Empire Ears Nemesis by Jules
Empire Ears Nemesis in ear monitor review.
I was excited to finally be going to CanJam (London 2019). I have obsessed over headphones for several years and a trade show with lots of manufacturers letting you demo them all was my idea of heaven. I have a Sennheiser 580 pair for used in studio's and at home for checking my mixes and 2 pairs of Bose noise cancelling earbuds (one wired, Bose QC20i and one wireless Bose QC30 that I use to shut out city noise or in the gym while listening to music, podcasts and audio books). Having lost my first pair of serious in ear monitors (Etymotic ER4-XR's) on a train journey, I was keen to find a replacement iem and interested to graduate from a single driver iem to an iem with multiple drivers.
I was surprised how peaceful CanJam was. I assumed more people would go. I didn't have to queue long to get a seat to audition the different sets the manufacturers had laid out. Gearslut geekery was in evidence as lots of people had brought their own digital players to audition with. I brought my HiBy R6 Pro to playback hi res downloads I had stored in its Qobuz app.
I did listen to a few high price ticket over-ear headphones, Focal and a prototype of the Hedd to name a few (I want them all!) but it was a pair of in ear monitor "iem" types I was on a mission for.
I knew enough from reading reviews that iem have wildly different sound signatures. I wanted something that countered my er... "worn" 59 year old, rock and roll ears. So I was after a crooked "smile curve", one that promoted sub bass (but not all bass) and delivered enough high frequency so that I don't need to reach for pliers to crank it. I figured using a lot of eq on my last pair was bad voodoo.
I allocated a whole afternoon to my search. My first stop was to try Sony's electrostatic iem the KSE1200 that I had read so much about. They didn't knock me out like I thought they would (which was a relief as they are expensive and require you to carrying an extra power pack with them) I went on to try a bunch more. I won't name all the other brands I tried or didn't like as there were some very good ones.
At the Empire Ears 6 chair booth I was impressed with the guy running it, Josh Watkins. Empire Ears focuses on the musician market (touring musicians, live and studio pros). He chatted with the testers, riffing with them to find language describing the differences between the models. I tried the most expensive, deluxe pair and they didn't suit me. I described what I was looking for and he set me up with a Nemesis pair. I shouted through the music to him with a big smile on my face "This is your drummer pair"! (joking, I meant they had sub punch capability and boosted high frequencies) and I was promptly informed that the sound signature of the Nemesis was in fact designed specifically for drum legend Sonny Emory, who in addition to playing with Earth, Wind & Fire, has played with Steely Dan, Chic and Eric Clapton. See him talk about his relationship with Empire Ears here.
I spent the rest of my test time enjoying them and not wanting to hand them back. These were the ones!
After the show I sent ear moulds off to Josh at Empire Ears. The Nemesis arrived while I was away at the AES show in NYC so it was a great welcome home to see them in my mailbox. They come in a slick and deluxe package, my photo snaps don't do them justice and my name on the storage screw top metal case is a nice touch.
It's been great settling in with them. As I write this I have been finalising my master eq setting listening to all my benchmark productions (many of them in hi res at 96k and 192k 24 bit) listed below and to my amazement, all I wanted to boost is a few db in the sub bass region. (see eq curve)
"Mad" - Lou Reed (Ecstasy album)
"Sunny Came Home" - Shawn Colvin
The Nightfly - Steely Dan (album)
Kind of Blue - Miles Davis (album)
"I Don't Know Why" - Norah Jones
"My Hero" - Foo Fighters
"Wake Me up When September Ends" - Green Day
"Man in the Mirror" - Michael Jackson
“Hysteria” - Def Leopard
"Dreams" - Fleetwood Mack
Organ Music Before Bach - Kai Koto (album)
"Nightshift" - Commodores
“Blood Sugar Sex Magic” - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
To me, the Empire Ears - Nemesis, deliver fast transient punch in the sub bass region and have a suitable lift in the high frequency range that suits my 'lived in' ears. It's very easy to settle into this high quality reproduction. 'Uber clear' and 'very punchy' are perhaps better words. It's not just sub bass that is accurate - EVERY SINGLE nuance of the low end is audible without that terrible wide Q bass boom 'dance music' biased headphones have. The ‘Christmasy’ tinsel of high frequency detail (bells, harpsichords, snare rattle, acoustic guitar strumming, cymbals, hand percussion etc) is unmistakably bold.
According to the specs each side has 5 drivers; two dynamic subwoofers, one mid, one high, and one ultra high driver. There is a crossover to balance them all and in addition, A.R.C. to reduce unwanted resonances within the shell of the earpieces.
It's been very pleasing for me not to have to boost high mids and upper frequencies like on all my other headphones. I have settled on adding just a tiny boost in the sub bass. (to boost kick drum "pillow hit to the chest" and to help me follow low or 5 string bass parts better)
Physically they are chunky and with the thick copper coloured cable I hope I stand a better chance of not losing them. The specially curved cable loops over my ears well and am trying the recommended 'clip behind the neck method'. This keeps cables away from my cheek / chin areas allowing a more 'set it and forget it' feel. Great!
Summing up: Combined, the fast delivery of sub bass, accurate overall bass and forward high frequency presentation at times comes close to some high quality, "main" studio monitor systems I have heard.
Empire Ears Nemesis - A studio playback party in your head!
Full disclosure: The goods reviewed here were received in trade for banner ads on this site. A positive review was not promised.
Empire Ears has offered Gearslutz readers a 10% discount - quote "EmpireEarsSlutz" at check out. Empire Ears are hand made in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.