Empire Ears – Legend X (2DD/5BA; 2,299$)
The Legend X is a completely different beast in my opinion. With the dual dynamic drivers it features a more physical bass, that reaches deeper with more authority. Bass is put more forward than on the Wraith. Wraith’s bass is calmer and more in line with the rest of the frequencies.
Legend X has a denser and thicker midrange, that sounds warmer overall. Wraith has higher levels of transparency and resolution. It also has more air around the musicians and sounds more emotional and faster to me. Wraith is a touch richer than Legend X in the mids, but the Legend wins on richness in treble. Wraith does extend wider into treble, but Legend goes deeper into sub-bass.
When we’re looking at levels of engagement it’s Legend X that wins to me, it features a more fist-bumping signature, while the Wraith clearly wins on technical performance. It has higher resolution, a darker background and throws a wider and deeper stage to me. Wraith stays more in control of the scene and tickles out finer nuances of the sound and displays them cleaner.
Empire Ears – Phantom (5BA; 1,799$)
The Phantom again is very different to the Wraith. It’s much warmer and denser, it places lower mids more forward and gives them considerably more weight. Bass and lower mids sound more visceral, meaty and vibrant on the Phantom, this comes especially into play with deep male vocals.
Wraith does not possess the full and heavy notes of Phantom, but it sounds more airy and faster again. It has higher transparency and resolution. Wraith sounds a lot cleaner and has the darker background. Every note is played with impressive precision and accuracy. Wraith creates a noticeably bigger venue and while both have superb imaging, the nod goes to Wraith for me. It also keeps things better organized and knows how to resolve a big number of instruments better.
Phantom to me always had a problem with higher pitched instruments and female vocals, as they could sound a bit nasal and the timbral accuracy was off. Wraith does not have that, it puts enough air in the vocals and around the instruments so they sound well defined and precise. Phantom also has a tendency to sound veiled in its highs, this is something the Wraith doesn’t show at all.
64 Audio – A18t (18BA; 2,999$)
With the M20 module installed, the A18t has a rounder shaped bass, that has more body and weight in them. Both reach similarly deep, but the A18t does put more presence into the sub-bass. Wraith has a tighter sounding low end, while the A18t sounds a tad softer.
Both monitors have impressive resolution and transparency in their midrange. I can’t pick one out of the two for transparency, but resolution in my opinion goes to Wraith. Where the Wraith again wins to my ears is blackness of background and how clean the notes sound. Wraith does put each sound more into spot-light than the 64 Audio flagship.
Sound stage wise the Wraith does go wider and a notch deeper than the A18t. Both have superb left/right separation and imaging. Wraith does feature a slightly richer sound in mids and treble. The A18t puts more body in its instruments. It’s the treble where Wraith and A18t differ the most in my opinion. The tia treble of the 64 Audio monitor is brighter, faster but also harder edged. Wraith’s is cleaner, softer and richer to me.
When replacing the M20 with the M15 module, these two monitors sound more alike in my opinion. Both have a lighter bass with a more neutral signature and lean towards a brighter overall sound. But even with the M15 installed, Wraith sounds cleaner to me.
JH Audio – Layla (12BA; 2,750$)
Jerry Harvey’s Layla has been sitting at the top of his line-up for a long time now. I don’t know of many companies that hold on to their models as long as JH Audio does. We’ve seen more new JH models in cooperation with Astell&Kern than under their own name.
Layla features a fuller signature throughout. It puts more body in the instruments and vocals, but also doesn’t fall short on emotions. Wraith edges Layla out on sheer resolution and transparency. It sounds much cleaner and faster. Wraith places every note with higher care and has better layering. Wraith extends further into highs and also has a more agile top segment. Layla often sounds a bit muted in there, especially with the stock cable that doesn’t do it justice.
Wraith creates a deeper and wider sound stage, images better and has superior layering as well. The EE overall sounds a lot cleaner to me and has a much darker background. The resolution of Wraith is unmatched by Layla as well. Wraith has more air in its spectrum, brings out even the finest of beeps and has better control over the entire scene.
AAW – Canary (2DD/4BA/2e-stat; 2,499$)
The Canary is the only other monitor in my collection that uses electrostatic tweeters. Wraith and Canary do sound fairly different though. Canary is smoother and warmer, it has a fuller sounding bass that is more dynamic and forward. Wraith has a more transparent midrange and has higher resolution throughout. It’s cleaner and more precise, has better imaging and layering.
Wraith has more treble energy, especially in the upper treble segment Canary seems to be a bit muted in comparison. Wraith’s highs are richer, faster and crisper. Wraith creates a wider and deeper sound stage, separates instruments better and has more air overall in the sound. Canary seems a bit fuzzy around the instruments and doesn’t feature the control in complex situations the Wraith has.
Canary sounds more laid back and relaxed in comparison to the fast Wraith. It is not as critical of recordings or pairings as the EE either, but it just does not have the technical power the Wraith has.
64 Audio – Fourté Noir (1DD/3BA; 3,799$)
The limited edition Fourté does sport more weight and authority in the lows due to the dynamic driver. Noir is an overall warmer sounding and fuller monitor in comparison, but does not achieve the technical finesse of the Wraith. The EE flagship renders a higher resolution picture, separates instruments sharper and cleaner and creates a bigger sound stage than the Fourté Noir.
Wraith is richer in the upper mid and treble section, but seems focused on that when compared to the slightly warmer than neutral Fourté Noir. Where I see the Wraith also performing on better levels is blackness of the background. With Wraith the musicians stand out better portrayed on a deep dark background, whereas there is some fuzzy air around them with Fourté Noir.
Another aspect where the Wraith comes out on top would be handling of complex constructions. Wraith knows how to organize big orchestras with higher precision. Not that Noir would be a slouch at that, but in direct comparison between the two, I would give Wraith my vote.
I’ve been talking to EE about their Wraith for a long time now, I think first I’ve heard about the project was shortly after my Legend X review. Since then they have kept refining their new flagship. The release was pushed back numerous times, but now they are confident enough with the tuning.
Wraith is supposed to be the evolution of Zeus, a monitor that has been known for its mid-forward sound with a lighter approach, but immense details and emotions. Empire has spent a lot of time in making a monitor that’s able to deliver the same kind of signature, but refine it with a portion of extra bass, a more spacious sound stage and give it the ultimate control over the scene. What struck me during first listen, with its ability to keep everything and everyone so organized. Wraith is like the conductor in big orchestras, the one telling the musicians how and when to do what.
I’m a CIEM person, but the Wraith is an Universal IEM that I would pick before my customs. Still, I hope to see the news soon that Wraith does come in custom form.