Empire Ears Hero: What makes a hero, a hero?
Pros: Gorgeous looks
Oh, that bass…
Clarity, spacial presentation
Presentation (overall, from unboxing to listen)
Cons: Might be too V-shaped for some
Others do not like treble presentation
Polarizing view of W9+
Clarity is excellent, but mids do suffer from that “V”
Empire Ears Hero ($1349): What makes a hero, a hero?
Intro: The second of two I have on hand, with the Odin the other; the Hero is marketed kind of as a mini-LX. But it is so much more. With the single W9+ EE takes the LX’s legendary bass and ups the scale to a new version. The Odin has the same drivers but tuned a bit more tamely. After listening to both extensively, I thoroughly respect and appreciate the Odin; but it is the Hero, which stole my heart. Presenting extraordinary bass down low and sparkly but not grating treble up top, the Hero should be looked at on its own merits. This goes heard to head with some very well-known manufacturer models at this price (see below) and does so very well. In fact, I liked it so much, I found a Founder’s Edition for sale on HF and snatched it up.
This unit is part of tour organized by @Barra and I thank him profusely for both EE models. The Hero is spectacular in its own light and EE should be commended for clogging up the works and this price-point. A good thing in my mind. Even though I purchased a unit after hearing the tour model, I will still be objective and state who might like this and who may not. That is our obligation and we take it seriously.
4 Proprietary Drivers, Hybrid Design
1 Next Generation W9+ Subwoofer – Sub-Bass/Bass
3 Proprietary Balanced Armature Drivers – 1 Mid, 1 Mid-High, 1 High
4-Way synX Crossover Network
A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
Impedance: 17.6 Ohms @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40kHz
Sensitivity: 105dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
Handcrafted Alpha-IV 26AWG UPOCC Copper Litz Cable
In The Box:
- In Ear Monitor
- Empire Pandora Case
- Empire Cleaning Cloth
- Empire Cleaning Tool
- Final Audio Type E Tips – SS, S, M, L, LL
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 ($1499)
Empire Ears Legend X ($2299)
Campfire Audio Ara 2020 ($1299)
Shanling M6 Pro
Cayin N6ii mk2
MBP/iFi Zen CAN
HiBy R5 Saber
HiBy R3 Pro Saber
Afro Cuban All-Stars
Buena Vista Social Club
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Unboxing: Copied from the Odin…words changed of course…
As one would expect, the unboxing is a treat with the Hero. Coming in a white box instead of the typical black box of other EE wares, one thinks of purity as you slide the thicker than normal sleeve off. Carrying over thankfully is the trayed-effect of a jewelry box, with the tray below housing the aluminum case and aluminum plate, which carries the excellent Final Audio Type-E tips. Some things don’t change and that is for the good.
Typical Empire Ears, and I was not disappointed.
As per other EE models, the Hero is built to superb standards. The marble floor look of black and white on the faceplate makes for a fairly unique look without being garish as well. As with acrylic shelled models of any manufacturer, the shells are fingerprint magnets, but the white/black faceplate help to hide this. I have to say that this is among the better of what I have encountered. Three vent holes arranged in a triangle on the back side (back of your head) of the shell. Otherwise the shell is smooth and provides a nice fit.
The nozzle seems to have an “elevation change” like tiers on an Iowa corn field. This makes the actual nozzle a bit narrower providing good fit. Tips are still fairly hard to put onto the nozzle, but I find this a good thing. The Hero fits almost flush in my ear, on par with the LX.
The cable, labeled Alpha-IV made of UPOCC Litz Copper, 26 gauge, is specially built by EE, and looks very much like the Effect Audio Ares II, which used to be included with models such as this and the LX. Fit of the cable is good, and the over-ear guide makes for a comfortable fit. I had no issues. Not even with glasses. At the other end, the jack looks exactly like what you would find on the Ares II, fitted with a 2.5mm bal jack; because it does say “Effect Audio” on it. A nice feature on the IEM end is the “flattened” connection ending in their typical 2-pin. Flattened on the outside, I found this afforded better grip when changing cables. It’s as nice a cable as came with my LX, so I don’t mind it at all.
The build fit and finish of the Hero is quite fitting for this price, and as always EE sits right on the front row with their build quality.
With three balanced armatures handling everything above the W9+ bass, and a four-way crossover, the Hero is nothing new or groundbreaking, but thoroughly competent in HOW they all work together. Utilizing A.R.C. technology, the insides and the driver units are covered with a proprietary coating to dampen the whole unit. To me this is like properly insulating a home speaker and doing that insulation to provide the best dampening it can, not simply to throw a piece of insulation in and call it good. The coating helps dampen any unwanted vibrational forces from within, which also dampens any possible poor rebound sound.
While some earphones work well with that sort of reverb sound, the EE hold true, minimizing the distractions so that we may listen without any unwanted side-effects.
Yes, yes indeed; the first thing to hit me was the bass. And it was good. Really good. Hitting hard and deep, the bass drove at me like the LX, much more upfront than the Odin. The tuning of the Hero is such that the bass is supposed to hit harder than the Odin, and it does. Mimicking the LX to me, I found that there was some bleed into the lower mids, but I did not care. That did not hinder my enjoyment of the sound emanating from within. Of course, it could be that the bass is so strong and with the V-shaped signature, that the mids might suffer. I still enjoy the mids, even with the added bass signature.
Male vocals such as those on the Afro Cuban All-Stars A toda Cuba le gusto come across as vibrant and rich. The Hero is definitively on the warmer side of life, but not like the LX. More subtle in the approach to the mids, at least with regard to warmness, those vocals are deep and rich. I feel the cigar smoke emanating from within that club on the sunny Gulf day, and my foot taps out to the rhythm. Instruments that should be present here makes for a solid sound, and I never felt the mids fell behind the sound presented. I might call this a somewhat-relaxed sound, especially with the subtlety of the sparkle presented up top. The mids are not lacking in my opinion, just not meant to be the “hero” of the show. Even with that “near-hidden” effect of what the W9+ does to the mids, the upper range vocals come across with that vibrancy of which I mention. Male vocals come across as clean, but when you move up the scale, there is a near-scintillating effect to those in the upper mid. Female vocals are quite good as a result.
Of the review details I read, the most polarizing comments were on the treble. As usual take what I say here with a grain. They are reported as too hot by some, countering the punchy, thumping bass, and this can be off-putting to some. I do like a bit of sparkle and have encountered some over the years that are definitely too hot for my taste. The Hero does not come across that way to me. I rather like the presentation as there is a good amount of sparkle without becoming grating or piercing. Certain percussives can come across as too bright such as high cymbals along with high pitched vocals, but I do not play that type of music too much. The tuning of the treble does not offend me, and others should not be put off either.
The stage is one of a taller and deeper proportion than wide. I like it and this allows timbre from the mids (which are good, just not the highlight) to be very good. The signature as such is one of a rich vibrancy that is not too grating but can be enjoyed across the spectrum due to the expansive nature of width and height.
Layering is decidedly good, but not great as a result of the V-shape, but it does not become muddy or incoherent. Instead I would call it excitingly laid back. This plays especially well with guitar-oriented works and genre, which make you want to move. Trumpets come across as a bit thin, but not hindered. You simply accept that they are not the highlight of the show. Distinct would be a good word here. I would call this aspect of the Hero more vibrant than the excellent Solaris 2020. That provides the user with an exceptionally sounding unit, which is a bit more laid back, but to me presents the mids with a bit more forwardness and urgency. I’ll add to that below.
Separation of the instruments in the Hero is very good. On complex songs there is no miss-mash of opposition playing on your senses. This is not the detail monster that the Odin is, nor is it meant to be. Rather the Hero presents itself as quite competent with better than expected separation. It was not long ago that this rarity was of TOTL range only. Now since many manufacturers have rolled out their TOTL’s they are looking to descend that technology into their “mid-fi TOTL” range. I hate to use trickle down, but the family resemblance within the EE family is quite evident here, even if this is the X range of IEM’s.
Empire Ears Hero ($1349) v Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 ($1499):
I am lucky to have the latest trio of 2020 branded CFA models on hand, giving me an excellent chance to judge those wares against the Hero. I left the Andro 2020 out due to the price difference, and since it really is a different beast all together with its details galore.
The Solaris 2020 has been lauded and slapped around for some time. This is the first Solaris model I have heard, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time. Presented as having more control down low and more laid back above, I immediately fell for the Solaris. I do wish for more bass, but the sound was of such that I do not miss it. That laid-back tendency is sublime in quality and made for Cuban or Latin music. Vibrant where it needs to be (vocals) and mellow but rich and full where it needs to be as well (guitar work and the overall character), the Solaris 2020 is CFA’s answer to the critics who bashed it. I thoroughly enjoy the Solaris 2020, and it should be highly looked at in this range.
If you want more bass, reaching deeper than the Hero wins, but if you want more presence in especially male vocals and depth of sound in instrumentations, then that sensuousness of Cuban music carries in the Solaris 2020 better. I could easily listen to either of these all day and be thrilled with the different presentations. The Solaris would be the one to end the evening on. The Hero would be the one for your morning commute, preparing you for the day.
Empire Ears Hero ($1349) v Empire Ears Legend X ($2299):
I throw the grandfather in here because it is my all-time favorite. Period. Have I heard overall better IEM’s? Yes. Did they cost 2-3x the price? Yes again. Would I trade if I could for any of those “better” IEM’s if given the chance, even-steven? No. Period.
I came close when pairing the Thummim with the Eletech Socrates cable to moving on that duo. But I then applied the Socrates to the LX. Forget the Thummim. I ordered a Socrates cable instead. I am set. One often speaks of “end game,” and I can honestly state that this is the first time I can fully appreciate and “get it.” There is no desire to move into a higher rent category. The view is just grand here.
You can feel and hear the heritage through the LX what was given to the Hero. That superb bass and somewhat sparkling treble. And I will admit that the Socrates opened up the treble to me over the stock Ares II. Mids sound a fuller to me as well. Not quite as V-shaped as the Hero, there is a distinctness of sound that helps separate the LX from the Hero. You get the heritage of the LX, but feel a bit wanting in that mid department. Of course, I still ordered a Hero and it will complement the LX ever so well. I will say that the LX’s downfall is that it is harder to drive than the Hero by a good 25%. Coming out of my Shanling M6 Pro, I run the Hero on high gain and a volume of 17. The LX I bump up to 22-23 for the same sound level (seat of the pants).
Empire Ears Hero ($1349) v Campfire Audio Ara 2020 ($1299):
Pricewise, this is CFA’s closest offering and a new model. Take the vibrant transparency of the Andromeda and meld it with the character of the Solaris and you have the Ara 2020. My loanee friend likes the Ara the best of the three. I completely understand why and started with this of the three. But after hearing the Solaris 2020, I was set on that. The Ara is a fabulous unit of its own and worth a look at this price. But as stated, I preferred the Solaris.
Compared to the Hero, the Ara provides less bass, but better control of that bass. One cannot fault CFA for not providing the Ara as a bass monster (think Dorado or Vega for that). Presenting a much more balanced sound, I am engaged with the sound on a different level. Drawn to the superb mids through the song Habana del Este, the sound draws me in pouring me another Cerveza and I drink in that sublime taste of thoroughly satisfying percussive sound. With a bit more bite up top, clarity-wise but not as bright; the Ara present a phenomenal overall signature, which should also be respected at this price. If you are looking for one model, which typifies the CFA sound and history, the Ara could very well be it. Taking the best of the Andromeda’s superb clarity and melding it with the soul of the Solaris/Vega makes for a sensuousness that is pervasive throughout my body. While lighter of touch than the Hero (or Solaris), I respect it nonetheless for it lays bare the essence of sound from the song. Candela gives me each note separate and succinct as it should be, even if a bit lacking in warmth. This is not cold or analytical but rather clear and crisp. Had I the money for only one CFA model and could not afford the Solaris 2020, the Ara would be it. And I would be satisfied.
Having the Satin Audio cables in for a listen as well, I tried a couple of what I thought would be good fits. Not that I mind the stock, but my Hero will most likely end up with a balanced Ares II or PW Audio Helix Initiale as standard listening. But those aren’t Satin…
Starting with the Kraken 6-wire ($259): 26 AWG, SP-OCC Silver coated-copper I stuck to copper cables, since they are my preferred listening pleasures. Please don’t go into “cAbLeS dOn’T mAtTeR” mode. You believe what you want…
The first thing I found was that the sparkly treble was turned down a bit, and the stage became a bit narrower. This would be a good counter to the stock. On the mentioned Candela song, there is a sound, which gives a holographic mention, but since the cable came as 4.4bal it could be that. I found this cable a bit harder to drive as well by about 2 on the volume knob compared to the stock. I like this cable a good bit, but the sound was almost too intimate for my tastes after listening to the stock Alpha-IV. I do really like the look and feel of the Kracken over the Alpha-IV though. With a gorgeous mix of copper and silver braided together and a tactility that is pretty much unmatched here, this would make a fine addition.
Switching to the Chimera 8-wire ($199): 26 AWG, SP-OCC Silver coated-Copper next, I immediately felt an increase in volume. Turning the knob down to the stock levels presents a pretty even draw here. I would also be hard pressed to differentiate anything else besides that due to my hearing. I will say that the treble here seemed to be tamed down a bit much like the Kracken as well. Since both come across as different from the Alpha in that regard, I think this is a valid point.
The PW Audio Helix Initiale ($410 retail, sale priced at $255 for my purchase) was a purchase for my LX. I really liked what it provided but found that the soundstage seemed to be compressed laterally too much. Of the aftermarket cables here, the Helix sounds closest to the Alpha-IV. On the Hero, there was no compressing of soundstage, and the treble push was present but a bit more subdued. Bass was quite good and a bit tighter in feel to me over the Alpha-IV. I also found the sound to be a bit lighter in touch. Less depth if you will. Mind you, this is pointing out minor “differences” based upon back-to-back listening. I really liked the pairing of the Helix with the Hero and could see this becoming a regular again when my Hero arrives. The one fault of the Helix is the over-ear treatment. There are no ear guides. The cable simply lays there using gravity and because of that and the longer 2-pin connection can come out from behind my ear. This is more prevalent in the left guide than the right, but I could not feel a difference to explain that discrepancy.
Had you told me going in that I would like the model which cost roughly 38.5% of the Odin, I would have nodded in acknowledgement, and appreciation for your candor. This would not have been the first time you would have told me such a thing. I would have taken that into consideration, and afterwards called you to say, “you are right, I like the Hero more.” This is not a slap at the Odin, but rather two things: 1. How good the Hero really is, and 2. That the Hero fits my taste signature more, for it does.
Those two conclusions would make for an interesting conundrum were I in the need to recommend one to a friend. Had they the means, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Odin. But if my friends’ tastes were similar to mine and if they appreciated a “bargain” or were more “careful” with their money, then I would let them listen to my Hero before deciding. I would also give them the LX to try. They very would still come away with the Odin, but I would hope they gained an appreciation for the “lesser” model and could very well satisfy their needs with the Hero instead.
This is one of the true joys in this hobby. Finding that unknown jewel with which to clamor and fawn over. For to me it is those rarities of subtlest gems that catch my gaze the most and the Hero is the one I am smitten with here, and that isn’t bad at all. The Odin is spectacular at which to look and listen, but the Hero is the one I went home with tonight.
I again thank @Barra for the tremendous honor and listen of these fine wares. I also thank @empireears for the wares that steal my heart (and $…). Call me what you will, but the Hero and LX are my Epoch.