Sneak Peek: Empire Ears’ 2020 Lineup

Table of Contents

Introduction

Ah, Empire Ears. With the decline of JH Audio, Ultimate Ears and Westone in the audiophile space, EE quickly rose up the ranks to become one of the top boutique custom IEM brands in the Western market with a sizeable grasp on the Eastern market. 

I myself have had a love-hate relationship with EE IEMs; their original Zeus, the IEM that put EE on the map as a top-tier IEM brand, was something that I initially appreciated for its high technical capabilities but became more and more critical of over the years given its wonky tuning. The Legend X: a bass monster that I could respect, but ultimately could not give my highest praise due to its uncontrolled bass presence. And the Wraith… well, we all know how that turned out.

(And of course their greatest shame to date, but technically it’s not an EE product.)

Now EE revamps a few of their existing models, namely the Bravado, EVR, ESR, and Valkyrie. With the exception of the Valkyrie which had the same driver configuration as its predecessor, the new revamped models now sport shiny new Sonion EST drivers. Drivers that many would know I’m not a fan of, but I digress.

The Hero and the Odin are EE’s new “original” models out of the 2020 releases, with the Odin retailing at a whopping $3,400. Surprisingly, this is actually $100 lower than the Wraith’s original MSRP of $3,500, which has since been removed from the EE product catalog with only B-stock universal units available for purchase.

Over the weekend, I attended the launch event for these new IEMs at Zeppelin & Co (EE’s newest exclusive Singaporean distributor), though I didn’t want to listen for too long since there were many others who were waiting in line. Thus, this article will be even more casual than the usual cliffnotes, instead moving fully into Sneak Peek territory where I won’t even drop a rank. Just a stream of consciousness thing where I ramble about IEMs based off 10-minute listens.

Addressing the elephant in the room: yes. There is an embargo for measurements in place for this release. However, this is not indefinite and the embargo lifts on the first of September. So don’t be surprised if you’re scrolling down this article and find no graphs.

Empire Ears Bravado Mk2

Product page: https://zeppelinandco.com/products/empire-ears-bravado-ii-uiem

MSRP: 1,200 SGD (US price unknown)

Driver configuration: 1DD + 1BA + 2EST hybrid

Bassy. Very bassy.

I usually don’t use the word “recessed mids” since I find that descriptor heavily overused and losing its meaning as time goes on. However in this case I think the Bravado Mk2 fits that description perfectly; instruments, vocals, percussions… literally anything that doesn’t exist in the basslines are pushed so far back in the mix that I find myself literally straining to enjoy the music on this.

I supposed this isn’t too dissimilar to the original Bravado, but still. As a basshead’s IEM, it may scratch that boom-boom itch but ultimately doesn’t quite have the finesse and control that would compel me to consider this as a “good” bassheads’ IEMs.

Empire Ears EVR Mk2

Product page: https://zeppelinandco.com/products/empire-ears-evr-ii-uiem

MSRP: 1,300 SGD (US price unknown)

Driver configuration: 3BA + 2EST hybrid

Oh dear god this is horrible.

I don’t mean the “this isn’t bad, but it’s overpriced” meaning of the word, no. The EVR Mk2 is confusing from start to finish, from the limp nature of its bass, the honky-tonk tonality of the midrange, to the screeching sharpness of the treble. It’s a downgrade from the original Mk1 in every sense of the word, and probably the worst “Vocal Reference” (the “VR” in EVR) you can get.

Empire Ears ESR Mk2

Product page: https://zeppelinandco.com/products/empire-ears-esr-ii-uiem

MSRP: 1,600 SGD (US price unknown)

Driver configuration: 3BA + 2EST hybrid

After the EVR Mk2, the ESR Mk2 is a breath of fresh air.

Out of the four model revamps, the ESR Mk2 probably has the biggest jump in the improvement from its precedessor, more closely matching its monicker of “Studio Reference”. From the Mk1 to Mk2, the new ESR is more neutral, holds better tonality in the midrange and more tolerable in the treble given the relatively boosted mids over the original.

I have my own “Hall of Fame” for neutral-ish reference IEMs that I typically throw out whenever someone asks for a kilobuck monitor, namely the PEARS SH3, the Kumitate KL-Sirius, the Hidition NT6 and Hidition Viento. From my brief listening session, the ESR Mk2 definitely has the potential to join these ranks as a generally pleasing, balanced monitor that have already won the hearts of many during the launch event.

Empire Ears Valkyrie Mk2

Product page: https://zeppelinandco.com/products/empire-ears-valkyrie-ii-uiem

MSRP: 2,400 SGD (US price unknown)

Driver configuration: 1DD + 1BA + 1EST hybrid

Eeeeeeeh.

The Valkyrie Mk2 is still very Valkyrie-ish; the extreme V-shaped response, the strong sub-bass rumble, the overwhelmingly shouty midrange… there’s maybe slightly smoother/darker treble in the Mk2 but overall, if you liked the old Valkyrie then the Mk2 would still be in your ballpark.

That said, if you already own an original Valkyrie… no need to consider the Mk2.

Empire Ears Hero

Product page: https://empireears.com/collections/x-line/products/hero

MSRP: $1,350

Driver configuration: 1DD + 3BA hybrid

The Hero is not bad. Not great, but not bad.

Its signature is a treble-leaning V-shape, with the bass emphasis focused closer to the sub-bass regions. It is definitely possesses an aggressive sound that may not be for everyone, and personally it’s a touch too feral for my blood.

However, the midrange tonality is pretty solid, the bass is relatively well-controlled (relative to the Bravado Mk2 and Legend X, anyways) and my only real issue is in the treble emphasis. However, that’s more about one’s own personal preferences rather than any objective take on the quality of said treble, which I will need more time to evaluate.

Empire Ears Odin

Product page: https://empireears.com/collections/x-line/products/odin

MSRP: $3,400

Driver configuration: 2DD + 5BA + 4EST hybrid

I’ll admit: I went into the Odin fully expecting a complete disaster. After all, the Wraith was, at least in terms of critical response, a failure. When a $3,500 flagship could only realistically compete with $100 budget IEMs in terms of sound quality, you know something went wrong somewhere.

Now, the Odin is only slightly better on the pricing front, being $100 cheaper than the Wraith but still comfortably blasting past the 3k barrier. Full disclosure: my own personal budget ceiling for an IEM would be around $1,500 and most of the top-tier IEMs I’ve ranked hover around the 2k mark, so the Odin would have to exceed everything in my “S” tier in order to fully justify its pricing. At least in the opinion in this one guy on the internet.

Does the Odin have what it takes to be the first and only “S+”? I would say no.

However, does it compete? As much as I hate its pricing… yeah. I may just consider the Odin to be one of the best IEMs available today, at least in accordance to the metrics that I’ve established for this website. The tuning is solid, retaining the Legend X’s acclaimed midrange tonality with far superior bass control, and so should please more than it should detract. I hear no issues with its technical capabilities, resolving superbly though somewhat average on the imaging front.

I still need more time with the Odin so I won’t dive any further into the details. However, at the very least EE has managed to clear one very important hurdle: the Odin is no Wraith.

Summary

HITS
Odin
ESR Mk2

MEH
Valkyrie Mk2
Hero

MISSES
EVR Mk2
Bravado Mk2

Again if you missed it: there is an embargo for measurements in place for this release. However, this is not indefinite and the embargo lifts on the first of September

Support me on Patreon to get access to tentative ranks, the exclusive “Clubhouse” Discord server and/or access to the Premium Graph Comparison Tool! My usual thanks to all my current supporters and shoutouts to my big money boys:

“McMadface”
Man Ho
Will
Denis
Alexander

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