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Astell&Kern Odyssey IEM Review: A Collaboration with Empire Ears

Astell&Kern Odyssey IEM Astell&Kern SP3000 DAP Silver Dragon IEM Cable

Odyssey IEM Uses 4 Driver Technologies, Including Bone Conduction

Remember when Astell&Kern teamed up with Campfire Audio a few months ago on the Pathfinder IEM? Well, they've done it again, this time with the IEM manufacturer Empire Ears. And the fruits of that partnership - the Odyssey IEM - is something pretty spectacular. If you're familiar with Empire Ears' Legend EVO, you know that they used a bone conduction driver in a tribrid design. Well, the Odyssey takes things a step further with a bone conduction driver in quadbrid design. Yes, this IEM uses four driver types! I was pretty much chomping at the bit to try the Odyssey with AK's recently released flagship SP3000 digital audio player. Boy, was I in for a treat!

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Notes

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Pros

  • A visceral listening experience
  • 4 driver types; extended frequency response
  • Bone conduction driver for intense sound
  • Energy, clarity, detail

Cons

  • Costly

Materials & Quality

The gorgeous dichroic faceplate design on the Odyssey is called ENIGMA. (Dichroic means you see different colors when you view something at different angles.) It features nine individual polymer layers in three proprietary lamination steps. Each lamination is unique in its ability to filter and reflect specific wavelengths of light. This results in a faceplate that will produce breathtaking color transitions as the viewing angle changes. Enigma is handcrafted in the USA by an award-winning chemist who holds two patents in polymer science for high solids coating chemistry.

On first glance, you might mistake the Odyssey for the Empire Ears ODIN. Both IEMs have the jewel-toned multicolored faceplates, but the Odyssey has more yellow and red while the ODIN has more purple and green. The right faceplate has a gold Empire Ears wingspan logo while the left has an A for Astell&Kern. The shells are a black acrylic. White writing on the sides has the IEM name and serial number; the serial number is preceded by either an L or an R.

Each shell features triports. Due to the nature of the W10’s extreme output, the enclosure’s air volume and vent design were especially crucial for proper tuning. Even the slightest change in diameter and positioning had a dramatic effect on sound quality and performance.

The Odyssey comes with an Effect Audio Ares II cable. This is a multi-size-stranded 26 AWG UPOCC Litz copper with Ultra FlexiTM Insulation for maximum signal speed transmission, performance and ergonomics. Each Ares II is terminated with an ultra premium 4.4mm Pentaconn connector.

When it comes to building the Odyssey, Empire Ears has designated 5,000 square feet of space in their Atlanta-area facility for production. Each stage of Odyssey’s production is hand-built by one master technician and engineer and passed onto the next, guiding each pair along its journey to completion through 10 stations for a total of 9 hand-on hours per pair.

Sound Quality

If the Empire Ears ODIN and Legend EVO had a child, the Odyssey would be it. The Odyssey is a masterful IEM that incorporates everything good about the other two.

Tons of detail and layering of sounds. Phenomenal imaging and instrument separation. Fullness and depth of sound. Everything I listened to co-existed beautifully on the Odyssey, from high-pitched bells to low bass guitar. With much of what I listened to, I could feel the music in my body. Not in an overpowering, bassy kind of way, but in a pleasant, holistic kind of way.

Mids are on the forward side, making the Odyssey great for vocals. Female vocals in particular from Stevie Nicks and Diana Krall were a treat. When Krall sings the words "look" and "love," the Odyssey brings you right inside of those ending consonant sounds. There’s a fair amount of high-end energy to the Odyssey as well. You’re going to hear it on tracks with lots of upper frequency sounds, but you’re also going to feel and sense it even when you aren’t consciously hearing it.

"Smooth Criminal" sounded incredibly crisp and punchy. Those claps of sound that come on in the chorus? It's as if they were happening to me. Bass has that pleasing elastic quality that makes you want to move. Michael Jackson's breathy voice was right up close, such that I could really hear throat sounds and mouth noises. And the breaking glass about a third of the way through the song? I cannot stress how dimensional that sounded. Really, the whole fight going on behind the music was intensely real, but didn't overshadow the music at all.

The brisk alarm bells at the start of Pink Floyd's "Time" reverberated in my head. The whole song sounded so tight and defined.

While I would not classify the Odyssey as bassy, it makes you sit up and take notice. Not from a place of bombast, but from the way it adeptly rounds out the music, providing a satisfying punch and going deep, but never overpowering. I love bass - not big, boomy bass, but well-crafted and well-defined bass lines. The Odyssey delivered!

I did most of my listening with Astell&Kern's new flagship A&ultima SP3000 DAP. The SP3000 leans analytical, but it is far from clinical. It has a rich sound with spectacular imaging, layering, and resolution. I think the SP3000 and the Odyssey complement each other quite well. And really, a high-performance IEM deserves a high-end DAP (and vice versa), right?

A note about ear tips: We recommend using silicone tips with the Odyssey, as foam tips and deep insertion ear tips will lessen the effect of the bone conduction driver. Wide-bore ear tips like the JVC Spiral Dot reduce the intensity of the effect while keeping the balanced sound. I would use these for long listening sessions. Narrow-bore ear tips such as Final E (which come with the Odyssey) and SpinFit are great if you want to really feel the bone conduction effect while listening.

"The Look of Love"
Diana Krall
The Look of Love
"Gold Dust Woman"
Fleedwood Mac
Rumours
"Smooth Criminal"
Michael Jackson
Bad
"Time"
Pink Floyd
Dark Side of the Moon

Dual Conduction Architecture: Bone Conduction & Air Conduction

Empire has a long history of developing innovative, in-house solutions aimed at maximizing in-ear monitor performance. Our no-compromise philosophy inspired the development of our Dual Conduction Architecture – a revolutionary method of audio reproduction through both air and bone conduction to maximize listener immersion with a sound that you cannot only hear but feel, guaranteeing the purest experience possible.

The Odyssey fully exploits the best of both worlds with its pioneering Dual Conduction Architecture (DCA). A full range 5Hz-100kHz frequency response is delivered via air conduction from the dual W9+ subwoofers, five balanced armatures and dual electrostatics while imaging, soundstage, detail retrieval, low frequency extension and reverb is extraordinarily enhanced from 5Hz-40kHz via bone conduction from the W10.

Air Conduction
When you look at our hearing system, you can break it down into 3 different regions: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Air conduction utilizes all 3 as sound is collected by the outer ear and directed along the ear canal into the ear drum, vibrating the bones of hearing (ossicles) in the middle ear to stimulate the hair cells inside of your cochlea in the inner ear. This stimulation creates electrical nerve impulses which are then carried to the brain by the auditory nerve to be converted into sound.

Bone Conduction
Bone conduction completely bypasses the outer and middle ear components by sending vibrations directly through the skull to stimulate the hair cells inside of your cochlea. Through bone conduction we can perceive ultrasonic hearing (beyond 20kHz). Bone conduction is generally perceived to have a lower, deeper tone because the skull conducts lower frequencies more efficiently than air.

 

Features & Technology

With technology harnessed from the Odin and Legend EVO, Empire Ears has distilled everything they’ve learned into this collaboration with Astell&Kern to create the Odyssey.

At the core of the Odyssey is a proprietary 10-driver quadbrid system composed of twin W9+ subwoofers, 5 balanced armature drivers, dual electrostatic drivers, and a W10 bone conduction driver. A 7-way synX crossover network and EIVEC MKII engine harmonize all 10 drivers, ensuring perfect coherence and timing throughout its remarkable 5Hz-100kHz frequency response range.

W10 (Bone Conductor)
Otherworldly imaging, nuance retrieval and timbre are achieved via bone conduction from the full-range W10 Bone Conduction Ultra Driver.

Five Balanced Armature Drivers
Custom spec’d Knowles (upper mid - high) and Sonion balanced armatures (lower mid - mid) are commissioned with a single-minded purpose of reproducing only the most pure, breathtaking midrange frequencies.

Dual W9+ (Subwoofers)
Legendary, unparalleled bass reproduction is made possible by the purpose-built W9+ subwoofers.

Dual Electrostatic Tweeters
Distortion-free, lightning-fast transient response and hyper treble extension from Sonion electrostatic drivers ensure unparalleled transparency.

Soundproofed Barrier
Low frequency energy causes even some of the most stable materials to resonate, which is why Empire Ears sealed the shell with a custom spec cast polymer to channel the internal sonic vibrations towards the listener while reflecting any unwanted energy from the outside.

Precision Mounted Weapon 10
The W10 is strategically ceiling mounted in a specially designed cavity at the top of the shell. This cavity is engineered to keep all sonic vibrations internal, maximizing bone conductivity transfer through the solid-filled ear canal.

synX Crossover Network
Empire Ears' synX crossover network stands out with countless bespoke methods and technologies protecting it as a unique masterpiece. A marriage of 4 different driver technologies is symphonized via a proprietary 7-way synX crossover network, ensuring maximum performance from all 10 drivers.

EIVEC MKII
For all the incredible range and resolution, electrostatic drivers are notoriously hard to control, often overpowering other drivers. Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control – EIVEC - is Empire’s approach to incorporating electrostatic EST drivers into IEMs. EIVEC is our solution to that, and the degree of control provided by EIVEC is so precise that the electrostatics can operate independently, performing disparate tasks within the sound stage to deliver layer upon layer of detail and texture for unparalleled performance. The all-new EIVEC MKII engine was developed specifically for Odyssey to ensure optimal timing, phasing and control between the electrostatic and bone conduction drivers.

A.R.C. Treated Chassis
Any flex in the enclosure walls will have unequal resonant frequencies and by treating the internals in critical areas with ARC we gain control of the room, allowing what gets reflected and/or absorbed. This eliminates any unwanted sound and allows the tone of the drivers to be as pure as possible.

Comparison to Empire Ears ODIN and Legend EVO

The Odyssey costs $3,399, the same as the ODIN, while the Legend EVO costs $3,099. How does the Odyssey compare to these two Empire Ears IEMs?

The Legend EVO has a V-shaped, bassier sound, more akin to the Empire Ears Legend X. The sound is full-bodied and powerful. It’s a warmer sound, and it’s smoother than the Odyssey. For example, those claps I referenced in "Smooth Criminal" do not sound as crisp on the EVO. There is a perceptible midrange dip that puts vocals back. Compared to the Legend EVO, the ODIN has a more neutral and analytical sound, with a more forward midrange. Bass on the ODIN is satisfying and highly articulate, but it’s not a “bassy” IEM. I very much have the sense that it’s giving the music body, but it’s not meant to dominate. The Odyssey is more similar to the ODIN when it comes to detail and resolution, but more similar to the EVO when it comes to fullness of the sound and the visceral nature of it. I really do think it’s the best of both worlds.

$3,399.00

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Why Dragon Cables?

Generally, stock audio cables are manufactured with subpar materials, metals with impurities, poor geometries, and an overabundance of layers to make them look and feel like a fire hose. Inconsistency and lack of quality control in stock cables can lead to poor sound quality and a veiled sound vs what the musician intended for you to hear and feel from the music. Dragon cables are handcrafted to the highest standards and made to order according to your specific needs. At Moon Audio, we create a custom cable for you using the highest quality UP-OCC silver or copper conductors that can be manufactured. UP-OCC metals are void of impurities and are optimized for signal transfer and sound quality. We have one of the largest collections of audio and headphone connection options available online and we create limitless audio cable options depending on your specific gear and needs.

The Verdict

Empire Ears and Astell&Kern have really hit it out of the park here with a dual-conduction IEM that delivers a visceral sound that is wonderfully detailed, dynamic, full, and satisfying. The bass goes deep, but it is not overwhelming. Mids are on the forward side, putting a spotlight on vocals. Highs have lots of energy and sparkle, giving a lovely sense of air and energy to your music. The Odyssey works especially well with genres like blues, folk, bluegrass, and acoustic rock, as well as classical and jazz if you like a more resolute sound for those genres. Bassier genres like rock and EDM will sound crisp, though you'd be better off opting for the Legend EVO if you want an all-out bass fest. But if you're looking for the ultimate in clarity, dynamics, and liveliness on the go or at home, the Odyssey is going to be right up your alley. If may just be the end of your epic journey for the ultimate in-ear monitor.


Featured Products

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What's in the Box

  • 4.4mm Bespoke Effect Audio ARES II UPOCC Copper Litz Cable
  • 4.4mm to 3.5mm Pentaconn adapter
  • 5 pairs of Final Audio E-Type Tips (XS/S/M/L/XL) with Aluminum Tip tray
  • Pandora V2 CNC anodized black aluminum case
  • Cleaning Tool
  • EE X AK Microfiber Cloth

Video

Astell&Kern Odyssey IEMs Review & Comparison

Specifications

  • Drivers: 10 Drivers Quadbrid, Dual Conduction Design
    • [Dual] W9+ Subwoofers
    • [Five] Proprietary Balanced Armature Drivers
    • [Dual] Electrostatic Tweeters
    • [W10] Bone Conduction Ultra Driver
  • Cable: 4.4mm Bespoke Effect Audio ARES II UPOCC Copper Litz Cable / Pentaconn Termination 4.4mm to 3.5mm Pentaconn adapter
  • Material: 9 Layer Optical Core, 'ENIGMA' Faceplate 3D Printed, Hand Polished A.R.C. Treated Chassis shell
  • Frequency response: 5Hz-100kHz
  • Sensitivity: 100dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
  • Impedance: 2.1 ohms @1kHz

 

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