Empire Ears Wraith ($3499): What’s in a name?
*Empire Ears is proud to present the World’s First Quad Electrostatic IEM, The Wraith. The Wraith is Carnegie Hall built for one; a vast cathedral erected in the name of crystalline, pure sound. *
Often on IEM tours, pairs of good are sent. One near-top and one TOTL. This can cause a conundrum as one may be more apt to spend the majority of the time with the TOTL, neglecting the “lesser” of the two. I will admit this happened with the Phantom/Legend X pair sent some time ago. I liked the Phantom, but absolutely fell for the LX. So much so, that I will most likely order one in a few days. It is not that I was on the fence, oh no. The reason is that after hearing both the Valkyrie and Wraith I am quite comfortable purchasing the LX. I do see a difference between the LX and Wraith, with more similarities between the Valkyrie and LX. Some even called the Valk a baby Legend X. I think that is a disservice, since in my Valkyrie review, I state unabashedly that the Valk can stand on its own merits quite nicely.
No, what sent me over the top for the Legend X is pure and simple…the bass. Intoxicating would not be too strong a word. From the Valkyrie, the bass of the W9 subwoofer is strong. The bass of the LX is well, twice as strong (not really) due to the dual-W9’s. While the Wraith is an extraordinary model, it does not have my signature of choice. It is too similar to my CTM Da Vinci X to allow me the purchase. I dearly love the sound signature of the Wraith but found myself leaning towards the Valkyrie for better than 50% of my time. That said, the Wraith paired with an excellent source be it the Questyle QP2R or Cayin N6 mk2, you are set for a superb sound, and one I enjoyed immensely.
The Wraith defines flagship/TOTL for EE and competes on equal terms with IEM’s such as the 64Audio tia Forte. And it should. Priced in the same bracket, one would hope that even with differing signatures, they are on the same level. The Wraith has more bass than the Forte. The Forte has more air between the notes. The Wraith is warmer to me. The Forte is more “reference.” I will state up front that if you prefer detail, the tia Forte has few peers, even here. But if you want more of a soul, a sound described by some as detailed, but with a meaty sound, then the Wraith is the one with few peers. I would liken the comparison to the U18 tzar as more akin in the 64Audio lineup and the two present sound similarly to me.
The Wraith is an extraordinary example from a company, which had no need to raise the bar (think Zeus iterations and the Legend X) but chose to and now that bar is set higher. I called the Legend X “the standard” in my review, and I meant it. The Wraith would be the higher standard for EE, and one in which other manufacturers should be very wary. Aim for it if you must, but few may attain that same level of sound across the board.
4 Electrostatic Drivers (EIVEC – Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control)
7 Proprietary Empire Balanced Armature Drivers (Knowles and Sonion)
2 Low, 3 Mid, 2 High, 4 Super-High
5-Way synX Crossover Network
A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
Impedance: 4 ohms @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 100kHz
Sensitivity 117dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
UPOCC 26AWG Handcrafted Cable by Effect Audio (Cleopatra: $699)
What’s in the box:
Included at no additional charge with each order.
- In Ear Monitor
- Empire Pandora Case
- Empire Cleaning Cloth
- Empire Cleaning Tool
- Final Audio Type E Tips – SS, S, M, L, LL
Unique Melody Maestro V2 ($1599)
Empire Ears Valkyrie ($1599)
Unique Melody Mentor V3 ($2599)
Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X ($2499)
Empire Ears Legend X ($2299)
Cayin N6 mk2
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World, Midnight Radio
twenty one pilots-Blurryface, Trench, Regional at Best
Van Morrison-Three Chords & The Truth
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Whatever my fancy of the moment
Unboxing (copied from Valkyrie review, tbh):
Coming in a fair-sized box, you would expect the EE product to be well packed and chock full of goodies. One would not be wrong. With a pull up sleeve opening from right to left, you open the book on the purchase. Tucked neatly inside is the IEM already attached to the Effect Audio Ares ii cable. A stunning first look.
Sliding the light, smooth cardboard sleeve off, complete with both EE logos, you find the main box with minimally more writing. Laden on the “flap” side is the company motto, “the pursuit of extraordinary.” On the bottom front is the model and color on a silver sticker. Open the flap and you are presented with a black paperboard thank you wrapped over a foam-core base. In another sleeve are the quick start guide and a cleaning cloth. With the cable wrapped under the thank you, the IEM’s form a heart shape. In other words, double duty in seeing the beauty and making your heart aflutter.
The “drawer,” which is like a child’s jewelry cabinet slides to reveal the Pandora case, Final tips on an aluminum board, and cleaning tool. And, when you think about it, we of the hobby do in fact collect “jewelry” of a different sort…maybe Empire Ears already know, and are playing mind games with us…
Not too much, and some might think not enough. Of the boxes I have, the Clear Tunes Monitor is the best box I have ever seen. Replete with info galore, you marvel at all while listening. Here the focus is on listening. And that is all right.
Running that many drivers one would expect the unit to be on the larger size. One would not be wrong, and with a long nozzle, fit can be tricky, and did become tedious over time. Where the Valkyrie and LX fit my average sized ears quite well, the Wraith does as well, but can become uncomfortable after a few hours. I was able to adjust and keep listening, but it did affect the overall fit. Using the included Final Audio Type E tips, the seal was quite good, and so was the sound. A company such as EE would not include a tip of choice if it did not fit their bill. I will also admit that the Type E tips are just about the only silicon tips I will use on the higher priced IEM’s I have in possession. My choice as always is the Comply line of tips. I do vary between the comfort, sport and isolation varieties between IEM’s.
The techy bits:
Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control Technology – EIVEC for short – is a new-found approach to incorporating electrostatic drivers into in ear monitors. For all their incredible range and resolution, electrostatic drivers – ESTs – are notoriously hard to control, often overpowering other drivers. EIVEC is our solution to that, and the degree of control provided by EIVEC is so precise that, in the case of Wraith, each EST driver operates independently, performing disparate tasks within the sound stage. The result is a seamless and rich sound signature layered in detail and texture the likes of which you’ve never heard before.
ESTs are capable of stable production of the entire frequency range from 4kHz – 100kHz. Naturally, humans can’t hear much above 20kHz but a driver capable of reliably producing the extreme high frequencies possesses an agility requisite for levels of detail unmatched by any other driver technology.
synX Crossover Technology
How do crossovers work?
Think of a crossover network as an audio traffic officer, directing highs to your tweeters, midrange to your speakers, and bass to your subwoofers. This is essentially what a crossover does; it takes an input signal and splits it into separate audio bands. Could you imagine having numerous speakers with just a few dedicated audio bands? It would cause a massive audio pile up, forcing the wrong speakers to reproduce the wrong frequencies constantly. We avoid all of this by utilizing specially designed drivers for designated frequency ranges and further maximizing their potential with our latest crossover technology, synX.
synX is a supercharged crossover design that designates more individual audio bands per driver than any other crossover technology currently in existence. By creating an ultra-wide, multi-channel highway our engineers can manipulate specific parts of the frequency range in order to precision craft the target response and eliminate any signs of phase incoherence between the drivers. Alternatively, mix engineers and audiophiles will have full control of the drivers when equalizing through a mixing console or digital audio player. synX is the industry’s most advanced IEM crossover technology with each model featuring its own uniquely designed synX network.synX advantages: Ultra-Wide Frequency Bandwidth, Best Signal-to-Noise, Low Distortion, Maximum Signal Transfer.
Well…how does it sound?
I will again admit that while I heard the Wraith first, my early time was spent with the Valkyrie. I did initially like the Valk more. It fits my listening style more. I still like the Valkyrie. But after spending extensive time with the Wraith using mainly the QP2R and N6 mk2, I came to completely respect the direction EE is taking with the Wraith. One does not simply throw a flagship out without fully vetting it. You have your reputation, current and future with which to take into consideration. As such EE took their time, and most definitely raised the bar of sound.
So, what does this all mean? Is it worth the $3499usd? That is a judgement of which you and your significant other make, not me. Suffice to say that if I was in the market for a TOTL IEM at this price, the number considered would be quite few and they would have to beat the Wraith to me. Maybe not at the top of the list, but serious listening and consideration would be needed. The Wraith is an exceptional example of music taken to another level by a company, which had no need to improve in this manner. What with the Phantom, Legend X and more affordable models such as the Bravado and ESR; EE was set. But that shows how much the company cares. Implementing new sound sources within their unit takes a bit of guts and a bit of a gamble. I will not mention another company of which I consider on this level who did so and have kind of failed when taking the chances. It is a hit-or-miss sometimes and a company must be quick to recognize either direction. In one you capitalize on it. In the other you learn from the decision and move forward. Here though, EE has a winner. No need to re-evaluate. The Wraith is worthy of the TOTL moniker.
The bass, while short of the LX and Valkyrie is excellent at presentation. Coming on in the right bits and right quantity the support to the others is quite evident. The Wraith is not meant to carry on the level of bass in the others. We are talking of a more neutral sound (to me). Balance and detail come to mind with the Wraith. Vocals are still behind center, but you get the feeling that is where they would be should you be live. Convincing in presentation, it is almost a trick. But it is not, for the sound is true and fairly detailed. Not as detailed as the CTM Da Vinci X, but the sound is not meant to be. For this is a slightly warmer signature, which fits the EE “mold” perfectly. Presenting warm vocals gives an almost sensuous quality to the music. You feel that this would be the IEM of Billy Holiday’s choice. Pure sound, with that bit of chocolaty warmth that comes with winter warmth in front of a small venue live show. Call it authentic bass and you would not be remise.
I do find the mids to be behind the center stage, which until you get used to it can be a bit off-putting. Until you realize that this support range is meant as a tie to both ends. Male vocals are presented a bit darker, while female vocals have that sumptuous quality of sublime presentation. Bonnie Raitt’s rough voiced quality comes across a bit gentler, but without losing that edge. Her voice is to die for, and even through the Wraith you do not lose that quality. You gain a bit of dark nature, which aids in the mystique of her vocal presence.
Others have mentioned how the treble is a bit subdued and rolled off. I concur and really cannot add much other than this is an upper end I thoroughly enjoy. I do not tolerate too much sparkle or sibilance, and neither are present here. Bonnie’s voice carries into the treble range nicely without fatigue, and I find that even with the sensitive nature of the Wraith, I can turn the volume up on Thing Called Love and still enjoy all. Man, what a voice.
With an exceptional soundstage you appreciate the thick nature of the overall sound, especially when a song such as Too Soon To Tell comes on as you sink back into your easy chair, relishing the splendid sound. Wide, deep and fairly tall, the sound is wider than tall. Not cubic but panoramic again. Whatever the elves of SE GA do with regard to soundstage in their swampy shop, do so right. I am enamored with the soundstage application of all EE units. This is no different.
Detail is impressive, as it should be for this level. Not on par with the U18T or tia Forte but combined with the warmer sound than the two just mentioned, and you get a really pleasant signature. This is wonderfully detailed, in that combination. As such the separation is very, very good. On par with the UM Mentor V3, but not quite as good as the CTM Da Vinci X. That provides the listener with excellent air and separation to go along with the detail. Here there is good clarity to go along, and that helps.
To alleviate any fears regarding less than stellar detail or separation or an airy presence, I throw on Dave Matthews Stay Or Leave. Such a wonderful love song, with a complex intricate melody, much like a love affair. And this is how you could look at the Wraith. In its presence, it will surprise you. And that is the telling nature of the signature. A nice surprise to make you feel, “yep, this is really quite extraordinary on its own merits.” This is an impressive package, indeed.
Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Unique Melody Maestro V2 ($1599):
Repeatedly stated, this was my first foray into TOTL-dom. And I still have the pair. Presenting a very clean signature, the sound is nonetheless thin when compared to the robust Wraith sound. Where the Wraith is robust in its presentation and signature, the Maestro is more delicate. More deliberate. Just like the name implies, the Maestro is in control of the overall, moving with authoritative distinction and delicacy. The bass is as good quantity-wise as the Wraith, but of lesser quality. There is definitely more air between the notes, with better placement and separation of note. The sound is pure, ever so slightly warm and breathes wonderfully in most genre of music. I still appreciate the tuning very much, even as other wares from UM and others pass it by technologically. With 12 BA drivers (4 each for lows and mids, 2 each for high and “superhigh”) and “only” four crossovers, the Maestro set the stage during the driver wars. Tight control, with the airy sound lent a signature, which was clear but not analytical as were many of the time. It was only a short time ago that not only were driver counts the forte, but a “reference” signature was au rigor. UM flew against the grain setting sound signature as their “reference,” not pure analytical sound. A sound I very much appreciate and still like.
But here is where the Wraith has passed the Maestro. Newer technology, and the electrostatic drivers are just too much for me not to like. The Maestro is very, very good. The Wraith is exceptional. If you like air between your notes, and value placement, then the Maestro is your ticket here. If you want an overall higher quality signature, then the choice would justify the price difference your wallet would suffer.
Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Empire Ears Valkyrie ($1599):
This would be like comparing the older sibling to the younger less-developed sibling. But warranted, because each is their own IEM, and each delivers a significantly different sound. Where the Wraith is all-encompassing, with a fantastic tone; the Valkyrie is oriented around that fabulous W9 subwoofer. The bass is almost thunderous (the Legend X’s dual-W9 subs are thunderous), bettering the Wraith in the reach department. That is not to say the Wraith does not have sufficient bass like a reference sound. It has exceptional bass quality and can hold its own against whatever TOTL IEM you throw in its path. It simply to me does not have the sub-bass quantity of the Valkyrie (or Legend X).
Where the Wraith is pure and exudes that sense of complete immersion, the Valkyrie would be the Disneyworld ride with the thundering bass, adding to the impending natural disaster, which magically avoids you JUST in the nick of time. I love the Valkyrie sound. It fits my tone better than anything I have encountered save the Legend X. And if it were not for the Legend X, I would purchase the Valkyrie. I think that highly of it. But the Wraith is the proverbial ‘nother level. It is all-around better.
Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Unique Melody Mentor V3 ($2599):
After participating in another tour, I deemed the Mentor V3 worthy of a purchase. I liked the sound signature more than the Mason V3. To me the bass presented was better and more prevalent. But, when compared to the Wraith, the separation is pretty clear. I found the sound stage to be wider in the Wraith, and separation of note better as well. The overall darker signature of the Mentor is quite good for my tastes, but I do wish it had a bit more sub-bass quantity; even with the adjustable opening (which is quite novel, as is the changeable cable from side-to-side).
As an equal partner at the top of the UM line, the Mentor arrives at its signature sound in a different manner than the Mason V3. With a bit less air and detail, but better mid and bass presentation, the Mentor is a complimentary pair to the Mason, giving people two options from which to choose. It was the slightly darker signature, which I preferred with the Mentor, and still use it quite a bit. The only part I do not like is the fit of the cable over-ear. Well too stiff for me, the ear guides are pliable but too stiff. Plus, the proprietary cable is not for everyone. With the ability to change from a cleaner to darker signature, I applaud the decision, but find the cable ungainly with which to work. Having the adjustment screw for bass can help alleviate one’s need for bass. With the Wraith, you are set. But man, what a set tone. Having the ability to fine tune the sound is nice to have, but not entirely needed. And in this regard, I would put the Wraith ahead of the Mentor for overall sound quality.
Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X ($2499):
Also purchased after a tour, the Da Vinci X is just about the clearest sound I have heard. With enough air between notes to make a stadium full of Futbol fans lightheaded, you get every nuance. Every detail. Every bit of clarity there can be from the music. Of the IEM’s I have heard, the X is the cleanest sound I have heard. Without being antiseptic, the sound is wholesome and good. Treble with the perfect amount of sparkle. Mids worthy of inclusion in the finest museum, and bass sufficient enough to put it all together. But there may be a bit TOO much clarity as I cannot turn the volume up too much without it bothering me after a listening session. That added clarity comes at the cost of listening-ability. It is a trade-off I take, but do feel there is a presence, a lack of soul, which is missing on some tracks.
There is no lack with the Wraith. Cut from similar clarity sound, the Wraith is an excellent sound, period. Darker, more mysterious the Wraith can cut it with pretty much anything out there. Not quite the clarity of the Da Vinci, but with more depth of sound, I very much like the sound.
Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Empire Ears Legend X ($2299):
From one TOTL to another, the comparison is valid for when you replace a Legend, you had better bring you’re A-game. And the Wraith does. But I prefer the Legend X. Having one w9 like the Valkyrie is fabulous. Having TWO W-9’s is phenomenal, and the bass is worthy of your floor-standing speakers. It is that good. And I cannot underestimate how much I like that sound. Treble stops short of becoming grating to me, and I can listen for long periods. Pinky says this right: it is the best IEM he has ever heard. We have both heard the tia Fourte as well, which does provide more air and clarity, but that meaty sound of the Legend is what makes it for both of us.
If you want a no-nonsense sound, then the Wraith has very few peers anywhere. If you prefer a meatier sound, then the Legend X has few peers. Plus, that bass is to die for.
Most of the time was spent with the Cayin N6 mk2, since that was also in house. To think of the pairing together as good would be an incredible insult to both. This truly is end-game material especially with the functionality of the Cayin. I only scratched the surface of usability with the N6ii, but in the short time I have it I discerned it quite capable. As such, it was a wonderful pairing with the Wraith. Adding a touch more warmth, the sound was sublime. Adding depth as well, gave what few shortcomings the Wraith may have had a boost, the two seemed destined for each other. It was truly a treat to hear the pairing and one in which I could easily judge all others. I spent approximately 40 hours together with the duo.
Next on the list was my Questyle QP2R, which is quite superb on its own. Rivaling the price of the N6 mk2, the QP2R comes at you with pure sound. Fewer frills than the Cayin, the Questyle is meant for sound. And in typical Questyle manner, it is clean, clear, crisp, and vibrant. This was actually an excellent. Pairing as well, giving the Wraith a lift where needed, adding a bit of air, which is lacking in the presentation. Think of it as the frisky friend Tigger who tries to raise Eeyore’s spirits. And does so, because Eeyore has no choice. I would call the pairing as good as the Cayin, but from two different points: the Cayin is dark and mysterious, while the QP2R is open and airy, almost clinical in presentation but not. This is most definitely reference sound, and good.
Spending a bit of time with the Dethonray DTR1, I found the pair quite musical, but a step down from either the Cayin or Questyle. I liked it, but I do believe even the pureness of the DTR1 was out of its depth here. It did work quite well with the Valkyrie, though. Tale of two IEM’s maybe…
The duo is headed east to NYC at the moment, and I lament their loss. They are marvelous from two differing directions. The Valkyrie is certainly not a baby-Legend X, but a wonderfully affordable unit, which espouses terrific bass and the electrostat pulls the rest together. The Wraith on the other hand is meant for purity of sound, with a solid thump as well. Not like the Valk/Legend, but cleaner and respected for the overall slightly warm tone, which presents itself rightly as a TOTL. This is not kids play. This is serious business when you reach this point. To flippantly flail out $3500 on an IEM would be foolish no matter what us hobby-gentlemen state. I would state the same with the 64Audio pair mentioned often here as well. When one reaches this point, you had better listen, lest you find out the tuning is not for you. That said, the Wraith is forgiving enough that you would quickly adjust. And I do think that is one of its greatest strengths…the ability to win you over, once you listen. I still like the Valkyrie more, but the Wraith won me over in the end with its solid build, fabulous electrostats, and a sound, which the industry should take notice of…or be jealous on the sidelines as EE passes them by. Splendid, indeed.
I thank all from Empire Ears for the loan of these gems, as well as [USER=191965]@Barra[/USER] and @BulldogTM for the continued support of these tours. I have heard the gear of a lifetime, and hope it continues. Now the wait for my Legend X…