A First Look: Empire Ears Odin

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DISCLAIMER: Empire Ears provided me with the Odin in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Empire Ears for their kindness and support. The article is as follows.

To me, very few in the industry embody the word audacity as fearlessly and passionately as American-made Empire Ears. This family-run monitoring brand have made a name off of their ingenuity, swiftly escalating from penta-bore designs, to 14-driver customs, to proprietary-dynamic-driver hybrids and – now – the inclusion of custom-tuned electrostats in there as well. With each passing cycle seeing one bold, precarious invention after another, you’d think Empire would’ve burned out their creative engine by now. But, in 2020, as they’ve done year by year, they’ve only stepped it up. Empire’s new, tri-brid flagship Odin packs in every last bell, chime and whistle for their grandest, most immense, most revealing in-ear yet.

Empire Ears Odin

  • Driver count: Two Weapon IX+ dynamic drivers, five balanced-armature drivers and four electrostatic drivers
  • Impedance: 3Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 108dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): EIVEC, synX crossover technology, A.R.C. technology, proprietary DDs and BAs
  • Available form factor(s): Universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $3399
  • Website: www.empireears.com

EIVEC Technology

EIVEC (or Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control) is proprietary Empire tech developed for their initial electrostatic hybrids: The Valkyrie and Wraith. The aim is to act as a bridge of sorts between the e-stats and the rest of the driver sets, so they’d operate in conjunction to create a seamless, coherent sound. EIVEC involves developing a custom transformer, which – in the Odin’s case – drives all four of its electrostatic tweeters, rather than the one-transformer-per-tweeter config many other manufacturers use for their electrostatic hybrids. Considering Empire’s claims that “getting the driver types to play nice with each other” was the Odin’s toughest task, I think it’s safe to say that EIVEC plays a major role in that success.

Image courtesy of Empire Ears

Weapon IX+

Empire’s custom-built, Weapon IX dynamic driver played an immeasurably crucial role in the success of their X, hybrid in-ear monitors, responsible for what both critics and enthusiasts alike have called “the best” or “most memorable” low-ends they’ve ever heard out of an IEM. The product of years of R&D at Empire’s skunkworks, they claim to key to its sound lies in its bass-reflex enclosure system, which has a front-firing sound port and a rear-firing vent for utmost efficiency. In the years since, Empire have continued to refine their diaphragm, and now premiering with this Odin is the new Weapon IX+ dynamic driver. It sports a larger internal-coil diameter, a more linear excursion envelope and more capable suspension to better-handle peak-to-peak excursions while mitigating distortion. It’s a driver that’ll feature in the Odin, Hero and the upcoming MK2 variants of their X series, and I can’t wait to hear all the flavours Empire will draw out of this stunning DD.

Image courtesy of Empire Ears


Sound Impressions

Empire Ears’ Odin is an immense, immense-sounding monitor. The soundscape it builds is arrestingly vast, intricate and well-organised, and the instruments within them follow suit with a tonality built for resonance, vividness and power. This is a sig I’d classify as w-shaped to a degree, though one that – more than most others – maintains a fairly-even, clear hue throughout; teasing some zing out of the sub-bass, upper-mids and mid-treble, but with continuity to it too. Coming back to its stage, this Odin’s – without a doubt – ranks among the most effortlessly-nuanced, intricately-layered and just, plain spacious I’ve heard yet. It possesses absolute authority over the picture it’s painting, such that, without fail, you’re always able to tell when sounds start and stop, which move where, etc. It’s resolution and layering made comically easy, and the fact that the Odin does so without cheats – while keeping its notes full and supported – is a massive, massive feat. Bravo.

Empire’s induction into the basshead’s Hall of Fame came concurrently with the release of their Legend X in 2018. Though reception to its mid-bass quantity was a tad more mixed, the physicality, gusto and power that those Weapon IX woofers showed were undeniable, and it set the bar for many; myself included. Now, in 2020, armed with the DD’s latest revision, the Odin sees Empire perfect their low-end tuning for a bass as captivating as ever, but more balanced and refined than ever before; oomph without excess. Tactility, texture and punch rank among the best I’ve heard. But, at the same time, it shows enough restraint to sit with the mids and treble, even with the most grandiose of bass drops on tracks like Pusha-T’s If You Know You Know. If anything, the sub-bass is the one bit that ever exceeds neutral; the mid- and upper-bass lying a smidge behind the lead instrument. But, again, it’s truly the power in those W9+’s that ensure they never get lost in the mix. Whether it’s live kicks or 808s, this Odin’s low-end is quintessential Empire, but with a matured, outstanding finesse.

A crucial contributor to the Odin’s spaciousness, precision and separation is its tight, snappy and incredibly well-resolved midrange. The region’s lower half sits a hair further back in the mix, which is what gives it its light, clean and airy tonality; not as warm or bulbous as I’d expect a classic, studio monitor to be, for example. Vocalists like Rachael Price will sound a tad breathier; less chesty. And, horns like the one that intros Oytun Ersan’s Mysterious Maze will show more of that brass-y quality. But, to my ears, that colouration’s been executed with an admirable amount of finesse, more so than most. I’m not hearing any notable hollowness, thinness or suck-out. Instruments still have their fundamentals to them, and they’re delivered with power as well; showcasing the Odin’s dynamic range on tracks like Snarky Puppy’s Chonks. Note-size-wise, the Odin straddles between neutral and a tad above it. Again, it mostly stays tight for layering’s sake. But, it does allow for a bit of play for – again – dynamics, and to lend a bit of soul too. Last is a nod to resolution, which the Odin has plenty of.

Up high, Empire have sat this Odin’s treble cohesively with the mids and lows. It isn’t a treble that jumps out, necessarily, and blankets a coat of crisp over everything else. It’s more so a top-end that sits right about neutral, relying instead on its natural extension, texture and punch to leap off the image. And, to that end, I think it succeeds fairly nicely. Cymbals and hi-hats sit comfortably without harshness or sheen – most of the times, behind the midrange – yet they cut through with great clarity and punch. Further aiding that is the in-ear’s superbly clean background, which allows even the furthermost detail in the mix to at least be perceivable. The one gripe some can have with the treble is a lightly-livened 5-8kHz region. Again, it’s not an issue of splashiness or sibilance. To my ears, what it does is prioritise the brighter notes on hi-hats and ride cymbals, masking a lot of their darker overtones in the process. As someone who drums and engineers, I find it can slightly homogenise cymbals and take away their defining tones or traits. Obviously, though, it’s more subjective, so your mileage may vary. Otherwise, this Odin’s highs is textbook in teetering between crisp and refined with technique to boot.


Initial Comparisons

Empire Ears Wraith ($3499)

Comparing the two Empire flagships, what you’ll immediately notice is a brighter, clearer tilt on this Odin’s tonality. It has the much more present treble of the two; 7kHz and up, especially. Then, its upper-bass and lower-mids are considerably more relaxed as well. Taken together, what that’ll hand you is a much lighter, airier, more articulative profile on the Odin that isn’t as rich, meaty or warm. This is ideal if a lot of your playlist consists of female vocals, violins and pianos, while I’d likely prefer the Wraith for male vocals, trombones and cellos with its heavier, denser, more organic-sounding midrange. Up top, again, the Odin is the brighter, crisper of the two, which lends lots more attack to snare drums and cymbals. The Wraith keeps up admirably in extension, and it may even be preferred by those who enjoy a more relaxed sig. But, those after clarity will probably opt for the Odin. That added top-end air – along with the Odin’s tighter, more neutral midrange – also make it the more precise separator. Finally, down low, the Odin’s W9+ woofers squarely come out on top in depth, physicality and definition. And, the sub-bass tilt gives it a darker, gruffer tone too, relative to the Wraith’s lighter low-end.

64 Audio tia Fourté Noir ($3799)

Going from the Odin to the Fourté Noir, you’ll immediately hear an almost v-shaped lift; an added presence across either extreme. The 64 Audio universal flagship has a beefier low-end, which extends throughout its low-mids as well. That gifts vocalists a meatier, lightly fuller tonality. Chrissi Poland on Dave Weckl and Jay Oliver’s rendition of Higher Ground sounds almost lower – deeper – in pitch because of it; not as bright or brassy as she is on the Odin. That is also partly due to this Odin’s more vibrant, forwardly-positioned upper-mids. Although, it’ll depend on the specific track or mix too. On Michael Bublé’s Me and Mrs. Jones, for example, this Noir has the more forward-sounding vocals, because of how its high-end rise accentuates Bublé’s articulation, along with its richer lower-midrange. So, it’s a toss-up there. Up high, the Noir is notably sharper-sounding than the Odin. It’s got more of an edge to it, and its generous upper-treble contributes a ton of air into its stage. As a result, images are cleaner-etched and more clinically separated, but the Odin does not lag behind in detail retrieval, resolution or imaging by any stretch. It still layers and resolves effortlessly, and I find its more laidback, well-sat treble actually results in a more holographic stage. In any case, both easily are TOTL IEMs; separated only by preference.

FiR Audio M5 ($2799)

FiR Audio’s M5 is a flagship monitor that, similar to Odin in a way, sounds vibrant and immense. Though, how it achieves this is a much different discussion. It’s an IEM that relies more on its extremes for energy, rather than its midrange. Plus, it’s one that structures its stage differently too; capitalising on tightness and space, which contrasts the Odin’s sweeping, enveloping mids. For a full breakdown on how FiR and Empire’s hybrid flagships compare, check out my M5 review here.

Vision Ears ELYSIUM (€2900)

Vision Ears’ ELYSIUM is a lighter, slightly drier-sounding in-ear with less of a midrange-focus compared to the Odin. Notes are a lot tighter and more compact; not as saturated or concentrated. And, a more present upper-treble gives its tonality a touch more brightness and air too. Cymbals, for example, are more prominent in its mix with a brighter crash. Yet, due to the ELYSIUM’s clever tuning, they aren’t any less refined or smooth than the Odin’s. In the midrange, though, this does give the ELYSIUM sharper, crisper transients, especially noticeable with breath sounds on vocalists or crackles on a snare drum. Which is better will be subjective. Down low, this Odin’s W9+ woofers lend it a more physical, piston-like slam than the ELYSIUM, but the latter has more mid-bass content than the former. Lastly, when it comes to technical performance, I’d say the two go toe-to-toe in resolution and detail. You’ll get slightly more precise stereo separation from the ELYSIUM. But, the Odin edges it out in the tactility or physicality of instruments too. So, to me, it’s down to which tone you’ll prefer.

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About Author

Church-boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel Lesmana’s world revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing live for a congregation of thousands, engineering records in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, you’ll find him on his laptop analysing audio gear with fervor and glee. Now a specialist in custom IEMs, cables and full-sized headphones, he’s looking to bring his unique sensibilities - as both an enthusiast and a professional - into the reviewer’s space; a place where no man has gone before.

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