie experience.

Valkyrie’s Configuration

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As can be seen in the graphic above, the Valkyrie is a three-driver CIEM. It uses one dedicated dynamic Weapon IX subwoofer for the lows - that to my ear is dialed in at about 60 hertz for a colder signature focusing on driving the bigger boom and rumble down under with extraordinary results. The most pedestrian part is the single BA used to drive the mids. Then it uses an electrostatic (EST) driver to offer the best treble I have ever hear in a CIEM other than its other much more expensive sibling, the Wraith which uses 4x EST. While tribrids (use of dynamic, BA, and EST technology in one CIEM) are all the rage now with EST technology abound, I would have to say that Empire Ears implementation is the most striking and satisfying that I have heard. It is the closest to the Stax 009 SQ that I use as the pinnacle to judge all other electrostatic implementations.

From Empire Ears:

“Valkyrie owes much of its energy and impact on the listener to Empire's newest technology, EIVEC, Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control. Through EIVEC we've managed to bring the three separate driver technologies into perfect harmony. Electrostatic drivers have remarkable capabilities but have a tendency to drown out their dynamic and balanced armature counterparts. Using EIVEC, the EST in Valkyrie delivers a crisp and detailed high end that blends seamlessly with the rest of the sound profile of tight, rich and natural lows from the Weapon IX dynamic subwoofer and lush mids from the balanced armature driver.”

Technical Specifications
For those audiophile geeks out there, here are the official specifications from Empire Ears:

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This simplified design is offering all that sugary goodness:

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EROS II Cable
While the stock cable is typically an afterthought and quickly replaced, this is not the case on the Valkyrie. After a bit of cable rolling, I found that this was the best pairing imaginable which is quite the statement given my assortment of very high-end cables that I compared it to. On closer inspection, this is not just a very pretty cable, it is actually a fairly expensive premium audiophile cable made by Effect Audio with a market price starting at just under $300. Even more important, this is a hybrid cable with separate strands of both copper and silver to offer the strengths of both. This is a very premium option from a premium cable manufacturer. No wonder I couldn’t beat this pairing with my other more expensive options. More on this later in my pairing section.

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From Empire Ears:

“Every Valkyrie in-ear monitor includes a bespoke, handcrafted Eros II cable by Effect Audio. The Eros II boasts a proprietary blend of 26 AWG UPOCC Litz Copper and UPOCC Pure Silver wire with ultra-flexible insulation for maximum signal speed transmission, performance, and ergonomics. Each cable is terminated in an ultra-durable 3.5mm, 24k Oyaide gold-plated right-angle plug. Alternatively, for our audiophile clientele, we also offer 2.5 and 4.4 balanced terminations at no additional charge.”

Ordering
Empire Ears has a state-of-the-art configurator with lots of impressive options, but I had to go with the exclusive Dragonhide faceplate that offers easy identification of the Valkyrie for anyone that knows it. While it looks great in pictures, it looks even better in the Arizona sun.

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Since I already had impressions on file, I was able to speed through to production. The impressions were made by Devon herself at CAMJAM a couple of years back and were used to create my Legend X which came out perfect. I cannot remember, but I do think she had me do the bite block for the Empire Ears impressions when she made them as I think I remember being embarrassed about drooling on myself.

Unboxing
As you can see in my unboxing video below, the Empire Ears unboxing experience is premium. I definitely appreciate the aluminum puck case that comes with the Valkyrie which I had Valkyrie’s name inscribed. The fit is perfect as always with Empire Ears and the build is flawless as expected from such a premium brand.


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FIT: The fit offered from Empire Ears is a little more on the smaller side than my other CIEMs providing the most comfortable fit that I have with both the Valkyrie and my existing Legend X. Being on the smaller side, insertion and removal is easier. I would have expected less isolation with the smaller seal, but I have never felt any perceivable difference.

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DRIVER FLEX: On the first try, the driver flex can be disconcerting sounding reminiscent of crinkling food packaging. For those that do not know what driver flex is, dynamic drivers under pressure will move to create an audible sound. So, when you put the drivers in your ears, you hear a crinkle that may make you think that something is broken. This is not the case and is something you just get used to over time. It can also happen when you adjust the CIEMs in your ear or pull them out. It may also happen when chewing.

FINISH: The entire Valkyrie experience is premium. The CIEM is flawless, the cable and the case are premium, and the box is so nice that you are forced through guilt to keep it stored rather than throwing it out. There is a solid premium heft to the CIEMs in your hand assuring you that this is no cheap Amazon offering. This is a CIEM that gets attention from your friends.

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The Legend X Little Brother
Some people call the Valkyrie the Legend X (LX) little brother due to both having an emphasis on bass. While brothers can share a lot of similar qualities, they can also be extremely different in nature as well as I have experienced with my own two sons.

The LX is the more talented and mature older brother that sits front row and center on the first balcony for a perfect panoramic view of the theater with monstrous audiophile bass and a warmer smoother tone. His little brother is at the front center of the first row in the mosh pit dancing and singing with the band of a smaller venue that is much more intimate. It seems like the LX is crossed at something like 120 hertz (a guess) enhancing all bass for a warmer signature while the Valkyrie has a colder signature crossed at 60 hertz (a guess) with elevated energy-enhancing lower sub-bass more for a tighter, punchier response that doesn't flow so much into the mids. This and the excellent EST offer a colder more exciting tuning that oozes details and transparency. The bass seems like it hits harder on the Valkyrie and is warmer on the LX. Both have their own signature work well together. However, I have to say that the Valkyrie is very addictive. It is like a diet of sweet or salty foods that make normal food seem bland. It is hard to go back to the LX sometimes after listening to the Valkyrie requiring time for your ears to desensitize to enjoy the LX again. The Valkyrie is a much more intimate and exciting signature compared to the LX’s more relaxed and audiophile signature with the LX commanding a much larger soundstage compared to the Valkyries greater depth and layering.

Is the Signature Actually V-Shaped?
The Valkyrie SQ description sounds like a classic V-signature given the huge emphasis on its bass and treble…but is it? I would argue that it is a very balanced intimate signature as there is no dip in the mids. The mids are very intimate, striking, and detailed as they are enhanced/layered by the bass/treble. The problem is that the bass and treble is just so darn good separately that they steal the show giving the illusion of a V. To further emphasize the V illusion, the soundstage is very intimate similar to a V-signature. However, the V-signature tends to be characteristically flat and 2D in my opinion and out of focus due to the distortion created by the over emphasized bass and treble. This is not the case with the Valkyrie which has a stellar 3D staging with significant detail in depth and layering. In Seattle in the Pioneer district, there are a series of clubs that are shaped like bowling lanes with a bar by the door that you have to squeeze by to get to the tables behind that which are in front of a stage toward the back. We used to have some incredible live performances there which were extremely intimate with big talent whose names you would recognize. The music was exciting and intense and in your face. There was always dancing in front of the stage as the music was exciting and got you on your feet. While there was some width on these stages, there was much more depth. These bands didn’t have a V-signature, this was just the shape of the stage. The Valkyrie takes me back to these performances.

Pairing Genres
Given its intimate nature, it is surprising that the Valkyrie is actually very good across most genres. It is the best live monitor I have ever heard and great at EDM as you would imagine. But it is also really great across the newer fresher sounding pop, instrumentals, easy listening, classic rock, and pretty much everything else that I throw at it. Specifically, it is most amazing at live, guitar-focused, or bassy music with incredible texturing and detail. If you would want to sit at the front row of a performance, then the Valkyrie is the right CIEM for you. However, orchestra and opera where you may prefer to sit in the upper balcony to take it all in and enjoy the wider soundstage, the Legend X would be the better choice. Staying with the LX comparable, the exciting Valkyrie signature is better suited for energetic music and air guitar that you want to sing along with where the LX is better for sitting down and soaking in the audiophile details while sipping brandy. Just sayin’….

Driving Power adds Scale
As noted in the technical specifications, the Valkyrie has a 3 ohms impedance and a 96 dB sensitivity. While the low impedance implies that it is easy to drive, the lower sensitivity implies that it is not. The truth is that it is both. While it sounds great on my iPhone, some of the harder-hitting notes can fall short while on my 2-watt desktop Burson Playmate, that extra power not only fills out those notes but adds additional dynamics and texture. Even though I am most impressed on my Burson, I spend most of my time on the iPhone given the daytime on the road preference and I don’t feel like I am missing anything.

Scaling Down: As mentioned, the iPhone is good enough to drive the Valkyrie to audiophile bliss. This is great news for road warriors. However, I should point out a few things:
  • Warmup: I find that the iPhone may sputter a bit at first before it is warm which I cannot explain. By sputter, sometimes it feels at first like the bigger bass notes or dynamic or crowded passages are being clipped. After a warmup period on the iPhone, it feels like the Valkyrie is driven better. Please take this into consideration when auditioning a Valkyrie or with underpowered sources, you may not hear it at its best during short impressions.
  • DAPs: Stepping up to my dedicated DAPs, the WM1A and Calyx M, I never feel like the Valkyrie is underpowered or there is any clipping. The Valkyrie sounds full and alive. It doesn’t seem to take a lot to have optimal performance on the road from the Valkyrie.
  • Cable: As I will explain in the cable section, be careful of your cable choice when scaling down. The excellent stock cable seems to be the way to go when playing with an iPhone.
Scaling Up: While the Valkyrie lacks the enormous soundstage of the LX limiting its scalability a bit, there is a significant amount of additional scale you can get on a great setup. The EST is a top-class implementation that will fully utilize the details if you scale the DAC and the dynamic driver shows its best when you add power. The lower sensitivity allows you to use a broader volume range to dial in the sound without blowing out your ears. Turn up the volume until you feel that the singer and instruments are correctly sized for your preferences and enjoy. While the Wraith and the LX – at a significantly higher cost – shine more in this scaled-up environment, for most, the Valkyrie is more than good enough. Again, the biggest weakness of the Valkyrie is that it doesn’t share the incredibly vast soundstage that Empire Ears is known for in its Zeus, Wraith, and LX models. However, if you like intimate as I do, this is your CIEM.

Hiss: Given the low impedance, I am often asked about hiss. However, I'm probably not the right person to ask about hiss as I am over 50 and cannot hear treble like I used to. Regardless, to my ears, there is no problem with hiss on my WM1a, H2, Calyx M, iPhone, or Burson Playmate at 2 watts. The Valkyrie is surprising black in the background even with its smaller soundstage offering a lot of transparency so I am guessing that the hiss would stand out if there was some. Perhaps the lower sensitivity helps keep the hiss away.

Why are my Ears not Hurting from the Pounding Bass?
While I am not a bass-head, I am an audiophile bass-head. This means that I like quality bass, with realistic quantity only. I dial in my volume by turning it up to the point that the bass instruments are right-sized as I feel that bass instruments are the hardest to get right. To me, a typical audiophile flat signature makes the bass sound small, distant, and unnatural. The Valkyrie and the LX are examples of bass done right with CIEMs offering audiophile goodness with natural-sounding bass. The Valkyrie as mentioned earlier is crossed lower for a cleaner overall sound and turned up to natural sizing that matches the mids and treble. While this allows me to listen to lower volumes that would obviously protect my ears, this is such a fun CIEM that it is hard for me not to keep turning it up to get more of its goodness. So why are my ears not bleeding? Why have I not lost my hearing yet? The same question with my LX as neither the LX or Valkyrie has an acknowledged pressure protection system like the 64 Audio APEX.

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On inspection, as seen in the picture above, there is a dynamic driver venting system made of three holes in the side of the shells. For whatever reason, this seems to be enough to stop the bass driver from beating up my eardrums. I have always been aware that many dynamic setups use venting, but even with venting on those, my ears are quickly fatigued…not so with the Valkyrie. While I don’t have any more info to speculate here, I have to say that this is a significant point as I have been spoiled from APEX modules in my other CIEMs that is has kept me away from other more fatiguing designs.

Ear fatigue is not an issue with my custom LX or Valkyrie.

Adjusting to EST Differences
In saying that there is no ear fatigue with the Valkyrie, I do need to mention that the EST drivers do take some getting used to. At first, my ears felt fatigued because the EST signature felt bright. It took 2 days of continual listening to get my head wrapped around the Valkyrie and Wraith EST sound quality. After that, there was no going back. As mentioned earlier, it made my other favorites sound bland in comparison. I was addicted to this EST sound in a way that I knew I needed to own the Valkyrie. The brightness I mentioned was not like any of my truly bright CIEMs that emphasize treble brightness to drive detail, but just a much more significant treble response and extension than I was used to. It was the increased detail that was fatiguing as I had not heard anything like it before. Going back to a BA based treble made me see what I had been missing. Once you hear the EST difference and get used to it, even the best available BA treble just seems inferior.

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Optimizing Cables
In the end, the stock hybrid Effect Audio cable that came with the Valkyrie was the best pairing to my ears. It is a surprisingly good cable to be offered as a standard. While experimenting, here is what I found:
  • Moon Audio Black Dragon ($200): This is my thickest sounding cable of my collection. This one flattened the signature even more fleshing out the mids and even widened the sound stage a bit while softening the EST treble. The resulting SQ was more like the LX signature. Again, this is not better than the stock cable. While I liked the results, I felt that I was missing some of the Valkyrie magic.
  • DITA Audio OLSO ($599): This is a unique oiled copper cable from DITA that really adds to every CIEM that I have paired it with. However, it added a little much with the Valkyrie making the bass too much and created more clipping on lower power sources like my iPhone. It also brought up the treble too much which did change the Valkyrie to more of a V-signature with recessed mids. This is not what I was looking for either.
  • Beat Audio Prima Donna 8W ($1199): The Prima Donna is a silver alloy 8 wire cable that has wowed me on all my CIEMs offer a significant clarity and additional dynamics. However, on the Valkyrie, it is just not a great pairing as it added too much treble and it muted the bass. This was a surprise since it was such as great pairing with my warmer LX, but on retrospect, seem obvious now – don’t add more cold to a cold CIEM.
  • Effect Audio Eros II ($279): This is a surprisingly good stock cable. As a hybrid, it provides the best of the copper thickness and the silver detail to emphasize all the right characteristics of the CIEM. The resulting SQ is very flat and audiophile with gobs of treble and sub-bass detail providing layering for the mids. I don’t have any other hybrid cables currently to compare apples for apples so Eros II has won a place in my heart and will stay on the Valkyrie.
Scaling Source
While the Valkyrie sounds surprisingly good on everything, there is a difference in results worth discussing. Here is what I found:
  • iPhone 6: Amazon HD Music is a new app on my iPhone that has improved my sound quality considerably. From the standard Apple Music app, the Valkyrie sounds great, but better on my better DAPs. The new Amazon app takes this up several notches and gets the iPhone closer to my dedicated DAPs mentioned below. In fact, the music discovery on the iPhone has made it my preferred method to listen to the Valkyrie on the go. Either way, the music sounds full-sized from the iPhone, just more filled out with the Amazon app. But the dedicated DAPs are clearly better overall. I just wish that I had access to the Amazon music app with these DAPs. As mentioned above, the only weakness on the iPhone is that in crowded or dynamic passages there can be some clipping at first. However, for whatever reason, the clipping seems to disappear, and the fullness of the note returns after the iPhone warms up with 15 minutes or so constant playing.
  • Calyx M: The Calyx M is famous for its sound quality implying that the 9018 is responsible. While the stats don’t speak to this, the amp is likely to be the bigger influencer burning up a giant battery in less than four hours to meet that quality output. The clarity and transparency offered in the colder signature of the Valkyrie is expressed in this setup offer more detail than the Sony below. In comparison, I like the Calyx M better than the Sony, but both are great. The Calyx takes the performance up a notch, while Sony can actually be more fun sometimes warming up the signature. An advantage the Calyx has over Sony is that volume slider that allows me to perfect the volume for each song instantly and to play the Valkyrie louder than normal for short bursts.
  • Sony WM1a: The Sony was almost sold earlier this year as it didn’t pair well with my CIEMs until I got the Legend X. Now the Valkyrie adds another great pairing to the list to justify keeping the Sony and its superior battery life and UX. Sony brings an overall warmer signature to the Valkyrie. Sony also brings a girth to the note and more resonance and textures. Right now, Sony gets more time with the Valkyrie than the Calyx simply due to usability.
  • Hugo 2: The H2 takes the experience up a notch with a better DAC and AMP. The pairing is more in line with the Calyx M but on steroids. The bass comes out more, the detail is at another level, and the sound gets fuller. However, as with the M, the H2 brings out the clarity/transparency of the Valkyrie for more of an audiophile sound rather than the more fun Sony. The problem with the H2 is that it is a stack that is not always convenient, so this is not as normal of a pairing as the Burson Playmate which takes it up another notch given the additional driving power if I have to deal with the inconvenience.
  • Burson Playmate: Going desktop, the Burson Playmate is my favorite pairing supersizing the overall SQ significantly and in a fun musical way that crushes the Sony. It should also be mentioned that I am employing the Amazon HD Music application as a source and running it through my Sonarworks True-Fi application tuned to my HD800 headphones that work well with the Valkyrie signature. Playing through iTunes with True-Fi turned off brings down the sound quality noticeably, so some may consider this a cheat. Regardless, the Playmate drives almost 2 watts into the Valkyrie 3 ohms, so the volume stays between 1 to 20 out of 100 steps. This is a lot of volume range for a CIEM as the Wraith topped out a 1 to 2 out of 100 steps. This shows how easily the Valkyrie consumes power due to its lower sensitivity. The Burson employs a Sabre DAC, the 9038, but there is no bright signature here, just clarity and a very meaty textured sound.
Comparisons
As mentioned in the beginning, I have a great collection of CIEM from which I judge all newcomers. Besides having access to all the TOTL CIEMs in my tours, I have accumulated a nice collection of my favorite including – ELYSIUM, Legend X, A18 Tzar, Valkyrie, Hidition NT-6 Pro, A12t, Aether, and Fearless S12. To offer some insight to the performance here, I will compare the Valkyrie to my best below:
  • 64 Audio A18: The 18 is my detail monster and the one by which I judge all others. That being said, it has a variable signature which I have standardized with the M15 APEX module that is more analytical and my OLSO cable to maintain that performance while bring up the bass a notch for a richer character. The 18 has a well-deserved place in the top TOTL CIEM tier and is likely to remain there for a long time. While its perfection quickly impresses, this perfection is also its greatest weakness as it can get boring over time. For this reason, I have collected a range of CIEMs that I rotate to keep my interest high. Compared to the Valkyrie, the 18 has a larger sound stage, better imaging, and a much more audiophile sound…but the Valkyrie is way more fun. The Valkyrie EST treble and dynamic bass are way more addicting. While the 18 tickles your ears with impressive details, the Valkyrie offers these same details in a being there front and center rave party format. The Valkyrie is just way more fun serving a different purpose and getting much more ear time than my 18.
  • Legend X: My X has been my most listed to CIEM until the Valkyrie arrived. Going back and forth, there are two very wonderful signatures that are very complimentary and different allowing both to sit prominently in my collection. The X takes the warmer side of the road making all music fun and rich. It makes mediocre music sound good. However, the dual subwoofers in the X are the star of the show. While they only show up when called for, my tendency is to listen to music that calls for bass when listening to the X because it is so much fun. The treble and mids and soundstage are wonderful as well reminding me of the EE Zeus when the bass is not called for so there is nothing bad to report for the X. However, the Valkyrie bass is dialed down to lower registers and enhanced to larger slam. As mentioned before, this makes the Valkyrie much colder and defined bringing out more transparency than experience in a warmer X signature. The X is more audiophile and wider and softer when I am looking for an evening listening experience, but during the day, the Valkyrie has replaced the X on the road for my active listening.
  • ELYSIUM: The ELYSIUM has the best mids period with a dynamic mid driver. It also has an EST treble setup with a single BA for lows making it a tribrid as well. However, the ELYSIUM and the Valkyrie couldn’t be any more different from the Valkyrie emphasizing the bass and treble where the ELYSIUM emphasizes the mids. In comparison, I would say that the ELYSIUM is the better all-rounder where the Valkyrie is more fun. Like the X, the ELYSIUM is more of an evening listen now that I have the Valkyrie to take active on the go duties.
Concluding Thoughts
I find that about 80 percent of my ear time goes to active on the go listening while I exercise or run chores in or out of the house, with only 20 percent going to nighttime audiophile listening when I get a chance. While I want top audiophile SQ for both types of listening, for active listening I prefer a more energetic signature with more bass to compensate for the noise and distraction and also to put a hop in my step and wake me up. At night for audiophile listening, I prefer a bigger soundstage with a gentler audiophile tuning to pull out every last ounce of detail. The Valkyrie fits the first active listening description the best but can be used for the later as well. The 18 is better suited for the later audiophile listening. The X serves both purposes well as does the ELYSIUM but both at a far greater price tag than the Valkyrie. I think that the Valkyrie nails my needs for active listening and at a comparatively good price nearly half the ELYSIUM’s price. Yet the Valkyrie performance is nearly at the level of these much more expensive CIEMs and better suited for 80 percent of my needs. This made the Valkyrie a “no brainer” for me.
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szore
szore
"Thin", or extended treble???
hornytoad
hornytoad
Me want bad
FullBlownEargasam
FullBlownEargasam
Great review. Thank you. Looking forward to mine.

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