Welcome to my Cliffnotes, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the IEMs I’ve heard but can’t be bothered to fully review. Thus I won’t get too in-depth, nor will I be too formal and technical. Less analysis, more… from-the-heart if you will.
The Valkyrie and Wraith are Empire Ears newest foray into the latest trend in IEM technology: the Sonion more-electret-than-electrostatic “electrostatic” tweeters.
The Wraith in particular is now crowned as Empire Ears’ latest halo product that clocks in at a personal record of a whopping $3,500, surpassing the heights of the ex-flagships Zeus-XR and Legend X which were both industry anomalies in their own right. The Valkyrie on the other hand is touted as a baby Legend X, straight from the mouth of Jack Vang himself.
Now, it’s no secret that my opinion on the Sonion ESTs aren’t very high to begin with. Most implementations tend to veer towards a lack of treble more than anything (understandably so considering the sensitivity of those things) and the best implementation I’ve heard (the Vision Ears Elysium) only seemed to equal that of their BA tweeter counterparts. It’s not quite a “DD woofer versus BA woofer” situation where I could distinctly pick out the differences in presentation between the two and I don’t think it justifies the premium that all manufacturers seem to be charging for them.
But maybe Empire Ears can be the first convince me of the mystical properties of these exotic tweeters. So without further ado, here are my abridged thoughts on their newest kids on the block.
Empire Ears Valkyrie
Product page: https://empireears.com/products/valkyrie-universal
Driver configuration: 1DD + 1BA + 1EST
First, let’s address the whole “baby Legend X” thing.
I would describe the Legend X as “sinful” or even a “guilty pleasure”. It’s no secret that it’s probably one of the most imbalanced IEMs in the TOTL-sphere, and its reputation as a high-level basshead ‘phone is not unwarranted in my opinion. And yet despite this imbalance, I don’t think it sounds unnatural, it simply lacks the finesse and control in the bass regions like other similarly priced IEMs, and I think that really hurts its ability to be taken seriously in the hifi audiophile world.
Now taking all that into context, the Valkyrie leans even further into the Legend X’s imbalance and firmly plants itself into the realm of the “extreme V-shape”. You get a lot of upper midrange and treble, and a lot of sub-bass. Thankfully the bass is pretty well-controlled even in comparison to the Legend X, but there really is a lot of it here. The upper midrange borders on shoutiness but I think it’s pretty nicely counterbalanced by the massive bass boost at the very least, so it’s not harsh for my ears. So in that regard, I kind of get it. The Valkyrie is a baby Legend X.
But god, the midrange. If you’re a stickler for mids, stay far far away from the Valkyrie. The tonal balance isn’t bad by any means, but this is easily one of the thinnest mids I have ever heard in an IEM. I find myself instinctively squinting when listening to these since they sound like the music is being squeezed through a tiny pinhole.
Give me a break, these are cliffnotes. I’ll abuse my right to make stupid analogies here.
I think the most surprising thing about the Valkyrie is that it actually has a decent amount of treble. As stated before, my experience with EST hybrids have been mostly disappointing with regards to their treble presentation so this was a nice breath of fresh air.
Not a bad entry by Empire Ears and it could’ve been great too, if it didn’t come with the Empire Ears pricing as well.
Empire Ears Wraith
Product page: https://empireears.com/products/wraith-universal
MSRP: $3,500 (universal)
Driver configuration: 7BA + 4EST
(Just for further context I tested the Wraith with the Chord Hugo 2, the source that it was tuned with according to Jack himself.)
If the Valkyrie’s treble presentation was a pleasant surprise, then the Wraith’s would be a reminder of my disappointments with the EST drivers in the first place.
Many ears around me have also opined that the Wraith sounds horrible, but I don’t think it’s so. It’s not outright bad, but it certainly leaves a lot to be desired in terms of its bass presentation, midrange tonality and of course, the treble. Which basically doesn’t exist.
It’s pretty clear the Wraith shares some DNA with the Zeus; it has a similarly wonky midrange, same weak bass response and while the Wraith does have the potential of the Zeus’ lauded resolution, it’s ultimately squandered away by the treble tuning. It’s a muffled and dark presentation that, while admittedly non-fatiguing and up to personal preference, honestly does not belong in the high-end space. Unless you’re willing to part with kilobuck money just for a more esoteric tuning.
The Wraith is an oddity with more weaknesses than strengths that, in this reviewer’s opinion, is worth nowhere close to its asking price. It feels more like an attempt to bandwagon on a weird trend in IEM technology that ultimately fell flat in implementation.
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