The X Line-Up
The X line-up represents Empire Ears’s maiden voyage into the realm of hybrid IEMs. Implementing their very own proprietary 9mm dynamic driver – dubbed the Weapon IX – these monitors are defined by exceptionally unique bass responses; masterfully balancing raw power, epic scale and sumptuous warmth with effortless control, immense focus and marvellous finesse. As a result, all four monitors share a strong sense of musicality, albeit in varying degrees. And yet, despite discrepancies in overall signature, these IEMs consistently display excellent technical performance across the board; from the ultra-promising entry-level unit, all the way to the mighty flagship.
Please note that all of the following prices are in Singaporean dollars.
The Bravado is the X-line-up’s entry-level model, and – as I teased in the introductory paragraph – one of my absolute favourites from the entire show; regardless of price. Sporting excellent tonal balance from top to bottom, the Bravado shines in its ability to produce gobs of dynamic energy with exceptional headroom and exquisite smoothness. Reminiscent of IEMs like the Lime Ears Aether or the Vision Ears VE8, the Bravado pairs solid, punchy notes with brilliant volumes of air. As a result, the Bravado exudes openness and ease without resorting to an excessive treble peak; maintaining organicity and warmth in its timbre. Bodied notes offset the Bravado’s articulative energy – balancing naturalness and transparency with ease.
A forwardly-placed vocal range contributes to the Bravado’s allure, benefitting from an upper-mid peak for clarity in articulation. A slight lift in the extreme upper-treble is responsible for the Bravado’s openness and air, but a linear treble response – as well as tastefulness in the lift – maintains excellent smoothness; endowing the Bravado with an energetic-yet-forgiving sense of sparkle. Bass frequencies are extremely well-controlled and linearly extended. Although the Bravado isn’t as chestily impactful as its older brothers, it still boasts a low-end that’s punchy, visceral and beautifully textured. The Bravado is an exceptional IEM, price tag notwithstanding. But, when you take its value into consideration, it truly is a revolutionary piece – bringing a dense, engaging and soulful sound into the mid-tier market. Bravo.
Coming off of the Bravado, the Vantage is a vastly different IEM. Although it maintains a similar sense of immediacy and energy, the Vantage takes a slower approach to things – tackling the classic fun signature with a warm, pillowy, audiophile twist. The Bravado’s upper-mid peak continues here, collaborating with an admirably extended treble to create a clean and well-organised stage. This is especially important given the extra Weapon IX driver installed within the Vantage. This addition is responsible for the Vantage’s warmth, endowing its upper-bass with a voluminous and atmospheric bloom. Although none of this bleeds into the lower-midrange – maintaining the Bravado’s excellent clarity – it enriches vocals and instruments alike with a palpable heft and an organic timbre.
This weight is why the Vantage gets away with a mildly v-shaped signature. The IEM’s midrange takes on a more neutral stance, while a decadent low-end and a smooth, rounded treble occupy centre-stage. But, despite what may seem like a transient-heavy presentation, the Vantage relishes in overtones to create an easygoing and breezy stage. The upper-bass bloom benefits the low-end and the midrange, endowing both with an effortlessly natural tone, while treble notes cut through without any tinniness or artificiality. The lower-midrange has a light dip, but it allows cleanliness to counterbalance the IEM’s richer undertones. The Vantage is an IEM defined by its melodious charm. It’s the smoothest of the line, doubling down on a rich bass response to balance against its smooth, well-rounded articulation – creating a warm, audiophile-inclined signature that just so happens to have a thick, juicy low-end up its sleeve.
The Nemesis is a product that harkens back to the Empire Ears house sound, embodying the clarity-led sound signatures of their Olympus line-up. Evoking the Bravado’s thrilling energy and tonal balance, the Nemesis takes advantage of a jaw-rocking bass and a crisp, crystalline treble to create an exciting and – most of all – clear presentation. However, one shouldn’t mistake the Nemesis for a v-shaped monitor either. Excellent balance and linearity throughout the midrange endows vocals and instruments alike with palpable body. Although vocal placement still leans towards the neutral side, midrange definition is never compromised – using note weight and body to invoke genuine textural resolution. A lower-treble peak and a further extended treble also improves upon the Bravado’s soundscape, reducing overall stage warmth for boosts in stability. This added articulation does make the Nemesis less forgiving, easygoing and natural than the Bravado, but the former’s marvellous headroom compensates for this admirably.
The Nemesis also elevates the synX cross-over into an 8-way configuration (compared to the Vantage’s 5-way) with two Weapon IX drivers – numbers not far off those of the flagship Legend X. As a result, the two share somewhat similar bass responses; particularly in physicality, texture, focus and tone. A slight sub-bass emphasis encourages a visceral grit throughout the low-end, while a wetter mid-bass complements this solidity with a dynamic, bombastic thump. The two drivers – in unison – combine to produce unprecedented waves of pure energy; turning feeble low-end frequencies into physical, concrete punches to the chest; a truly unique experience. And even so, none of these slams ever bleed into the midrange. The Nemesis and the Legend X portray the Weapon IX drivers at their best, with unprecedented delineation, exceptional discipline and a pure, concentrated central focus. Well-defined upper-bass melodies spread throughout the stage, while sub-and-mid-bass jabs never tread beyond the middle; headroom, space and cleanliness galore.
Legend X (S$3499)
The Legend X is the pinnacle of Empire Ears’ recent technological and acoustical efforts. Putting together two Weapon IX dynamic and five proprietary balanced-armature drivers through a 10-way synX cross-over, the Legend X epitomises no-holds-barred. And, in performance, it certainly deserves its flagship status. Truly, the Legend X is as much a product of innovation, as it is a product of cultivation. Integrating an outrageously visceral bass response, a transparent Zeus-R-esque midrange and an impressively extended treble, the Legend X is a culmination of ideals in every sense of the phrase. Although its purposeful tuning isn’t the most organic or versatile kind – that’s more the Phantom’s forte – the Legend X’s outstanding technical performance gifts it more versatility than its driver configuration suggests. This is no ordinary basshead flagship IEM; this is a masterclass in doing basshead right.
Integration and balance are the Legend X’s most exceptional attributes. Instead of resorting to volume or frequency redistribution to optimise tonal balance, the Legend X takes advantage of its wide stage, organisation and low-end control; creating an exceptionally disciplined soundscape where every instrument gets its due. But, nevertheless, this flagship’s bass is an absolute joy to behold. Manifesting itself in the form of powerful, centrally-focused slams, the Legend X’s low-end showcases both a commanding presence and amazing delineation at the same time. Present in all other X-series IEMs as well, Jack explained to me that concerted efforts went into eliminating all sense of reverb or fuzz from the low-end. And, as evidenced here, those efforts clearly proved their value. Decay and tone both contribute to this as well. Speed is some of the fastest I’ve heard from a dynamic driver – let alone two – and the darker bass tone creates a wonderful contrast against the clear and airy vocal range just above. This is truly a marvellous, speaker-like bass that’ll prove challenging to beat in the years to come.
The midrange and treble evoke Empire Ears’ very own Zeus-R, but the X comes with twists of its own. Vocal presentation is very much neutral – favouring the bass in forwardness – with a warmth that emanates from a well-balanced lower midrange. Excellent linearity from the upper-midrange onwards produces great balance between transparency and smoothness. Rectifying the Zeus’s slightly uneven treble, the Legend X displays significant improvements in headroom, decay and coherency. Cymbals sound crystal clear without offence, evenly expressed from the fundamental transient all the way to the last harmonic. Although it must be emphasised that the bass still takes precedence in the overall presentation when it does kick, both the Legend X’s midrange and treble are absolutely nothing to scoff at. Showcasing best-in-class transparency, clarity and smoothness, the Legend X pushes the boundaries of the basshead epithet; an outrageously fun and sophisticated monitor from top to bottom.