It’s a $1500 headphone and for that money, you do have a few choices in the market though only one closed headphone in this category and that is the Audeze LCD-XC.
The next nearest competitor to the Ether C? Well that’s the Alpha Prime and they do not make them anymore. The next stop down is the closed Oppo PM-3 and that is a pretty stiff drop and a whole different market thrust.
Outside of that well if you are at a crossroads over whether to choose open or closed then you have a ton of flagships out there, both planar and dynamic ready to vie for your cash.
Audeze LCD-2 Rev 2 (Open)
I am still a fan of the LCD-2 Rev 2 and not of the post-Fazor sound though there are plenty who will vouch for that particular revision.
I have the LCD-2 and the LCD-X and that suits me just fine with both having quite different tonal qualities. Compared to the Ether C the LCD-X is about the closest the Audeze range would get to a more neutral speedier sound that the Ether C has but even then there are some qualitative differences.
The open-back LCD-2 in all its iterations is of course the cheapest (not mentioning the EL8 here), the darkest, the heaviest hitter, and probably the most treble shy of the lot.
It has a ton of low-end grunt, excellent texture, and fantastic audible extension as well as being relatively easier to drive than the Ether C. I do love the meat on the bones the LCD-2 rev 2 can provide and when matched with a quality SS amp it sounds visceral and weighted.
That shelved-down treble on the LCD-2, most notably in the v1 edition, is a noted area of underperformance compared to the spritelier, articulate, and tighter Ether C.
I much prefer the soundstage and imaging of the Ether C to the LCD-2. It feels more engaging, more holographic, and more precise. The treble extension on the Ether C certainly does help in that respect, making the LCD-2 sound darker in comparison.
Audeze LCD-XC (Closed)
Probably the match-up is most likely to weigh on people’s minds as they are both closed flagship planars and in similar price categories.
The XC sounds quite a bit darker than the more neutral and flatter Ether C which gives bass heft and weight to the XC in return for a tighter speedier signature.
The imaging and soundstage of the Ether C are more holographic with better top-end extension and imaging than the smaller sounding and more upfront XC but again that audible bass extension belongs to the XC. Clarity and openness are very much in favor of the Ether C.
Final mention has to go to weight and that’s a pure win for the Ether C at 394g compared to the LCD-2 at 497g and the XC at a comparatively huge 650g.
Yup the LCD-XC is a woody looker but it weighs a ton and switching back and forward between Audeze and Ether was like putting a cart yoke on and off my back. Seal though was excellent on all 3 headphones and the XC pads are very competitive indeed.
Highly thought-off closed planar in a similar price range as the Ether C. They are also extremely comfortable, almost on par with the Ether C, and almost the same weight, weighing in at only 6gs more.
The seal is not as good as the Ether C though and it does let in a bit more background noise in comparison so that might be something you want to factor into your thinking.
The TH-900 bass response is far more impactful than the flatter more neutral Ether C but at the cost of a slightly recessed vocal stage that doesn’t sound as natural and detailed as the Ether C.
Both have a sparkle in the top end but the Ether C has better control and doesn’t feel as harsh, particularly when paired with tubes and using the felt/foam combinations.
The Fostex is a bit easier to drive than the Ether C but having said that I wouldn’t feel comfortable using these for complex tracks and vocal-centric work. The TH-900 is an impact can for me whereas the Ether C is more accurate and more resolving.
Beyer T5P (Closed)
Gosh, it’s been a while since I rolled these out of the closet, and for good reason. The T5p has that shimmer that I simply cannot match enjoyably except for the ‘tubiest’ of sources and amps.
It is very efficient mind you and you will have a lot more success driving the T5P from a wider range of portable sources than the 92db Ether C which does need to be amped. It is also very light and comfortable though without detachable cables. Isolation is a bit lower than the Ether C
Honestly, though I never bought into the $1k portable Tesla full-sized headphone regardless of its articulation and detail. Too sharp by far.
The Ether C, whilst no marauding black hole, does a better job of controlling the treble while still sounding very clear and articulate and has a more realistic set of vocal pipes than the Beyer T5P. When tuned it can also slam more convincingly. I have yet to try the latest version of the T5P but I bet you can’t upgrade it for $9.99.
The Ether C closed back planar headphone is an incredible experience and as of writing my absolute favorite closed-back full-size headphones.
It is a testimony to Dan and his team at Dan Clark Audio that they have come from humble beginnings on tweaking old T50RP drivers to this absolute monster of a headphone with a set of drivers that Dan Clark Audio can entirely call their own.
It is also a big pat on the back to Dan Clark Audio for a vision of how a headphone should sound. I saw glimpses of what Dan was after with the Dog and then more clearly with the Prime.
The Ether C is that vision as full to life as possible. The dynamics and imaging on the Ether C are fantastic for a closed headphone; utterly engaging and involving. Everything flows from the get-go and sounds very coherent.