The Empire Ears Nemesis is a proprietary 5-driver hybrid custom monitor designed to capture the raw emotion of a live concert. It is priced from $1,599.00.
Disclaimer: The Empire Ears Nemesis was sent to us in exchange for our honest opinion in this review. Many thanks to Empire Ears for giving us this opportunity.
You can read about previous Empire Ears products reviewed on Headfonics here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
A while back, I sent some molds into Empire Ears for review in a model that I didn’t know what would be coming back to me. It was a surprise. I was happy to receive back the Nemesis a time later and begin the review process on a solid custom IEM. It has been a while since I had a new one for myself, so this was a pleasure to review from start to finish
The Mold Process
I have done enough custom IEM molds of my own in the past to feel safe enough to not need an Audiologist’s impressions. I buy my kits online for about $11USD and make my earmolds myself. I have never had any problems and they always come back comfortable and perfectly suited for my ear shape.
Do I recommend you do that? No. If you are new to CIEM’s, get it professionally done and make sure to tell the doctor that you are not making anything but the soft earmold injections and that you need nothing else.
Make sure you describe what you need because the doctors will quote you $200+ sometimes for this thinking you want some type of technology or hearing aide too. You don’t want that. You just need the mold kit impressions and nothing else.
They shouldn’t cost more than $50 total and if they do, that is absurd in the US. I have a few clinics near me that offer even cheaper than that, so shop around first. Worse case, the DIY kits are cheap online and not hard to do yourself. Make sure to buy extra in case you mess up and have no experience with them.
Empire Ears includes a cool EE logo’ed box and a hard shell pelican style case. It has been a while since I’ve seen one of these and this one is a particularly dense and heavy feeling. I like it! It screams good protection.
Beyond that, some paperwork and cleaning supplies. Not much else to go on about here. Great box, great case, although for this price more than one little ear cleaner would have been nice. Go to Sweetwater’s website, you can grab these ear cleaners for 0.50c USD, yes, only fifty cents, not the rapper! Buy a bunch, odds are good you will lose them like I do all the time.
I’ve opted for no special exterior shells, but the Nemesis can come in a variety of special plates as well. I wanted clear because I enjoy the Hifi look and seeing the internals of the unit. I don’t want them super flashy these days so nobody wants to steal them. I want them to look like a hearing aid that nobody really thinks twice about. Subjectivity there.
Empire Ears has plenty of options to choose from in the way of shell and plate combinations, including carbon fiber and other exotic materials. The Effect Audio Ares II 4-wire cable is very nice, a solid braided design.
The 3.5mm adapter is fantastic, I love it. It feels of an immensely high quality and very heavy. I enjoy the right angle design for use with smaller DAP’s I own, so I am very happy with this overall design choice. The CIEM’s themselves are quite hefty as well and do not feel cheap.
I was a bit surprised to hear such a reserved low end on the Nemsis. For me, as a bass head, it requires a ton of EQ to flow in enough bass quantity to satisfy me. But, that is only quantity needs not met. I love my bass, but objectively, the experience is relatively flat across the board which is what you want to hear in a great CIEM.
For me, I require a +8dB and a lot of boosting to get it to where I enjoy it most. This is not a good product for bass enthusiasts but is a good product for those who like a flat and balanced sound with some ability to EQ up if need be.
That response to EQ is moderate. It isn’t great and I do wish it would offer more quantity than what it does. A +8dB on Foobar2000’s realbassexciter .dsp is a lot extra without a ton of bass flooding in. That means the product isn’t very responsive to alteration and requires a lot of boosting to get a moderate level of extra quantity.
The Nemesis bass purity factor without EQ enabled is fantastic. In fact, it might be one of the best I’ve heard in this price tier. It shreds my older JH16 FP and also my K10 from Noble Audio to an audible degree, both of which are very nice in their own right.
Neither sounded good on budget DAP’s, but this Nemesis sounds lovely with my Hidizs AP80 ($119USD). Quality across the board is very good and very pleasing to my ear, it also doesn’t scale up much at all with a ton of amping and higher resolution gear. Meaning, my home desktop Heron 5 solid-state amplifier does very little in the way of fidelity vs a good upper-end portable player, like the Colorfly C8 ($1200USD). So if you own a great portable player, don’t worry, it is all you’ll need.
I am very happy that Empire Ears has tuned the Nemsis to sound forward and not moderately forward. My older K10 is moderately forward by comparison and it bothers me. The Nemesis plays very well with intimate sounding tracks and sounds very, very natural with Binaural tracks that I do own.
If you love Jazz standards and older recordings, this is a fantastic IEM for you. I really enjoy the older recordings on this, which is a great testament to the idea that it is not snobbish with track quality.
Older tracks sound great and fuzz factor and grit in the older recordings are not playing through nearly as much as with some other IEM’s I own. Oddly, that is a shock to me as well. Considering the overall tonality of the product to be on the neutral side.
The density factor of the Nemsis is noticeably heftier than my K10 and the JH16 of old. To me, that is very important, as I dislike thinner approaches to the sonic spectrum, especially so in the mid and treble areas.
Thankfully, the Nemesis doesn’t have that problem and the heft factor is a sublime and rich feeling. Tonality is a lost art these days, at least, in my opinion. And I am greatly appreciative of what I am hearing.
Even on a $69 FiiO M3K DAP, the Nemesis still sounds rich and dense enough to actually be enjoyable through such a cheap portable source. That is a stellar feat for something in the Summit level pricing tier.
Thankfully, once again, the Nemesis offers an excellent treble response. Oddly so, might I add. But, in a good way. The treble feels denser than the midrange and the bass below it by a fair degree. That solidity factor is what we want to hear in Hifi products like this, brandishing a heft that is jaw-dropping at times and with excellent sounding source files. My DSD collection sounds amazing!
Electric guitars sound incredible and worthy of headbanging and air guitar strumming. I stand in my bathroom sometimes as I draw my shower on and strip down and forget that I was in there to take a shower and end up air guitaring to Marco Sfogli’s Andromeda, or Guthrie Govan’s Waves. My water bill is huge.
Thank you Jack at Empire Ears for that but, the Nemsis has stellar performance up top and I couldn’t be happier. What is most enjoyable is the lack of dynamic physical striking impact. And that goes for the bass end too. It isn’t super soft, but it is somewhere between the realm of soft and moderate, which is my favorite place for impact and wince factor capabilities. I do not like overly engaging and I dislike super smooth and boring. The Nemesis got that right for me and I am very, very happy with it.
Staging and Imaging
If there is a weakness to the Nemsis, this is where it would be found. I found the general experience good and not lacking. But, for this price, I really expect something amazing. It sounds extremely coherent though, probably among the best I’ve heard in a while but not the best, nor nearly in that circuit.
The realism factor is good, staging height and width are enjoyable and plenty spacious feeling. If I am to draw comparisons, I am going to make a reference to the Flare Audio Pro, as both feel similar. The depth of field factor is lacking in comparison to some of the other very ultra-expensive CIEM’s I’ve heard, but it by no means is bad for the price.
For the tier, the value offered in imaging is good. By far, the best quality offered here is air and separation between instruments, which is stellar. It positively obliterated my K10 in this area. I have gripes with vastness when it gets past a $1000 mark and in my opinion, nothing should be just good at this price range. It should be amazing.
Sadly, the Nemesis is just good with imaging and staging properties. It lacks nothing but also does not excel anywhere that makes me want to rave about it.
The naturalness factor is probably the only area of listening I can really say is excellent. And that comes through mostly because of the density factor and lack of ‘wince’ from top to bottom, and not so much the imaging properties in size and scale.
Colorfly C8 sounds vividly natural but lacks the tonality I desire on the low end. While the quality is excellent, I prefer using the much cheaper AP80 due to the MSEB EQ system inside it. I do not need an expensive portable music source or amp with this Nemesis, it is efficient enough for use with an ultra low-end FiiO M3K and AP80.
I do not need high gain, the bass and treble density factor is nearly unaffected by more power. This is exactly what we want to see in an expensive headphone. It doesn’t require anything special.
Just get a good source and you are good to go. I enjoy it even on my Shanling M0 and the older Sony A17, hell, I enjoy it right out of my iPhone SE via 3.5mm. That is how nice the Nemesis plays with audio sources. Yay!
The Nemesis requires no amplification and does not really benefit from absurdly expensive source gear too much. Of course, there is a bit of a scaling property there, but if you own a good mid-tier DAP at the moment, this is a fantastic option for you.
You won’t really need to upgrade unless you really find a DAP ‘tonality win’ for yourself in a more expensive product. I own a Colofly C8 that is hyper-expensive, I also own a budget AP80 and I enjoy the sound of the AP80 with this CIEM more than with the expensive DAP. It always isn’t about fidelity.
Of course, the C8 wins there. But, tonality is absurdly good on the AP80 and the powerful EQ system adheres to my personal tastes best.
If you are into a balanced and dense feeling CIEM, you will really enjoy the Nemsis. It isn’t set-up for bass enthusiasts though so be careful. Empire Ears scored a real winner with this one in the way of coherency and natural appeal. If they would drop more bass potential in, I’d be much happier than I am already. Great job, Jack! I enjoyed this one a lot.
Nemesis Technical Specifications
- 5 Proprietary Drivers, Hybrid Design
- 2 W9 Subwoofers, 1 Mid, 1 High, 1 Super High
- 8-Way synX Crossover System
- A.R.C. Resonance Mitigation Technology
- Impedance: 15.5 ohms @ 1kHz
- Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40kHz
- Sensitivity: 101dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
- 26AWG UPOCC Litz Copper Cable, Handcrafted by Effect Audio