Point of contact for me with Empire Ear's Legend EVO was at none other than CanJam SoCal 2021; the Empire Ears booth was packed to the brim both days with listeners anxious to hear the Georgia-based brand's latest flagship IEM. For me, a short demo session I snuck in cemented it as a noteworthy IEM that I needed to get more ear time on. Why? In order to take their previous flagship the Legend X to the next level, Empire Ears has added a full-range bone conduction driver to the Legend EVO while maintaining the Legend X's dual DDs for the bass and 5BAs for the midrange and treble. I'll be talking more closely about the effect of the new driver below. However, expectations are higher than ever at the Legend EVO's $3100 price tag. This is a substantial price increase over the Legend X ($2300), and the question on my mind is whether the new technologies the EVO is packing are enough to justify it. Read on to find out.
Source & Drivability
All critical listening was done off of my iBasso DX300's 4.4mm jack using lossless FLAC files. The stock cable and stock ear tips were used. The Legend EVO is fairly easy to drive and I found myself at volume ~10 to hit my normal listening volumes of ~70dB. Hissing was a non-issue with the DX300.
Empire Ears has updated the packaging of the Legend EVO with a more compact box that maintains the visual appeal of their previous packaging. The following accessories are included:
- Pandora Case
- Final E ear tips
- Mesh baggy
- Cleaning tool and stickers
- PW Audio "Genesis" 2-pin 0.78mm Cable
I'm really fond of Empire Ear's Pandora case. It’s a hockey puck style case, and man, this thing is built like a tank; you could probably run it over with a car and it’d be fine. A nice touch is definitely the rubber lining which facilitates easy-of-cleaning. A lot of these hockey puck style cases feature a felt or fabric lining inside which, realistically, is going to get gunked up unless you clean your IEMs every time you put them away. Obviously you’re not going to be pocketing the Pandora case very easily, but if you demand the best protection for your (probably very expensive) IEMs, I’d look no further.
On the other hand...I rather dislike the PW Audio cables, and the "Genesis" cable bears no exception: it is simply a no-go from a usability standpoint. The wire feels plasticky and rigid, microphonic feedback is a constant issue. The sheer size of the cable also makes it a chore to store the EVO in its included Pandora case. For the price of this cable, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect next-to-perfect build quality, but such is not the case. PW Audio still cannot get their construction right; there is dried glue fringing the edges of the inconsistently cut heat-shrink wrap of the 4.4mm jack. Furthermore, the stamping for the "Empire" text on the 2-pin connectors are not of equidistant lengths (we're talking by a few millimeters, but c'mon). Ostensibly, the high price of this cable is baked into its sound quality - something I don't comment on with cables - regardless, I do think the Legend EVO's included cable would benefit from improvement (okay, more like a swap altogether).
The Legend EVO itself sports a binary aesthetic that meshes a dark black shell and faceplate with gold logos. It's a more refined look akin to the original Empire Ears Legend X, and I have to say I'm a fan. Build quality is expectedly excellent, although driver flex - a harmless crinkling of the driver when the IEM is inserted - is also present like all of Empire Ear's other IEMs that use a dynamic driver. The driver flex doesn't really bother me personally, but something I would like to see is recessed 2-pin connectors, especially given the Genesis cable's protruding connectors. For fit and comfort, the Legend EVO is definitely a larger IEM; however, I had no issues wearing it comfortably for hours on end. Your mileage might vary as fit is 100% subjective to the end-user. Fun fact: Due to the bone conduction driver, you need to use silicone ear tips with the Legend EVO to get the desired effect. Foam ear tips will dissipate the bone conduction driver's effect due to their more porous nature.
First, let's establish that the Legend EVO’s bone conduction is the real-deal. It’s more subtle in the grand scheme of things, but it’s definitely doing something. I want to say it’s present in the bass to some degree, still more apparent when I focus on the midrange. I find myself catching a quality with which vocalists - especially on trailing ends and when they take on a more ghastly quality - reverberate slightly throughout the soundstage. I first noticed this on Illenium & Excision's "Gold" when the vocalist Shallows enters, and it sporadically crops up throughout most other tracks (such as the "youuu" on Taeyeon's "I Found You"). But to reiterate, it’s not mind blowing and you’d probably need to have a good feel for a given track on other transducers to really notice it.
The frequency response below was taken off of an IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at roughly 8kHz, so measurements after this point should not be considered entirely accurate. You can follow this link to compare the Legend EVO to other IEMs that I have graphed.
I wish I'd listened to the OG Legend X at CanJam, but given graphs and feedback from trusted listeners, the Legend X and Legend EVO are tuned fairly differently in the upper-midrange. That in mind, I think the best way of summarizing the Legend EVO is actually as a Legend X SE (which I have heard extensively) on steroids. It's a mostly L-shaped IEM with a pronounced rise to the upper-midrange to maintain tonal integrity. The bass shelf of the Legend EVO tracks very closely to the LX SE, but it’s a noticeable improvement in the intangible department.
[You] can only pack so much bass - particularly mid-bass - into an IEM without consequence. If I had a critique, it would be the LX SE’s bass texture. While the LX SE’s bass transient attack is not particularly blunted, it sounds like it’s been somewhat “stretched” for lack of a better word.
See my comments above on the LX SE's bass; I often had the impression that its driver was being pushed beyond its capabilities. Thankfully, the Legend EVO has rectified this complaint. Bass sounds considerably thicker and less plasticky, more reminiscent of qualities that I associate with a top-tier bass response and with my Yamaha HS8S subwoofer. The Legend EVO has also not sacrificed the characteristic swollen quality of the Weapon X driver. This merits a strong thumbs-up from me; really, I'd just like the Legend EVO’s mid-bass to be toned back for more control akin to the venerable Odin.
I find the midrange of the Legend EVO to be something of a paradox. Contrary to the Legend EVO’s frequency response, I don’t hear it as being a particularly aggressive IEM in the upper-midrange. At least to me, it actually comes across closer to neutral in the upper-midrange, then with the thicker lower-midrange falling further behind in the mix. I would partly attribute this to the sheer amounts of bass; however, I suspect that some of this perception is owing to the bone conduction driver. The center image (effectively where vocals are positioned on the stage) on the Legend EVO seems different from my memory of the LX SE and the Odin. Those IEMs were upfront and defined, whereas I find the EVO's center image to be more diffused. This extends to the side channels; the electric guitars panned to the sides of Rascal Flatt's "Life is a Highway" sound grand and oh-so-enveloping. There's also a certain texture to vocals on the Legend EVO that doesn't quite come across as the usual "BA timbre" perhaps owing, again, to that bone conduction magic.
Monster bass and special-sauce midrange in-hand, unfortunately, the treble would probably be the most unremarkable aspect of the Legend EVO's sound to me. Let me disclaim that it's by no means bad; in fact, it sports a relatively smooth curve and acceptable extension. But acceptable doesn't cut it when we're talking about an IEM this expensive. Outside of the noticeable issue with extension (mainly over 15kHz), my criticism would mainly lie in the intangible performance of the Legend EVO’s treble. It just sounds sort of flat and lifeless, devoid of character to my ears. When I listen to Twice's "LIKEY", for example, the track loses a lot of the playful, bright luster to the synthetic squeaks and triangles. These types of bright, upbeat tracks simply come across too "serious" for my liking on the Legend EVO if that makes sense. Either way, I can't help but feel that the Legend EVO's bone conduction driver loses its effectiveness in these frequencies and that this is just your usual BA treble.
The Legend EVO is no slouch in the technical department; akin to the LX SE, I think its imaging performance is what stands out most to me. There are a number of IEMs that beat the Legend EVO in the layering department (here I refer to the incisiveness of instrument positioning and a general sense of deconstructing nuance in busy tracks) at cheaper price points; the Symphonium Helios and the ThieAudio Monarch MKII come to mind. But structural definition of the Legend EVO's stage is strong with a good sense of encompassing the listener in a 3D bubble of sorts. Combined with the slightly diffused quality to the midrange, on something like Youhna's "How U doing" for example, I find the Legend EVO to eclipse the aforementioned IEMs for a sense of soundstage ambiance. Needless to say that the Legend EVO puts on an impressive display given just how much bass it's packing.
As for whether the Legend EVO's actually better than the LX SE for imaging, I'd say it's more along the lines of "just different". Something I do think is an improvement is dynamics, though. The LX SE had an obvious issue with which it sounded overly loud, and generally just plain flat, on more dynamic music such as the orchestral version of Yiruma's "River Flows in You" and the steady rise in volume from 2:25 to 3:34. I still don't think the Legend EVO is necessarily great for sheer contrast, but it sounds a little more tactful and heavy to the way it approaches dynamic swings.
The Bottom Line
The Legend EVO improves upon the LX SE with a slightly more mature, impactful presentation while largely maintaining the character I've come to associate with Empire Ear's IEMs. But it's also come at a hefty price - literally. At $3100, the Legend EVO is just shy of Odin pricing and there are the usual tuning expectations that come with the territory. I find 64A's Tia Trio, for example, to present a higher level of tuning competency for this type of colored sound. You might see why, not unlike in my review of the LX SE, I'm presented with a similar dilemma:
I can’t possibly say “Go buy this IEM”. I just can’t. The [Legend EVO] is also not balanced enough for me to consider it a straight recommendation for most listeners; from inception, it presents a niche sound that only the most ardent of party animals would seek to daily drive.
Of course, to a certain extent, that's the Legend EVO's strength. If you're after this type of sound and the effect of the new bone conduction driver, you're not going to find it elsewhere. It's just that - again - you're going to have to pay a hefty premium. Personally, at this price, I think the Odin would remain my choice if I could only have one IEM from Empire Ear's lineup, but I also wouldn't say no to adding a Legend EVO to the stable if money were no expense.