Review: Empire Ears Wraith – Augustus

Empire Ears Wraith
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.

Empire Ears Wraith

Empire Ears Wraith

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.

Empire Ears Wraith

Empire Ears Wraith

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.

Empire Ears Wraith

Empire Ears Wraith

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.

Empire Ears Wraith

Empire Ears Wraith

Conclusion:

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.

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A daytime code monkey with a passion for audio and his kids, Linus tends to look at gear with a technical approach, trying to understand why certain things sound the way they do. When there is no music around, Linus goes the extra mile and annoys the hell out of his colleagues with low level beatboxing.

    10 Comments

    • Reply July 31, 2019

      proedros

      Great impressions , thanx for the review

      Having Zeus XR , how much of an improvement does Wraith is , sonic-wise ?

      5% ? 10% ? 20% ?

      Best ,

      Proedros

      • Reply August 1, 2019

        Linus

        Hi Proedros,
        many thanks for your comment.

        That’s a tough question, rather than giving you a percentage of improvement, I’d like to just tell you that for me it was a noticeable improvement in many ways. I know you really like your Zeus XR, and coming from a Zeus XIV myself, I understand why. The Wraith did take the Zeus a level up for me. Nicer bass response, better detailing and rendering, superior control and overall just enhanced technical abilities. The key strengths of the original Zeus are still alive. Emotions, excellent midrange and impressive realism.

        Hope that helped.
        Cheers!

    • Reply August 2, 2019

      Micah Rose

      The Wraith was potentially the first quad e-stat in development, but it wasn’t the first to market. The WAVAYA Octa was released to market in mid-2018, so way before the Wraith.

      • Reply August 2, 2019

        Linus

        Hi Micah,
        thanks for the comment.
        I was not aware of that brand at all.

    • Reply August 10, 2019

      John Butler

      Hi Linus,
      as usual, nice and detailed review.
      However, I would like to bring to your attention a sentence “EE is utilizing combination of active and passive electronics..”. This sentence can be misleading and is essentially incorrect, a passive IEM or earphone, for its nature, obviously cannot have any kind of “active” electronic components, otherwise it would need a power supply and would become an “Active IEM”.

      • Reply August 12, 2019

        Linus

        Hi John,
        many thanks for your comment!
        This is info I got from Empire Ears directly, I’ll see if I can get a further explanation how it works. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. 🙂

        • Reply August 17, 2019

          John Butler

          Hi linus
          Good, it would be great to have some clarification from EE, otherwise such statement could be interpreted as an “excess of marketing”..😉
          Regards
          John

          • Reply August 18, 2019

            Linus

            Hey John,
            so I got feedback from EE.
            What they’re doing is manipulate the transformer (active component) with passive electronics to play nicely with the rest of the drivers.
            Hope that clears it up.

            • Reply August 20, 2019

              John Butler

              Hi Linus,
              thanks for the answer,
              but a transformer, that is made of windings, like in the Electrostatic Tweeter is a “Passive” component, not an active.
              From Wikipedia:
              “A transformer is a passive electrical device that transfers electrical energy between two or more circuits.”
              So, is not correct from EE to say that they utilize ” combination of active and passive electronics..”

    • Reply August 30, 2019

      rnath

      linus
      based on overall score, which would you prefer among tia fourte & wraith?

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