Empire Ears ODIN: The Dream Theatre – An In-Ear Monitor Review

Presentation

Empire Ears’ ODIN is an in-ear monitor tailor-made to sound massive; immense. From its vibrant, expressive tonality, to its vast, enveloping stage, the ODIN constantly expresses music in a way that’s open, immersive and larger-than-life. The first contributor to this (of many) is its wide, intricate and airy image. The ODIN sports one of the cleanest backgrounds I have yet heard, allowing instruments to pop in punchily; as if out of nowhere. And, this’s then paired with dynamic range all around the space. Listening to a track like Oz Noy’s She’s Not There, whether it’s the conga panned left, the ride cymbal at 2 o’clock or the lead guitar centre-stage, the ODIN imparts the same oomph to all; each punchy and tactile in their own right. That’s the in-ear in a nutshell: Airy, vivid, tactile instruments punching from all angles, each with a life of their own.

Further aiding this dynamism is the ODIN’s outstanding resolution and separation. The monitor defines notes to a T, and with integrity and structure too. Instruments, while on the larger side, due to a 2-3kHz rise, each occupy their own pocket of space, precisely positioned where they are in the recording. On a track like The Fearless Flyers’ Under the Sea or Jacob Collier’s Flinstones, where the engineer has purposefully left pockets of space for instruments to occupy later in the song, you can hear those empty spots with the ODIN, which makes that instrument’s eventual entrance all the more gratifying. Now, because the in-ear’s midrange lift is localised to its high-mids, its low-mids aren’t as intimate by comparison. Those lower regions (along with the mid-bass) are more neutrally-sat. So, in a use-case like mixing, the ODIN won’t be the most accurate. Likewise, those who want a huskier, meatier tonality with warmth filling in the gaps can find the ODIN a tad too airy or light. But, subjectivity aside, the ODIN is a technically-sound spatial performer; airy, enveloping and fully-resolved.

In tone, the ODIN is a light w-shape. It lifts its sub-bass a hair, then its upper-mids and low-treble a tad more, to generate its vibrant, contrast-filled feel. It’s not an in-ear I’d call neutral by any stretch, but it does come off impressive balanced all things considered. The extremes are especially so, where Empire have avoided both a boomy, distracting bass or a tinny, overtly crisp treble. But, with its 3kHz peak especially, it’ll depend on how you like your high-mids. Again, its notes are on the larger side, so it’s not particularly ideal if you prefer your notes really tight and compact. And, as we discussed above, it doesn’t overtly bleed richness or lushness either. It’s closest to neutral as far as emanating warmth is concerned. Then, lastly, the ODIN is not a monitor I’d recommend if much of your library is music that’s noticeably compressed. Tracks like Adele’s All I Ask or Michael Bublé’s Haven’t Met You Yet sound suffocated, and they almost resemble squashed, scrunched-up balls in the middle of the soundscape; very little width or depth, with layers all smushed together. Keep that in mind.

Bass

This ODIN’s low-end, despite its dual-woofer configuration, has actually been tuned with neutrality, cleanliness and air in mind. It sits behind the upper-midrange and, at times, behind the low-treble as well, acting more like a foundation or fill, rather than a main cast member. It rarely draws the listener’s attention via quantity alone. But, that’s when the low-end’s quality comes in. It’s often easy for neutral lows to sound one-dimensional or insubstantial, resulting in dead kick drums, unmoving bass lines or a lack of any perceivable character at all. This ODIN’s W9+-fuelled bottom-end is exempt from all of that. Bass notes, while not pronounced, always have body; rounded, rigid and tactile. The diaphragms contribute tons of physicality. Kick drums always feel, for lack of a better term, kicked. What I mean by that is there’s always forcefulness behind them. It may seem terribly obvious. But, again, with neutral lows, this oomph can sometimes be hard to come by. 

The ODIN’s low-end is clean, tight and articulative; indicative of a sub-bass bias. Again, it isn’t an IEM that breeds warmth, so its mid-bass is taking a slight backseat here; a slow slope down from about 50 to 200Hz. Kick drums have more thump than boom, and toms show more of that skin or stick sound. The floor tom on the In The Room version of Gallant’s Doesn’t Matter doesn’t quite punch like it does on Empire’s Legend X. Those sounds are more dependent on the dynamic drivers to portray their mass. And, thankfully, Empire’s diaphragms don’t disappoint. They have enough robustness to serve the track. Tonally, it’s neutral-leaning with a bit more air than body (or meat). This lends it speed and detail. I can easily track both the kick drum and bass guitar parts on Dirty Loops’ Hit Me, for example. Then, there’s resolution and extension too. There’s zero fuzz or noise here. So, the deeper this bass gets, you won’t feel like you’re chasing it down a dark tunnel. In short, the lows are yet another high for Empire. While definitely neutral, what it is able to offer despite that is wonderful.

Midrange

To my ears, the midrange is where the ODIN takes the most liberties with its tuning; the cornerstone of its punchy, zingy signature. Most prominent is a 2-3kHz emphasis, which is where this ODIN’s large, vibrant and – once again – expressive instruments come from. Trumpets, violins and female vocals reap the most from that, taking on a lighter, airier, brassier tonality that usually put them at the forefront of the mix. Sometimes, it’s not the most desirable trait. Listening to a horn section can get high-heavy at times, with the baritones almost shuffling to the back. The same applies to string quartets. But, it can also add power to a performance, like Jennifer Hudson’s climactic runs on I Run or the woodwinds on Navee’s Belle Vista. So, it’ll depend on taste. The lower-mids are more subdued by comparison, so you won’t get as much muscle and verve from male vocals or cellos. That may be disappointing if you’re a fan of Michael Bublé or Tom Jones. But, that dip does make space for the upper-mids to work, which, despite their size, breathe clean air without saturation in sight.

Technically, Empire continue to impress with the ODIN’s fidelity, clean, tidy layering and precise imaging, despite the size and slight spread of instruments here. There’s always at least a sliver of air between rhythm guitars or back-up vocalists. It’s not as clinical or sharply-outlined as some of the more studio-primed monitors out there, but it’s probably the closest a musical midrange could get to surgical separation. The ODIN’s superb at texture and tactility as well, best heard in how vivid vocals and strings sound, which further aids realism and resolution for soloists. Then, that’s topped off with striking dynamics as well. Again, citing vocalists like Jennifer Hudson as an example, the ODIN portrays shifts in size and strength accurately. That’s slightly less true for lower-pitched instruments, however. They, again, can come off light in density and intensity by comparison. But, nevertheless, technical performance is a facet the ODIN continues to ace all throughout its frequency spectrum. As coloured or biased as it is, this is largely a midrange with authority and musicality under its belt.

Treble

With the ODIN’s treble, I feel Empire have gotten closer to perfect than they ever have in the past. Those four electrostats add that final touch of shimmer to the lows and mids, but without interfering with their tonalities much, if at all. As far as my treble preference is concerned, that’s about the highest praise I could possibly give. Empire have also refined its top-end to an impressive degree, to the point where any excess traces of glare or tizz are eliminated entirely. That is ideal for any sibilant-prone instrument; from cymbals to the human voice. And, yet, they aren’t diffuse-sounding either with s and t sounds rounding out with a proper hiss and plosive, respectively. The one scenario where I can see the treble being less ideal would be when mixing hi-hats or cymbals. There’s a hair more shimmer around 5kHz than I’d like, and it does mask a bit of that hat’s body; the stick stroke and ring. Especially with Meinl’s vintage-sounding Byzance Dark or Byzance Sand hats, you’ll trade character for clarity. But, it’s a nitpick for a tiny niche, and I can’t imagine this high-end lacking for most.

And, while I’ve been praising the ODIN’s technical faculties throughout this review, I feel that acclaim is most deserved in the top-end. The extension, air and speed these tweeters bring are responsible for the black background, the admirably-clean, organised separation and the dynamic range I mentioned back in Presentation. There is effortlessness to the IEM’s top-end delivery, especially with tinier details like cymbal tails, ride bells and snare overtones, that, again, aid the in-ear’s vividness and realism. And, that has a lot to do with its understated upper-treble, which is still able to pop because of its black background. Its slightly-pulled-back, unforced positioning strengthens its perception of depth as well, as elements like chimes and bells that were mixed as background details are reproduced as such. Finally, the top-end’s cherry on top is its outstanding stereo separation. Again, the ODIN’s highlight to my ears is the enveloping width, and nowhere is that clearer than the ODIN’s rendition of room and overhead mics. Whether it’s cymbals on a drum set, or two drum sets (like on Dave Weckl and Jay Oliver’s Higher Ground), you’ll get a wide, out-of-head spread that’ll serve genres like classical well.

General Recommendations

Empire Ears’ ODIN, though not entirely neutral, is about as clean and balanced as a showpiece can get; one that portrays music largely and evocatively. That’s encapsulated down below; three reasons why this ODIN could be the TOTL for you:

A vast, encapsulating stage with heaps of air: To me, the ODIN’s stand-out quality is the sheer size of its stage. Instruments, though coherently strung together, exist within their own pockets of space; separated by heaps of clean air. Then, this is all done without overt attempts at compacting notes or leaning them out. So, if you, perhaps, are a fan of classical music and you want your symphonies rendered theatrically, then the ODIN will do just that with structure and integrity to boot.

A midrange tiptoed between clinical and resonant: This ODIN’s vocal range has both clean, clinical separation and power to its delivery. Though the upper-mids around 3kHz might seem a hair lifted to some, that vibrance or zing it adds to horns and female vocals is undeniable. Then, comes the airy, crisp, pristine presentation all around it. This is ideal for, say, solo violinists, where the strength of their performance and how they resonate the space around them have to shine equally.

Neutrally-sat lows that still pack a punch: Thanks to Empire’s efforts in diaphragm development, the monitor’s W9+ drivers are still capable of deep, chest-thumping physicality, even when doled out in neutral amounts. The in-ear isn’t steeped in bass. Yet, when a track like Ariana Grandé’s positions comes on, it’s all still resolved with texture, integrity and size. This is a good quality if you wanna listen to this bass (as an engineer, perhaps), but have it kick and drive at the very same time.

The liberties the ODIN does take can also turn it off for certain demographics. Whether it be forwardly-sat upper-mids or its neutrally-positioned lows, if the traits below are what you want out of your TOTL in-ear, the ODIN may not be for you:

Gooey, warm, fat-sounding instruments: Though, again, this ODIN is one incredibly coherent-sounding monitor with a well-structured, well-organised image, it does have a tendency to clean up and separate its instruments. There’s little overlap between notes, nor is there much warmth emanating from the lows and low-mids. So, it may not be the in-ear for you if you tend to prefer a fuller, warmer, more lush signature. The Empire Ears Phantom may be the more fitting choice here.

More relaxed, more diffuse, less saturated upper-mids: A hallmark of this ODIN is those bright, vibrant, punchy upper-mids, which emphasises trumpets, lead guitars and female vocals, among others. And, it contributes this forwardness to them as well, especially when compared to their lower-pitched counterparts like the trombone, the chugging rhythm guitar or male baritones. If you tend to like your leads darker and more subdued, the Legend X is the in-ear I’d most recommend.

A low-end or low-mid emphasis: Again, neutral is the name of the game as far as the ODIN’s bottom-half is concerned. The bass wasn’t meant to rattle skulls, and the lower-mids lean ever-so-slightly towards the drier side as well. So, if you are a listener who enjoys prominent, chest-thumping lows and thick, bulbous trombones, their Phantom, again, is more fitting.

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Deezel

Deezel

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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