Empire Ears Legend EVO Review

The Empire Ears Legend Evo is the highly anticipated follow up to the – at the risk of sounding cheesy – legendary bass monster Legend X. In their quest to bring the bass response to the next level while also providing flagship performance across the full sonic spectrum, Empire Ears has integrated bone conduction technology into what they call the Weapon X driver to go along with the dual Weapon IX dynamic drivers of the original Legend X. Loaded with new tech and building on the success of the original, does Legend Evo live up to the original legend, or write a new story all on its own?

Build and Design

While the rest of Empire Ears lineup has moved from simpler black shells with differing versions of the EE logo to a variety of colors and designs that borrow from their custom IEM options, Legend Evo keeps to the classic black look with a slightly translucent shell. While it first appears to be opaque black, move it around a little bit in the light and you can see the drivers, with the new Weapon X bone conduction driver being the most prominent.

Empire Ears Legend EVO

The included Empire Ears x PWAudio Genesis cable adds some aesthetic flair, with blue accents mixed in with the clear-wrapped OCC copper wires. If you manage to get your hands on one of the launch editions, you’ll get a gorgeous handcrafted leather case. Otherwise it’s the sturdy metal Pandora case that has become a standard for Empire Ears IEMs. It also includes a selection of Final eartips and a cleaning tool.

In terms of comfort, these are big IEMs, with a fairly long nozzle and deep insertion. If you’re comfortable with other newer Empire Ears IEMs, these should be right at home, but if you’ve had fit problems with large IEMs or deep nozzles in the past, you might want to be cautious as maximizing the bass performance – both from the dynamic drivers and the bone conduction driver – requires a tight fit and strong seal.

Sound

Legend Evo is perhaps most defined by the seemingly contradictory dichotomy of its bass performance. The strongest characteristic of Legend EVO is its deep, thick, powerful, impactful bass, but what makes that characteristic even stronger is that the bass is so well separated and the rest of the tuning is so well balanced alongside it. It’s bass in your face, but also bass in its place.

Empire Ears Legend EVO

The mids and treble demonstrate flagship level performance and excellent tuning. The subtle details, the sense of resolution in the highs, the presentation of acoustic and electronic instruments, the placement of vocals in the mix – it’s all top notch. Likewise, there’s a wide and deep soundstage coupled with strong imaging. The instrumental separation and definition helps showcase the detail and texture in each instrument, and allow you to easily separate parts mentally. But underneath it all, is this enormous bass, pounding in your ears. It’s sort of like one of those landscape paintings with a monster added. There’s a beautiful detailed painting, and then also a monster: the monster doesn’t take away from the color choices in the flowers, or the warm gradient of the water at sunrise. But, there’s definitely still a monster in this painting.

Chris McMahon Monster Painting

Credit: Chris McMahon

The bass demonstrates deep extension and heavy, hard hitting impact, but can also (unlike the monster in the picture above) demonstrate subtlety as well. In classic jazz or acoustic rock you might hear more of a smooth roundness than the punch in the face you’ll get on a heavy metal track or the deep throbbing bass of EDM.

Probably the most impressive thing about Legend EVO is the way the bass transitions into the mids. For the amount of deep subbass you get, and the strength of the impact in the midbass, there’s zero bleed and no sense of muddiness in the lower mids. Instead you get a nice blending that adds texture and detail which blends with the impact without being drowned out by it. The upper mids aren’t quite as strong, as I felt vocal performances were somewhat mixed. Some deeper male vocals lacked weight, though most tenor vocals and female vocals had a stronger presence.

Acoustic instruments tend to hit on the bright side of natural in terms of their response. While they never cross over into the territory of “tiny” or “metallic” there’s a hint of something missing in the lower frequencies of acoustic guitars and pianos that feels just like 1% off of truly transparent. Percussion on the other hand feels tight, with a good snap to snare drums, and just the right sort of pop to instruments like congas and bongos. Cymbals are crisp with a nice sizzle to hi-hats and the right balance of an energetic splash and resolution with crashes. 

Empire Ears Legend EVO

Legend EVO is very fit dependent and really needs that deep and secure fit to fully deliver the bass. I’m honestly not 100% sure I understand the science behind the bone conduction design, but my impression is that without a firm and secure contact between the IEM shell and your ear, you’re not getting the full experience. With everything securely in place, there’s an added sense of realism to the low end. It’s not just power and impact, it’s power and impact that delivers with all of the warmth and texture of a live performance. As someone who’s played with a number of bands, and spent time in high quality studios, Legend EVO definitely has aspects of a “better than live” sound that hits bass notes with a level of impact that no bass amp can hit without distortion, but presented with clarity and detail.

Death Cab for Cutie's “I Will Possess Your Heart” demonstrates strong performance for listeners who want bass emphasis and impact on music that isn’t traditionally “bass heavy.” Legend EVO’s imaging provides a holographic presentation of the band spread across the stage. As the slow build adds each instrument, you get a clear sense of the position and weight of each instrument, finishing with the strong, crisp vocals. The bassline which drives the song along balances impact and texture, highlighting the low melody while delivering the color and energy of the original performance.

In Delain’s “We Had Everything,” the clear, smooth female vocals float just over the heavy mix of guitars, bass and drums, with synthesizers weaving in and out between it all. There’s a weight and thickness to the bass that puts the “heavy” in heavy metal. The band sounds immense and thick, like walls of sound to the left and right, ready to pulverize you as they close in. But they’re presented with a good sense of spacing and staging – you can appreciate the sparkle in the crisp cymbal work as the walls close in.

Empire Ears Legend EVO

Legend Evo demonstrates its versatility with tracks like Thelonious Monk’s “I Didn’t Know About You.” There’s great separation between each of the instruments and a strong presentation of a 3D image. The bass is big and round, but also detailed and textured on the right, while the soft, brushed cymbal rhythm sits on the left side. The piano is bright and detailed, sitting in the middle of the mix, and with the saxophone solo hits, it has just the right kind of smooth yet forward sound. 

Hans Zimmer’s pieces on the Inception soundtrack uses a blend of orchestral instruments like the double bass, bassoon, and tuba supported by electronic instruments to create its signature massive sound, and Legend EVO delivers the low-end rumble with brain-shaking force. Legend Evo doesn’t just bring the noise and rumble, it also brings the swirling melodies and harmonies of pieces like “Dream is Collapsing” or “Paradox” to life with stunning detail. The width of the soundstage and the strength of the imaging helps deliver the pieces in all their stunning detail and power.

Cable Notes

While listening to EVO, we also happened to have Eletech’s full School of Athens and Parnassus cable lines available for demoing, so I took a gander with each one to see how it affected the listening experience.

Starting with Socrates, which is constructed from monocrystal OCC copper: it was somewhat similar to the stock PWAudio cable, but with a touch more warmth and some lift in the low mids that improved the timbre in acoustic instruments. Eletech’s Pure Silver cable, Plato, lightened the bass up a little in exchange for a wider soundstage and stronger definition at the top.

Empire Ears Legend EVO x Eletech

In the flagship Parnassus series, Iliad, a blend of pure silver, palladium-plated silver, and gold-silver alloy, was similar to Plato with improvements in the timbre, soundstage and definition, but with stronger bass, and boost in the level of perceived detail across the board. Aeneid, Eletech’s top of the line gold cable, takes Iliad to the next level, with similar characteristics bolstered by a wider soundstage, excellent vocal detail, and a similar improvement in the instrument timbre as Socrates.

Comparison: Empire Ears Legend X

We’ve come all this way really just for one reason: the ultimate flagship bass showdown. Is Legend EVO a true evolution of the Legend X design? Can it surpass the depth and quality of the original’s bass? Does it bring something new to the table besides “MOAR BASE?”

Right from the start, Legend EVO has a clear advantage in the level of bass impact delivered, and the depth and extension of the bass. Listening to my reference tracks side by side, Legend X just couldn’t hit as deep or as hard as Legend EVO. This was particularly notable on the tracks like Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” where Legend EVO delivers a whole new layer of low end that isn’t immediately apparent with most headphones or even with the Legend X. Tracks with more deliberate bass emphasis or that use more electronic instruments show less of a gap between the two. So for the question of if Legend EVO can surpass the depth and quality of Legend X’s bass, the answer is unreservedly “yes.”

Empire Ears Legend X vs Legend EVO

As far as the rest of the sonic characteristics, generally Legend EVO feels like it has better constructed highs. On Thelonius Monk’s “I Didn’t Know About You” the saxophone which was smooth and engaging with Legend EVO feels just a bit sharp and harsh on Legend X. There is also some added nuance in the cymbals with Legend EVO, with a little more air. However, there are aspects of the mids where Legend X performs better. It’s particularly in more nuanced areas of timbre and the vocal presentation where Legend X feels a little stronger. Lower range male vocals have better weight, and pianos and acoustic guitars have a fuller more natural sound.

Taken all together, as the one true flagship for bassheads, Legend EVO absolutely builds upon the foundation Legend X laid 3 years ago, and is a true evolution of the original. The Bone Conduction seems to be the secret weapon, opening up new tuning options with this new tech. 

The Bottom Line

Legend EVO delivers the total package, but most importantly with its dual dynamic plus bone conduction design, it delivers a new level of uncompromising low end power. “Uncompromising” might be the best word to describe what makes the Legend EVO so special: it’s not that they didn’t compromise the bass for the sake of the rest of the sound signature, or that they didn’t compromise the overall sound signature for the bass. It’s all there and it’s all excellent. With the Legend EVO, Empire Ears simply didn’t compromise.