Greetings!

Today we're checking out the AF1120 MK2 from Audiofly.

Based out of Australia, Audiofly has been in the business of portable audio since 2012. They embrace the concepts of technological innovation, musician empowerment, and quality sound on all levels, having worked to achieve this through products that cover a wider range of prices and purposes, from affordable Bluetooth to high end studio monitoring. Recently Audiofly revamped their lineup, updating many of their more popular models with MK2 variants, one of which we are checking out today.

The AF1120 MK2 is the flagship of Audiofly's lineup and is packed with technology. Inside are six balanced armatures in a 2x2x2 configuration with a hybrid 3-way electronic/acoustic crossover keeping everything in check. Updated MMCX connectors round things. The AF1120 MK2 is a product for professionals who require a clear, neutral sound, and that's exactly what it delivers in my experience.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?




What I Hear

The AF1120 MK2 is a very neutral leaning earphone. Treble has a fairly linear presentation without any major peaks in any particular region. The brilliance region is very smooth and somewhat de-emphasized resulting in a mild quantity of shimmer and sparkle. It is non-fatiguing and reasonably low energy, especially compared to your average mainstream hybrid earphone. Despite this dearth of excitement, the upper ranges of the AF1120 MK2 remain relatively airy with plenty of space between notes. The presence region is expertly balanced to give notes stellar transparency and weight without sounding strident or overly aggressive. As a result, clarity is top notch but not pushed to the point of being sharp or overly analytic. It simply sounds realistic.

The AF1120 MK2's midrange is quite neutral in presence and tone with vocals sounding prominent but not overly forward. Male and female vocals are evenly represented with neither one standing out more than the other. The AF1120 MK2 does a great job with Riya and retaining the natural warmth and intimacy of her presentation, while Calyx's gruff style is picked up and reproduced perfectly with all texture intact. Notes are weighty and dense yet retain outstanding clarity and coherence. I never found anything blending together or vocals being overshadowed by background instrumentals. Timbre is spot on for the most part with only brighter instruments sounding slightly off and ever so slightly plasticy, likely due to the lack of emphasis in the brilliance region. One instrument that is an absolute standout through the AF1120 MK2 are pianos which feel beefy with perfect attack and decay.

When it comes to the low end the AF1120 MK2 won't be winning over bass heads anytime soon thanks to a neutral presence. Notes are full and warm, hitting with a hard, snappy decay. I really appreciated this performance with rapid transitions and complicated passages, but it ended up being somewhat underwhelming with deep, sustained notes. The roll off and rapidity of decay being to blame. Another plus is that the presentation is very smooth and refined, but not lacking at all in texture and detail. It's not in your face, but inserted in a way that feels natural. If you want some more bass out of the AF1120 MK2, you'll be happy to hear that it takes EQ and bass boost functions very well. Pairing it with the new iFi hip-dac and it's Xbass function does a killer job of filling out the low end of the AF1120 MK2 improving suitability with bass-driven tracks. All the positive qualities are retained but more voluminous making the AF1120 MK2 even more versatile.

While the AF1120 MK2's sound stage is fairly average, it's staging qualities are anything but. Imaging is nuanced with razor sharp and accurate movement from channel-to-channel, with easy to detect, subtle movements. No one is likely to be use this for gaming, but if you do you'll find them pretty darn amazing. Tracking movement in a game with great sound design (i.e. pretty much anything from Dice) ends up being very natural and organic. Helping this out is how well layered tracks and soundscapes are. The AF1120's ability to provide a true sense of depth is impressive. Instrument separation is also a highlight thanks to each individual track element being pulled apart and set within it's own space. As a result vocals are never hindered by bass bleed, cymbals aren't overpowering and restrictive to other elements, etc. Everything plays together, never fighting for dominance.

Compared To A Peer (Volume matched with Dayton iMM-6)

Fearless S6 Rui (389.00 USD): The S6 Rui has more treble emphasis through the entire range than the AF1120 MK2. This gives it a lighter, airier presentation with additional space between notes, but somewhat artificially bumps it's relatively impressive detail and clarity as a result. The AF1120 MK2 provides just as much information, but without advertising it. Treble quality is better through the AF1120 MK2 too with cleaner strikes on cymbals and a tighter, more controlled presentation overall. The mid range of the AF1120 MK2 is more linear with a smoother transition from lower to upper regions compared to the S6 Rui which sees a small upper mid bump. As a result, vocals tend to stand out more in the mix through the AF1120 MK2, playing a more even role with the rest of the track. While they're never hidden on the S6 Rui, they don't stand out against background instrumentals the same way. Timbre also falls into the AF1120 MK2's camp which sounds more accurate and natural against the S6 Rui's brighter, more breathy nature. Bass on the S6 Rui is similarly linear in it's transition from lower to upper bass, but does a better job bring subbass notes forward. While not as quick, notes out of the S6 Rui are heavier and more impactful. They lack the same texture and clarity, however. Despite the S6 Rui's extra upper treble emphasis and leaner presentation, the AF1120 MK2 sounds more spacious with the default seating position being just a little further from the ear. Although the S6 Rui is no slouch when it comes to imaging, layering, and instrument separation, the AF1120 MK2 is a notable step up. Sounds transfer from channel-to-channel with greater accuracy and precision, individual instruments feel more defined, and distance is better represented. Sound simple moves in a way that is more dynamic and natural through the AF1120 MK2.

In terms of build, the S6 Rui bats above it's weight class. The AF1120 MK2 is a quality unit, but the smooth 3D printed acrylic of the Rui looks and feels a step above. No seams, better visibility of the drivers within, and that interesting face plate all give it an advantage. Comfort is more or less a wash for me as well, despite the bulkier design of the S6 Rui. Isolation is better on the AF1120 MK2 though. The S6 Rui's 2-pin connectors are a step down from the AF1120 MK2's MMCX ports given the right earpiece has a tendency to detach unexpectedly. The S6 Rui's cable is much more impressive looking with it's thick, 8 strand braid and silver-plated wiring that shines through the clear sheath. The beefy metal hardware looks equally impressive. However impressive Fearless' cable is visually, the AF1120 MK2's thinner, lighter, half-cloth offering is straight up more pleasant to actually use. Neither tangles easily, but the Rui's cable retains some memory of kinks and bends where the AF1120 MK2's cable recalls none. Summary? I like the S6 Rui's look and build, they tie on comfort, and as impressive looking as Fearless' cable is, Audiofly's is better to use.

As much as I love the S6 Rui, the AF1120 MK2 sonics are a step up. The biggest difference is not the Audiofly's more balanced tune, or improved technical abilities, but just how much more refined it sounds while pulling off those other improvements. It is that much smoother and better controlled.

Hifiman RE800 Silver (599.00 USD): Where the AF1120 MK2 is a beacon of balance and accuracy, the RE800 is a clarity and detail monster. The RE800 is a fair bit brighter thanks to a notable upper treble peak. This lightens up the note weight compared to the AF1120 MK2 making a/b comparisons between the two quite interesting. Switch from the RE800 to the AF1120 MK2 and the Audiofly sounds thick and slightly muddy in the mids. Acclimatize to the AF1120 MK2 and switch back to the RE800 and the Hifiman sounds lean and tinny with artificial clarity leading the way. They're more complimentary than not, but I wouldn't want to own both at the same time because their qualities are so at odds with each other. Trying my best to not be distracted, I find the AF1120 MK2's mid range more even and natural with a more linear presentation, even though they both seem to have mild bumps somewhere around or at 4k. Bass on the RE800 digs deeper and provides a more visceral experience while managing to output similar texture. It's certainly a more entertaining, if not less accurate, style of presentation. Sound stage is pretty firmly in the RE800's hand to my ears. Default positioning moves you further from the ear with sounds easily trailing off into the distance. Imaging accuracy goes to the Audiofly, as does instrument separation, with the RE800's staging coming across slightly deeper and more multi-layered. Both are fantastic in this category overall.

When it comes to build, I have to give the AF1120 MK2 the edge. Hifiman's RE800s has tiny metal shells with good fit and finish, but the design is plain and lacks the visual flair of the AF1120 MK2. I want to say the RE800s will have the edge in durability, but it has a fixed cable. While it's a nice cable with silver-plated strands, the sheath is the bog standard, black rubber that you see at much lower price points. Add to that sub-par strain relief and the AF1120 MK2's cable is sitting pretty. Comfort is again a bit of a wash. The AF1120 MK2 has better ergonomics and the low profile design gives it a big edge in isolation, but the RE800s' more traditional barrel-shaped housing allows more wearing flexibility; cable up or cable down, you decide which you prefer. With the AF1120 MK2 it's cable up only. Summary? The AF1120 MK2 looks and feels like it's worth much more than the mere 100 USD that separates the two.

This was a weird comparison, and one I'm not planning to revisit. Not just because the AF1120 MK2 is a loaner and by the time you're reading this I will no longer have it, but because these two earphones are so at odds with each other. If you want a neutral, reference style monitor go for the AF1120 MK2. If you want a detailed, vibrant high energy earphone, the RE800 will do the trick.

Campfire Audio Andromeda (1099.00 USD): The Andromeda is another product I'd consider reference quality, though not necessarily for the same reasons as the AF1120 MK2. Where Audiofly's tuning is quite neutral and uncoloured, the Andromeda is more energetic and forward in it's presentation. This is quite noticeable in the mid range where the Andromeda is more dense and aggressive, but falls behind on overall clarity and detail. The AF1120 also sounds slightly more realistic with a warmer, more natural presentation. Treble on the Andromeda is more elevated, particularly in upper treble regions. Cymbals and the like have more shimmer and a stronger attack with detail being pulled forward more. This leaves the AF1120's upper ranges sounding somewhat dull beside the Andro. Both are equally above average when it comes to control with no splashiness present. Bass on the Andromeda is more forward and powerful with slightly better extension. Texture and detail are similar. Neither are bloated or suffer from mid bass bleed. One thing the AF1120 has an advantage in is reception to EQ. If it's feeling bass light, you can dial more in with great success. With similar adjustments, the AF1120's armatures can provide a more visceral sub bass experience. Sound stage is wider and deeper on the Andromeda, but to my surprise I found the AF1120 did an even better job with other qualities like imaging, layering, and separation. This is an area the Andro excels, yet the AF1120 provides an even more dynamic soundscape. Truly impressive.

The AF1120 MK2 is a good looking, well built earphone with a distinctive design that is pure Audiofly, but it's hard to compete with the visual force that is Campfire's iconic shell and impeccable aluminum construction. It's been copied to death over the last couple years for a reason. The Andromeda fits me just fine and I can wear it for long periods fatigue free, but the AF1120 MK2 with it's smaller, lighter, and more organic shape fits me even better and has improved isolation to boot. So while the vastly more expensive Andro feels the part, the AF1120 MK2 easily bests it in other ways. They both have great cables but again, the AF1120 MK2's rubs me the right way just a little bit more, and that comes purely down to handling and memory attributes. The Andro's braided cable is a bit stiffer, doesn't react as well to cold weather, and retains a hint of bends and kinks that the AF1120 MK2's cable shrugs off without a second thought. Summary? The Andromeda's price tag makes sense, though I still prefer Audiofly's cable.

This is another case of two earphones being complimentary. If you want a neutral sounding, technical powerhouse the AF1120 does a better job of meeting those needs. If you want a high energy yet equally impressive earphone when it comes to technical ability, the Andromeda is hard to best.




In The Ear With the AF1120 MK2, Audiofly stuck with one of their tried and true shell designs. While reminiscent of the sort of bean-shaped shell popularized by Shure and others, this design is more pepper-shaped with the shell getting wider as it approaches the nozzle. I find this makes it extra stable since what little weight there is distributes perfectly throughout the outer ear. The slender nozzles, only around 3.5mm in diameter, help with comfort too since your chosen tips have more room to compress. If deep insertions are your thing, the slim nozzle helps with that too. Thanks to the low profile, form fitting, sealed shell design, isolation is well above average, as is common for BA-only earphones. The AF1120 MK2 is a joy to use in noisy areas like the local coffee shop or on transit given how much noise is passively blocked (especially with foam tips in place). That said, given the price of this product, it's probably best to leave it at home and bring something more affordable and less risky.

When it comes to build quality, the AF1120 MK2 is doesn't do anything too crazy. The plastic shells are put together neatly with good quality materials. There are no misaligned parts or poorly glued sections. The use of clear plastic allows you to peer inside at the six balanced armatures and 3-way electronic crossover with Butterworth filter. The soldering job and general wiring is neat and tidy, as I would expect from something at this price. The MMCX ports are also neatly integrated allowing the cable to sit flush with the housing, limiting it's ability to spin since there is some friction to prevent it. One aspect of the build that is slightly disappointing is that all writing and branding is printed on the plastic, not molded into it. As a result, I fully expect it to rub off after a while, as is starting to occur on the right ear piece of this tour sample.

The cable is wonderful in my opinion and a highlight of the overall package. What it lacks in flash like those cables from other brands such as Campfire Audio, BGVP, Astrotec, and Shozy, among others, it makes up for in other ways. First is that it is very light and flexible. It doesn't weigh down the earphone in use which is quite welcome when you are active. The use of flexible, ergonomically curved preformed ear guides helps too since you don't have to struggle with shaping memory wire every time you go to use the earphone.

Above the y-split the cable is a slender, uber flexible two-strand twist, quite reminiscent of the cable that comes with the EarNiNE EN2J (one of my favs). Below the y-split it transitions into a cloth sheath. Normally I detest cloth cables because they're noisy, tangle easily, fray after a short time, and develop kinks that almost always lead to breaks where the inner cable spurts out. This one is much, much better than most any other cloth cable I've used, and doesn't feel like it'll suffer any of those issues anytime soon. I would make improvements in a few areas though.

Strain relief is pretty much nonexistent. It is too short and stiff at the compact 90 degree angled jack and y-split to offer much protection at all. And while I will never scoff at the inclusion of a chin cinch, the use of a small hunk of clear tubing is underwhelming for a $700 earphone. However, this seems to be a common practice with high end earphones. Sure it works well, but it doesn't flow with the cable design and if you slide it down too far, puts unnecessary strain on the cable at the wide y-split.

Overall I am quite pleased with the fit and cable of the AF1120. The build quality is good too though I would like to see slightly more premium materials or techniques applied, like the logo being molded into the shell vs. printed on.




In The Box The AF1120 MK2 comes in a moderately sized, somewhat understated matte black box. On the front is a reasonably high quality image of the left earpiece showing off the design and internals. In the top left corner is the model info and notice of the six drivers per side. The top right corner notes the AF1120 MK2 is a part of Audiofly's Pro Series of monitors. Flipping to the right sleeve you see an image of the earphones and accessories neatly laid out, which the left sleeve repeats the model info. On the rear is a short blurb about the AF1120 MK2 and what's inside, translated into nine languages. You also find a frequency response graph, specifications, a list of what's included, some feature bullet points, and an exploded image of the construction of the AF1120 MK2.

Opening the package, a large Pelican style hard case dominates the welcoming party, while the AF1120 MK2 sits patiently above nestled within a dense, protective foam insert. Beneath the hard case you find a brief user guide. In all you get:
  • AF1120 MK2 earphones
  • Audioflex MMCX cable
  • Single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
  • Tri-flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
  • Comply foam tips (s/m/l)
  • Protective hard case
  • Airline adapter
  • 3.5mm to 1/4” adapter
  • Cleaning tool
  • Cable clip

Other brands craft an in-depth, multilayered unboxing experiences for their earphones. That's cool. It's visually impressive, engaging for the buyer, and can produce one heck of a first impression. Other brands opt not to do that and let the product speak for itself. With the AF1120 MK2, Audiofly falls into the latter. This is a very simple unboxing experience that enables you to skip the fluff and get to the plethora of included goods nigh immediately. Audiofly is not competing with luxury fashion brands (ignoring some of my chosen comparisons above, lol). This is a professional product with a suitable unboxing.

Final Thoughts It's not often I get the chance to listen to a reference level earphone, so I'm appreciative that Audiofly agreed to send the AF1120 MK2 my way. Such products really help put the hobby into perspective, from the budget cheapos to other flagship models that aim to be the best of the best. Why is that? It's because the AF1120 MK2 has a properly neutral, uncompromising tune and as a result can act as a near perfect bassline for which to understand various tuning choices, and to better understand your own personal preferences.

While not necessarily the most exciting listen, the AF1120 MK2 won me over with its balance and technical ability. The mid range is gorgeously lush and realistic, treble detailed and non-fatiguing, and bass technical and flexible. I wish the sound stage was a little larger, sub bass dug a little deeper, and their was a bit more life in the upper treble, but I can most definitely live with the existing presentation or make some adjustments with an EQ if I really feel like it. In addition to sounding fantastic, the AF1120 MK2 has a well designed shell that snugs up ergonomically to your ear while also blocking out plenty of exterior noise. At this price I would like to see some nicer materials and molded vs. printed branding on the earpieces. But, as is the build is good enough since it is lightweight, comfortable, and doesn't present any real red flags. The accessory kit is also outstanding with a beefy, spacious carrying case and many tips of various styles and sizes, among other useful extras.

The AF1120 MK2 is a flagship done right, and while certainly not for the feint of wallet, is more affordable than equivalent products from other makers. So if you're in the market for a neutral, top-of-the-line earphone, Audiofly has made a strong argument to consider the AF1120 MK2.

Thanks for reading!

- B9

Disclaimer Thanks to Michelle with Audiofly for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing one of their products, and for sending over the AF1120. This earphone was loaned for the purposes of review and has since been returned. All thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions and do not represent Audiofly or any other entity. At the time of writing the AF1120 MK2 retailed for 849.99 AUD: https://audiofly.com/shop/AF1120 MK2-mk2/

Specifications
  • Driver: 6 balanced armatures with three-way crossover (dual bass, dual mid, dual high)
  • Crossover: Passive 3-way electronic crossover with Butterworth filter
  • Acoustic Tuning: Physical 3-way frequency divider
  • Impedance: 11Ω
  • Sensitivity: 109dB @ 1kHz
  • Frequency Response: 15Hz-25,000 Hz
  • Cable Length: 1.2m / 47”

Devices Used For Testing LG Q70, iFi hip-dac, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501, Shanling M0

Some Test Tunes
Supertramp – Crime of the Century
Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
King Crimson – Lark's Tongues in Aspic
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams




Thank you to Wild Lee for his efforts to provide masks. We have been out of them for a while here in Japan (they are hard to find and hand sanitizer). I ordered some for my family and local friends (giveaway). And of course some Monk (lite) earbuds.  




















Fear of the unknown and grief for the loss of a simple everyday life as we formally knew it.

Stay safe everyone.














For more information on the modular  cable
https://www.headpie.net/2019/12/a-dd-hifi-xmas.html?m=1

DDHifi earphones, with modular cable (CL25A/SL40A MMCX), DDHifi 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter DJ44A and iBasso DX160






Week three+ of self isolation with family (plus two to three weeks previous partial).
Soon Tokyo may go into lockdown following other countries - now that the Olympics  have been postponed. Take care all ❤️










Empire Ears Wraith ($3499): What’s in a name?

Pros: Build quality.
Gorgeous looks (love the purple!)
Wonderful overall sound.
Clarity, sound stage.
Layers of detail.
Presentation.
Cons: Price.
Lacks the bass of the Legend X.
Sound, which may not fit all (too detailed).



*Empire Ears is proud to present the World's First Quad Electrostatic IEM, The Wraith. The Wraith is Carnegie Hall built for one; a vast cathedral erected in the name of crystalline, pure sound. *




Often on IEM tours, pairs of good are sent. One near-top and one TOTL. This can cause a conundrum as one may be more apt to spend the majority of the time with the TOTL, neglecting the “lesser” of the two. I will admit this happened with the Phantom/Legend X pair sent some time ago. I liked the Phantom, but absolutely fell for the LX. So much so, that I will most likely order one in a few days. It is not that I was on the fence, oh no. The reason is that after hearing both the Valkyrie and Wraith I am quite comfortable purchasing the LX. I do see a difference between the LX and Wraith, with more similarities between the Valkyrie and LX. Some even called the Valk a baby Legend X. I think that is a disservice, since in my Valkyrie review, I state unabashedly that the Valk can stand on its own merits quite nicely.

No, what sent me over the top for the Legend X is pure and simple…the bass. Intoxicating would not be too strong a word. From the Valkyrie, the bass of the W9 subwoofer is strong. The bass of the LX is well, twice as strong (not really) due to the dual-W9’s. While the Wraith is an extraordinary model, it does not have my signature of choice. It is too similar to my CTM Da Vinci X to allow me the purchase. I dearly love the sound signature of the Wraith but found myself leaning towards the Valkyrie for better than 50% of my time. That said, the Wraith paired with an excellent source be it the Questyle QP2R or Cayin N6 mk2, you are set for a superb sound, and one I enjoyed immensely.

The Wraith defines flagship/TOTL for EE and competes on equal terms with IEM’s such as the 64Audio tia Forte. And it should. Priced in the same bracket, one would hope that even with differing signatures, they are on the same level. The Wraith has more bass than the Forte. The Forte has more air between the notes. The Wraith is warmer to me. The Forte is more “reference.” I will state up front that if you prefer detail, the tia Forte has few peers, even here. But if you want more of a soul, a sound described by some as detailed, but with a meaty sound, then the Wraith is the one with few peers. I would liken the comparison to the U18 tzar as more akin in the 64Audio lineup and the two present sound similarly to me.

The Wraith is an extraordinary example from a company, which had no need to raise the bar (think Zeus iterations and the Legend X) but chose to and now that bar is set higher. I called the Legend X “the standard” in my review, and I meant it. The Wraith would be the higher standard for EE, and one in which other manufacturers should be very wary. Aim for it if you must, but few may attain that same level of sound across the board.




Specs: 

Technical Specifications: 

4 Electrostatic Drivers (EIVEC - Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control)
7 Proprietary Empire Balanced Armature Drivers (Knowles and Sonion)
2 Low, 3 Mid, 2 High, 4 Super-High
5-Way synX Crossover Network
A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
Impedance: 4 ohms @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 100kHz
Sensitivity 117dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
UPOCC 26AWG Handcrafted Cable by Effect Audio (Cleopatra: $699)


What’s in the box:

Included at no additional charge with each order.

  • In Ear Monitor
  • Empire Pandora Case
  • Empire Cleaning Cloth
  • Empire Cleaning Tool
  • Final Audio Type E Tips - SS, S, M, L, LL


Gear Compared/Used:


Unique Melody Maestro V2 ($1599)
Empire Ears Valkyrie ($1599)
Unique Melody Mentor V3 ($2599)
Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X ($2499)
Empire Ears Legend X ($2299)

Cayin N6 mk2
Questyle QP2R
Dethonray DTR1
Shanling M5s


Songs:

Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World, Midnight Radio
twenty one pilots-Blurryface, Trench, Regional at Best
Van Morrison-Three Chords & The Truth
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Bonnie Raitt
Ziggy Marley
Damien Marley
Bob Marley
Santana
Stevie Ray Vaughn

Whatever my fancy of the moment


Unboxing (copied from Valkyrie review, tbh):

Coming in a fair-sized box, you would expect the EE product to be well packed and chock full of goodies. One would not be wrong. With a pull up sleeve opening from right to left, you open the book on the purchase. Tucked neatly inside is the IEM already attached to the Effect Audio Ares ii cable. A stunning first look.

Sliding the light, smooth cardboard sleeve off, complete with both EE logos, you find the main box with minimally more writing. Laden on the “flap” side is the company motto, “the pursuit of extraordinary.” On the bottom front is the model and color on a silver sticker. Open the flap and you are presented with a black paperboard thank you wrapped over a foam-core base. In another sleeve are the quick start guide and a cleaning cloth. With the cable wrapped under the thank you, the IEM’s form a heart shape. In other words, double duty in seeing the beauty and making your heart aflutter.

The “drawer,” which is like a child’s jewelry cabinet slides to reveal the Pandora case, Final tips on an aluminum board, and cleaning tool. And, when you think about it, we of the hobby do in fact collect “jewelry” of a different sort…maybe Empire Ears already know, and are playing mind games with us…


Not too much, and some might think not enough. Of the boxes I have, the Clear Tunes Monitor is the best box I have ever seen. Replete with info galore, you marvel at all while listening. Here the focus is on listening. And that is all right.


Fit-n-finish:

Running that many drivers one would expect the unit to be on the larger size. One would not be wrong, and with a long nozzle, fit can be tricky, and did become tedious over time. Where the Valkyrie and LX fit my average sized ears quite well, the Wraith does as well, but can become uncomfortable after a few hours. I was able to adjust and keep listening, but it did affect the overall fit. Using the included Final Audio Type E tips, the seal was quite good, and so was the sound. A company such as EE would not include a tip of choice if it did not fit their bill. I will also admit that the Type E tips are just about the only silicon tips I will use on the higher priced IEM’s I have in possession. My choice as always is the Comply line of tips. I do vary between the comfort, sport and isolation varieties between IEM’s.




The techy bits:

Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control Technology - EIVEC for short - is a new-found approach to incorporating electrostatic drivers into in ear monitors. For all their incredible range and resolution, electrostatic drivers - ESTs - are notoriously hard to control, often overpowering other drivers. EIVEC is our solution to that, and the degree of control provided by EIVEC is so precise that, in the case of Wraith, each EST driver operates independently, performing disparate tasks within the sound stage. The result is a seamless and rich sound signature layered in detail and texture the likes of which you've never heard before.

ESTs are capable of stable production of the entire frequency range from 4kHz - 100kHz. Naturally, humans can't hear much above 20kHz but a driver capable of reliably producing the extreme high frequencies possesses an agility requisite for levels of detail unmatched by any other driver technology. 

synX Crossover Technology

How do crossovers work?

Think of a crossover network as an audio traffic officer, directing highs to your tweeters, midrange to your speakers, and bass to your subwoofers. This is essentially what a crossover does; it takes an input signal and splits it into separate audio bands. Could you imagine having numerous speakers with just a few dedicated audio bands? It would cause a massive audio pile up, forcing the wrong speakers to reproduce the wrong frequencies constantly. We avoid all of this by utilizing specially designed drivers for designated frequency ranges and further maximizing their potential with our latest crossover technology, synX.

Introducing synX
synX is a supercharged crossover design that designates more individual audio bands per driver than any other crossover technology currently in existence. By creating an ultra-wide, multi-channel highway our engineers can manipulate specific parts of the frequency range in order to precision craft the target response and eliminate any signs of phase incoherence between the drivers. Alternatively, mix engineers and audiophiles will have full control of the drivers when equalizing through a mixing console or digital audio player. synX is the industry’s most advanced IEM crossover technology with each model featuring its own uniquely designed synX network.synX advantages: Ultra-Wide Frequency Bandwidth, Best Signal-to-Noise, Low Distortion, Maximum Signal Transfer.  

Well…how does it sound?

I will again admit that while I heard the Wraith first, my early time was spent with the Valkyrie. I did initially like the Valk more. It fits my listening style more. I still like the Valkyrie. But after spending extensive time with the Wraith using mainly the QP2R and N6 mk2, I came to completely respect the direction EE is taking with the Wraith. One does not simply throw a flagship out without fully vetting it. You have your reputation, current and future with which to take into consideration. As such EE took their time, and most definitely raised the bar of sound.

So, what does this all mean? Is it worth the $3499usd? That is a judgement of which you and your significant other make, not me. Suffice to say that if I was in the market for a TOTL IEM at this price, the number considered would be quite few and they would have to beat the Wraith to me. Maybe not at the top of the list, but serious listening and consideration would be needed. The Wraith is an exceptional example of music taken to another level by a company, which had no need to improve in this manner. What with the Phantom, Legend X and more affordable models such as the Bravado and ESR; EE was set. But that shows how much the company cares. Implementing new sound sources within their unit takes a bit of guts and a bit of a gamble. I will not mention another company of which I consider on this level who did so and have kind of failed when taking the chances. It is a hit-or-miss sometimes and a company must be quick to recognize either direction. In one you capitalize on it. In the other you learn from the decision and move forward. Here though, EE has a winner. No need to re-evaluate. The Wraith is worthy of the TOTL moniker.

The bass, while short of the LX and Valkyrie is excellent at presentation. Coming on in the right bits and right quantity the support to the others is quite evident. The Wraith is not meant to carry on the level of bass in the others. We are talking of a more neutral sound (to me). Balance and detail come to mind with the Wraith. Vocals are still behind center, but you get the feeling that is where they would be should you be live. Convincing in presentation, it is almost a trick. But it is not, for the sound is true and fairly detailed. Not as detailed as the CTM Da Vinci X, but the sound is not meant to be. For this is a slightly warmer signature, which fits the EE “mold” perfectly. Presenting warm vocals gives an almost sensuous quality to the music. You feel that this would be the IEM of Billy Holiday’s choice. Pure sound, with that bit of chocolaty warmth that comes with winter warmth in front of a small venue live show. Call it authentic bass and you would not be remise.





I do find the mids to be behind the center stage, which until you get used to it can be a bit off-putting. Until you realize that this support range is meant as a tie to both ends. Male vocals are presented a bit darker, while female vocals have that sumptuous quality of sublime presentation. Bonnie Raitt’s rough voiced quality comes across a bit gentler, but without losing that edge. Her voice is to die for, and even through the Wraith you do not lose that quality. You gain a bit of dark nature, which aids in the mystique of her vocal presence.

Others have mentioned how the treble is a bit subdued and rolled off. I concur and really cannot add much other than this is an upper end I thoroughly enjoy. I do not tolerate too much sparkle or sibilance, and neither are present here. Bonnie’s voice carries into the treble range nicely without fatigue, and I find that even with the sensitive nature of the Wraith, I can turn the volume up on Thing Called Love and still enjoy all. Man, what a voice.


With an exceptional soundstage you appreciate the thick nature of the overall sound, especially when a song such as Too Soon To Tell comes on as you sink back into your easy chair, relishing the splendid sound. Wide, deep and fairly tall, the sound is wider than tall. Not cubic but panoramic again. Whatever the elves of SE GA do with regard to soundstage in their swampy shop, do so right. I am enamored with the soundstage application of all EE units. This is no different.

Detail is impressive, as it should be for this level. Not on par with the U18T or tia Forte but combined with the warmer sound than the two just mentioned, and you get a really pleasant signature. This is wonderfully detailed, in that combination. As such the separation is very, very good. On par with the UM Mentor V3, but not quite as good as the CTM Da Vinci X. That provides the listener with excellent air and separation to go along with the detail. Here there is good clarity to go along, and that helps.

To alleviate any fears regarding less than stellar detail or separation or an airy presence, I throw on Dave Matthews Stay Or Leave. Such a wonderful love song, with a complex intricate melody, much like a love affair. And this is how you could look at the Wraith. In its presence, it will surprise you. And that is the telling nature of the signature. A nice surprise to make you feel, “yep, this is really quite extraordinary on its own merits.” This is an impressive package, indeed.


Comparisons:


Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Unique Melody Maestro V2 ($1599):

Repeatedly stated, this was my first foray into TOTL-dom. And I still have the pair. Presenting a very clean signature, the sound is nonetheless thin when compared to the robust Wraith sound. Where the Wraith is robust in its presentation and signature, the Maestro is more delicate. More deliberate. Just like the name implies, the Maestro is in control of the overall, moving with authoritative distinction and delicacy. The bass is as good quantity-wise as the Wraith, but of lesser quality. There is definitely more air between the notes, with better placement and separation of note. The sound is pure, ever so slightly warm and breathes wonderfully in most genre of music. I still appreciate the tuning very much, even as other wares from UM and others pass it by technologically. With 12 BA drivers (4 each for lows and mids, 2 each for high and “superhigh”) and “only” four crossovers, the Maestro set the stage during the driver wars. Tight control, with the airy sound lent a signature, which was clear but not analytical as were many of the time. It was only a short time ago that not only were driver counts the forte, but a “reference” signature was au rigor. UM flew against the grain setting sound signature as their “reference,” not pure analytical sound. A sound I very much appreciate and still like.

But here is where the Wraith has passed the Maestro. Newer technology, and the electrostatic drivers are just too much for me not to like. The Maestro is very, very good. The Wraith is exceptional. If you like air between your notes, and value placement, then the Maestro is your ticket here. If you want an overall higher quality signature, then the choice would justify the price difference your wallet would suffer.



Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Empire Ears Valkyrie ($1599):

This would be like comparing the older sibling to the younger less-developed sibling. But warranted, because each is their own IEM, and each delivers a significantly different sound. Where the Wraith is all-encompassing, with a fantastic tone; the Valkyrie is oriented around that fabulous W9 subwoofer. The bass is almost thunderous (the Legend X’s dual-W9 subs are thunderous), bettering the Wraith in the reach department. That is not to say the Wraith does not have sufficient bass like a reference sound. It has exceptional bass quality and can hold its own against whatever TOTL IEM you throw in its path. It simply to me does not have the sub-bass quantity of the Valkyrie (or Legend X).

Where the Wraith is pure and exudes that sense of complete immersion, the Valkyrie would be the Disneyworld ride with the thundering bass, adding to the impending natural disaster, which magically avoids you JUST in the nick of time. I love the Valkyrie sound. It fits my tone better than anything I have encountered save the Legend X. And if it were not for the Legend X, I would purchase the Valkyrie. I think that highly of it. But the Wraith is the proverbial ‘nother level. It is all-around better.


Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Unique Melody Mentor V3 ($2599):

After participating in another tour, I deemed the Mentor V3 worthy of a purchase. I liked the sound signature more than the Mason V3. To me the bass presented was better and more prevalent. But, when compared to the Wraith, the separation is pretty clear. I found the sound stage to be wider in the Wraith, and separation of note better as well. The overall darker signature of the Mentor is quite good for my tastes, but I do wish it had a bit more sub-bass quantity; even with the adjustable opening (which is quite novel, as is the changeable cable from side-to-side).

As an equal partner at the top of the UM line, the Mentor arrives at its signature sound in a different manner than the Mason V3. With a bit less air and detail, but better mid and bass presentation, the Mentor is a complimentary pair to the Mason, giving people two options from which to choose. It was the slightly darker signature, which I preferred with the Mentor, and still use it quite a bit. The only part I do not like is the fit of the cable over-ear. Well too stiff for me, the ear guides are pliable but too stiff. Plus, the proprietary cable is not for everyone. With the ability to change from a cleaner to darker signature, I applaud the decision, but find the cable ungainly with which to work. Having the adjustment screw for bass can help alleviate one’s need for bass. With the Wraith, you are set. But man, what a set tone. Having the ability to fine tune the sound is nice to have, but not entirely needed. And in this regard, I would put the Wraith ahead of the Mentor for overall sound quality.


Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Clear Tunes Monitor Da Vinci X ($2499):

Also purchased after a tour, the Da Vinci X is just about the clearest sound I have heard. With enough air between notes to make a stadium full of Futbol fans lightheaded, you get every nuance. Every detail. Every bit of clarity there can be from the music. Of the IEM’s I have heard, the X is the cleanest sound I have heard. Without being antiseptic, the sound is wholesome and good. Treble with the perfect amount of sparkle. Mids worthy of inclusion in the finest museum, and bass sufficient enough to put it all together. But there may be a bit TOO much clarity as I cannot turn the volume up too much without it bothering me after a listening session. That added clarity comes at the cost of listening-ability. It is a trade-off I take, but do feel there is a presence, a lack of soul, which is missing on some tracks.

There is no lack with the Wraith. Cut from similar clarity sound, the Wraith is an excellent sound, period. Darker, more mysterious the Wraith can cut it with pretty much anything out there. Not quite the clarity of the Da Vinci, but with more depth of sound, I very much like the sound.



Empire Ears Wraith ($3499) vs Empire Ears Legend X ($2299):

From one TOTL to another, the comparison is valid for when you replace a Legend, you had better bring you’re A-game. And the Wraith does. But I prefer the Legend X. Having one w9 like the Valkyrie is fabulous. Having TWO W-9’s is phenomenal, and the bass is worthy of your floor-standing speakers. It is that good. And I cannot underestimate how much I like that sound. Treble stops short of becoming grating to me, and I can listen for long periods. Pinky says this right: it is the best IEM he has ever heard. We have both heard the tia Fourte as well, which does provide more air and clarity, but that meaty sound of the Legend is what makes it for both of us.

If you want a no-nonsense sound, then the Wraith has very few peers anywhere. If you prefer a meatier sound, then the Legend X has few peers. Plus, that bass is to die for.



Sources:

Most of the time was spent with the Cayin N6 mk2, since that was also in house. To think of the pairing together as good would be an incredible insult to both. This truly is end-game material especially with the functionality of the Cayin. I only scratched the surface of usability with the N6ii, but in the short time I have it I discerned it quite capable. As such, it was a wonderful pairing with the Wraith. Adding a touch more warmth, the sound was sublime. Adding depth as well, gave what few shortcomings the Wraith may have had a boost, the two seemed destined for each other. It was truly a treat to hear the pairing and one in which I could easily judge all others. I spent approximately 40 hours together with the duo.


Next on the list was my Questyle QP2R, which is quite superb on its own. Rivaling the price of the N6 mk2, the QP2R comes at you with pure sound. Fewer frills than the Cayin, the Questyle is meant for sound. And in typical Questyle manner, it is clean, clear, crisp, and vibrant. This was actually an excellent. Pairing as well, giving the Wraith a lift where needed, adding a bit of air, which is lacking in the presentation. Think of it as the frisky friend Tigger who tries to raise Eeyore’s spirits. And does so, because Eeyore has no choice. I would call the pairing as good as the Cayin, but from two different points: the Cayin is dark and mysterious, while the QP2R is open and airy, almost clinical in presentation but not. This is most definitely reference sound, and good.


Spending a bit of time with the Dethonray DTR1, I found the pair quite musical, but a step down from either the Cayin or Questyle. I liked it, but I do believe even the pureness of the DTR1 was out of its depth here. It did work quite well with the Valkyrie, though. Tale of two IEM’s maybe…


Conclusion:

The duo is headed east to NYC at the moment, and I lament their loss. They are marvelous from two differing directions. The Valkyrie is certainly not a baby-Legend X, but a wonderfully affordable unit, which espouses terrific bass and the electrostat pulls the rest together. The Wraith on the other hand is meant for purity of sound, with a solid thump as well. Not like the Valk/Legend, but cleaner and respected for the overall slightly warm tone, which presents itself rightly as a TOTL. This is not kids play. This is serious business when you reach this point. To flippantly flail out $3500 on an IEM would be foolish no matter what us hobby-gentlemen state. I would state the same with the 64Audio pair mentioned often here as well. When one reaches this point, you had better listen, lest you find out the tuning is not for you. That said, the Wraith is forgiving enough that you would quickly adjust. And I do think that is one of its greatest strengths…the ability to win you over, once you listen. I still like the Valkyrie more, but the Wraith won me over in the end with its solid build, fabulous electrostats, and a sound, which the industry should take notice of…or be jealous on the sidelines as EE passes them by. Splendid, indeed.

I thank all from Empire Ears for the loan of these gems, as well as [USER=191965]@Barra[/USER] and @BulldogTM for the continued support of these tours. I have heard the gear of a lifetime, and hope it continues. Now the wait for my Legend X…