A First Look: New Flagships from Lime Ears, Empire Ears, Vision Ears and HUM

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Empire Ears Wraith

Empire Ears’ Wraith is the company’s all-new flagship universal (for now) in-ear monitor. It joins the ever-growing flock of electrostatic hybrids, but it kicks it up a notch with four e-stats to complement the seven proprietary balanced-armature drivers. Ensuring all four of those electrostats are perfectly in line is what Empire calls EIVEC or Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control. This in-house circuit allows seamless integration between the different driver types for a coherent response. Coming in at a very luxurious price point of $3500, can the Wraith perform to justify its tremendous price tag?

Technical Specifications

  • Driver count: Seven balanced-armature drivers and four electrostatic drivers
  • Impedance: 4Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 117dB @ 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): EIVEC (Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control), synX crossover technology, A.R.C. technology
  • Available form factor(s): Universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $3499
  • Website: www.empireears.com

Sound Impressions

The Wraith is an immensely clean, laid-back-sounding monitor tuned to maximise detail retrieval and transparency. But, unlike other in-ears with similar intentions, the Wraith pulls back its top-end a hair, ensuring tonal balance is preserved as much as possible. Also, a rise around 1-2kHz gives vocals density, solidity and presence, so they’re never reduced to thin, two-dimensional – pun, intended – wraiths. There’s always a generous helping of body with all of the Wraith’s tiny nuances, which helps sell its realism. Spatial performance is one of the Wraith’s standout qualities – wonderfully stable and clean. Its black backdrop is one of the quietest I’ve heard yet, allowing transparency to come through effortlessly.

The Wraith’s low-end is meaty, full-bodied and adequately hefty. There’s a real weight to the bass that some felt Empire Ears’ previous flagship – the Zeus – lacked. The mid-bass is substantial and thick, but it’s clean and airy at the same time. There’s a depth to the low-end that distances it slightly from the listener, and I believe it’s coming from a more reserved sub-bass. What that depth does is add headroom, so bass notes don’t become too intimate and saturate the image. The decay of the bass is rather quick, but it does impart the slightest hint of warmth. So, although the Wraith’s lows mostly serve as a clean, airy rhythmic drive, it does have that crucial wetness, texture and weight to its timbre for accuracy too.

The Wraith reserves its lower-mids ever-so-slightly to create tight, defined and well-separated instruments. The 1-2kHz rise mentioned in Presentation then follows, resulting in dense, robust vocals with a chestier note. The deeper registers are more forwardly positioned. But, above all, clarity, layering and resolution is always wonderful. A very steady decline follows through the upper-mids, and – together with the top-end – this creates a track-transparent timbre. The Wraith really relies on the recording for that sweet resonance that sells the emotion or drama of a performance. Play a digitally-mastered track and you get drier vocals. But, play some Sarah McKenzie tunes and hear her voice silkily stripped bare.

Up top, the Wraith is the antithesis of what electrostats have been stereotyped as in the past. The treble response leans toward wet, full-bodied and textured, but with the speed, clarity and air e-stats have become renowned for. The top-end always comes across composed and lush, allowing those nuances to come through with little-to-no effort at all. Space is a big winner here, benefitting from marvellous extension to create the Wraith’s stable backdrop. Imaging precision ranks immensely high as well. If a crisp, ultra-bright response is what you’re after, the Wraith won’t give you that. But, if you’re after a treble that blends seamlessly with the ensemble and has the technical chops to boot, EIVEC has truly delivered.

Initial Comparisons

Empire Ears Phantom

The Phantom is a warmer, fuller-sounding monitor with a more prevalent wetness to its timbre. Instruments are larger, richer and they bloom a lot more than on the Wraith. There’s a sweetness to the Phantom that’s been replaced by clean airiness on the Wraith, and it’ll be up to preference to determine which of the two is better for you. Funnily enough, the Phantom has the brighter, sharper lower-treble of the two. As mentioned of my full review, that region has a tendency of becoming shrill and brittle. By comparison, the Wraith’s top-end is more forgiving, yet more articulate, airy and clean. Tonally, the two are a similar shade of neutral, but the Wraith is certainly the cleaner, airier and more refined of the two.

Page 1: Lime Ears Aether R
Page 2: Empire Ears Wraith
Page 3: Vision Ears ELYSIUM
Page 4: HUM Dolores

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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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