Announced alongside the long-awaiting Odin, Hero was a nice surprise from Empire Ears. A hybrid design priced at $1349, it sits right in the middle of a crowded field of high quality IEMs. So how does Hero separate itself from the rest of the pack?
Build and Design
If you’ve read any reviews of past Empire Ears products, you’re aware that they have excellent packaging almost purpose designed for a top notch unboxing experience. Inside the box you get the IEMs, the Alpha-IV cable, a selection of Final eartips arranged in a stainless steel organizer, as well as a cleaning cloth and a sturdy metal case. The Alpha-IV cable is reminiscent of the quality and construction of the Effect Audio cable bundled with the Legend X, but I should note that it has a bit more stiffness and memory than I’d like in a premium cable.
The IEM shells are part of Empire Ears move to provide a stronger degree of visual distinction between models, and have a classy marbled white and black look. The feel and fit of the ceramic shells is classic Empire Ears: lightweight, and comfortable with medium-sized spouts and a generally easy fit.
The first thing that hits you when you pop the Hero into your ears is the resolution and detail retrieval. The second you hit play, you’re hit with a mountain of detail from across the frequency spectrum, from the texture of the bass drum hits, to the subtle sparkle of a guitar lead, and the emotional vibrato in a swell of violins. The soundstage is medium sized, but the Hero does an excellent job providing separation and imaging within the space. The sound signature strikes me as a soft W, with mostly even response across the spectrum and small accentuations in the lower bass, mids, and treble, with small roll-offs at the very top end and very bottom ends of the range.
“Cosmic Slop” by Funkadelic starts with a bit of a cacophony, but the Hero provides good separation between each instrument. The drums have a physical, visceral character and blend well with the deep bassline. The hand percussion provides nice accents which demonstrates Hero’s imaging and spatial capabilities. The experience is possibly even more psychedelic than the band could have imagined it at the time with voices popping in on one side and then the other, and the stereo guitars trading licks that wrap around your head and then burn a hole straight through it.
For something a bit more modern, Linkin Park’s “Numb” is the sort of thing the Hero is perfectly tuned for. The guitars hit with thickness and raw power, and the bass and drums provide a strong physical impact. There’s a good sense of space with the piano and electronic instruments peppered throughout the song. All the right elements are highlighted at the right time creating a dramatic delivery. I honestly listened to the song five times in a row just to appreciate the different textures and details revealed by the Hero’s incredible resolution. This sort of heavily produced modern rock basically serves up an easy pitch right down the middle for Hero to hit a home run.
From the start of Mumford and Son’s “I Will Wait,” Hero demonstrates great speed and dynamics. The attack on the acoustic guitar feels tight and adds a sense of urgency underneath the vocals. The harmonies are rich and have the sense of the natural air and space of voices harmonizing live. The Hero captures the emotion and dynamics of the song, balancing the impact, detail, and responsiveness to deliver a powerful emotional performance.
Evanescence’s Synthesis album, which integrates orchestral, electronic, and rock elements, provides some great testing of the full dynamic capabilities of an IEM across the full range with its mix of rock, electronic, and orchestral elements. The remix of “My Immortal” in particular demonstrated the softer side of the Hero. It deftly delivers every detail, from the textures of the violins to the tiny emotional catches in Amy Lee’s voice.
Comparisons: Campfire Audio Solaris, 64 Audio Nio, Empire Ears Valkyrie
Just from spending some time with Hero, I can tell you that it provides incredible performance and is a solid pick in a very competitive price range, but there’s no way I can wrap up this review without providing some real direct comparisons to some of its competition. For this purpose, I selected the Campfire Solaris 2020 and 64 Audio Nio as two popular recent releases from the same price range, as well as the Empire Ears Valkyrie.
On “I Will Wait,” Nio and Solaris, like Hero, both have a very strong natural delivery of the instruments and vocals, with the Solaris being the most lifelike. The Solaris provides the strongest physical impact in the low end, and while Nio and Hero both provide good impact, their bass doesn’t quite reach the same heights (or perhaps depths?) of the Solaris. The Valkyrie, by contrast, had dynamics and soundstage which rivaled the Hero, but the timbre of the instruments and vocals was just a little bit off, and it lacked the natural delivery that the other IEMs had.
On “Cosmic Slop” Nio had a smooth sound throughout the track, but lacked the impact of either the Solaris or Hero. Where the guitar lines had a bright searing character on the Hero, they sound more restrained on Nio and Solaris. Particularly notable on the Solaris was that the hand percussion aspects were more forward, revealing some interesting interplay in the rhythm section. Valkyrie nails the deep rhythmic bass, and the strong delivery of the soulful vocals is also notable, but the guitars feel a little further back in the mix and instrumental break doesn’t have quite the same impact due to some of the character is lost in the scooped mids.
The Valkyrie and Hero were the real standouts on “Numb,” but for different reasons. Hero provided the most detail, texture, and revealed deep intricacies in the song. Valkyrie provided tons of depth through its subbass extension, and a good amount of detail in the highs. While Nio’s bass provided good impact, the layers and textures of the song didn’t feel quite as organized and coherent, and while Solaris demonstrated excellent subbass extension, it felt a little overly warm at times, with some detail being lost in the lower registers.
On “My Immortal," Nio had a warmer sound than Hero, with a softer tone to the strings, but with less sense of texture and depth to the instruments. The Solaris provided an also somewhat warm, but very lifelike delivery. The Valkyrie demonstrated a similar level of detail in the vocals as the Hero, but was more prone to sibilance.
While there each of the IEMs had some variation in the quality and quantity of bass, the presence of the mids, and the soundstage – and every listener will have a different preference for those thing – one thing is certain: the Hero is the king of detail and resolution in the $1500 range for IEMs. While there were songs where the bass hit just right with the Nio, or ways that the Solaris sounded particularly natural, Hero provided depth, texture, and resolution that was unmatched.
The Bottom Line
Hero is without a doubt one of the strongest new competitors in the sub $2000 price range. With an all around exciting sound signature, and a level of detail and resolution that rivals IEMs costing hundreds of dollars more, Hero offers an incredible price to performance ratio.