Hey, what’s going on fam? Today we’ve got something for the bass lovers out there. Let me introduce you to the Empire Ears Bravado dual hybrid driver in-ear monitor. The Bravado is available as a universal or custom IEM and is the entry-level model in the company’s Empire X Series.
What exactly is the X Series? Here’s what it says on the website:
The Empire X Series is raw and instinctive, unwavering in its singular purpose: to overwhelm the auditory senses through the vigorous spirit and emotion of a live performance.
Hailing from Georgia, USA, Empire Ears (formerly known as EarWerkz) is a company that produces universal and custom in-ear monitors. In 2015 they released a model called the “Zeus” which became legendary among enthusiasts and is still regarded as one of the best TOTL CIEMs on the market. In 2018 the Empire X Series was launched and I marked my calendar in preparation to attend the launch event in Thailand.
26AWG UPOCC Litz Copper Cable, Handcrafted by Effect Audio
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the tech used on the Bravado.
synX Crossover Technology
synX is a “supercharged crossover design” and what it essentially does is it allows the engineers to manipulate specific parts of the audio frequencies in order to reach the precise target response that they’re after. Not only does this improve the initial tuning of each monitor but it also enhances the amount of control the end user has when using an EQ (equalizer).
Other benefits of synX are: high stereo separation, ultra-wide frequency bandwidth, best signal-to-noise ratio, low distortion and maximum signal transfer.
Using A.R.C (Anti-Resonance Compound) applies a proprietary coating to the IEMs separate components, including drivers, crossovers and sound tubes.
This increases the mass and solidity of the internal components and reduces any unwanted resonance or phase issues which, in turn, provides better clarity, deeper bass and increased efficiency.
On top of that, drivers utilize Ferrofluid between the magnets and armature which provides damping values and eliminates the need for a damping screen in the port tube.
The Bravado and other X Series IEMs use a combination of proprietary balanced armature and dynamic drivers. EE designed their own dynamic driver over a period of almost 2 years which they call the Weapon IX (W9). The W9 is a 9 mm driver that is able to deliver extreme output and accurate dynamics.
They also utilize proprietary balanced armature drivers from Knowles and Sonion with low-mass diaphragms that reproduce detailed and true-to-recording sound.
The unboxing experience starts with an unassuming black box with the Empire ‘wing’s’ logo on the top. After opening up the magnetically sealed flap you’ll find some carry bags and documentation plus the hard carrying case where the in-ear monitors are stored for safekeeping. Let’s break down the contents in their entirety:
Empire Ears Bravado in-ear monitor
Empire Aegis case
Empire dust bag
Empire IEM pouch
Empire cleaning cloth
Empire cleaning tool
Quick Start guide
Effect Audio Ares II 26 AWG UPOCC Litz copper cable
That is a solid bundle for a CIEM, especially for an entry-level one. Most of the time when purchasing a custom in-ear monitor, you get a generic stock cable whereas you get the excellent Ares II with the Bravado.
The Aegis case is very nice and is actually identical to the InEarz cases except for the size of the metal plaque on the front.
Build Quality and Customization
You can choose a design by using the aptly-named “Designer” on the website here: https://empireears.com/products/product-designer There are multiple patterns and colours available for the faceplates, shells, artwork and logos. Of course, if you want to create your own custom artwork.
I used the designer to create the look I wanted and was really pleased when I saw the end result. I got the Graffiti faceplate for the left and Skulls for the right. Then I chose Translucent Aqua for the left shell and Translucent Cardinal for the right.
Empire Ears takes great pride in their work so you can expect good quality when it comes to construction. The Bravado is of average size for a custom in-ear monitor and the earpieces sit flush with my ears. Everything looks and feels great – the join between faceplates and shells is flawless and looking through the translucent shells reveals a very tidy interior.
One small issue I did have was a fair amount of driver flex in the right earpiece. I never get it on the left side and others may not experience any at all but it’s something to be aware of.
Comfort and Noise Isolation
Comfort-wise, this CIEM is fantastic and I can easily wear them for long periods of time. Naturally, this depends on sending in a good set of ear impressions so make sure you follow the guidelines and make sure your audiologist knows exactly what is required.
Noise isolation is fantastic, as you would expect for a custom monitor. The Bravado doesn’t isolate quite as well as some of my other CIEMs due to it having thinner shells but to be honest, once the music is playing you ain’t going to hear anything else!
Empire Ears has an official partnership with Effect Audio so the Bravado comes with the Ares II cable as standard. The 26 AWG UPOCC Litz copper cable feels and looks premium.
It has cylindrical 2-pin connectors with subtle Effect Audio logos and pre-formed ear guides. The Y-splitter has a carbon fibre pattern in the middle with an aluminium ring on either end. There’s also a transparent rubber cable cinch for those who like to make the fit more secure.
You can choose the type of termination you want for the cable when you place your order and I went for the 4.4 mm balanced variant. It is a straight, black, metal plug that is very light despite being rather large. My only criticism is that I find it a little stiff and springy (that’s what she said) but it’s a great cable overall.
Gear used for testing includes the Sony NW-ZX300 and ATC HDA-DP20 for DAPs when on the go. At home on the desktop, the source was my PC running FLAC files with MusicBee or JRiver and feeding either the ARCAM irDAC-II or FiiO K3 via USB.
The Empire Ears Bravado doesn’t tiptoe around the music and delicately whisper into your ears. Instead in strides in brazenly with a youthful exuberance and let’s it all hang out with reckless abandon.
What you get is an L-shaped signature that’s brimming with bass and warmth on one end and then a fairly neutral midrange and treble with warm undertones.
Here is where the focus and the foundation of the Bravado’s sound lie and the W9 dynamic driver really knows how to craft some tasty bass. It’s like every individual bass note has been sculpted by the Bravado and has its own unique characteristics.
The bass might seem too aggressive for the fainthearted but if you’re ready to let your balls hang then the Bravado has got the juice to rock your world. Oh, and if you’re a basshead then you will be absolutely thrilled.
Fire up some “In Illusions of Order” by Red Sparrowes and you’re immediately greeted by the enhanced and textured bass. The Bravado’s bass is reasonably fast but feels like it has been given enough room within the housings to breathe and resonate, giving it extra weight and authority.
The midrange is fairly neutral with lean notes and speedy transients, although there is, of course, that underlying warmth emanating from the bass.
Vocals and midrange instruments are slightly recessed and positioned behind the bass but are more in line with the treble. Depending on the recording it can feel like they (mids) get pushed back at times but they remain clear with good articulation.
With the right music though, the Bravado can deliver a stellar experience that will leave you in awe. Take for example Anathema’s “Everwake“. The string section sounds full with rich resonance, the acoustic guitars are lifelike and the vocals are clear and vibrant.
While the treble is fairly laid back it’s quite neutral like the mids and has a natural timbre and realism. At times I felt like some extra treble energy would be nice but that would mean more of a V-shape and the midrange would be further recessed.
The extension is fantastic and plays a vital role in enhancing the soundstage with its airiness and sheen. Hi-hats and cymbals simply sound awesome but do risk being masked by the dominant bass on some recordings.
Wider than it is deep, the Bravado’s soundstage is larger than you might expect with this kind of warm sound signature. The leanness of the mids and treble play a big part with their sharp transients and modest note size in maintaining space between elements.
Left and right stereo separation is superb but depth layering is sometimes affected by the girth of the bass. Instrument separation is very good but again will vary depending on how much bass is in the recording. Having said that, it is a great stage especially considering the Bravado is the entry-level model from the X Series.
Custom Art FIBAE 2 ( $504 USD)
The FIBAE 2 (review here) has less bass presence although it still has plenty of punch for a multi-BA IEM. It doesn’t have the authority of the Bravado’s W9 dynamic driver and this is felt mostly in the sub-bass, although it’s certainly not lacking.
There are similarities between these 2 in-ears in the upper midrange but the Bravado has more body throughout as a result of its enhanced bass. Male vocals are thicker on the Bravado and vocals, in general, are smoother.
The FIBAE 2 has a more forward and energetic treble while the Bravado’s treble is more laid back and airy. The FIBAE 2 is not sibilant but on tracks that have sibilance in the recording, such as Dr. Dre’s “Medicine Man” it is more noticeable.
The soundstage is wider on the Bravado where the FIBAE 2 is more rounded. Overall the FIBAE 2 signature is more V-shaped and energetic and the Bravado is warmer with a meatier bass and smoother treble.
Custom Art FIBAE 3 ($557 USD)
The FIBAE 3 (review here) is more balanced than the FIBAE 2 with a more even bass and treble plus a more forward midrange. Naturally, the Bravado is more bass-oriented which makes the midrange sound more recessed in comparison. Surprisingly, the FIBAE 3 sub-bass stands up really well compared to the Bravado.
The FIBAE 3 has a more prominent midrange and intimate vocals. Both monitors have great separation and detail but on bassy recordings, the FIBAE 3 is more revealing.
A crisper and more energetic treble gives the FIBAE 3 some extra lift and clarity. When it comes to soundstage, the Bravado has some extra width and the FIBAE 3 has more depth, similar to the FIBAE 2.
M-Fidelity SA-50 ($1032 USD)
The SA-50 (review here) is a technical powerhouse with 5 BA drivers in each side. While certainly not as big in terms of quantity, the SA-50’s bass is punchy and textured. The silicone-filled housings eliminate any unwanted resonance and this gives the bass incredible control and fidelity (see what I did there?)
A near neutral midrange means the tonality in the midrange doesn’t differ a great deal from the Bravado but the SA-50 takes transparency to another level. It’s really that fantastically controlled bass that gives it the edge here.
Compared to the Bravado, the SA-50 has a more forward treble. It has excellent extension and smoothness. There are not many CIEMs that can match the quality of the SA-50 treble in its price range but I feel the Bravado does have a very good treble too. It’s just the fact that it’s hidden behind the bass that makes it harder to appreciate.
The SA-50 has a stellar soundstage. It has greater depth and a similar width to the Bravado but where it shines here is the black background which gives it superb layering and separation.
The Empire Ears Bravado wears its heart on its sleeve. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s here to give you a rockin’ good time and its signature characteristic is its powerful, sculpted bass.
It won’t suit everybody but that’s neither here nor there as Empire Ears has all the bases covered with their extensive lineup so everybody should be able to find a model that suits their tonal preferences.
A fairly neutral midrange gives vocals and instruments a realistic tonality and the underlying bass adds smoothness and extra body. The Bravado is not an in-ear monitor for someone who is looking for accuracy or a reference tonality. Instead, it’s for those who want the technical strengths of a CIEM with a smashing good dose of fun mixed in.