These aren’t meant to be fair comparisons, but here just in case you’d like to know what you get (or don’t get) when you upgrade.

From Memory

These are headphones I don’t have on hand but either owned or very familiar with. Still, nothing beats direct A/B so please take this with a grain of salt.

  • Sennheiser HD800 & HD800S – Artificially large soundstage with a focus on the analytical. It’s leaner and more neutral sounding. Contrasts heavily to the Empyrean which is more euphoric. Very different sounding headphones (Much prefer the Empyrean).
  • Focal Utopia – I think the Utopia is a wonderful sounding headphone. It has more technical abilities over the Empyrean but I think the warmer tone is probably more accurate on the Empyrean. I believe the Utopia was also more resolving and smoother. I may actually repurchase this headphone at a later time.
  • Audeze LCD-4 – Another beautiful sounding headphone. Super rich, dense, but textured to the max. Also very engaging due to its meatier sound and authoritative bass. This headphone is great at digging up details and adding meat to it. I think the Empyrean would be a bit leaner in body and fuzzier around the edges but is probably has truer and cleaner tone.
  • MrSpeakers ETHER 2 – Relative to the Empyrean, the ETHER 2 will come off darker. It’ll sound closer to the Empyrean with the Alcantara pads. The Empyrean will probably have more tonal variations and micro-details.
  • HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 – These headphones are more elevated and have more treble energy. I think the Empyrean has more density and warmth. I definitely experienced less grain with the Empyrean but the HE-1000 V2 had good sound staging.

Sennheiser HD650 ($400)

These popular headphones could be good for the money – but that depends on what you’re looking for. They’re very nuanced, resolving, and smooth. There’s a sense of precision, speed, and technical prowess to this headphone. It’s effortless and promotes plenty of flair and extension. Transients are clearly defined and there’s plenty of space between recording elements. The Empyrean doesn’t find strength in many of these qualities…but sounds more like the real thing. Again, a more natural sound.

To be honest, I’ve always found the HD650 to be a little boring. Primarily due to its flatter more neutral sound. It’s colorless and doesn’t provide any realistic amount of bass. It’s also too clean sounding to be engaging. But it is a great headphone to measure how articulate and precise a sound could be. Great for critical listeners and might be nice with a darker sounding tube amp. I could never get myself to believe what I’m hearing, however. Real-life just doesn’t sound that clean.

Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow Open ($800)

I much prefer these headphones to the HD650, but the Empyrean is a much more nuanced and faithful headphone. It’s not only more transparent and quieter but is more tonally variant – in a big way. In comparison, the Aeon is more veiled, dark, and monotonous. Both have wonderful tone but the Aeon comes off a bit thicker sounding. The Aeon is a bit softer and looser in its control – which becomes obvious in the low end. In addition, the Aeon’s lower mids to mids have more bleeding so isn’t perceptibly as quiet. What the Aeon does do better is the treble material. Cymbals have more of that realistic metal weight when brushed or splashed.

Overall the Aeon is still a great bang for your buck headphone and does a wonderful job balancing the spectrum from the bottom to the top. Compared to the Empyrean, however, it has more of a silky dreamy sound rather than an insightful and textural sound. Even with the Alcantara pads, the Empyrean wins in the timbre, dynamics, clarity, and texture departments. But yeah, we’re talking at over four times the cost.

Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC ($5,000)

This headphone is simply more “physical.” It’s more incisive. The Abyss wants you to hear what it can do – which is a lot. This is especially the case in the sub-bass region. If it’s in the recording, the Abyss will reveal them in a clean and speedy manner. In addition, it presents a deeper and wider soundstage and offers up more flair. Imaging is also world-class. It’s just a more open and “beast mode” kind of headphone.

The Empyrean is more tonally true due to its warmer sound but doesn’t etch out the finer details nearly as well. In the end, I feel the Abyss is a headphone that embraces precision, speed, resolution, and tangibility. The Empyrean is more down to earth and promotes a lusher and more “chill” listening experience.