Read time: Approx. 10 min.
Empire Ears RAVEN: Big, Bountiful Sound
Introducing the RAVEN IEMs from Empire Ears. Their slogan simply reads, “The Pursuit of Extraordinary,” and that truly embodies the excellence these IEMs exude as I listened to them for the first time.
Priced at $3,599 the RAVEN is Empire Ears newest flagship IEM with a dual conduction quadbrid design. They say the best things come in tiny packages and the RAVEN is just that: Big, bountiful sound from a tiny device.
- Lightweight & Comfortable
- Bountiful, enormous, engaging & exciting sound
- 2-pin connection, plenty of upgrade options
- Bigger than most IEMs, but not uncomfortably large
- Fingerprint magnets
Empire Ears RAVEN IEMs Review: Big, Bountiful Sound
Get ready for an exclusive review of the flagship dual conduction quadbrid design: The Empire Ears RAVEN In-Ear Monitors!
Drew Baird, P.E., Owner and Founder of Moon Audio dives into the specs and features that redefine audio perfection.
About Empire Ears
Empire Ears is recognized as a global leader in the IEM (In-Ear Monitor) market, coveted by recording artists, recording engineers, audiophiles and more. Empire Ears is driven by a singular obsession to create the world's finest universal and custom IEMs, and since 2015 they've been doing just that. Under the unwavering dedication and boundless vision of co-founders and father-son duo, Dean and Jack Vang, the Atlanta-area company is constantly one-upping itself in the relentless pursuit of extraordinary.
Their newest IEM release, the RAVEN utilizes so much of what Empire Ears has learned since stepping onto the scene eight years ago. I can't think of another IEM company I've encountered that has innovated at the same level over such a short period of time.
Their innovations and unique uses of different technologies to really push the boundary of IEM driver technology is truly remarkable. Miniature subwoofers, electrostatic, bone conduction, balanced armatures, dynamic drivers, and passive radiators — These are just a few of the driver types Empire Ears has experimented with and used over the last eight years. Moreover, they've made numerous innovations such as A.R.C. Technology, synX Crossover Technology, EIVEC (Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control), Weapon X, Dual Conduction Architecture, and more. I could go on and on but what does all this innovation mean? To me, this has delivered some of the best IEMs on the market today.
First Impressions at Axpona 2023
Empire Ears has been working on the RAVEN for quite some time, and prior to its official release I got the pleasure of viewing them at a trade show. Empire Ears initially showed the RAVEN to the world at the 2022 Tokyo Portable Audio Festival. "Project RAVEN" as it was called at the time, made subsequent stops at several more shows over the next year: New York CanJam, Singapore CanJam, and Axpona, where I got to hear it for the first time in April, 2023. At each stop, Empire Ears continued to improve and develop the sound signature.
For Empire Ears, the biggest challenge was the enclosure, and when it comes to Bone Conduction IEMs this is a super important part of the equation. Think of it as similar to building a two-channel speaker, and making the cabinet of a speaker as inert as possible to reduce any sort of resonance from the box can make all the difference between sloppy sound and tight, articulate sound. And this was my big takeaway from Axpona 2023 when I listened to the RAVEN for the first time.
At Axpona, Empire Ears still had not finalized the enclosure materials, and for that matter, hadn't finalized the tweaking of what they call the Harmonic Resonance Core. A big part of finalizing this was the Stainless Steel faceplate. To my knowledge, unless I am mistaken, at Axpona, the whole shell was just acrylic.
Why Materials Matter
All materials have different resonance frequencies and one of the best examples of how sound signatures can change based on materials is with the Grado Headphone lineup. While drivers are slightly tweaked from model to model, the Grado lineup has earcups that are plastic, different types of woods, and then metals. Each material had a different resonance characteristic that changed the tonality from series to series and gave them each a unique characteristic. I always preferred the metal enclosures like the PS-1's which I still own and the PS-500. They were just smoother.
When I listened to them at Axpona, at the time I felt the bass weight and balance between either the bone conduction and possibly the Weapon X W9 subwoofers were just too meaty, if you will. The sound was a little too thick and the balance was off with the mix of the mids and the highs. I mean, it was a bass monster. However, I could hear the potential and I know Jack and Dean Vang were not finished with their vision of the final tuning.
After getting the opportunity to view the RAVEN at Axpona I was anticipating the arrival of the final production model. The final fit and finish feel was so much better than I could have imagined. There are two finishes available at the moment: A gold-plated Stainless Steel launch edition, and what they are calling a standard edition, which is shiny Black Stainless Steel. I found the black finish to be less assuming and sultry looking. Very much like Darth Vader's helmet color... We are now entering the Dark Side!
The RAVEN is rated at 2 Ohms with a sensitivity of 108dB, and has a frequency response that covers 5Hz to 100kHz. This is remarkable and at this load and sensitivity on the various DAPs and headphone amplifiers I used, including ones with the Korg Tube circuit, the RAVEN remained dead quiet. Why is this important? With higher sensitivity IEMs and a tube circuit, there can be noise influence at times so I am always listening to these things when I write a review. Again, the RAVEN IEMs remained dead quiet.
The RAVEN utilizes what Empire Ears is calling a Quadbrid, Dual Conduction IEM. It utilizes 12 drivers and the following Empire Ears technology:
Dual W9+ Subwoofers
5 Proprietary Balanced Armature Drivers
4 Electrostatic Tweeters
W10 Bone Conduction Ultra Driver
Empire Ears Technology
Proprietary Multi-Point synX Crossover Network
DCA- Dual Conduction Architecture
EIVEC MKII- Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control Technology
HRC- Harmonic Resonance Core
ARC- Resonance Mitigation Technology
RAVEN Driver Technology
Empire Ears does not use off-the-shelf IEM drivers. They have proprietary drivers built to their own specs. This removes all the limitations on design. They don't have to stay within the guardrails of the existing mainstream components. This is what puts Empire Ears ahead of the curve in terms of audio experience. Experience is what all their IEMs provide.
The new W10 bone conductor driver is an industry first, as Empire Ears had to engineer a unique sandwich plate to circumvent resonance issues associated with the W10 bone conductor. The endeavor presented a considerable array of challenges, which they faced with determination and resilience.
Bone Conduction Explained
Bone conduction has been around for a long time with some interesting history about it on Wikipedia. In fact, bone conduction technology was used way before headphones were ever a thing. My experience with full-size bone conduction headphones was always disappointing. Normal headphones produce sounds transmitted through the air and we rely on our eardrum to turn these into signals for the brain. Bone conduction works by bypassing the normal hearing process by producing vibrations that the cochlear picks up.
The cochlea is a fluid-filled, spiral-shaped cavity that looks very similar to a seashell, found in the inner ear that plays a vital role in the sense of hearing and participation. Think of the cochlear implant — Essentially the same theory applies here with the RAVEN IEMs. Except you don't have to have the cochlear implant surgically mounted to your skull — Ouch.
Filling in the duties for the normal sound wave drivers are four Electrostatic drivers that provide the upper-frequency range. Crafting a wonderful air texture to the sound. While you can't hear anywhere close to 100kHz, what this does create that your brain can decode, is energy. This energy is what provides the air textures to the sound. It gives the illusion of the sound being much larger than it realistically is. Rounding out the middle frequencies is, again, proprietary Balanced Armature drivers. They are faster than dynamic drivers and really help with the spoken voice. I find that dynamic drivers in this position usually mimic a warmer tonality.
Since the balanced armature is used, you can also sense the moisture on the singer's lips. Empire Ears describes the 2 X W9 drivers as providing thunderous power and unmatched control, laying the foundation for a legendary bass experience. They're not kidding — Some of the best well-controlled bass response I have heard from an IEM.
For my initial listening session, I did all my testing exclusively on the Astell&Kern SP2000T. This unit gave me the ability to change the tonality between warm and analytical, as well as in between. It was the perfect tool. I plan to do more source testing but this was the best piece to start with. I used the stock cable, the Bronze Dragon IEM Cable, and the Silver Dragon IEM Cable for the Empire Ears connection. The stock PW Cable and the Bronze Dragon had some similar tonalities but slightly different. Both being UP-OCC copper cables led to this similarity. The stock cable is a little stiffer than our Dragon Cables based on the conductor size and the geometry. Not stiff, but it did have a little bit of a mind of its own — Not really subtle.
I settled on the Silver Dragon IEM Cable for Empire Ears to be my cable of choice for the RAVEN. It tightened up the bass making it even more powerful and controlled. UP-OCC Silver has a way of adding gain to the frequency range due to the super low resistance. Things became even more airy-sounding with added emotion at the top end. In all cases, I used the 4.4 TRRRS connection for the best signal output on the SP2000T. Note, also with using the Korg Tube circuit there was no audible tube hiss that super sensitive IEMs can sometimes have. Thus, the RAVENs are great for the iBasso, Cayin, and Astell&Kern devices utilizing this circuit.
The kick drums delivered such an immersive listening experience, I felt like I was at a rock concert where you can feel the heart-pounding bass waves fly past you.
If you've read my reviews in the past, you know I typically listen to four songs in all my initial listening sessions. And while I did listen to them, for the first time they were not my starting point. Based on the look and feel of the RAVEN, I felt that heading straight to the AC/DC Back in Black album was only fitting.
Hells Bells was the perfect intro to really showcase what both a well-tuned bone conduction and W9 Sub driver could do. The kick drums delivered such an immersive listening experience, I felt like I was at a rock concert where you can feel the heart-pounding bass waves fly past you. It was more than just a sound, it was a feeling, as if the wind gust just blew by — Absolutely insane. I can't remember any IEM pulling this off.
In an effort to test out what these IEMs can really do, I listened to several EDM songs by Avicii and Underworld. The RAVEN's delivered a big, bold sound that was fun and lively. The RAVEN complimented Adele's Rolling In The Deep, a song that has a great bottom end to it.
(Back In Black)
Wake Me Up
(A Hundred Days Off)
Rolling In the Deep
For this review, I'd like to compare the RAVEN with another pair of Empire Ears IEMs, the ODIN. The ODIN is a tribrid design with 11 proprietary drivers working harmoniously to deliver you a natural, clear, and organic sound. The ODIN is geared toward the audiophile listener. Who's that? It's the person who wants exceptional detail retrieval and resolution. They want to hear all the nuances in a song — Be it the plucking of guitar strings or the moisture you can sometimes hear on a singer's lips. If you're someone who wants the most audiophile-like experience, then the ODIN is going to be for you.
With the RAVEN, it's best suited for someone who wants a fun sound that's got a fuller presentation for Rock N' Roll, EDM, and dance music. But it's not just limited to music. The RAVEN is a great choice for the on-the-go video gamer who wants the most immersive gaming experience, or for the traveler who wants to watch movies and TV shows on the train. With the RAVEN you're going to get a much more dramatic listening experience than you would with the ODIN. The ODIN's are like going to a classical concert and the RAVEN's are an EDM festival — Just a totally different experience, more fun and engaging if you will. Both IEMs are great but it just comes down to what type of listener you are and ultimately what type of music you like to listen to.
RAVEN IEM Dragon Cable Recommendation
After testing the RAVEN with our Bronze Dragon IEM Cable and the Silver Dragon IEM V2 Cable, I recommend pairing the RAVEN with our Silver Dragon IEM Cable for Empire Ears. At Moon Audio, we have designed and handcrafted Dragon IEM Cables specifically for Empire Ears IEMs, universal and custom with 2-pin models. Our Silver Dragon IEM Cable is going to tighten up the bass on the RAVEN, making it more powerful and controlled. You'll get a more airy-sound with added emotion at the top end.
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 with 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.
Silver Dragon Sound Signature: The Silver Dragon is the original cable. Silver strands clarify instrument separation, increase the soundstage, and find previously lost high and mid-frequency sounds. Transients appear more cohesive and the bass tighter for a more controlled sound. The detail and clarity of the Silver Dragon make it a perfect match for classical music and other genres with many nuanced instruments.
Black Dragon Sound Signature: The Black Dragon is warm and smooth with a musical presentation. The detail and expansiveness of the Black Dragon make it a flexible fit where a broad range of musical genres are played. It can also improve bass frequencies on bass-light headphones. The smooth, musical quality makes it a perfect fit for headphones that tend to sound a bit edgy or bright. Despite its warmth, the Black Dragon does not have a laid-back, lush sound. It is much closer to neutral, making it a very natural-sounding cable. For more information on finding your signature sound, visit our Sound Signature Guide.
Clear | Detailed
- 8 x 99.99998% UP-OCC Stranded Silver Conductors with Kelvar reinforcement
- Available in 2-pin connection for all custom and universal Empire Ears IEMs
Warm | Flexible
- 8 x 15-18% ratio Silver Plated Pure Copper Conductors
- Available in 2-pin connection for all custom and universal Empire Ears IEMs
Musical | Inviting
- 8 x 99.99998% UP-OCC Stranded Copper Conductors with Kelvar reinforcement
- Available in 2-pin connection for all custom and universal Empire Ears IEMs
Whether you want an IEM for analytical listening, an IEM that lets you get lost in the music, or one for mastering and live performances — The Empire Ears RAVEN fits all cases. For $3,599, you get an IEM that gets your feet moving. It brings excitement to the forefront — It's engaging with a hard-hitting articulate bass. It's well balanced and not shy on the top end. I imagine a rave is going on in my ears.
The RAVEN's black chassis is sleek and inconspicuous in the ears. Not to mention how lightweight and comfortable they are. Empire Ears has continued to make huge innovative strides in their technology and the RAVEN shows us that they're not slowing down any time soon. Well, well done Empire Ears. You have a new flagship IEM that is sure to please the masses.
What's in the Box
- RAVEN In-Ear Monitor
- PW Audio P7 OCC Copper Litz Cable
- Empire Pandora Case
- Empire Cleaning Cloth
- Empire Cleaning Tool
- Final Audio Type E Tips - SS, S, M, L, LL
- 12-driver Quadbrid: (x2) W9+ Dynamic, (x5) BA, (x4) EST, (x1) Bone Conduction
- Launch edition features Gold-Plated Stainless Steel faceplates, Saffiano leather case, personalized thank-you card from Dean and Jack Vang
- Specially designed Raven Challenge Coin included in first batch
- Designed, engineered and handcrafted in Atlanta, GA USA 9 hours of devoted, meticulous attention per pair!
- 12 Driver Quadbrid, Dual Conduction Flagship
- Dual W9+ Subwoofers
- 5 Proprietary Balanced Armature Drivers
- Quad Electrostatic Drivers
- W10 Bone Conduction Ultra Driver
- Proprietary Multi-Point synX Crossover Network
- EIVEC MKII - Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control Technology
- HRC - Harmonic Resonance Core
- ARC - Resonance Mitigation Technology
- Impedance: 2 Ohms @ 1kHz
- Frequency Response: 5Hz - 100kHz
- Sensitivity: 108.1dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
- Premium Empire X PW Audio R7 OCC Dual Gauge Cable X 4.4 Rhodium Termination