Pros – Resolution, Detail, New Shell Design, R & XIV in one IEM
A Little Technical Stuff:
· FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 10Hz – 20Khz
· IMPEDANCE: 21Ω @ 1 kHz
· INPUT SENSITIVITY: 119dB @ 1mw
· NOISE ISOLATION: -28 dB +/- 2
· INPUT CONNECTOR: 1/8″ (3.5 mm) Gold Plated Jack
· WARRANTY: 2-years
· 14 Drivers | 8 Way Crossover | 4 Sound Bores
Empire Ears Zeus XR
-MRSP: Universal fit $2399
I want to thank Jack for his incredible customer service. I have noticed a trend with Empire Ears and that is you never see bad comments about their customer service. Jack has been responsive and helpful and I want to say THANKS! I also want to thank Dean. When I inquired about a re-shell for the Zeus XRA I let Jack know it is designer’s choice of what shell design they want to use. My sexy, clear design was selected and personally built by Dean. As a bonus, it was the first released with the new shell design which is said to be more durable and for certain is slimmer in its profile, great job dude, thank you!
I purchased my Zeus XRA second hand from a fellow Head-FI’er as the price of the Zeus can be a little shocking. The Zeus XR-Adel starts at $2799. I was familiar with Adel technology from my time with the 64 Audio U12. I really enjoyed and appreciated the Adel techonolgy and then later the Apex technology with the 64 Audio U12. I have always preferred a warmer signature and the 64 Audio U12 certainly scratches that itch.
Early in my quest for excellence of in-ear monitors I was actually more into analytical sound and with time my tastes have changed. I grew to find the warm, yet detailed sound with a huge stage to be more to my liking. Today I find tone and quality of delivery to be paramount. With that said I obviously knew I wasn’t purchasing a bass monster or even a warm signature, by any stretch of the imagination, in the Zeus. I continued to read reviews and my curiosity and desire grew in the Zeus, I wanted to hear it, more like I wanted to own it. I was about reacquaint myself with my wallet again, I have no freaking willpower sometimes. My curiosity has a bit more of a conscience and frugality than I do so I went shopping on the Head-FI used boards for an almost new Zeus XRA as opposed to purchasing new. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED PayPal sent and buyer’s remorse started to set in, feeling guilty, but excited all the same. I found a Zeus XRA that only had a few hours on it, less than 20, and a simple design, things important to me in my purchase.
My initial thoughts were that these XRA were huge, not Frankenstein bolt huge like the Layla for example, but big. I didn’t find them uncomfortable but they didn’t provide the most comfort I have encountered in an IEM either. My sound impressions were for the most part positive but I didn’t have the WOW moment I was expecting. I started to experiment with tip rolling and cable swapping as well as different sources. I was having a little problem trying to achieve a great seal and with the Zeus a good seal is IMPERATIVE especially with the Adel version. I generally prefer JVC Spiral Dots with the wide bore but I found the wide bore to not glimmers of the excellence when the seal was good with the Spinfit. When I would yawn, open my mouth wide or even smile the seal would go until my face relaxed again, certainly not ideal. Anyone with any experience with Adel knows that the Adel modules impact isolation, creating less isolation. Add the less than perfect isolation to the less than perfect seal and at times the unnatural chhh sound of the cymbals would make me a bit crazy. There was sibilance and I am more of a smooth treble fan and very opposed to a strident sound. I tried the Final Audio narrow bore ear tips and ah yes, a bit more controlled and focused than wide bore ear tips, and another box checked on the roadmap to perfection.
I wasn’t ready to give up on the Zeus, after all I had bartered quite a few coconuts for them. I found that the stock Whiplash TWspc cable was a nice well-built stock cable but I felt that copper would possibly add some body and enhance the bass a little. The Dita Truth Copper cable was a definite upgrade in sound quality over the Whiplash although it isn’t a pure copper cable. It added body and smoothed out some of the harsher edges. My final test cable was the one I still use, the Effect Audio Ares II. It gives a nice clear detailed sound but doesn’t really add any additional body to the sound, which the Truth cable did slightly. I really prefer the ergonomics of the Ares II over the Truth cable so ergonomics wins in this case.
I used three sources, A&K Kann, Opus #2 and LG G6. After intensive listening I would say the Opus #2 is the best overall pairing based on the quality of the sound alone as it is quite the reference player. The Kann was also very good but the fact is that the Zeus doesn’t need the Kann’s power to drive it to perfection. The LG G6 can actually drive the XR quite well. These are one easy to drive IEM and that is a big advantage when going portable.
Lastly, I began swapping Adel and Apex modules. The S1 was not a great paring, kind of dampened the best attributes of the Zeus, the B1 accented what the Zeus already excelled at so I didn’t care for it either. I then tried the Apex modules and thought the M15 module was a good pairing but after trying the M20 Apex module I realized the M20 provided a little more body in the lower end and was as good as I was going to get, so the M20 became my preferred module.
Zeus XRA, Ares II balanced, M20 Apex module, Final Audio narrow tips and Opus #2. VOILA now I was getting somewhere in my quest.
After so much trial and error and continued reading I decided I need to shift gears. I realized I wanted to hear the Zeus as it was meant to be heard without the addition of the Adel module. There were a couple of options such as the carrot module or the MAM fully closed but I opted for a re-shell sans Adel which finally brings us to the review at hand…Welcome to the Zeus XR!
Since I did not purchase these as a new retail item I am not going into an unboxing or accessory list but the Empire Ears site says your purchase includes the following:
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
We offer a variety of items included at no additional charge in each order:
· In-Ear Monitor
· Empire Aegis case
· Empire dust bag
· Empire IEM pouch
· Empire cleaning cloth
· Cleaning tool
· Quick Start User Guide
I can tell you that mine did include all of the above.
Let us review the sound, shall we?
The Zeus XR gives you the best of both worlds between the Zeus-R and the Zeus XIV. There is a switch located on the shell. In the up position, it is the Zeus R and in the down position it is the Zeus XIV. Simply put it is like a 2 for 1, a Happy Hour for my ears.
For the review, I paired the XR with the A&K Kann, Opus #2 and the LG G6(American). The XR doesn’t really need a lot of power to shine but certainly will provide you a better experience when utilizing higher quality DAC. The Opus #2, using the 2.5mm balanced output would be my DAP of choice for the XR. I used the Ares II cable as well as briefly testing the Truth Copper cable. I switch between the Final Audio narrow bore and Symbio Mandarin as my preferred eartips.
I find Zeus-R to be near neutral but an incredibly revealing and detailed signature. It could be considered close to reference sounding and it is more reference sounding that it’s XIV brother in the down switch. The overall tone is natural and effortless. The sibilance I heard in the Adel version is all but gone in the XR version. It is important to realize and remember this IEM has a massive number of drivers at 14. Not that the number of drivers in and of itself is impressive but how seamless they work together; their synergy is so impressive. I will discuss more the R setting and in the body of the description when the XIV goes in another direction I will mention it. My preference in settings is without a doubt the XIV but the baseline setup of the two is similar so that is why I will compare the XIV to the R. One note about the switch and how obvious the sound difference is. When using a better source, the difference between R and XIV is quite obvious but when using my cellphone, you can barely hear a difference. The balanced output of either the Opus #2 or the Kann allowed the difference to be very evident as well as the SE output.
In the low-end region, you get a sub-bass that goes deep. This not the incredible sounding BA bass of the 64 Audio U12 as the Zeus bass but stays close to neutral in quantity. The Zeus bass is not in the least about quantity and instead focuses on the quality of bass it delivers to the listener. Overall all frequencies of bass are fast, snappy but neutral for the most part. I don’t want to characterize this a boring emotionless bass as it comes with plenty of feeling, just not rumbly bass that bleeds into the mids. The bass delivery is flawless except I feel it is a touch one dimensional except that it is detailed and layers so well. More sub-bass would alleviate any illusion of being one dimensional. When listening to the bass it is very easy to differentiate which instrument is creating the bass, ie. drum or guitar. Fast bass with realistic decay, overall some of the most natural decay I have heard. Certainly not a DD in its punch but so very detailed and layered.
In the XIV the bass is brought more forward and is more present in its delivery, again not in quantity. The bass is more present and out front when compared to the R. Quality is not negatively impacted in the XIV setting.
The lower mids create a harmony and balance with the upper bass range. The mids are detailed, open and not the least bit veiled or hazy. The mids aren’t necessarily airy or sparkly but the transitions in layers and details are top notch, the best I have heard. With the right source the micro details with all instruments, foreground and background are showcased. Overall there is a big sense of clarity and resolution. I hear no sibilance or harshness in the mids and vocals have a natural and upfront sound.
In the XIV the mids are another area that is more upfront and present. There is not a loss of detail or clarity in either of the XR settings, the mids just sound more present and upfront. In my opinion, for the most part, the bass and mids are being brought to the foreground. That is major differences between the signature in the two settings. The overall sound is served on a Platinum platter for the listener to consume in the XIV.
If there is any air in the sound of Zeus you will find it in the treble regions. This is also the region in which you will find the most details and clarity. While the treble is so clear I still don’t find it fatiguing. As stated earlier make sure you have a great seal. Resolute and detailed without fatigue are the characteristics. I find the warmer IEM’s have me foot tapping a bit more but I have struggled to bring out the details in some of the warmer IEM’s. With the Zeus, you certainly don’t have to search for details they are there for the taking, but also these are not warm in their signature. The treble delivery needs to be heard as it extends and takes you to the brink but avoids harshness while delivering transparency.
Overall the soundstage is very wide and it stretches out far left to right. There is some depth but it is not the deepest I have heard but there is excellent height in the stage, certainly never cramped or congested in any aspect of the stage.
The Zeus holds a prominent spot in my IEM collection. The new shell design has a slimmer more comfortable profile. The clear shell Dean used when re-shelling mine is super sexy. The Zeus XR is pricey but this appears to be the trend in IEM’s as long as folks keep paying it. I am super impressed and hope I can talk Jack out of one of the new prototypes they have on the work bench. The XR would be one IEM I would have as a CIEM, strong praise from someone that doesn’t own a CIEM and up until last week didn’t even have ear impressions. I am so glad I kept the XR when I had them re-shelled, as I thought about only going XIV. I do like to have the option of switching form R to XIV. I prefer the XIV setting overall as I like how it is more lively and musical, both settings are TOTL and YMMV. In this reviewer’s opinion, you will have a hard time finding an IEM that does everything as well as the Zeus XR. Truly difficult to find better.