The BASShead Audiophile!
PROS: the impact, the tonality, and the control of the BASS, the soundstage expansion, the natural transparency and resolution of mids, very compact shell design.
CONS: beware of the BASS, driver flex.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: Empire Ears.
Legend X expected price is around $2,300.
It always makes me wonder what goes through manufacturer’s mind after they release a new flagship. You can’t rest on your laurels for too long, and after a year or more, customers become anxious to see something new, something original, something worthy of their money for an upgrade or a side-grade. Not too long ago, Empire Ears were one of the first to introduce 14-driver flagship Zeus (reviewed here) which added some oil to driver wars fire. Now, Empire Strikes Back (yeah, I wanted to use this phrase for a while!!!) with something new: 7-driver Legend X (LX) with a hybrid design of dual DDs and five BAs.
Multi-driver hybrids beyond a more common 3ways are not a shocker anymore, though dual DD hybrids are rare, especially for a custom model. But you need something more than just an impressive spec to stand out from the crowd, and you can guess that dual DD config can only lead to one thing – da bass!!! The bass can make or break the sound. It’s a beast with a power some IEM manufacturers struggle to control. Now, imagine mating it with BA drivers tuned for audiophile quality, and you get BASShead Audiophile IEM, which is the best way to describe LX. Empire Ears new line-up will have more models, in different price ranges, driver configurations, and sound signatures, but the focus of this review will be solely on Legend X and its performance.
Since I only received the prototype model with finalized tuning, I don’t have details about the final packaging, but was told to expect something similar to previous EE releases. I will update this section in the future, including pictures.
Just like with unboxing, I will have to update the Accessories section when I have a final production unit, but most likely you should expect a travel case, a cleaning tool, a selection of premium eartips if you have a universal model (EE has been featuring SpinFits in the past, but might use another brand name), and a premium Effect Audio Ares II cable.
I always point out the importance of eartips selection when dealing with universal IEMs. Eartips are responsible for a proper seal and isolation that plays a very important role in low end impact leading to tonal balance. With dynamic drivers, depending on venting of the shell, the seal can also play a role in driver flex, the click you hear when inserting IEMs in your ears due to an air pressure on the diaphragm of the driver.
Due to anatomy of my earcanal, I use only the largest eartips with all my universal IEMs. Here, I found that going one size smaller to a medium size helped relax the seal which nearly eliminated the driver flex, plus got the bass quantity to a more balanced level. In another observation, I found a wider bore eartips to enhance the bass, while narrow bore to attenuate it. For example, relative to my ears, I found SpinFit medium size narrow bore eartips to work the best for me, while large bore opening medium Spiral Dots to boost the bass quantity.
Eartips selection and fit is a subjective matter that will depend on your personal taste and ear anatomy, thus make sure to pay close attention and to experiment. Also, keep in mind, I can only comment about universal fit model I tested which allowed me to tip roll.
Also, I would like to add, even with Medium size eartips, I found LX to have a decent isolation.
Legend X comes with premium wires, Effect Audio Ares II pure copper (UPOCC Litz Copper) brand name cable. This cable uses 26awg 4 conductors with a proprietary multi-size stranded design and a flexible insulation. The wires are very pliable and relatively lightweight. The plug is right angled gold plated Oyaide 3.5mm Single Ended. When placing the order, you will be able to select an upgrade with either 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced termination. Y-splitter and chin-slider are plastic, 3D printed. 2pin connectors are standard, universal, and you also have a pre-shaped flexible earhook shrink-wrap tube for a more secure fit.
I tested LX with many premium high-end cables, including EA Horus, PWA 1960 4wire, EA Lionheart, Whiplash TWau, HSA Aurora, EA Thor II+, and PlusSound X-series tri-metal. I found all these cables to tighten the sound and to have some level of improvement in resolution and transparency, but at the same time they lifted the bass up and made treble a little brighter. I welcome more airiness and resolution in treble, but preferred to keep the bass where it was with Ares II. I also tested it with both PWA No5 and HSA Zen, both pure copper cables on the same level as Ares II, but ended up going back to Ares II because other two lifted the bass.
Effect Audio Ares II is known to have a wider soundstage, nice sub-bass extension but less rumble and a touch less mid-bass impact with smoother and more revealing upper mids and treble in comparison to some other pure copper cables. With all that in mind, it pairs up quite well with LX. Of course, if you have other replacement cables, go ahead and experiment with different pair ups. Otherwise, there is no need to invest into more expensive cables unless you want to improve/increase the resolution and the quantity of the low-end impact.
As already mentioned, Legend X is a 7-driver hybrid, partitioned into 2 Dynamic drivers and 5 Balanced Armature drivers. Utilizing a proprietary synX Crossover Network to fine-tune and to control every single driver, you have custom W9 (Weapon IX) dynamic driver subwoofers taking care of sub-bass and mid-bass, and 5 proprietary custom BA drivers by Knowles and Sonion, split between mids, upper mids, and highs. Every new Empire Ears model will have their own custom synX Crossover design, corresponding to the number and the type of drivers.
Another piece of tech utilized in Legend X and all other new EE IEMs is A.R.C. resonance control technology. Its initials stand for Anti-Resonance Compound which is a proprietary coating that eliminates unwanted vibrations and resonance within IEM. This compound actually serves as a dampener to absorb the unwanted resonance.
Regarding the exterior design, all the models should be offered in custom and universal fits, with the ability to customize them the same way as the rest of EE models. I’m not posting pictures of my prototype model, just in case if there were some final shell adjustment, like the shape and the length of the nozzle. But one thing I was told that universal model design will remain in the same compact shell. Obviously, the shape of CIEM shell will depend on your ear impressions, while universal IEM will have a common compact shell design.
Also, based on the driver partitioning, there will be 4 sound tubes leading to a tip of the nozzle where you have 4 bore opening. Plus, a careful examination of the shell revealed 3 small pinhole vents on a side, most likely related to DD.
Legend X tuning is catered to basshead audiophiles. I have used these two words in the same sentence before, but I haven’t heard anything quite like this tuning in the past because many IEMs with enhanced bass usually compensate it with extra treble definition to balance the sound. As a result, you end up with a v-shaped signature where the quality of mids tuning is compromised. LX is different. While I still want to refer to it as v-shaped tuned, if you shift your focus to mids/treble, this IEM sounds like having a fully balanced signature with an enhanced bass impact.
Bass tuning is definitely the highlight of LX, where sub-bass doesn’t just go deep but hits hard with a rumble you don’t just hear but actually feel in your chest. We are talking about smooth textured analog quality visceral rumble you expect to hear from full-size floor-standing speakers, packed inside of a compact shell and delivered by dual DD. Mid-bass is also very authorative and hits hard, not too fast or two slow, with a medium speed attack and an average decay, giving the bass plenty of control while transitioning into lower mids. Relative to each other, the sub-bass and mid-bass are well balanced, and overall bass is not too tight or too sloppy, but it’s always present. For those who prefer a neutral bass, or more focus on mids/treble without relying on EQ adjustment, you probably going to be overwhelmed by its quantity, though I can’t imagine anybody complaining about the quality. The presence of the bass adds a nice deep low-end texture and body to the sound which works quite well with jazz, classical, acoustic, and vocal music genres. But once you play EDM/Club, Top40 Pop, R’n’B, or Hip hop – the bass drum will hit hard, like you have full-size speakers in your ears. But it’s still well controlled, and that’s what makes this bass unique, and quite responsive under EQ adjustment where 3dB cut around 60Hz can tone it down for those who want a more balanced sound signature (my personal preference).
Lower mids are neutral, maybe even south of it, being a little leaner than neutral, creating a nice cut around 1k for a better separation between bass and mids. LX doesn’t sound like a typical hybrid IEM with incoherent separation of DD and BA drivers. Even with a bass boost, there is still some coherency in the transition. I guess it has to be attributed to crossover tuning because even with the enhanced bass quantity, I still find the transition into the mids and upper mids to flow in naturally. Mids have a rather natural revealing tonality with a good presence between 2k-6k which has a decent retrieval of details, excellent transparency, and a nice layering and separation of sounds. That is the reason why I’m having a difficulty calling LX as a v-shaped IEM because of the mids presence and quality. Mids are not thin or analytical, and don’t shine with too much micro-details. But at the same time, they are not congested, or warm, or smooth like some other IEMs with enhanced bass. So, I would classify LX upper mids as naturally-revealing.
Treble has a very good extension, plenty of clarity and details without being fatigued. It has a nice level of airiness to let the sound breath, but it all done in a natural way without being too exaggerated or too crisp. Some v-shaped IEMs overcompensate by pushing the treble harder, while here you have a good balance. For example, the cymbal crash has a tail with a natural realistic decay without any premature roll off or too much harsh ringing. As I already mentioned, treble has a natural non-fatigued tuning, and a perfect tonal balance without been too smooth or too harsh.
Soundstage of LX is another element of tuning which stands one the moment you put these in your ears, due to their very wide left to right expansion. The soundstage depth is average, not too far out of your head, closer to the stage, creating a more intimate elliptical soundstage field around my head. With such expansion, the imaging of LX has a very good placement of instruments and vocals with a relatively accurate positioning where you can pin point every sound without a problem. At least for me personally, I found positioning of vocals and instruments to be very convincing.
Again, despite enhanced bass, the layering and the separation of the sound is very good. Because bass is under control, nothing spills into mids, and the higher resolution and the transparency of the mids and treble keep all the sounds easily distinguishable, never getting congested or muddy. Despite its power, I don’t find the bass to be a distraction, I can shift my focus to mids, and the sound is still very resolving.