Empire Ears Odin Review

Teased for what seems like years, and delivered to no small amount of anticipation, Odin is here. Sporting a striking look and a special cable made specifically to complement the Odin’s sound signature, its goal is to be the gold standard for top of the line IEMs. So is Odin worth all the hype, and how does it stack up against other top of the line products?

Build and Design

Odin comes packaged in Empire Ears’ premium packaging, with a few small accessories, including ear tips, a case, and of course the Stormbreaker cable. Not content to be paired with just any cable, Stormbreaker was specifically designed for the Odin. While it doesn’t have the heft or weight of many high end cables, Stormbreaker has a smooth tangle resistant design, and just the slightest bit of memory in the ear hooks to provide a soft comfortable fit. In terms of quality, it holds its own compared to a number of Effect Audio and Noble cables I was able to compare it to, and is definitely an all around premium product.

Empire Ears Odin

What about the Odin itself? Odin features the standard Empire Ears acrylic shell with the gorgeous “Bifrost” faceplate. Bifrost, if you’re not familiar with Norse mythology or Marvel movies, is the magical rainbow bridge which connects Asgard to the rest of the nine realms. The Bifrost faceplate features a swirl of rainbow colors which almost give the illusion that they’re swirling inside of the shell. Altogether, Odin has a nice feel to it, and is a visual upgrade to recent Empire Ears offerings with a greater degree of detail and polish.

The Sound

If you’ve listened to much of Empire Ears previous lineup, aspects of the Odin are going to sound familiar, but also a little different. The bass is immediately recognizable from the Legend X, and aspects of the Wraith and Zeus-XIV are noticeable as well. The Odin takes standout aspects of each, and makes them play as a team. The Legend X bass isn’t here to rattle your brains with a 360 dunk from the foul line, it’s playing for a team now. It’s going to set up amazing plays with the bright yet smooth treble from the Wraith up top, and Zeus-XIV in the middle. And man, these guys are ready to start up a dynasty.

Odin is a complex mix of being neutral, but fun, and analytical while remaining musical. The bass, mids, and treble are impeccably balanced. The soundstage is wide and deep, and the imaging holographic. The detail retrieval, attack, decay, and other technical details are all spot on, while retaining a natural feeling with acoustic instruments.  Each tonal characteristic of Odin taken by itself could have been a highlight of an excellent IEM, but together they make something truly top of the line.

The Odin also scales down rather well, and sounds great with a variety of sources. This is especially notable for an IEM with prominent treble <cough>Wraith<cough>Khan<cough> as very often lower quality DACs create harsh sharp treble peaks, but the Odin’s treble remains smooth and pleasant with a variety of sources including the headphone jack in my laptop, my $30 FiiO iPhone DAC, and the iBasso DX160. That’s not to say that Odin isn’t an incredibly honest IEM. Listening to Muse’s “Citizen Erased” (chosen for its use of noise, overly distorted guitars, and frequent high frequency sounds) while switching back and forth between the iBasso DX220 Max and my laptop jack was like night and day. Gobs of detail and texture simply evaporated in the laptop connection, and when I was back in the DX220 Max, the richness of the layers of synth and voices and the crunch of the guitar were that much more apparent as Odin was able to pull every ounce of detail out of the recording.

Empire Ears Odin SE200

While I’m talking about “Citizen Erased” I should note that this is now the second time I’ve had synaesthesia triggered by listening to music with IEMs. I noted in my review of the Wraith that during a particularly intense musical passage, I experienced a mild visual hallucination. The ending sequence of “Citizen Erased” with a swirling soundscape moving all across the soundstage triggered a similar effect. I’m guessing that it may have something to do with the Empire Ears electrostatic technology, but it’s also possible that I should just lay off the energy drinks while I’m reviewing headphones.

Mew’s “Snow Brigade” starts with a series of low-fi guitar sounds devolving into static before the vocals hit, and the initial noise coalesces into winding guitar and bass riffs bouncing back and forth between the left and right ears. Odin’s incredible soundstage serves as a canvas to paint the sonic images onto. Microdetails from recording artifacts to the small nuances in between layers of the soundscape abound. In the chorus, the balance between the separation of instruments and the blending thereof provides a massive wall of sound that you can take apart brick by brick with just the slightest focus on each individual element.

Listening to Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I” the ukulele sounds bright and natural and Ingrid’s voice is sweet and personal. As the female and male vocals trade lines on the second verse, the female vocals are a bit more forward, but when they move into the multi-part overdubbed harmony on the second chorus, the Odin demonstrates holographic imaging as it places the singers in a circle around you, seemingly alternated boy, girl, boy, girl.

On Charlie Hunter’s bluesy jazz romp “Speakers Built In,” Odin balances smooth grooves with funky, tripped out lead work. As the song shifts through multiple beats and riffs, the Odin delivers searing lead lines, intricate details in the cymbal work, and a thumping, pulsing bass.

The Beatles’ “Come Together” is a good demonstration of the space and positioning that Odin provides. Each member of the band playing on top of each other for the verse riff has a solid feeling of placement on the stage, and a good mix of each layer remaining separated and coherent while feeling well blended as part of the whole. In what was a first for the Odin, the vocals felt slightly recessed.

For a taste of classical, I put on Lars Ulrik Mortensen’s recording of “Sonata sopra ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la” featuring primarily violin, viola, and harpsichord. I close my eyes, and I’m transported to a hall with marble pillars, sitting a few feet away from the quartet of musicians. The strings are spritely and dynamic alternating between more chordal playing and faster runs. The harpsichord is well placed in the mix playing foundational chords and providing the glue between the rest of the instruments. The violin sound is rich and detailed, and the highest notes retain their strong emotional character without becoming harsh or shrill.

Pairings: Hugo 2, iBasso DX220 Max, Astell&Kern SE200

The primary pairings I used with the DX220 were the Chord Electronics Hugo 2, iBasso DX220 Max, and Astell&Kern SE200. While there were more commonalities than differences between the two, there were a couple differentiators of each experience. The iBasso DX220 Max added a touch more low end and a bit of warmth to the Odin. If you’re hoping for a little bit more of that Legend X bass to show up, the DX220 Max did the best job of coaxing it out and extending the subbass, without interfering with other aspects of the sound signature. The Astell&Kern SE200 proved to be the opposite, and provided some treble emphasis, without the extent of the warm bass of the DX220 Max. The Hugo 2, to me, provided the definitive Odin experience – a neutral, clear window into an incredibly balanced IEM.

Comparison: Noble Sultan, 64 Audio Tia Fourte, Empire Ears Legend X

To really get a sense of where Odin sits in the pantheon of top of the line IEMs, I tested it against top end IEMs from Noble and 64 Audio, as well as the fan favorite Empire Ears Legend X. Each demonstrated different strengths and emphasis across songs from some of my favorites across a variety of genres. For the comparisons, I used the Chord Hugo 2 plugged into my laptop for all the IEMs and songs to provide as consistent an experience as possible.

Odin, Tia Fourte, Sultan, Legend X, Se200, DX220 Max, Hugo 2

Mew “Snow Brigade”

This song highlights some of the differences and similarities between the Odin and Sultan. While the fuzzed out portion of the bass is particularly strong with Odin, the slightly lower register into the subbass offers a rounder warmer tone with the Sultan. On the higher end, the mids and highs lack some of the smoothness and sense of organization that of the Odin. Where Odin is able to take the various fuzzed out guitar bass and synth frequencies and bring them together in a more cohesive package, it all sounds noisier and fuzzier – and perhaps a bit more fatiguing – with the Sultan.

I honestly expected the Legend X to deliver too much bass on this track, but surprisingly, it didn’t. It did a great job of delivering the warm low-end with full extension into the subbass while also capturing much of the smoothness and musicality in the mids and highs that the Odin delivers – though without the same level of detail.

“Snow Brigade” was probably the best performance for the Tia Fourte of any of the songs I selected. The mids remained cohesive, and the bass never became overpowering. The treble elements were well organized and a touch airy, without becoming harsh.

Ingrid Michaelson “You and I”

The ukulele on “You and I” sounds particularly rich with the Sultan, and the balance between vocalists is a little bit more even than Odin’s. The overdubbed vocals, however, don’t have quite the impact or sense of holographic imaging as Odin.

The Legend X impressed on this track with a natural sound to the ukulele, and strong all around performance with the vocals, but nothing was quite as jaw-dropping as the Odin or Sultan.

With the Tia Fourte the ukulele has a bit of unnatural timbre, but Ingrid’s voice is very well delivered and intimate. The balance between male and female vocals was about the same as the Sultan, and the overdubs hit with a similar level of “great-but-not-quite-Odin” impact.

Charlie Hunter “Speakers Built In”

The Sultan provides a little more support in the low end, providing a little more feeling of impact from driving bassline. The guitars and keys felt a little sharper, and lacked some of the smooth delivery of the Odin.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I have some basshead tendencies, and Legend X absolutely owned this song for me. The bass was vibrating my skull, and the lead instruments were tight and smooth. No it didn’t have the detail of the Odin or Sultan, nor did it have a good balance between the rhythm and lead sections, but if ever there were a place to break out a little (or a lot) extra low-end, bluesy soul-jazz is it.

The Tia Fourte has a different sort of physical pop in the bass, and some really nice texture, but the mids get a little congested, and the both the overall mix and individual instrument timbre don’t feel as balanced or natural as the other IEMs I tested.

The Beatles’ “Come Together”

This is perhaps the closest the Sultan and Odin came in comparison in any song. There are some subtle differences to the texture of the bass, just a touch more bass presence from the Sultan, with a little more brightness from the Odin, and the vocals are a little further forward in the Sultan. Otherwise the signature and experience is remarkably similar between the two.

This one is probably a love it or hate it moment for the Legend X, as the bass is incredibly palpable and well captured, but it also has the sensation that it’s dominating the mix – even if it’s never so much as to drown out the more intricate and detailed elements higher in the mix.

“Come Together” really complements the Tia Fourte’s soundstage. The various panning effects used in the song had the strongest sensation of genuine movement with the Fourte. There were also some elements of the higher end of the cymbals it captured exceptionally well.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen performance of “Sonata sopra ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la”

Here the Sultan seems to have some extra emphasis in the high mids,, and also places the harpsichord further forward in the mix. There’s a slightly different timbre to the violins – still natural, but with a more emphasis in the treble. There’s a touch of sharpness in some of the top end of the violin harmonies.

The Legend X sounds a bit thin in the higher registers, but was otherwise dynamic and musical. It lacked both the fullness of the Odin and the brightness of the Sultan.

The Tia Fourte demonstrated perhaps the highest level of detail and had moments of incredible beauty capturing the rich harmonies and textures, but also had the most fatiguing highs, which often became shrill in the crescendos.

Comparison Conclusions

So what does it all mean? I think the Odin and Sultan are essentially two different implementations of the same design idea: create a neutral, balanced IEM that’s exciting, and provides sound signature akin to a set of well configured studio monitors. Both deliver large soundstages and excellent imaging – with the Odin having an edge in the imaging department. The Sultan has a touch more emphasis in the lower end of the bass and extension into the subbass while the Odin has a greater degree of control and cohesion in the mids and highs, resulting in a less fatiguing and more musical signature overall.

Here’s how I would compare the Legend X and Odin: listening to the Legend X is like watching an all-star’s winning dunk in the slam dunk contest. There’s an incredible display of one aspect of the game, unlike anything else out there. The Odin is that same all-star playing on a championship team – get him on a fast break, and he’ll give you a taste of what he can do, but most of the time, he’s working with his team to make everybody look good. Legend X can’t compare to the balance, detail, clarity and resolution of the Odin, but sometimes you just want to watch the highlight reel – not a full game.

The Tia Fourte was an interesting comparison, as it isn’t a “tribid” design like the Sultan or Odin, but features a hybrid design with specially designed balanced armatures for the treble. While the Fourte has an incredible soundstage and resolution, both the Odin and Sultan deliver similar levels of detail in the highs without the same level of harshness and fatigue.

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt: Odin lives up to the hype. Is it the perfect IEM which outperforms every other aspect of every other IEM? No. Does it represent the pinnacle of performance in many facets of design and performance? Absolutely. With it’s incredible resolution, balanced response, massive soundstage, holographic imaging, and a sense of musicality that brings it all together, Odin has arrived, and he demands you take notice.