Empire Ears Valkyrie MK. II Review - Vibrant & Valiant
Review written by @Precogvision
Empire Ears has frequently shown that they’re not bound by traditional notions of audiophilia. Indeed, while they approached their latest flagship IEM, the Odin, with a more calculated approach to tuning, their roots have always lain with the more flavorful tunings that characterized hits such as the Legend X. The original Valkyrie was also a testament to the latter tuning philosophy. Now Empire Ears aims to take the Valkyrie to the next level with the Valkyrie MK.II. Can the Valkyrie MK.II dance the knife’s edge and once again show that there’s still life left in this tuning philosophy? A tuning philosophy, mind you, that would be panned by many as being, and forgive my crudeness, for mainstream plebs? Needless to say I was just as excited to find out.
This unit was provided for review by Headphones.com. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source & Drivability
Critical listening was done off of a variety of sources including an iBasso DX160, A&K SP1000M, and iFi Micro iDSD Black Label. The stock cable, tips, and lossless FLAC files were used. The Valkyrie takes a moderate amount of power to drive, but I had no issues running it off of any of these sources. Hissing was a non-issue expectedly.
Empire Ears knows how to do their presentation. All of their IEMs come in the same tasteful, white packaging. A magnetic latch unfolds to reveal, in the center, some documentation and your IEMs underneath. A cache to the side of the packaging slides out; here you’ll find the included case and tips. In all, the included accessories look something like this:
- Alpha Hybrid IV 2-Pin Cable
- Pandora Case
- Empire Cleaning Cloth
- Empire Cleaning Tool
- Final Audio Type E Tips (ss/s/m/l/ll)
Something that I really like is the 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.
The Valkyrie MK.II itself sports Empire Ear’s usual attention to detail. The gap between where the faceplate and shell meet is seamless. And can we talk about the faceplate? I’ll let the product page do the talking:
“Dragonhide is an ultra-exclusive, one-of-a-kind faceplate designed to optically simulate the scales of a mythical dragon. Dragonhide features nine individual polymer layers in three proprietary lamination steps and 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 -- literally shifting before your very eye.
Dragonhide is masterfully handcrafted in the USA by an award winning chemist that currently holds two patents in polymer science for high solids coating chemistry.”
Marketing or not, the results here speak for themselves - the Valkyrie MK.II’s a visual stunner. For fit and comfort, I personally had no issues; however, those who desire a slimmer fit might try and pick up the original Valkyrie on the secondary market. Like most of the Empire Ears IEMs, driver flex, a harmless crinkling of the driver, is present when one inserts the Valkyrie MK.II into their ears.
Something tells me it’s going to be real pain typing up “Valkyrie MK.II” every time, so henceforth let’s just call it the “Valkyrie”. The original one can be referred to as the “OG Valkyrie”. Hey, worker smarter, not harder, right?
Frequency response measured off of an IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at roughly 8kHz. As such, measurements after this point should not be considered entirely accurate.
How do I approach this? The Valkyrie’s bass is excessively boosted, most definitely bloated, and exacerbates a level of incoherency that the critic in me cringes at. We’re talking about giga levels of bass here, so basslets need not read any further. Nonetheless, let it be known that I can’t get enough of it. My brief stint in this hobby has given rise to the awareness that not all subwoofers are created equal. Like so, the Weapon IX+ subwoofer used in Empire Ear’s IEMs is distinctive to me of what I can only describe as a flexing, bombastic quality. Note decay is wonderfully drawn-out, longer than any other IEM I have heard, and there is a terrific sense of physicality - sheer air being pushed - to the way the Valkyrie’s slams. Yeah, it’s messy and I imagine some listeners might prefer less mid-bass, but it’s oh-so-satisfying.
Now, I’m sure some are tired of me saying it, but I’ll repeat it here: Audio is characterized by a series of trade-offs. To this end, the Valkyrie’s midrange is characteristically scooped all throughout the lower-midrange followed by a sharp rise to the upper-midrange frequencies. What’s this mean? Well, you can pretty much say bye-bye to listening to stuff like country music with the Valkyrie. The subsequent bias to the upper-midrange frequencies also suggests that this is most closely an “Eastern” tuning that’ll play best with the likes of J-Pop/K-Pop/EDM. Considering that more than 50% of my FLAC music library consists of these genres, suffice it to say that I don’t really mind. Still, I want to put it out there that the Valkyrie’s midrange is not remotely balanced - it is very lean - and some might not take to it as kindly as I do.
Treble on the Valkyrie is a lot more aggressive than I remember from my time with the OG Valkyrie, but in all fairness, I didn’t care much about treble back then. The Valkyrie is characterized by a strong peak at roughly 5kHz which lends to a distinctive “chhhh” on a lot of percussive hits. At least to my ears, this is what I associate with the percussion compression that fellow reviewer Resolve often cites. This energy in the treble is unavoidable to some degree as there needs to be something to balance out the gobs of bass. The Valkyrie’s treble is a tad abrasive and overall extension is dubious, but it’s not a dealbreaker to my ears when all’s said and done.
There’s always been something of a dichotomy - the good kind, I might add - between the tuning and technicalities of Empire Ear’s IEMs. More closely: IEMs with wholly imbalanced sound signatures but with surprisingly good technicalities to back it up. Thankfully, the Valkyrie does not buck this trend. The Valkyrie’s technicalities are predicated on sheer macro-detail. The latter half of the “V,” the upper-midrange and lower-treble emphasis, inherently boost the perception of resolution. I don’t think the Valkyrie gets much further than decent surface-level detail, but it’s enough that most listeners wouldn’t notice what they’re missing. Layering is also surprisingly good if not quite refined to the degree of the ESR MK.II in terms of “space” between instrument delineations.
Something else that I’ll commend is the Valkyrie’s macro-dynamic performance. This is a weak point of a lot of the Empire Ears IEMs I’ve heard. The most dynamic IEM I’ve heard in their line-up thus far would actually be the Hero; from memory, I would place the Valkyrie just a peg below for scaling dynamic swings. Of course, by other technical metrics, readers should expect to temper their expectations. Like so, the Valkyrie’s staging leans toward the more intimate side thanks to the sheer bass quantity. Coherency is also not great with a noticeable contrast in attack and decay between the Weapon IX+ subwoofer and the midrange BA being used.
Avid readers will know that I mostly fall into the camp of reviewers that rigorously assess tonality and technicalities. In this vein, against similarly priced, top-threats, I do not think the Valkyrie is strictly better in these metrics. But I am susceptible to preference just like anyone else. What I look for and appreciate most in an IEM, then, is character. You can have the most well-tuned, technical IEM in the world - IEMs like the VE Erlkonig, Sony IER-M9, and Thieaudio Monarch come to mind - but I refuse to give it anything more than the nod of respect unless it speaks to me on a more fundamental level. Make no mistake that the Valkyrie has done that where these other IEMs have failed; that alone merits emphatic praise in my eyes.
As an aside, some will wonder how the Valkyrie MK.II compares to the OG Valkyrie. I neither have the OG Valkyrie on-hand nor would I feel comfortable getting too in-depth given I heard it going on a year ago. That said, I can confidently say that they sound very similar. I don’t really think the bass is much of an improvement - if at all - from memory either, despite the Valkyrie sporting the new Weapon IX+ subwoofer. One need not “upgrade” if they already have the original.
The Valkyrie is an IEM that I would hesitate to recommend as a one-size-fits-all purchase. From inception, it is a niche IEM that only the most ardent of party animals would be happy to daily drive. But as a flavor IEM for when one wants to jam out, or perhaps as an IEM to round out one’s collection? Absolutely. You don’t see a lot of V-shaped IEMs at the flagship level, so I have a real soft spot for an IEM that can pull it off, and pull it off well at that. This is the unsung gem of the Empire Ears lineup; like so, it is my pleasure to recommend the Valkyrie.
- Aimer - Hakuchuumu
- David Nail - Let It Rain
- Everglow - DUN DUN
- Girls’ Generation - Galaxy Supernova
- Illenium - Broken Ones
- Joe Nichols - Sunny and 75
- Keith Urban - Defying Gravity (2009)
- Sabai - Million Days
- Sawano Hiroyuki - Best of Vocal Works Remastered (2020)
- Steve Jablonsky - Arrival To Earth
- Taeyeon - My Voice (2017)
- Tiffany - I Just Wanna Dance
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