The Shadow of Flagship-Empire Ears Hero IEM Review

IEM faceplates

We can’t get enough IEMs on Major HiFi! Today I bring to you an earphone that I’ve been waiting for since early August, the Hero from Empire Ears. The Hero could fall low on your radar as it’s not the flagship standard you’d expect from Empire, however, that’s exactly how they want you to think. The Hero is the underdog to Empire’s high-end IEMs, the mirror image of flagship quality, but set at a lower price. For the Hero, that price is $1349, which might still be asking for a lot, but is relatively cheaper than Empire’s past models, such as the Valkyrie, or the Nemesis. So let’s see if the Hero is what it claims to be.

IEM box contents

What You Get

Empire Ears has given the Hero and extremely neat and organized packaging. Lifting the fold-over cover unveils the IEM attached to its Alpha 4 detachable cable. The rest of your accessories are located in a drawer compartment that pulls out of the bottom of the box. Here you’ll find a stylish protective case that twisting open reveals a cleaning cloth. Underneath that are the neatly stacked Final Audio type E silicone ear tips that come in 5 different sizes. 

IEM packaging

Look and Feel

This is definitely the fancy IEM look I am used too by now, and while the aesthetics are there, these do feel like the cheaper option. In my hand, they possess a hollow feel that makes the earphones rather lightweight. It sounds like a positive, and in some ways it is, but the Hero could benefit from a bit more polish. The black and white swirl faceplate is pleasing to the eye, but I found it weird that my pair had off-center logo placement. None of this is any big deal, but compared to Empire’s standard, it’s a little underwhelming to look at.  Arguably more important is how they fit, which the Hero doesn’t exactly nail either. They’re secure enough to feel reliable, but the nozzle is a little too wide for my ears, and getting them to fit just right takes some break-in time. Otherwise, they aren’t terrible but can be a distraction sometimes.

IEM single earphone

Design

A lot of components are housed inside the shell of the Hero. It takes a lot of its DNA from other Empire models like the Legend X and the Zeus XIV. For the drivers, it uses a quad hybrid configuration with triple balanced armatures and Empire’s next-generation subwoofer, the W9+. This dynamic driver combines an enclosed woofer in a tuned reflex system to bring some ample efficiency to the Hero. The large coil moves the envelope in a linear movement that filters distortion in exchange for a balanced low-end signal. Supporting the W9+ are three balanced armatures for mids, mid-highs, and highs. The Hero also uses a synX crossover network that uses three different driver technologies in order to crank performance from these drivers and separates the signal in a realistic fashion that respects the representation of the sound field. 

The last addition I want to mention is Empire’s Alpha 4 cable, which uses Litz copper with multi-size stranding. It’s a thick chord that uses a 2 pin connector and a 3.5mm jack. 

IEM wrapped

Output 

Signal transmission is smooth and reliable thanks to this Alpha 4 cable. The connection is easy and safe to use with most 3.5mm headphone inputs, putting out a low impedance of 17 Ohms at 1kHz, and sensitivity of 105dB. An amp isn’t necessary to drive these guys, and the quality of the cable already cleans the signal enough. You’ll get a frequency response of 5Hz-40kHz for a wide range of details and definition.

IEM single piece

Soundstage

The Hero has exactly what I’m looking for out of an IEM soundstage. The sound elements are intricately separated and placed in the sound field with purpose. Each range balances themselves within the spectrum and pushes the limits of your headspace. The imaging is precisely represented and feels free. Tracks that pan around a lot is characterized by fluidity and inaccurate motion. The dueling guitars on David Grisman’s quintet album place the acoustic performances in their respective left/right space, and the Hero lightens up those guitars with spacious, studio-quality accuracy that sends you on a ride.

Low End

Bass extension is fast and clear and delves well into the sub-bass bands. I was surprised by the energy that flowed out of Hero like it was spilling out into a pool of buttery textures and punchy throbs of pulsating sub-bass goodness. It’s clean, natural, and well regulated in amplitude. When listening to synthwave tracks, the bass gives you the feeling like the sound is always on the move, and can really pump you up. This low end also offers some crisp resolution to bass instruments too. The melodic bass section on “God Only Knows” from The Beach Boys soothes your ears while giving you an analytical look into the notes being played. 

Mids

The lows and mids are separated and never bleed into each other, bringing out the clarity in a lot of instrumentals, and vocal performances. The quality that a lot of sound elements exhibit here is impeccable, and the response in the Hero is clear and balanced. Acoustic guitars sound starkly accurate, with their blissful tonality, and rustic picking patterns. Pianos glisten and fill the space of the Hero with an ambiance that can be beautiful or haunting depending on the track. Robert Smith’s vocals on the track “Pictures of You” come out with pristine, forward power that brings out the sincerity the lyrics try to communicate. Female vocals are even better on the Hero, as the right performance can be really gripping, such as the track “Leave A Trace” from CHVRCHES, which takes on a sweet timbre that colors the vocals with a sweet mid-high boost. 

Highs

There are some minor issues in the highs, but they mainly exist in the Hero to add some extra sizzle and clickiness to certain tracks. The main issue is some bright sibilances can be a tad harsh, but it was rare in most tracks besides some live performances, like David Byrne’s vocals on “Stop Making Sense.” Otherwise, there are some details to revel in. 

IEM Pair

Summary

I believe the Hero achieves exactly what it sets out to do, give you a flagship quality sound for a more reasonable price. I think the Hero is as close to this quality as a non-flagship is going to get for most brands. If you’ve been dying to try Empire Ears for a while but want to save a little bit of extra cash, the Hero will definitely satisfy. 

Pros and Cons

Pros: Great sound signature, intricate design, Alpha 4 cable

Cons: Average fit, some bright highs

Empire Ears Hero is available at Audio 46

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