64 Audio – A18t (18BA; 2,999$)
The A18t is 64 Audio’s co-flagship in their custom range. Earlier this year they have introduced a second flavor of it, called the A18s. Which is more aiming at the professional users. The A18t is what 64 Audio has created for us regular folks. The A18t has been out for a couple of years now too, and I still enjoy mine on a regular basis.
In comparison, the A18t comes off as more studio neutral. The Odin has a fuller, denser and more authoritative low end. It also has better texture and layering in its bass. The A18t however sounds faster and tighter. You can however definitely hear the differences in driver technologies. The Odin has a more organic sound with more air in it.
The A18t has more transparent mids, with higher resolution and better instrumental separation. It often is described as a monitor of surgical precision. And that is absolutely right. The A18t makes a clear cut between every musician. On top of that, it also has a blacker background than Odin. Odin however has a fuller and smoother sound in its mids. This is an area the A18t has been lacking to me.
Treble is less bright and softer on the Odin. If you’re sensitive to highs, then the A18t might probably sting your ears more than Odin. The EE flagship has a calmer and less edgy tone than the 18t. In perspective of technicalities it’s the A18t that goes out as the winner to me. It stretches a slightly wider stage, but comes out second in depth perception. It creates a slightly darker background and due to its better separation places instruments with better precision.
JH Audio – Layla (12BA; 2,750$)
Layla is a monitor that I had to learn to love. It didn’t wow me right from the start, but as time passed it grew on me. Now Layla is one of my top picks for personal listening. Although I think it’s heavily held back by its stock cable, the following comparison is done with it. This is what customers get by default and it wouldn’t be fair to compare it in any other way.
Layla’s lows are probably one of the very few BA lows that come close to sounding like a dynamic driver. Albeit that, it can’t hold a candle against the Odin’s. Odin has more power, more punch and more grunt in its bass. The texture again is incomparable and a clear step ahead of Layla’s. Layla’s big benefit however is, that you can alter the amplitude of the bass drivers via the bass-pod. Mine usually sits at around 1 to 2 o’clock. Odin reaches deeper and puts sub-bass more into focus than Layla. Which gives mid-bass more prominence.
The Odin’s mids sound more open, a bit more transparent and clearer. Layla’s however sound richer, fuller and more organic. Overall I’d say that Layla keeps a more natural tonality in her midrange. Odin’s midrange is a bit more recessed and neutral in coloration, while Layla paints it warmer.
Treble is a section where these two clearly differ. Odin has wider extension and puts more volume into its highs, while Layla has a sharper tone in her lower treble region. Odin sounds calmer, yet more detailed and clearer. Layla suffers from sounding partially muted and drowned at times. This can be solved by using a different cable with Layla though. The Moon Audio stock cable really doesn’t do it justice.
Technicalities pretty much all go to Odin in my opinion. It creates a larger stage, separates instruments sharper and has higher resolution. One area where the Layla leaves Odin behind is imaging though. It places the instruments more precisely in the room it creates. Odin however stays better in control of complex situations. Where Layla loses focus, it’s Odin who keeps going.
The Odin might be the perfect candidate for those who thought the Legend X was too overpowering, or for those who liked Wraith’s midrange clarity, but didn’t cope with its light bass. The Odin creates the best of both worlds, but keeps things more civilized in the bass. Empire created a monitor that definitely will speak to many people. To me, it’s my favorite product of their lineup so far. The elephant in the room clearly is the price. 3,399 USD is not cheap. Not even close. But it gets you absolute top level performance, all put together in proprietary hardware that was made from scratch.
The Legend X has always been touted as the bass-heads’ dream IEM. Built around a similar driver configuration, the Odin is so much more. Yes, the bass is spectacular, but it is not as forward and attention seeking as with the Legend X. Odin is more versatile than the LX, it is better suited for a wider range of different genres.
The Odin to me offers something unique. Something that makes me crave for more time with it. Its full, dense and powerful bass, coupled with an open and smooth midrange and a detailed and clear, yet inoffensive treble makes it jump right at the top of the shortlist for best universal IEM this year.