Legend X has lived up to its name to indeed become a legend. The flagship IEM for discerning listeners who want detail and resolution, but also want to be completely flattened by powerful bass response – is truly a one of a kind earphone. The Special Edition, originally released exclusively in Hong Kong, but later released to a broader audience for another limited run, was designed to maintain the depth, impact, and rumble of the Legend X, but to tighten up the rest of the response to make it a little more balanced. The question is, does trying to balance the king of bass actually work, or should it have been left alone?
Build and Design
The Legend X Special edition gets a whole new look, and man, is it a look. It’s mostly transparent shell gives you a peak at the internal workings and drivers, which is always cool, and the faceplates have a brushed silver design with the Empire Ears logo on the right side, and a simple X on the left. Each IEM has the serial number printed on it, but since it’s a limited edition, these are very small, low numbers: I’ve had the privilege of listening to #5.
In addition to the new design, the internal wiring has been upgraded. Rather than the standard copper wire, the SE uses a mix of silver, and high purity copper wiring. To complement the wiring upgrade, the special edition comes with the absolutely stunning Effect Audio Cleopatra silver cable. The silver provides improvements in clarity and weight over even the high purity copper in the Ares II cable that was bundled with the original Legend X. In terms of looks, the new shells and Cleopatra cable combine to create a beautiful, unique design.
Deep, wide, smooth… these are just a few of the words I could use to describe the Legend X Special Edition. Bass is the star of the show, but rather than a one trick pony, Legend X SE gives you smooth but prominent treble, and detailed mids that are pulled back, but not deeply recessed. The deep rumble of the subbass, and tight punch of the bass are complemented by sizzling cymbals, crisp vocal delivery, and natural instrument timbre and balance.
The soundstage has great width and height, with fairly good depth as well. The imaging is precise and holographic. There’s an immersive feeling to the whole 3D image which is presented in a sort of short horseshoe shape extending from just behind the listeners ears and wrapping around in front.
On the title track of Steve Cole’s Smoke and Mirrors, there’s a smooth synth and arpeggiated guitar that start the track. The fingerpicking on the guitar is clear and bright, while the Legend X SE presents the synth as an ethereal canvas for the rest of the band to play over. When the groove hits, the drum and bass have a cohesive feeling, with the bass adding color and depth to the tight punch of the bass drum. The attack and decay of the cymbals is tight, with splashes and crashes bouncing from left to right. And the saxophone? You have literally never heard anything so smooth in your entire life as listening to Steve Cole playing saxophone with the Legend X SE. Got a dictionary? Look up “smooth.” If it doesn’t have a picture of Steve Cole and a Legend X SE, throw it out.
This being a limited edition with a very small run, I wasn’t even planning on reviewing the Legend X SE, but when I got my hands on one, and listened to “Wish You Were Here” by Incubus, I knew I had to give this IEM my full attention. The combination of how it presents the complex, gritty texture of the guitars, the small details in the percussion, and the powerful delivery of the drums and bass, it was the perfect IEM for listening to one of my favorite songs off one of my favorite albums. And the vocals – on the verse they’re up front and more intimate, but when the band gets big on the chorus, there’s a very realistic feeling to the balance of a singer getting louder and singing harder to not be drowned out by the rest of the band.
Legend X SE’s more technical capabilities were fully on display listening to “Gladiator Orchestra Suite Part 3, Now We Are Free” from The World of Hans Zimmer live performance. While the definition isn’t as strong as you might get from the Empire Ears Odin, there’s a good sense of separation and good staging of the instruments. The vocals have a warmth and intimate feeling despite being surrounded by this massive orchestra, blending soaring highs and the deepest depths in the low strings and percussion. The whole performance comes together with Legend X SE enveloping the listener in an immense, emotional performance.
Comparison: Legend X
I suppose the best way to understand the Legend X SE is to compare it to the original Legend X, and see exactly how they stack up with each other. While the two look quite different, the sound signatures are ultimately very similar, with just a few changes and tweaks here and there separating the two.
In terms of the bass – the big draw here – the subbass extension is very similar, with both having a strong low rumble that elevates the very bottom end of the music. In the midbass, the OG Legend X has just a little bit more punch and a stronger impact, but also a slightly stronger touch of bloat going into the midbass. Overall the biggest difference was that, while I love the original Legend X, it had more of a feeling of overpowering bass when compared to prominent and elevated, but more controlled bass of the SE.
The mids is really where these two differentiate from each other. The SE has a little less punch in the midbass, but a little bit stronger, more coherent low mids that provide more texture to the bass instruments. The OG’s mids start to take a dive pretty quick, and while they remain detailed, they’re more recessed by comparison. Meanwhile the SE gives you just a little bit more midrange that serves to elevate the vocals, and instruments like guitars, providing a better sense of balance.
The treble was actually somewhat surprising to me, as the OG Legend X had a touch of sharpness in instruments like saxophones and violins that wasn’t there in the SE. The SE strikes more of a balance in providing some sense of air and space, while retaining a smooth overall character.
In terms of how both IEMs present the 3D image in soundstage and imaging, there is a lot that’s the same, but the SE feels like by just turning the bass down and the mids up a smidge, it’s providing a more cohesive overall presentation of the musical performance.
The Bottom Line
If you love the deep powerful bass of the Legend X, but feel like it’s just missing something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, the Special Edition bolsters the mids, has a better sense of space and air, and more natural timbre and tonality. It’s definitely a Legend X, as it retains the powerful, somewhat exaggerated bass of the original, but it fills in the rest of the sound to make a more complete, versatile IEM.