Rank #2: Empire Ears Zeus-XIV


With a neutral bass presentation, Zeus’ bass seems to fall in an inconspicuous category of typical BA-driven bass. An average low-end extension, and neutral quantity; there isn’t much to speak either for or against it. But there’s a little but more to it than meets the eye, or in this case, ear. The sub-bass hits are tight, relatively quick, and generally come across as precise. There’s a touch of power resulting from the depth and precision of its hits, rather than its quantity. Nevertheless, it’s only average in terms of absolute impact.

Similarly, while its mid-bass is slightly more forward, it’s equally closer to neutral. Its tone is fairly good, while a slight decay adds a sense of naturalness. On the other hand, it doesn’t stand out when it comes to pace, while its definition hovers around average. But it’s a pleasant bass, with not much to fault. An inoffensive bass, although it isn’t a highlight either. But even though it might not be exceptionally engaging, what it does, it does well.

But Zeus is all about its midrange: a full-sized midrange, that puts you in touch with the singer. Tuned with a generous lower midrange, almost homogeneously persisting to the upper midrange, Zeus exudes a sense of power, resulting from the forwardness of the presentation – there’s nothing laidback here. Even more impressive, is how Zeus-XIV combines the full sound with highly resolved and transparent midrange notes, despite a warm touch from the upper bass. A powerful sound, yet detailed, and articulate. Authority is usually associated with a hefty low-end; but Zeus redefines authority, using its midrange.

But Zeus also has a softer side, a gentleness in its sound. As the general pace of the midrange is somewhat relaxed, the presentation doesn’t come across as overly aggressive, or clinical. In addition, the neutral tone results in a fairly accurate timbre, with a smooth upper midrange. It isn’t particularly sparkly, but has just enough bite for electronic guitars, while remaining controlled. Even so, its timbre could be a bit warmer to sound accurate. It isn’t a decisively natural signature – neutral seems to be the most apt to describe it. The coloration stems mostly from the forwardness of the midrange.

Zeus centers its vocals within a three-dimensional stage. Due to its neutral bass tuning, it doesn’t construct an overly warm, or thick-sounding vocal, so it doesn’t necessarily sound overly full. However, it is a particularly solidified, well-defined vocal image: listen closely, and a wholly three-dimensional vocal image crystallizes before you. Starting from deep behind the throat, up to the pronunciation from the mouth – the full vocal range. The result of a complete representation of the lower- to the upper-midrange frequencies. A full-bodied vocal presentation, with ample power to spare.

Zeus’ signature is completed with a treble, which is, much like its midrange, fairly neutral in tone. It’s a clear-sounding treble: well-defined, and detailed. A coherent treble, within the signature. It’s not the most natural in terms of timbre, but it’s not particularly bright either. And served with a quick decay, it’s technically proficient. Personally, I find the treble smooth, with a modest touch of sparkle. But there is source dependency here, as I’m listening with the warmer RW AK380cu. For Zeus’ treble is defined by two peaks, in the lower- and upper-treble region. And with brighter sources, or simply more sensitive listeners, Zeus’ treble energy might become a bit prominent.

The first 7 KHz peak increases its precision, putting greater emphasis on the articulation of its notes. However, there is a slight tradeoff for the naturalness of the presentation. And something similar can be said of its second peak, around 12 KHz. It’s not necessarily tuned for detail retrieval, because Zeus relies on proper top-end extension for its resolution; but to make its tone more neutral. And to some extent, with success, as it makes Zeus-XIV more accessible to a wider audience. The neutral tone provides flexibility over musical genres, especially when taking source pairing into account. But it comes at the cost of naturalness, while its timbre isn’t as accurate as it could be. Personally, I might have preferred to see Zeus’ general treble region more attenuated, in favor of its midrange.

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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.


    • Because none of the reviewers own both. They don’t really hand them out easily, and they’re pretty expensive to buy.

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