When you buy a top level headphone you – or me anyway – always expect it to come with good cable and several adapters. My feelings here are mixed and I’ll tell you why. Yes you get a longer 6.3mm cable for at home or a 3.5mm cable for on the go or for use with DAPS and portable amps, but there are no balanced cable, no XLR, no 2.5 and no 4.4 options/choices.
Am I being overly critical? Maybe but at the same time the latest Hifiman headphones arrived with a range of 3.5, 6.3, XLR and 4.4mm cables. It just would have been nice to get at least one balanced option.
Sound wise I can’t say anything bad about the OFC Cables and in my office I have been using the 3.5mm terminated cable with my Mojo and the Cayin N8 without any complaints. At home I however never end up using the stock 6.3mm cable as it long and the design/behaviour just isn’t very flexible. The cable doesn’t bend easily and it basically annoys me as I’m used to working with more flexible cables (I knows it bugs Meze also…) . My go to cable here is the PlusSound X16, and while some might say that one is bulky too, it just feels so much better when in use. Oh and it’s terminated with a 4-pin XLR balanced plug as well. This doesn’t bother me as much with the short cable, but I do miss the flexibility there as well.
First of all let’s quickly talk about the pads that come with the Empyrean. I personally prefer listening to the Empyrean with the “suede” pads. Not only do they feel more comfortable but hey also produce the best sound for me. Best in case is smoother, full bodied and warmer with a more present bass.
The leather pads produce a more neutral sound, with lighter body and less bass presence. The warmth and smoothness are not as present and the clarity is elevated. You get two very different sound signatures for the price of one. Some will prefer the more balanced, reference tuning of the leather pads, but to my the Empyrean sounds so much more addictive and dreamy with the micro-fibre pads. They look nicer too if you ask me.
There are several Empyrean measurements circling the www and audio fora and I can find myself in some of them but not all. How were the measurements done? With what pads? Etc, etc. To me it doesn’t really matter, it are your ears and maybe your brain that have to like the sound produced by this technological marvel and not your eyes.
The following impressions are of the Empyrean hooked up to a high level desktop amp and dac. As I’ve maybe said, I’ve been listening to the Empyrean for almost two months now and I’ve enjoyed every single second with it.
From the first moment you push play the Empyrean takes you on a musical journey you never want to end. The addiction factor is high with this one and you for sure will gladly trade in hours of sleep for hours of absolute musical bliss.
The Empyrean with the suede pads (see before) sounds natural and extremely musical and it does it all so effortlessly. The Empyrean lets you dream away with a smooth kind of sound with a hint of warmth but you can’t really call it a warm sounding or thick/smooth headphone either. There’s just enough to enjoy the heck out of it but it with these pads it is warmer than it is neutral. The Empyrean body, tone and impact-wise is perfectly balanced and bass, mids and treble gorgeously flow into each other. The left-right separation and stereo image are exemplary, the positioning precise. And then there’s that typical planar magnetic black background, it just all fits.
Spacious is another way to describe the Empyrean’s sound and it gives you that perfectly right amount of air like only the top level headphones do. The sound stage width and depth, its layering and the separation of notes and instruments is wonderful. This headphone is perfectly balanced and it will never sound too airy, too warm or anything really, it’s done just right. A top quality, open, musical, natural and engaging sound. That’s exactly what the Empyrean delivers. If you prefer a more neutral presentation, the Empyrean can deliver that as well, just swap out the pads et voila, another masterpiece.
With the so called velour pads, the bass for me is perfect in terms of presence, impact and depth. Maybe it’s a bit more than perfectly neutrally bass but it makes everything so much more exciting and enjoyable. Bass never becomes too much to my ears and with a good amp it’s always perfectly in control, resulting in a quick and punchy bass but also one with excellent layering and depth. The Empyrean’s bass has a good rumble down low but I would still say the quality is of bigger “importance” then its presence. There won’t ever be too little bass either but no matter the amplitude, the top quality is always there. I also really like the bass detail the Empyrean is producing. Yes, the top part of the Rinaro driver is doing one heck of a job.
If you prefer a top quality bass but with slightly less presence, aka more neutral, then just swap in the leather like pads and you’re set.
Body wise, again with the velour pads, you get the same characteristics the bass has and that’s a good thing as the mids perfectly connect from and to that bass. You get a really good and full bodied sound, excellent detail and impressive layering. The mids section is rich in detail and musicality and the sound comes to you in a natural, smooth, airy/spacious and natural way. Voices sound realistic and natural but like the rest of the mids part, they’re smooth but oh so lovely, addictive and easy to love.
If you like how the Empyrean is doing its bass then you’ll no doubt like the mid section as well. If you want a lighter, more neutral presentation then all you have to do is use the other pads. The beauty is that the bass and mids with both versions of pads perfectly connect to each other and you get 2 coherent sound signatures in one and the same headphone. It’s really impressive what impact the pads have in this Rinaro driver design.
The treble region is energetic and lively and the Empyrean extends quite well with an airy yet precise presentation. The detail retrieval up on top, together with the layering is really good and there are no immediate weird peaks like in a lot of headphones. Body wise the upper section is slightly lighter maybe but not too much, if not you wouldn’t get that nice balance.
Treble never becomes harsh or shrill and the Empyrean here is maybe playing it more on the safe side though that strongly depends on the amplifier you’re using it with. Luckily there is that excellent detail retrieval and musical presentation. Treble is precise and exciting enough to counter the bass, but it’s got that same smoothness which is present in bass and mids that makes it so enjoyable.
Sources / Amplification
In theory the Empyrean doesn’t need a big amp to sound best but in reality I find the Empyrean to scale up nicely when using an amp. There is a clear audible difference between a laptop < simple DAP < a TOTL DAP < Portable amplification < Desktop amps < TOTL amps.
And once you’re used to how good the Empyrean can sound, it’s hard to go back to a lesser sounding Empyrean. This certainly isn’t the first or last headphone about which we’ll say that, but it simply has to be taken into account. I can tell you it sounds awesome coming from a DAVE and you will be completely disappointed when hooking it up to your phone. So yes, I do recommend good amplification when using the Empyrean so let’s check out its performance with a number of sources and amps.
It all continues on Page Three of this review, after the click HERE