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CanJam London 2019 Impressions thread

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  1. davidcotton
    Nice, you going for it?
  2. iMax
    First Canjam. Great experience. Trying and listening to amps and cans we dream of. Tested many side by side and walked away with some ZMFs. Thanks Zach! Great show!
    Colors, Imusicman, Nik74 and 5 others like this.
  3. Sunstealer
    I think some more research is required. Audio Sanctuary stock Inear, Noble and Earsonics which I would like to reaudition in a less frenetic space. I'll be in London at the end of September so will book some time then.
  4. DReborn
    Congrats! Just ordered the Aeolus’

    which one did you go for? What amp are you pairing with?
    Wildcatsare1 likes this.
  5. iMax
    Eikon as was after some closed backs. Did a side by side with the Ethers and went with ZMF. Cool thing was Zach oversaw (unbiased) the comparison. Was testing on the iDSD and the iCan, but at home using the ENOG2 Pro and the THX 789 as well as the CTH amps. All of them sound awesome with the Eikons. Cleanest listening...the iFi gear. Affordable cleanest listening...the THX 789. Most enjoyable listening...the CTH.
    Klmahnn and Wildcatsare1 like this.
  6. Zachik
    Wait until you try it on a Cavalli Liquid Platinum.... Significant upgrade and the ZMF cans scale VERY nicely! :wink:
    Odin412 and Wildcatsare1 like this.
  7. Adventure
    The In-ears I did fall in love with where the Empire Ears Valkyrie..

    And the 64 Audio Fourté Noir, it's a tiny bit more body and a fraction warmer sound compared to the Fourté, I loved it! I think I can live with these two in-ears for years.

    My wife is more in to cans... I had to drag her away from Audeze :)
    Next Canjam we looking forward to... is Singapore again!
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
    raypin, glassmonkey, THGM and 12 others like this.
  8. Taisser Roots
    Great show to host, compared to last year I noticed dap companies didn't have the same presence at booths and a lot more people brought their own daps.

    On mobile, so I don't know how to format this.

    Fit much better than old stuff
    Bumped presence region,
    Have a hollow sort of presentation, lower mids sound dipped
    Dynamics are kind of mediocre because of the mids, although the timbre is ok, the tone can catch you off.
    Initially a relaxing listen, but the bumped presence can be fatiguing.
    Snares sound less fatiguing but almost realistic dynamics for an iem.

    Favourite iem (complicated)
    Much more balanced tone
    Similar dynamics and resolution,
    The stage is more realistic, has less of the hollow quality
    sub bass bump and clean mid bass, helps a lot with kick drum dynamics
    Decent isolation

    The low level detail and dynamics out of these are terrifyingly realistic
    Kick drums smack and then move into decay consistently, easy to tell apart from a snare drum
    Staging like a good headphone, similar seperation as hd800 without the diffuse feel
    The seperation isn't an unnatural difference in tone, but actual layering between instruments.
    Recorded classical music is listenable due to the upper treble extension and seperation
    The staging is in front of you.
    Trying to listen for tonal issues, but I'm out of practice.
    The timbre is on the faster side but the decay pans out slower than the hd800.
    Similar mid tone to hd580, less warm and the treble extension is quite obvious, the upper mids and presence aren't as emphasised.
    I heard the "less resolving" prototype, although I much prefer the realism on this. I find the resolution negligible, but the grip on the base and the additional 2-3k create this sense of dynamics and realism that's really engaging.
    Also got to speak to heinz

    DCs bartock
    The dynamics are a bit soft, stronger than chord.
    Close stage with hd800
    Quite airy, it's a decently resolving aio, I think there are better options for my tastes.
    Massive AF.
    Slow decay
    Lower mids have this liquidity which makes low playing guitars and bass guitars a bit muddy
    Slightly bumped here, to emphasise this.
    Brit-fi, but a good example of it.

    pretty comfy, weird fit
    These trade dynamics for staging.
    Hedd produces more realistic notes due to the timbre and dynamics, they decay faster than the hedd giving it a plastic timbre.
    The tone is a tad dark, less airy sensation than hedd.
    Lower treble is dipped (?)
    The stage is more fleshed out, but the overall presentation is less realistic.
    I can see why estat fans will love this.
    This has a similar presentation, but offers a more normal tone, with a more realistic timbre and greater lower level detail. There is low level detail
    Less ethereal than estats.
    Bass guitars sound a bit anaemic, but the headphones have bass.
    Push back the drums in epitaph, despite staging the different locations well, making a vocal heavy presentation.
    Vocal timbre is quite good on these, just something sounds off(?)

    Glenn otl
    no proper reference here
    Nice slam
    Less air than the iha1, it's definitely darker.
    Similar resolve to that thing, I think more dynamic than the iha1. (Actually iha1 is more resolving by a good amount)
    Less stage cohesion, but the seperation and stage still come across naturally, not as wide as the iha1

    Mysphere 3.1
    A bit grainy, nothing special really, toom too long to get to market
    Does the cool stage stuff
    Not super competitive in dynamics or resolve, just ok. Nothing bad.
    Counts as unique selling point

    Diana phi
    Good dynamic improvement over the original
    Fits my head ez
    The dynamics similar to abyss
    Lower mids a bit dipped, less than original.
    The timbre is still plastic and not the most resolving headphone, but the most resolving planar driver I have hear.
    Why this when HEDD though? Portability?
    I guess planar dynamics

    Ier z1r
    Pretty good dynamics and resolve for an iem, more tonally coherent than most acoustune.
    Warm with good bass clarity, there is a clear slam and it can get slightly muddy, despite being quite bass heavy.
    The timbre is good, with a slight nasal tilt on vocals.
    While this is excellent treble extension for an iem, I still miss upper treble, which contributes to air
    Sensitive to hiss.
    Tonal tilt is quite obvious in a drum heavy song like epitaph, bass overwhelms you and the other stuff without bleed.

    Bricasti M3
    Very similar to the M1 (can't remember well enough)
    The timbre is just right, no excess warmth.
    Hd580 **** to judge treble extension.
    They had cher- believe, so I had to listen.
    The resolve is a tier above dcs bartock.
    Internal amp is not the most dynamic, but the most dynamic aio I have heard so far.
    Stage is wider than Sabre with a greater sense of depth.
    Seperation is emphasised in a way which makes staging more cohesive.
    Reveals things like tape hiss between samples and any grit with guitars quite well.
    Not forgiving, but this helps create nuance in listening between tracks from the same album
    This does something a lot of DACs don't do, where the position of a vocal doesn't shift as the singer changes note.
    Managed to prevent different guitars strumming low notes at the same time from getting muddy on my hd580.

    Benchmark hpa4
    Using dac 3
    Like an upgraded thxaaa in most aspects, although it loses the staging of it for something different.
    Bass is clean af and I get a sense of sub bass with this. It is pretty linear
    The dynamics aren't the strongest I've heard, but it isn't as soft as dcs.
    Boy harsher is best heard on PA synergy horns.
    Good deptth for ss.
    Not as resolving as the iha1, maybe more than Glenn. Not too sure

    Rupert Neve fidelice.
    More dynamic than the original amp, but this is disappointing, especially compared to the M3. It just sounds like the dynamics are compressed, really narrow stage lacking depth.

    Ragnarok 2 (ifi source)
    Most resolving ss amp I have heard.
    Can tell the burrbrown timbre leaking in, but the Ragnarok is reducing it, don't know what that could mean.
    Comparable depth to the hpa4, with that having a slight edge.
    Greater sensation of openness with stronger dynamics. I'm not sure why this is the case, the raggy has a slight treble grit.
    I think this is as warm as the hpa4.
    Stage is slightly wider.
    The edge in resolution is most obvious in microdynamics, which feel less compressed than the hpa4 by a fraction.

    Tia trio
    Really nice iem, with a very balanced tone.
    No crazy staging affects, the stage is quite natural.
    Still issues with dynamics, but little compromise compared to other iems.
    The upper treble extension is a thing with these, one of the most extended iems I've heard with ier-z1r. There is still a plastic timbre to these and the resolution doesn't compare to full-size headphones.
    Easy listen, not much else to say. Probably my favourite BA due to the fit and sound in combination

    Bass rumbles everywhere, while the mids are unbalanced they are coherent to a degree.
    It sounds hollow out, which I don't think works with a lot of pop songs.
    The timbre is slightly disjointed, where the decay in the treble and upper mids is noticeably different than the lower mids.
    This doesn't work well with jazz

    A much more coherent package with silicone tips.
    The resolution is quite good for a BA, with the plastic timbre taking a step back, not far off z1r timbre and further away from hs1670 timbre.
    Nice treble sparkle, lacks the upper end of treble extension like most iems.
    Less compressed than the Tia trios in some ways. Although the trios are more resolving which might highlight issues in microdynamics more.

    lower treble bump, with a bump in the upper mids for more energy.
    Alright sounding
    Don't see much of the the strength of the Polaris over this aside from bass rumble and texture.
    The resolve is quite similar.
    Looks nice, matches with most outfits (nice +)
    Kind of uneven in lower mids, doesn't sound ridiculously incoherent though.
    Can quite easily become very boring over a long period of time due to the tone and how it creates this lack of engagement with the weak dynamics.
    Maybe eq helps.
    Just Polaris isn't worth it over these, and these look cuter.

    Verite closed.
    Less midbass and bass in general than the Verite, but midbass in particular
    More subbass bumped than midbass, making it less wooly when it punches.
    The tone is a lot more coherent with fewer extreme bumps and dips.
    Doesn't really sound closed, more like a darker open back.
    Doesn't have the nasal characteristics of other zmf, it's very slight.
    Most neutral zmf I've heard
    The metallic timbre is very slight and much less obvious than the open back. Timbre will only be an issue if you are super nitpicky
    Zach has made strides in making this really light.
    The tone is more even than the eikon.
    I would actually like these, considering th y are closed.
    The overall package is quite engaging.
    Can tell it's closed now, because it's less open sounding than the others, seperation highlights this.
    masterpfa, Tekunda, Colors and 14 others like this.
  9. DecentLevi
    @Taisser Roots excellent job. You seem to know what to look for and how to listen critically. Which was your favorite headphone, amp and IEM from there?

    Also did anyone at the event happen to pair the HEDDphone One with the Glenn OTL amp? I'm considering both of these and need to know if these synergise well together. Thanks!
    PS - The performance from Glenn amps can vary substantially depending on tube rolling and any custom-made amp specifications.
    Taisser Roots and Nik74 like this.
  10. NZtechfreak
    Thanks a lot for this, I can tell from your impressions of headphones I know that you listen in the same kind of way as I do and hear things similarly, making this feedback very valuable for me.
    Taisser Roots likes this.
  11. pedalhead Contributor
    Hi all. I haven't been to any shows for a year or two so this Canjam was a chance for me to catch up and try out some recent releases that I hadn't yet heard. I'm mostly a full size headphone person, so most of my impressions are in that direction. Obviously, usual show conditions caveats apply, but I will point out when I listened to something in the upstairs dCS room (with four Bartoks and pretty much all the top tier cans) that was often very quiet and suitable for critical listening.(although, I'd suggest to dCS to keep the crossfeed switched off in future as it can kill dynamics and won't be obvious to the listener as the setting is buried in the system's menu!)

    Apologies for the nerdy bloke (me) in some of the pictures!

    dCS room...

    -- Meze Empyrean
    After reading a lot of good stuff about the Empyrean I was expecting something special but came away rather disappointed. I listened to three pairs on different amps. First with the dCS Bartok (in quiet room), I felt the Empyrean had a broadly similar flavour to my HE1000v2 but with a smoother treble. The main issue I had is that on some tracks the Empyrean bass could be overwhelming (and I actually consider myself a minor basshead). On the Chord DAVE, the Empyrean frankly sounded awful. Dull, lifeless, so much so that I felt there must have been a problem with the setup. I later walked past the same rig and the chap listening was shaking his head. I waited until he was finished and asked him about it. He agreed that it sounded really off. We roped in two other people with trusted ears and they concurred. We did get the Chord chap to check it all out but there were no setup issues so I can only conclude that DAVE's headphone output and Empyrean are not suitable partners.

    -- Hifiman Ananda Bluetooth
    I was looking forward to trying these, just to see how far we've reached with bluetooth headphones. I wasn't able to get the first set to pair with my Galaxy S10e (I'll put that down to prototype issues), but the second one worked straight away, connecting via LDAC. They sound like a Hifiman planar, possibly even with a bit of extra bass oomph. Best sounding bluetooth headphones I've ever tried, even in show conditions that was clear. Is there a market for a $1200(?) open back BT headphone? I think so...if it sounds good enough (and it might), I could see people using this as their primary headphone at home whilst having the flexibility to (for example) use it with their TV while the kids are in bed (I do this a lot), presuming the BT latency is ok. If it has anywhere near a similar bluetooth range to the TWS600, they could genuinely be a wireless walk-about-the-house type solution. I'm trying to persuade @TeamHiFiMAN to arrange a loaner tour as I think these have a lot of potential.

    -- ZMF Verite

    The ZMF stand seemed to be the busiest of the weekend, not surprising considering the huge selection of lovely looking headphones on show. I've taken part in an Eikon loaner tour in the past & liked it a lot but I'm a bit of a wide soundstage junkie so I was particularly keen to hear the Verite this time. I think Zach has a real winner on his hands here. The Verite sounded dynamic & punchy with excellent resolution. Pad rolling makes a real difference & I preferred the more balanced/airy sounding pads (I don't recall the name of them). Interestingly, I heard a small amount of sibilance on the first pair I tried. Zach suggested trying a different wood (Pheasantwood), which did exactly what he predicted and toned that down. Of course it could just be different unit/drivers but I'm prepared to take Zach's word on it that it's down to variations of resonance (presumably) in the wood. I'd say the Verite is almost my ideal headphone, except that on some tracks I found vocals to be a bit forward for my liking. Bear in mind that a couple of my test tracks purposefully have fairly forward vocals to test for this (eg Fiona Apple "To Your Love"). Tbh, I often prefer a very slightly recessed midrange for a lot of the music I listen to, and I'm very sensitive to ~500hz - 2khz energy. So, with that in mind I don't think there's a "problem" with the midrange on the Verite, it's just not my preferred tuning.
    Oh, and I meant to go back and listen to the Verite closed but forgot. Doh!

    -- Focal Stellia

    These were a pleasant surprise, and are probably now at the top of my closed back list. They share a lot of sonic traits with the Utopia, but I felt Stellia was a bit smoother overall. They sound quite open for a closed headphone, an impressive achievement. I tried them with my Sony ZX300 but I didn't feel it was able to drive them very well. However, the pairing that really impressed me was with the Focal Arche amp, which has DSP presets for all the higher end Focal headphones. Switching the DSP in and out, it definitely had a positive effect (on the Utopia as well). There's a debate to be had on whether we should have to apply DSP to a headphone at this price, but from a pure performance point of view, it's a combo I could happily live with.


    -- Rosson Audio RAD-0
    I'm really sad about these. On the one hand, it's great that someone is creating headphones with unique colour designs that genuinely look great (imho). On the other hand, I really didn't get along with the sound or the comfort of these things. Comfort first, they're heavy. A heavy headphone isn't always uncomfortable, but with the RAD-0 there was a hot spot at the top of my head that became uncomfortable really quickly. The headband could use some tweaks I think. Sound-wise (via Headamp GSX mini), the most obvious flaw for me was the lack of detail resolution. Personally, whatever flavour a high end headphone puts on the music (and they all do in some way), as a minimum it has to present as much as possible of the available information contained in the recording. These just didn't do that for me. As a result, and combined with a slightly dark tilt, they came across as dull and uninvolving.

    -- Raal SR1a
    Crikey, these were mental. Incredibly resolving, fast fast fast, wide soundstage, maybe a tad thin sounding but less than you might expect from this kind of design. Honestly, taken within the context of show conditions, I thought these sounded great. My one issue with them was the fit, where I always felt they could fall off my head at any moment. I suspect it could have been user error and a bit more time spent futzing with the fit could probably improve things. Ok, I do have another issue with them, the price. Taking into account that you need a pretty good speaker amp to drive them, it's not going to be a cheap setup. Still, impressive stuff indeed, and the chap representing the company was very pleasant to talk to.

    -- Hifiman Susvara
    Every time I go to a meet or a show, I try & find a headphone I prefer to the Susvara. Well, this time I failed once again, as the Susvara represents just about my ideal sound. Open, spacious, dynamic, resolving, all the good stuff. The dCS quiet room was a fantastic opportunity to compare these closely with the Utopia, Empyrean, LCD4(z), Ether 2, Abyss and for me the Susvara still comes out on top. With some added transient attack & punch from the Utopia they'd probably have the perfect sound, but even without it they're already pretty close tbh. Of course, the elephant in the room is the price which I'll sadly never be able to afford on a pair of headphones. We can dream though, right?
    I should add, whilst the Bartok is clearly a great sounding, uncoloured system, it did lack that last bit of drive for the Susvara, which I know can scale even more with a nice speaker amp like my First Watt F7 for example.

    -- HEDD HEDDphone
    HEDD had three prototypes at their table. I only had a chance to listen to one of them, all 800 grams of it. It was only a brief listen and it was quite noisy so I can't comment too much, but certainly it sounded dynamic with a lot of low end energy (but not overwhelming). That weight though...ouch. I understand the other prototyes were lighter and also had some sonic differences.

    -- Sonoma APERIO
    First up, a huge bag of kudos to Warwick Acoustics for bringing in the isolation booth. This was a brilliant touch, and truly allowed you to listen critically whilst sat in the middle of a busy hall full of people. I'm sure it must have been very expensive, but I'd love to see more of this in the future. Sadly, for me the APERIO isn't my cup of tea. I'm generally not an electrostat kind of chap as for me they usually lack dynamics and don't hit as hard as I like. These were no exception, sounding quite thin for the most part. They did seem quite suited to certain genres of music...the jazz track I tried was excellent, and even a bit of Van Morisson's Moondance played really well. Trying anything with a bit more attitude though revealed the same shortcomings that I've heard in most other electrostat rigs. Still, for the right kind of listener these could be a real winner, just not for me.
    One thing to note, whilst most exhibitors gave us access to Tidal streaming, the Warwick Acoustics booth didn't, which is rather a shame. I personally find it very hard to form a reliable opinion of a device if I'm not able to use my regular test tracks.

    -- IEM quickies (thanks to @glassmonkey for listening recommendations)
    oBravo Cupid - Great at the price. Persuaded @smial1966 to buy one :)
    64 Audio Tia Fourte (or was it the Fourte Noir?) - These sounded less involving than the u18T for me, seemed a bit dark and subdued.
    64 Audio u18T - Wow. How do they get so many drivers to sound so coherent? Amazing sounding IEMs. Scary price.

    It was a very enjoyable show again this year. As always, it was great to catch up with friends and compare notes. The show seemed to be well attended, and actually quite busy on the Saturday in particular. One of the highlights for me was attending Axel Grell's chat on Saturday afternoon and being able to ask some questions of the man himself. Excellent stuff. I'll end with the final slide of his presentation, the ultimate truth of this hobby :)


    Last edited: Aug 1, 2019
  12. Jackpot77
    Colors, NovaFlyer, Nik74 and 8 others like this.
  13. Jalo
    With regard to the Erlkonig, I do wish you will provide more technical information or may be even frequency chart on the 4 settings either on your website or in a manuel with the Erlkonig. I have just purchased a unit and am using setting 2 but curious about the difference between the the settings.
  14. MadDane
    Wow! A lot of great impressions and input! thank you, everyone, for your contributions. I now have an even longer list of "Need to try".
    Layman1 likes this.
  15. glassmonkey
    Slow to the party, here's part one of my impressions from the show, in which I go crazy with electrostatic hybrids. There will be two more parts, most likely. Onwards!

    I recently reviewed the WAVAYA Octa, the first in-ear monitor to use four electrostatic drivers (released mid-2018). I liked it, so I wanted to hear more of the hybrid electrostatic IEMs out there. All of the IEMs I listened to on the day shared the Sonion electrostatic drivers, but not all implemented them the same way and the drivers used for bass and mids varied across units, as did driver count. Coming in with the most drivers was the Empire Ears Wraith, sporting 11 drivers in an outlay of 7 balanced armatures (BA) and 4 electrostatic (e-stat) tweeters. With the least drivers was also an Empire Ears unit, the Valkyrie, with 1 dynamic driver (DD) for bass, 1 BA for mids, and 1 e-stat for treble (this is the only unit that had a single e-stat). Everything else was in between. Prices ranged between $1500 and $3500, and did not have a strong correlation to driver count.

    Listening impressions were done in a show setting, without volume matching, so should be taken with a grain of salt. There are several of these units that I'd like to get in for review, but I'm sure I won't be able to get all of them, not even on loan. On to the impressions!

    Jomo Audio
    I thoroughly enjoyed both tunings of the new Jomo Trinity tri-brid, brass and stainless steel. Both units have 1 dynamic driver for the bass (DD), 4 balanced armature (BA) for the mids, and a double electrostatic (e-stat) driver for treble. E-stats are tricky, as they require a ton of power to drive properly, which leads to all kinds of magic tricks needing to be pulled to get the levels right for each area of frequency response.

    Jomo Audio Trinity Brass

    The Trinity Brass gives me some good low-end power on Billy Cobham – Quadrant 4 (DSD64). The kick drum goes taekwondo on my solar plexus—ow! hurts so good. Bass guitar is on the warm side. The treble is well-defined with good resolution, but slightly distant—finding that balance with e-stats is hard. A quad e-stat might make it a little easier by increasing treble volume. Sonion has one in development that might come in the near future, and Joseph Mou is all over it.


    Switching to Rebecca Pidgeon – Raven (24/88) gives me some really sweet and beautiful vocals. Female vocal enthusiasts should dig this sound based on this brief impression. Bass is north of neutral here, but the bass in this track doesn’t prepare me for what comes next on my bass test track, Yosi Horikawa – Wandering (16/44).

    Oh, fudge my trousers—we’re a family friendly publication, sort of—that is some satisfying rumble on Wandering when the huge synth bass comes in. I didn’t know that this was a bass-head track until I reviewed the Stealthsonics U2, but now it’s in my rotation permanently. Dat bass has dumps like a truck, but with a well-defined and nicely textured shake (I don't know if Jomo will want to be associated with this track, but they'll have to deal with it).

    Because I knew I’d be listening to some e-stat hybrids, I brought the world’s first to market quad e-stat hybrid, the WAVAYA Octa, to do some comparisons. The WAVAYA Octa has a more open and spacious sounding presentation compared to the Trinity Brass with clearer more immediately detailed sounding mids. The bass on the Octa has good texture, but it doesn’t come close to touching the satisfying rumble of the bass on the Trinity Brass. They are both bloody excellent and scratch different audiophile itches very effectively.

    On Violent Femmes – American Music (16/44) vocals are warmer on the Trinity Brass and bass has a more groovy way about it, choogling nicely. Vocals are a touch less forward than the Octa and treble is further back.

    The Trinity Brass would be near perfect if it had just a touch more treble. That would make the mids clearer and percussive instruments like cymbals better placed within the soundstage. As mentioned earlier, Joseph Mou, resident genius and mad scientist, is working on a quad e-stat tri-brid. I can’t wait to hear it. Please don’t make me wait! Also, please keep that pornographic bass. I hope to be recharged and ready by the time I get to hear the quad e-stat tri-brid.

    Jomo Audio Trinity Stainless Steel (Trinity SS)
    I like this one too.

    On American Music I like the vocal tuning better on the Trinity SS. It’s leaner with less warmth, which gives a bit more balance to the sound. On Wandering the Trinity SS doesn’t get the same sub-bass rumble that the Trinity Brass gives me. I want an IEM that combines the two.

    The e-stat pair in the Trinity SS is giving me nice speed on Quadrant 4. Fills are fantastic on the drums. Bass guitar has nice depth and texture to the notes. On the Trinity SS I could use a bit more emotion in the guitars; the Trinity Brass delivers this emotion.

    I can’t decide which version of the Trinity I like more, as both have immensely satisfying presentations. Mids are more neutral on the Trinity SS and treble energy is more balanced, but the Trinity Brass is more fun. The Trinity Brass is so much fun. At the moment, I think that the Trinity Brass scratches an itch that I’m not getting scratched enough. Comparatively, the WAVAYA Octa sounds cold in comparison, but it has a lot more treble energy and an addictive upper mids tuning that I like. None of the current crop of e-stat hybrids are perfect, but all are satisfying in their own way.


    Joseph Mou is a fricking genius.

    Empire Ears
    Not content to let Jomo Audio to be the only company at CanJam London 2019 with two e-stat tri-brids, Empire Ears came equipped with the new Valkyrie and the Wraith. The Wraith is one of only two IEMs, that I know of, that are currently available with 4 e-stat tweeters. Unlike WAVAYA’s Octa and Penta, Empire Ears modded Sonion’s e-stats, so there is nobody using the Sonion drivers in the way that Empire Ears is, they call it EIVEC (Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control) and it’s designed to make the e-stat drivers blend seamlessly with the rest of their tri-brid elements.

    Empire Ears Valkyrie
    The Valkyrie is a lively little tri-brid with a single e-stat—Sonion doesn’t make a single e-stat, which means that Dean Vang has gone all Dr. Frankenstein on a Sonion e-stat pair to greater effect and less mortality or has sourced an previously unknown e-stat set-up—followed by a BA driver for the mids, and the Weapon IX DD powering the bass. In a change from their standards, they come with an Effect Audio Eros II cable instead of an Ares II. I’ve been excited to listen to this ever since I heard about it. Let’s go.


    On Billy Cobham – Quadrant 4 the sound is super punchy. These suckers have more energy than a toddler on a pixie stick high. I find myself enjoying this, but am curious if the enjoyment is sustainable. I wonder if a cable switch to a less bright cable than the Eros II might be something to calm down some of the brightness, but I didn’t check whilst there—foolish error! I hope I get more time with this hot little number to fix that. I asked Empire Ears’ own, Josh, about the Ares II and Ares II+ and he said he likes them a little better.


    The signature of the Valkyrie comes off really balanced on Violent Femmes – American Music (16/44). Gordon Gano’s vocal comes out clear and instruments in the stage have great separation. The sound is less balanced sounding on Yosi Horikawa – Wandering (16/44, binaural). The upper mids and treble are a bit elevated, which may lead to fatigue. Bass doesn’t have the deep down rumble of the Jomo Trinity Brass, but it's still satisfying.

    The Valkyrie doesn’t sweeten Macy Gray’s voice on The Heart and there is a nice airiness. Bass is big and round. String raspiness heard on plucking that usually comes through isn’t there on stand-up bass. This probably means that there is a dip somewhere between 2.5kHz and 4kHz in the frequency response.

    The WAVAYA Octa is more refined, less vivacious and more easy going. It doesn’t feel like any part of the spectrum is potentially in excess.

    Empire Ears Wraith
    The Empire Ears Wraith is the second quad e-stat hybrid to come to market, after only the WAVAYA Octa, released in mid-2018. The Wraith has 4 e-stat drivers, but it isn’t just 2 pairs of Sonion e-stats, like the Octa, Dean Vang has done some mad scientist stuff in here with a proprietary re-configuring of the e-stat drivers. The driver count for the Wraith is as follows: 4 e-stats, 7 proprietary Empire BA (2 Low, 3 Mid, 2 High and 4 e-stat drivers (I’m guessing the same Sonions that everyone else is using). They have a 4Ω impedance at 1kHz, which is insane. The Wraith are very easy to drive, astoundingly easy compared to other e-stat hybrids. After the Valkyrie and Octa, I had to turn down the volume quite a bit on my QP2R.


    American Music has a little bit extra nasal tone on Gordan Gano’s voice and the vocals come across a touch shouty. Instrument decay has an almost squared-off feeling to it, as compared to a rounded or sloping decay. It doesn’t sound quite natural on this track.

    Comparing to the WAVAYA Octa, the Wraith sounds a bit over-exposed. The Octa has better balance. Stage width is also improved on the Octa.

    The Wraith has a strange stage. It’s almost like the weight of the stage is focused in the middle and then dissipates at the edges, with lower volume and therefore further perceived depth at the edges. I am getting good stage height with the Wraith. My blog mate and another blogger who came to the table had similar experiences with the stage, so I don’t think this is just me. I don’t know if this is a fit or source issue, but all three of us used different sources, so I’m inclined to think it is either a problem with fit (which would be new) or a problem with the tuning. Maybe the cable just isn’t the right one for the Wraith.

    The bass presentation on the Wraith is similar to the Valkyrie, but those bass plucks show up with some raspiness coming off the strings (which is good). On wooden percussion instruments there is a lot more energy, which can actually be a bit grating. Overall, the tuning of the Wraith doesn’t work for me. The Valkyrie is a better all-around performer, and I preferred every other e-stat hybrid to it. Maybe it’s fit, maybe it’s a problem with the demo unit—I had a bad experience with a 64 Audio U18t two years ago—but there was something wonky about the tuning to me. At $3500, what I heard didn’t compete on price or sound with the Jomo Trinity ($2800), the Vision Ears Elysium ($3200) or the WAVAYA Octa ($1600). The WAVAYA Octa might be the best value in high-end IEMs right now.

    Vision Ears


    I only came to Vision Ears to listen to one thing, their new e-stat tri-brid, the Elysium. I listened to and loved the Erlkönig last year alongside some of their other offerings. Vision Ears have made their e-stat in-ear different than everybody else; it has: 1 BA for the bass, 1 DD with a special guide they call HALC (High-Precision Acoustic Leveling Chamber) for the mids, and 2 e-stat tweeters for the highs. I can only think of one IEM that uses BA for bass, and a dynamic driver for mids, the Jerry Harvey Lola. I wasn’t into the Lola, I love the Elysium. The HALC is a 3D-printed acoustic filter that had to be made of a certain compound because there needed to be very fine holes, and that compound is green. The Vision Ears display unit uses the green HALC to good visual effect in a crystal clear shell that shows you all the drivers in their glory. The shell was small and comfortable and looks like a winner. The cable is a gorgeous silver number and it was comfortable.


    I started this beauty out with Natalie Merchant – Carnival (24-96). The bass had some nice groove going. Natalie’s vocals are bang on. The depth of the stage is well laid out with a nice balanced presentation. Moving to another female vocalist and some big stand-up bass, Macy Gray – The Heart (24/192), I get some nice big basse with a bit of emphasis on the stand-up bass fundamental. Bass is a touch warm, but not too much. Percussion has a nice shimmer and detail and the rest of the treble tuning gives a good stage.

    On Yosi Horikawa – Wandering (16/44) the bass extension is good, but not a huge visceral growl like what I got with the Jomo Trinity Brass but it still has good texture. The stage has very good space on this binaural track with probably the most natural sounding stage of the e-stat hybrids that I listened to for the first time at CanJam London 2019 (Jomo Trinity SS, Jomo Trinity B, Empire Ears Valkyrie, and Empire Ears Wraith).


    Up to this point, I haven’t noted that I’ve been listening to the Questyle QP2R and haven’t experienced any hiss. Nice.

    When comparing to the Octa, the Octa has more airy mids and wider soundstage but isn’t as impactful. On The Heart the Octa gets a bit more fine detail and impact in the guitar plucks when the pick hits the string than the Elysium. The Elysium gets better groove on the bass but the treble on the Octa is slightly better. Listening to Quadrant 4 the resolution and speed of the two is basically identical, which is kind of expected—they are using the same Sonion drivers for treble, just a different quantity of them.

    E-stat hybrid snap judgements
    I liked all of the e-stat hybrids I listened to except the Empire Ears Wraith. Each offered a different flavour to the others. The most neutral and balanced sounding ones were the Vision Ears Elysium and the WAVAYA Octa. The most energetic was the Empire Ears Valkyrie. The best bass was easily the Jomo Trinity Brass. The best treble was on the WAVAYA Octa. For mids, I’d need a lot more listening time. Same thing goes for soundstage. The best value is the WAVAYA Octa, with the Empire Ears Valkyrie close behind.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
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