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Empire Ears - Discussion & Impressions (Formerly EarWerkz)

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  1. Canyon Runner
    I've been 100% out of the audio game, is where I've been. I resigned from my position at Empire in late August due to mental health reasons and moved home to Seattle.
    Haven't had any reason to post on here, as I haven't changed my setup. But I still stay in touch with a few friends in that world, but that's it.
    It is worth mentioning how great it was working with the Vang family, genuinely my favorite people that I have ever met in the industry during my years in it.
    The team at Empire is truly top notch and the products reflect it.
    Dellwolf, Kerouac, Wyville and 9 others like this.
  2. ctsooner22
    Wow, I'm new in this world (I'm a two channel guy wiht headphones and and IEM with another one coming soon I hope). What a great thing to read about someone you are about to do business with. So far my dealings with the company have been STELLAR! As good as any I have in audio and that includes MANY of the top designers, manufacturers and reviewers in the 2 channel world as well as the folks at Noble who are also wonderful to deal with. Funny as I like the posters here a ton also, so it reason's that good people attract good people.
    Dellwolf likes this.
  3. Jackpot77
    I guess the trick (like most things in life) is not to take any of it too seriously. Suppose that's the reason you "play" a sport, just like you "play" audio - it's just another fun way to get some stress relief and enjoyment in your life. Anyone who takes it too seriously is just missing the point! :wink:

    Actually, regarding cables, the Ares II+ is probably at the top end of what I would comfortably pay for a cable - it was the good folks at EE and their Zeus-XR giveaway comp on here last year that won me the Leo (and very grateful I am for that).

    @Wyville - it is union, by the way. They don't play the other sort wgere I'm from.

    Back to EE related shenanigans - has anyone posted any more impressions of the Nemesis from the new DD series yet? Think that might be the next target I'm saving towards...
    tim0chan, Wyville and Deezel177 like this.
  4. ctsooner22
    Getting so wrapped up with th eTOTL ones, that we forget about the 'most probably' awesome ones that most can afford. :)
    flinkenick likes this.
  5. Gavin C4
    Zeus-XR. The more I listen to, the more I am convinced it will still be a top contender for a top tier TOTL in 2018 in terms of detail and resolution. The Zeus-XR is just a resolution monster. There is no need to bump up the volume to hear what you want to hear. You just hear everything. A very good portrayal of a 3D headspace.

    After more listening and found my prefered volume, I can confirm that it has less bass quantity than the Phantom. But Zeus's bass definitely hits when it counts.

    Last edited: Feb 6, 2018
    Dellwolf, Kerouac, ranfan and 6 others like this.
  6. Wyville
    I don't know, I never claimed sanity... :p
    :innocent: NOOOOO!! Don't say that! :innocent:
    :imp: But it will compliment the Phantom. :imp:
    You tried the Phantom with Acoustune 07 tips, right? I did a brief test, comparing them to my Final tips and the Acoustune are a bit brighter. I felt they reduced the mid-bass a little and added a treble lift that with the VE5 caused some sharpness. I believe the 07 tips were meant to add clarity to the bass-heavy Acoustune IEMs, which might explain the difference.
    Kerouac, ranfan, Deezel177 and 2 others like this.
  7. Gavin C4
    yes, both Legend X and Phantom with Acoustune 07 tips M size. I will try them with foam / JVC spiral dots later. But I am definitely going for a custom fit if the :imp: wins.
  8. Wyville
    Hehe, yeah CIEMs are much better in that regard. I understand the universals are very tip dependent so to give the :imp: the best possible chance, it would be good to try out various tips. My guess is that Final tips should work very well, but I haven't had an opportunity to try it myself. I have all the Final tips in the world, just no Phantom or Legend X... :sob:

    ranfan, fuhransahis, korvin12 and 3 others like this.
  9. Wyville
    Great to see you around again and I hope you have been recovering well! I remember discussing (via PM) ADEL and the use of IEMs for mental health with you a few months ago (I use music to manage my ADHD), which was a really interesting chat and I was wondering where you had gone off to. Hope you keep popping in every now and then!
  10. flinkenick
    Hello everybody,

    There seems to be much anticipation for the release of Empire Ear's new models. I've had the pleasure of listening to most of the new releases a while back, and what I can say for now, is that the new lineup is quite a departure of the former. Two years ago, Empire Ears made their debut with Zeus, a then ground-breaking iem employing 14 drivers and a 7-way crossover. But mark my words, the Olympus line was Empire Ears just getting started - their new lineup will take it to the next level. Using all custom-built drivers and advanced crossovers, the new lineup improves in quality, and especially diversity. For where the Olympus line was characterized by a strong house sound, the new lineup offers a wide range of complimentary tunings, each catering to different crowds.

    This is perhaps most explicitly embodied in their two separate lines; 3 multi-BA iems dubbed the 'EP line', and the X-series hybrid line consisting of 4 iems. Even within the hybrid line there is great versatility, with 3 higher-end models that complement each other with very different signatures, albeit united by enhanced, double dynamic-powered bass. So don't discount the rest of the lineup just yet in favour for the biggest and the best, because there are some very interesting models that will complement the headliners.

    For now, I'd like to start by telling you a bit about Empire Ear's two new flagships: the awe-inspiring Legend-X, and a very special iem to me personally - the Phantom, which is a collaboration between Empire Ears and myself. In brief, I drew a target curve from which Empire built the Phantom (lengthier post in the shootout thread).



    Those of you who have read the shootout, have become familiar with how I evaluate iems - factors as instrument timbre and naturalness were a recurrent theme. But not exclusively; I can just as equally sit back and enjoy the quality of separation, or high resolution (iems as the Samba and ES80 come to mind). If anything, I've always stressed viewing sound reproduction as a whole - appreciating the quality of individual factors, as well as their collective role in shaping the presentation; valuing bass for its engaging qualities, but heeding its influence on the stage and transparency. Acknowledging the importance of treble presence for detail retrieval, while restraining it for timbre. In the end, sound analysis comes down to obsessing over minor details, while taking a step back to see them as the sum of its parts. Once you understand you can't have all the bass, mids, and treble, moderation is key. But this shouldn't be seen as a price to pay, when tweaking the right balance leads to an ultimate reward: a pure representation of music, in order to reveal the true nature of its character.

    The Phantom was tuned with this philosophy in mind. For starters, coherency and timbre were always going to be a top priority: to faithfully replicate a shimmering stroke of a violin, or gentle pluck of an acoustic guitar, while just as easily being able to provide the sense of engagement from an electric guitar, or a melodious synthetic melody. And of course, a natural reproduction of both male and female vocals, in terms of body and tone. All while acknowledging the importance of resolution and transparency as prerequisite for natural reproduction of sound. A combination of tonality and performance, rather than a compromise between either.

    In terms of bass, the Phantom has a subtle lift in its mid-bass to increase its body, while providing a warmer tone throughout the midrange. In overall quantity it can be considered fairly average, while drawing on excellent bottom-end extension for sub-bass impact. In order to achieve its intended tuning, there is a delicate balance between the quantity of bass and treble, rendering the Phantom sensitive to tip selection. Switching from complies to wide bore silicones can sway its tone from warm to bright, while simultaneously affecting its stage and transparency. However, rest assured that with the right tips and especially custom fit the Phantom has a slightly greater quantity of mid-bass compared to Zeus, as well as warmer signature throughout. Nevertheless, even though the Phantom is not bass-light, those prioritising bass should direct their attention to one of the hybrid models.


    The bass was tuned with the bigger picture in mind: to ensure a sufficiently engaging presentation, while maintaining the airiness in its stage; a prerequisite for the quality of layering, resulting in a high level of separation. Accordingly, the Phantom presents its music on a three-dimensional stage, with almost equal proportions in width and depth. A precise, holographic image, with a smooth delivery of its notes. In terms of absolute dimensions, the Phantom bares resemblance to that of Zeus-XIV, although it displays stronger variation depending on the recording. With some tracks the stage can feel average, while in others edging Zeus out in terms airiness and space. Generally speaking, it constructs a spacious, airy stage, while offering a similar precision in its imaging to those accustomed to Zeus. Its vocals are slightly forward in terms of stage positioning, though not quite to the extent of Zeus, ensuing from a more neutral lower midrange.

    Where the Legend's bass steals the show, the Phantom was designed for its midrange; accurate in timbre, with full-bodied instruments. To ensure a natural vocal presentation, its vocals are lightly warm, and sufficiently bodied. Its midrange is characterised by a warmer tone providing that sensual release of a saxophone, while a controlled touch of sparkle highlights string instruments. The Phantom seems to sound both warm and clear; for more than anything, it is designed to sound true - to achieve a perfect balance on a wide spectrum of characteristics that contribute to a faithful, and most importantly, beautiful reproduction of music.

    For where the Phantom shines is the naturalness of its sound. A tuning completed with a linear but well-extended upper treble, allowing it to portray of a high level of detail, yet in a smooth and coherent manner. Detail that follows from high resolution and clean separation, rather than increasing treble. Precise but smooth, and natural yet transparent; the Phantom's tuning revolves around balance. Somewhere along the way the term 'neutral' became associated with a lack of bass, and sterile sound. But neutral was supposed to mean a lack of coloration, which only prohibits the music from shining in its natural form. The music itself should be beautiful, and the monitor should reflect that: the Phantom's sole purpose of existence.


    Brief comparisons

    The primary comparison is of course to Zeus - Empire’s reigning emperor. The two share similarities throughout their general presentation. Following a smoother upper treble, The Phantom's midrange is slightly warmer in tone, providing a more accurate timbre for its instruments. Zeus in turn offers greater clarity and a brighter treble tone, resulting from its upper treble peak. Despite Zeus’ brighter tonality their level of detail is similar, as the Phantom combines a slight improvement in top-end extension, with an airier stage. Compared to Zeus, the universal Phantom’s mid-bass is roughly similar in quantity, while improving in sub-bass extension and impact. While both offer a similar three-dimensional stage and precise imaging, they differ in their vocal presentation. Zeus' lower midrange tuning results in its characteristic forward midrange, highlighting especially male vocals. The Phantom in turn offers a more neutral vocal tuning in terms of forwardness; sufficiently dense and bodied, centered within its stage.

    But the Phantom’s natural competitor is the 5-Way; that other IEM with an artesian blend of timbre and performance. As with Zeus, the Phantom shares a few similarities; in the case of the 5-Way, its three-dimensional stage, and similar vocal reconstruction in terms of body and forwardness. The differences start with their bass. As I wrote in the shootout, the 5-Way in my opinion has the best BA bass from an audiophile perspective, combining deep extension with a resolved mid-bass, natural in tone. The Phantom can't quite match the naturalness of its bass, opting for a cleaner bass, with similar extension. The difference returns throughout the presentation. The 5-Way's warmer tonality results in its exceedingly natural and organic signature, with warmer upper mids and a smoother treble. The Phantom trades some of its warmth for clearer, more melodious upper mids, as well as slightly greater instrument body. Its treble is a bit crisper, where the 5-Way's is a bit smoother. Taken together, the 5-Way has the warmer, more romantic tuning. The Phantom in turn offers greater transparency, as well as a more versatile sound.



    The Legend in turn, taps into a different type of energy than the Phantom. Tuned with a more neutral tonality, the Legend paints a powerfully clear image. It isn't necessarily bright, but it certainly isn't warm either; from the current lineup, the Legend is perhaps most reminiscent of Empire's former house sound - an ode from the new flagship, to the former. For in certain aspects, one might be tempted to make a comparison to Zeus-R; in terms of staging, tone, and midrange body, they share similarities. However, its lower midrange isn't as forward, especially when compared to Zeus-XIV. But the most striking difference of course, is its gorgeous low-end; a decisive element that fortifies the sound. Fuelled by its two dynamic drivers, the Legend creates a more dynamic presentation, pulling it hopelessly away from a fair comparison. For it's safe to say the Legend delivers the type of bass one would expect, or at the very least hope for, from a hybrid.

    A beautifully bodied bass that carries weight, drawing on deep low-end extension for visceral impact, while finding a sweet spot between sub- and mid-bass emphasis. An enhanced bass for sure, but not obtrusively so; rather, it delivers a speaker-like impact that will please self-proclaimed bassheads, without overdoing it for the rest of us. In one word: addictive. In terms of speed and decay, it finds a delicate balance between naturalness in its delivery, while maintaining a high sense of control. An essential prerequisite to maintain the clarity in its presentation, despite the raw power it can provide. For make no mistake, this bass isn't kidding around. But even more impressive perhaps, is how it combines the low-end presence with outstanding technical performance; the Legend relies on excellent top-end extension to control the warm air, resulting in a well-defined stage with near-perfect separation. Offering high resolution, the Legend doesn't just try to keep up in technicalities despite its bass - it positions itself towards the top of the market. Is this 'the best bass for an IEM'? Everyone will have their personal favourites. But considering that texture, and especially impact; my inner basshead is screaming YES. A bass-enhanced iem that's not defined solely by its bass, but a total package.

    For as impressive as the Legend's bass is, it isn't even necessarily the highlight. Not because it isn't exciting in its own right, but due to its coherent integration within the rest of the signature, supporting a feeling of completeness in every facet of its performance. For instance, while I suspect nobody will question the power of its dynamic-driven bass, its quantity doesn't overpower the rest of the signature - both its instruments and vocals are equally full-bodied. There's a true sense of authority with which the Legend presents its sound, and not only because of its bass. In terms of stage positioning, its vocals sit between forward and laid-back, complemented by a slightly forward treble. Presented with resounding clarity, its instruments are captivating. Accordingly, the Legend creates a full sound, set in an especially spacious stage. While its width is the eye-catcher, it projects sufficient depth to create a holographic feel, ensuring details emerge in an effortless manner.


    While this allows the Legend to portray a high level of detail, it refrains from resorting to an overly bright signature. Even though its tone is relatively brighter than the Phantom, it's an even clarity resulting from top-end extension, rather than abrasive treble peaks. So even though the lower treble is lightly enhanced, the linearity of the upper treble results in a relatively smooth treble, although it can occasionally act up with poorly mastered tracks (in my case, mostly certain hip hop tracks or club remixes). Finally, the treble tone itself is perfectly coherent with the midrange, allowing neither to stand out relative to the other.

    Taken together, the Legend cannot only be summed up by its impactful bass, full-bodied midrange, and detailed treble; but the coherency between the three, combined with its effective use of an especially wide stage. A dynamic sound, that endows the Legend with a rare sense of badass-ness. Prioritizing tonal accuracy, the Phantom might be the more natural-sounding of the two. But the Legend makes me want to bring the beats. Since receiving it, I've been revisiting all my guilty pleasures. While versatile, genres like energetic rock, pop, hip hop, and vocal-based EDM seem to take full advantage of its clear tonality, wide stage, and punchy bass. I can safely predict a large group of people hearing this and thinking "..this is exactly what I've been waiting for, for a long, long time". Even so, I feel a moral obligation to include a stern warning: despite desperate attempts to fight the urge, the Legend keeps nudging me to increase the volume. Beware. Resistance is futile.

    Brief comparisons

    In terms of comparison, the most logical IEM coming to mind might be that other top-tier hybrid: the W900. However, there are elements in the W900's tuning that have kept me from enjoying it; specifically, a darker signature combined with a bright treble, affecting both its timbre and coherency. The Legend not only offers more impact down low, but better coherency throughout the spectrum. For me, the most logical comparison that comes to mind, is the A18. Both IEMs combine a neutralish signature with exceptional clarity and high resolution, while exciting with powerful bass and a wide stage. In both cases their stimulating signatures steer me towards genres like pop, (vocal-based) electronic music, or energetic rock. Even so, there are essential differences throughout their signature.

    Starting of course with their bass; like the Legend, the A18's bass is enhanced. But driven by BA drivers, its decay is quicker, while its texture is colored by its lifted upper treble. While it has good bottom-end extension, its emphasis is on mid- over sub-bass. The Legend's dynamic drivers provide a more realistic, rounded bass, centered on the sub- and lower portions of the mid-bass; a more analogue sounding bass. In addition, the Legend offers slightly more body to its midrange, especially male vocals. Even so, the difference between their midrange is not that vast. The distinction is greater in the treble, where the A18's brighter upper treble provides an additional touch of sparkle, making it slightly more upfront in its detail approach. The Legend's treble in turn is more neutral in tone, and accordingly more coherent with its midrange. However, these are both top-tier IEMs that I would personally classify as exciting and stimulating, with an X-factor in terms of stage, detail, and of course, bass.

    Another personal favorite in the elite class in terms of price and performance, is the VE8. There are similarities between the two, as both impress with a beautifully bodied midrange, set in an exceptionally wide stage. Similarly, both offer top-tier performance with regards to resolution, imaging, and separation. And while it has a relative neutral tone, the Legend's lower treble gives it a more energetic presentation, while the VE8's treble is a bit smoother with harsh recordings. In addition, the VE8 constructs a slightly thicker instrument note. But again, its in the bass department where they drastically differ: while the VE8's bass has sufficient body, its emphasis lies with mid- and upper-bass, while its decay and sub-bass extension betrays its BA drivers. The emphasis of the Legend's bass is centered between sub- and mid-bass; combining that deep impact with a natural texture. However when discounting the bass, the two are closer together than apart, with the Legend primarily distinguishing itself with a slightly more energetic treble.



    Stemming from two different philosophies, the Phantom and Legend only have one thing in common: their strive to be the best in what they do. For the Phantom, it's achieving perfect balance between the full range of audiophile properties, without compromising between timbre and technicalities. The Legend is the powerhouse built to engage, and to impress. Most importantly, to fulfil a lingering collective desire: a top-tier IEM with truly awesome bass.

    Their different focus manifests itself in their tone, and midrange. The Phantom's midrange is slightly warmer, with a more accurate timbre of its instruments, and greater transparency. With a more neutral tonality, the Legend is geared towards clarity. This returns in a brighter treble for the Legend, compared to a relatively smoother treble for the Phantom, especially with harsh recordings. But where the Phantom truly excels is the naturalness of its vocals, both in terms of tone, as well as formation. The Legend's vocals are nicely bodied, but not quite as detailed and natural as that of the Phantom.

    But of course their greatest distinction is the classic contrast between their dynamic and BA bass. Technically, the Phantom's extension is just as deep as the Legend's; however, due to the Legend's enhanced sub-bass quantity, it's more readily felt. The Phantom's bass quantity is more variable depending on the track, where the Legend's bass is more or less always 'on'. Taken together, the quicker and relatively leaner bass of the Phantom takes a more technical approach, which slims in comparison to the power and texture of the Legend's dynamic driver. Keep in mind, the Legend's quantity and sub-bass power is significantly enhanced compared to the top-tier standard, so when directly comparing between the two, the Phantom's bass will feel lean by nature.

    The difference in bass returns in the way they construct their stage; although the Phantom's stage can vary, it is generally a three-dimensional stage in even proportions. The Legend's stage is more or less consistently a bit wider, while the Phantom's is deeper. Pursuant to the Legend's enhanced bass, the Phantom's stage is airier, resulting in more precise layering, and cleaner separation. The net effect is that their level detail is similar, while accomplishing it in different ways; relying on its separation and resolution, the Phantom delivers a high level of detail, in a refined manner. The Legend effectively compensates for its powerful bass with brighter treble, resulting in greater clarity supported by its wide stage.

    Altogether, one might say the Phantom is the more elegant tuning. It combines a beautiful timbre, with perfect separation, and high transparency; more than anything, the keywords are balance, and versatility. The Legend in turn demonstrates pure power; the sheer weight of its bass, its wide stage, and forward sound. A stimulating sound, that instantly gets you hooked. An analogy would be that the Phantom is like a Porsche; perhaps not the largest engine, but it's agile, streamlined, and refined. The Legend-X in turn represents the classic American muscle car, with a large V8. In tight corners, it might not keep up with the Phantom; but when you step on the gas and hear that engine roar, you'll see that baby fly.

    In sum, the most striking conclusion perhaps is that they each have very little in common, while simultaneously both excelling in separate ways; these IEMs might well be the definition of complimentary. If I could have only these two, I would retire from this hobby a happy man - they cover my full range of music, moods, and general preferences. Switch to the Phantom, to be seduced by the naturalness of its vocals, and the beauty of its timbre; a lifelike representation of the music. Switch to the Legend, and you'll think tonal accuracy, shmonal accuracy - this sounds f&$king awesome. Choose your poison.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
  11. twister6 Contributor
    No pictures in my review (just a promo shot from Jack) since the prototype shell I received has a "temporary" faceplate, and I already posted pictures of my green shell. So, just a write up of the Legend X (final sound tuning) with a Sound Analysis, Comparison, and Pair Ups, along with some info about synX crossover and A.R.C. technology :)

    Empire Ears Legend X Review.

  12. ezekiel77
    Amazing, spellbinding impressions and reviews from the two stalwarts of HeadFi. I'd like to give @flinkenick and @twister6 a standing ovation from my TV couch as I read this. Nic's post reads like a veritable page-turner with a satisfying ending, whereas Alex's full-blown Legend X review is one blockbuster battle after another in the comparisons section.

    I'm practically breathless, and look forward to the official release with full anticipation.

    TLDR holy sheeeeedddd exciting days ahead!!
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2018
  13. kubig123
    Very interesting, as all your reviews
    Deezel177 and flinkenick like this.
  14. fuhransahis
    @flinkenick ... Your words are the embodiment of @Wyville 's devils. I've never convinced myself that owing 2 IEMs to complement each other was a good idea, until now. And congrats on the awesome collaboration! Darn you and bravo sir :L3000: Awesome write up by @twister6 as well, comparison to Vega was helpful to me, I think I'll pick up Legend X and then the Phantom. Now to find an Amp 4...
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2018
  15. Wyville
    Hehe, while reading it I was actually thinking the same thing! :D Darn I want those Legend X as well now, but the Phantom have priority.
    ranfan, Deezel177 and fuhransahis like this.
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