Editor’s Note: shotgunshane was able to get a 10-day loan of the Empire Ears’ universal lineup; read the introduction, or jump straight to sound impressions…
By now most of you have probably heard of EarWerkz , perhaps from one of our reports on the company (read more) and their previous flagship Legend CIEM (read more); many of you might even be owners of an EarWerkz product as I am.
But in case you didn’t know, I’m sad to report, EarWerkz is no more; but before you shed tears and scream to the audio gods, “Why hath thou forsaken me!”, you should know that Jack and team are back for the attack, this time as Empire Ears. The King is dead, long live the King!
So what’s behind the company change? Here is a post from Jack on the official Empire Ears Facebook page:
If you’ve ever dealt with Jack, you know he is as friendly as they come, as well as super quick in communication. He always strives to take care of his customers and treat everyone as family. If you’ve never met him in person, I can tell you he is the same in person as he is in email customer service. Well, with one exception — the GUNS! The man has some seriously large arms and I affectionately refer to him as Jack ‘2 Gun’ Vang. You could say he’s a big teddy bear of a man. Working alongside him is ‘Always In Treble’ Dean. Dean is another class act; very personable and always with a warm and friendly smile. Dean is the head in-ear designer and I have to say, he’s really outdone himself this go around with a nearly entirely new line-up.
With Jack and Dean at the core of Empire Ears, we can expect all the great things we loved about EarWerkz with the march onward and upward to greater achievements at Empire Ears.
But before we jump into the overview of the new models, I thought we’d have a little Q&A with Jack, so he can further explain the motivation behind the new company and his vision for the new line-up:
What made you decide to merge with your father’s company?
Jack: EarWerkz was growing way too fast and one thing I did not want to compromise was customer service. Between the rapidly piling orders, manufacturing, 24/7 global e-mail responses, R&D, and Artist Relations development, the EarWerkz team was on the verge of being overwhelmed. It was at this point that I knew something needed to change.
Can you tell us a little bit about your father’s company?
Jack: I laid out the plans to Savvitek, a USA based engineering and manufacturing company, which also happened to be owned by my parents Dean and Catherine. It only made sense that I would move forward with this as they were already a powerhouse in this industry, OEM and designing for 11 different companies. With their resources, business management expertise, and advanced design technologies, it was a no brainer as to where this merger could lead to; thus the formation of Empire Ears.
Dean is the co-founder and Chief Engineer of Empire Ears. He has been designing, engineering, and manufacturing for several larger corporations in numerous industries for the past 30 years. Dean is a true visionary and a master engineer. What he delivers is nothing short of remarkable and continues to push the envelope in everything that he does on a daily basis. I’m truly honored to be on the same team as my father.
Catherine is the founder and CEO of Empire Ears and Savvitek. She has over 25 years of experience in business management and has managed several multi-million dollar companies in numerous industries. With someone of her caliber overseeing the company and handling the logistics side, Team Empire can focus on what matters most, customer service and innovation.
How will Empire Ears be different from EarWerkz?
Jack: Empire Ears will have an even greater emphasis on customer service, quality control, and advanced product designs. We’re bringing back the one-on-one customer shop experience that has been absent for too long. With the mission statement of “Creating the extraordinary for the extraordinary”, our goal is to give customers the enhanced focus necessary to deliver a higher quality product and experience.
We will also be extending our markets beyond audiophiles and musicians with different lines of products. More on that in the future.
What is the design/sound philosophy of Empire Ears?
Jack: Accuracy and clarity. With the exception of the highly renowned Supra II, each and every model of the Olympus Series was developed from the ground up with these two things in mind. No matter which model the listener chooses they should experience soaring highs, crystal clear mids, and deeply textured lows all within a studio like soundstage. We’ve worked numerous Grammy award winning and nominated pros in the industry, as well as a number of knowledgeable audiophiles in order to achieve the final sound. After years of relentless research and development we’re proud to say that the Olympus Series is a true evolution of the EarWerkz lineup in every aspect.
Is it true some call you Jack ‘2 Gun’ Vang?
- Triple Driver: 1 Low, 1 Mid, 1 High
- 3-way, 2 Crossover
- Triple Bore
- Starting at $649
The shells of the Cerberus universal are small and flush with the ear. Fit is better than the old EarWerkz Kickstarter Supra universal. Comfort is outstanding.
The Cerberus has an overall neutral balance but mid-centric focused signature — gently rolled on ends but still maintaining good extension with focus on the midrange. The midrange is not lush or aggressive but very, very clear, resolving and gently forward; not to be confused with mid-forward, as they are not pushed in your face or forced upon you. Bass is slightly soft and polite in quantity, yet fast and nimble with surprisingly good texture. Treble is smooth in that it has no annoying peaks but remains articulate and well defined. The whole signature is pleasing and easy to listen to, yet musical and strikingly clean with lots of detail and impressive imaging. A great in-ear to chill and relax to but can bring the funk with ‘I like it, I love it’ sounding very dynamic and punchy.
My older model custom Supra has more lower midrange and is upper bass forward. The older Supra doesn’t have the same level of treble resolution and extension. Overall, the Cerberus is much clearer and more spacious sounding; and while the bass quantity is slightly less in the Cerberus, bass texture is clearly better and bass is tighter.
- Quad Driver: 1 Low, 2 Mid, 1 High
- 4-way, 3 Crossover
- Triple Bore
- Starting at $749
The shells of the Spartan universal are small like the Cerberus. They appear to be the same, just a bit thicker to accommodate an extra driver. Fit and comfort are again outstanding. These are easy to recommend in universal format.
The Spartan possesses Empire Ears’ most neutral signature. No one element of the frequency response stands out over the other. Bass is tight and deep but very much in line with the midrange, but don’t worry, there is no lack of impact or rumble, and I find the bass very satisfying. The midrange is even and engaging without calling attention to itself; although not quite as clear sounding as the Cerberus here, it is more natural and richer sounding. Treble is extended with plenty of sparkle, yet never harsh or fatiguing. Excellent clarity and openness. The presentation is engaging and instantly toe tapping. The Spartan is also the widest sounding in the line-up. While forward in overall presentation, it’s not intimately close like some models from the old line-up but does have an aggressive nature. The Spartan is an excellent all rounder and can handle any genre thrown its way.
I need to create some kind of shotgunshane award for this one- maybe the “Rock Star of Fame” award?! The Spartan is simply superb and I’m sure it will be an instant favorite of the line-up.
- 6 Drivers: 2 Low, 2 Mid, 2 High
- 3-way, 2 Crossovers
- Triple Bore
- Starting at $1099
The shells of the universal Hermes share the same footprint of the Spartan and Cerberus but are much thicker; even-so they barely stick out form my ears. Fit and long term comfort of the universal is still very good.
The Hermes is the darkest sounding model of the current line-up and has the most in common with the old EarWerkz house sound. The signature is intimately mid-forward with some upper bass emphasis. While bass is emphasized, particularly in upper bass, this is by no means and basshead experience. However it does make for a thicker, richer, less dynamic sound in comparison to the rest of the Empire Ears line-up. The midrange is forward with intimate and closeup vocals. Treble is shelved down a bit for a relaxed, easy going presentation.
Many will want to compare the Athena to the Legend, due to equal driver counts but the Hermes may have a bit more in common in overall signature presentations. Both the Legend and Hermes have a downward sloping frequency response with a focus on intimate vocals, thick and rich bass, as well as relaxed, shelved down treble. However, the Legend does sound a good bit thicker and bolder in the lower end in direct comparison. The Legend is also more intimate sounding with vocals presented for a more personal performance. Treble sparkle is similar with the Hermes having a touch more. While similar overall presentations, the Hermes sounds slightly more aggressive and clear in comparison, with the Legend a bit more laid back and relaxing.
- 8 Drivers: 2 Low, 3 Mid, 3 High
- 5-way, 4 Crossovers
- Triple Bore
- Starting at $1299
The shells of the universal Athena continue the same footprint across all the models below and maintain the same overall thickness as the Hermes. Fit and comfort are the same as the Hermes, which is very good.
The Athena sound presentation isn’t too far from the Hermes but there are significant gains in overall performance in separation, resolution and imaging. The Athena bass is boosted and forward but never overwhelming. It’s taught and really well textured. The midrange is forward but not exactly lush or super thick. It’s clarity is really very good for a richer sounding in-ear. The treble is articulate and natural sounding, and while it’s slightly behind the bass and midrange, it never gets buried in the presentation and maintaining good levels of resolution. While the Athena shares its bloodline from the old Earwerkz house sound, it moves to the next level in dynamics and clarity.
Obviously, the question is, how close is Athena to the Legend? The Athena is, in my estimation, a large improvement over the Legend. It’s much, much clearer, making the Legend seem stuffy in direct comparison. Bass isn’t upper bass loaded like the Legend; it’s more balanced, albeit thinner and less present overall. The Legend bass is a lot thicker and richer but doesn’t rebound as quickly, nor punch as hard as Athena. Athena can explode with aplomb. Athena’s midrange is clearer by a large margin giving a more transparent window into the music with more room to breathe. However it must be stated the Legend can give a more emotional vocal with certain songs. Athena also has much improved treble presence and resolution. Overall Athena more linear and more dynamic, making it a better all rounder than Legend. Hard to imagine, but I was really surprised by the direct comparison.
- 10 Drivers: 2 Low, 4 Mid, 4 High
- 5-way, 4 Crossovers
- Triple Bore
- Starting at $1599
The Apollo universal shells get a slightly bigger footprint over all the lower models. The increase in footprint is very small, however gains in thickness are very noticeable. I’d estimate a 25% increase in thickness compared to the Athena. This means they noticeable stick out from the ears. I’d estimate it sticks out similarly to how the Tralucent 1+2 (read more) does. Proper fit is still easy for me to achieve and long term comfort is still very good.
The Apollo has an overall neutral signature and Empire Ears labels it their reference monitor. I think the Spartan is still overall a bit more neutral to my ear, with the Apollo taking more of a JH Audio approach to reference sound- not quite as tilted as the new and evolving Harman target but with a slight tilt over strict Diffuse Field tuning. This makes for a full sounding, well extended and very engaging signature.
The Apollo is the natural step up from the Spartan. While not quite as linear in my estimation, the Apollo bass has greatly improved texture and more natural decay. Impact and rumble are superb, a true delight to my ears. The midrange is much more resolving than the Spartan, more easily displaying nuanced vocal inflections and low level instrument detail. Apollo treble is more articulate and defined than the Spartan. While not as bright and airy as the UE Reference Monitor, the Apollo has wonderful sparkle and shimmer without every being harsh or piercing.
This is easily the best imaging of the lineup and overall has the best staging with very good balance between width, height and depth, (well above average in all respects), placing the listener a little closer than the Spartan, with improved instrument separation and articulation.
The Apollo is a true gem that delights all the auditory senses. It easily bests the rest of the line-up in technical merits and I believe it not just competes with but stands toe to toe with the more reference signatures out there like the UE Reference Monitor, JH Angie and Layla (read shotgunshane’s thoughts here).
Editor’s Note: This is an update to ‘Empire Strikes Back: Empire Ears Line-Up Overview‘, with information on the Zeus, the first 14-driver CIEM.
- 14 Drivers: 2 Low, 6 Mid, 6 High
- 6-way, 5 Crossovers
- Quad Bore
- Starting at $2099
The Zeus universal footprint is the same as the Apollo but gets even thicker. I’d estimate that it’s thicker by another 10% to 15%. This means that it sticks out even more; fit and comfort will be somewhat tip-dependent.
I was able to get pretty good fit and comfort using my massive tip collection. While I really don’t have much to complain about in comfort, they sure do stick out when looking in the mirror. However, nothing sticks out quite like the JH Audio Siren (read more here and here) universals.
Zeus is a chameleon — it can surprise you with its clarity and fairly balanced signature but there is definitely some midrange coloration going on. I couldn’t quite pinpoint where before I had to ship to the collection out, but I feel there may be a bump in deep bass and middle mids. While the staging isn’t really wide, it’s taller than the others and much, much deeper. This is one of the deepest soundstages in an in-ear that I’ve heard, equaling the depth of the FitEar TO GO! 334 universal. We are talking ‘Being John Malkovich’ levels of head exploratory depth!
Zeus also has the best layering of the lineup. Instruments peel back in layers like an onion. While things are not spacious in terms of airiness, everything is super resolved and articulated on its own layer. Metallica’s ‘One’ on is like going from two-channel stereo with other IEMs to surround sound inside your head with Zeus.
Zeus is easily the most resolving of the Empire lineup. Vocal nuances leap off the headscape. In one song that I have, background singers whisper from side to side, while the lead vocalist sings dead ahead. These background whispers come from left and right, and slightly behind the ear, like someone is literally whispering behind you and right into your ear. The lead vocalist, though, stays steadfastly in front. Harmonies are the Zeus specialty, and my favorite aspect of its presentation — they just seem to soar with mesmerizing depth.
I can’t imagine how tedious it must be to solder 14 balanced armatures into such a small work space, but credit the Empire team in keeping the overall universal size down. Zeus is actually much smaller in footprint than both the Layla and Angie. Everything about Zeus screams TOTL status, with superb texturing, imaging, laying and resolution.
The only question that remains: Are you prepared to pay a king’s ransom for the auditory revelations from the Olympian god of thunder?
For more product information, please visit: http://empireears.com