Intro / Preamble.
A lot of today’s DAP manufacturers offer IEMs under their own brand name, but not everybody shares who is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), making you guess who is behind the design and the tuning. Even some of the retailers are getting into this game with their own IEMs without disclosing OEM name. On the other hand, Astell & Kern always made sure to give full credit to companies they collaborate with. As a matter of fact, A&K has a long history of IEMs and full-size headphones collabs with some of the biggest names in the industry, including the latest Odyssey IEMs, a joint release with Empire Ears (EE).
To me personally, this came as a big surprise because Odyssey turned out to be a new design instead of just rehashed version of another EE IEM. Actually, the driver config is kind of a combination of Odin and EVO with an updated tuning, showing how much work went into this limited-edition release. Recently, I spent a few weeks with Odyssey which I borrowed from A&K just to hear how it sounds. I didn’t have plans to write a review, but decided to put one together anyway, just a short write up summarizing the design and focusing more on the sound and the comparison to other popular EE IEMs.
Manufacturer website: Astell&Kern. Available for sale directly or from authorized retailers like Bloom Audio.
Unboxing and Accessories.
The unboxing experience of Odyssey is very similar to other Empire Ears iems, except the box itself has a different design. Instead of a compact box with a top storage for IEMs and a slide-out drawer at the bottom for accessories, everything now is on display inside of a much bigger box where you have access to IEMs in the middle, storage case to the right, and eartips and cable adapter to the left. Here, a bigger box creates a premium product presentation.
You will also find the same Pandora V2 CNC anodized black aluminum case in a puck-shape along with a double mesh-pocket to store IEM shells. Furthermore, 5 pairs (XS/S/M/L/XL) of Final Audio Type-E eartips organized in aluminum tray. A cleaning tool and microfiber cloth was included as well. Surprisingly, these is 4.4mm to 3.5mm adapter for the included 4.4mm balanced cable. Looks like A&K embraced 4.4mm for good.
And speaking of cable, the included one is by Effect Audio, their Bespoke edition ARES II UPOCC Copper Litz cable. It has 4 conductors, 26 AWG each with a proprietary multi-size stranded design and traditional Ultra Flexi insulation. The cable hardware features satin black EA x EE connectors and Y-split.
Picking up the best from both Odin and EVO, Odyssey quadbrid limited-edition IEMs feature 10 drivers per side with 7-way synX crossover network. Here you will find a dual W9+ Dynamic driver subwoofers, 5 precision BA drivers, dual Electrostatic tweeters, and W10 Bone Conduction driver. The Bone Conduction W10 (Weapon X) driver is part of EE’s new Dual Conduction Architecture design which refers to 2DD, 5BA, and 2EST drivers as part of “air conduction” and W10 BC driver as part of “bone conduction”.
Shell features a mesmerizing faceplate design called ENIGMA which reminded me a bit of Odin. The size of the shell is very close to EVO, maybe just a touch slimmer. But the rest is the same, down to tri-port vents. There is a lot of info to cover here, but I’m not going into the details of every tech inside these shells since I already covered it in my EVO and Odin reviews which you can read later for your reference.
In a summary, EE Odin has 11-driver design with 2DD/5BA/4EST and EE EVO has 8-driver design with 2DD/5BA/BCD. EE Odyssey picks up the best of both with 10-driver quadbrid design and 2DD/5BA/2EST/BCD. Many collabs end up with just rebranded or custom tuned IEMs. Here, as I already mentioned, EE came up with an all-new design and tuning.
I analyzed Odyssey sound performance paired up with SP3000 while playing a variety of my usual test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Dua Lipa “Love again”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, Bob Marley “Jamming”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. Since this wasn’t a fresh pair of iems out of the box, it had plenty of burn-in hours already, though I still let it play for a few more days.
I find Odyssey to have a balanced tuning with a natural smooth tonality and extra bass emphasis. The bass is elevated, has very good extension down to textured sub-bass rumble and punchy well controlled mid-bass impact, giving the bass plenty of weight to emphasize its fullness. Mids are smooth, natural, with fuller body and organic tonality, and surprisingly very good retrieval of details, just not on micro-detailed level. Treble is clear and detailed as well, with more emphasis on mid-treble, and having less air and crunch which makes upper frequencies presentation to be more laidback. The soundstage is wide, though has a perception of having more depth and height than width which is common for smoother tuned IEMs.
For those who love their FR measurements, here is how the graph looks and how it compares to Odin, EVO, and LX.
While I already shared FR graph with comparison of these IEMs, graphs don’t tell you the full story and can’t substitute what you will actually hear with your own ears. I used SP3k as a source, volume matched in every comparison.
Odyssey vs EE EVO – starting with a soundstage, they both have the same depth/height, and EVO just a bit wider. When it comes to tonality, the biggest difference in tuning between these IEMs is in upper mids. Bass has a very similar impact, though EVO adds a little more weight with extra sub-bass heft, while both have mid-bass with a similar well controlled punch. Lower mids are very similar, above neutral in both IEMs, but when it comes to upper mids the difference is quite noticeable. EVO has an elevated pinna-gain region which spans from 2kHz to almost 5kHz while Odyssey drops it down by a good 4-5dB. As a result, EVO upper mids are more forward, more revealing, and thinner in tonality. Odyssey upper mids are smoother, more organic, and have a more laidback presentation. Treble between these two iems is very similar, being clear, detailed, natural, well defined, and with just a modest amount of airiness.
Odyssey vs EE Legend X – starting with a soundstage, I hear Odyssey having more width and a little more height, while LX soundstage has a bit more intimacy with imaging of instruments and vocals being closer to the center. When it comes to tonality, the biggest difference here is in the bass. The bass impact and weight of LX is scaled up in comparison to Odyssey. It’s not higher by a lot, but it does have a deeper and a more elevated sub-bass rumble and stronger mid-bass punch which elevates LX bass by a few dBs in comparison to Odyssey. The mids are very similar, from lower mids being north of neutral to more organic natural tonality of upper mids. The only thing, due to an elevate bass quantity, the mids of LX are pushed further back in comparison to Odyssey mids which have a more forward presentation with better retrieval of details (Odyssey). LX mid-treble is more elevated and a little brighter, but overall, both still have a natural detailed treble with modest amount of airiness.
Odyssey vs EE Odin – among these 4 EE IEMs, Odin’s tuning is probably the farthest away from Odyssey. Starting with the soundstage, the perception in Odin is wider because of its more revealing transparent tonality. Odin’s bass is rather lean. It is very articulate, tight, well controlled, and extended, but it doesn’t have the same weight and the same impact (less quantity) in comparison to Odyssey and EVO. Odyssey scales up the weight of sub-bass rumble and has a noticeably stronger mid-bass impact. Lower mids are also a lot leaner in Odin when compared to fuller body Odyssey mids. In upper mids, Odyssey is smoother and more organic while Odin has a boost around pinna-gain region, not as much as in EVO, but probably somewhere in between the Odyssey and EVO upper mids. Odyssey treble is clean and detailed, but Odin is slightly brighter with more air and crunch.
Neither A&K nor EE are known for frequent flagship releases, making their fans wait in anticipation of new audio gear. During the last CanJam SoCal (Fall of 2022), A&K finally revealed their latest SP3000 flagship DAP, and to everyone’s surprise they also introduced EE x A&K Odyssey, a new flagship quadbrid IEM. And it wasn’t a surprise just because nobody expected this collab, but also since EE approached this as a brand-new design with a tuning complementary to LX, Odin, and EVO, the reason why I decided to focus on comparison of all 4 in this mini-review.
In a summary, when it comes to the bass, we have Odin which has lower quantity and LX with its basshead performance, while Odyssey and EVO bass is similarly tuned to give you the impact and the weight somewhere in between. Upper mids region has a noticeable variation in tuning of pinna-gain region (2kHz to 5kHz) where EVO has the biggest boost with the most forward presentation, followed by Odin and LX, and then Odyssey with a modest level of gain relative to other EE iems. And the same when it comes to treble where Odyssey is smoother and more natural in comparison to other three.
We all have a different sound preference. When it comes to EE iems, some might prefer more bass, others – less. And the same with mids, some want a more forward presentation of vocals, while others prefer laidback. Odyssey has a balanced tuning with a natural detailed tonality that will hit a sweet spot for many picky audiophiles. And because the original release was limited, now due to increased demand A&K just acknowledged another small production batch that should be going on sale soon. Plus, those who are planning to attend CanJam NYC in the upcoming weekend will be able to hear Odyssey at A&K table.
8 thoughts on “In-a-Snapshot: Empire Ears x Astell & Kern Odyssey”
Thanks for a great review. Can’t wait to hear the Odessey as long as I can get down to Can Jam. Appreciate the review
Thanks for your mini-review Twister6! Your comparisons are more level-headed than some comments on HeadFi so it’s greatly appreciated 🙂
Did the Odyssey change your preferences when it comes to your favorite IEMs?
It’s definitely in my top5 now.
Thank you for the quick snapshot; I was wondering what cables you think would pair well with Odessey. As I happened to own a Chiron from EA, I was wondering whether it would make a good pair or if you would suggest other cables.
Tbh, Ryan, I didn’t try any other cable, just didn’t have enough time because Odyssey was on loan for a few days. Stock Ares II is OK, but I wound definitely upgrade it. I mean, anything like Chiron or FirstTimes would be an upgrade.
I’m surprised you reviewed it with stock cable.
If you use the Ares S cable, it’s significantly better than the Ares II.(and will change the story in the review)
If there wasn’t the brand’s logo on the Ares II cable, I’d have thrown it in the trash.
It’s normal to do reviews with stock cable. But this cable has been out for a long time until it is no longer used. It’s not even good enough to come in a box.
Well, I only borrowed this iem for a few days, so it wasn’t my usual review where I go through a more extensive comparison and a cable rolling. I agree, Odyssey deserves a better cable. Maybe if I get my hands on it again, I will try others cable. But for this short review I kept everything stock.
Thanks for this review. How would you compare the Odyssey with the Multiverse Mentor (or Red Halo if you’ve tried that)?