January
2024

Country of Origin

Romania

Empyrean 11

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (i5, 256GB SSD, 40GB RAM, Sonoma 14), 4TB external SSD with Thunderbolt 3, Audirvana Studio, Qobuz Sublime, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 & SW-6 switch, Laiv Audio Harmony and Sonnet Pasithea; Active filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos & Gold Note monoa on subwoofer; Headamp: Kinki Studio THR-1; Phones: HifiMan Susvara, Meze 109 Pro; Loudspeakers: Qualio IQ [on loan] Cables: Kinki Studio Earth, Furutech; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: FiiO R7 into Soundaware D300Ref SD transport to Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Preamp/filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Amplifier: Kinki Studio EX-M7; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini + Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF, Akiko Audio Corelli; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; DAC: iFi Pro iDSD Signature; Head/speaker amp: Enleum AMP-23R; Speakers: Acelec Model One
Headphones: Final D-8000 & Sonorous X, Audeze LCD-XC, Raal-Requisite SR1a on Schiit Jotunheim R
Upstairs headfi system: FiiO R7; Headphones: Meze 109 Pro, Fiio FT3

2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail: €2'999

A new emperor? It's Meze's new Empyrean II, a next-gen flagship planar from Romania. Its design brief asked for more detail and neutrality than the original whilst remaining another easy listen. "The all-new Duo earpads have leather form the base half, Alcanta cover the rest. For classic audiophiles, the angled earpads excel at intricate detail and nuance. The angled shape creates more interior space which means an airier sound with cleaner bass and improved midrange presence. Empyrean II retains all the elements of its predecessor with an added touch of sculptural elegance. Crafted with precision CNC milling, the frame features a sleek matte black finish with silver accents and a redesigned art deco grill."

That paraphrases the press release dispatched by my new contact Alexandru Hosu. "We'll send your review sample when available. We currently have very limited stock for when this model goes on sale November 8th." While I had Alex's attention, I asked whether there's any change to the performance specs; and whether the sonic tuning updates involve just the earpads aka virtual rooms bolted to our ears; or also their planar diaphragm and/or its motor.

Meze's first emperor had put our communal sector on notice. Proprietary planar drivers of upscale sonic ambitions could go hand in hand with ultra-finessed detail execution and advanced industrial design. You'd expect the necessary resources from giants like Focal, not necessarily a smaller firm in Eastern Romania which had hit the market with a €329 budget offering. Yet the team around industrial designer Antonio Meze had shown themselves equal to the big leap and reset expectations for wear comfort and bespoke styling. The second emperor now reads primed to advance an 'early-Audeze' comfort sound to more of a 'HifiMan Susvara' resolution champ. At least that's how I read the subtext; perhaps also because the implications align with my own take on the original.

"The primary points of distinction between Empyrean I and II are the newly styled grille and updated finishing; two new earpads; enhancements in driver tech; and new acoustic damping at the driver's back which includes a new complementary acoustic mesh on the front. Technical improvements in driver design and construction focused specifically on enhanced durability under extreme conditions. The key driver change is our new membrane treatment. Tech specs are 8Hz-110kHz, 32Ω, 105dB/1kHz/1V, sub 0.1% THD at 1kHz/1V and 385g weight without earpads."

Obviously on-ear quadrophonics aren't possible. Here I simply had some fun with generic clip art.

To refresh your mental picture of the first Empyrean, click over to their site. There you'll find all the photos, graphs and information. As to how I and II compare, I did not ask to be shipped both versions. Such A/B are for reviewers and end users who own an original. I'll report on how the II fares against planars from Audeze, Final and HifiMan, then how it strikes me on its own. Should Camerton's 2023 version of their Binom-ER land while the Meze is on hand; and/or the 2nd-gen HEDDphone or FiiO's new FT5 planar… then those will make surprise appearances. But that'll be synchronicity. On that count I've nothing planned. On that other count—that hifi can be impeccably styled, finished to a fare-thee-well and perform—the first Empyrean's reviews are the Biblical three-score and ten deep. If you're new to the matter, reacquaint yourself with that global evidence on their site. It'll set the stage. Meze's flagship isn't just a shallow exercise in industrial design. Thanks to the independent Ukrainian Rinaro Labs, its patented driver tech is a ground-up effort of unique wrinkles; or rather, different voice-coil geometry. In short, a pretty face with a higher education. And for the II, we're promised that the passage of time and advances since have added another degree to said fine education. How will that manifest on then in the ears? Given Alexandru's intro, first to know will be the early-bird shoppers!

Two months past publishing the above, "we're still trying to keep up with fulfilling orders. Because Empyrean II assembles by hand and is checked again and again to ensure pristine condition, it takes longer to manufacture. I apologize for the long wait but as soon as we have review units, we're sending you one." Who needs reviews when there's more demand than supply? Actually, by that time there were more than 10 YouTube reviews up already. "It's true that we approached YouTube more proactively as part of our marketing strategy but in no way dismiss our old partners in the written press. We've simply had supply-chain delays with Empyrean II production but hope to come back with happier news next week when our transport is due to arrive to restart production." With driver manufacturer Rinaro in the Ukraine, it was a minor miracle that production hadn't stalled a lot sooner.

… to be continued…