Empire Ears Legend X: The Standard
Written by ngoshawk
Published 3 minutes ago
Pros – Bass.
Overall, an intoxicating sound.
Continues the EE Legend line nicely
Quality, quality, quality top to bottom.
Good Effect Audio Ares II cable.
Cons – Not mine.
Bass too much for some.
Off-putting price, maybe?
Not mine: how can I fund these?
Empire Ears Legend X: The Standard
Empire Ears page: https://empireears.com/collections/x-line/products/legend-x-universal-universal-in-ear-monitor
You must play Boom Boom (or Crazy Mary) by Big Head
Todd & The Monsters, and John Lee Hooker VERY often during this
review to fully appreciate the heritage, history and guts behind the EE
line. Others fit into this as well and will be mentioned. This song
kicks ass, as do the performers. Damn, they are good.
Graphs or videos are not needed to pursue the differences in sound of
the following wonders. All one need is their ear and eye, for it is
indeed their opinion whether they be hobby gentleman or professional.
Thanks to @Barra for arranging the tour, and Empire Ears for releasing their wares to those of us lucky enough to partake. A fantastic steward to Head-Fi and the industry both are.
Empire Ears is no stranger to the market. Taking a concerted effort some time ago (read others history, I highlight) to market what they consider the best, Jack Vang and his father (I believe) came together to make what are indeed considered the standard (not gold, platinum, just THE standard) along with what I consider to be equal (64Audio) in regard to IEM’s here. Period. The Zeus was a vaunted unit. The Legend name must carry the weight of that name, lest it be cast down into the depths of Lake Cocytus in shame. They did not mess around, it is worthy. Period.
Two entirely new lines of IEMs emerged a couple of years ago:
“Stolen from another review,” some gent named Pinky or something:
Two lines came about within the last years: The Empire Professional Series (EP), consists of the EVR, ESR, and Phantom. And the Empire X Series, representing the company’s try at Dynamic Driver hybrids, with Bravado, Vantage, Nemesis, and Legend X.
Having previously heard the Bravado and ESR, I was surprised my number had come up earlier than expected for the Legend X and Phantom. I liked both the Bravado & ESR. In talks with the esteemed @PinkyPowers he stated the Legend X was, “the best he’s ever heard.” I do not take that composition of words lightly. In fact, coming from the mouth of Pinky himself, lends more credence to the verbiage posted. Serious stuff, indeed.
In my brain-farted nature preparing for a 4-day session in a motel while daughter-unit expends large amounts of energy towards her goalkeeping skills, I packed my iFi Pro iDSD for a grand shootout with the UM Maestro V2 (Mentor V2), Mentor V3, Phantom, and the CTM Da Vinci X. Oh…my, the giddiness of listening goblins beat upon my head. As UN-luck would have it, I brought the unit…but left the power cord at home…idiot.
So, my back up units of the xDuoo x10t ii/iFi xDSD would have to suffice along with the ever present Shanling M3s and M5s. Oh well, this would give good scaling to the Legend X and Phantom (oh ya, that came too).
So, you see, this is written the day the units must be shipped to the next (at least this part, the listening’s below and comparison were written is said motel room), and I lament my time has come to a close.
I will openly admit that the majority of my time was with the Legend X, except for comparing the Phantom to the Da Vinci X. Those sound signatures (to me) seem more akin to each other, while the Mentor V3 and Legend X seem more in line (but with differences). So dear reader, this will not be a full-on review of accessories (who gives a damn here, I WANT TO LISTEN!!!), nor unboxing (again, I WANT TO LISTEN!!!); but of sound capabilities and scaling and pairings.
Coming across an old friend, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, I used their seminal “first” album Beautiful World as a good listening specter along with the Tedeschi Trucks Band on Tidal Premium. Holy buckets is all I have to say. Good GAWD might be more appropriate…
Gear Compared/Used (price listed as USD unless noted):
Unique Melody Mentor V3 ($2200)
Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci X ($2400)
Unique Melody Maestro V2 (Mentor V2) ($1600)
Empire Ears Phantom ($1800)
MacBook Pro/iFi xDSD
MacBook Pro/Burson Fun (briefly)
xDuoo x10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD
Tedeschi Trucks Band (Tidal Premium)
twenty one pilots-Regional At Best
Big Head Todd & the Monsters-Beautiful World
John Lee Hooker (for a dear friend I lost)
· Look at other’s pictures.
· Case is boss, cable is Effect Audio Ares ii+ (different than the one on my Maestro).
· Final Audio Type-E tips (which I quite like)
· Cool cloth bags, well because the case won’t fit in your front pocket (plus you’d look like an absolute dolt if you did…so)
· Included 2.5bal to 3.5 Effect Audio jack
· 2.5bal to 4.4bal jack
That’s all I’m going to say about that. Read Pinky’s or Alex’s review for more detail…
Yup, yup, yup, yup.
Exemplary. Industry standard. Absolutely on-par with the best in the industry (I gush, but for warranted reasons). With three vents holes out the back, and a shortish nozzle, fit is good and comfortable. Plus, the included wonderful copper Effect Audio Ares ii+ cable moves around my ear much better than the one I purchased for my Maestro. It seems to be ½ the diameter, with equal sound (don’t go there you blasphemous non-cable believers…). Both still tangle more than I would like. There is driver flex as well.
Mounting the included Final Type-E tips (medium) for my average-sized ears gave a good fit and seal. These are really good tips, and begrudgingly my disdain for silicon’s slips away…
Turning on Boom Boom first, my thought is holy s@#$, this bass is good. Some mention the over-exuberance of that bass and how it can lend some to think it overwhelms all else. Switching from my Mentor V3 to the Legend X dispels that thought. The bass comes on strong and wonderfully set IN the music. One does not take that bass lightly. You experience it full force, and it takes all other sounds into its fold. Think how Luciano Pavarotti could command an audience and bring all into the fray for the overall benefit. THAT is what the bass does for me.
When it hits be prepared for what @barra described as feeling it in
the chest. This could be used as a defibrillator. Seriously
intoxicating. Some mention not liking the signature, and that is their
right. I will never tell anyone they are wrong but have different
tastes. And I respect that. To me, this is the best bass presentation I
have ever heard on an IEM. On par with my old Klipsch Chorus II home
speakers (yes not my best speakers, but that bass). Barra also mentions
this is the first IEM to rival his home speakers in bass presentation. I
Mids are just right. Not overly-frontal, not withdrawn, just excellent. I do wish for a bit more detail in the mids (like the U18T), but that is like choosing to drive a Porsche 911 for the rear-engine, as opposed to a Ferrari for the mid-engine. The decisions you have to make… Mind you this is superb mid presentation, and vocals come across almost crystalline in nature. True, honest and as they should be, but behind the U18T in my opinion. These are still fantastic, and in the overall scheme of the whole of the Legend X, meld perfectly with the sound. Taken separately they are slightly behind the U18T. Here the sum of the parts is greater than the individual aspects.
The treble though, is just to my liking. This is among the few where as I turn up the volume, I do not get that bothersome note in my ears. I will admit that these tired old ears cannot take it like they used to. But I hope you know what I mean…as volume goes up you should still be able to listen. On my Da Vinci X, I cannot turn the volume up like I can here. That clarity becomes bothersome to me due to the treble. With the Legend X, though it does not. I will also note, that the same problem I have with the Da Vinci X, I had with the Phantom. I find they are similar due to the nature of that clarity. The Phantom is exemplary, and almost as good as the CTM, but still bothersome. Not so with the Legend X. Sublime.
I repeat this as intro to the comparison(s): graphs are not
needed to pursue the differences in sound of the following wonders. All
one need is their ear and eye, for it is indeed their opinion of merit,
and theirs alone, whether they be hobby gentleman or professional. So it
CTM Da Vinci X ($2400): that crystalline clear icy north wind from a Scandinavian country, akin to a Norwegian blonde. Simply precise, clean, clear and gorgeous. You find yourself looking (listening) for long periods due to the purity of beauty (sound). Brighter of sound than the Legend X, you cannot freely turn the volume up on the CTM like you can with the Legend. A downside to me. But with the Da Vinci, I do not use it for ear shattering volume. No. I use it for purity of sound. In my travels, albeit shorter and not as far as others, I have yet to hear something this pure. And that includes the 64Audio Forte and U18T. I dearly love them, but for differing reasons. The CTM Da Vinci X IS that pure icy cold north wind. But it does not lack depth or width or layers from this. No, they are laid clear and clean. This is not analytical at all, but crystalline. Think pure, steely cold killer and you get the idea.
Please Don’t Tell Her is a major treat through the Da
Vinci. That precision of sound and placement cannot be underestimated
when considering this among the top-tier of IEM’s. On par with the
64Audio Forte in my humble opinion, this can be the pinnacle or Achilles
depending upon your interpretation. This purity can bring out the best
of a song, and the worst. It cannot be hidden if you are sensitive to
those higher pitched sounds up top. And here is where I fatigue from too
much high volume of the CTM. But through the favored pair at home, the
Da Vinci holds true to its name. This is TOTL stuff, and well deserved.
UM Maestro V2 ($1600): the cool cousin who comes along, sticking to the background, but the one offering the 4:20 breaks, so he is very cool. Neither wanting nor seeking attention, the Maestro is there out of respect and reverence for a much less complicated time.
My first foray into TOTL level IEM-ness, the Maestro came about after
an audition from Andrew at Musicteck. The day I received the pair, I
emailed him back and said, “what be the price you set forth my way lord,
for the purpose and honor of purchase?” We agreed, and even though I
have thought of it leaving my stable before, it stays. And this
comparison lends truth beholden to why. Still damn good in clarity, and a
bass that melds oh so well with the overall signature (better in my
opinion than the Mentor) the Maestro is one you just sit back and enjoy.
Not overly-peaky up top, and vocals to back the sound up, the Maestro
was worthy (at the time) of the UM TOTL moniker. I do so enjoy it. Used
to “cleanse my palette” between reviews, I still use it fairly
regularly. This is an excellent treat to bring forth for a full-on
comparison, and can hold its head high, worthy of that top-5 ranking not
so long ago in the seminal top-15 from Flickernick.
UM Mentor V3 ($2200): the body builder cousin, who shows his baaaaaadddd side, and can back it up. You don’t need no stink’n graph to see (hear) the quality. Much respect is garnered as a result. You don’t mess with him but cannot take your eyes (ears) off of that dirty, dirty look (sound). Big Head Todd & the Monsters Boom Boom with John Lee Hooker epitomizes this baaaaad sound. Man…oh…man…
On Crazy Mary, that visceral experience is different. A bit
smaller of venue than the Legend, and a “bit” less bass. Truth be told,
the bass of the Mentor V3 is not enough for me. That to me is its
shortfall. Other than that, I truly enjoy the overall characteristics of
depth. This sound can be easily picked apart by layers. True it does
get a bit complicated when the sound does as well, but here again the
sum is more than the parts. Another where I can turn the volume up, I
revel in that luscious mid sound. Vocals are superb, and a bit more
forward. They seem a bit more compact, though. A bit more holographic,
the Mentor can hold its own, except for the bass. And that sound…oh man;
this solidified why I love the UM sound. Different, but full of verve
and energy. An unsung hero in my book, and worthy of mention with the
Please Don’t Tell Her is a love song of the highest order. And here the strengths of the Mentor shine. That almost-cozy (not narrow sound stage mind you) personal signature is just heavenly. The guitar solo in the middle is perfect. I AM the guitar! Only bettered by the Legend X in this group.
EE Legend X ($2300): the elder statesman, who has no reason to ask for respect. It was earned a long time ago. And founded in a deep soil-laden history, from the swamps of the southeastern US of A. Dark, deep and rich, you respect the Legend X, lest you get lost. It has SOUL.
Crazy Mary from Big Head Todd & the Monsters through the XDuoo x10t ii and iFi xDSD (even better through the xDuoo/iFi Pro iDSD) is the stuff of…well…legends. There is a reason EE gave the name to one of their flagships. You do not do so lightly. You do so knowing that those others will come after you. With a vengeance. Almost mockingly, with audacious speed and favored weapons of choice. Be they neutral, norse of neutral or south, but come they do. And few make it past the test. Few make it on equal terms. Most are left bowing, hurt, bruised, battered, and in reverence to the Legend X. And it has been earned. It has been bestowed by that competition. Bestowed with full honors after a fight worthy of ones struggle with Dante’s Inferno. And the Legend X never blinks. Not once. And all is good in that hot, humid land we call the southeastern US of A. For you see, it is due to that upbringing of swamp that the Legend X can stand the test. And at the front. This is an incredible sound, from an incredible IEM. And I do not want it to end.
EE Phantom ($1800): the ghost of the group. You always
know it’s there, but cannot pin it down, for it hides in plain sight-the
shadows. Wrought with a throaty-mid, you seem to get a chill up and
down your spine when listening. But, in a good way.
This one to me is a conundrum. Liked more by Barra, I can see why.
This rivals the CTM for clarity. Presentation is superb. Not the bass of
the Legend (not meant to have…) but more on par with the CTM or Mentor,
it is appreciated and there. But clarity and mid-presentation rule
here. That is not a bad thing in my mind, but I prefer the lower-down
and dirty stuff.
Please Don’t Tell Her again brings out the best. This is a detail-monster extraordinaire. I truly appreciate that EE tuned the Phantom and Legend differently. Some would scoff at this, saying all in one’s line should build upon the lowers. I say pish posh, and let EE do what they want. The two are superb compliments, and worth a look by anyone. I appreciate the difference and can see where someone who wants or needs that added clarity (not that the Legend is short of it, mind you) would be better served by the Phantom. Think of someone on stage or in the studio where that last 0.1% detail is needed. Here the Phantom is the choice.
Those who want to listen (us hobbyist’s, you know…) should go for the Legend X. enough said.
Sadly, the conclusion:
This will be relatively short, since all above is mentioned. I am sad. I was truly sad when the Meze Empyrean left but knew I had listened to a true jewel in the headphone audio industry. I still think of that magical week together. Good lord it was sweet. That is now how I think of the Legend X. I was privy to a very special unit and club. The Empire Ears pinnacles. One’s in which I consider myself smitten. But not in the usual sense. Smitten with respect and love for what can be done in our hobby we call the portable-audio industry indeed; but one in which I can go back to my stable and pull out something akin to the EE line, but different. And that is the true measure. Other’s mimic the EE line, and shoot for that. There are possibly “better” IEM’s out there amongst your definition. And that would be all right. For in my definition, there is an elite class of companies I have had the honor to listen to (and own). And I consider the EE pair to be the standard. The one the others shoot for. The one only a select few can stand on that same ledge with, overlooking the kingdom of mountains & valleys we call portable-audio. And in that vein, I was very, very lucky. Indeed, I was.
I finish listening to Crazy Mary on the Phantom. And it is good, indeed.
I thank Barra, Bulldog, and especially Empire Ears for the honor of listening to their top offerings. It was a marvelous pleasure, and one in which I will now gauge others. Those who follow, will be in for the treat. Standard indeed.