In Homer’s Odyssey, when Odysseus’s ship passes Sirenum Schopoli – the island where the Sirens live – he has his crew plug their ears, so they aren’t so bewitched by the Sirens’ beautiful song. But Odysseus himself is tied to the mast of the ship so that he can hear the song without abandoning his quest. Does the Empire Ears x Astell&Kern Odyssey possess the sort of enchanting sound that would be worth being tied to the mast of an ancient Greek sailing vessel just to hear for a moment?
OK, probably not – but is it good enough to bewitch you out of $3399?
Build and Design
Odyssey’s design evokes the Empire Ears Odin with a black resin shell and a faceplate that looks almost like there’s a rainbow of lava flowing under the surface. Considering that there are 10 drivers inside, with 2 dynamic, 1 bone conduction, and 2 EST to go along with the 5 balanced armature drivers, it’s a fairly large IEM. This is also definitely a more “advanced” IEM in terms of fit as it has a fairly long nozzle to go along with the large shell.
Odyssey comes with the Effect Audio Ares II, an OCC Copper Litz cable. It pairs well with the Odyssey, and we tried a number of different options, concluding that our favorite – both in aesthetics and sound – was the Eletech Iliad. We enjoyed the literary juxtaposition of Iliad and Odyssey almost as much as the sonic characteristics.
Odyssey has a sound that’s very clearly derived from the Empire Ears Odin, but tweaked and rebalanced to deliver a little more musicality – and a lot more bass (thanks to that bone conduction driver it got from the Legend EVO). A lot of the changes seem like they’ve taken a variety of feedback to release a sort of limited edition “director’s cut” of the Odin with a bit more of a crowd-pleasing sort of flagship sound.
How exactly do you please a crowd of IEM lovers? Typically the answer is pretty simple: more bass. Odyssey delivers incredibly deep powerful bass that hits hard in the midbass, rumbles deep in the subbass, and provides strong texture and detail in bass instruments all the way down. The subbass has a characteristic where it’s almost like a lightswitch that turns on when it’s needed, but never turns on outside of appropriate tracks. It manages to provide a reference like sound in the upper bass and low mids, while providing that depth and power when needed.
The midrange is set back from the bass a little, with a neutral tonality and a largely natural sound. As you move into the upper mids, Odyssey remains neutral, without the added presence boost of Odin. And the treble is well extended with good definition and air. There is a slight v-shaped feeling to Odyssey, but almost as if it’s just on the outside, where many songs will sound relatively neutral, or just slightly bright, but EDM, modern alternative rock, or hip-hop will bring out a stronger sense of a v-shaped tuning.
The soundstage is moderately wide, with the focus being on clarity in the image over exaggerated wideness in the stage. Odyssey excels in imaging and separation, providing a strong vivid, holographic presentation. While the vocal performance remains excellent, it lacks the same intensity as the Odin, but also avoids some of the fatigue in that range.
On Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart,” the opening synth defines the width and depth of the stage, and then crisp, detailed bass hits right in the center of it. The rest of the instruments file in around the bassline with a strong sense of definition, positioning, and clarity to each. It’s very easy to visualize a stage and the placement of the piano, guitar, bass, and drums along with the space in between each instrument. The bass drum has a natural feeling with a combination of impact and the sensation that you can almost touch the texture of the drum head. When the vocals finally arrive, they’re almost half whispered, but still cut through the mix, delivering a personal, intimate feeling.
Steve Cole’s brand of smooth jazz mixes classic saxophone lines with R&B grooves and modern production values. "Smoke and Mirrors" is the sort of track that more technical sounding IEMs can get tripped up on, as there are a lot of instruments to keep track of, yet everything exists in service to the groove, so if the separation is too strong it can start to sound incoherent. The saxophone is also meant to sound smooth, so if the treble is too peaky, the saxophone becomes harsh with too much bite. Odyssey navigates around each of these obstacles, delivering a cohesive groove in the rhythm section, with each instrument demonstrating natural separation from the others, and a saxophone sound with just the right amount edge to make you feel like you’re walking down the streets of a neon lit city in a neo-noire detective movie, but balanced to deliver those sweet, smooth licks.
“You and I” by Ingrid Michaelson begins with a softly strummed ukulele, and Ingrid’s voice comes in up close and personal. The presentation is intimate and natural, with the high notes hitting just the sort of visceral reaction you’d expect from hearing a singer live. The male vocal on the second verse is warm, and sounds similarly personal. The ukulele is never lost in the mix, even as vocal harmonies build in overdubs. The surprise “we will rock you” beat adds a whole new layer to the sound with a deep, heavy impact that Odyssey is only too happy to drive into your ears.
Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” presents the artist’s unique brand of techno-americana, driven by acoustic guitar as much as driving bass. The timbre of the acoustic guitar has a natural brightness, and the vocals are set further back with a good sense of air to them. When the bass drops, it’s among the most physical bass presentations that I imagine being possible in an IEM: there’s impact, rumble, and seemingly bottomless extension, but a great sense of the texture in the bass all the way down. The treble is well controlled, with some sizzle in the percussion and good ear gain with the higher synths, but nothing feels harsh or sharp, even after turning the volume up quite a bit.
Comparison: Noble Viking Ragnar
If you’re looking for a newly released, 10 driver, multikilobuck flagship IEM, you’re in luck – there are two out there right now, and they’re both excellent. While they’re both excellent, they’re also very different, offering different takes on flagship performance. So in a battle of Norse history and Greek mythology, who’s coming out on top?
In terms of the build and design, Odyssey is incredibly striking and absolutely gorgeous to look at, but it’s really just a very nice looking resin shell. Viking Ragnar on the other hand, has a simpler design, but the combination of aluminum and Damascus steel represent next level craftsmanship. Odyssey does have the edge in weight, so if you have trouble keeping heavier IEMs in place, it might be better for you.
In terms of the imaging and soundstage, the presentation is quite similar, with Viking Ragnar providing a slightly larger soundstage, while Odyssey has a little more of a holographic sense to the image. The differences in imaging are the sort of thing where you might feel one or the other is better from track to track – maybe Odyssey provides a clearer sense of position for Pink Floyd, while Viking Ragnar has stronger imaging with Thelonious Monk – and not a huge difference between the two.
Where the difference is much stronger is the tonality – and particularly the bass. Odyssey is an absolute bass monster, delivering deep, thick, physical bass. Viking Ragnar has neutral, clean, accurate bass. The mids are also notable as – not unlike the comparison between Odin and Viking Ragnar – Viking Ragnar has more weight and thickness in the mids, while Odyssey’s mids can feel slightly thin by comparison. The treble is more similar with both having a slight emphasis in the treble, with a little extra sparkle and air.
In the end, Viking Ragnar is reference tuned and finds its musicality more from accurate reproduction of sound than through emphasis in the tuning. Odyssey delivers more of a fun sound that emphasizes and extends the bass for enhanced impact and dynamics.
The Bottom Line
Odyssey is the perfect sort of limited edition IEM. It offers a somewhat experimental twist on the Empire Ears Odin, combining its DNA with a little bit of Legend EVO to create something truly special. Odyssey scratches that itch for people who’ve heard the Odin and wish it had a lot more bass, or wish the Legend EVO had more intense, holographic imaging. Wherever the inspiration came from, Odyssey doesn’t need to live in the shadow of either of those, because it’s a truly legendary IEM in its own right.