Empire Ears Zeus

Average User Rating:
4.89286/5,
  1. Jackpot77
    5.0/5,
    "Zeus-XR - the pinnacle of the pantheon"
    Pros - Sublime detail retrieval, very coherent tuning, switchable crossover modes, mid range clarity and expression, non fatiguing but truly transparent sound, superb build quality
    Cons - A little on the expensive side, prone to hiss with most sources, not a drastic difference between the two modes on some DAPs, not much else
    This review was originally posted on my blog a few weeks ago.

    Acknowledgment
    These in-ear monitors were made for me by Jack Vang and the team over at Empire Ears in Norcross, Georgia (the American one) as a result of a very lucky entry into their recent Head-Fi giveaway to win a pair of the Zeus-XR and an Effect Audio Leonidas cable. These were the contest prize, and provided without any stipulation or requirement for me to write a review or endorsement. The views expressed here are my honest opinion of the gear received.

    About Me
    I am a fairly recent convert to audiophilia but a long time music fan, also aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer in my spare time. I listen to at least 2 hours of music a day – I prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Recently started converted my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. My ideal tuning for most IEMs and headphones tends towards a musical and slightly dark presentation, although I am not treble sensitive in general. Please take all views expressed below with a pinch of salt – all my reviews are a work in progress based on my own perceptions and personal preferences, and your own ears may tell you a different story.

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    Introduction

    I first heard about Empire Ears about 18 months into my journey into audiophilia – the urge to try every IEM under £300 was fading, I thought I knew what sort of sound signature I preferred and I was slowly looking up the ladder at the more expensive “marquee” audio brands all the seasoned reviewers and Head-Fi forum members often quoted. Being honest, after seeing the price of the Empire flagship (the at the time newly released Zeus-XIV) and living in a country where demoing in-ear headphones isn’t permitted due to hygiene regulations, I figured the closest I would ever get to finding out what they sounded like was reading about it on the internet.

    Fast forward a year or two and due to a combination of bloody minded masochism in reading forums about IEMs I’d never likely own and a whopping slice of luck in winning their Zeus-XR giveaway, I found myself inadvertently sitting at the top of the IEM tree with approximately $2400 worth of in-ear monitor in my sweaty palms (along with a nice $800 cable from Effect Audio just to set it off). This in itself would be praiseworthy enough for most people, but this is where the story starts for me in terms of Empire Ears. Despite the fact they were effectively giving away something that is worth about the same as a lot of people’s monthly take home pay packet, the interaction and customer service I received was a breath of fresh air, with Jack @ Empire willing to chat through various mediums (Head-Fi, FB Messenger etc) to help me with the IEM design, giving suggestions on which gear he thought would match well with the Zeus and providing updates to an impatient customer while I was waiting for my prize to be manufactured. It’s a small thing, but it seems to be the norm with this company if you read the various posts on the main audio blogs – the interaction is human, helpful and very down to earth, and impressed me almost as much as the IEMs themselves.

    As a background to the few people reading this who don’t know who Empire Ears are, they rose from the ashes of Jack Vang’s previous CIEM manufacturer Earwerkz, when he realised that the rapid growth of the original brand was becoming unsustainable in the company’s previous form. Joining up with his parents’ manufacturing business (Savvitek – handily specialising in hearing aids, amongst other things) allowed Earwerkz to keep up the lead times and customer service that they initially set out to provide, and allow the brand to grow into something a little grander, hence Empire Ears was born. The title of their debut range (the Olympus series) should give some indication of the aspirations for this firm – this is a premium brand, and is looking to produce premium products. Do I think they have succeeded with the Zeus-XR? It won’t come as much of a shock to you to say a resounding yes on that front – if you want to know how, please read on.

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    Unboxing and aesthetics

    With a pricetag high enough to buy you a second hand car (and a half decent one at that) in most countries, expectations are justifiably high that unwrapping the Empire Ears flagship will be a top notch experience. I’m happy to report for those fans of a good unboxing, this is about as high end as it gets, short of coming with its own butler. The IEMs come in a classy cardboard box with fold-over magnetic fastener, embossed with the Empire Ears Logo. Opening the box, you will find another box – in this case, a personalised Empire Aegis case (think large Peli or S3 and you’re 90% there) with a metallic faceplate on the front, again sporting the Empire winged logo and the name of the recipient (or any other custom message you want to put on there).

    Also nestling in the package are a branded black microfibre polishing cloth (for keeping that all important shine on your ear jewellery), a velvet-style soft carrying pouch big enough to fit your precious cargo and a cable in and a larger black fabric bag, this time big enough to fit the AEGIS case in. As with the polishing cloth, the two bags both sport the same classy gold branding prominently, leaving you in no doubt which firm’s product you are handling.

    Completing the package and nestled safely inside the precision cut foam inserts inside the carry case are the IEMs themselves, an unspecified Whiplash 2-pin braided upgrade cable in a silver colour (composition unspecified, although I remember reading somewhere it is Silver-Plated Copper or SPC for short) and the ubiquitous cleaning tool/brush from getting ear-goo out of the sound bores.

    For a custom IEM this is a nicely considered load-out, and the high quality feel and well thought out extras completing the package lend a very nice sense of quality to proceedings. Nothing too flashy, nothing superfluous, but what is provided is obviously of a high standard and sets the tone for what is to come.

    Moving on to the IEMs themselves, I opted for a Black and White swirl faceplate, with smoky black translucent shells. In person, they look even better than the rendering from the jazzy design tool on Empire Ears’ website, with a smooth gloss finish and impeccable build quality throughout. The shells are smooth, light but feel sturdy, and are free of any imperfections or air bubbles as far as I can see. The join between the faceplate and the main IEM body is also flawless, with a silky smooth transition and no seam or grain to be felt on the polished shell at all. These IEMs really are an example of how to produce a custom acrylic shell right, looking and feeling top notch.

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    Comfort
    As these are my second pair of CIEMs, I already had a recent set of ear moulds I was pretty happy with the fit on, so was able to use these to build the Zeus-XRs without too much hassle. Jack and his team did ask a few questions when they arrived as the impressions has been “patched” by the previous manufacturer, but after answering those they proceeded with the build and got the IEMs back to me in about 3 weeks including shipping (pretty much bang in line with what is currently quoted on their website).

    On testing the fit, I actually find that the Zeus sit a little more comfortably than the original CIEM – whether it is just a quirk of the slightly thicker shell and fuller mould used or just a bit of magic on EE’s part I couldn’t say, but I am certainly more than happy with the seal and the result. Once used to the longer insertion depth of a custom in-ear, I find I can wear them for hours on end with no physical ear fatigue, which is something that can’t be said for a few of my universal in-ears , unfortunately.

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    Audio quality
    This is the section everyone cares about the most in an audio review (and why not – you don’t exactly listen to the box) – how does the gear actually sound? It won’t come as much of a surprise to find out that the Zeus-XR in both crossover configurations sounds absolutely exceptional. This isn’t a sound that smacks you in the face with how good it is the first time you hear it (for me, the only IEMs that have ever truly done that have been the Campfire Audio flagships) – it is more of a sound that creeps up on you over time, the various nuances unfolding in your mind and slowly reshaping your personal baseline for what really good sound is.

    If that sounds like a lot of hype, you are probably right – all I know is that after a few weeks of listening to the XRs, going back to anything other than the TOTL monitors in my collection left me wishing for the clarity and pinpoint precision of the Zeus. The resolution these monitors are capable of is simply staggering with a good source, making even ultra-capable IEMs like the AKT8IE Mk2 and Campfire Andromeda sound slightly muted in direct comparison. This isn’t simply boosted treble masquerading as micro detail or resolution, with a healthy dose of listening fatigue afterwards – this is audio that exudes a sense of cleanliness and purity about the execution of each note, without any of the background noise or distortion that usually accompanies it, and absolutely no strain on the ears of the listener after many hours of enjoyment. The sound is smooth but oh-so-clear, and once your brain burns in to the unique signature, it becomes very addictive.

    In terms of tuning, the Zeus-XR wears two hats, being able to switch between the older 7-crossover Zeus-XIV setup and the newer 8 crossover configuration used in the Zeus-R with the flick of a small switch on the faceplate of each IEM. Both tunings are very similar, with the “R” setting providing a slightly leaner and more reference sound in comparison to the warmer and meatier sound produced by the XIV setup. In both configurations, the bass is a little raised (very slightly in the case of the R) over dead neutral, with more emphasis on mid rather than sub bass, but still retaining impressive extension down low. The mids are forward, creamy but exceptionally clear, producing bags of micro detail and nuance, and treating both male and female vocals to the sonic equivalent of the red carpet. The vocals are emphasised but not too overcooked, sitting about half way between a neutral and fully forward stage position for me. The treble is again wonderfully clean, with good extension but no massive sense of air, trading that final dash of sparkle for a crystal clarity and good note weight. The overall impression is of a musical sounding but balanced presentation, with decent but not excessive body and note weight and a rounded but still detailed treble.

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    Bass
    Delving into the bass first, this is the area the Zeus is weakest in for my personal taste. Admittedly, it is a little like pointing out that Mike Tyson had a weaker left handed knockout than his right rather than an actual flaw, but still, when you are this close to total perfection it almost feels wrong not to at least try and be objective. The bass on offer is solid and textured, with excellent detail and good speed, keeping up with Slipknot style bass drum barrages without any major effort and retaining excellent texture and control all the while. There is a decent bass extension down into sub bass frequencies with a slight roll-off in terms of strength in the really low registers and a steady rise in strength and quantity up into the mid bass, having a slight but not drastic emphasis in the XIV setting and a more linear transition in the Reference mode. It feels nimble and slick, but not overly liquid (possibly just in comparison to the midrange), keeping a nice fluidity to the sound without becoming overly lush or wet. Impact is decent for an all-BA setup, and while it doesn’t have the visceral impact that comes with the air movement a top end dynamic driver can generate, it is still pretty punchy.

    Kicking in to my playlist, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by Elvis Presley and the Royal Philharmonic is up first. The surprisingly bassy intro feels velvety and nuanced, with a nice solidity of presentation. It isn’t the thickest or most prominent rendition, but still drives the song forward nicely, rendering kick drum still hits with authority. In fact, drum “tone” is one of the first things that really stood out for me listening to the Zeus – as an amateur drummer (of admittedly little repute), the sound of stick on drum head sounds almost too realistic, giving the best rendition of how an actual drumkit sounds up close that I have heard. The only thing lacking is the raw power and air movement that a dynamic driver can produce (I’m looking at you, CA Vega), but in all other aspects it is scarily lifelike.

    Staying with drum sounds, “Enter Sandman” and “Sad But True” by Metallica fire through the Zeus next without breaking stride. Percussion sounds aggressive and visceral, with a sharp bite to the snare drum hits, retaining just enough body (a common theme here) to the sound to avoid losing impact. The very unique Metallica drum “sound” can sometimes swallow up quieter passages in their music on warmer monitors, but here it remains clearly defined and separate, allowing the tracks to breathe properly, emphasising precision over raw power.

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    Moving on, “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel, I usually use this song for testing bass liquidity and texture, and the Zeus certainly doesn’t disappoint here. The underpinning baseline practically slinks out of the earpieces, filling up the lower end of the track with a muscular but still lithe rendition, plenty of texture and agility along with just a hint of smoothness to pad out the edges. With some monitors this track can feel like liquid chocolate, but to keep on the food analogies, the Zeus feel more like a chocolate fondant: crisp and textured on the edges, with a molten liquid core sitting just under the surface and occasionally bubbling out. The rasp of the strings on the bass guitar as they vibrate feel almost too real, adding some bite to the bouncing bassline without detracting from the sense of body in the notes. It’s a difficult line to tread, with most monitors I hear going too far one way or the other, but here the tuning of the Zeus is pretty much spot on for my tastes.

    Working through my last staple test track for bass bite and bark, “Bad Rain” by Slash and Myles Kennedy kicks in with its customary menace, the growling texture of the off-left bass guitar appearing at the 20 second mark and practically letting you see the low-gauge strings on the bass player’s rig vibrate as the riff comes to life. Unlike Sister Hazel, this track leans a little more towards texture than body, just lacking a final piece of solidity to really knock it out of the park down below. The bass digs as low as it needs to without ever sounding weak, but this is definitely a track that prefers the XIV configuration to really come to life. I find the R feels just a little too clinical and lean for the almost punk-rock leanings of this type of song.

    Switching it up to some more electronic fare in a search for sub-bass, “Heaven” by Emile Sande presents a lower end that is present but never skull crushing, giving a little tickle in the frontal lobe rather than the sort of seismic event behind the ears that occurs when you play it through the AKT8IE or Vega. The rest of the percussion is crisp and dynamic, the subtle clicks behind the main snare drum pattern adding rhythmic complexity to Sande’s EDM anthem and layering in nicely to the driving beat.

    “Omen” by The Prodigy sounds crisp and crunchy, just lacking the final touch of sub bass heft to really kick the song into overdrive. Detailing and texture are top class, even highlighting the background crackling in one of the samples used, which was a new experience for my ears (and a long-loved audiophile cliché, but true nonetheless). This is another track that definitely benefits from the XIV configuration, the extra dash of thickness and low end oomph adding just a touch more of the requisite aggression and menace to Flint’s growling and Howlett’s grungy synth refrains. Switching to “Thunder” off the same album provides a more driving and potent sense of bass, with the song centring more on the mid bass rather than the deeper reaches. It serves as a good reminder that the Zeus is certainly bass capable, placing a very solid foundation for the distorted guitars and twisted vocals to sit on.

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    Mids
    If there was one preconception I had about the Zeus, it was that the midrange was where the magic was supposed to happen. I’m happy to say, the popular rumours are correct, with both the R and XIV crossover variants producing a solid, ultra-resolving and downright impressive mid-range sound. Starting with the XIV, the mids are forward and slightly warm in tone, pushing forward into the listener’s ears like the guitarist and singer are perched just in front of you in the studio, or leaning over the crowd in a small venue. There is a thickness and weight to the presentation that gives the music a feeling of solidity, without crowding the stage or blurring the lines between each note. It is this sense of resolution that is for me the real beauty of the Zeus, able to keep the body and soul of a passage of music while still putting all the little nuances out on display.

    In comparison, the R setting takes a little of the warmth out of the room in the bass/midrange transition, and pushes the singer a little further back towards the main body of the music. By definition, this is the more “reference” of the tunings, with a more neutral balance between the bass, mids and treble. It also aids the feeling of airiness, giving the staging a little more black space around the instrumentation to my ears. My preference between the two is definitely the XIV, as the extra warmth and weight of the guitars and vocals in most of my tracks is simply a joy to listen to in this configuration. The R also holds it own with some of my more complex or contemplative music, so the fact that you get both tunings in one IEM shell is an added bonus.

    Firing through some tester tracks, the first up is “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel; the silky richness in Ken Block’s voice is unmistakeable, the XIV sitting the vocalist just behind the ears and pushing his deeper-than-a-double-stacked-Chicago-pizza delivery right out the front of your forehead. This track has a prominent bassline, so the ability to pull the baritone vocals above the underpinning rhythm track is crucial to really mastering the track, and is something the Zeus has no problem with.

    In search of more vocal impressions, the next track in line is “Beautiful Wreck” by Shawn Mullins – Mullins’ throaty vocals are the star of the show here, with a rich texture to the lower notes that accentuates his almost-spoken delivery, surrounding it with the instrumentation in a small but perfectly formed 3D stage. The intimacy and forwardness of the mid range presentation comes to the fore here, giving weight to the sound and making me picture the singer performing in the corner stage of some small roadside bar. No idea why, but enjoyable nonetheless.

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    Having ticked off the delivery of vocals, the next checkpoint on my mid range journey is “Whiskey and You” by Chris Stapleton, which is one of my usual testers for harshness or sibilance in this region. I’m happy to report that the usually hot bridge section of the song came through as smooth as buttered baby oil on an ice rink, but with no loss of detail or texture. The raspiness of Stapleton’s voice is accurately portrayed, but without treading into sibilance or harshness, while still leaving the grit in the vocal delivery. I couldn’t find any vocal shredding on my other guaranteed vocal rapier (“My Kind Of Love” by Emile Sande) either, with the Zeus representing the harshness in the vocal delivery but not letting it dominate the whole sound.

    For a vocal centric IEM, Mavis Staples is a great test of just how good it is at conveying texture and emotion, her breathless delivery carrying subtly voiced inflections, a gravelly power and soaring smoothness, often in the same track. Slapping some tracks into rotation through the XR, every little nuance of the legendary singer’s delivery is carried straight from the studio mic into the brain of the listener, blending seamlessly with the gospel style chorus lines and floating just behind the eyeballs, like the sound was being poured directly into the skull. Individual voices in the chorus line are easy to identify, all possessing their own unique place in the recording while not detracting from the cohesive delivery. In fact, Staples sounds so good through the Zeus that I have happily let the whole of her latest album “Living On A High Note” drift through my ears in its entirety at least twice before I started taking any useful notes.

    So, having established the vocal credentials of the EE flagship, how does it deal with the rest of the mid-band inhabitants like guitar and keys? Pretty damn well, is the answer. Listening to “Coco” by Foy Vance, the intro drifts in with subtlety, layering the hardly audible skids of fingers on frets into the sound without distracting from the main body. There are micro details presented without any unnatural “edge” or emphasis, the overall smoothness of the tuning still yielding the most minute of audible artefacts up to the listener without any effort. It takes a while to get used to this mellow clarity, but once you do, you realise exactly how much detail is being revealed without any need to resort to tuning trickery. This keeps the sound non fatiguing and natural, but still allows guitar and acoustic instruments their full range of expression. In fact, the smooth detail adds a nice roundness to the notes on most guitar based music, packing enough definition to avoid sounding blunt or veiled (in fact, the Zeus in both configurations are the clearest sounding monitors I own), but not having as many jagged edges as other monitors that use a bump in the relevant frequency range to sharpen the lines in the sound unnaturally.

    Looking to see how the Zeus handled more chugging guitar fare (my staple audio diet when I’m not feeling mellow), a little bit of Slash and some Darkness were next through the test playlist. “Growing On Me” is one track I actually found I prefer the R setting on, the thickly mixed and overlapped twin guitar line that drives the song forward resolving a little more tightly in-ear without the slight bump in mid range warmth the XIV setting offers. This is one of the things that makes the Zeus so accomplished – unlike a traditional filter IEM where the signatures are broadly different and as a result less finely honed, both tunings on the Zeus are similar takes on the same theme, but still allow a little room for adjustment to get the ideal sonic “fit” for different tracks and gear. Slash was an easy win for the XIV, the crunchy layers of the guitar lead and rhythm that build up in the into to “Ghost” growling and snarling with distorted definition, kicking the energy of the track in to overdrive and getting my foot tapping along to the music every time. To be fair, this isn’t the most aggressive or high-energy midrange I’ve heard for rock music, but it certainly has more than enough life and speed to handle my music catalogue, and adds a layer of refinement to the chug of many of my favourite tracks that I can’t get with a lot of other gear.

    Piano and stringed instruments also sound refined and clear, following the same natural but detailed presentation that helps the guitar based tunes shine. Tracks like “Natural Blues” from Moby and “Everybody Knows She’s Mine” by Blackberry Smoke just have a “rightness” to the sound of hammer hitting string on the piano notes, and the thickness of the midrange adds a nice sense of emotional heft to piano ballads and more honky tonk tracks. The piano presentation feels quite a lot like the drums to me in terms of realism, and the “just there” feeling it evokes is again one of the reasons the Zeus impresses me so much with the work its 14 driver setup is capable of, churning away behind the scenes to bring the recording studio directly into your ears, without colouration or interpretation.

    In summary, the mids on this multi-BA beast of an IEM are truly one of the best around, and any music that doesn’t completely skip any involvement with this area of the soundscape will benefit hugely from the tuning and capability on offer here.

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    Treble
    The treble in the Empire Ears flagship model (as of writing in August 2017) is as already mentioned a full bodied and clear sounding affair, emphasising clarity over outright crispness and purity of tone over sparkle or airiness. Anyone who has read my previous reviews will know that this is a treble tuning that resonates with me on multiple levels, so unsurprisingly this IEM works for me in a major way when it comes to the higher reaches of the sound. Extension is good but not absolutely stellar, remaining strong up into the higher echelons of the audible frequency spectrum, but lacking some of the effortlessness that something like the Campfire Andromeda can portray when moving around in the super-high soundscape. For me, the Zeus is a tight, focused blast of crystal clear water to the ears, filling the room in the sound with beautiful purity but not leaving a lot of empty space around it. It has height, but there isn’t a sense of open space above, just a sense of blackness and the ringing purity of the note that took you there.

    Kicking into the first of a few test tracks, “Starlight” by Slash and Myles Kennedy sounds absolutely magnificent, the dissonant intro guitar harmonics and Kennedy’s falsetto-on-steroids delivery throughout most of the track hitting hard and clear without harshness or any lack of body. The cymbals on this track feel clean and crisply defined, if a little short in the overall decay, hitting with a tssk and muting off just as quickly. As with the other frequencies, the detail is there in spades, but presented in a nicely muted fashion rather than sharpened to an edge and jammed into the side of your ear.

    For more electronic sounds, the tuning can actually work quite well – the splashy high vocal notes and synth breaks in the periphery of “Nobody To Love” by Sigma hang in the top half of the soundscape like some sort of ghostly echo, adding a layer of sophistication to the otherwise 100% “club banger” vibe of the track. “Children” by Escala also highlights the beauty of the top end sound, the banks of high keyboard and sparkling synth giving the top end of the track a solidity and presence that meshes brilliantly with the solidly planted foundation of stringed instrumentation that underpin the sound, and the violin that runs through it. In fact, orchestral instruments are beautifully rendered on the Zeus in either configuration, the delicate violin work on “Chi Mai” (another Escala track) carrying both texture and beauty as they fill the soundstage.

    Trying to be impartial, while it certainly sounds good, it doesn’t sound quite as epic as it could with EDM, where the emphasis on bass and treble to carry most of the musical information in that genre negating the significant advantage the Zeus gains in the midrange over most of the competition. The treble presentation is slightly less airy than would be personally preferable to really capture the sparkling synth lines of something like “Go” by The Chemical Brothers in their best light. I should point out that for me, this is mostly a good thing – as mentioned, I prefer my treble clean and clear as a mountain spring rather than sharp and glittering (with a hint of hidden roughness) like an apology diamond. On the flip side, the staging on this track sweeps broadly from left to right with the keyboard fills that litter the chorus, giving a very good sense of space in the X axis, so for every “could do better” I come across on this IEM, there always seems to be a “I wonder if someone can do that any better” moment.

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    Soundstage, imaging and separation
    The Zeus has an adequate if not massive soundstage, extending a little outside the head in both directions on the X-axis without stretching too far away from the ears. It trades off absolute width in comparison to other IEMs in the $1k+ club with an enviable sense of depth, producing a stage that is almost perfectly spherical, and solid feeling rather than diffuse. It also has reasonable if not breathtaking height, again in line with the expansion in the other two dimensions.

    A good track to highlight the positional ability of the 14-driver configurations is “Cold Black Heart” by Shawn Mullins – it with a bongo drum style percussion coming in from behind the listener on both sides of the stage that joins with the more traditional drum beat in centre stage to form a powerful rhythmic pulse that drives the song along, the layers of jangling guitar and Mullins’ crooning attaching to the topmost edges of the beats. Drum sounds feel particularly realistic and perfectly spaced out to match the dimensions of a kit on this track, panning across the X-axis as the different drums are used, and the sound of hands hitting bongo skins singing just as true as the audible feel of the drum head impacts of the kick drum. As a (very poor) amateur drummer, this realism is quite uncanny, the almost live sensation and exact placement of each impact bringing into focus how stylised some of my other IEMs actually sound in direct comparison.

    Moving on to “Sometimes We Cry” by Tom Jones and Van Morrison, this track starts with a velvety bassline and some subtle finger picked guitar, and opens up into a duet between Van the Man and Jones the Voice, replete with room noise, two of the best voices in recent music history and some great backing. One of the defining characteristics of this track is the position of the two singers in the stage, with Jones occupying a slot just to the right of the centre and Van Morrison occupying the left-centre area. With the Zeus, it feels as if both singers are singing directly at you from their respective positions, leaving a strong mental imprint of the veteran crooners standing shoulder to shoulder in the studio and belting out their best take into the mic stand stood between them. The only IEM I have heard that has given me that strong an audio image of the artists’ positioning was the JH Audio Angie, so for me this is definitely on another tier to other IEMs in my collection in that regard. Holographic is a very overused term in audio reviewing, but I feel in this instance it is quite appropriate for this track.

    Another highlight for me was listening to “Burning Love” from the Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic collaboration album – the string introduction that opens the track slowly snaps into focus, emphasising the clarity of the presentation as the volume builds. The layers of the orchestral backing throughout the track are excellent in terms of positioning, the dueling banks of violins positioning themselves in the upper left quadrant of the stage, with deep choral voices coming in from low down on stage right and Presley hunka hunka’ing his way around the middle ground while jangling guitar kicks off on the right and some stand up bass starts filling the left hand side of the soundscape.

    In terms of separation, Metallica usually present a good challenge to most IEMs, with some album tracks sounding like they were recorded in a bucket and mixed with a stick blender. Despite this, the Zeus still manages to retain excellent separation and spatial cues for the more delicate passages in tracks like “The Unforgiven” or “One”, which can get swallowed in the muted kick drum recording and thick rhythm guitar in warmer monitors. Hetfields’ voice carries enough gravel to fill a medium sized quarry, but always retains its own space in the recording rather than blending into the mid-ground guitar. This is an IEM that can be forgiving when it needs to be, using the detail and imaging capabilities it has to make the best of less than sparkling recordings, rather than putting them through the shredder for all to see.

    A final note on the overall prowess in these areas comes from listening to the “Mosely Shoals” album by Ocean Colour Scene. For those who aren’t familiar from this classic of the 90’s Britpop era, it has a fantastically mellow vibe to the whole album, being deliberately recorded on old school recording equipment from the 60s and 70s. The high quality analogue presentation really shines through, with fantastic timbre across the board. Guitars are hard panned left and right, feeling like the speakers for each guitar are facing directly into the relevant ear. Separation without detachment from the musical content of the song is sometimes difficult, but the Zeus manages it without any fuss, the coherent centre image of drums and vocals pinning the track firmly down around the other floating instrumentation on the soundstage.

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    Tonality and dynamics
    When I started rewriting this review for the third (or maybe fourth) time, I realised that even after pouring my brain out on to the screen regarding the tuning and technical proficiency, I hadn’t covered one of the other areas that make the Zeus stand out – the tonality. I’ve already mentioned the natural edge to the sound and the coherence of the drivers, but technical prowess only goes so far for me if the end result is too “stylised”, so the thing that brings it all together is the sense of realism that can be achieved with the right setup.

    Listening to “Scars” by James Bay, for instance, the palm muted opening chords and Bay’s half-whispered croons reverberate nicely into the ear, building as the heavy drum kicks in into something sweeping and powerful, bringing the regret and sadness in the lyrics into the atmosphere of the track. It’s always an eye opening moment when an IEM manages to capture the essence of a track and transport you there into the moment, and in this track the Zeus certainly do that.

    “Virginia” by Whiskey Myers is a dense and smooth sounding recording with usually benefits from a warmer monitor in my opinion. The mix of Cody Cannon’s booze soaked voice and the intertwining country-style slide and acoustic guitars bathe the listener in the aural equivalent of a relaxing bath when done right. The Zeus doesn’t disappoint, bringing the vocals up front and centre and filling the lower end of the spectrum out enough to keep the laid back vibe and smoothness rolling on while the good ol’ boys on the geetars do their work. It isn’t so much the detail or the crispness of the sound that impresses here, it is just that is has that ring of authenticity that makes it sound real. Guitars sound like you hear them in a poorly lit music club, drums bang like you know they should, handclaps sound like the applause you have heard in a million different situations in the real world. It all just feels tonally right. The Zeus is capable of letting you hear the fingers moving on a fretboard, but it doesn’t do that by amplifying the band of sound that detail lives in until it is louder than its surrounding, it does it simply by being clear enough to present the whole picture, and letting the brain do the rest.

    Listening to a track like “S.O.B” by Nathaniel Rateliff where the underpinning rhythm of the track is made up of a room full of hand claps and finger clicks and some foot stomping bass drum really helps underline just how natural this set of in-ears can sound. While I haven’t spent enough time around things like a viola to tell the difference between real and almost right, a clapping hand is something most people should be more than familiar with in the flesh, unless they have had a REALLY tragic upbringing. The same with a stomping foot. Here the Zeus in both configurations just lets you imagine you are standing there in the room, listening to every nuance almost as it was recorded.

    Finally, the playlist for this section comes to “Castles In The Sand” by Thunder – not the best mastered track in my collection, but the Zeus does carry a nice sense of weight to the drums and the dynamic shifts in the song are rendered beautifully. One of the principal songwriters in this band is the drummer, and this is definitely captured in the overall presentation, the ebb and flow between swinging powerchords and quieter acoustic passages never sounding flat or forced. Guitars are clean and bluesy, and Danny Bowes’ voice sounds genuinely impassioned as he sings a song about missed chances and regret. Again, small things, but these just help highlight that despite the attention to (and reproduction of) detail across the board, the Zeus are just as capable of reproducing the underlying “soul” of a piece of music as well, and capture the shades of light and dark that can make music so enthralling.

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    Sensitivity and DAP pairings
    One thing I had heard before listening to the Zeus was that they hiss. A lot. Having spent a few months with them now, I can confirm that yes, they do hiss with certain sources. Yes, on some noisier DAPs it is pretty loud (comparatively). Personally, I’m not overly sensitive to audible hiss, so it doesn’t both me, but for tracks mastered before the loudness wars, the quietness of the background can accentuate the one obvious negative of the Zeus setup on certain rigs – this unfortunately is something you can’t get away from.

    I’m not remotely bothered by this in all honesty, and as soon as the music starts with 99% of my collection, the hissing disappears anyway. I have tried the Zeus-XR in both configurations with a few different DAPs I have had at my disposal, and while in the main they retain their base tuning and sound, I have noticed a little variance in synergy, which I will attempt to outline below:

    Questyle QP2R – this provides a beautiful sounding pairing, the weight of the QP2R blending well with the detail of the XR to provide a thick yet crystal clear sound, and a very musical presentation. Curiously, the unusual amplification tech packed into the Questyle actually affects the sound of the Zeus more markedly than other DAPs I have tried, as it audibly (to me, anyway) lessens the difference between the XIV and R modes when switching between them, tilting the sound more towards the thicker XIV presentation, and only providing a slight boost in airiness and more “reference” style mids when the R mode is engaged, as opposed to the more marked changes on other similar tier DAP models. Overall, I’d still say the pairing was good, but not ideal if you want the full benefit of the two different signatures. Hiss is noticeable but light, and can be heard to engage as the amp circuit kicks in if there is no music playing.

    Opus #3 – this is a more analytical and uncoloured sound than the QP2R for me, and plays beautifully with the Zeus in both modes, showing a clear difference between them and allowing the full resolution of the IEMs to be brought to bear without providing a sound that is overly sterile or too far towards analytical. Minimal to no hiss on either balanced or single ended as far as I could tell, with a nicely black background that allows the full resolution of the R mode to become apparent.

    Hifiman Supermini – far from ideal pairing for me, as while the tonality is actually quite well suited to the natural sound of the Zeus in XIV mode, the powerful output of the Supermini actually pumps out the most audible hiss for me, so much so that even I can pick it up during tracks. As I’ve mentioned in previous writeups, the Supermini could make two plastic cups and a piece of string hiss, so pairing it with super-sensitive IEMs isn’t the best idea.

    Echobox Explorer – this is another DAP with a pretty powerful output circuit, but does have surprisingly good synergy with the Zeus (I prefer the XIV setting with this DAP). The Explorer has a slightly warm and almost tubey style sound coming from the Burr-Brown DAC chip, and is capable of thickly weighted notes that carry good detail, much like the QP2R. This marries up well with the base tuning of the XIV, providing a full bodied sound that can still utilise the Zeus’ superior resolution and clarity to provide a sonic image that isn’t too dense or cloying, while still feels supremely musical. While it can’t beet the QP2R for out and out musicality, the Explorer comes pretty close, and allows the XR to behave far more normally with the crossover switch. In terms of hiss, it is audible with no music playing but not hugely distracting, and again can be heard when the amp kicks into life.

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    IEM Comparisons
    Trinity Phantom Hunter – this is another flagship, but this time sitting in a much lower price bracket (£500) compared to the £2k+ the Zeus-XR retails at. It is a little of an unfair comparison, but I have included it as the Hunter is tuned to be an absolute detail monster in its price class, so does provide an interesting reference point to the Empire Ears double-flagship. In terms of the bass, the Hunter’s single 8mm dynamic driver (with dual voice coils) is definitely capable of more volume, with a variety of different tuning filters available to tune the bass from “slightly anaemic” to “Why are my fillings melting?!”, depending on preference. Due to the tuning of the Hunter and the unusual acoustic chambering technology used in the titanium shells, the bass is more akin to an all-BA setup, so keeps up quite well on speed compared to the double-armatured lower end in the Olympus model. It is a little more midbass focused on the heavier filters than the Zeus, which has more of a balance between mid and sub bass to my ears. Quality is taken by the Zeus, unless you are looking for a real bass cannon – it just has more balance and snap in the lower end, and a higher level of detail retrieval which complements the overall sound a little better than the more neutral sounding filters on the Trinity model.

    Moving on to the midrange, and this is where the differences in approach (and quality) become apparent. The Hunter is tuned with a pretty brutal spike in the high mids to accentuate detail, and plenty of heat further up in the treble to go along with it. This can work beautifully on sparse acoustic numbers, with the almost diffuse 3D presentation and ultra-revealing nature of the midrange allowing some super-high levels of micro-detailing. The flipside is the almost unpleasant sharpness on some more busy tracks, with most of the filters unable to tame the heat. In contrast, the Zeus provides a more forward midrange in both configurations, with considerably more warmth and natural timbre to the sound than the very cold and analytical Hunter. The Zeus is also capable of the same or higher levels of detail retrieval, but manages to do this while remaining smooth and natural throughout the frequency, relying on the capability of the driver and crossover network to produce a clean and resolving sound, rather than a boost in the relevant frequency band.

    Treble is similar, with the Hunter providing a brutally sharp at times treble, with plenty of energy and fizz, some remarkable positional cues and staging, but just too much heat up top in comparison to the more clear and weighty Zeus. For fans of a hyper-analytical sound signature, the Hunter will be more aligned to their preferences, and certainly isn’t a bad IEM once properly amped and filtered, but the price difference does show here, with the Zeus able to retain the detailing without the sharpness for an overall more enjoyable (if far more expensive) tuning.

    In terms of build and ergonomics, this is actually a draw, as the Hunter is made from titanium, and has a small and uber-ergonomic shell design, competing on comfort and almost on isolation with the full-CIEM Zeus. Also, soundstage is quite well matched, with the Hunter providing a slightly more diffuse but very positionally accurate soundstage, compared to the dense but hyper-real Zeus positioning. Overall, a convincing win for the Zeus, as the price tag would imply.

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    Campfire Audio Andromeda – this is one of the current co-flagships of the highly acclaimed Campfire Audio range, and has one of my favourite tunings on an IEM. It bears quite a few similarities to the Zeus in both configurations, presenting music with a natural and musical tonality and emphasising clarity over hyper-definition. The Andro has slightly more mid-bass presence, and is more prone to swings in sound signature with different sources due to the impedance curve, so sounds a little thicker in the low end on my Shanling M2S than the XR, which holds a more consistent sound on various differing sources. Both IEMs are very easy to drive, and tend to hiss with all but the blackest of sources.

    In terms of the bass, the Andro presents a slightly more organic and warmer overall sound, with a little more heft in the mid-bass and similar extension but a shade less body in the sub bass region. Both offer excellent texture and control, being two excellent examples of a well-tuned balanced armature bass – compared to a high end dynamic driver like the Vega they can lack a bit of impact and physicality, but neither can be described as anaemic or bass-light, both treading on territory that sits just a little north of neutral. For me, it depends what genre I am listening to as to which I think is “better”, with both tunings suiting slightly different styles of music. In terms of overall quality I think the Zeus just shades it, but that is as much preference as a definite night and day differential.

    Mids are an interesting comparison, with the Zeus’ famous mid-forward sound coming up against the silky smoothness of the Andromeda. This is an area that is too difficult to call, with the Andromeda carrying a little more weight, but the Zeus feeling slightly airier and more resolving. Both IEMs have excellent clarity, and can really evoke the emotion in a vocal line when needed. At this level, it is very difficult to pull the two apart, and these truly are two of the best midranges in the game at the moment (in my opinion, of course – the usual caveats about personal taste and the subjective nature of sound apply).

    Moving up to treble, this is again another example of different styles but similar excellence, with the Andromeda feeling cavernous and airy up top, and the XR showing a laser-like focus and clarity, but a little less “sparkle”, having a cleaner and less diffuse tone. Again, both are at the top of the tree in execution and quality, with the Zeus carrying a little more weight and feeling a little sharper on occasion, and the Andromeda giving a real “out of head” experience and sparkle to the higher treble reproduction.

    Overall, despite the difference in cost, these are two of the best operators in the higher end of personal audio at the moment, and for many, personal preference about the sound they are after will be as important as the technicalities of the IEMs at this sort of level. For my money, the Andromeda has a more immediately enjoyable sound, but the Zeus in both configurations just pulls clear in terms of clarity and overall resolution, while still retaining an emotional connection to the music.

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    Empire Ears Athena (CIEM) – the Athena is a recent addition to my collection, and was ordered at Canjam London as I was looking for a more everyday carry version of the Empire Ears house sound to wander around with day to day, rather than toting the Zeus everywhere with me. It sits third in the “pecking order” of EE IEMs, below both the Apollo and Zeus models, and sports an 8xBA design and a pricetag that is just over half what the Zeus-XR currently retails for. There are still two BA drivers taking care of the bass, but in comparison to the Zeus it has exactly half the number of drivers to reproduce the mid-range and higher frequency output.

    For the purposes of this comparison, I mainly used the XIV setting on the Zeus, as this shares a more similar tuning ethos – I also used the Athena with the Whiplash SPC cable that came with the Zeus, as this presented a slightly clearer and more enjoyable sound to my ears than the Athena stock cable (marginally, not massively). Sonically, the two IEMs are cut from the same cloth, with the Athena presenting a slightly more musical take on what the Zeus can achieve, at the cost of a tiny percentage of the absolute clarity and resolution the 14-driver flagship is capable of.

    Starting with the bass, the Athena sounds slightly more emphasised in the low end than the Zeus, although neither could be described as basshead monitors. The speed and detailing are similar through both IEMs, sharing a similar resolution, and the Athena also shares the Zeus’ uncanny ability to resolve drum sounds as realistically as anything I have ever heard. Moving up to the midrange, the Athena has a similarly forward tuning as the XIV, and is highly resolving, but feels just a fraction behind the Zeus when compared directly. Through a good source, the Zeus just feels like it is squeezing a tiny bit more texture out of the notes, and presents it with a touch more clarity. This really is in the realms of diminishing returns.

    The treble is slightly less of a struggle, with the Zeus pulling ahead slightly in quality and detail retrieval, but keeping a similar sort of tonality to the Athena, just presenting a little more of the good stuff. In fact, the additional capability up top is probably the major differentiator between these two IEMs, diffusing some of the warmth that is more prevalent in the presentation of the Athena and presenting a slightly cleaner but still musical take on things. When the switch is flicked to the R setting, this becomes more obvious, feeling like someone has opened the door in a stuffy room and let some cooling air in.

    In terms of separation and layering, the Zeus-XR is the more capable IEM here, the extra little nuances of detail here and there and the less warm background allowing the music to be presented with more pinpoint accuracy than the already excellent Athena.

    Overall, this was a far closer battle than I first expected (or my ears tell me when listening separately). Both IEMs are obviously tuned with the same aim, and unless you are shooting for the absolute best, the Athena will satisfy all but the most ridiculous demands for detail retrieval and overall sound quality – however, if you are willing to stump up the extra c. $1k, the Zeus will take you a few small steps further up the audio mountain, and also allow you to tweak the sound slightly between a cooler and more reference signature and the more mid forward and warmer XIV configuration. Personally, I’m very glad I own them both.

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    Astell & Kern AKT8IE Mk2 – this is an unusual comparison, but the sonic signatures aren’t that far apart (if not identical), and this is currently the flagship in-ear produced by Beyerdynamic (in its Xelento variant), so I thought it was worth including.

    Sonically, the AKT8IE is a bassier take on the musically neutral sound the Zeus strives for, carrying a good balance and emotion through the mid and high ranges, but fleshing out the mid and sub bass with a little more weight, thanks to the Tesla-tech single dynamic driver used to produce the sound. The Mk2 has fixed some of the original issues people had with the tuning of the Mk1 version, namely a lack of treble presence (not detail, as it was always a very capable driver, you just couldn’t hear it). In terms of detail retrieval, the miniaturised Tesla technology does push a lot of detail into the sound, falling just a little short of the Zeus’ exemplary resolution. I do find the T8IE to have a slightly warmer and airier sound than the Zeus, thanks to the boosted lower end.

    In terms of bass, the dynamic driver is not massively quick, but does capture a lot of texture and detail, and adds this to a good physical slam factor to make this more of a basshead friendly in-ear than the more restrained Zeus. Moving through to the midrange, the Zeus is more forward than the T8IE, pushing the singer and instrumentation closer to the listener than the more recessed feeling midrange the A&K exhibits in direct comparison. Both mid ranges have good detail levels, with the Zeus again just pulling ahead, despite having a thicker note weight and slightly fuller sound through the midrange. The T8IE sounds a little sharper and more crunchy with electric guitar, with the Zeus carrying more solidity to the sound in response. Both midranges are capable of capturing emotion in both male and female vocals, portraying artists like Elvis and Chris Stapleton in all their glory. Stapleton actually provides the only moment approaching sibilance or harshness with the T8IE, which feels a little more “raw” in the vocal ranges of his track “Whiskey And You” than the thicker and more rich sounding Zeus.

    Coming to the treble, the Zeus pulls a little clear here in both configurations, a stronger treble emphasis helping to highlight the micro-details in the high ranges with a little more ease than the more laid back (in comparison) T8IE. Neither treble is anything less than top notch (the Mk2 version of the A&K model seemingly having fixed the “missing” higher end in the tuning revision), but the Zeus simply has slightly more presence and a crystal clarity that help accentuate the good stuff.

    Soundstage is similar on both, the T8IE feeling a little further back in terms of stage positioning due to the less forward mids, but keeping a similar width to the Zeus. Depth seems slightly better on the Zeus, but that is more of an impression rather than an empirical measurement. Separation is better on the Zeus through the midrange, due to the higher bass presence on the T8IE warming the stage a little in the transition between bass and mids for me.

    In terms of packaging and design, both are flagship level presentations, with the A&K providing both a balanced and unbalanced cable (their attempt at a Linum BaX style thin cable, which is excellent) and a large variety of bespoke silicon tips and Comply wax guards in various sizes. Despite the fact my Zeus-XR is a custom IEM, comfort is actually won by the AKT8IE, which has the most comfortable teardrop/pebble style design I have come across for an in-ear, and sits in the concha with no irritation for hours on end once you have a good seal. This isn’t to say the Zeus is uncomfortable (it isn’t), but compared to the deep insertion into the inner ear a CIEM requires, the T8IE just sits unobtrusively in the outer bowl of the ear. As a result, isolation is definitely better on the Zeus.

    Overall, these are both monitors near the top of their game, packing in nicely emotional midrange presentations and good technical capabilities. For half the price, the A&K is definitely a contender for the $1k top flight, but like the Andromeda comparison above, the Zeus just has a little more under the bonnet to push ahead in a few technical areas, and has a simply beautiful midrange tuning that makes it the winner for me if I could only keep one.

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    Campfire Audio Vega – another unusual comparison, but the Vega is the defacto “flagship” in terms of pricing in the Campfire Audio line, and is rightfully acknowledged as one of the best (if a little divisive) of the crop of universal IEMs currently on the market at time of writing. This comparison is a battle of power over precision, with the single diamond(like) dynamic driver of the Vega bringing a sense of weight any dynamics to the music that offers something completely different to the more precise and ultra-resolving Zeus in either configuration.

    The overall signature of the Vega is a punchy, all-forward sound, with a large bass presence and physical weight to the sound. Despite the bass punch on show, the mids and highs are also projected forwards, leaving a stage that is no more than average size but extremely well separated and layered. In comparison, the Zeus presents a bigger and broader 3D image to the sound, spreading out further in all directions and leaving a more apparent sense of space between each note.

    In terms of bass, the Vega produces a sound that most IEMs wouldn’t be able to generate with a nuclear powerpack attached, throwing slabs of air out through the nozzle into the listener’s ear like a belt fed machine gun. This is a monitor that can satisfy the basshead cravings for all but the most extreme of bassheads, and it shows. Compared to the Zeus, the Vega feels thicker, heavier and carries a fair bit more quantity. In terms of speed and quality, the diamond driver tech used by Campfire is actually pretty quick for a dynamic, keeping pace with the Zeus’ more nimble all-BA setup through most of my complex tracks. While not lacking in texture or detail, the Zeus just edges ahead here in these areas, presenting a bit less volume and a lot less slam in exchange for a more easily heard texture and definition to the low-end notes. The only area where this isn’t true is in the sub-bass, with the Vega having a stronger presence in the sub frequencies compared to the more subdued Zeus.

    Moving through to the mids, the Zeus feels a shade more forward, and carries more obvious clarity than the fuller sound generated by the Vega. Both driver setups are technically very capable in terms of detail retrieval, but I feel the Zeus has a clearer edge here when pulling apart more complex passages of music, especially in the R configuration. In direct comparison to the Vega, the Zeus actually sounds a little thin in the midrange, which should tell you everything you need to know about exactly how much body the Vega imparts to the sound (helped by a healthy dollop of bass thickness down below).

    In the treble, the Zeus feels a little smoother but clearer than the Vega, with the weight from the bass and midranges of the CA model adding a similar sense of heft to the high frequencies that can warm the water a little in terms of perceived resolution. The Vega actually carries a little “edge” to the higher end send that helps cut through the weight, but in comparison, the smooth detail of the Zeus just seems a shade cleaner and clearer in both definition and delivery. Both are similarly capable when it comes to extension into the rafters, with the slight crispness in the treble of the Vega adding a little more of a metallic “pop” to cymbal crashes, in comparison to the more muted but detailed Zeus presentation. In fairness, calling the Zeus more detailed in the treble in comparison to the Vega is like pointing out the Bugatti Veyron is quicker than a Lamborghini Murcielago – they are both exceptional, and most normal people would bite your hand off to own either model, and so it is with these two IEMS.

    Rounding things out, soundstage is a deeper, wider and more 3D affair on the Zeus compared to the more compact and densely layered Vega. Separation is actually not far apart on both, but the comparative extra space on the Zeus soundstage makes this easier to pick up by the listener (for me, anyway). In terms of driving power, the Zeus is considerably easier to drive to a workable volume than the Vega, but both monitors can scale exceptionally well with better source gear, the Vega being able to take more out and out power from high end portable amps or desktop rigs than the more sensitive Zeus. In terms of hiss, the Vega just doesn’t hiss with my current gear, in comparison to the low level hiss that the Zeus can exhibit on some of my lineup. Dynamics are won by the Vega, with an ability to render light and shade in terms of dynamics in a passage of music that I have yet to hear bettered – again, like the treble, the Zeus is no slouch here, but just comes up against the out and out master for me in this current area out of the gear I’ve heard.

    Build and ergonomics are a draw for me, the comfort of the CIEM Zeus being balanced by the easier insertion and use of the Vega, with a similar comfort level due to the low profile design of the Vega shells. The Vega lacks the customisation options and true higher end “tweaking” options of the Zeus, but the build is excellent, the design eyecatching and the comfort nothing to sniff at, so I feel it’s honours even in these areas.

    Overall, these are two very different approaches to tuning, with the Vega presenting a thick, muscular sound that positively fizzes with energy, in comparison to the more rounded, detailed take provided by the Zeus. If I had to choose one to keep I would probably pick the Zeus-XR (even at roughly twice the price of the Vega, which would be a consideration for most sensible people), but both are aimed at evoking very different reactions. The Vega provides a weight and solidity to the sound that sucks me so far into orchestral or rock music it takes a map to find my way back out again, while the Zeus presents music (and details within the music) in such a beautifully clean and pure manner than I find myself listening to albums on repeat time and again without ever feeling the need to disconnect myself from the music. Neither IEM can do what the other can in that aspect, but that is as a direct result of their excellence in the other area, so it is as much about the mood you want to achieve when listening to them as the music itself when choosing which one to use. Much like the Athena comparison above, I’m very glad I own both of these particular IEMs.

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    Specifications
    Specifications
    Price $2399
    Frequency Response 10 – 23000 Hz
    Sensitivity 103 dB/mV
    Impedance 16 Ohms
    Socket type 2-pin
    Included cable Whiplash braided SPC (no model name)
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    Conclusions
    At the vangaurd of technical development with it’s capability to switch between 14 driver flagship configurations, the Zeus-XR comes with a high pricetag and very high expectations. I’m glad to say, in the world of ever diminishing audio returns, the Empire Ears team have produced something very special. Both tuning variations produce music of the highest clarity, without sounding forced or artificial, squeezing every last drop of resolution out of both the source and the music itself and laying it into a beautifully natural tapestry of sound. From the snappy but textured bass, through the rich and ultra-resolving midrange and into the smooth waters of the crystal clear treble, this is a monitor that doesn’t really put a foot wrong. Yes, you could petition for more bass, but at the same time it never feels bass-light or anaemic. You could ask for a wider or airier soundstage, if switching to the R setting isn’t enough to satisfy those cravings, but that still isn’t worth swapping for that glorious vocal presentation. You could even ask for a touch more bite and sparkle in the treble, but that would take more away than it adds (in my opinion), and detract from the beautifully balanced but clear high end. Nothing I can think of to add or detract would make this monitor any less appealing by its absence – this is quite simply a beautiful piece of audio tuning. In fact, two beautiful pieces of audio tuning, as both the “R” and “XIV” crossover modes have their own strengths and weaknesses, but still both feel wonderfully right when you are listening to them.

    When I spoke to Dean Vang at Canjam London and asked him how he managed to get the coherence the Zeus manages over both the 7 and 8 crossover setup, he just remarked that he tunes the IEM for how a singer or musician would want it to sound – as close to natural as possible, no more or less. It’s a simple ethos, but seems to be remarkably astute, as this is what makes the Zeus so compelling and special to me. I’ve tried my best to be impartial, and to find flaws (as evidenced in the previous paragraph), but even with my cynical reviewer’s hat on, it is difficult to pick holes in something this enjoyable, and this accomplished.

    As these were a competition prize, it’s easy for me to say they are worth the money, but for me, if cash is no object and you are looking for something that is truly exceptional and at the current pinnacle of what an IEM manufacturer can do with some acrylic, a double-handful of crossovers and 14 balanced armature drivers, the Zeus is a god amongst mortals.
    Layman1, JaeYoon, crabdog and 2 others like this.
  2. Dan E
    5.0/5,
    "Dan E's review of the Empire Ears Zeus XR ADEL"
    Pros - width of stage,
    detail,
    clarity,
    nearly perfect upper mids and treble,
    high level of customization of the signature.
    Cons - slight minus points for the resolution of the Zeus R,
    ADEL modules influence the representation and resolution of the IEM.
    Introduction

    Empire Ears started off as a Kickstarter project under the name EarWerkz. Within only three years the brand got not only established, but climbed the ladder all up to the Olympus of in-ear monitors and is nowadays competing with the best IEM makers in the world. Based in Bufford, USA, Empire Ears offers a wide range of first-class IEMs. Amongst them their flagship, Zeus, named to rule over the other contestants on the Olympus of in-ears.

    There has been impressively much publicity about Empire Ears, and specifically the Zeus. Introduced as the Zeus XIV in 2015, the IEM experienced a steady development to alter and improve the tonality. First, the number of crossovers was increased from seven to eight, and the corresponding product called Zeus R. Then, both the Zeus XIV and the Zeus R were subject to a groundbreaking collaboration with Asius Technologies: in order to release pressure from the ear channel while listening to music, ADEL modules help to prevent hearing damages by releasing pressure via a membrane. This brings us to the most recent version of the flagship and the subject to this review, the Zeus XR ADEL.

    With a hefty price tag of 2730 USD in the standard look, you may think twice whether this IEM is the right choice for yourself. In the following I will elaborate on the IEM from many aspects to provide an unbiased support: first, I start out with some basics about the configuration and build. Second, I give an extensive analysis of the tonality. Third, I elaborate whether ADEL is actually useful and how it influences the sound quality of the IEM. Besides, some impressions about the modules in combination with the XR is provided. Finally, concluding remarks about cable pairings are given.

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    Configuration and build

    In terms of looks, Empire offers a great selection of customization options. I personally chose Black Tie Swirl Faceplates, together with Translucent Smoke shells (see pictures for reference). The colours of the faceplate are thick and shiny, such that the IEMs are real eye-candy when worn. The building quality of the shell is very good but cannot reach, for example, the quality of brands like FitEar. There are two reasons for that: first, the hollow shell of the IEMs is made of light plastic. As a result, noise isolation is not optimal. If the IEMs are used on normal volume the environment is surely drowned out, but in case that you prefer smaller volumes background noise is definitely audible. Besides, slight criticism goes to the fit: after having had my IEMs reshelled twice I accepted the fit as it was, but I would describe it as only 95% perfect. In particular, on the left side the helix is slightly too high. It is not uncomfortable to wear the IEMs, but I can easily feel the difference between the Zeus and my FitEars, which slide in my ear channels as if they were poured into them.

    The engineering of the IEM is impressive: 14 static drivers per side in a 6 high-6 mid-2 low configuration are coordinated by a 7-crossover network for the Zeus XIV and an 8-crossover network for the Zeus R. Switching between these two signatures it easy: a small plastic lever can be flipped on the top side of the faceplate, where “up” activates the Zeus R and “down” the Zeus XIV signature. The lever itself appears to be quite fragile, and I believe a more stable switch could have been installed in this place.

    An important aspect is the position of the cable sockets. The 2-pin females are in a recessed spot, such that not every cable can be connected. Specifically, 90 degrees angled jacks cannot be plugged in.

    2.jpg


    3.jpg


    Sound

    In this section I would like to elaborate on the soul of the Zeus XR. Since there are two signatures available, I will analyse them separately and compare the differences and (dis)advantages that are carried with them. Unless stated differently, the impressions given here are about the Zeus with G1 ADEL module. Comments on the different tonalities of the modules follow in a later section.

    Both the Zeus R and XIV have an impressive amount of crossovers. Every crossover means that the attached group of BAs can be controlled separately. This sounds ad hoc like a good thing, but in general a higher number of crossovers does not guarantee a better sound: as in a choir with a larger amount of people, it becomes increasingly difficult to get a coherent sound without delays and noise due to frequency overlaps. Hence, a high amount of crossovers has in theory the potential to sound better, but in practice the realisation of an accurate tuning is a serious challenge. For that reason it is remarkable that both the Zeus R and XIV are pretty close to an optimally clean tuning. Precisely, the high amount of drivers and crossovers lead to a sound stage with a spectacular width that leaves almost all competitors behind. The stage is neutrally wide, giving the impression of sitting in a big concert hall being encircled by musicians playing from any angle just for you. The stage is as wide as deep, giving a wonderful three dimensional representation. The separation and detail are magnificent, leading to a spacious sound with sufficiently much air. The resolution is very high but suffers from tiny incoherences between the drivers, resulting in a slightly unclean sound if complex and fast music is played. Yet, in my opinion, sacrificing this low level of fuzziness to improve the detail and separation is worth it.

    In the following I am going to analyse these features individually for the Zeus R and the XIV and elaborate more on the individual signatures.


    Zeus-R

    Let us begin with flipping the lever up, which activates the eight-crossover configuration of the Zeus R. The sound has a strong upper mid-centricity. Although the tonality is slightly on the warmer side, the Zeus R has very good detail, among the best I have heard on the market. Every fine slide over a guitar string is audible, and the tails in sound around beats of drums are clearly audible. This creates an enchantingly realistic sound that gives the impression of having the artists actively play for you, again and again. The stage creates a massive three dimensional space in which you can identify the point of origin of every sound. Together, this has magical effects on live recordings such that you feel like you are part of the show by hearing exactly where the artists are. This is further supported by the presentation of the IEMs: the sound is laid back and without volume focus in space, giving a uniform and strongly coherent image. For classical music this works splendidly but lacks in power if it comes to more energetic music like electro or rock/metal, where it is crucial to hear that loud shredding of the guitar or that bass pump in the foreground. However, one big advantage of the Zeus R as a result of the stage and a high level separation is that even poor recordings sound good. My other IEMs (especially the FitEar 335 SR) sound splendid with high quality recordings but brutally expose flaws in files, such that I even tended to skip a large range of certain genres. With complex music, interference tends to give a noisy and congested tonality. This is greatly avoided by the Zeus R, since even poor recordings with narrow stages are sufficiently well resolved and separated. Being a metal lover myself, this was one strong reason to get the Zeus R.

    Next, I would like to discuss in more detail the weaknesses of the resolution mentioned before. Generally, the quintessential property of a high resolution is a note with sharp edges. Lack of resolution of the Zeus R leads to blurred tails of notes, which becomes particularly audible with dynamic and complex music. Here, the Zeus R shows stronger susceptibility to this problem in comparison to the Zeus XIV, which generally has a better resolution and only subtle unclearnesses. Although separation and detail is great, this lack of resolution give a slightly warm and dreamy, rather than an accurate and precise image. I will discuss in a later chapter how this is not a flaw of tuning but rather a merit of the ADEL modules: without the modules, resolution is higher and leads to a cleaner sound. To conclude with, I would like to refer to a later chapter about the importance of hardware paired with the IEM. Due to the Zeus R’s greatly neutral representation, its tonality is heavily depending on the hardware used. Compared to other IEMs, where cable pairing is more a last stage fine graining to the individual likings, the signature of the Zeus R depends crucially on your wiring. I even dare to make the drastic statement that I did not like the Zeus R until I found the fitting module-cable pairing for myself.

    Let us now look at the single stages in detail. The strong point of the Zeus R is the treble and upper mids. The sound is sparkling, sensationally wide and open. Voices sound realistic but are not as sweet and smooth as for example with FitEar IEMs or other warm candidates with special tuning for vocals. However, the voice blends splendidly into the forest of instruments, playing with them as another tree. Suffering from strong tinnitus, I was delighted by perceiving such a sparkling and open stage without irritating sharpness: even biting vocals do not sound harshly analytic. Hence, although the tonality is only slightly warm, precision and clarity is realised without sharp sound. Being a treble lover myself, this used to be one of my biggest problems with IEMs.

    The mids are in fluent transition with the treble: slipping down the spectrum we find an outstanding upper middle stage, creating perfect male vocals and instrumentals. The stage stays as wide as for the treble but the sound is slightly less open. The upper mids and mids are splendid, irrespectively of the ADEL modules used. In contrast, the lower mids are the point where the ADEL module and choice of cable become crucial: they can be strongly attenuated up to a level where the lower mids are barely audible, or supported to a punchy and full-bodied bass. The lower mids maintain the coherent presentation of the Zeus R in any way, since they are never dominant enough to perturb the upper mid centricity. The resolution in the mids and lower mids is lower than in the treble. Hence, the issue discussed above becomes more audible in this range, such that listening to Rock and Metal, unveils the slight flaws of the resolution in a stronger way.

    The bass stage is, even stronger than the lower mids, a pure product of your choice of hardware. Generally, the two BAs for the lower mids and bass are capable of giving a powerful body. In my view, a too massive bass would have affected the overall tonality in a negative way. Therefore, I like the clean and detailed punchiness, but if you expect a full and deep bass you may be disappointed. The tone of the bass itself is very clean and well-controlled. There is no hint of blurriness but for the sake of a musical warmth, the resolution shows similar flaws as the lower mids.


    Zeus XIV

    Let us continue with the Zeus XIV, activated with the lever flipped down. The tonality is similar to the Zeus R, with some delicate differences. In comparison to the Zeus R, the stage is audibly narrower. You can imagine this difference as if you would take the boundaries of the Zeus R spectrum and push them together a bit, increasing the density of the sound flow on the more confined resulting space. Hence, clustering of all the sound in a narrower channel results in a much louder and upfront sound. While the Zeus R had this greatly uniform and laid back presentation, the Zeus XIV is much more straightforward and powerful, converting the timid and idyllic landscape of the Zeus R into an energetic blast.

    The stages behave very similarly to the Zeus R, such that I only talk about the differences between the two tonalities. In general, the Zeus XIV is strongly mid-centric, slightly below the upper-mid focus of the Zeus R. Hence, if you fancy the open and wide treble discussed above, you may find the Zeus XIV to be too narrow. One strong plus for the Zeus XIV is the resolution: the sound has very sharp edges and is better resolved than for the Zeus R. In my mind, this gives a better sound for Pop and Rock, since the active and dynamic energy of the music is much better represented. However, also this comes with a trade-off: the great separation in the stage, which helped the Zeus R to give poor recordings a wide and clear representation, is not necessarily the case here for the XIV. Complex and fast music tends to congest in the narrower stage of the Zeus XIV, leading to interference and noise issues described in a previous section. The bass is stronger and more dominant than for the Zeus R – also a merit of the stronger mid-centricity of the Zeus XIV. In short, your choice of sound depends greatly on the type of music you are listening to. At the beginning I was flipping the lever a lot to get the best out of the Zeus XR construction. However, I gave up on it at some point and listened exclusively to the Zeus R, since I got used to the laid back presentation. Also, I found that the right module and cable can compensate a good deal of the thicker and more powerful signature of the Zeus XIV.

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    To ADEL or not to ADEL

    In the last section, I briefly mentioned that due to a neutral and balanced sound, the Zeus R (more than the Zeus XIV) relies heavily on the ADEL module used. Before I describe the differences among the modules I would like to remark that the modules are indeed working as a pressure relief for your ears. After having exclusively listened to the Zeus XR ADEL for eight months, every switch to another pair of IEMs gives me sensible pressure on my ears that causes discomfort after a certain time. However, the ADEL modules come with a verdict: first of all, the density of sound is much lower. Thick notes are diluted heavily by the air that the modules add to the sound. Besides, the resolution with ADEL is lower compared to the Zeus R and XIV without module. Hence, if you prefer a less airy tonality and high detail and resolution, probably the Zeus R or XIV without a module are a better choice.

    In the following, I will elaborate on the B1 and the G1 module. I have never bothered to play with the MAM module, since I would imagine myself to constantly play with the module screw and focus on the subtle optimization process of the sound than rather on the music itself.

    The B1 module is black in colour and gives the Zeus a strong reference sound. That means that the sound is shifted even further up to high mids and treble and is greatly flat, while lower mids and bass are almost fully eliminated. For that reason I discarded the B1 quickly as my choice, since the bright and cold sound did not match my personal preference. If you are intrigued by reference monitors, you may give it a try.

    The G1 module is pretty much the exact opposite of the B1: it adds more colour to the signature. The IEMs sound a great deal warmer and the lower mids and bass is strongly amplified. The signature in total is dragged down to a mid-centric focus, such that the IEM performs splendidly as an all-rounder. Besides, the notes get thicker and more musical while the width of the stage and detail are maintained. Even the more laid back Zeus R sounds more energetic while its strenghts about separation and detail is preserved. All in all, the Zeus XR with the G1 module is among the technically best and most impressive sounding IEMs I have encountered.

    One last note about the MAM: I tried the module once with a fully closed screw and it does not reproduce the non-ADEL sound of the Zeus. There is still an air valve that alleviates pressure from your ear channel. The sound is similar, but the detail and resolution is still not as good as the non-ADEL version. Therefore, you need to think carefully about your IEM architecture before placing an order.

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    Cable pairings

    Finally, I would like to give some impressions about cable pairings with the Zeus XR ADEL. As mentioned before, the second ingredient to a heavy modification of the tonality is the right cable. I tried a large variety of TOTL cables available on the market and would like to pick some exemplary groups of materials to share my impression about how well they pair.


    Copper / Gold-plated copper

    Copper or gold plated copper (GPC) will drag the spectrum further down towards a balanced mid centricity. The bass will be strengthened, and thanks to the great clarity of the stage the bass stays well controlled and punchy. Furthermore, the notes gain considerably in thickness. Together with the warmth a copper based cable adds to the sound, the Zeus XR sounds very colourful and musical. From my personal standpoint, copper based cables are the best choice for the Zeus XR.

    Recommendations for good pairings are the Plussound GPC cables, MADcable GPC or, if money is less of an issue, PW audio 1960. To elaborate a bit more on TOTL cables, I personally found the Labkable Pandora and Titan too bright, although they are GPC based or contain GPC braids.


    Gold-plated silver

    Since silver alone sounded much too bright for myself (with exotics like SilverFi which results in a splendid pairing), I restrict this short comment on gold plated silver (GPS) cables. Generally GPS cables pair well if you are a treble lover, since they add thickness to the notes, slight warmth to the sound and punchiness to the bass just as GPC, without dragging the centricity of the sound down. The treble will be smoothened and becomes great for vocal based music. However, I found the resulting sound of the GPS less balanced with respect to the full spectrum of the sound, since the focus is not the whole range from bass to treble. Therefore, the colourful naturalness of the GPC cannot be reached.

    Recommendations are the Plussound and MADcable GPS.



    Comparison

    In this section I elaborate more on the natural tuning of the Zeus by comparing it to another prominent TOTL item, the Fitear 335 SR. This comparison of two quite different IEMs is meant to visualize complementary strengths and weaknesses, as a guide if you are uncertain which tonality to choose for yourself.

    The Fitear 335 SR pursues with its five BA configuration a completely other goal than the Zeus: it is warm and lower mid-centric, with a mighty bass that knows how to intimidate when playing classical epics like Tchaikovsky’s 1812. But heavy and slow musical thunderstorms are not the only specialty of the Fitear. It has a special sweet spot on vocals that is unique on the market, making voices sound smooth and musical like with no other IEM. This way, in contrast to the Zeus, the voice is not represented as an instrument but it feels like there is an own tuning only for it. If your main focus in music is of the type mentioned, then the Fitear certainly scores here. On the other hand, fast and complex music rapidly corners the Fitear. Here, the congestion of sound in the ear channel takes an extreme, up to a level that even good recordings can sound noisy and unpleasant. The more natural and airy signature of the Zeus has clear advantages here.

    Going a bit more into detail, the resolution and clarity among the two IEMs is similar, given that the music is suitable for the Fitear. With the SR upgrade of the Fitear, both know how to represent sparkling upper mids and treble that enchant the listener. However, while the Zeus is focused on a wide and precise image, the strong warmth of the Fitear gives an unusually high thickness to the notes and condenses the stage to a virtually liquid sound. This leads to an important point from a previous section, namely the ability to represent recordings of lower quality. While the width and separation of the Zeus makes even bad recordings sound decent, the dense sound of the Fitear exposes any flaw of the music file, no matter how small, so painfully that it made me skip entire albums of interprets I personally cherish a lot.

    In summary, the Zeus and the Fitear 335 SR are contestants that as complementary as two TOTL IEMs can be. If you listen to slow instrumental music, full bodied classical pieces or vocal based records, the Fitear has a unique tuning that surpasses the sound of the Zeus. If you tend to listen to dynamic and complex music like pop, rock and metal, the Zeus is certainly a better choice.

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    Conclusion

    The Zeus is without doubt one of the best in-ears available today. The impressive engineering and top tier tuning of the complex eight crossover construction allows for a sound that leaves most of the competitors behind. Additional options in terms of ADEL modules enables a high level of customisation, since the different ADEL modules in connection to suitable cables can change the sound of the IEM entirely. From strong reference sound with a lot of air in a treble based signature to thick and heavy notes in a warm and mid-centric sound, the Zeus can do it all almost perfectly. To answer the question, whether the pricing and the hype is justified, I would definitely respond in the affirmative. Regarding the heavily flooded market of in-ear monitors, there is a huge offer of unimpressive products for high prices since extraordinary technical specifications attract enough customers. This lead to a driver war with companies clustering as many BAs in a shell as possible, which does not make sense anymore regarding the level of difficulty to tune even 12 to 14 drivers accurately. For that reason, in terms of tonality the Zeus marked a new standard that is pretty hard to reach.



    Build 8/10

    Sound 10/10

    Price-value 8/10
    Gibraltar, Wyville, crabdog and 4 others like this.
  3. subguy812
    5.0/5,
    "Zeus XR(new shell design) Insert Jawdrop meme here"
    Pros - Resolution, Detail, New Shell Design, R & XIV in one IEM
    Cons - Price
    Zeus XR

    http://www.empireears.com/product/mto-universal-zeus-xr/

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    A Little Technical Stuff:

    · FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 10Hz – 20Khz

    · IMPEDANCE: 21Ω @ 1 kHz

    · INPUT SENSITIVITY: 119dB @ 1mw

    · NOISE ISOLATION: -28 dB +/- 2

    · INPUT CONNECTOR: 1/8″ (3.5 mm) Gold Plated Jack

    · WARRANTY: 2-years

    · 14 Drivers | 8 Way Crossover | 4 Sound Bores


    Empire Ears Zeus XR
    -MRSP: Universal fit $2399

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    I want to thank Jack for his incredible customer service. I have noticed a trend with Empire Ears and that is you never see bad comments about their customer service. Jack has been responsive and helpful and I want to say THANKS! I also want to thank Dean. When I inquired about a re-shell for the Zeus XRA I let Jack know it is designer’s choice of what shell design they want to use. My sexy, clear design was selected and personally built by Dean. As a bonus, it was the first released with the new shell design which is said to be more durable and for certain is slimmer in its profile, great job dude, thank you!

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    I purchased my Zeus XRA second hand from a fellow Head-FI’er as the price of the Zeus can be a little shocking. The Zeus XR-Adel starts at $2799. I was familiar with Adel technology from my time with the 64 Audio U12. I really enjoyed and appreciated the Adel techonolgy and then later the Apex technology with the 64 Audio U12. I have always preferred a warmer signature and the 64 Audio U12 certainly scratches that itch.


    Early in my quest for excellence of in-ear monitors I was actually more into analytical sound and with time my tastes have changed. I grew to find the warm, yet detailed sound with a huge stage to be more to my liking. Today I find tone and quality of delivery to be paramount. With that said I obviously knew I wasn’t purchasing a bass monster or even a warm signature, by any stretch of the imagination, in the Zeus. I continued to read reviews and my curiosity and desire grew in the Zeus, I wanted to hear it, more like I wanted to own it. I was about reacquaint myself with my wallet again, I have no freaking willpower sometimes. My curiosity has a bit more of a conscience and frugality than I do so I went shopping on the Head-FI used boards for an almost new Zeus XRA as opposed to purchasing new. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED PayPal sent and buyer’s remorse started to set in, feeling guilty, but excited all the same. I found a Zeus XRA that only had a few hours on it, less than 20, and a simple design, things important to me in my purchase.

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    Pre re-assignment surgery

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    Post-Op re-assignment

    My initial thoughts were that these XRA were huge, not Frankenstein bolt huge like the Layla for example, but big. I didn’t find them uncomfortable but they didn’t provide the most comfort I have encountered in an IEM either. My sound impressions were for the most part positive but I didn’t have the WOW moment I was expecting. I started to experiment with tip rolling and cable swapping as well as different sources. I was having a little problem trying to achieve a great seal and with the Zeus a good seal is IMPERATIVE especially with the Adel version. I generally prefer JVC Spiral Dots with the wide bore but I found the wide bore to not glimmers of the excellence when the seal was good with the Spinfit. When I would yawn, open my mouth wide or even smile the seal would go until my face relaxed again, certainly not ideal. Anyone with any experience with Adel knows that the Adel modules impact isolation, creating less isolation. Add the less than perfect isolation to the less than perfect seal and at times the unnatural chhh sound of the cymbals would make me a bit crazy. There was sibilance and I am more of a smooth treble fan and very opposed to a strident sound. I tried the Final Audio narrow bore ear tips and ah yes, a bit more controlled and focused than wide bore ear tips, and another box checked on the roadmap to perfection.

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    I wasn’t ready to give up on the Zeus, after all I had bartered quite a few coconuts for them. I found that the stock Whiplash TWspc cable was a nice well-built stock cable but I felt that copper would possibly add some body and enhance the bass a little. The Dita Truth Copper cable was a definite upgrade in sound quality over the Whiplash although it isn’t a pure copper cable. It added body and smoothed out some of the harsher edges. My final test cable was the one I still use, the Effect Audio Ares II. It gives a nice clear detailed sound but doesn’t really add any additional body to the sound, which the Truth cable did slightly. I really prefer the ergonomics of the Ares II over the Truth cable so ergonomics wins in this case.


    I used three sources, A&K Kann, Opus #2 and LG G6. After intensive listening I would say the Opus #2 is the best overall pairing based on the quality of the sound alone as it is quite the reference player. The Kann was also very good but the fact is that the Zeus doesn’t need the Kann’s power to drive it to perfection. The LG G6 can actually drive the XR quite well. These are one easy to drive IEM and that is a big advantage when going portable.

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    Lastly, I began swapping Adel and Apex modules. The S1 was not a great paring, kind of dampened the best attributes of the Zeus, the B1 accented what the Zeus already excelled at so I didn’t care for it either. I then tried the Apex modules and thought the M15 module was a good pairing but after trying the M20 Apex module I realized the M20 provided a little more body in the lower end and was as good as I was going to get, so the M20 became my preferred module.


    Zeus XRA, Ares II balanced, M20 Apex module, Final Audio narrow tips and Opus #2. VOILA now I was getting somewhere in my quest.

    After so much trial and error and continued reading I decided I need to shift gears. I realized I wanted to hear the Zeus as it was meant to be heard without the addition of the Adel module. There were a couple of options such as the carrot module or the MAM fully closed but I opted for a re-shell sans Adel which finally brings us to the review at hand…Welcome to the Zeus XR!

    Since I did not purchase these as a new retail item I am not going into an unboxing or accessory list but the Empire Ears site says your purchase includes the following:

    WHAT’S IN THE BOX

    We offer a variety of items included at no additional charge in each order:

    · In-Ear Monitor

    · Empire Aegis case

    · Empire dust bag

    · Empire IEM pouch

    · Empire cleaning cloth

    · Cleaning tool

    · Quick Start User Guide

    I can tell you that mine did include all of the above.


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    Let us review the sound, shall we?

    The Zeus XR gives you the best of both worlds between the Zeus-R and the Zeus XIV. There is a switch located on the shell. In the up position, it is the Zeus R and in the down position it is the Zeus XIV. Simply put it is like a 2 for 1, a Happy Hour for my ears.

    For the review, I paired the XR with the A&K Kann, Opus #2 and the LG G6(American). The XR doesn’t really need a lot of power to shine but certainly will provide you a better experience when utilizing higher quality DAC. The Opus #2, using the 2.5mm balanced output would be my DAP of choice for the XR. I used the Ares II cable as well as briefly testing the Truth Copper cable. I switch between the Final Audio narrow bore and Symbio Mandarin as my preferred eartips.

    I find Zeus-R to be near neutral but an incredibly revealing and detailed signature. It could be considered close to reference sounding and it is more reference sounding that it’s XIV brother in the down switch. The overall tone is natural and effortless. The sibilance I heard in the Adel version is all but gone in the XR version. It is important to realize and remember this IEM has a massive number of drivers at 14. Not that the number of drivers in and of itself is impressive but how seamless they work together; their synergy is so impressive. I will discuss more the R setting and in the body of the description when the XIV goes in another direction I will mention it. My preference in settings is without a doubt the XIV but the baseline setup of the two is similar so that is why I will compare the XIV to the R. One note about the switch and how obvious the sound difference is. When using a better source, the difference between R and XIV is quite obvious but when using my cellphone, you can barely hear a difference. The balanced output of either the Opus #2 or the Kann allowed the difference to be very evident as well as the SE output.


    Bass


    In the low-end region, you get a sub-bass that goes deep. This not the incredible sounding BA bass of the 64 Audio U12 as the Zeus bass but stays close to neutral in quantity. The Zeus bass is not in the least about quantity and instead focuses on the quality of bass it delivers to the listener. Overall all frequencies of bass are fast, snappy but neutral for the most part. I don’t want to characterize this a boring emotionless bass as it comes with plenty of feeling, just not rumbly bass that bleeds into the mids. The bass delivery is flawless except I feel it is a touch one dimensional except that it is detailed and layers so well. More sub-bass would alleviate any illusion of being one dimensional. When listening to the bass it is very easy to differentiate which instrument is creating the bass, ie. drum or guitar. Fast bass with realistic decay, overall some of the most natural decay I have heard. Certainly not a DD in its punch but so very detailed and layered.

    In the XIV the bass is brought more forward and is more present in its delivery, again not in quantity. The bass is more present and out front when compared to the R. Quality is not negatively impacted in the XIV setting.

    Mids

    The lower mids create a harmony and balance with the upper bass range. The mids are detailed, open and not the least bit veiled or hazy. The mids aren’t necessarily airy or sparkly but the transitions in layers and details are top notch, the best I have heard. With the right source the micro details with all instruments, foreground and background are showcased. Overall there is a big sense of clarity and resolution. I hear no sibilance or harshness in the mids and vocals have a natural and upfront sound.

    In the XIV the mids are another area that is more upfront and present. There is not a loss of detail or clarity in either of the XR settings, the mids just sound more present and upfront. In my opinion, for the most part, the bass and mids are being brought to the foreground. That is major differences between the signature in the two settings. The overall sound is served on a Platinum platter for the listener to consume in the XIV.

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    Treble

    If there is any air in the sound of Zeus you will find it in the treble regions. This is also the region in which you will find the most details and clarity. While the treble is so clear I still don’t find it fatiguing. As stated earlier make sure you have a great seal. Resolute and detailed without fatigue are the characteristics. I find the warmer IEM’s have me foot tapping a bit more but I have struggled to bring out the details in some of the warmer IEM’s. With the Zeus, you certainly don’t have to search for details they are there for the taking, but also these are not warm in their signature. The treble delivery needs to be heard as it extends and takes you to the brink but avoids harshness while delivering transparency.

    Overall the soundstage is very wide and it stretches out far left to right. There is some depth but it is not the deepest I have heard but there is excellent height in the stage, certainly never cramped or congested in any aspect of the stage.

    In Closing

    The Zeus holds a prominent spot in my IEM collection. The new shell design has a slimmer more comfortable profile. The clear shell Dean used when re-shelling mine is super sexy. The Zeus XR is pricey but this appears to be the trend in IEM’s as long as folks keep paying it. I am super impressed and hope I can talk Jack out of one of the new prototypes they have on the work bench. The XR would be one IEM I would have as a CIEM, strong praise from someone that doesn’t own a CIEM and up until last week didn’t even have ear impressions. I am so glad I kept the XR when I had them re-shelled, as I thought about only going XIV. I do like to have the option of switching form R to XIV. I prefer the XIV setting overall as I like how it is more lively and musical, both settings are TOTL and YMMV. In this reviewer's opinion, you will have a hard time finding an IEM that does everything as well as the Zeus XR. Truly difficult to find better.

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    proedros, kubig123, Kerouac and 3 others like this.
  4. ejong7
    5.0/5,
    "The Grand Chameleon : Empire Ears Zeus-R"
    Pros - Highly resolving and detailed. Midrange to die for.
    Cons - Very sensitive. May be too pricy for some.
    DISCLAIMER
    The Empire Ears Zeus-R was purchased during my trip to the Empire Ears office at Buford, Georgia. The Empire Ears team have since moved their operations to their newer and larger facility at Norcross, Georgia.
     
    INTRODUCTION
    In recent years, the IEM industry, previously dominated by a few traditional names, has seen a huge increase in companies trying to get in on the action. Empire Ears (EE), the rejuvenated and revamped version of Jack Vang’s old company Earwerkz, has maintained its status as one of the leading companies in the field. They continuously strive to innovate, breaking new boundaries, as evident from their recent partnership with the likes of Asius Technologies, which you can learn more of here. If you are interested to learn more about the EE brand, I urge you to follow this link (shameless self-plug) to obtain a clearer perspective into the inner workings of the machine known as EE and gain a new understanding of EE’s products pre-Asius Technologies partnership announcement.
     
    Nonetheless, this review is not about the multitude of marvellous products that EE has in its arsenal, but is all about the current pièce de résistance of their work, or at least its pre-ADEL era masterpiece, the EE Zeus-R. No mistake about it, the Zeus-R is a statement piece, and what a statement it has made. It consequently caused a huge impact on the ‘driver war’ saga that is currently ravaging the industry, not by being an IEM that has an adequate but conservative amount of drivers with a price to performance ratio that might single-handedly dominate the market, but by being, at the point of release, the IEMs with the most drivers available to the public. That title has since been transferred to the 64 Audio tia Fourté, but the reputation that the Zeus-R has earned as one of the best IEMs ever bestowed upon mankind did not falter. Instead, it has been further strengthened with the release of its updated and even more popular brother – the Zeus-XR ADEL.
     
    With such a huge reputation on the line, and a great first impression from the demo unit that I listened to in the EE office, will the Zeus-R continue to impress? Or does it fail to live up to its own specifications sheet then stumble and fall from the great heights that its older brothers has previously achieved?
     
    INFO & SPECIFICATIONS
    The Zeus-R, like its twin the original Zeus, is an IEM equipped with 14 balanced armature drivers per side that is available in both custom and universal format. The 14 drivers are separated into 6 high drivers, 6 mid drivers and 2 low drivers that incorporate one of EE’s proprietary series of balanced armatures – the EMP87, a first even within the EE line up. And as if the previous 7-way crossover system was not complicated enough, the Zeus-R utilizes a brand new 8-way crossover system but has continue its lineage by using a quad bore design, with a designated bore for each of the following: highs, mids, mid-highs, and lows.
     
    What most probably would not have noticed, and I didn’t until I read the official product page of the Zeus-R, is that all of the drivers used in the IEM is applied with a patent pending nano magnetic coating that will prevent moisture and potentially harmful contaminants from causing damage to drivers but also shields the magnetic field of each driver, eliminating all interference thus optimizing its performance. The people at EE also did not hold back with the internal wiring of the Zeus-R by using a 7-strand, sapphire and gold, silver-plated copper Litz wires that were individually wired and insulated to ensure acoustic feedback is reduced to the point of elimination. Even the soldering work was done using a robust, ultra-pure quad-eutectic solder to allow for maximum conduction.
     
    Here are the rest of the numbers for the specification sheet folks out there. The Zeus-R has a frequency response between 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The noise isolation that could be achieved from using a custom Zeus-R that was properly fitted could reach about -28 dB, give or take 2dB. I have found this to be rather accurate as I have achieved a reasonably similar isolation to my Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (UERR) after mine were properly refitted, that have a noise isolation rating of -26 dB.
     
    Its impedance rated at 21 ohm @ 1 kHz and an input sensitivity of 119dB @ 1mw. This leads to one of the few qualms I have with the Zeus-R, it’s too sensitive, maybe just more than I would have liked. I admit that I am more sensitive than most in terms of listening to hiss produced from my sources through my headphones or earphones but the Zeus-R’s are on another level. Even with my trusty Chord Mojo I could faintly hear some hissing in the background, which does not have an apparent effect on the listening experience when music is played but does appear in between track changes. I previously had the privilege of listening to a Zeus-R which was less sensitive and it did resolve my hiss issues to a certain extent but I found that the depreciation of the sound quality to not warrant the reduction of hiss, at least to my ears. If anybody is interested in getting a lower sensitivity Zeus-R you may discuss about it with Jack but please do not give him a hard time if the product did not sound as good as you have heard previously.
     
    The retail price for a Zeus-R in non-ADEL format starts at $2099, with the ADEL format going for higher, barring any potential customization that you might add in the end, is my second qualm with the piece. Yes, I do understand that it is a wonderful piece of work, and somehow someway the resources spent for the research and development of the product has to be made up for, but I feel that by breaching the $2000 price barrier it could potentially drive away many potential new users. Having said that, the latest pieces from 64 Audio has blown that price range to bits and pieces so it might be easier than before to justify the price now. I have yet to hear the pieces from 64 Audio that are more expensive than the Zeus-R so I shall refrain from any other comparison.
     
    ACCESSORIES & OPTIONS
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    The cardboard box arrives emblazoned with golden Empire Ears Logo.  The Empire Ears Aegis Case that houses my Empire Ears Zeus-R is inside the box.
     
    A medium sized, magnetic flip cover cardboard box was used to house the Zeus-R and a host of accessories that EE includes within the package. The cardboard box and the accessories inside are emblazoned with a gold-coloured EE logo, which is only available when an Apollo or the Zeus series is purchased. The rest of the line-up comes with a cardboard box and accessories that has a silver EE logo on top. Within the box, you will find a dust bag, an IEM pouch, a cleaning cloth, a quick start user guide and the Empire Ears Aegis case which I think is a personalized S3 case.
     
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    Inside the box, a quick start user manual, an IEM pouch and a dust bag are among the accessories provided for your purchase.
     
    I have personally found no use for the dust bag as it was too large for the IEMs itself but it could probably fit the S3 case, if you are into that sort of thing. The IEM pouch is of decent size, but is not sturdy enough for me to comfortably place my expensive IEMs inside to carry around. The opposite end of the problem is the Aegis, which could probably survive being run over by a truck but was too large to properly fit into a coat pocket. I personally wished there was a soft pouch or even a small plastic/aluminium case provided with the product but I could comfortably say that the array of accessories provided is more than what most other manufacturers provide. The user guide I found particularly useful as I was a novice in CIEMs previously and although it would probably be general information for most people it is still a nice touch for the relative newcomers to the field. Inside the Aegis case is where you’ll find your IEMs, along with a cleaning tool that was provided. If you obtain any of EE’s line-up in universal format, a host of tips will also be provided, including the renowned Spin-Fit brand of ear tips that are hard to come by in the UK but are widely available now in many parts of Asia.
     
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    My Empire Ears Zeus-R, as first seen at the Head-Fi San Francisco Meet 2016.
     
    The Zeus-R uses the industry standard 2-pin socket for its cable that is removable, but a major inclusion, possibly to the delight of many, is a Starlight Cable from BTG Audio as the standard cable for the Zeus-R, which I will from here on out refer to as the stock cable as the standard EE cable was not provided in the box. It is about 4 feet in length, with a y-splitter that incorporates the logo of both EE and BTG Audio. It might not be the prettiest cable from a custom cable company you’ll ever see, but it does the job well. When compared to the standard EE cable, I found the Starlight to be more resolving but at the same time produce the hiss I found at a louder level. Both did not produce any microphonics to my experience. The provided cable has since been changed to one made by Whiplash Audio, and as I’ve not used it before I shall refrain from moulding my opinion around it. It is definitely a plus that EE decided to take the hit for a custom cable to be included with their top of the line product, a generous gesture that will certainly attract many newcomers.
     
    BUILD QUALITY
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    My Empire Ears Zeus-R before a refit (top) and after a refit.
     
    I will be upfront with everyone: I got a refit. Although my impressions were taken by Chief Engineer of EE, Dean Vang himself, I found my first fitting to be uncomfortable on the right ear piece and decided to send it back to EE as soon as possible. What was amazing was the fact that it took less than a week for the folks at EE to place, build and send out my order so that it could arrive at my hotel during my US trip, even though I had not previously asked for it.  The quick build time allowed me to try on the fitting before I made it back to the UK, and had it sent back through domestic shipping. It took just a day for Jack to inspect and fix the fitting issue, but he insisted on an extra day to make sure that the Zeus-R’s were sent out at optimum working condition, such is his dedication to perfection of his craft. The official website states that it takes about 15 business days for the IEMs to be built upon acceptance of your ear impressions with the option to rush it to 5 business days but I would think that it will be sent out earlier than expected regardless of which option you choose to undertake.
     
    From both fittings, I found the IEM’s shells to be built at one of the highest qualities possible, especially considering that it is completely made by hand from start to finish. The shell did not feel as smooth as my UERRs, which were made using 3D printing technology, but smooth nonetheless. I remember how Christian from Massdrop lauded about the bubble-less craftsmanship of the CIEM, and proceeded to sing its praises to anyone that pass by us at the 2016 San Francisco Meet. The fit, although not as comfortable as the one I found with my UERRs or my Noble Audio Katana, was comfortable enough for me to wear it for hours without fatigue. It also does better in situations where I am required to talk, perhaps owing to the fact that my impressions for the Zeus-R were done with the open mouth method.
     
    Faceplate options for IEMs from EE are pretty hard to describe as the options available to the end user are too many. A quick browse through on the faceplate options using their IEM design user interface on their website, which I found very simple to use, shows the design possibilities that include solid or transparent colours and more exotic customisation options with incredible materials such as beautiful woods and carbon fibre. This however is not the limit to which you can design your personal IEMs, as evident from the pictures posted on EE’s Instagram page and on the forums. The same can be said of the body of the IEMs so it is best to check with Jack to see if it is possible to make your own dream design before making your final decision. For myself, I chose my favourite colour – orange as my body that I made sure was translucent so that I can see the inner workings of the piece, along with the beautiful Amboyna Burl wood to pair with it, in which Dean himself picked out the perfect shade for it, and the golden EE logos on each side to round it all off.
     
    SOUND QUALITY
    Evaluation Process
    As a standard for most of the gear I review (unless under a time-limited review tour), the Zeus-R’s were burned in for about 200 hours before critically listening sessions were made. I believe this would allow for a more level playing field in my reviews as each piece of gear would have underwent the same pre-treatment before critical listening sessions were made. The tracks used for my listening sessions are files that are either FLAC/ALAC from a wide variety of genres except metal. The following is a list of source gear that I used during the review of the Zeus-R:
    1. Chord Mojo
    2. iBasso DX90
    3. Questyle QP1R
    4. Calyx M player
     
    Initial Impressions
    Before going into the impressions, I would like to admit that, before my first listen of the demo Zeus-R’s, my knowledge of the sound signature of CIEMs in general were purely based on what was written in the forums, so I only had a limited repertoire of sound signatures for me to compare to with the EE Zeus-R. Having said that, I felt upon my first listen that the Zeus-R’s was the best IEM I have ever heard at that point of time, and is arguably one of the best if not the best portable piece of gear I have yet heard, which to me is strong praise considering that I actually use my full size Mr.Speakers Ether C as a portable headphone as well.
     
    The midrange, which was a little too forward on the original Zeus for me, was so transparent and lush that I felt it was the best piece of gear to use when listening to Chinese music as it performs at its best with the kind of music that is heavily focused on the vocals. Listening to my favourite Chinese artist of all time, 周杰伦 (Jay Chou for the non-Mandarin speakers), I felt the emotion of his voice pouring into each line that could only be matched with my full sized gear. The soundstage, while not being the widest I’ve heard, was wide enough to convey tracks from concert albums with enough realism that I was caught in the setting of the concert itself.
     
    The demo unit was highly revealing, so revealing in fact that I thought I would easily suffer from fatigue because of it, but Dean pointed out that since I was not accustomed to CIEMs of such stature before I would need an adjustment period to make myself comfortable with listening for long periods of time, a statement that was later proven true.
     
    Sound Signature
    The Zeus-R has an overall ‘audiophile’ or ‘reference’ sound signature, in which it attempts at leaning towards neutrality (not to be confused with being lean sounding) but I will never label it as completely neutral, something that I would associate more with my UERRs.  It does not completely conform to the commonly known ‘reference’ sound, in which rather than having a sound that lean towards an accentuated treble, it actually has more pronounced mids when the overall spectrum is overviewed. This mid-centric sound signature, reminiscent of the IEMs hailing from Japan, was very tastefully done, as at no point of time have I find the sound to be completely unbalanced, although labelling it as balanced may be a stretch. It is definitely a more coloured sound than the other ‘reference’ signature IEMs.
     
    The bass on the Zeus-R’s, although not entirely ruler flat, I find it hard to label it as pronounced or accentuated because it is that small of a lift. It is very tight and punchy yet controlled, probably the most controlled I have come across from an IEM that has bass north of neutral. With the sub bass, I found that it thumps and slams hard but the word ‘boomy’ never crossed my mind. Both bass and sub bass have superb extension, which in turns causes my trance and electronic tunes to sound better than never before. The notes within this region does decay a little slower than expected but it creates a very unique sense of texture to the bass that I have yet felt on other IEMs.
     
    If your biggest priority when choosing your gear is its mids, then you will enjoy what is to come with the piece. The mids are arguably the best I’ve ever experienced on any piece of gear, regardless of price, form and size. It is slightly forward or aggressive, but always maintains its lush and natural tone. There were no signs of sibilance throughout my listening experience, a great deal for people who mainly listen to music that has strong vocal focus. The best part of the mids, however, is that despite its aim at an overall euphonic sound, it doesn’t lose any of those micro details, something I find rare within gear that tries to achieve a similar sound. It is also not overdone, not overly lush to the point that it masks the beauty of the rest of the music. In a few instances, where some of my acoustic guitar music was recorded at a very high quality, I was able to pick out the specific wood material of the guitar used as it could very accurately showcase the tonality of the wood, something I previously only could achieve with full sized gear.
     
    The highs, as previously alluded to, are a touch brighter than neutral, which to me helps keep the sound from going totally off balance. The highs are well extended and maintain its crispness throughout, which allows for a very clear yet detailed sound. In fact, one of its biggest strength lies in its detail retrieval, something that I have since find difficult to name a worthy challenger in other IEMs. This might be a double edge sword for some as the very revealing nature may mislead people into believing that its perhaps sound too analytical and lack smoothness. As referenced above, I found the sound signature to be easy on the ears upon an adjustment period, which was highly welcomed as all the details would come to waste if I had find it hard to listen for long periods of time. It does sound smooth, cold and harshly analytical it is not, it is actually pretty forgiving in most cases, yet the word smooth just won’t be the first that comes to mind when you listen to it.
     
    Another great spell that the EE team managed to cast on the piece is that it is wonderfully cohesive, so cohesive that often times it creates an illusion that all the sound is being pumped out by a single driver, and not 14 total drivers, something that is easily promised but a whole different story when it comes to achieving it. The soundstage presented is deep and while it is not the widest I’ve come across in terms of flagship IEMs it was sufficiently wide for me and the music I listen to and paired with some of the best layering and separation I’ve experienced on an IEM it produces a more realistic image of my music.
     
    Comparisons
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    The IEMs I used for the comparison part of this review, clockwise starting from top left: Noble Audio Katana (Custom), Empire Ear Zeus-R (Custom), JH Audio Roxanne Universal (Generation 1) and the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (UERR).
     
    I used my custom UERR, custom Noble Katana as well as my JH Audio Roxanne Universal (Generation 1) for the comparisons. These are the best IEMs I have within my stable right now, and the pieces I felt could possibly provide a fair fight to the Zeus-R.
     
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    Empire Ears Zeus-R vs Noble Audio Katana
     
    Let’s start with the Noble Katana, in custom form, since they’re closest in terms of pricing. Both are trying to achieve the neutral yet revealing type of sound signature, yet each has their own approach around it. The Noble Katana has this overall smooth yet detailed sound, with it besting the Zeus-R in the smoothness department. However, I felt that there are more details coming through with the top end of the Zeus-R, which is a strong statement in itself as on its own I felt the Noble Katana has gobs of detail coming from all directions. I feel that the mids and bass are a toss-up, as both have its own merits when compared to each other. With the Katana, I felt that the mids are a little more laid-back with a smoother sound, while the Zeus-R has a lusher yet at the same time aggressive mids. In the bass department, the Zeus-R is perhaps a little punchier but the Katana has the edge in terms of the details and extension. In the end, I think it really depends on the mood and general usage of the IEM if you’re deciding with the two. I would probably opt for the Katana if I were to be listening for longer periods of time, such as during a long-haul flight, but I will take my Zeus-R if I want to feel my music more through its rumble and more euphonic sound. It will also depend on the type of music that you’re listening to, as I prefer to listen to more classical and instrumental music on my Katana but I prefer to listen to more mainstream music with my Zeus-R.
     
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    Empire Ears Zeus-R vs Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered
     
    Moving on to the UERR, in custom form as well, it was then that I could reaffirm my opinion in which the Zeus-R’s are not entirely neutral, but is pretty close to it. The Zeus-R hits harder at the lower end, which makes the UERR sound bass light or rather the UERR has a neutral bass sound. The mids are definitely fuller on the Zeus-R end, and although the UERR perhaps has a hint of mid forwardness (if there is any sign of uneven sound at all), it definitely is not as forwards as the Zeus-R. With a more crisp and extended treble along with a wider and much deeper soundstage, the Zeus-R sounds much more resolving that the UERRs. Only when comparing the two would I ever think of the Zeus-R as cold or analytical, but not harsh.  The UERR’s is smoother overall and maybe due to its more balanced and neutral sound, it lends a better separation of the individual instruments in the music. In music mastering situations, I would always lean towards the UERR as it would be important to catch onto any imbalance across the spectrum that would prevent the intended final product. Regardless, I would most definitely pick up my Zeus-R if I were to be longing for a more engaging and detailed piece for my music.
     
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    Empire Ears Zeus-R vs JH Audio Roxanne (Generation 1)
     
    For the following comparison with my Roxannes, in universal format, I left its bass adjustment at its minimum as it’s my preferred configuration for the piece. I felt that the Roxannes showed themselves as a warmer sounding IEM while the Zeus-R is more neutral-revealing, which makes them sound quite different to each other. The bass I found more extended and delivered with more of a punch on the Zeus-R. Do note that, since the Zeus-R is a custom, it will have the better fit, which will usually lead to better bass performance than most universals could provide. Mids isn’t the strongest point on the Roxannes, and it shows itself to be muffled or recessed when compared to a beast in the mids like the Zeus-R. Both are crisp with the treble, but the Zeus-R is better extended and clearer. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the soundstage of my Roxannes, as its width and depth rivals that of the Zeus-R even though it’s in a universal format. I think if you mainly listen to live recordings and music with a lot of energy in the background, such as rock, you may lean towards the Roxannes. But in most other cases, I feel that the Zeus-R would be the way to go.
     
    CONCLUSION
    So has the Zeus-R successfully lived up to its hype and the expectations I had after my first listen? It certainly has, and even exceeded them. It made me realise that, although I appreciate neutrality, a completely flat sound signature is not the sound that I sought after when I’m listening to music. This is where the Zeus-R truly shines for me. The Zeus-R is like an audiophile chameleon, being able to change its ‘colour’ at the change of a track, parading itself as a bass juggernaut when I’m listening to my tunes that requires an extra punch of bass, and then immediately turning itself into an elegant singer with one of the best voice you’ve ever heard before when the tunes that bring vocals to the forefront start playing.
     
    It is without flaws? Certainly not, but what is? The sensitivity I wished could be improved, in a way which the sound quality would be maintained if not improved, but would do away with the hiss issues that I face with the piece. Perhaps it plagues only those like me who are ultra-sensitive to hiss, but I have since got accustomed to it and don’t feel that it disturbs me when the music is playing. I also wished that there was a slightly watered down piece that upholds a similar standard of sound quality available now, as I felt that it’s a shame because most would not be able to feel a piece of this magic due to its price tag. Maybe next time eh Jack?
     
    I still fondly remember my trip to the EE base in Buford, Georgia before their move to their current base, when Jack silently exuded confidence in his products by leaving me to audition his products without any prior backstory or build up. With the Zeus-R, he has definitely hit a home run and made a huge statement in the IEM world. It reminds me of a line from the Wolf of War Street, where Jordan Belfort, acted by Leonardo DiCaprio, clearly explained: “I never ask my clients to judge me on my winners. I ask them to judge me on my losers, because I have so few.” This is definitely a winner in my books. Bravo, Jack, Dean and the rest of the EE team. I await your next masterpiece.
  5. Spamateur
    4.5/5,
    "My Reference IEM: The Empire Ears Zeus-R"
    Pros - Incredible layering and resolution, treble definition is class-leading, engaging and seductive mids, never fatiguing, fantastic customer service
    Cons - Highly sensitive to source noise floor, tiny bit of sibilance
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    Introduction:
     
    Two years ago, I first met Jack Vang at the labs of Earwerkz, a then-new IEM design and manufacturing company that was born from his father's hearing aid firm. I had read @shotgunshane's great review of Earwerkz's flagship IEM, the Legend-R, and was intrigued. Not only was Earwerkz local to me being just outside Atlanta, but the positive reviews of the company's entire IEM lineup had my interest piqued. Prior to meeting Jack, I had a personal policy of only purchasing universal IEMs for the purposes of resale value. I figured if I would ever consider purchasing a custom IEM, I would need an audition ahead of time before locking myself a product I couldn't resell as easily. Jack greeted me at the door with a smile and a firm handshake befitting the size of his biceps, then sat me in a conference room with demos of the entire Earwerkz lineup. An hour later I left with my wallet lighter and a receipt for the Legend-R in my pocket, having been mightily impressed by the demo as well as Jack's friendly professionalism.
     
    In the past two years since that day, there have been a lot of changes for the company. What once was Earwerkz became Empire Ears as the business grew by leaps and bounds and matured in both their product design and sound quality. They launched a new lineup crowned by the Zeus XIV, a 14-driver-per-side IEM. Later, Jack and company announced a re-tuned evolution of the Zeus design that was named the Zeus-R, with the R standing for "Remastered." The latest version of the Zeus is the Zeus XR ADEL, a product that incorporates Asius' well-known ADEL technology as well as a tiny physical switch on the faceplate to alternate between the XIV and R tunings at will. 
     
    My own personal Zeus began life as the Zeus XIV and then became the first production Zeus-R when that version was announced. Let me preface this review by saying that I personally prefer the Zeus-R tuning as it's more of a neutral and "reference" sound versus the more romantic nature of the original XIV. Many head-fiers prefer the original tuning, and I can't really blame them either way as it comes down to pure personal preference. The following impressions are taken from a large variety of sources, but mainly with the Cowon Plenue S DAP, Google Pixel XL phone, Schiit Gumby DAC, and a Mitsubishi DP-EC1 turntable feeding a Parasound Halo Integrated amplifier.
     
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    Sound:
     
    I've seen the general sound signature of the Zeus-R described as neutral with a slight uplift in bass and mids pushed forward. It's a slightly warmer-than-neutral signature, but one that has fantastic treble definition and extension. Tonality leans towards the thicker side, which adds a pleasing impact and dynamism to music. We all know that driver count is not indicative of performance, but the 14 drivers that each side of the Z-R along with the 8-way crossover network seem to work some magic in creating a sound that is simultaneously smooth-yet-revealing, clear and cohesive.
     
    Bass:
     
    The bass of the Zeus-R reminds me a lot of the old Earwerkz Legend-R, and clearly shares some DNA with that earlier flagship model. While the bass quantity is slightly greater than an absolutely neutral sound signature, it's incredibly chameleon-like in nature, a trait that I also loved about the Legend-R. During one my favorite Beethoven sonatas performed by Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Kempff, Kempff's piano has an appropriately solid presence and substance in the lower octaves that feels very linear and proportional in nature with the expected resonance and timbre of a grand piano. In other words, it sounds accurate and realistic. Flipping the track to something more modern, Big K.R.I.T.'s club banger "Money on the Floor" gets my toes tapping and head bobbing with it's grinding, greasy bass line. Big K.R.I.T. is well known for creating tracks to flex subwoofer drivers into oblivion, and it's impressive how much subbass the Zeus-R produces while maintaining quality. Bass texture and definition is also impressive. While decay isn't the fastest, the Zeus-R never feels slow or loses tautness. Indulging my inner metalhead, the bands Baroness and Mastodon are well known for having spectacularly talented drummers. Putting on a few tracks by both bands is a gory assault of stampeding double kick drums and furious tom fills, demonstrating that the bass drivers of the Z-R can keep up with some of the best heavy metal drummers on the planet. I can't think of many headphones or IEMs I've heard that can handle the bass from such wildly disparate genres of music and do justice to both of them. Tonality of the bass is a bit on the thicker side, but I personally wouldn't want it any thinner as it would compromise the heft and texture.
     
    Mids:
     
    The mids are the real star of the show on the Zeus-R and are what I would consider the Empire Ears "signature" sound. They are forward and intimate, a tad lush, and intensely detailed. Vocalists and instruments that live in the midband sound movingly emotional and driving in their beauty. The touch of lushness does not interfere with the clarity of the mids whatsoever. This is where the Zeus excels and sinks its hooks into you. These seductive mids consistently give me chills of euphoria, and is also where the most soundstage depth occurs. Listening to complex orchestral tracks or a rock song with lots of instrumentation and intertwining melodies really demonstrates the Zeus-R at its best. There are layers upon layers of instrumentation that wash over and envelop the listener. Again, tonality errs towards warm and lush with thicker lower mids, although in general it is significantly more neutral than the original XIV version of the Zeus.
     
    As a sidenote, this is probably the biggest differentiation from the the original Zeus XIV. Compared to the XIV, the R is a bit drier in sound as it pushes the mids back a bit in the presentation, but gains significantly more clarity as a result. There's a level of detail in the spatial cues that wasn't present before. There are subtle reverb effects from the recording space that are quite evident now compared to the XIV. It's a delight to listen to tracks that were recorded in one take as you get a really incredible feeling for the "room." Listening to Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean" and "The Rain Song" with the Z-R are enveloping experiences, like you're standing in the middle of the band in the recording studio.
     
    Treble:
     
    Let me preface this section to say that I have yet to hear a better treble tuning out of a balanced armature-based IEM design than what Empire Ears has accomplished across their model line. In my experience, balanced armature implementations often have a hashy, splashy treble section most noticeable with rock music. Hi-hats and crash cymbals become indistinct and distorted without realistic definition. IEM designers seem to sometimes compensate for this by making the treble so laid back that the end result seems stuffy or veiled. Empire Ears's head of R&D (and Jack's father), Dean, has consistently wrangled very impressive performance out of BAs, and the Zeus truly reflects that work. It's the most detailed treble I've heard from an IEM, with striking resolution particularly in the lower treble. The end result is an airy and highly extended presentation that has class-leading definition while never managing to be fatiguing or harsh. You truly feel that you're getting the entirety of the frequency range.
     
    Prior to owning the Zeus-R, I owned the Noble K10 universal in aluminum. While it was a fantastic IEM in clarity, smoothness and especially soundstage, it really fell short when it came to treble. To my ears the K10UA was fatiguing after short periods of time, and I found myself wincing on recordings mastered to be a bit "hot." The K10UA really seemed to accentuate the rougher qualities of those tracks to the point of discomfort, and treble definition suffered as cymbals were particularly splashy and grating. Incidentally, I've heard rumors that the custom version of the K10 has a more subdued treble, but I have yet to try it.
     
    My one minor issue with the Zeus-R in terms of sound is that the IEM seems to accentuate some sibilance. There is a bit of a peak in the treble that takes the essesssssss and presents them in a way that I would prefer to be toned down just a tad. I think this is noticeable perhaps by a dip in the frequency response before the sibilance frequency, making the peak after more prominent. I want to caveat this by saying that the Zeus-R is quite source-sensitive, as this sibilance is more obvious on some sources than others. Again, keep in mind that I can listen to the Z-R for hours at a time with no issue so I'd think of this issue as more of a personal preference as I tend to be very sensitive to treble unevenness. 
     
    Source matching:
     
    The other quibble I have with the Zeus models is also minor, but worth noting. Empire Ears' IEMs tend to be very sensitive. They can be driven easily by nearly any headphone output, from smartphones to the highest-end DAPs, but keep in mind that any sources that have poor noise floor performance will be obvious in their faults right out of the gate when paired with the Z-R. Also noticeable is any distortion from digital files towards the beginning and end of songs. I'm struggling to describe it accurately as I'm not sure what the technical term for is, but perhaps it's a form of IMD. For example, my Google Pixel XL has a surprisingly quiet noise floor, but I can hear a bit of "digital" sound as tracks fade out when using the Z-R. Needless to say the Zeus-R is very revealing of all source imperfections, and so a source that measures well is helpful to truly do justice to how high the Z-R can scale in performance.
     
    The best DAPs for my personal preferences are the Cowon Plenue series. The Plenue 1, Plenue S and Plenue D all have very low-to-zero levels of hiss, with the Plenue D impressively having no perceptible noise floor to my ears. They also have a less antiseptic and analytical presentation than most DAPs on the market, and have a musicality that's sadly rare in the audiophile portable world.
     
    Conclusion:
     
    You can probably tell that I love the Empire Ears Zeus-R. It's by far the best in-ear I've heard, and it's so good that I really saw no need to keep any other headphone I owned with the exception of the venerable Sennheiser HD650, which is really only used for PC gaming these days. It's incredible to experience an IEM that sounded good enough to have my heavy Audeze LCD-3 collecting dust and eventually consigned to the For-Sale threads here. It is reference-level in technical proficiency while also possessing a musicality that keeps it from ever being boring or neutral to the point of sterility. I really do think Jack and Dean have created a fantastic IEM, and with the new ADEL integration as well the XR switchable model out, there's so much flexibility and customization possible along with the renowned level of customer service that Empire Ears is known for. If you have the cash, it's well worth a listen.
     
    IMG_20160318_120748.jpg
    proedros, AllenWalker and EagleWings like this.
  6. ironpeg
    5.0/5,
    "Reference God of Thunder (Zeus-R ADEL)"
    Pros - Crispy details with Sparkling treble. Great for reference.
    Cons - Mid is laid back, bass lacks quantity but not quality. Reduced isolation due to ADEL Module.
    Empire Ears: Zeus-R G1
    Introduction
                I’ve been following Empire Ears (EE) thread since they were EarWerkz. At that moment I mainly use my CIEM JH Roxanne and haven’t had any chances to audition any EE iems until Summer 2016. The first EE iem that I’ve tried is the Zeus-R. Zeus-R got me crazy for weeks due to performance. In September, 2016, EE partner with Asius to equip their iem line with ADEL Technology. I planned to attend the RMAF but I couldn’t be there. Thus, I exchanged a few texts with Jack Vang (VP of EE) about the Zeus-XR ADEL (XRA). He offered me 15% discount on that in exchange for an honest review of the product. That’s why I got my XRA.
                Before we begin with the impressions, I would like to state that perception of sound is subjective to me. Each person has their own preference and perception of sound. This review is based on my perception and taste.
    Specification and Details
    Price: $2729.99
    Drivers: 14 Balanced Armature drivers (6 high, 6 mid, 2 low)
    Crossover: 7-way crossover (Zeus XIV mode), 8-way crossover (Zeus R mode)
    Frequency Response: 10 Hz – 20,000 Hz
    Impedance: 21 Ohm @ 1mw
    Noise Isolation: -28 dB +/- 2 (I believe this is with close MAM module. It should be slightly less with other ADEL module)
    From: http://www.empireears.com/product/custom-zeus-xr-adel/
    Ordering Process
                All EE iems are now available for purchase thru www.empireears.com. However, I ordered my XRA by text with Jack. The process went smoothly because Jack knows his work very well. He pointed out that my ear impressions need to be fixed for the best fit. You can have any design that you want even if it’s not shown on the website (if that’s the case, don’t hesitate to contact Jack directly). The turnover time is less than 4 weeks after I sent out my impressions.
    Build and Fit
                XRA fit my ear really well; however, it felt a little weird the first time I tried them on because the shells are thicker than my other ciems. That weirdness went away after a few minutes. XRA provide a decent isolation as many ciem would do.
    Sound Impressions
     
    Presentation
                Zeus-R G1 is the iem with the most impressive soundstage I’ve ever heard. Zeus-R G1 can easily compete with open back headphone in soundstage.  It provides a 3D sound around your head. Dynamic contrast of Zeus-R G1 is done really well.
    Bass
                Zeus-R G1 bass has a really good quality; however, the sub-bass quantity is a bit too little. While sub-bass quantity seems to be too little for me, the bass is pretty good. The impact of the kick drum is impressive. Bass guitar is clean and can go deep.
    Mid
                Mid is laid back in Zeus-R G1. Vocal is not dry. The sound of both male and female singers are very sweet and relaxing.
    Treble
                Treble is where I consider Zeus-R G1 shines. Zeus-R G1 is the best iem with treble that I’ve ever heard. You will hear all the details in high. It displays great sparkles from cymbals.
    Comparison
    Zeus-R G1 vs JH Roxanne
    Soundstage: Zeus-R G1 wins by large margin. Zeus-R G1 with stock cable has a better soundstage comparing to Roxanne with Effect Audio Heracles.
    Bass: Roxanne wins in bass section. The quality of the bass are on par to my ears but Roxanne has a lot more quantity.
    Mid: To be honest, I never like mid from Roxanne. It is muddy; however, the muddy sound is gone with the help Heracles. On the other hand, Zeus-R G1 doesn’t upgrade cable for mid. Mid is very well presented. No muddy sound. So, Zeus-R G1 wins.
    High: As stated above, Zeus-R G1 is the best iem with treble.
    Conclusion
    I think Zeus-R G1 makes a great reference IEM. It will not suite bass head people nor people looking for color and fun sound.
    proedros likes this.
  7. EagleWings
    5.0/5,
    "Technical Master - Review of the EE Zeus-XIV-ADEL"
    Pros - Technicalities, Stage, Instrument Separation & Layering,
    Cons - Soft Bass, Sensitivity
    INTRODUCTION:
    I would like to thank @Jack Vang of Empire Ears, for the discount on my purchase of the Zeus-XIV-ADEL Custom IEM and for giving me the opportunity to review the IEM. I would also like to thank Steve Keeley aka @Canyon Runner of Asius Technologies, for providing me with MAM and B1 ADEL modules for the review.

    Empire Ears launched the Zeus, the first 14 driver production model IEM, around the end of 2015. Halfway into 2016, they launched a retuned Zeus, called the Zeus-R. In September, 2016, EE announced they will be partnering with Asius Technologies, to incorporate the ADEL technology in their IEMs. They shipped the first Zeus-ADEL IEM around the end of October, 2016.


    ZEUS-XIV-ADEL:
    The IEM being reviewed here is the Zeus-XIV-ADEL, which is simply the ADEL version of the original Zeus-XIV. The IEM retails for USD 2429.99. It has 14 BA drivers per side, with a 7-way crossover and, incorporates the ADEL technology in the form of user replaceable ADEL modules. For the cable connection, it uses the standard 0.78mm 2 pin connectors.

    IMG_1993.JPG

    BUILD, FIT & ISOLATION:
    The build quality and finish of the ZXA is impeccable. As with any custom IEMs, a good set of ear impression is imperative, in getting the fit right. I did experience a bit of discomfort, for the first few of days, after I received the IEM. But things settled down, in about a week and, the fit has been great since then. Isolation is as good as or slightly better than a properly sealed universal IEM. Isolation of custom IEMs is dependent on the fit and the canal length of the IEM. The length of the canals on my ZXA is on the medium side. That and the fact, that the ZXA is an ADEL fitted IEM, there is a slight compromise in isolation. If isolation is paramount, you may want to request for long canal portions for your IEM and get a MAM and use it in the Fully-Closed position.

    STOCK CABLE:
    I requested Jack not to include the BTG Starlight cable with my order, as I was purchasing a different upgrade cable for the ZXA. But my IEM did come with the 64” black stock cable. The stock cable is flexible, comfortable and seems durable. Microphonics from the cable is minimal.


    SOUND:
    The ADEL version of the Zeus-XIV is no longer a warm, mid-centric IEM. The ADEL attenuates the bass on the XIV-ADEL to an extent that the mid-range loses some warmth and body, and the treble gains a slight prominence in the presentation. The signature, departs from purely mid-centric to a reference version of mid-centric.As a result, the tonality is going to range between neutral to neutral-bright, depending on the source (and cable) pairings.

    But where XIV-ADEL truly shines is in its technical performance. With a massive soundstage, phenomenal separation and high transparency, it outclasses many of its competition and sets a new standard for hi-fi.

    Bass:
    The bass on the XIV-ADEL is neither powerful nor warm. In the process of reducing pneumatic pressure, the ADEL technology attenuates the bass quantity. The attenuation is greater, the farther you move down the frequency range. And so, the sub-bass gets affected the most, resulting in sub-bass roll-off and the rumbles being less apparent in the presentation.

    The quantity of the mid-bass manages to linger in the neutral range, although its impact is compromised to be on the softer side. The tight and quick punches, result in a clean bass presentation. This allows the IEM to display excellent texture and definition. While the bass resolution does not belong to the elite class, it is still of very high order. Between the authoritative or technical classification, XIV-ADEL's bass falls on the technical side.

    Mid-Range:
    The mid-range is not warm, but it isn't altogether dry either. It lacks some sub-section, as a result of attenuated bass. And so the instrument images aren’t as solid as its non-ADEL counterpart. But the note body is still satisfying, as the lower-mids and the center-mids provide adequate thickness and note size respectively.

    Between the vocals and instruments, XIV-ADEL leans more towards the vocals. This is achieved through bigger and denser vocal size and not through forward vocal placement. The overall tone is neutral and the instrument timbres are quite accurate. But the airiness in the presentation, prevents the timbre to reach the utmost precision. Regardless, its a highly transparent and resolving mid-range.

    Treble:
    Following a neutrally tuned upper-mids, there is a lift in the lower treble. This lift puts the overall treble on the bright side, but it ensures the notes are well articulated and the stage remains clean. The extension is also very good and the treble tone is quite realistic.

    Brightness, resolution and transparency, are the perfect recipe for detail retrieval. As the XIV-ADEL possesses all 3, detail retrieval becomes a second nature for the IEM. And consequently it is also unforgiving. It's smooth with well recorded tracks and warm sources. But with poor recordings and bright source (or cable) pairings, it won't hold back.

    Stage:
    One of the most outstanding features of the XIV-ADEL is its spacious and airy soundstage. With enormous dimensions on all 3 axes, its stage is not only 3-Dimensional, but also holographic. While many recent hi-fi IEMs seem to have caught up to the stage depth of the Zeus, I have not heard any other IEM that can do stage height like the Zeus. And the same can be said about the instrument separation and layering of the XIV-ADEL. The precision of the imaging as well as the distribution of the instruments is top class as well.

    CABLE UPGRADE:
    Being a very sensitive and a transparent IEM, Zeus benefits from cable upgrade. After some research and reading, I purchased an Effect Audio Leonidas. It is a 4 wire litz construction with silver and gold plated silver wires. This is what I hear, when I switch from the stock cable to the Leonidas:

    The overall tonality loses some more warmth and the sound becomes more transparent. The bass becomes tighter and has better definition. The mid-range loses some body and becomes less warm. There is now better texture and details. The treble region is more detailed. The overall resolution is improved and so, there is an increase in precision and definition in the presentation. The stage becomes wider by a small margin, but there is a noticeable improvement in stage depth and height. Imaging also improves in accordance with higher precision and increased depth and height. The timbre sounds more natural. That combined with improved resolution, increases realism in the presentation.

    The Leonidas boosts the clarity and technical aspects of the IEM and improves the overall definition. But it still keeps the XIV-ADEL in the unforgiving region. If you are looking to restore balance in the XIV-ADEL's tone, you may want to look into a cable that is either warm or mid-centric.

    EFFICIENCY, SENSITIVITY & SOURCE:
    At 21 Ohm impedance and 119 dB sensitivity, XIV-ADEL is very sensitive and efficient. On all my sources, just a few steps from zero on the volume, is sufficient to drive the XIV-ADEL to pretty loud volume. The downside is, it picks up background noise from powerful sources in the form of hiss. The hiss isn’t noticeable when the music is on. But there are tracks with silent passages where the hiss becomes noticeable and bothering. The hiss on my iPhone is very minimal.

    With a neutral-bright tone and an unforgiving character, a source that leans on the bright side may like the Lotoo Paw Gold may not be the ideal pairing. But it should go on the record, that with well recorded tracks, the LPG and XIV-ADEL pairing is splendid. It pairs really well with warm sources. I found the pairing with the Mojo a toss-up as it was good for the most part, except for times when the recordings were of very poor quality.

    IMG_1418.jpg

    COMPARISONS:
    Zeus-XIV vs Zeus-XIV-ADEL (B1 Module):
    The XIV and the XIV-ADEL are quite different in many aspects. While the XIV is a warm, mid-centric IEM, the XIV-ADEL is a reference version of mid-centric. XIV's bass is above neutral and is warm in nature. It's sub-bass is also more apparent in the presentation. XIV-ADEL's bass in comparison is rather polite. XIV is warmer and has more body and thickness in the mid-range. Where as the XIV-ADEL has better clarity in the mid-range, due to reduced warmth and body. The transparency is a tie on both IEMs. XIV's transparency rises from a tonal balance and timbral accuracy. XIV-ADEL's transparency arises from its lack of warmth and clean stage. In the treble, the XIV-ADEL is perceived as slightly brighter, due to bass attenuation from the ADEL. While the XIV trumps the XIV-ADEL in terms of naturalness, tone, timbre accuracy and imaging accuracy, the XIV-ADEL pulls ahead of the XIV, in terms of stage, airiness, separation and layering.

    The decision between the ADEL or non-ADEL will come down to each person's priorities in the sound presentation. If precision and tone are high priorities, choose the non-ADEL. For a spacious and airy presentation, choose the ADEL.

    Zeus-XIV-ADEL (B1 Module + Stock Cable) vs 64 Audio A10 (B1 Module + Stock Cable):
    XIV-ADEL and the A10 have different tunings. A10 has a warm tone with the slight boost in bass. XIV-ADEL has a mid-centric tuning. Because of the slight bass boost, A10 has more bass than the XIV-ADEL. The mid-range on the A10 is laidback, while XIV-ADEL’s mid-range is engaging. Treble quantity is similar on both. Stage width is also similar but, the XIV-ADEL has slightly better depth and height. A10 has very good separation, layering and imaging, but XIV-ADEL seems to do those things better, by a small margin, because of better precision. XIV-ADEL is more transparent and has more details. XIV-ADEL is more engaging, while A10 is more relaxing.


    CONCLUSION:
    Zeus-XIV-ADEL is truly a remarkable IEM with outstanding technical capabilities. Although a bit of naturalness and precision is lost in the presentation, the added airiness, space and separation compensates for the loss. The level of transparency, instrument layering and imaging is really something to experience on this IEM. With a price tag around $2400, the IEM is not cheap. But if your budget is flexible and you are in the market for a high performance IEM, that excels in technicalities, the Zeus-XIV-ADEL is an excellent choice.

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    --- THE END ---
  8. twister6
    5.0/5,
    "The Gods have spoken! Now, it’s time to listen! (Zeus-R review)"
    Pros - high resolution, micro-details, great transparency, expanded soundstage, lots of design customization options, premium bonus cable.
    Cons - noticeable hissing with some powerful sources, premium price.

    The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.  The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with all my readers on head-fi.
     
    Manufacturer/product website: Empire Ears. Please keep in mind, this is a review of the Remastered version of the original Zeus XIV.
     
    * click on images to expand.

    Intro.
     
    New IEM/CIEM releases from well known manufacturers usually generate a lot of excitement, and often the latest model names become buzzwords without even a need to reference the company name.  In a way, this reminds me of new song releases from popular artists when we anticipate hearing the next big hit.  But in my opinion, the recipe of a successful hit is not only about the artist [the manufacturer] and the song [the earphone model] but also about the team of producers behind it who deserve more credit.  In the last few years I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to test and to review some of the biggest hits of headphone industry and to communicate with a number of very talented “producers” behind these releases.
     
    Jack Vang and Dean are those hit producers, known for their previous EarWerkz hit releases, who carried over their star power to Empire Ears when EarWerkz transitioned into a new company and released the industry first 14-driver in ear monitors.  I’m not going to deny it, after reviewing a number of other flagship earphones featuring anywhere from 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 12 drivers, I mentioned in my reviews that “driver wars” are over and more drivers doesn’t mean a better sound.  I was even skeptical when Jack reached out to me asking if I'm interested to give a listen to their latest variation of original Zeus-XIV named Zeus-Remastered (Zeus-R), but quickly came to my senses because curiosity got the best of me!
     
    Obviously, everyone's music taste is different and we all have our own subjective opinion about the sound, but I can say with certainty from my personal experience as a reviewer that Zeus-R turned out to be the closest to hit the sweet spot of my sound preference.  I should probably save this for the Conclusion section of the review instead of the Intro, but after spending 2 months with Zeus-R and constantly doing a reality check by comparing it to other flagships – my honeymoon still continuous and I’m ready to share with you about Empire Ears latest TOTL hit!
     
    Unboxing and Accessories.
     
    For me the unboxing experience of Zeus-R started with Empire Ears logo.  I absolutely love the design which has some resemblance to Bentley emblem, and I found the golden spread wings to convey a message of strength, luxury, and confidence.  While so many other companies are focusing on the font type to make their name stand out, here I found Empire Ears to distinct themselves with a memorable logo design.
     
    The product arrived in all black 7"x5" cardboard box with a golden logo on the top magnetic flip cover and golden Empire name on the front and back sides - very formal packaging presentation.  With a cover open, you will find Empire Aegis case which is weather and shock resistant T2000 model of S3 cases.  Also you will find a large dust bag for this case, a small pouch bag for IEMs, and a soft cleaning cloth - all branded with a distinct Empire Ears logo.  Furthermore, a quick start guide was included with some useful info about wear and care as well as headphone safety listening levels.
     
    While the bags and the cloth had a golden logo, the case had an aluminum plate customized with an etched logo and my name below it.  Inside of the case you will find a precise foam cutout for each individual earpiece, another cutout for the cable (large enough for both stock and premium bonus cable), and a narrow cutout for the cleaning tool.  There was also foam lining inside of the case cover to make sure your IEMs/CIEMs don't bounce around while on the go.
     
    Some manufacturers pay very little attention to packaging and accessories while others go overboard with unnecessary fillers or generic cases.  Here I found just a perfect balance of everything that you need to store and to transport your precious IEM/CIEM investment in a customized durable case.
     
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    Cables.
     
    Typical of many premium IEMs/CIEMs, Zeus-R has a standard 2-pin socket and comes with a removable cable.  Here I was surprised to find not only a stock cable, but also a bonus premium brand name cable included as part of standard accessories.
     
    Though the stock cable comes with basic OFC wires, the build quality of the cable itself is very good.  You have a durable right angle 3.5mm gold plated plug in a plastic housing mold with a nice grip, decent strain relief, and a design which should work with any DAP or smartphone case.  All 4 conductive wires are separated, with grounds combined inside of the plug, and the cable is inner-twisted with each wire in a tight rubbery shielding.  Y-splitter is typical heat shrink tubing, and chin-slider is a clear vinyl tubing piece.  2pin connectors are standard with a plastic housing mold compatible with recessed sockets, red/blue dot indicators for corresponding Right/Left sides, and a short memory wire covered by a flexible vinyl clear tube (happy to see this earhook part to be short).  Overall cable is pliable and easy to manage and to store when you wrap it, and I also found no microphonics.
     
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    The bonus cable is actually brand name Silver Plated Cable (SPC) from BTG Audio, their Starlight SPC model which is sold separately for >$100.  It’s definitely a nice bonus which I didn’t expect and at first even thought it was part of my review sample, but later found out it comes standard with Zeus-R.
     
    This cable has a premium right angle headphone plug, 4-conductor design with a shielded SPC wires, a heat shrink y-splitter with BTG Audio logo on one side and EE wings logo on the other side, another piece of tube used as chin-slider, and twisted pairs of wires going to molded 2pin universal connectors with a built-in memory wire wrapped in a vinyl flexible tube.  BTG actually uses annealed stainless steel for their memory wire and 2pin connectors are custom rolled nickel alloy plated in gold.  These connectors have typical red/blue dot indicators for Right/Left sides and designed to be compatible with any 2pin socket, including recessed one.  Overall, this is a decent cable, though I do have to mention that 4-wire braid wasn’t the tightest (maybe intentionally?) and in comparison to a stock cable you hear more microphonics.  Coincidentally, BTG Audio now sells this cable with an option for a nylon sleeve over the braided part of the cable.  Also, I liked the plug and it worked well with all my DAPs, but wasn’t too friendly with a thicker case of my smartphone.
     
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    I’m actually happy that Empire Ears decided to include a bonus cable.  I like to talk about the effect of replacement cables in many of my IEM/CIEM reviews and to bring up if I hear any sound improvement (no hype, just sharing what and how I hear it).  For many people it’s not an easy decision if they should invest into another set of cables and if extra money spent will give them a noticeable sound improvement.  Here, you have nothing to lose since upgrade cable is already included, and there is a good reason why Empire Ears chose SPC cable. 
     
    I will talk in more details about sound analysis later, but in general stock cable gives you a very clear, detailed, spacious sound, but going to silver-plated cable is like flipping a high-res switch to give you more micro-details, better layering with improved sound separation, and more airiness at the top end with improved perception of soundstage width.  At the same time, using this cable and PAW Gold as my source, the level of hissing went up.  I suspect the higher quality wires have lower resistance which is noticeable with volume level going up a bit, and consequently less attenuation of background noise/hissing.  In the sound analysis I used BTG cable as my reference, and here is how it stacks up to other cables in my review collection.
     
    BTG to stock OFC – as mentioned above, less hissing; the overall sound remains on the same neutral revealing level with a slight mid-forward hint, but loses its micro-detail edge, becomes smoother and warmer, and loses some of the sparkle at the top end.  Stock OFC cable is definitely great to consider if hissing is bothering you, though at the expense of losing some of the higher resolution details.
     
    BTG to Whiplash TWcu - a little more hissing; I hear more sub-bass and a little more punch in mid-bass.  Mids have a little more body and the sound is a little smoother and with a bit less airiness.  Don’t get me wrong, the sound is still quite detailed, but lost a bit of its micro-detail sparkle.
     
    BTG to PlusSound Apollonian+ - a little more hissing; I hear a little more rumble in sub-bass, while mid-bass is the same.  Mids are nearly the same, maybe a touch smoother.  Treble lost just a bit of airiness, not as much as TWcu, but now it's somewhere between BTG and TWcu.  At the same time, the sound still retained its level of micro-details.
     
    BTG to Whiplash TWau - the same level of hissing; definitely hear more sub-bass with a nice textured rumble and a little more impact in mid-bass punch.  Mids are nearly the same, and so does the treble, where I still hear the hi-res micro-detailed level of sound, but just a touch smoother. Overall the sound is a little more balanced, especially with improvement in lower end quantity which adds a bit of organic warmth to the sound.
     
    If I would have to choose the replacement cable for Zeus-R, per my personal preference, I would go for TWau cable.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to permanently switch to use it with Zeus-R.  BTG SPC cable is great if you are ok with a more neutral bass and a little forward mids performance with extra sparkle in treble.  But if you want a more balanced sound with a deeper bass extension and improvement in low end impact – TWau was my favorite pair up with Zeus-R.
     
    ee_zeus-r-27.jpg
    PlusSound Apollonian+, TWau, TWcu, BTG Starlight.
     
    Design.
     
    Before I get into the actual design of this re-mastered Ruler of Olympian Gods, let me first talk about EE Designer web tool.  For those who are not ready to make Custom commitment or who have issues with in-ear impressions, you have a choice of Universal fit models where you can select ready-to-ship version (without customization) or made-to-order version (with full customization).  Ready-to-ship will be a great option for those who have no patience to wait for Customs and don’t care about customization.  This applies to all of their 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 14 driver Empire Ears models.  For Custom fit, you go straight into full customization and have to send in your in-ear impressions from audiologist.
     
    The online Designer is very easy to navigate and every selection has a clear image with a name of the color/finish which pops up as you mouse over it.  Once you click on the selection, it gets reflected on the screen to display the finished view of the IEM/CIEM design which is close to a real thing.  The selection of colors and finishes was quite impressive.  You get 25 color choices for the shell, and I’m sure you can ping Jack if you want something custom.  Then, for a faceplate you get 25 standard colors (in translucent and opaque finish), 18 premium exotic materials (at additional cost), and even a couple of limited edition special finishes (mine came with Amethyst Jade Burl faceplate and Translucent Emerald shell).  The faceplate can be personalized further with predefined EE logo/wings or a custom logo.  Plus, if you have something different in mind, EE team will be happy to look into your request.
     
    With my review unit being their TOTL 14xBA driver model, Zeus-R drivers have 6 highs, 6 mids, and 2 lows.  But the actual partitioning is done in 4 groups of highs, mids, mid-highs, and lows, with each group going to their individual precision ported sound bore in the nozzle.  What I found to be especially clever was EE application of patent-pending nano magnetic coating which not only protects drivers from moisture and other elements, but also shields each driver to eliminate the interference.  Though each driver operates in its specific range, thanks to an advanced 8-way crossover system which eliminates the need for filters and dampeners (in comparison, original Zeus-XIV utilizes 7-way crossover), this nano-magnetic coating also shields each driver’s magnetic field.
     
    To make sure entire electrical signal path is pure and has maximum conductivity, internally EE uses 7-strand SPC litz wires AND ultra-pure quad-eutectic silver solder.  Two pin sockets are recessed for security of the connection.  Every detail of the design is calculated to yield the maximum sonic performance of their 14-driver flagship.  One thing that puzzled me a bit was the size of the shell which I found to be on a larger size.  Of course, we are talking about 14 drivers, advanced crossover, and internal shielded wiring, but I still noticed some empty pockets of space while looking through the translucent shell.  Either way, the shell will be sticking out a bit from your ears, and I just assume this was the most optimal design Jack and Dean came up with.
     
    Overall, the build of the shells was done to perfection with a smooth glass-like finish, not even a single spot of blemish, and with seamless integration of faceplate where you can’t even feel the joint.  The special edition Jade Burl faceplate looked very luxurious, making Zeus-R stand out from my other iems/ciems.  The details of the design and the build quality definitely demonstrate a high level of craftsmanship by Empire Ears team, and you can find more of their masterpieces at http://www.empireears.com/gallery/.
     
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    The Fit.
     
    ee_zeus-r-29.jpg
     
    Sound Analysis.
     
    After putting Zeus-R through approximately 100hrs of burn in, to make sure all the components and the cable and the solder joints are properly conditioned, and while using Lotoo PAW Gold as my reference source along with included BTG Starlight SPC cable, here is how I hear these CIEMs.
     
    I find Zeus-R to have a neutral revealing signature, pushing it more toward the reference quality with a hint of mid-forward performance.  It has a rather revealing and natural tonality with a high level of detail retrieval, yet staying away from analytical harshness. I don’t recall coming across another pair of TOTL iems/ciems where you hear such an impressive level of clarity and details, and there is not even a single offending frequency across entire FR that stands in a way of extended listening pleasure.  But the most impressive part of listening to Zeus-R is the unison coherency of 14 drivers.  At this point I don't even care how many drivers any manufacturer is using.  It's just another set of building blocks to get to the final result, and all 14 drivers in Zeus-R do sound like one fine-tuned coherent speaker.
     
    Starting with a low end, you get a very nice sub-bass extension which goes deep, but stays close to neutral in quantity.  The same with mid-bass, very fast attack, not too long decay, and in general a snappy neutral punch.  The bass here is all about quality, very articulate, tight, layered, and with excellent control and zero spillage into the mids.  This picture changes quickly when you switch to TWau cable, but I'm focusing in my sound description by analyzing it with a stock BTG cable.  One thing to note, despite being neutral in quantity, it's not flat and boring, and has plenty of energy.
     
    Lower mids don't strike me as being too thick or too thin, instead they strike a perfect balance with enough weight to add to the body of the sound without an ounce of veil or muddiness. Upper mids is where the magic happens with clarity on micro-detail level, going into the territory of what I would consider almost analytical revealing quality, and yet having absolutely zero harshness or graininess.  Don't expect lush laid back organic vocals, but they do sound very natural and detailed, with plenty of body (never sounding thin), and with an upfront presentation.  Of course, also 100% sibilance free.
     
    Treble is bright and crisp, well defined, with plenty of clarity and crunch.  You can definitely hear a nice extension and plenty of airiness.  This well controlled airiness plays a very important role in taking the sound to the next level of high resolution with micro details.  I'm still puzzled how you can achieve this level of clarity without making sound harsh and grainy, but somehow EE sound engineers were able to get it right, to the point where I can sit for hours listening to any genre of music, analyzing every detail of the sound, and feeling zero ear fatigue.
     
    Soundstage expansion width is also unreal, not in "unrealistic" way, but rather how wide the sound is, surrounding you from far left to far right, and feeling like it wraps all around you.  Both the expanded width and the dynamic height of soundstage are stretched to the limit, while the depth takes only a few steps forward, giving you a closer to the stage presentation, maybe a few rows back but not too deep.  Of course, soundstage perception will depend on many factors including the variation of nozzle length which affects the distance between eardrum and actual drivers.
     
    The layering and separation of instruments and vocals was very good, with every instrument easy to distinguish, and separated by layers of air to prevent any congestion.  The sound was very dynamic and transparent.  And along with that, you also have an impressive imaging with a convincing placement of instruments and vocals, though it was more spread left to right, limited by a slightly reduced depth of the soundstage (subjective to how I hear it with short trimmed nozzles to accommodate my earcanal anatomy).  But still, I never felt like the sound was congested and actually found the placement of vocals to be a little upfront which created this slight mid-forward illusion.
     
    ee_zeus-r-00.jpg
     
    Comparison.
     
    The clarity and high resolution of Z-R makes majority of my earphones sound a bit veiled and darker in comparison.  It doesn't mean other TOTL iems/ciems are actually veiled, just a relative comparison with a noticeable contrast.  Basically, the level of detail retrieval, resolution, and transparency of Z-R is higher than my other TOTL iems/ciems, all of which sound relatively smoother and warmer.  Also, please keep in mind that I was using LPG as my source, and there was more noticeable hissing.
     
    Z-R vs Andromeda - Andro has a touch less hissing, Z-R staging has more width while Andro has more depth, height is nearly the same.  Andro has deeper sub-bass and stronger mid-bass impact, thicker lower mids, upper mids/vocals pulled a little back in comparison to a more forward Z-R, and retrieval of detail is less in Andro (vocals are smoother and more organic).  Z-R also has a little more sparkle in the treble and an edge in airiness, but Andro is not too far behind.  Overall, Andro has more bass and smoother/warmer sound in comparison to more detailed/airy/expanded sound of Z-R. (using 8-conductor SPC cable w/Andro).
     
    Z-R vs Pristine-R - PR has a little less hissing, Z-R staging is a lot wider, while PR is a lot deeper, and height is similar.  PR has a little deeper sub-bass extension and a tad more mid-bass impact in comparison to Z-R being more neutral, but cable (pure copper in PR) needs to be taken into consideration too since with SPC cable PR bass sounds more neutral.  Also, PR bass is a little slower and not as tight in comparison to Z-R.  I found a similarity in low end performance where Z-R with TWau is on par with PR w/CX1 pure copper stock cable.  PR lower mids are thicker and upper mids are not as forward and less detailed, warmer, smoother, while Z-R is a lot more detailed, transparent, and revealing in comparison.  Z-R also has more sparkle in treble, and more airiness which makes overall sound more layered and higher res in comparison to a smoother and warmer PR (in a relative comparison to Z-R). (using CX1 pure copper cable w/PR).
     
    Z-R vs ES60 - the same amount of hissing; Z-R has more width while ES60 has more depth, the height is similar.  ES60 low end is deeper, warmer, has more impact, not as fast, and not as tight as Z-R which has a more typical BA driver performance.  ES60 lower mids have more body, a little thicker, and upper mids are more neutral and less revealing in comparison, vocals sounds more organic and smoother in ES60.  Also, Z-R has more sparkle and better airiness in comparison.  This is another example of where Z-R is more revealing, more detailed, while ES60 is smoother and warmer in comparison. (using super bax cable w/ES60).
     
    Z-R vs H8.2 - H82 dead silent in comparison to Z-R; Z-R has more width while H8.2 has more depth.  H82 has deeper sub-bass and more mid-bass impact, while Z-R bass is more neutral in comparison, but also tighter, faster, and better layered. H82 lower mids are thicker with more body and upper mids are smoother, warmer, more organic, while Z-R is more revealing, micro-detailed, brighter, and more layered.  Also, Z-R has more sparkle in treble and more noticeable airiness due to a better treble extension.  Just like with other IEMs/CIEMs next to Z-R, everything is warmer and smoother in comparison. (using stock ofc cable with H8.2)
     
    Z-R vs U12 - U12 is dead silent; Z-R has more width while U12 has more depth in comparison. U12 sub-bass is deeper and mid-bass has more slam, but Z-R bass is a lot more tighter, more articulate, and has better layering; in general Z-R bass has a faster BA performance while U12 bass is slower and more analog (dynamic driver like).  U12 lower mids are a lot thicker in comparison and upper mids are a lot more smoother and organic, while Z-R is more detailed, more revealing, with better transparency and layering, and less congested (in relative comparison). Z-R treble also has more sparkle and more airiness.  (using U12 w/B1, no impedance adapter, and Apollonian+ cable).
     
    Z-R vs K10UA - K10UA has less hissing; Z-R has more width while K10UA has more depth in comparison.  K10UA has deeper sub-bass and a similar mid-bass punch, both have a bass with similar characteristics, but K10UA has more sub-bass rumble.  K10UA lower mids sound similar, maybe with K10UA being a little thicker in comparison.  Uppers mids in K10UA are a little more forward and a little less resolving.  Keep in mind, this is a relative comparison and K10UA has quite a detailed sound, but Z-R just has a more effortless delivery of the mids.  Treble is very similar with plenty of air.  I gotta say, there are a number of similarities between these pairs, but technically Z-R has a little better separation and layering of the sound, and has upper frequencies that sound less grainy and more natural at higher volume. (using stock SPC cable with K10UA).
     
    ee_zeus-r-26.jpg
     
    Pair up.
     
    Pair up test was done with different sources, mostly to check for hissing, dynamics of the sound, and retrieval of details.  Zeus-R impedance is 21 ohms – typical for an easy to drive multi-BA monitors, while sensitivity is high at 119dB.  Hissing will depend on the source and its amp stage design, but also keep in mind that generic OFC stock cable which has wires with higher resistance will attenuate some of the hissing noise, and you can quiet it down further by using impedance adapters.
     
    LPG - noticeable hissing; expanded soundstage; neutral, articulate, layered bass; very detailed transparent mids; crisp airy extended treble.
     
    Opus#1 - noticeable hissing; expanded soundstage; a little deeper sub-bass extension and a bit more mid-bass slam, but the bass is still very articulate and layered; very detailed and a little smoother mids; crisp airy extended treble.
     
    Micro iDSD - no hissing (in ECO mode w/high sensitivity setting, otherwise there is hissing), wide expanded soundstage; tight punchy articulate bass, but with deeper sub-bass and more rumble; more body in mids, mids are still detailed and very revealing, but a little smoother, vocals are very organic and detailed; treble is crisp and extended, though I hear a little less airiness where the treble is well defined but just a little smoother.
     
    L5 Pro - mild hissing; expanded soundstage; deeper sub-bass with more mid-bass punch, still articulate and layered bass; a little more body in lower mids and smoother upper mids, still very detailed and transparent; crisp airy extended treble.  Overall sound is a little warmer, smoother.
     
    L3/Pro - dead silent; expanded soundstage; deeper sub-bass extension and a little more mid-bass punch, while overall bass is a little slower and more analog (performance more typical of dynamic driver rather than fast/tight BA); mids have more body and smoother, but still very detailed and transparent; treble is crisp airy, but with a little less airiness.  The sound is more musical and smoother.
     
    X7 w/AM2 - noticeable hissing; expanded soundstage; a little more mid-bass punch, but bass is still very articulate, tight, and layered; very detailed transparent mids; crisp extended treble.
     
    X5ii - mild hissing; expanded soundstage, still above the average in width, but not as wide; a little more mid-bass punch, while bass is still articulate and layered, but a little slower and more analog (closer to dynamic driver performance rather than BA); mids have a little more body, warmer and smoother, and still detailed; treble is crisp and airy but has a little less sparkle.
     
    DX80 - noticeable hissing; soundstage is above average, but did shrunk a bit, not as super wide; the sound is warmer, smoother, more musical and less micro-detailed, still excellent retrieval of details but not on a micro-detailed level.  Vocals sound more organic, and treble is crisp and airy, but a little less extended.
     
    Note 4 - no hissing; wide expanded soundstage; deeper sub-bass extension and stronger mid-bass punch, bass is a little looser and not as fast, but still well defined; mids have more body and warmer and smoother as well, still very detailed but not on a micro-detail level, organic delivery of vocals; treble is crisp and well defined but doesn't have as much sparkle and definitely less airiness.  Actually, surprisingly good pair up for a smartphone, but the headphone connector (BTG cable) wasn't as friendly with my phone’s case, keep popping out.
     
    Note 4 + HA-2 - noticeable hissing (even on low gain); soundstage expansion above average but not as wide; bass is deep and with a strong impact, mids have thicker body, warmer, smoother, not as layered or transparent, and treble lost some of the sparkle.  I actually preferred a direct pair up with Note 4 over HA-2.
     
    ee_zeus-r-28.jpg
     
    Conclusion.
     
    I hate using the phrase “this is the best I ever heard” because I haven’t heard everything out there yet and also because this phrase caries a lot of subjective weight.  But if I would be making a decision to pick a single IEM/CIEM out of everything I have tested and reviewed so far, regardless of the price or the driver count, Zeus-R would make the top of the list.  I honestly didn’t realize how much I'm going to enjoy such level of high resolution, layering and separation, and retrieval of details all wrapped in a super wide soundstage expansion.  The key in here for me is that I can’t single out even one offensive frequency which pushes the sound toward harshness or graininess.  The sound is very resolving and micro-detailed, and yet has a rather natural tonality.  Would I call Zeus-R a pure perfection?  It depends on how you look at it since you still have to deal with hissing (source dependent), and I preferred to take it further with a cable upgrade to bring up the low end quantity.  You never know how 14 drivers can turn into 16 or 18 if you add more low frequency BAs.  Whatever Empire Ears decides to do moving forward, either adding more drivers or introducing another tech to existing design, I will be watching them very closely and waiting for the next TOTL release.  But in a meantime, I’m putting this record on repeat because I can’t get enough of it!
    AllenWalker, ranfan, fnkcow and 21 others like this.
  9. Sound Eq
    5.0/5,
    "Empire Ears Zeus R- universal "
    Pros - amazing mids, highs and controlled bass. Great sound stage. Best sound signature I heard coming from any iem
    Cons - none, how on earth can anything get better than Zeus R
    Empire Ears Zeus R -Universal review
     
    Let me start off by saying that this is my first review of a product. I had bought my share of totl iems ( Shure 846, 64audio U12, Sennheiser ie800, Tralucent Ref1 ) and others that you can see in my profile. Had the Zeus R not be a breakthrough iem I would not even care to write up anything.
     
    Background:
     
    I am not the typical guy that runs over specs or gets too excited about numbers, what excites me is the sound signature of the iem and how it matches what I love to hear and enjoy. I do not care how many drivers an iem has, or whatever the tech is being used, my ultimate interest is how does it sound.
    So as many of us who start our head-fi journey, we buy things and sell things and most of us like to read that a middle priced iem can match a totl iem in performance, so we rush in and buy that iem. Then after getting it, the inner voice starts talking " maybe I should have gotten the best out there instead as I feel there is still something missing '. Now that becomes a vicious cycle we keep going through and it keeps going and going. Ultimately you end buying so many mid tier iems and sell them for a loss. Then one day you say that is it, I am done and want to shoot out to the best there is. This is what happened to me and this is how I reached the Zeus R.
     
    So I contacted Jack from EE after reading so many glowing reviews on head-fi and told him that I am ready to buy the best there is, and I started designing how I would like it to look. 
    Was I worried, of course yes, because simply I never listened to the Zeus R so I had to buy based on reviews. And in the past I was bitten not only once but many times by glowing reviews that ended up not to my expectations at all. So paying the price for the Zeus R and not knowing exactly how it sounds kept me on my toes until it arrived.
     
    So the arrival date came, I opened the box I looked at this amazing looking iem. It looks fabulous to me.
     
    Ahead of its arrival, I planned to have my sources ready that I will use with the Zeus R. I always start off with the Chord Mojo, followed by Fiio x7 and then the Cowon plenue D.
     
    Listening time:
     
    What I personally care about in an iem is that is it has top quality bass, mids and highs and a wide soundstage with no sacrifice in whatever region at all. I like the mids to be full blown and I do not like thin sounding iems at all.
     
    Bass: The bass is controlled and tight and can punch deep with a good thump and you can simply enjoy the bass in bass heavy songs like no other iem I have heard. You can also eq the bass and it can satisfy audiophile bassheads no doubt, and here I am saying audiophile bassheads as to me I do not like those crazy sounding basshead iems that just destroy and drown mids and highs to give that insane bass. The bass in the Zeus R is top notch and does not affect mids at all. Honestly I always wondered when will we have an iem that can give the best bass that is not bloated and out of control with keeping mids intact to be enjoyed to the fullest, the answer was the Zeus R. Sometimes I listen to some bassheavy tracks and I am absolutely amazed by what i am hearing, I keep on repeating the same track over and over to enjoy that detailed tight controlled bass.
     
    Mids: Are simply the best I ever heard with no iem even coming close to the beautiful presentation that the Zeus R offers. I was so surprised by the mids of the Zeus R in all genres of music whether its pop, rock, synthpop, etc. Simply amazing mids. Ahhh my grip in the past with iems and with in one I owned and loved in the past which was the Ref1 were the mids, the Ref1 was great, but its mids were not there to me. Simply I sold the Ref1 and when I first heard the mids of the Zeus R while listening to a vocal focused track, I simply just smiled and it was the smile of finally finding the missing link in all my iems. The mids are so important to me, especially when I like bands I like them for their vocalist first, so this means to me that I must have the best mids experience before anything else. So here is just another positive that got nailed by Zeus R to perfection. Amaaaaaazing mids like no other.
     
    Highs: The level of detail in the highs is one of its kind, I thought in the past that the ie800 has the best highs due to its sweet highs, but now that place is overtaken by the Zeus R. The highs are beyond description and you can hear notes in songs you really could not hear from any iem I tired at least. What a joy to hear those details and it feels like rediscovering passages in songs that I did not know before
     
    Sound Stage: Its sound stage is wide and you can easily identify the separation of instruments and placements in songs. The stage is well implemented that I feel I am exactly standing at the right spot while the band is playing live in front of me.
     
    Conclusion:
     
    The Zeus R is the King of all iems, it does everything to perfection. It's so easy to drive and works amazingly with all sources I have ( Chord Mojo, Fiio X7 and cowon plenue D ). I enjoy it most with the chord mojo though.
     
    The sound quality signature that the Zeus R offers is the one that leaves me not desiring any changes to the sound signature and it simply met all my sound quality signature preferences without a single doubt. It's been a long journey for me from buying and selling iems until I finally got the Zeus R which will stay with me for a very very long time. The Zeus R is a multi verse iem that can suit people that seek the reference sound signature with amazing bass, mids and highs and at the same time you can tweak it to be adored by audiophile bassheads like me using eq
     
    Superb iem by Empire Ears, thanks.
     
     


     

  10. MikePortnoy
    4.5/5,
    "Empire Ears Zeus Custom In Ear Monitor Review: Master of Olympus "
    Pros - Resolution, Imaging, Separation, Craftsmanship
    Cons - A little big shell, Sub-bass tone could be a bit more emotional
    Introduction:
     
    Empire Ears was known as Earwerkz in audiophile world. They have changed their name and released new product line a while ago. Their flagship is now a 14-driver unit, Zeus; and Apollo that I reviewed a while ago is their second most expensive custom in ear monitor in the product line. Apart from these Olympus series two custom monitors, they also offer lifestyle line, which has hard-wired cable and lower profile fit. In addition, they produce Delta series hearing protection monitors. In sum, Empire Ears has a very rich product line.  
     
    I am always impressed by Earwerkz customer service and they seem to carry this tradition in hands of Jack Vang, Empire Ears Co-Manager. Jack always takes care of my problems about monitors and he is very responsive. My Zeus was safely delivered via FedEx. The delivery process was just opposite of my Apollo’s story; my Apollo had a world tour due to USPS fault.  
     
    zeus1.jpg
     
    Design, Fit and Accessories:
     
    Zeus utilizes 14 balanced armature drivers per side. There are also 4 acoustic bores as well as a complex passive crossover network. There is no technical information given by Empire Ears, but Zeus is easy to drive.
     
    The craftsmanship is simply awesome. There is no sign of error with the craftsmanship. A beautiful abalone faceplate is nicely cut and perfectly put on the body in sapphire blue. However, the fit is a bit different than my other Empire and Earwerkz monitors to due Zeus’ larger shell. I think there is a problem with upper concha part of the monitor and this can be a little disturbing at the beginning of listening. I should say that Empire Ears usually do a great job regarding fit; this little change is specific to my Zeus, since they used my old earmolds that are already in their file.     
     
    zeus3.jpg
     
    zeus4.jpg
     
    Zeus has detachable two pin cable; as far as I can see on Empire Ears website, it is shipped with BTG Starlight Cable for a limited time. Starlight has very good memory wire section for an aftermarket cable, but its built quality is not very soft.  As accessories, there is an impressive Aegis Case, on which my name is printed, a dust bag, an IEM pouch, cleaning tool and cleaning cloth. Honestly, I feel myself special by looking at this impressive Aegis Case.  
     
    Sound:
     
    Empire Ears Zeus custom version sounds with a combination of musicality and technicality. The most impressive parts of the Empire Ears’ flagship are imaging, resolution and separation. Considering its price tag, it should be on the top of list. Lotoo Paw Gold and BTG silver cable (current stock one for Zeus) were used during critical listening.
     
    Low Frequency:
     
    The lows of Zeus are not very dominant, but prominent enough to give a good body. Sub-bass has good power and a nice rumble. Texture and speed is very good; Zeus can handle the most difficult metal tracks. However, I cannot say that the tone of sub-bass is the most impressive one among my other customs, but still very satisfying. In fact, Zeus seems to sound a little technical in sub-bass region.
     
    Mid-bass doesn’t sound too forward and prominent. The tone is neither too warm nor too cold, but still have a technical approach. In fact, this is sort of a good ability; Zeus provides a neutral air between instruments and there is no problem in terms of tightening the stage. However, we might want a little more mid-bass body to get a better note recreation in lower regions of the midrange.
     
    Mid Frequency:
     
    The most forward frequency of Zeus is the midrange. The overall tone is in the natural class and the transparency level is very impressive. Zeus doesn’t sound entirely bright or very aggressive, but average note thickness is on the thin side by a very small margin. Actually, describing Zeus as a thin sounding unit is not correct; instruments just have a little small size in a large space. The amount of detail is very high and the resolution is the most successful one along with Spiral Ear SE5-way.
     
    Upper midrange is also very detailed with a slight coloration that results in little brightness. This area is not completely smooth, but still forgiving. Vocals have good dimensions and resolution, but Zeus can slightly tend to sibilance depending on record quality.  
     
    High Frequency:
     
    The treble notes are not very forward, but there is a substantial quantity of high frequency for a mid-centric monitor. Still, Zeus sounds natural and smooth in high frequency region with nice extension ability. However, it doesn’t have a complete true tone here; there is a brightness added to tuning in order to make Zeus more impressive. While listening fast metal tracks, the notes don’t get sticky and it can carry a remarkable amount of resolution. The transparency is also good with a high amount of detail.  
     
    zeus2.jpg
     
    Soundstage and Separation:
     
    Zeus does have a large stage, but it isn’t a super big or virtual stage type like Tralucent 1p2 or Ref1. In fact, having overly large stage makes focusing more difficult as well as having less coherent instruments. In this regard, Zeus performs within the limits, but it has an impressive depth to crate a very good layering. The background is not very black, but it has very strong cleanliness and background’s nuances are clear.
     
    The coherence is not the best among my others, but the imaging is very impressive. Even if there is no crossfade effect, the 3D positioning of the instruments is quite exciting. In addition, the instrument separation is definitely of the best among my customs. Zeus uses a bit small sizes while recreating notes. This provides longer and cleaner distances as well as more separated presentation and airier headroom, but at the cost of reducing in nuances of lower harmonics.  
     
    Source Matching:
     
    I experienced that Zeus’ sound may slightly change depending on the sources. The difference is not very significant, but the low frequency may get a bit fuller. In the simplest term, when we switch from Lotoo Paw Gold to an iPhone, Zeus hits with a little bolder notes. Also, Zeus is unfortunately a very hiss sensitive monitor. You may want to be sure that the source you are matching has an impressive dead silent background otherwise the mighty Zeus picks up the hiss. When the music plays though, there should be no audible hiss.     
     
    Selected Comparisons:
     
    Empire Ears Zeus vs Spiral Ear SE5-way Reference (2.099 USD vs 1650 USD)
     
    Both monitors have mid-centric approach. SE5 is a little darker, while Zeus has open tone. Overall, SE5 seems more organic and Zeus sounds more technical. They both are very impressive in terms of resolution.
     
    Low Frequency:
     
    In sub-bass region, SE5 is a little more powerful and emotional. Detail and texture levels are similar, but SE5’s decay is a bit longer and more natural in comparison. Both SE5 and Zeus can handle fast metal tracks very well in bass presentation.
     
    SE5 has a little more prominent mid-bass presentation, while Zeus sounds less warm in this region. Pursuant this tone difference in mid-bass, Zeus creates more neutral approach. In addition, resolution level of mid-bass is similar.
     
    zeusvsse5.jpg
     
    Mid Frequency:
     
    Both have an impressive and forward midrange with very similar resolution level. However, SE5 is a little better in terms of average note thickness and uses larger sizes while creating instruments. In this regard, SE5 is a bit more capable to release lower harmonics and sounds bolder in comparison. On the other hand, Zeus articulates details more and is more transparent, but both are non-fatiguing.
     
    Overall tone is natural on both monitors, but SE5 is less aggressive in terms of note structure. SE5 is less stressed in releasing notes, puts some organic signs and grains on them, while Zeus sounds cleaner with a bit open tone. In upper midrange, SE5 is smoother, while Zeus has more detail. In addition, SE5 spreads more emotion and naturalness on vocals, but Zeus’ vocals are cleaner and more resolved. However, Zeus can tend to sibilance more depending on record quality.
     
    High Frequency:
     
    Zeus has more prominent and slightly brighter treble presentation. SE5 is less detailed, but more forgiving with a truer tone. In addition, Zeus is more sensitive to bad recordings, but both have a good speed. Resolution and extension levels are very similar; SE5 has a bit more natural attack/decay ability.
     
    Soundstage and Separation:
     
    Both have impressive stage depths, but Zeus is slightly wider as well as having longer distances between instruments. SE5 has warmer and darker spaces, while Zeus has more neutral ones. In terms of background, both are very clean, but SE5 is a little blacker in comparison.
     
    Zeus has a little better imaging and instruments separation; it uses a bit smaller instrument size in a larger space and this creates more distant and separated instruments. However, SE5 is more coherent and focusing is easier at the cost of having a little congestion in instrument placement.
     
    Empire Ears Zeus vs Lear LCM BD-4.2 (2.099 USD vs 1300 USD)
     
    As we all know, Zeus is BA-only powered unit, while Lear 4.2 utilizes 4 BA and 2 dynamic drivers. The presentation styles are also different; Zeus has mid-centric signature and Lear is a little U-shape.
     
    The comparison is done with Lear’s bass knob set at the half way.
     
    Low Frequency:
     
    The sub-bass of Zeus is slightly more prominent, while Lear carries more air in accordance with dynamic driver advantage. Texture and resolution level is similar, but Lear sounds a bit more emotional and natural. During fast metal tracks, Zeus betters Lear in terms of speed.
     
    Neither of them have a dominant mid-bass presentation. Overall tones are in natural class with a bit warmth, but Lear’s mid-bass is more emotional by a very small margin. Both Lear and Zeus are able to provide neutral air between instruments.
     
    Mid-Frequency:
     
    As it is in the description in the first part of the comparison, Lear has an U-shape signature that results in laid-back mids, while Zeus locates midrange closer to listener. Detail level is similar, but Zeus is more controlled, resolved and natural; it also betters Lear in terms of recreating both thin and thick notes well. Lear sounds a bit thin and has ‘’bright and mechanical’’ transparency when compared to Zeus. In addition, Zeus has more three dimensional vocals as well as slightly better resolution. Both tend to sibilance, but Zeus is smoother in upper-midrange area.
     
    zeusvslear.jpg
     
    High Frequency:
     
    Both have a slight brightness in treble region with a similar prominence, but Zeus is more natural and refined. Extension and detail level is high on both, but Zeus sounds more resolved pursuant treble speed advantage in fast metal tracks. However, both are sensitive to bad recordings. We need to take that Lear gets smoother when the bass quantity increases into consideration. However, Zeus still sounds more natural.  
     
    Soundstage and Separation:
     
    Lear has wider stage with more spacious and slightly laid-back structure in comparison. On the hand, Zeus is also airy and its depth is definitely more distinctive, especially in crowded tracks. In addition, Zeus has blacker, more stable and clearer background, while Lear has some stability problems in fast tracks in accordance with its general character. Both use impressive stage spaces and neutral air between instruments, but Zeus betters Lear when it comes to separation, coherence and imaging.
     
    Final Words:
     
    Empire Ears Zeus is a very strong monitor that brings musical technicality to our ears. My personal opinion is that it can be ranked very high among my custom in ear monitors. The craftsmanship is very nice and the overall comfort is good. However, we need to take its only mechanical problem ‘’the hiss’’ into consideration. The MSRP of custom Zeus is 2.099 USD with the exception of customization options.
     
    Please click to see Zeus' scores in the Progressive Custom Monitor List
     
    To order Zeus and seek more info, please check the link below: 
     
    http://empireears.com