Empire Ears Zeus-XR vs. Empire Ears Phantom
Despite commonalities present in the midrange (particularly that of the Zeus-XIV), the Phantom and the Zeus are more different than they are alike.
A significantly accentuated bass response and an infinitely more linear treble furthers the former from the latter’s more neutral tone. While the Zeus excels in displaying crystalline transparency and sparkly resolution, the Phantom has the more natural response; defining notes with body, colour and tone – rather than articulation or clarity. The latter’s warmer and more guttural bass response immediately rectifies one of the Zeus’s most glaring weaknesses. Compromising neither tone, nor transparency nor clarity, the Phantom presents a more extended, even-handed, physical and technically-capable low-end that the Zeus struggles to attain.
The midrange is where the two are most similar. Emphasising boldness, strength and solidity in vocals and instruments alike, both flagships display an affinity towards the intimacy and soulfulness of the human voice. The Zeus has a tendency the sound throatier, however, due to its heavier lower-midrange. And, a peak in the lower-treble brings articulation (particularly in hotter recordings) to dangerous – i.e. near sibilant – heights. The Phantom, in this regard, is considerably smoother and more linear. A less brittle top-end endows vocals with a more organic timbre, favouring emotional warmth rather than ultimate clarity.
The treble then, conversely, is where the two TOTLs diverge. Due to peaks in both the lower-and-upper-treble, the Zeus’s top-end embodies a more neutral character as well as a hardness in texture. The Phantom, here, is less theatric; emphasising richness and tone above all. Superior linearity also gives the Phantom a blacker background than the Zeus; necessary for its warmer timbre. Though, stellar extension allows the Phantom to compete with the Zeus in terms of resolution, and where they stand on transparency will ultimately depend on whether you prefer a more clarity-led signature or a textured one.
Empire Ears Zeus-XR vs. Empire Ears Legend X
The Legend X bears a closer resemblance to the Zeus-R than it does the XIV. Reprising the 14-driver flagship’s brilliant clarity and crispness, the Legend X presents a similarly clean stage; extending outwards in terms of width, especially. But, with two Weapon IX dynamic drivers in its arsenal, the two flagships can’t possibly sound identical.
And, speaking to this, let’s start at the bass. Or – as the Legend X puts it – the BASS! The new flagship has a low-end the Zeus simply cannot touch. Apart from vast differences in sheer magnitude, the Legend X embodies a different genre of bass when compared to the Zeus-R. The former serves low-end in mild portions, prioritising the cleanliness of its stage as well as its perceived transparency. The Legend X – on the other hand – adds a physical, visceral and powerful low-end into the mix, balancing transparency all along the way. Marvellous control allows for this compromise to exist as optimally as possible, allowing the Legend X a wetter, meatier and clearer bass without sacrificing overall clarity in the process.
The midrange is a much closer contest between the two TOTLs. Both the Zeus-R and the Legend X don a balanced midrange – linear from the lower registers towards the upper regions. Instruments on the Legend X sound wider and more spacious, because of a welcome boost in headroom. The Zeus-R has a more aggressive bite to its instruments – due to a sharper lower-treble – and tone is more neutral as a result. Cleanliness and transparency are on par between the two, but the Legend X has the blacker background – again – contributed by its linear top-end. Vocal placement on both IEMs lean towards average, with the Legend X’s bass and the Zeus-R’s treble taking precedence. All in all, the midrange is where both flagships share the most DNA; neutral in mind and clear at heart.
The treble is where the Legend X flaunts its maturity. Building upon the Zeus-R’s crystalline top-end, the hybrid flagship smoothens out its predecessor’s peaks – maintaining clarity, transparency and tone, whilst providing a smoother, more pleasurable listening experience along the way. The Zeus-R has the more prominent response, whilst the Legend X lets it take the back seat in favour of the bass. Though, that does not mean the latter is darker or warmer than the former. Through improved extension and air, the Legend X realises clarity and sparkle just as well, but it does so with a greater sense of finesse. Exhibiting great progress in smoothness, coherency and even-handedness, the Legend X’s top-end is a clear technical improvement, even if the bass still steals the spotlight.
With both the EP and X line-ups, Empire Ears have struck gold. All seven IEMs provide an excellent variety of signatures and maintain consistent technical performance. Whether the Bravado or the ESR, elements like extension, definition and background blackness remain within reach of their bigger brothers – proving that entry-level compromise is a thing of the past. The Professional series inducts a new trilogy of IEMs into the reference hall-of-fame; handsomely catering to three distinct use-cases, whilst retaining enough musicality for all to enjoy. The X line is Empire Ears flexing their muscles; flaunting their very own 9mm dynamic drivers in four sumptuous flavours – exhibiting explosive bass and excellent technical performance in great harmony. Whether you’re a sound engineer or an audiophile looking for a bit of fun, there’s tons to love about all of Empire Ears’ new releases. As for me, this is a really exciting time to be both.