Empire Ears Legend Evo IEM Review
Besides some headphone cables and ear tips, Empire Ears is exclusively dedicated to crafting top-shelf universal and custom IEMs. Their dedication to the craft is self apparent the moment you get one of their models inside your ears. With their cheapest UIEM being the Bravado MKII at $799.99, Empire Ears isn’t a line you go to for a casual buy; you might have to save up the pocket change for a while before you can afford one of their creations. Today, the privilege is all mine to review one of the most premium IEMs that one of the most premium IEM developers has to offer: The Empire Ears Legend Evo, coming in at $3,099. We’ll get into the details below, but I have to tell you: this thing utterly melted my mind with its bone conduction capabilities. I had to collect myself for this review because it left me at a near loss for words.
What’s In The Box?
-Empire Ears Legend Evo Universal IEMs
-Hard Metal Carrying Case
-Soft Mesh Storage Pouch
-2 pin XLR to 4.4mm Balanced Braided Headphone Cable
-Quick Start Guide
-Empire Ears Stickers
-5 pairs of Type E ear tips (XS/S/M/L/XL)
Look and Feel
The Legend Evo has a serious looking black and gold color scheme on the IEM housing and a flashy, musical-looking braided cable that swirls with modern looking blue-chrome and bronze colors. The “GENESIS” Ultra Pure OCC Copper Cable is self-evidently well insulated and quite durable. The included metallic carrying case has a heft and density that provides maximum protection.
Things get a little weird but not unmanageable when it comes to Legend Evo’s fit. I’ll just say it: this thing is a chonker, a chungus even. It doesn’t really have a natural means of getting into your ear as it seems to balloon with all of the high-end drivers stuffed inside its housing. Luckily, the mass is top heavy, and ends up weighing the Legend Evo at an angle that aligns the ear tip with your ear canal. Getting it into your ears might come with some minor fuss, but once you figure it out it sits pretty naturally, (and the pay off is quite worth it).
By the way, don’t skip the quick start guide. It specifies the best way to wear the IEMs and might make things a bit easier. When you get the fit right, you’re going to realize just how deeply these reach into your ear canal.
Design and Bone Conduction
Try saying all the drivers contained in just one of the IEMs in one breath: 8 proprietary drivers with tribrid design, 2 next generation W9+ Subwoofers, 5 proprietary balanced armatures, and lastly, what I think is the crown jewel: a Weapon X (W10) 10.9mm bone conduction ultra driver.
There’s a lot to be said about the last driver mentioned: bone conduction headphones started hitting the scene with a little more prominence about 5 years ago, mostly in the form of headband-like designs that left listeners’ ears completely open as the driver resonated their skull to send audio directly to the inner ear. That by itself is a pretty cool concept even for people who aren’t audio geeks, but I’ve heard a lot of stories about how the sound came out a bit muffled. Fast forward to today, and not many, but a handful IEM’s (worth checking out the more affordable RaptGo Hook-X) have started including the technology to maximize the most extreme low and high frequencies. Here’s the really cool thing about bone conduction: sound waves move through the solid medium of your jaw bones and skull and bypass your ear drum (unlike sound waves that move via air conduction). Since sound can travel through our solid skulls up to 17x faster that it can through the air, our standard hearing range of 20Hz – 20kHz expands significantly as higher frequencies that are normally imperceptible have a new means of traveling to your auditory nerve which is conducive to their rapid vibrations. For a liquid reference: in one study, humans were able to hear up to 200,000Hz (!!) underwater due to the extra conductive environment that liquids provide.
So when you take a look at an IEM that has a frequency response of 5Hz – 35kHz and features bone conduction, that’s truly something to get excited about. For once, those frequencies over 20kHz will actually matter.
Aside from the drivers, its certainly worth noting the Legend Evo’s ARC resonance mitigation technology (surprise: it targets and kills unwanted resonances), as well as the 9-Way synX Crossover Network that ensures extremely accurate imaging.
Drivers: (8) Proprietary Drivers with Tribrid Design, (2) Next Generation W9+ Subwoofers, (5) proprietary balanced armatures, (1) Weapon X W10 10.9mm bone conduction ultra driver.
Impedance: 4.5 ohms
Sensitivity: 103dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
It’s not “as if” the sounds produced by the Legend Evo are circumnavigating your head; rather, that is literally what is happening due to the Legend Evo’s bone conduction capabilities. If you take a deep breath and give yourself a second to notice the physical vibrations surging through your mastoid, you will never be able to un-feel it. At one point I took a bud out of one of my ears and still felt it going nuts with vibrations in my hand. It is almost a disservice to start calling the sonic images it produces wide, deep, or any other common descriptors for sound stages. No: this image fuses to your skull and can move around like a sea snake with vivid accuracy. I can confidently say I have never experienced anything quite like it.
While this is a nearly flawless IEM (aside from some size issues) and shines at every point in its sonic qualities, its the subs that make it utterly addictive to listen with. I reached for the album “Fashion Week” by Death Grips, and was put into a stupor by its mercilessly throbbing low end. While I find that earphones heavy on lower frequencies tend to suffer from masking and fatigue issues, this wasn’t the case with the Legend Evo thanks to, yup, you guessed it, its bone conduction. Fun fact about the driver configuration that makes the low end so damn good: most of the drivers are configured to a 20Hz – 20kHz frequency response, while the Weapon X expands to the 5 Hz and 35kHz extremes. This places the loud, rumbling subs on a different material plane (literally) from the air conducting drivers, which I felt played a very large part in the Legend Evo’s ability to tear your head off with subs (in the best way possible) while leaving the other parts of the mix in tact with crystal clarity.
Things calm down a bit once we start moving into the mids (thankfully, perhaps, before my head explodes). Though we’re at a point where the balance starts evening out, emphasis slants towards the lower mids. Vocals had warm fundamentals and, a bit to my surprise, attenuated sibilants. Snares and toms on acoustic kits had an impactful Puh on their lower transients. The resonating feature pops itself into the mids pretty prominently when a grand piano comes onto a track, and vibrates with a similar quality to when you have your hand placed on a piano lid. The album “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine really showcased just how accurate the Legend Evo can get in the middle of the frequency spectrum, producing phasey-interplays between distorted guitar layers and the resulting, unnaturally hollow sound that not just any headphone can pick up and spit back out with such convincing clarity.
There is an energy in the highs that rivals that in the lows, but does so with a shiny airiness that avoids harsh resonances at all costs. Robert Fripp’s shrieking guitar noodles in “Wind On Water,” a collaboration with Brian Eno, reached a maximal harmonic clarity that sang right along with the lower-end harmonics present in the lush and ambient synth swells in the background. I’ll be honest, I can foresee some listeners calling the highs harsh at points. I would counter that the Legend Evo is actually bringing out the highs as we’re intended to hear them, and even a bit more thanks to the 20kHz – 35kHz getting conducted into your skull (if your sample rate is high enough). Bass heads who are used to the heavy-handed attenuation present 10kHz and up in many headphones are the likely suspects for such complaints. As a highs guy myself, however, I loved the contrast of the needle-like highs penetrating through the rumbling subs and warm mids.
I am deeply saddened to have to put this unit back in its box, because I know it’s going to be a very long time before I come across anything quite like it again, or be able to afford a $3,099 IEM. Bass heads, I may not always understand your kind, but I come enthusiastically bearing the Fire of Prometheus for the future of top-of-the-line bass-heavy IEMs with the Empire Ears Legend Evo. While spatial audio is becoming one of the hottest up-and-coming audio futures to talk about, I really hope bone conduction gets some time in the spotlight, as it adds an extra tactile element to sonic balances and imaging that I haven’t found in any other technology. So, is it worth the price? One day, when I make a million dollars from a lucrative career in audio, these will be the first IEMs – no, things – that I will buy. Shout out to the engineering genius(es) who created it.
The Empire Ears Legend Evo is available for purchase at Audio46.