A TOTL headphone deserves a top quality DAP and well be looking at the Cayin N8, Colorfly U8, Astell&Kern SP1000 and Sony WM1Z in this chapter. I’m using the PlusSound X16 cable with an adapter to Single ended/4.4/2.5.
In single ended mode the Cayin N8 offers a solid state as well as a tube driven circuit. With the solid state one, you on medium gain get a more neutral sound signature – especially for the N8 – with great clarity. Bass is tight and has good impact. The mid body is a bit lighter in this combo and most of the body can be found in the bass department. When switching to the tube output you get a smoother, richer sound. It isn’t as clean and precise but it is more musical and has better extension and depth. You get a more spacious sounding Empyrean, but bass is a bit more messy and less focused. Body-wise everything is identical to the solid state output. It has both advantages and disadvantages and I find myself switching from tube to solid state all the time depending on the song. When switching to the balanced solid state output, you get the best of the SE solid state, but with a more spacious, better layered presentation. The balanced output is a little smoother than the Single ended one and it makes this combo musical, yet precise and clean. For me the balanced output is the one I enjoy the Empyrean most on as it has the best mix of technicalities, control and musicality.
The Colorfly U8 is a reasonably new player and it also has a single ended as well as a 2.5mm balanced output as all top players nowadays do. Sonically I’m a really big fan of the U8 as it has great clarity, excellent speed and performs on a technically high level while always keeping things musical, and that’s exactly how the Empyrean sounds on medium gain. Bass is tight and fast, yet a little lighter in presence. It’s especially the upper midrange and treble which gets a focus in single ended mode. That makes it sound very lively but it’s not smooth or warm at all. This tuning will keep you on the tip of your toes. When switching to balanced mode you get an even wider and more spacious sound stage, which unfortunately sometimes doesn’t sound natural anymore. Bass impact is bigger, the mids have more body and you now get more smoothness, musicality and warmth where the SE output was, well, very energetic. It’s a pretty nice combo in balanced and it has great clarity, precision and speed but it’s not my favorite DAP for the Empyrean.
I love the Astell&Kern SP1000 with IEMS, especially when balanced armatures come into play, but it never was my fav DAP for full sized headphones. With the Empyrean, in single ended mode, you get a very fast, precise, extended and clean sound. It’s the typical SP1000 character with a balanced, wide presentation and a neutral tuning with excellent extension. The SP1000 is very technical and the Empyrean will make you hear that. It’s a nice combo actually. It’s more neutral, energetic and precise with a good amount of body and impact. The typical SP1000 sound as we know it. In balanced mode you get a slightly smoother, more bodied presentation with fuller bass. Like the U8, the SP1000 is very energetic and the combo can’t be called smooth, warm or relaxed. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it actually might be your favorite kind of tuning.
The Sony WM1Z has a warmer, full bodied character to start with and with the Empyrean it in single ended mode sounds just right. Great detail, excellent full bodied bass and mids with great impact, a spacious sound stage, good layering, etc. This combo for me seems made for each other and the performs goes even up a level when you switch to the balanced output. If you’re more into the precise, neutral and analytical tuning you probably won’t like this setup but it offers a great mix of technicalities and musicality, just like the Cayin DAP.
The most popular portable AMP/DAC these last few years must certainly be the Chord electronics Mojo (next to the AudioQuest DragonFly). With the Chord Electronics Mojo that typical fast sound is there and you get good precision. Bass is tight and punchy but it isn’t the biggest in body and impact. The mids are also more neutral and the focus here is on the upper mids mostly. Treble is very energetic as we all know from the Mojo. So in the end you really can hear the Mojo’s characteristics in the Empyrean. It can best be compared to the SP1000 combo signature, but the SP1000 for me still plays at a higher technical/reference level.
When switching to the Mojo’s big brother, the almighty Chord Hugo 2, you get a higher end sound. The Empyrean sounds more powerful and has bigger bass and thicker mids, but they’re still in balance. With the Hugo 2 you get a very nice increase in extension, space and mostly depth. The difference in layering between the Mojo and Hugo 2 & Empyrean combo is impressive. The sound signature with the Hugo 2 is more natural, slightly smoother sounding (especially the treble section) and it at the same time is technically stronger.
The Empyrean on both Chord units performs really well, but my ears clearly prefer the Hugo 2 as it’s the best of both. The DragonFly USB DAC/AMP is one of the reader’s most popular DAC/Amps on Headfonia.com and with its $199 price tag its value is hard to beat. With the Empyrean you get a sound comparable to that of the Mojo, but not at the same level. Body in bass and mids is smaller and bass doesn’t have that big impact. You get a very fast and energetic sounding Empyrean though, but it’s not performing at full capacity. Still the combo is nice and it’s a very nice back-up solution or when on the go (if you would do that with the Empyrean).
If you were at High End Munich and you listened to the Empyrean at the Meze booth then you could choose between the Cayin 300B amp and the Chord Electronics DAVE. When I listened to that Meze and Chord combo I knew I needed to have this setup at home. And here I am a few months later listening to that exact same combo in my living room. The synergy these two units have is incredible and it gets even better if you hook up the BLUE MK2 to the DAVE. It’s one of my favourite amps with a whole set of headphones but not all of them (Not the HD800 in example). The earlier sound part is mostly based on the synergy with this amp, so read that part for sure if you’re interested in this combo.
More and more on the last page of this review right HERE, just click