I analyzed Empyrean sound performance with LO of various sources connected to XI Audio Broadway S amp while playing a variety of my favorite test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), Ariana Grande “Break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored…”, C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Robin Schultz “Oh child”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. Also, prior to listening, I let Empyrean burn in for 100hrs playing in the loop. Since these arrived from another reviewer, it made no sense to compare out of the box and after burn in since I don’t know how many hours it already had, but I still do a burn in as a force of habit.
From the first second of listening, I hear a holographic soundstage expansion width with a little more intimate depth which brings you closer to the stage, putting you a few rows in front of it. The soundstage has an oval shape which wraps around you, and at the same time puts you right in the middle of the sound. I usually refer to holographic 3D staging when it comes to both width and depth. Here I didn’t find soundstage to be very deep, you don’t get this far-out-of-your-head feeling, and that’s why I feel more intimacy when listening to the music with Empyrean, being closer to the artist/stage. Also, excellent imaging with a very convincing placement of instruments and vocals where I can accurately pin-point every element of the song.
The sound signature of Empyrean is very evenly balanced. I wouldn’t call it w-shaped because the coherency of tuning is in such linear even-flow way where you don’t feel like there is a separate emphasis on lows, mids, highs, instead the entire spectrum is evenly balanced and emphasized. The tonality is very natural, highlighting a rich organic timbre of instruments and vocals.
Despite these headphones being not exactly analytically tuned, the retrieval of details is on a high level with a clarity where I can pick up every nuance in the sound. The tuning is very natural, with a very good layering and separation of instruments and vocals where you literally feel a layer of air in-between, expanding it to give a sense of open vertical sound dynamics.
Bass has a deep textured extension with a powerful sub-bass rumble, you can definitely hear how deep it goes, but it’s not the kind of rumble you going to feel. That’s when you realize a difference between dynamic driver headphones pushing the air where you can feel it vs planar magnetic where you hear it instead. Mid-bass has an average speed attack and decay, not too fast or too slow. It punches well through the mix, but not as fast as I would expect from a planar magnetic driver. Bass is very articulate and layered, and also well controlled.
Mids are natural, detailed, layered, with slightly north of neutral lower mids that add more organic body to the sound and clear and detailed upper mids that give vocals a slightly more forward presentation. The tuning is balanced, not mid-forward, but it felt like vocals always had this extra focus and attention when listening with Empyrean.
Treble is well extended, airy, crisp, and very natural and well controlled. Not a single harsh peak, even with some of my poorly recorded test tracks where harshness and sibilance usually shows its ugly side. The tuning is quite forgiving, natural, but it’s not smooth or warm. It’s crisp and detailed, but it’s not bright or analytical.
I’m probably going to disappoint some of my readers because I’m sure many would like to read about the comparison of Empyrean to Focal, Senns, Audeze, or HiFiMAN headphones, but I currently don’t have access to their flagship cans. I was planning to arrange for a few loaners, but at the end it didn’t work out to meet my schedule.
I do have a few full-size headphones but feel like they are not in the same league. Something like Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd gen has thinner mids with a brighter treble, or Audeze EL8C has a more neutral and less natural tonality with a slightly metallic sheen. Audio-Technica ATH-A2000z has a brighter harsher upper mids/lower treble, while their open back ATH-R70x which I always praised for its wide open soundstage now sounded a bit more boxed in and not as layered in comparison.
Out of curiosity I tried a few IEMs for comparison and found Oriolus Mellianus and Unique Melody UM Mentor v3 to come closer to the tonality, though not quite as natural. Some of my other favorite flagship IEMs, like 64 Audio U18t and Fourte Noir have more emphasis on either mids or lows, but overall not as natural or balanced tuned.
Every pair of headphones or IEMs have their own unique tuning and it’s subjective to say which one is better. I do enjoy the headphones and IEMs above, but it felt like Empyrean added an extra layer of naturalness without compromising the resolution or retrieval of details.