Comparing different products to each other is an important part of a review in my opinion. Mainly because you, the reader, might be in a better position to get a feeling for what I, the writer, hear. Thus, you can get a sense of what the product reviewed sounds like, with the reference points that you might even have in your possession.
Over the last couple of years, the prices for monitors have been increasing into new territories, and nowadays a flagship with the price tag of the Legend X is considered normal. We’re not only looking at similar priced models here though, I feel it is also important to compare monitors of similar design and status to each other. We will be taking a closer look at other flagships and hybrids for this review. All mentioned prices are those for their custom-built flavours, except for Tia Fourté which is only available in a universal shell. Comparisons were done with the respective stock cables, as this is what you get when you buy them.
Noble Audio – Kaiser Encore (10BA, 2099$)
The Noble is considerably clearer tuned with more emphasis on upper mids and treble. Legend’s bass is a good bit faster, harder and more forward. It reaches deeper with more sub-bass rumble and grunt. The mids on the Legend X are lusher and more organic. The sound stage of both is very wide with impressive stereo imaging abilities. Instruments are carefully separated on both the Encore and Legend X. Encore has richer upper mids and more forward treble tuning. Where the bass of Legend can be too much for some, the Encore’s treble can be too much for others. Encore places micro-details a tad more obvious in the room.
Katana’s bass is softer, lighter and not as extended as Legend’s. It does not possess the authority the Empire comes with. Legend X is more emotional and fuller, whereas Katana is dryer and more sterile. Upper midrange is considerably richer of Legend X. The sound stage of both is very wide, though I feel Katana stretches deeper and higher. The Noble as well as the Empire Ears have wonderful instrumental placement and separation. Stereo imaging is handled superb on both. Katana’s voices sound a little lighter, airier maybe, but not as full and convincing.
The A18t I admire for its sheer transparency and insane sound stage dimensions. It also has an elevated mid- and upper-bass response for a dynamic sound. To me the Legend X has more sub-bass authority, while I find the A18t to be faster down low. They are both incredible when it comes to bass-extension and resolution. The Tzar has a cleaner midrange with less emotions and blood, but opts for ultra-resolution and micro detailing. The 64 flagship has the upper hand when it comes to bringing out every single nuance of the spectrum, where the Empire wins on emotions with its warmth-infused lower midrange. Legend X has richer upper mids with more glow in them, while the A18t goes a good bit wider into treble extension. The tia high driver of the A18t reproduces an airier treble that is brighter tuned than the Legend’s. Don’t mistake the bright tuning for harshness though, that’s not the case. The Legend X goes for a softer, warmer treble tuning that can be listened to for hours without fatigue.
The above comparisons were made with the M20 apex module, swap the module in the Tzar for the M15 and you will have a richer upper mids and treble segment, with lighter bass body and a more linear sound.
64 Audio – A12t (12BA, 1999$)
The (M20) A12t is similar to the Legend X in a few ways, yet differs in others. Both have a signature with a prominent bass tuning. The Legend X favours mid and upper bass, where the A12t concentrates more on sub-bass power and rumble. They both are very well extended, yet the Legend has bigger body and a more organic presentation of low-end notes. The A12t though has even higher resolution, its decay however is shorter than the one found in the Legend. When it comes to mids, both have decent warmth in their lower departments, but again, the Legend is fuller and lusher, where the 64 Audio goes for transparency and air. Vocals seem smoother on the A12t and denser on the Legend. Upper midrange and treble are both dryer and cleaner on the 12t, where the Empire Ears flagship goes for a richer tonality. The extension of both models up top is about the same, though there is more air in the treble of the A12t.
64 Audio – Tia Fourté (1DD/3BA, 3599$)
The Tia Fourté is a resolution monster, with an as clear as possible signature. The Fourté produces a very holographic sound with immersive low end response. I find the Fourté to go similarly deep, but with higher resolution. The Legend X throws a harder punch in its sub-bass areas and has more body. Fourté seems faster to me. The Fourté does not put its bass as forward as the Legend X. There is considerably more warmth in the Legend X, where the Fourté is a surgical knife for its insane clarity, the Legend X is a more enjoyable and easier to listen to device. Midrange is richer and lusher with the Legend, where Fourté goes the 64 Audio way of transparency. Voices seem smoother on the Fourté and heavier on the Legend. Sound stage wise I would give Fourté the upper hand for its extension in all directions. Both, the Legend X and the Fourté, have the ability to portray the music right in front of you. The Fourté does that with a more air-induced sound while the Legend is more natural. Tia Fourté has a more forward upper midrange and treble tuning, that extends further with the tia high driver. The Legend is softer up top and has a more forgiving sound overall.
A very similar internal construction with a dual dynamic driver that is complemented by a number of balanced armatures. Though Lola does not go the mainstream way of incorporating the dynamic drivers for low ends, but rather uses them for midrange reproduction. Where Empire used a HiFi concept for their dynamic drivers, Jerry Harvey looked at the pro-scene for his. Lola’s dynamic drivers are placed concentrically and fire into a special designed D.O.M.E. enclosure.
Lola has always been the queen of mids for my taste, they sound as organic as nothing else on the market. The Legend’s midrange to me seems similarly full and engaging, though Lola is not as well resolved as the Legend and misses out on instrumental separation, mostly due to her darker tonality overall. The Legend has a more see-through character. Lola has the ability to tune the bass to your liking. I keep mine at two o’clock. That’s slightly north of neutral to me. Legend’s low ends throw a meaner punch, with wider extension and higher resolution. Lola’s treble is a not as forward as the Legend’s, it is not as rich either. Legend X has higher resolution, better imaging and a wider and deeper sound stage with superior layering. It extends further into both directions.
JH Audio – Layla (12BA, 2725$)
Layla is the current top offering of JH Audio and has been at that position for a while now. She sports a fuller and lusher signature, just like Legend X. Layla gives the customers the option to fine-tune the bass response to their liking. Again, just like with Lola, Layla doesn’t exceed the two o’clock mark when I’m having her in my ears. To me Layla goes a tad deeper into sub-bass regions, while the Legend has more driving power. Both concentrate on a more forward mid- and upper-bass presentation, where the one of Legend X is more organic with that extra bit of air and resolution. The midrange on both models are quite similar, yet the Legend X has more resolution and higher rendering capabilities. The sound stage to me is wider on the Legend, while Layla goes deeper. Both have impressive imaging qualities. The JH Audio flagship has a slightly darker overall tone, with shy treble. Highs are more energetic and upfront with the Legend X, which aids it especially in detail retrieval. Layla’s softer and laid back treble, together with the lower transparency and resolution have always been my main turn-off points for it. The Legend X takes Layla’s key-strengths and bundles them with high resolution and a very enjoyable treble tuning.
AAW – W900 (1DD/8BA, ~2100$)
Singapore’s AdvancedAcoustic Werkes has brought out a good number of hybrid monitors, the W900 is their flagship product and also uses a proprietary dynamic driver for bass reproduction. The Legend’s bass goes deeper with more authority. Both have similar amounts of air in there for an organic presentation. While they both have wonderful resolution, I find the W900 more sterile and dry in comparison. The Legend X to me is more fun and enjoyable tuned, where W900 goes for a resolution optimized sound. The Legend sounds richer in upper mids and treble, where the AAW wants more clarity and treble extension. The AAW does indeed extend further, but it does so with a harsh and partly aggressive tone. The treble of Legend X is more accessibly tuned, with a softer approach to the tone. Sound stage wise the Legend reaches wider and deeper. Both models come with great imaging and instrumental separation.
Empire Ears went out to create something truly unique with their new line-ups. The hybrid X-line features a hand full of proprietary technologies. Dynamic drivers that were designed from scratch, purpose-specific tuned balanced armatures from renowned suppliers, a high-tech coating to ensure that these drivers work at their very best and a super-charged advanced synX crossover network to fine tune them to their optimum performance. The build quality of the Legend X is perfect, with top quality fit and comfort. The sound convinces and the supplied accessories are the icing on the cake. A reigning package all-in-all.
It has been a while since the genesis of the original EarWerkz Legend, but evolution doesn’t work fast, today we have reached the Legend’s culmination. The Empire Ears Legend X is a highly enjoyable, dynamic and resolving monitor that is capable of surpassing its competition. The Legend X sounds incredible out of most sources, yet deserves to be used with the best and rewards the listener with even better sound as it scales up very well. Give the Legend some additional power and you will be granted an even higher end listening experience.
The Legend X is my first Empire Ears custom in ear monitor, yet won’t be my last. Comparisons to the Zeus XIV and Phantom will be added later. I am sorry if the review got too long for you, but to me there was no way to keep it short as there is just so much to tell about the Legend X.
It is definitely a recommended CIEM.