Despite the introductions of the Legend X and Phantom by Empire Ears, the Zeus XR remains the pinnacle of all EE offerings. The XR is unique in that it offers dual signatures; flip the switch down and you get more bottom end (XIV), flip up for a reference signature (R) that would serve professional audio engineers despite its’ slightly forward midrange. Fourteen drivers per ear are married in a proprietary synX dual crossover damper-less four bore configuration using individually insulated sapphire, gold and silver plated copper litz wiring which is stunning to observe through the shell. Driver configuration is as follows: dual low, six mid and six high. An EE proprietary nanotech coating is applied to the internals increasing image: isolation, layering, separation and stage features associated with such properties. The XR operates with an impedance of 21Ω @ 1 kHz/119dB @ 1mw. A two year warranty is included with the purchase of an XR. A myriad of customization options are available to the buyer on EE’s easy to use website: http://www.empireears.com. Your XR will arrive in approximately three weeks from the date of purchase, a rush service is available for a fee. Your Zeus XR will travel through 22 different build stations for a total of 14 hours of labor.
(XIV & R Combined)
(XIV & R Combined)
Overall the XR is mid-centric, slightly warm, smooth and sparkly in the highs and produces thick notes in the mids. It produces extreme detail not through artificial brightening but through complex tuning and technological advancement-a slightly warm yet highly detailed signature with perfect coherency across the spectrum. Bass quantity is moderate-light with the mid bass being the greater and sub bass the lesser-both can be increased by flipping the switch down. The highs sparkle softly, imparting enough detail to the sound so that concert hall reverberations are clear, distinct and uncongested. Both XIV and R are elegant and smooth. The marginally warm tuning combined with the neutral tone results in a good timbre. Zeus XR exhibits noteworthy peaks in the following regions: 1.5K(counter balances 1-3dB bump from 20Hz-500k with slight upper mids bump), 6.5K(increases resolution/crispness), 9K(sizzle) and 12K(smooth sparkle). Others have mentioned they haven't noticed a big difference between the two modes, I didn't find this to be true and I think the difference is more noticeable with higher quality sources. With my Hugo2 the difference is dramatic as the midrange is thrust to the forefront. Overall Keywords: Warm-neutral, mid forward, elegant, highly detailed.
The quantity of bass and forwardness of the midrange are the two main differences when flipping the switch. XIV has a more forward midrange, more bass quantity and impact and has approximately 1-3db more fullness in the 20Hz-500k region. Both XIV and R utilize a tight controlled bass. Regardless of XIV or R mode, the sub bass extends deep in tone. Audiophiles that enjoy a well-articulated highly detailed and contained (in the sense of bleeding) bass will enjoy the low end of the Zeus XR but bassheads may find it lacking in quantity. Bass Keywords: Tight and controlled sub bass, prominent/slightly forward mid bass with no bleed, quality over quantity.
The high end is crystal clear and inoffensive. For me it never becomes harsh or grating. Zeus has a smooth but well extended sparkle, providing the necessary emotion and weight to piano high notes. I do find that the R setting has slightly more sparkle than the XIV setting due to the more substantial bass from XIV and more recessed-than XIV-mids. The upper mids and highs are where a majority of the detail resides. I have never experienced sibilance at all owing to the lower mids being emphasized over the upper mids. High End Keywords: Clarity, clean, quick, non-fatiguing and smooth.
Whether using the R or XIV setting the most impressive feature of the Zeus XR is the midrange. It remains forward regardless of setting with XIV bringing the vocals quite noticeably more forward than the R. Clarity is crystal clear owing to the sparkle. Emotional connection, life-like holographic realism and high definition combine with this clarity for an impressive result. By presenting the midrange forward an emotive sound is created and you feel an intimate connection to the vocalist. Vocals are dense, intimate and with a unique 3D holographic realness that only the Zeus can produce. I have caught myself looking around many times because I was convinced someone was standing behind while using the XR’s. The midrange is the most highly resolving region of the Zeus’s sound irrespective of setting. Lower mids are more prominent than the upper mids, this aids in creating the full sounding midrange, this affect being more pronounced in the XIV setting. Midrange Keywords: Intimate, tall, holographic, epic, silky smooth, emotive, forward, detailed, lower mid emphasis.
Stage, Layering and Separation:
The Zeus XR presents a three dimensional stage that is slightly taller and deeper than it is wide, avoiding the horizontally stretched effect many monitors utilize to create width. The mids are presented in very high resolution and their detail is more apparent due to their closeness to the listener and technical prowess of the XR. The result is a stage that serves not only to create impressive air between the truly three dimensional images but also to impart an authentic realism to the sound not found elsewhere. This 3D effect is most apparent in the vocals where images are heard as incredibly holographic, tall and detailed, it’s as if you could reach out and touch the vocals-an incredible effect that adds tremendous value to the Zeus’s stage presentation.
Images are concrete, uncongested and independent yet blend into a seamless and cohesive whole. Each note emerges from the void and dissipates back into it in a high resolution fashion such that the mind and ear can follow them fully from emergence to dissipation. The high resolution nature of the Zeus increases its’ layering and separation as instruments are more clearly defined as is the space between them. The edges of each instrument can be focused in on and become tactile in the minds eye, there is no confusion as to where one begins in the midst of another and texture is as if each note is viewed microscopically. Most monitors create air with horizontal space, it is much more difficult to do it with vertical space let alone three dimensional space, Zeus is a master of this feat. Stage, Layering and Separation Keywords: 3D, adequate, impressive vocal rendering,. Images: solid, well defined, separate in three dimensions instead of just with regard to width.
Resolution and Transparency
A top of the line transparent headphone should be free of distortion and have a natural tone. These two things among other factors create transparency. Tuning for transparency is often a balancing act between dynamism and naturalism. The Zeus XR has good transparency, owing to its’ good timbre and natural sound. Transparency only improves when paired with a good source, Zeus is truly a monitor that will continue to perform at a higher level when paired with higher quality gear. Transparency is achieved in the XR not just through tuning but through the lack of filters, resistors and dampers. This means that Zeus responds and changes dramatically with regard to whatever source you are using it with and it scales and can scale very high. Expect a dramatic difference if going from something like a typical smartphone to the Hugo2 or SP1000. I have never heard more detail in the midrange than I have with Zeus in either mode. In R mode the vocals take a step back on the stage and the amount of detail in the rest of the frequency range becomes more apparent as the listeners focus shifts with the more neutral linear tuning. In XIV mode the level of vocal and mid range instrument texture is stunning. With regard to detail in the highs and lows, I find slightly more emphasis with regard to resolution in the high end than the lows due to the sparkly treble while the overall sound remains warm. A difficult tuning to achieve indeed. Keywords: Exceptionally high level of texture, detail and resolution especially in the midrange.
The canal on the right side was a bit small which was creating a bad seal. EE requested I send it back, they immediately fixed it and got it back to me with lighting speed. Top notch customer service and now my fit is absolutely perfect and has been verified as such using seal tests.
I much prefer Zeus with a cable that increases the sub bass quantity while leaving the rest of the signature alone. With my Hugo2 the holographic nature of the vocals were taken to another level of realism and Zeus was able to show its’ technical prowess as the king of vocals. I think most will agree that pairing Zeus with a technically competent source that is warm and natural and a cable that increases bass end quantity is a solid recommendation and one I can endorse. I did detect a slight hiss with Hugo2, my phone and SP1000cu but it did not affect my listening experience at all and disappeared was undetectable when the music began.
Zeus XR achieves a more reference audio-engineer style tuning than A18t, suitable for a studio environment while in R mode. A18t’s vocals are firmly between XIV and R mode with regard to stage positioning with XIV being the most forward. A18t has more sub bass impact and quantity regardless of module. A18t has more detail in the highs and lows while Zeus XR creates more detail in the midrange. A18t does not possess the 3D vocal effect of Zeus but counters with a more visceral and impactful sub bass especially with the M20 module. Both signatures are warm and produce fat mid-centric notes with A18t having the edge in note fullness in the lower mids. A18t has the wider stage while Zeus XR counters with a more three dimensional presentation invoking a deeper stage. Between these two titans it will largely come down to signature. If you prefer a bassier signature with more sub bass impact and mid bass fullness go with A18t, if you’re a vocal enthusiast, prefer a more three dimensional stage or need a more reference tuning go Zeus XR.
Suggestions For Improvement
I always try to find improvements no matter how minor but in this case I can find none, not with regard to construction, fit or sound. The Zeus XR is a monitor that has no equal with regard to midrange and vocal performance. In my opinion its’ stage depth, layering and separation are class leading as well. If you value vocals and midrange above all else look no further. Zeus XR is future proof in this sense. Detail and resolution are exceptional as is layering, separation and stage. Zeus is still the pinnacle of midrange tuning and with the XR you get his voice in two variations, XIV and R-what’s not to love? I always suggest getting the XR over the R or XIV individually, for a few hundred dollars more you get them both in a single package.