Introducing Empire Ear’s new flagships: the Phantom and Legend-X

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Empire Ears Legend-X

The Legend in turn, taps into a different type of energy than the Phantom. Tuned with a more neutral tonality, the Legend paints a powerfully clear image. It isn’t necessarily bright, but it certainly isn’t warm either; from the current lineup, the Legend is perhaps most reminiscent of Empire’s former house sound – an ode from the new flagship, to the former. In certain aspects, one might be tempted to make a comparison to Zeus-R; in terms of staging, tone, and midrange body, they share similarities. However, its lower midrange isn’t as forward, especially when compared to Zeus-XIV. But the most striking difference of course, is its gorgeous low-end; a decisive element that fortifies the sound. Fuelled by its two dynamic drivers, the Legend creates a more dynamic presentation, pulling it hopelessly away from a fair comparison. For it’s safe to say the Legend delivers the type of bass one would expect, or at the very least hope for, from a hybrid.

A beautifully bodied bass that carries weight, drawing on deep low-end extension for visceral impact, while finding a sweet spot between sub- and mid-bass emphasis. An enhanced bass for sure, but not obtrusively so; rather, it delivers a speaker-like impact that will please self-proclaimed bassheads, without overdoing it for the rest of us. In one word: addictive. In terms of speed and decay, it finds a delicate balance between naturalness in its delivery, while maintaining a high sense of control. An essential prerequisite to maintain the clarity in its presentation, despite the raw power it can provide. For make no mistake, this bass isn’t kidding around. But even more impressive perhaps, is how it combines the low-end presence with outstanding technical performance; the Legend relies on excellent top-end extension to control the warm air, resulting in an especially spacious stage with near-perfect separation. Offering high resolution, the Legend doesn’t just try to keep up in technicalities despite its bass – it positions itself towards the top of the market. Is this the ‘best bass’ for an iem? Everyone will have their personal favourites. But considering that texture, and especially impact; my inner basshead is screaming yes. A bass-enhanced iem that’s not only defined solely by its bass, but a total package.


For as impressive as the Legend’s bass is, it isn’t even necessarily the highlight. Not because it isn’t exciting in its own right; but due its coherent integration within the rest of the signature, supporting a feeling of completeness in every facet of its performance. For instance, while I suspect nobody will question the power of its dynamic-driven bass, its quantity doesn’t overpower the rest of the signature – both its instruments and vocals are equally full-bodied. There’s a true sense of authority with which the Legend presents its sound, and not only because of its bass. In terms of stage positioning, its vocals sit between forward and laid-back, complemented by a slightly forward treble. Presented with resounding clarity, its instruments are captivating. Accordingly, the Legend creates a full sound, set in an especially spacious stage. While its width is the eye-catcher, it projects sufficient depth to create a holographic feel, ensuring details emerge in an effortless manner.

While this allows the Legend to portray a high level of detail, it refrains from resorting to an overly bright signature. Even though its tone is relatively brighter than the Phantom, it’s an even clarity resulting from excellent treble extension, rather than abrasive treble peaks. So even though the lower treble is lightly enhanced, the linearity of the upper treble results in a relatively smooth treble, although it can occasionally act up with poorly mastered tracks (in my case, mostly certain hip hop tracks or club remixes). Finally, the treble tone itself is perfectly coherent with the midrange, allowing neither to stand out relative to the other.

Taken together, the Legend cannot only be summed up by its impactful bass, full-bodied midrange, and detailed treble; but the coherency between the three, combined with its effective use of an especially wide stage. A dynamic sound, that endows the Legend with a rare sense of badass-ness. Prioritizing tonal accuracy, the Phantom might be the more natural-sounding of the two – but the Legend makes me want to bring the beats. Since receiving it, I’ve been revisiting all my guilty pleasures. While versatile, genres like energetic rock, pop, hip hop, and vocal-based EDM seem to take full advantage of its clear tonality, wide stage, and punchy bass. I can safely predict a large group of people hearing this and thinking ..this is exactly what I’ve been waiting for, for a long, long time”. Even so, I feel a moral obligation to include a stern warning: despite desperate attempts to fight the urge, the Legend keeps nudging me to increase the volume. Beware. Resistance is futile.


Brief comparisons

In terms of comparison, the most logical IEM coming to mind might be that other top-tier hybrid: the W900. However, there are elements in the W900’s tuning that have kept me from enjoying it; specifically, a darker signature combined with a bright treble, which affects both its timbre and coherency. The Legend not only offers more impact down low, but better coherency throughout the spectrum. For me, the most logical comparison that comes to mind, is the A18. Both IEMs combine a neutralish signature with exceptional clarity besides resolution, and excite with powerful bass and a wide stage. In both cases their stimulating signatures steer me towards genres like pop, (vocal-based) electronic music, or energetic rock. Even so, there are essential differences throughout their signature.

Starting of course with their bass; like the Legend, the A18’s bass is enhanced. But driven by BA drivers, its decay is quicker, while its texture is colored by its lifted upper treble. The Legend’s dynamic drivers provide a more realistic, rounded bass, centered on the sub- and lower portions of the mid-bass; a more analogue sounding bass. In addition, the Legend offers slightly more body to its midrange, especially male vocals. Even so, the difference between their midrange is not that vast. The distinction is greater in the treble, where the A18’s brighter upper treble provides an additional touch of sparkle, making it slightly more upfront in its detail approach. The Legend’s treble in turn is more neutral in tone, and accordingly more coherent with its midrange. However, these are both top-tier IEMs that I would personally classify as exciting and stimulating, with an X-factor in terms of stage, detail, and of course, bass.

Another personal favorite in the elite class in terms of price and performance, is the VE8. There are similarities between the two, as both impress with a beautifully bodied midrange, set in an exceptionally wide stage. Similarly, both offer top-tier performance with regards to resolution, imaging, and separation. And while have a relative neutral tone, the Legend’s lower treble gives it a more energetic presentation, while the VE8’s treble is a bit smoother with harsh recordings. In addition, the VE8 constructs a slightly thicker instrument note. But again, its in the bass department where they drastically differ: while the VE8’s bass has sufficient body, its emphasis lies with mid- and upper-bass, while its decay and sub-bass extension betrays its BA drivers. The emphasis of the Legend’s bass is centered between sub- and mid-bass; combining that deep impact with a natural texture. However when discounting the bass, the two are closer together than apart, with the Legend primarily distinguishing itself with a slightly more energetic treble.


 PHANTOM vs. LEGEND-X

Stemming from two different philosophies, the Phantom and Legend only have one thing in common: their strive to be the best in what they do. For the Phantom, it’s achieving perfect balance between the full range of audiophile properties, without compromising between timbre and technicalities. The Legend is the powerhouse built to engage, and to impress. Most importantly, to fulfill a lingering collective desire: a top-tier iem with truly awesome bass.

Their different focus manifests itself in their tone, and midrange. The Phantom’s midrange is slightly warmer, with a more accurate timbre of its instruments, and greater transparency; with a neutral tonality, the Legend is geared more towards clarity. This returns in a brighter treble for the Legend, compared to a relatively smoother treble for the Phantom; especially with harsh recordings. But where the Phantom truly excels is the naturalness of its vocals, both in terms of tone, as well as formation. The Legend’s vocals are nicely bodied, but not quite as detailed and natural as that of the Phantom.

But of course their greatest distinction is the classic contrast between their dynamic and BA bass. Technically, the Phantom’s extension is just as deep as the Legend’s; however, due to the Legend’s enhanced sub-bass quantity, it’s more readily felt. The Phantom’s bass quantity is more variable depending on the track, where the Legend’s bass is more or less always ‘on’. Taken together, the quicker and relatively leaner bass of the Phantom takes a more technical approach, which slims in comparison to the power and texture of the Legend’s dynamic driver. Keep in mind, the Legend’s quantity and sub-bass power is significantly enhanced compared to the top-tier standard; so when directly comparing between the two, the Phantom’s bass will feel lean by nature.


The difference in bass returns in the way they construct their stage; although the Phantom’s stage can vary, it is generally a three-dimensional stage in even proportions. The Legend’s stage is more or less consistent and a bit wider, while the Phantom’s is deeper. Pursuant to the Legend’s enhanced bass, the Phantom’s stage is airier, and its layering more precise, resulting in an even cleaner separation. The net effect is that their level detail is similar, while accomplishing it in different ways; relying on its separation and resolution, the Phantom delivers a high level of detail in a refined manner. The Legend effectively compensates for its powerful bass with brighter treble, resulting in great clarity supported by its wide stage.

Altogether, one might say the Phantom is the more elegant tuning. It combines a beautiful timbre, with perfect separation, and high transparency; more than anything, the keywords are balance, and versatility. The Legend in turn portrays pure power; the sheer weight of its bass, its wide stage, and forward sound. A stimulating sound, that instantly gets you hooked. An analogy would be that the Phantom is like a Porsche; perhaps not the largest engine, but it’s agile, streamlined, and refined. The Legend-X in turn represents the classic American muscle car, with a large V8. In tight corners, it might not keep up with the Phantom; but when you step on the gas and hear that engine roar, you’ll see that baby fly.

In sum, the most striking conclusion perhaps is that they each have very little in common, while simultaneously both excelling in separate ways; these iems might well be the definition of complimentary. In fact, if I could only have these two iems, I would retire from this hobby a happy man – they cover my full range of music, moods, and general preferences. Switch to the Phantom, to be seduced by the naturalness of its vocals, and the beauty of its timbre; a lifelike representation of the music. Switch to the Legend, and you’ll think tonal accuracy, shmonal accuracy – this sounds f&$king awesome. Choose your poison.

 

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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.

20 Comments

  1. Not sure if you had/tried the fitear c435 or westone ES5 before, wonder how would you compare those to these?

    Thanks =)

        • I haven’t really heard the N8t. Of the other three the Phantom is the warmest, most vocal-centric tuned iem. The Gemini has a more neutral/clear tonality with a nice touch of sparkle, and a slightly leaner midrange. Its bass is also a bit more moderate compared to the Phantom. The Legend-X also has a neutral/clear tone with slightly brighter treble, but pairs this with powerful (sub)bass, and a wide stage. Its vocals are pretty neutral, a bit laidback compared to Phantom.

  2. great overview and congrats on the collab! now how about a Phantom +1 or a Legend IX (or X -1 lol)?

    as gobsmacked as i was demoing the two iems, i do find, imho, LX is a smidge too bass heavy and the phantom, while uncannily voiced last that last bit of almost “haptic” feel that the bravado has. In fact, i think a more resolved/refined Bravado would go down very well, imho.

    • Hi Caleb, that’s more than fair! Everyone has their own preferences. The Bravado has proven a very popular iem during the initial local launches, so you’re not alone in your sentiment.

    • Phantom would be closer to the VE8 of the two, but a bit warmer even with a greater focus on tonal accuracy, where the VE8 is a bit more forward and thicker in its note reproduction.

  3. How would you say the Phantoms compare to SE5-Way Ultimates? In terms of CIEMs, do you think the Phantoms will take the new rank #1? Or perhaps rank #2?

    • Well, the Phantom was designed to perform according to the broad range of aspects I judge on the shootout: with a heavy emphasis on both timbre and performance. If something is designed for the specific parameters to which it will be judged, and doesn’t win, then it has failed 🙂

      For me personally, the Phantom would be number 1. But keep in mind you’re asking one of the most biased people 😉

  4. If you’re a drummer and are looking for a pair of decent or even the best in-ear monitors (IEMs) that you can either use in the studio during practice, or even live on-stage, this is all you need to know.

  5. Care to compare/contrast between the Phantom and the CA Andromeda?

    Both of these new IEMs sound exciting? Well done, sir!

    • Thank you sir! I think you saw someone answer this on the EE thread, but I’ll just add that I agree with that description. Basically, the Phantom is warmer in tone and more natural-sounding, where Andro has a nice clear tonality with more sparkle in its lower treble. While Andro has a bit of an upper-bass lift that adds some thickness and body to male vocals, the Phantom has slightly more forward and bodied vocals, and great sub-bass extension and impact (although the Phantom doesn’t have an enhanced bass per se, just great extension and a nice kick). The Phantom’s stage is also more 3D with more precise imaging, where Andro has a wider but more rectangular-shaped stage.

    • Hi there, been a while since I last heard Mojo, but it’s an agreeable little dac that works fine with most iems. If you generally like the sound of the Mojo, you will also like it paired with these iems (if you like these iems that is).

  6. AWESOME review and what a great idea. This is what most 2 channel guys want in a transducer. Tonal balance from top to bottom and a true sub bass up through a sparkling, but not fatiguing treble. I can’t wait to get mine in CIEM! Will be my first CIEM and that’s because none before this seemed to have a perfect blend of all the things I have in my home system. Thanks so much for the reviews Nic!

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