I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t heard about the Empire Ears. They make some of the best IEMs one can buy. Few years ago I reviewed their Bravado and it is an IEM I still fee is excellent for a bassy and caller sound signature. They have launched a lot of IEMs since then. Recently they came up with two hybrid earphones. Empire Ears Odin ($3399) is the flagship while the HERO I am working on is the lower high end IEM (Some can say its upper mid range IEM but anything over $1000 has to be labeled high as far as I am concerned). It houses one 9mm W9+ sub-woofer and 3 BA drivers in a 4-Way synX Crossover Network.
The Hero comes in both universal and custom fit versions and both the versions start at $1349. It doesn’t have any other color scheme for the universal fit and one has to be contained with the black smoke marble type face plate which in itself looks classy.
In their words:
Hero is relentless, fierce and unapologetic – a renunciation of rules, preconceptions and everything that’s expected from it. It represents a tour de force of Empire’s expertise and craftsmanship, elevating musicality presentation to a level non-existent in its tier. With DNA sourced directly from Legend X and Zeus XIV, Hero reveres our past to emulate flagship levels of performance without the flagship admission.”
It faces plenty of competition from IEMs like a various brands but I will compare it with the Unique Melody Mirage, Vision Ears VE6XC and Nocturnal Eden.
Get one from these links:
WHAT’S IN THE BOX:-
The first thing I noticed about the hero box is the heft. It has a very interesting packaging. Most of the time the IEM and all the accessories are placed in a single compartment but the Hero comes in a layered box. Lifting the upper lid exhibits the IEM and the cable but all other accessories are placed in a sliding compartment under it.
When you pay $1349 you get a 4 core Alpha cable made in collaboration with effect audio. A heavy all metal “Pandora Case”, 5 pair of Final type E tips in 5 sizes can be found at the bottom compartment. A cleaning cloth and cleaning tool can be found inside the carry case.
Here is my unboxing video:
HOW IS THE CABLE:-
Empire Ears have been shipping their IEMs with excellent cables long before this trend caught up. They have Effect Audio as their partner in crime. Hero ships with Alpha IV cable, in their words:
“At Empire Ears we believe that an extraordinary IEM requires an extraordinary cable. We’re proud to introduce Alpha-IV (A4); a premium handcrafted 4 core cable comprised of a proprietary 26AWG UPOCC Litz Copper with multi-size stranding. The advantage of multi-sized stranded design within the same encapsulations enables A4 to achieve distinct highs and details due to the signal transmission speed in thinner cable strands, while the thicker size cable strands deliver smoother bass and mids.”
One can choose 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 4.4mm terminations while placing the order. I do not see a lot of differences with the last gen cable. This cable too has the similar kind of memory problem. It is not the supplest cable but one has to keep in mind that litz cables are a bit stiff. Thankfully the 4 core cable is not heavy but the 3.5mm jack is on the heavier side though. The cable splitter is small and do not add weight to the cable while the cable/chin slider is very small and functional. Cable guides are easy on the ear and have a secure feel to them.
BUILD AND ERGONOMIC:-
I have been working a handful of IEMs in various forms but the Empire Ears Hero has one of the best fit. The Hero is made out of acrylic with layers of resin on it. It is sturdy and strong, nothing to complain about the build but might not survive a fall on solid surfaces from a 3ft+ height. Yes, it’s not the strongest material on the market but it’s fairly light weight and doesn’t feel heavy inside the ears making it more pleasing.
It incorporates a 3 bore design and has a cute looking bass vents at the side of the shell.
The best thing about these is the slightly longer nozzle, making the IEM get a bit deeper into the ear giving a very secure fit. The nozzle has a bit of lip which lets the tip sit without slipping out. Kudos to the final E type tips too, they have excellent grip inside the ear. Compared to some other IEMs this can feel a bit bigger than needed but the size is not problematic. It has a small wing type design to provide some stability.
PAIRING WITH SOURCES:-
With an impedance of 17.6 ohm and 105db sensitivity Hero is not a tough IEM to drive. Use it with mobile phones (I used my Vivo V19) or entry level dongles (Shanling UA1), it has no problem with maintaining its fun sound signature and good amount of details. The few problems I see with weaker sources are the lack of dynamics, notes definition and smaller stage.
No need to think twice that driving it out of more capable sources like Micro Signature will make the Hero much more spacious and resolving. Bit no need to bother if you want to enjoy the Hero out of a decent mobile phone.
HOW DOES THIS SOUNDS:-
Empire Ears have been making some of the best IEMs, they are known for their unblemished finishing and the Hero is not an exception. It just simply has no note which feels unpolished or unfinished.
I have been working on a few good mud range IEMs for a while, even when I have been listening to the VE6XC every now and then the Hero is the most capable IEM I have reviewed in a long time. Empire Ears have utilized their home grown drivers and crossover technology here. Hero has a single 9mm w9+ sub woofer and 3 BA drivers put together with their legendary synX technology. I am intrigued by the W9+ woofer driver and in their words:
“Our signature W9+ dynamic driver brought serious performance to the IEM world by combining the breakthrough of an enclosed woofer in a tuned bass-reflex system. Elevating the W9 design formula to its highest level, the W9+ boasts a larger internal coil diameter, more linear excursion envelope along with a more capable suspension to handle peak-to-peak excursion while mitigating distortion. W9+ extinguishes any limits the previous design had and delivers unparalleled bass on all fronts.”
Even when Empire Ears earphones are made with musicality in mind they do not miss out on technicality. One can expect some coloration when the brand itself is proud of their woofer driver. It has a slightly V shaped sound signature where the bass is full and thumpy, the mid range is slightly laid back and the treble region is well energized. The Hero has a 4 way crossover design thanks to synX.
I am using stock Final tips and Qudelix 5K, TR-Amp and Micro Signature for this review.
I used these albums to evaluate the Hero:
1. Emeli Sande: Our Version Of Events
2. Delilah: From The Roots Up
3. James Blunt: Once upon a Mind
4. Smashing Pumpkins: CYR
The Hero is equipped with one of the most complete sounding DD driver (for bass) of its time. The W9+ is simply the best low end driver I have ever experienced. Nothing delivers a more complete and satisfying lower end better than this. It just has excellence written all over it and guess what, it can pound!! Let it be sub-bass extension or rumble it has the best of both, the only other IEM I think comes close to this is the Custom Art Fibae 4 but fibae lacks some rumble and body which the Hero has plenty of. The mid bass is full and has a meatier body. It has the slam and punch I had not heard in a long time. No doubt that it moves more air too. The upper bass does not have much emphasis and nicely blends into the lower mid. The decay speed lets a lot of details and texture in, one can literally feel the waves hitting one after one. It is simply a perfect lower end for those looking for the enjoyment factor.
The W9+ woofer driver give a feeling of a top firing sub-woofer, by doing that it steers clear of any interference. With all this said the fun and punchy sound comes at a cost of being less precise or tight. Even the Fiio FD5 has tighter notes. If you want it fast and flat look into the EVR MK2 .
More than anything else Empire Ears is known for their exceptional finishing with notes, they do not have any jitteriness or unwanted sharpness with notes and Hero is a prime example of that. It just simply does not have a single note which feels raw or edgy. Hero does have a bit of mid range recession which is applicable to the mid range instruments surrounding the vocals region while the vocals enjoy excellent transparency and emphasis. It feels like the instruments surrounding the singer are slightly lacking energy. Hero used two drivers for the entire mid range, one for mid range and other is a mid-high driver which is responsible for upper mids. The transition phases have no obvious drop in energy at the lower mid region but the rise of energy at the upper mid region can be distinguished. Even though the energy is high it does not have any aggressive traits to it.
Moving on to the vocals, they sound crisp and clear. Energy with the vocal notes is very accurate. Decay is paced with both precision and musicality in mind, giving the notes their required amount of body, weight and height. Both male and female vocals sound accurate while resolving excellent details. Irrespective of gender, vocals sound crisp and clear with a natural tonality, it does not emulate a more organic or warmer tonality like Pola 39 or Shozy Blackhole (Hero has true to BA vocal nature) but the texture and emotions portrayed is equally impressive.
Just like any good BA driver Hero has no problem with intricate details and separation, the whole mid range enjoys excellent clarity and transparency. What distinguishes it from others is its calmness. It just simply has a more diffused field with excellent background transparency. It has much superior layering that Pola twins and Vison Ears EVE20.
With two drivers at work the Hero deliver an enjoyable yet detailed treble region. It delivers a sparkly and lively treble with excellent resolution. Energy gained with the mid high driver is kept up till around 11-12k and slightly rolls off with the single treble driver while still maintaining excellent relevance. No need to be worried about treble extension, even when it doesn’t have the flattest treble it does have excellent extension. Treble region can feel a bit hot coming from a calmer mid range. It feels like the treble region is on the front foot with the hands down while delivering class leading amount of details. Even with a slightly hotter treble Hero stay clear of any type of discomfort. Notes do gain a bit of height and can come off as a bit aggressive but nothing alarming unless you just simply can’t stand some aggression.
Hero manages to extract excellent resolution while keeping the timber neutral. Don’t expect it to sound more organic like the more expensive VE6XC. Separation and layering is much better than $1000 IEMs like Shozy Pola39 and UM Mirage. The treble stage is well spread, assisted by excellent sonicality. If you love treble, tingling instruments and minute details, Hero should be an option.
I wish the treble region was a bit more linear with energy though.
STAGE AND IMAGING:-
I was in a delusion that UM Mirage has better stage than the Hero, then I compared these two and I was very disappointed in the Mirage. It was saddening but Hero is simply leaps bounds better. Even the open BA was unable to save the Mirage.
The Hero has one of the best 3D hollow graphic stages for around $1300. It just simply is lot more rounded than Pola39 or even the Vision Ears EVE20. The bass has its projection towards the roof with a surrounding feel. And all the vocals and some of the instruments are placed under it until the mid-high driver takes thing out of the W9+ driver’s umbrella. It just gives a completely surreal feel. Close your eyes and feel yourself submerged in the music. Hero does not favor any part of the spectrum here, as the bass takes the roof, all the instruments feel well spread with excellent density and air between them.
vs Unique Melody Mirage
These IEMs are fairly different while the bass of the Hero is a lot more impactful and authoritative. The micro details of the Hero are in a different level. Even though the mids of the Hero is slightly less reaching it manages to sound calmer and equally detailed as the Mirage. Here is my comparison video:
Vs Shozy Pola39:
Both are very different from each other but are equally impressive with their details. Pola39 is slightly mid forward with smoother notes across the spectrum. It has no harshness of any kind. Hero if more flavored with much bigger body and rumble. For a more in-depth comparison here is my comparison video.
Even 20 is priced 20% higher than the Hero and houses 6BA drivers. First of all the Build quality of the EVE is excellent but the oddly shaped shell can feel uncomfortable. EVE20 does not lack bass but the Hero is in a different level, much bigger body, more rumble and textured with the expense of some precision and decay speed. Mids of the EVE20 sounds detailed, precise and even but lack some note height. Hero has much better notes body and reach while being more dynamic and sonically superior. The EVE20 then recovers with more even and similarly detailed treble region. Unlike the Hero EVE20 maintains its slightly less energetic upper mids energy (than Hero) till the upper treble region.
Stage and imaging of the Hero feels more evolved as the stage is more rounded while the EVE20 has a more conical kind.
All in all EVE20 is more balanced and Hero sounds flavored.
When you buy a BMW you know irrespective of which model you pick this brand will not leave an unfinished feel. This holds true for Empire Ears too. Their Hero even though is not the flagship do not have a single rough end. Pick any note, the refinement and tuning craftsmanship is something one can barely put a finger on. If you are a purist (I think me as one too) you might say this is flavored, but even you cannot say that this IEM is not good. Yes, it could have been more balanced, the lower treble and upper mids could have been a bit more balanced but that is not what this IEM targets for. This is a Fun sounding IEM, the Weapon IX+ driver is not there to sound dull or flat, it’s there to excite, make your feet tap. Hero can be a super duper hit or a miss if it doesn’t meet your preference so..
Who should buy this? Those who want to have fun, who likes to enjoy the sub-bass rumble of their full size speakers inside their ears without any upsetting traits and without missing out on a single bit of details. If you want flat response or want more balance, please have a go at the Hero, appreciate what it does and move on, look into the ESR MK2 maybe.
This is it, the lovely Empire Ears Hero’s review, an IEM which will please a bass lover and those who like to get involved in their music. It has a lot of love in its tuning, it’s warm, fun and jolly without being boring or dull. It has bass to the forth but has details in its heart.
Hope you are safe. Best Regards, Cheers!!