Empire Ears is one of the few, US brands that caters to the hi-fi IEM market. In this niche, most brands tend to do one of two things: Play it safely or go wild with their tunings. Empire Ears happens to fall into the latter category, and it’s done so to a surprising degree of success. To this effect, the Valkyrie is their latest tri-hybrid IEM. It utilizes a DD for the lows, a BA for the mids, and an EST for the highs. The Valkyrie is a wild-ride of an IEM that certainly won’t be for everyone, but is stellar for those it appeals to. Let’s talk about why.
I received the Valkyrie as a part of a demo tour organized by Barra of Head-Fi. I am grateful for the opportunity, and as always what follows are my honest thoughts.
I’ll mostly let the photos speak for themselves. Empire Ears really knocked it out of the ballpark here, and I love the accessories and overall presentation.
- Good build quality on the Valkyrie itself. The faceplate artwork is phenomenal, and it’s clear a lot of attention and detail went into it.
- Some driver flex when inserting the IEM, it’s loud. Once it’s in, it’s not an issue luckily.
- The aluminum case is super-sound and has a level of quality I’ve yet to see with other brands. I’m seriously considering purchasing one stand-alone for myself.
- Effect Audio Eros II cable
The Valkyrie’s frequency response is characterized by an aggressive V-shape; starting from the low-end, the Valkyrie brings its best to the table. It’s sub-bass centric with excellent extension and the most drawn-out decay I’ve heard of any IEM. You can absolutely hear the subwoofer rumble, the texture is all there. To this effect, I’d consider it visceral, a word I’ve refrained from using in my reviews thus far. No, seriously. Anything EDM or pop, particularly female-vocal stuff, flies real well with the Valkyrie.
Despite making my inner-basshead jump for joy, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. The mid-bass is likewise boosted, but the attack is lacking some bite and takes what I can only describe as a rounded edge. The aforementioned decay also leads to time-domain overlap; it simply lags behind too much. Thus, I find that there is a lack of coherency to the Valkyrie’s low end versus the midrange and treble.
But the midrange also leaves something to be desired. It’s seriously thin, and it especially struggles with male vocals; take for example Blake Shelton, who sounds strained on the Valkyrie. Forget genres like country music with the Valkyrie. That said, things pick back up with female vocals. Some stuff like Taeyeon’s “I” when she hits her high notes are pushing it, but they’re serviceable enough. Moving along to the treble – it’s actually there! Empire Ears has managed to properly implement an EST. Good stick impact and a very slight roll-off, the highs are pretty crisp. They’re also quite elevated, and as a result the Valkyrie has a bright, energetic timbre.
Let’s talk technicalities because the Valkyrie is surprisingly competent given its tonal balance.
- There is some timbral coloration; I wouldn’t call it bad at all though, and it gives the Valkyrie a pleasant, musical warmth.
- Soundstage is decidedly average, bordering on somewhat closed-in. Thus, there is a sense of intimacy that compliments the aggressive presentation. No issues with imaging.
- In pure speed, I’d say the Valkyrie is on the faster side sans the bass response which tends to lag behind as I noted earlier.
- Resolution and detail retrieval are good, but not what I would consider class-leading. In this regard, the Valkyrie clearly falls behind some of the established giants like the 64audio U12t and Sony IER-Z1R. The Valkyrie’s still a “baby flagship” after all.
Most of all, I find that the Valkyrie has that elusive engagement factor in spades. At least for the stuff it plays well with, from the warm, timbral coloration to the intimate soundstage, this thing knows how to put on a show. And frankly, it’s intoxicating. Even going back to my 64audio U12t, which is objectively the better performer, left me wanting something more. Go ahead – call me a dirty basshead. But this is something that I can’t say I’ve found with most IEMs.
As I’m sure many are wondering – does the Valkyrie trade blows with the Sony IER-Z1R, the resident tri-hybrid king? And the answer is no, not really. Tonality-wise, the Valkyrie takes many of the things that make the IER-Z1R great and simply pushes them too far. The Valkyrie also suffers a lot in terms of coherency; conversely, the IER-Z1R has a level of seamlessness that I’ve not heard with any other hybrid. Sonic-wise, 1:1, it should be a no-brainer which to get. I would only consider the Valkyrie if you prioritize quantity over quality in the bass, and even then that’s pushing it. But once you factor in the tangibles, it gets more murky. Fit is atrocious on the IER-Z1R plus you can get the Valkyrie done in a CIEM. At that point, yeah, I could see a case being made for the Valkyrie.
When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes take me out for a ride in his sports car. And well, let’s just say he’d push the speed limit
a little – OK, a lot – on some curvy streets for fun. I mostly just remember clutching my knees and being shell-shocked, but always knowing that he was still at the wheel. Likewise, the Valkyrie is toeing the line with its tonal balance. And yet, I do think that it manages to just barely stay in control due to its surprisingly strong technical chops.
Let’s be real, this is a niche IEM. The Valkyrie is not a good all-arounder; however, it stands that there is no perfect IEM. And in this vein, I can see the Valkyrie being a great piece to round out an IEM collection or being for someone who wants an engaging, edge-of-your-seat IEM. Empire Ears clearly had an artistic vision when they set out to make the Valkyrie, and I’d say they mostly succeeded. Above all, given Empire Ear’s often less-than-conventional tunings, this is the stuff that gets me excited to see what they can put out – consider me impressed.
Score: 6/10 (Darn Good)
Understanding my score: This is a personal, subjective assessment of an IEM’s sound quality. I don’t take into account any other factors, and it’s relative to the absolute best sound I’ve heard. As a reference, I would consider a 3/10 average, a 5/10 good, and a 7/10 excellent.