Rank #2: Empire Ears Zeus-XIV

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Zeus-XIV was awe-inspiring, as the first iem to pass the 12 BA mark – the earphone community felt collectively lifted to another level. Despite initial scepticism, it quickly became apparent that Zeus’ driver count was more than a gimmick; Zeus delivered a performance one might expect from its name – as well as price, equally extraordinary at the time. Since then, Zeus-XIV has undergone a number of revisions: first the ‘R’ alternative, and later the addition of ADEL technology. But for me, Zeus-XIV has always remained the one that got it right.

Empire Ears Zeus-XIV
-Drivers:                    14 BA drivers
-Design:                     7-way passive crossover
-Impedance:             21 Ohm
-Sensitivity:               119
-Fit:                             Custom

-MRSP:                       $2099


Cable

Zeus-XIV comes stock with a special edition Whiplash silver-plated copper cable, successor to the initial BTG Starlight. The Whiplash SPC provides a relatively neutral sound, geared towards clarity. It’s smooth, though somewhat void of warmth – a pairing that that gives Zeus a neutral, but somewhat colder sound. It sounds clear, resolved, and detailed, but could have used a bit more warmth in its tone. I would have preferred a warmer pairing to accompany its midrange, and create a more natural sound. But it makes more sense once you know Zeus was originally tuned with the Plastics One OFC cable in mind, which would have provided that extra touch of warmth to its sound.

Sound impressions

Presentation
Zeus is an iem that never fails to impress me. It combines high resolution with an impressive stage, and power in its sound. Leave it to 14 drivers to hit you with a wall of sound – to floor you even. There’s solidity in its sound, enhanced by its forward vocals. But despite it being released as their flagship model, Empire Ears didn’t choose the safest route for its tuning, opting for a bold midrange, rather than a strictly neutral signature. Zeus is built with character, and one that doesn’t mind steering away from conventions.

But Zeus is a finicky one. It’s tuned with an impressive midrange, producing full-bodied vocals, with ample power. A midcentric signature, emphasizing the full vocal range – from top to bottom. Its tone on the other hand, wouldn’t necessarily suggest it; while Zeus was tuned with the midrange in mind, its treble balances its tone to almost dead neutral. As a result, Zeus is somewhat dependent over sources, cables, and even tips to provide direction in its sound. When paired with a brighter source, its sound can become predominantly revealing; Zeus, the reference monitor. But Zeus is a god with many faces. When paired with warmer sources and cables, Zeus is a smooth iem, providing, arguably, one of the best midranges money can buy.


Zeus presents its bold sound in a grand stage. It might not be as wide as the A18 or W900, but its dimensions are well-proportioned in all directions. The quality however lies in its layering ability, and precision of imaging. Relying on both its width and depth, Zeus makes optimal use of the complete space for its instrument positioning. As a result, its separation is excellent, conveying a high sense of detail based on the organization of its stage structure, as well as its resolution. A precise, three-dimensional image.

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About Author

Nic is currently in pursuit of a PhD degree in social neuropsychology, while trying not to get too distracted by this hobby. In pursuit of theoretical knowledge by day, and audiophile excellence at night. Luckily for him, both activities are not mutually exclusive which helps to lighten the workload. Always on the go, Nic's enthusiasm for hi-fi is focused on all chains of the portable system: iems, cables and daps.

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