When you think of luxury earphones, you might not think of Norcross, Georgia, but this is exactly where Empire Ears is situated. Having founded an already very successful IEM company called EarWerkz, Jack Vang decided to team up with his father Dean Vang to form Empire Ears in late 2015.
Empire Ears currently offers two collections: the EP series which stands for Empire Professional and the X series which is their more consumer oriented product line. Both collections are built to the highest degree of standards of course.
The brand Empire Ears first came under my radar when the Zeus XR was released to rave reviews. This 14 driver titan was the earphone which took their company one step higher in the audio world. A bit of digging unearthed a previous iteration called the Legend R, which was later given more bass and released as the Legend Omega. The father son combo then felt the need to recreate this earphone for its final form – the Legend X.
|Driver Type||7 Proprietary Drivers, Hybrid Design|
2 W9 Subwoofers, 2 Mid, 1 Mid-High, 1 High, 1 Super High
10-Way synX Crossover System
A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
|Frequency Response||5 Hz – 40kHz|
|Sensitivity||102dB @ 1kHz, 1mW|
|Impedance||14 ohms @ 1kHz|
|Cable||26AWG UPOCC Litz Copper Cable, Handcrafted by Effect Audio|
Packing a combination of five proprietary balanced armature drivers and two dynamic drivers per side, the Legend X easily lives up to its prestige and heritage of technical prowess by having 7 drivers firing per side.
The balanced armature drivers are by both Knowles and Sonion, each one purpose built for a specific target response. The drivers are painted with a special coating which dampens resonant vibrations, meaning that the sound production from the drivers will echo off the housing chamber the perfect amount, so as not to lose detail and clarity, while making sure they work cohesively with the two massive dynamic driver subwoofers pumping out low end resonance.
The two dynamic drivers, or subwoofers, are the result of two years of research and development by Empire Ears to deliver “extreme output, accurate dynamics and sublime sound quality”. While they’re not the largest dynamic drivers out there at 9mm, Empire Ears has designed them to be one of, if not the best dynamic driver subwoofers in an IEM currently in the industry. Quite aptly named “Weapon IX” or Weapon 9, these proprietary bass cannons use rare-earth magnets, enclosed in a tuned bass-reflex system with a front-firing sound port and rear-firing vent for maximum efficiency. The Weapon 9 is superior to conventional dynamic drivers due to its custom port tuned design, reaching even lower than target frequencies due to minimal movement. And of course, each of these Weapon 9 drivers are hand assembled in their lab at Norcross, Georgia.
As if all of the above weren’t enough technical capability to impress you, Empire Ears also utilize their own proprietary 10 way crossover technology called synX. By splitting the audio signal into 10 different bands and feeding them to the individual drivers, phase incoherence is kept at an absolute minimum. Other advantages include ultra-wide frequency bandwidth, ultimate signal-to-noise ratio, low distortion and maximum signal transfer. Each driver and crossover network is wired with isolated seven-strand UPOCC Litz wires to eliminate acoustic feedback. To further improve signal transfer, Empire soldered everything with ultra-pure silver and gold Mundorf Supreme solder.
Packaging & Accessories
The Empire Ears Legend X has one of the most luxurious packaging design and presentation of the accessories I have been fortunate enough to unbox so far. The refined experience is simply fitting for its price tag – you would expect no less from paying so much for an IEM of such a high calibre. Inside a solid cardboard box with the Empire Ears logo foil embossed on the front is a generous collection of accessories arranged into little pullout cabinet partitions that makes it feel like a sleek jewelery box.
Provided as part of the package is a beautiful metal IEM case with threaded lid complete with custom laser embossed name on the front, a set of ear tips in varying sizes, and a soft antistatic cloth for cleaning the IEM. While the packaging quality doesn’t affect the quality of the IEM in the end, the attention to detail that Empire Ears put into it just enhanced the overall experience of using the Legend X just that little bit more.
Design & Ergonomics
When I decided to get the Legend X, I contacted Empire Ears to see if we could get the universal version with a custom shell or perhaps custom faceplate. Sadly, none of these options were available and only the standard black with gold logo design. Although I was slightly disheartened at first, after receiving them, I’ve come to grow very fond of them over time.
The highly polished resin finish on these is impeccable. No micro-scratches or imperfections can be seen on the high gloss lacquer like exterior. The gold wings of the Empire logo sits just underneath the coating, idling as an understated assurance that you’ve just stepped into the big dogs’ club. The model name and serial numbers are displayed on the inside of the housings, in blue on the left and red on the left, a very thoughtful touch. The nozzle, although without a lip, did amazingly well in gripping the Final Audio E-Type eartips which come as standard accessories.
The cable is the Ares II from Effect Audio, with a proprietary blend of ultra pure litz copper. The insulation is transparent, showcasing the natural red hue of the copper. The cable is just slightly stiffer than what I’d like, but that minimizes tangle so it’s not a big issue. I chose the 2.5mm balanced termination, but you can also get it in 3.5 or 4.4mm. The ear connectors, chin slide, Y-split and plug all share the same black and chrome design scheme, with the plug sporting a bit of very handsome carbon fibre. All in all this is a very good looking cable with exceptional build quality.
Detailed Sound Analysis
Bass is without a shadow of a doubt the standout frequency for the Legend X. I had high expectations for the Legend X’s bass, having heard the saying that these produce the “best bass in the universe” and still, they exceeded my expectations. Words that come to mind for the Legend X’s bass: Grand, Visceral, Subterranean, Natural, Fluid, Indulgent, Unprecedented. The subbass being produced by the two Weapon IX subwoofers absolutely slam with such brute force, there is a very noticeable and welcoming throat vibration with each beat. Subbass volume is at the precipice of what I would consider too much. It makes itself known whenever called for, yet somehow doesn’t intrude nor overstep into the other frequencies. There have been many times when I’ve demoed an IEM and thought to myself – yeah the subbass is good, but I just wish there was a little bit more. No such thoughts with these. Midbass is exactly on par with the subbass, with a fast attack and natural decay. Speed and texture are absolute top notch, never feeling muddy or bloated even during the most demanding bass oriented tracks. The bass texture in particular is something which stood out for me and many of my friends, having an incredibly tactile presence, clearly showing itself in both rumbly electronic beats and bass guitars.
Mids have been described as heavily recessed on the Legend X. That was definitely the case when I ran them out of my FiiO BTR5, but having since switched to a more powerful setup of the Schiit Modi 3 and THX AAA 789, the mids have really come into their own. Both electric and acoustic guitars sound crisp and precise, with the decay of guitar strings being where the Legend X really comes alive, giving a stageside, live feeling to many recordings. The natural decay and the reverbs can be easily heard and felt. Acoustic guitars sound sweet and effortless, while electric guitars are clean, powerful and lively. Male vocals and female vocals sound just slightly warm, but with good detail retrieval and emotion. Vocals are placed rather forward, making for a slightly more aggressive listening experience. You’re able to clearly make out the mouth shapes as well as picking up all the intricate lip smacks and breath sounds. Piano notes carry a delicious weight, comfortable reverb and the right tone.
Highs are portrayed in a very non-fatiguing manner yet remain lively, bright and engaging. The pitfall which a lot of hybrid earphones suffer from is an overly splashy and sibilant top end, almost trying too hard to remind you that this is balanced armature territory. The Legend X does not do this, and has opted for smoothness over piercing analytics. An almost sparkly high end where trumpets, cymbals, flutes and other instruments come alive yet do not feel harsh, maintaining that dynamic and engaging sound signature carried over from the bass and mids. Make no mistake, the Legend X’s high end would still be considered “coloured” and bright by many, but it does so with such finesse that it is welcomed.
As a result of a more smoothed over treble, detail retrieval is not the Legend X’s forte. Clarity and overall analytics are easily beaten by the other hybrids such as the Campfire Dorado 2020 which overall has a bit of a V shape with more evident and piercing highs. Switching back and forth between these reveals that the Legend X is more akin to a Rolls Royce from a decade ago, emanating luxury, comfort and style, while the newer Dorado 2020 feels like a McLaren P1, prioritizing absolute performance and clear cut accuracy for a track day.
Soundstage is a standout feature for the Legend X with an incredibly wide horizontal reach, rivalling the likes of the Campfire Andromeda. Depth and height are just a touch behind but still very good. Imaging is incredibly clear, being able to easily locate instrument placements and layering within recordings. The Legend X has a more of an intimate placement of the listener, closer to the stage, as opposed to other products which places you a bit further back from the music.
To conclude, the Legend X is an undisputed endgame gem of an IEM. To say that it is a basshead iem is an overgeneralization and too simple of a description. I would consider it to be an extremely well rounded IEM with an emphasis on a superb bass response which will satisfy even the most critical bass connoisseurs. As an avid trance lover, the listening experience is out of this world, feeling like I’m transported to different realms and a different universe, feeling totally immersed in its soundscape. There is truly no doubt as to why the Legend X is still favoured amongst audiophiles around the world as one of the hallmark iems of our time. As a hybrid, Empire Ears has carefully navigated the usual problems which many hybrid offerings are plagued by, creating a tonally coherent, extravagant listening experience.
Sure, the detail retrieval may not be cutting edge, but the overall dynamic sound signature is too captivating to even notice such technicalities. The Legend X is not weighed down by such issues, instead taking giant, confident strides into delivering an incredibly luxurious and energetic sound signature. Afterall, it’s not like every time you have sex you’re trying to make a baby.
- Truly exceptional, visceral bass response
- Good soundstage and separation between instruments
- Gorgeous build quality and accessories provided
- May need a good source and output setup to bring out the best in it
- Bass could be slightly overwhelming and cover mids details