First of all, I would like to thank Zepp crew from Zeppelin and Co. for housing me and providing an excellent venue to audition Empire Ears new releases.
Empire Ears released 6 models recently, 4 refreshed models and 2 brand new models. With the electrostatic (EST) driver getting more mature and popular in the audio industry, 5 out of the 6 new models are implemented with the EST drivers. Let's take a look how the performance changes with the helps from EST drivers.
The second generation Bravado is powered by single DD, single BA and dual EST drivers. With the implementation of the dual EST drivers, the overall presentation is now more neutral across the frequency spectrum, as compared to the first generation Bravado. Based on my memory, the first generation Bravado has a warm V-shaped of sound signature, with a little muddiness in the lower end. In this refreshed version, the extended and boosted highs increase the overall fidelity. This is definitely a good news for bass head audiophiles. You can get both rumbles from the sub-bass and astonishing fidelity.
Another noticeable difference in the new Bravado is the size of the shell. The new Bravado is thinner, as compared to the first generation. When I am wearing the first generation, the shells tend to protrude out from my ears. The second generation is flatter and it looks like a CIEMs on my ears. The driver flex improved significantly too, although there is still sufficient amount of flex.
Bravado II retails at SGD$1199 and you can enjoy pre-order price at SGD$1049 from Zeppelin & Co.
Empire Vocal Reference (EVR) II
Empire Ears added dual EST driver to EVR, and here's the EVR Mk II.
Based on my memory, the first generation EVR has a slightly congested headroom, focuses a lot on the vocal. Yes, just like what its model name tell, vocal reference. In this generation, the headroom expands significantly, thanks to the dual EST drivers. The presentation is more spacious and airy. The vocals are now more natural and realistic. They are still taking a more forward position, as compared to the lows and highs.
The depth of the EVR Mk II is similar to the first generation. I would appreciate a deeper extension but since this should be a "reference" sounding IEMs, I think the extension should be sufficient. I think Empire Ears successfully addressed the deal breaker in the first generation, which is soundstage in the second generation. This will definitely an adequate upgrade for those who own first generation, or eyeing for the first generation.
EVR II retails at SGD$1299 and you can enjoy pre-order price at SGD$1129 from Zeppelin & Co.
Empire Studio Reference (ESR) II
In 2019, I wrote a review on first generation of ESR:
Empire Ears managed to challenge the common stereotype of studio reference IEMs. They are no longer dull and lifeless. The ESR is proof to the community that studio reference IEMs can sound fun and engaging!
With full body bass and great soundstage expansion, ESR is one of my all-time favourites for Empire Ears lineup. The second generation addressed some of the issue I faced in the first generation. First of all is the fitting. As mentioned in Bravado II's section, the shell for ESR II is thinner as compared to the previous generation. It sits on my ear better now.
The first generation bass is slightly boosted, which caused the overall sound signature to be slightly deviated from the term "reference" in its model name. ESR II has a more controlled bass. The extension is still great, better as compared to EVR II. This is what I need! Similar to Bravado II and EVR II, ESR II has additional dual EST drivers as compared to the first generation.
The dual EST drivers implementation has well-improved the highs. The highs is more natural and forgiving. It is more "flexible" and "gentle" as compared to the first generation. Overall, the second generation is now closer to the term "reference". I gave first generation 4.5 stars out of 5 stars. The ESR II is definitely closer to 5 stars for sure.
ESR II retails at SGD$1599 and you can enjoy pre-order price at SGD$1399 from Zeppelin & Co.
This is something new for me as I did not audition the first generation of Valkyrie before.
The Valkyrie II reminds me of the Legend X, with shallower extension in the Y-axis. The vocals is really far, as far as Far Far Away Kingdom in Shrek. I think this could be one of the factors to have a wide soundstage? Perhaps. My point of view is, it is okay to position it to be far, but it cannot be too thin. To me, Valkyrie II has a thin mids, yielding a very V-shaped sound signature.
Listening to slightly complicated pop tracks, I need to spend more efforts to catch the information in the midrange because the boosted bass tends to snatch the spotlight from the far and thin mids. It can be a great candidate for those who appreciate good bass especially the sub-bass. I think Bravado II would be a better choice, with more affordable price and fuller body mids.
Valkyrie II retails at SGD$2399 and you can enjoy pre-order price at SGD$2199 from Zeppelin & Co.
The universe needs icons. Those extraordinary few that stand clear of the rest. For these individuals who inspire greatness, only the purest formulation of Empire Ears will do. An icon like no other. A IEM that stands alone - so superlative as to be named after the god of wisdom, poetry, death, divination and magic. Odin has arrived. Its beauty leaves no room for doubt. Its power cannot be reasoned with.
Wide and well extended headroom in all three axes, the Odin has the best soundstage among the 6 new models. In terms of the headroom, it definitely worth to have the title of top of the the line (TOTL). The bass is extending well, with good rumbles in the sub-bass. The dynamic and accuracy is great. There is zero sluggishness and muddiness observed in Odin.
The mids is spacious. Listening to vocals, they are breathy and transparent. Odin has the least coloration among the 6 models. You are going to get the most precise and cleanest midrange from it. No matter it is male of female vocal, Odin can handle it well and deliver it in the purest form to the audience.
The EST drivers play a very important role in expanding the headroom. High amount of air and space are injected to the overall presentation, pushing the overall fidelity to the whole new level. I am sold to how much details you can obtain from Odin. Despite its astonishing detail retrieval capability, it kept itself away from being overly technical and analytical. The balance between dryness and muddiness has been well established, by Odin.
Empire Ears believes that an extraordinary IEM requires an extraordinary cable. For the first time ever they’ve collaborated with bespoke cable manufacturer PWAudio and PENTACONN of Japan to forge a cable worthy of Odin. Introducing Stormbreaker, an ultra premium handcrafted cable comprised of a proprietary USA-sourced OCC Copper Litz configured in a quad conductor, dual guage design wrapped in an elegant black carbon jacket.
Stormbreaker is standard equipped with a CNC silver Valknut y-split featuring a .78 2-pin connector with a 2.5mm balanced termination. 2.5 to 3.5mm & 4.4mm Empire adapters are available.
Odin retails at SGD$4999 and you can enjoy pre-order price at SGD$4699 from Zeppelin & Co.
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 Empire's past to emulate flagship levels of performance without the flagship admission.
Powered by single DD and triple BA drivers, Hero is touching slightly on the warmer side, with good extension in the bass. The bass is punching patiently, without compromising on the precision and accuracy. The pace in the bass is the key factor for the warmth in overall presentation.
The warmth get carried forward to the mids, yielding an emotional, full bodied and realistic mids. Male vocals are presented decently by Hero, with great balance between space and body. Listening to Mandopop and Cantopop, the vocals are brought closer to the audience, to a positive extent, without being too shouty.
The highs are slightly shy, as compared to other models with helps from EST drivers. This could be a saviour for those who cannot stand the more aggressive highs from EST.
The Hero retails at SGD$1999 and you can enjoy pre-order price at SGD$1799 from Zeppelin & Co.
The new releases refresh the X series and EP series of Empire Ears, bringing a more relevant and competitive IEMs to fellow audiophiles. For the four refresh models, they are having significant improvement as compared to the first generation.
For Odin and Hero, they are having their unique positions in current market. Hero is a good choice for those who love warmth and have lower tolerance towards the sparkling highs. Odin definitely is a great candidate from Empire Ears, to challenge fellow TOTLs from different manufacturers.
Best value for money: ESR II
Best Improvement: Bravado II
Best performance: Odin