It’s quite rare that tools don’t change much from one decade to the next, to say nothing of one century to the next. But the bubble, or spirit, level has been used in much the same way since the late 1600s. It’s really only been during the last few years that technology has attempted to improve the bubble level’s function with digital versions that offer great accuracy and more information in the form of angle measurements. But is it all too much? Perhaps it’s one of those rare cases where the technology is superfluous? There’s only one way to find out – by field-testing one of the newest high-tech digital levels available, the e105.48 Empire Level Digital Box Level. It’s loaded with features and built for longevity, so let’s see how it works.
Clint, Kenny, and Adam had the distinct privilege of touring Empire Level’s Wisconsin during Milwaukee’s NPS 2017 – you can read and see all about the tour here!
We weren’t kidding when we said that the Empire Level e105.48 is loaded with features. The most important one must be the auto-calibration – it’s the industry’s first digital level to auto-calibrate. That means it’s designed to power up and be ready to measure accurately without additional checks.
In addition to the two e-Band vials, two backlit digital displays (one top read and one side read) indicate levelness and plumbness in 7 measuring modes. Precision Modes are Degree Tenths, Degree Hundredths, MM/M, and Percentage along with Rough-In Modes of Degrees, In/Ft Fractional, and In/Ft Decimal.
Digital arrows also indicate what direction the level needs to move to find level or plumb and an audible indicator emits a continuous tone when you hit the sweet spot.
A hold button locks measurement for verification, an inspect mode make repeat measurements easy, four power save modes shut the level off to save the two AA batteries that power it, and the whole package is IP65-rated for dust and water protection. It’s all quite impressive – and there are even a few more minor features you can see in the list below.
Stop, Auto-Calibrate, and Listen
On the Level
I already prefer Empire Levels and own the company’s 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-foot regular box levels. Of course, every tradesman owns or has owned many different brands of levels including what has for a long time been considered the gold standard – Stabila. But I often pass over even my Stabila for one of my Empire levels. It’s not just the attractive color combination, either! They are just well-made, tough, and accurate – not mention easier on the wallet. But let’s see how this Empire Level Digital Box Level measures up.
Our business spans the spectrum of landscaping to new construction and everything in between. We have many different jobs in process simultaneously, so I might be helping a crew frame one minute, and putting in sprinklers, building a ramp, or installing shingles the next. It might also be in the middle of the night since we offer emergency services.
Suffice it to say, there’s no shortage of times where I need a level. I love the idea of the dual functionality of this Empire level. It has a traditional feel, look, and operation with respect to the bubbles in vials augmented with the precision, audible help, and speed of a digital level.
Now I know some guys out there just won’t like it. They know the slope when the bubble hits one line, the slope when it hits the other line, and that’s all they need. But if the skeptic will give it a chance, I think they’ll find, as I found during this review, that the benefits are worth it.
Let’s start with the auto-calibration. One reason experienced tradesmen might be slow to adopt other digital levels is the complete annoyance of manual calibration. Some of them ask you to calibrate each time you turn it on or just every so often, but it takes you finding a level surface to begin with, hitting a calibration button, and then spinning the level 180-degrees to repeat the process and find the average. That’s not necessary with the Empire Level Digital Box Level. Turn it on and you’re ready to accurately level, plumb, and measure.
Then there are the digital displays. You get a large side view and the smaller top view. Not only can you backlight both displays, but they allow you to use the level in many orientations because you can see them easily. Using it overhead becomes much simpler. When we were leveling floors, I can remove a slat, insert the level between the floor joists, and see what’s out of level. The level also tells me by how much it’s out so we can precisely fix the problem.
The audible level alarm is great for the times when you can’t see the display and/or when you need complete precision. It’s almost a European level of tolerance at 0.0005-inch. Nothing in the US is measured to that tight of a tolerance. Acceptable tolerance is within 1/8-inch, but we build within 1/32 when possible.
This alarm helps you be that good as the sound changes as you get closer to perfect. Some reviewers have generally found the tolerance to be so tight that it’s annoying. If your work is out of level by what is really an imperceptible amount, the alarm squawks at you. Fortunately, you can turn it off at the press of a button.
When Digital Wins
We have a particularly challenging job right now where an enclosed, second-floor porch is pulling away from the main house. The level has been very helpful here. The degree measurements – for floors and roofs – quickly displays the degrees you’ll need to accommodate. Select the mode and you can immediately calculate the pitch and the angle.
This is also perfect grading elevations. The inspect mode is made specifically for checking ramps around a building or a similar, repeatable measurement that must be precise.
The rare-earth magnets are very strong, as tradesmen have come to expect from high-end magnetic levels. There are many applications for the magnets, but one often overlooked one that I use all the time – simply getting the level out of harm’s way when it’s not in use: stick it to something metal to get it out of the way when it could be stepped on, knocked over, or otherwise damaged.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s a tilt indicator and that the rubber end caps come off if necessary to be sure you’re making an accurate measurement.
The Bottom Line
The Empire Level Digital Box Level is a beautiful tool – and a highly functional one at that. Not only does it make the work of a traditional job easier, the technology allows you to do things that traditional level cannot – find a slope, see how far out of level something is, inspect repeatable grades, determine angles, and much more. For $159, it’s too good to pass up – and for an Empire Level fan like me, it’s time to go get the 8-footer because, well, more tools = more toys!
e105.48 Empire Level Digital Box Level Features
- Automatically Self-Calibrating
- Inspector Grade
- 7 Measuring Modes
- Side and Top-Read Digital Display
- Overhead Inverted Display
- Shock Absorbing Removable Endcaps
- Rare-Earth Magnets
- 4 Power Save Modes: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, and 2 hour
- Tilt Indicator
- Digital Display Syncable to Vial
- Precision Milled Edges
- Surface Grippers
- High Contrast e-BAND Solid Block Acrylic Vials
- Protective Case Included (24-inch and longer models)
- 2 (AA) batteries included
- Limited lifetime warranty on frame and vials, 1 year warranty on electronics
e105.48 Empire Level Digital Box Level Specifications
- Model Number: Empire Level E105.48
- Length: 48 Inches
- Width: 1.12 Inches
- Height: 2.75 Inches
- Accuracy: .0005-Inch
- Number of Vials: 3
- Level Type: Box Beam
- Material: Aluminum
- Price: $139.99