Every Day BASS Carry!
PROS: tribrid design with DD W9+ woofer, BA mids, and 2 EST highs, U-shaped sig with a healthy bass impact, natural tonality of mids and treble, premium EA cable, price.
CONS: only if you are “allergic” to bass or want something more neutral, some driver flex depending on eartips selection.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
I’m beginning to notice a pattern in some of my latest reviews where I have to start with a preamble to clear the air. Today, I would like to bring up something that recently came up on Head-fi, actually triggered by my own comment in Empire Ears thread.
EE introduced some of their latest MKII versions in Asia first, unveiled in December of last year where it received a coverage from local reviewers and audiophiles. Then, after a recent global release of Bravado MKII, I noticed a different faceplate and I heard they had to fine tune the sound. Empire Ears rep posted their official explanation which could be found here. I don’t know what else to add, and for more questions probably a good idea to ask either on Head-fi or Empire Ears directly.
And now, with this out of the way, let’s proceed!
After reviewing many popular flagship IEMs, it is not easy to switch to entry level monitors, and some manufacturers just assume and don’t even bother to bring these up. That is why I was surprised, after reviewing Empires top dogs (Wraith, Odin, and Legend X), to be asked by Jack if I’m interested to hear their new entry level MKII models (ESR and Bravado). It wasn’t even about reviewing, just to listen and to provide a feedback. After all, that is what Empire Ears used to do in pre-pandemic days, getting feedback from their customers during CanJam shows to finalize the sound of upcoming IEMs after collecting crowd-tuning feedback.
When you hear “entry level”, some probably assume a basic driver config and consumer tuning, kind of what the original Bravado IEM was supposed to offer with their 2 driver DD/BA hybrid design. I wasn’t familiar with the sound of original Bravado, but on paper MKII stepped it up to a tribrid design with DD/BA/2EST. But paper aside, I probably shocked Jack when I said, “holy smoke, I want to review this Legend X Jr”, referring to Bravado MKII. And here is a reason why. Not everybody can afford kilobuck IEMs, and because I often feature LX in my reviews as part of comparison and pair up, my readers often ask me if there is anything else that sounds like it at a more affordable price.
Legend X has a unique tuning that hits a sweet spot for many closeted basshead audiophiles, and regardless if it is or not your cup of tea, it is still hard to find another IEM to match the exact sound. Plus, for some, the price will be out of reach, or maybe you don’t want to bring $2k+ IEMs to the gym while craving a good bass slam during a workout! Bravado MKII is $799, and at a fraction of the LX price with a scaled down performance, it still has the same analog bass DNA at a much affordable price. Here is more about it.
Unboxing and Accessories.
Bravado MKII arrived in the same packaging box as I have found during unboxing of their Wraith and Odin. And as I mentioned before, maybe it is not the most extravagant packaging, but it still creates a pleasant unboxing experience with a premium touch. The only thing, now you have “entry level” with identical packaging as their flagships, so there is no distinction. While the box had the same design as I found with their other IEMs, the box itself was white with silver print. Under the magnetic flip cover, you will find IEM shells placed securely in a foam cutout with a new Alpha IV copper cable around them, and a small thick cardboard “Thank You” card. The rest of accessories are underneath in a slide out drawer which you access from the side. This was an unboxing experience typical of opening a jewelry box.
The accessories include a puck-shaped metal round storage case with a threaded top and a rubber lining. The top had laser etched Empire logo and name, along with Bravado MKII model name. While the case is not exactly pocket friendly, it will make one heck of a cool paperweight on your desk. Also, included were a set of premium Final Type-E eartips (SS, S, M, L, LL) in a metal holder, branded with both Empire and Final logos. Furthermore, there was a cleaning tool, a cleaning cloth, and two sets of cool EE stickers, and a quick start guide.
Bravado MKII comes with a new Alpha-IV cable based on Effect Audio Ares II pure copper (UPOCC Litz Copper) wires and Effect Audio Vogue series connectors, split, and chin slider. 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, though they do have some memory effect. The plug has a housing with a carbon fiber inlay. It comes with either 2.5mm BAL or 3.5mm SE termination, selected when ordering IEM. Y-split is a small Vogue series metal piece and chin-slider is plastic. 2pin connectors are standard, universal, and you also have a pre-shaped flexible earhook shrink-wrap tube for a more secure fit.
If you get 2.5mm terminated cable, you can use a short adapter with it to convert to 4.4mm or 3.5mm.
As it was already mentioned, Bravado MKII has a premium 4-driver tribrid design featuring DD (W9+ sub-bass and bass), BA (mids driver), and 2x EST (high and ultra-high) drivers with a portable transformer. For the reference, the original Bravado had only DD (W9 subwoofer) and BA (to cover mids and highs). But that was not the only change, and Bravado MKII borrowed some goodies even from their Odin flagship release.
9mm Dynamic Driver, referred to as W9+ (Weapon IX+) has been updated from original W and noted by “+” suffix. This enclosed woofer in a tuned bass-reflex system now boasts a larger internal coil diameter to improve its sound performance. The BA driver is proprietary, and Sonion dual EST drivers are the next gen update with a different tuning and all new single transformer design. Abbreviated as EIVEC (Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control), this single transformer is designed to drive efficiently up to four EST drivers.
Another update from original design is all new synX crossover with 6-way Crossover Network designed specifically to handle tribrid combination of drivers, similar to 7-way crossover of Odin. The main function of synX is to control and to balance the frequency response of all four drivers.
Last, but not least, is A.R.C. resonance control tech, utilized in all EE iems. Its initials stand for Anti-Resonance Compound which is a proprietary coating that eliminates unwanted vibrations and resonance within IEM. Basically, this compound serves as a dampener to absorb the unwanted resonance.
The size and the shape of Bravado MKII shells housing these drivers and the tech are nearly identical to Odin, with the same compact design which is just a little bigger than Legend X. The acrylic shell material is smooth, the short nozzle slightly flares out at the top for a better grip with eartips, and you have 3-bore opening at the tip of the nozzle for separate sound tubes, partitioned to separate DD/BA/2EST. Similar to what I have seen in Legend X with its dual W9 drivers, here you can also find 3-pinhole vent on the side of the shell for its single W9+ driver. And also, similar to LX and Odin, expect some driver flex (pop) when you put these in your ears, though this also depends on eartips selection and how tight is the seal with your earcanal.
The faceplate of Bravado MKII will not be as flashy as Odin, but it still looks nice with its metallic glitters, called Deep Field faceplate. The name actually came from the famed Hubble Telescope image. According to Empire Ears, the name wasn’t randomly selected, and the Deep Field encompasses “the unknowable depths of the universe in its shimmery surface.”