The Dan Clark Audio Stealth is the company’s new flagship closed-back planar magnetic headphone using AMTS technology. It is priced at $3999.
Disclaimer: The Dan Clark Audio Stealth sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion in this review. We thank the team at Dan Clark Audio for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about Dan Clark Audio products we reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
Over the last number of years, Dan Clark Audio has been very busy refreshing and innovating both the AEON Series and the ETHER 2 headphones as well as venturing into new niches such as electrostatic with VOCE.
However, there has been one area that kind of stood still, and that was their TOTL closed-back experience with the Ether C Flow almost unchanged going on almost 5 years now. Not that DCA was ignoring but rather, it would seem that the current Ether 2 driver did not lend itself well to being inside a closed-back acoustical design.
So for the last few years, the company decided that rather than shoehorn or compromise they would create something entirely new from the ground upwards. That new became the Stealth, not just a flagship closed-back refresh but also the flagship for their entire headphones range.
On a more technical level, some of Stealth’s engineering journey might also prove to be a key milestone for all of DCA’s product development moving forward. One key innovation, in particular, AMTS, might even be an industry game-changer.
So, the high-level first. The Stealth is that rare beast, a high-end closed-back planar magnetic circumaural headphone with two stand-out acoustical engineering talking points.
The first is the incorporation of a brand new V-Planar driver and the second is a completely revamped and unique tuning system called AMTS. All of this is packed inside what I could loosely describe as the highly portable luxury version of the AEON headphone form factor.
The planar driver inside the Stealth is single-sided and still uses the company’s core V-Planar technology. However, it is almost 20% larger than the previous version at 50x76mm compared to 45x71mm for the 3rd generation inside the Ether 2 and the Ether C Flow.
Bigger drivers mean bigger diaphragms that require a higher level of precise control so DCA has introduced a fair few changes in the Stealth driver engineering to achieve that. First, this is their thinnest diaphragm to date combined with a brand new tensioning system and an increase in the number of magnets to 11 per channel.
Not only is there an increase in the number of magnets used per channel but also the magnets were relocated to the outside of the driver inside a very heavily damped enclosure rather than the inside of the driver as was the case with the Ether 2.
From what I am told the new tensioning system means distortion control and driver matching is improved with a lower tolerance parameter than before at around 1/4dB or less inside the actual headphone enclosure and not free-standing.
The Stealth also has a new sub-system placed between the driver and the ear called AMTS or Acoustical Metamaterial Tuning System.
In some ways, this is perhaps the most innovative aspect of the Stealth design because it is not just a single-purpose device. The design principle and user application can also be potentially used in every headphone DCA makes and I dare say that may well be the case moving forward.
This unassuming-looking ‘honeycombed wedge’ is primarily engineered to manipulate the sound waveguides and diffusion control from the driver to the ear to create a more natural and immersive soundstage within a closed-back design.
A secondary function of the AMTS is that when configured correctly it can dual as a programmable Helmholtz or quarter-wave resonator to control high frequency standing waves and resonance via the ‘ramped’ shaped design starting at 8kHz at the peak of the ramp down to 20kHz at the base of the ramp.
Consider this as the equivalent of a speaker system in a room with an advanced level of acoustical treatment only this time designed to cater for those high frequencies circulating in the inner cavity of the Stealth earpad where your ear will be.
The cool part, and perhaps this is the aspect that goes beyond the Stealth itself, is that those waveguides in the AMTS design are ‘programmable’. That means by blocking one or more guides in the structure along a certain axis you can adjust the level of damping you want to target specific high-frequencies as well broader ranges without loss of detail.
Every time I have reviewed an AEON series headphone I wondered to myself if DCA could use this foldable form factor for their high-end headphones also.
Well, the Stealth answers that daydream and then some because this takes that classic AEON teardrop cup and half gimbal design and turns it into possibly one of the most attractive high-end closed headphones I have seen yet.
I am a big fan of this modern headphone aesthetic. It looks sexy, very comfortable to wear with excellent cable management, and makes some other headphones seem old-school and a bit clunky.
Most importantly, the Stealth stays relatively lightweight for a closed-back planar at 415g even with all those extra magnets inside. Considering the ETHER C Closed was 380g with half the magnet count that is some achievement.
Staying on the Ether C Flow it didn’t escape my attention that there is still a homage to the older design with those concaved carbon fiber teardrop cups which have the same aesthetic pattern used on the C Flow’s cup plates.
Of course, this is not a like for like AEON or AEON 2 design. The cups are bigger to accommodate that larger driver and the anodized aluminum capsule housing has a more extensive protective framework around the carbon fiber cups. The Hirose connectors and gimble joint housing are also now integrated into the housing itself providing a more durable feel to the Stealth’s handling.
Staying on the gimbals, they are indeed a little larger and more durable looking than the AEON designs, primarily to handle the bigger cups and additional weight. The terminating block at the headband is shorter but thicker to allow for the new headband design.
The Stealth still uses the lightweight and very flexible Nitinol headband arch system but this time DCA has given it a wider padded adjusting strap with higher quality protein leather finishing. Without the need to limiting adjuster blocks, DCA has also spaced out those Nitinol rods for more of a flamboyant aesthetic.
Comfort & Isolation
Despite it being a little heavier than with the Ether 2 or the AEON, the Stealth is a supremely comfortable closed-back planar magnetic headphone. There are a few reasons for that incorporating both legacy and new design aspects.
The old includes the lightweight Nitinol rods and the articulating half-arch gimbal system to keep the overall weight down. The new includes the wider leather adjustment strap and the new elastic adjuster system that replaces the slider on the Nitinol rods.
The new strap is a little wider and thicker than the AEON version which I suspect is due to the need to dissipate a bit more weight comfortably and to allow for the housing of the new elastic adjuster.
There is one other potential reason and that is the level of clamp on the Stealth which is not as pronounced on my head as the smaller AEON design. That means a little less perceived vertical pressure and additional horizontal pressure in terms of comfort.
The new strap does very well in mitigating any potential pressure hotspots with its wider diameter and a new red thread quilted padding design underneath. Also, because there is more emphasis on the elastic adjuster the strap will also increasingly act as a guideline of sorts to get the right fit, something I think the thinner AEON strap might have struggled with.
These are new pads on the Stealth are very comfortable with a mix of Japanese protein leather on the outside and vegan suede on the inner walls and contact surface. I also prefer the internal cavity teardrop shape to the traditional round hole. The walls clear my ear perfectly so the seal is not accidentally interrupted.
The Stealth pads are also excellent in terms of isolation. As an example, hold them in your hands and run some audio through them at reasonable listening levels then place the pads on top of each other. You will find the sound is instantly blocked out. They are that effective in preventing noise bleed.
The Stealth still has some venting ports at the top of the cup enclosure so it is not a complete shut out and I do rate the hard clamping smaller AEON Noire as slightly better for passive isolation. However, side by side with the Ether C Flow, which has a similar venting system, the Stealth does seem to perform better.
DCA sticks with the angled Hirose connector system and throws in the VIVO Super Premium cable as stock with the Stealth. The VIVO Hirose connectors are also a setup from the DUMMER cable versions noticeable by their very precise connection clicks compared to the slightly mushier sounding DUMMER lock.
The VIVO cable is a silver-plated OFHC copper wire available in 1.1m, 1.8m, and 3.1m lengths with the 3.1m length carrying a $50 premium. The VIVO uses a bigger gauge wire than the DUMMER so it is a bigger cable overall. However, it is very pliant with no memory retention, (kinks and twists), and zero microphonics.
The weaved cloth jacket remains the same on both however the Y-split divider is much improved with an aluminum alloy barrel compared to older heat shrink rubber from older cable generations.
The connection options for the VIVO are wide-ranging. This one came with a standard 6.35mm SE jack but you can have 2.5mm TRRS, 3.5mm TRS, 4-pin XLR, and 4.4mm Pentaconn depending on your needs.
Packaging & Accessories
The Stealth is a premium-priced flagship headphone so I expected the packaging to be an upgrade on what has gone before and that is exactly what you get.
From the inside out, the headphones are in their folded position inside a larger more refined version of the diminutive AEON hardshell case with a nylon external finish and the Stealth emblem on top. To protect the drivers, DCA has placed a more substantive stopper than the previous foam cuts in between the two earpads.
This case is then neatly inserted into a protective cloth-lined display tray with the cable and warranty cards neatly wrapped in matching colored cardboard at the base of the tray. Simply slide it out and open it up to access the cable.
The tray is inserted into a big protein leather-wrapped split display case not too dissimilar from the Hifiman high-end cases with the Stealth logo front and center. The leather and stitching are also black and red which match the Stealth’s design color perfectly.
Overall, a minimalist clean, and very professional aesthetic to the packaging. A ‘stealthy vibe’ you could almost say.
Click on page 2 below for sound impressions and pairings.
Click on page 3 below for select comparisons.