The Vikings believed that if they fell valiantly in battle, the Valkyries would carry them up to Valhalla – where the brave will live forever and the mead flows like wine – or something like that. The Empire Ears Valkyrie doesn’t have any mead to serve you, but it does want to carry you up to the halls of audio Valhalla – where the beat will live forever! So does the Valkyrie succeed, or does it leave you lying in a tangled mess of cables on the IEM battlefield?
The Build and Design
Empire Ears always gets high marks for their unboxing experience, but opening the box and seeing the Valkyrie takes it to the next level. The sparkling marbled green shells for the standard universal fit version are absolutely stunning. The actual IEMs are very light, and moderately sized, which made for a comfortable fit in my ears. One note on the Valkyrie (and Empire Ears “X Series” as a whole) is that it uses a vented design which has some benefits, but causes a little bit more noise bleed than a typical IEM.
Much like the bright, visual detail of the IEMs themselves, the Valkyrie’s sound is bright with sparkling highs, but also tight, powerful bass. The tuning is V-shaped, with accentuation on the bass, sub-bass and treble, while the mids are tempered a bit. Vocals are detailed and personal with a touch of airiness, while the combination of the dynamic subwoofer driver and vented shells provide a very exciting physical nature to the bass. The proprietary electrostatic driver provides plenty of treble without the harsh peaks that can come with some treble heavy IEMs.
Looking at the tuning of the Valkyrie, I was expecting pop, rock, and electronic music to sound amazing, while genres like classical, jazz, or progressive rock which benefit from a large amount of detail across the full spectrum would suffer a little, but the Valkyrie delivered a detailed coherent experience across everything I threw at it, from solo piano concertos to Big Band Jazz with Glenn Miller. Big factors in the Valkyrie’s performance are its coherence, broad soundstage, and imaging. While it only has three drivers per side, the Valkyrie has a coherence and separation between instruments that rivals IEMs with many, many more drivers. The vented design, which helps provide additional bass impact, also adds a touch of the wide soundstage which you expect from an open-back headphone.
Taking all these factors together – the punchy bass and focused treble, the soundstage, and the coherence created by its engineering – the Valkyrie is very addictive. IEMs are often fun but eventually fatiguing for me, however the Valkyrie has all the fun of good IEMs without the factors that lead to fatigue.
Bonus Review: iBasso DX220
As always, I used a variety of devices to test the Valkyrie, and I found the iBasso DX220 to be a strong pairing for a portable solution. Like many other DAPs, the DX220 uses an Android based interface to allow you to install various streaming services and music apps, as well as use iBasso’s preinstalled music player to play a variety of formats including MQA. You have access to a number of filters, EQ, and a high/low gain switch (I used low gain to listen with the Valkyries, but the high gain mode would be better for something like the HiFiMAN Arya that I recently reviewed). You can also bypass the DAC on the DX220 and use it solely as a headphone amp with a separate DAC.
Using the default settings the iBasso DX220 provided a smooth, balanced output with the Valkyrie. iBasso labels the DX220 as a “Reference DAP,” and compared to some other sources, I found that the DX220 outputs a little bit less bass. If the defaults don’t suit your tastes, the DX220 provides parametric and graphic equalizers, and there are seven built-in DAC filters which provide more subtle adjustments to the sound.
The Bottom Line
My first impression of the Valkyrie was opening the box to see how amazing they looked in person. As amazing as they looked, as soon as I put them in my ears I didn’t really care how they looked because of how they sound. The bass is tight and physical but never overpowering. The highs provide a brightness without harshness that elevates vocal and solo instrumental performances. The soundstage is lush and spacious.
The fact is, I’ve spent hours with the Valkyrie in the last week, and I’ve been done with this review for two hours, but I still don’t want to take them out of my ears.