Rarely do flagship headphones pop out of nowhere and bedazzle in technical competence and superb tuning. Often, this is an evolutionary process building on previous efforts, treating triumphs and mistakes as two sides of the same learning coin.
Perhaps more than anyone, Dan Clark Audio had trodden this path from the Mad Dog in 2013 to the Ether series launched in 2015. Hard to believe how quick that evolution was in just over 2 years. Since the Ether line launched, Dan Clark Audio focused on maximizing the Ether sound with their TrueFlow technology as well as trickling down the tech into the cheaper AEON series.
That all changed with the launch of the Ether 2 towards the end of 2018. The Ether 2 is very new. We are talking a new driver, new incorporation of TrueFlow technology, new design, and even a new cable. Also, a new price at $1999. Too pricey? Not on your nelly for this wonderful sounding headphone at today’s flagship prices.
The Ether 2 now replaces the original Ether and Ether Flow series as the companies new flagship planar headphone. You can buy their older Ether line which has been upgraded to the V1.1 and you can read more about that upgrade here.
The Ether 2 is being pitched as an entirely new design for their planar series but one we have seen before in this office. Those who have handled the electrostatic VOCE will automatically cotton on to the form of the Ether 2.
But the company is pitching more than just a design change. There is that time-honored homage to weight reduction that every planar headphone company works on and the Ether 2 is no exception. At 290g the company is pitching the Ether 2 as not only their lightest full-sized planar headphone to date but perhaps the lightest on the market as of right now.
Whilst V-Planar and TrueFlow is still an integral part of the Ether 2 tech the whole approach to the Ether 2 driver design is new. The previous Ether Flow driver design has TrueFlow fitted into and around it to improve its performance over the original Ether series.
Now with Ether 2, the driver itself is designed from the ground up to completely integrate and work alongside TrueFlow in a harmonious fashion. Instead of two diverse but compatible components you now have one integrated driver system.
The new driver is the same size as before (71 x 45 Millimeters) but the key difference is a significant reduction in aluminum trace weight, up to 70% over the original Ether driver. For those that might have found a little hardness or a bright treble response in the early Ether sound, then the Ether 2 is going to be a completely different ball game.
The basic pitch in the trace reduction combined with the new integrated driver design will mean a big jump in dynamic range, resolution and a far more balanced and linear sound with zero sharpness.
I called the VOCE design ‘bold and striking’ and given the Ether 2 borrows heavily from the same design I would have to say the same thing. Only this time Dan Clark Audio have gone ‘Vader’ with a matte black finish compared to the glossier anodized silver of its electrostatic brother.
I have to say I prefer the black finish. It is subtler but no less attention seeking with that spider’s web-like front grill and fits right into a modern audiophile’s concept of a good-looking headphone.
The grills are actually part of the 2-piece cup housing which is made from a sturdy but lightweight aluminum material. The baffles also include the front angled cable hirose connectors which are a legacy connection from the original Ether line-up.
This is worth a section in its own right. The spec sheet says 290g but it does not quite prepare you for just how light and compact the Ether 2 feels in the hand. Now considering this is a full-size circumaural headphone to be just 60g heavier than the much smaller on-ear Audeze SINE is quite remarkable. The older Ether Flow, by way of reference, weighs in at 385g and you can feel that 95g difference right away.
So how did they shave that 100g off? A few things come to mind on the external design. The new cup housing aluminum alloy build lacks the additional front grill housing plate of the old Ether. Not only does it now look much slimmer on the cups but it sheds some weight in the process. The driver mount baffle has also been switched to carbon fiber, which any racing modder will tell you is incredibly light and durable.
The second is the use of the half-gimbal arch which started on the AEON series and continued with the VOCE. Logic normally dictates that half is lighter than a whole. Yet, it is no less sturdy when handling than the full arch gimbal of the original Ether.
You will also notice that it is a single cast design with no connecting screws which also reduces a bit of weight. The only caveat of this rigid cast is that it lacks a little bit of side to side articulation compared to the predecessor which you can find out more about in the comfort and fit section.
New Leather strap
The Nitinol headband design is retained which is an excellent lightweight headband design to begin. However, the headband design has changed slightly from the original Ether strap. The new strap is much porous with sizeable holes right across. I am presuming the intention is to create a more breathable design for your head but the lateral effect of less leather is less weight.
Cables & Connectors
Dan Clark Audio have stuck with those handy Hirose connectors that have been a feature of just about every headphone they have made going back to the Alpha Dogs. Continuity is assurance for me that things are working. Especially if you have a bucketload of aftermarket hirose terminated cables lying around. They are easy to insert and lock and honestly, I have had no issues with these connectors on their headphones.
The only difference I can see is the slightly stronger and more harmoniously designed socket in the Ether 2 housing than the original Flow editions. Note the alloy of the cup housing incorporates the hirose female connector port at the front as opposed to the port being central on the older Ether 2.
The Ether 2 comes with an all-new ‘bigger’ cable called the VIVO which is based off the VOCE stock cable.
The older Ether line DUM is a 24-gauge (per conductor) OFHC cable whereas the new VIVO cable is a silver-plated OFHC copper wire. It seems to be a slightly bigger gauge wire than the DUM given the dimensions. Certainly, it is a little bulkier than the DUM but it also seems much more pliant so the insulation could well be improved rather than just the wire.
The weaved cloth jacket remains the same on both however the Y-split divider is much improved with an aluminum alloy barrel compared to heat shrink rubber on the DUM. The connection we requested is a 4-pin XLR but you can get it in 6.35mm, 3.5mm, 2.5mm, and 4.4mm so plenty of options to choose from. You can also order the VIVO in 1.8m and 3m cable lengths depending on your needs.
We also rolled both the DUM and VIVO on the Ether 2 and the microphonics on the new cable is much lower and with far fewer kinks and twists in its physical handling. The performance was also a significant upgrade. Far snappier, better dynamic range and more resolving than the older DUM cable paired with the Ether 2.
Comfort & Fit
The Ether 2 feels so incredibly light on my head compared to the Audeze LCD range and even the newer Hifiman HE series headphones. However, compared to the older Ether Flow and the similarly designed but slightly weightier VOCE the fitting and pressure displacement feels quite different.
The clamping on the sides feels a lot firmer with a lot less pressure being placed on the top headband as a result. I swapped with the VOCE and though I found the clamping to have a similar weighting the pressure points on my neck and ears were less noticeable. My presumption at this point is that this is a result of the new synthetic protein pads being used on the Ether 2.
The VOCE pads are super-soft Napa Lamb Leather with a deeper rear wedge and a wider opening. The Ether 2 pads opening is ear-shaped but in essence a bit smaller in their opening and not as deep.
Eventually, the back of my ears starts to feel the pressure from the shaped pads and the slightly firmer pads materials have an effect of pressing down harder on the neck and side of my head. For the first hour, they are fine. This is a very comfortable experience initially. But after 2-3 hours they are definitely less comfortable than the pads of the original Ether and VOCE.
I checked with a few others who have the Ether 2 and the feedback varied. Like most headphone fits, it is very much a personal experience. Some say they have no issues, some say they do. I believe a few weeks ago Dan Clark Audio did recognize the issue for some and there will be new optional pads coming out with some funky (secret) tech. Hopefully, that will sort out the fitting issue for guys like me as well as add some performance enhancements to the Ether 2. I look forward to that.
Accessories & Packaging
Everything about the packaging and accessories for the Ether line is nicely harmonized and the Ether 2 is no exception. As before Dan Clark Audio have opted for a mid-sized all-black retail box that is just marginally bigger than the older Ether box but much the same visual. The only standout graphical difference is that “2” on the end of the word Ether.
Inside, gone is the brown tan hue of the contoured older Ether cases and in its place is a standard-issue branded black version much like the AEON series. Mind you, the actual case dimensions have not changed since the original Ether. It is just a little more premium in finishing than the AEON cases. That bulbous contouring is exactly the same.
Personally, I like the case a lot though some have differed on its visual appeal. There is plenty of room inside for the Ether 2 and its VIVO cable safely tucked away under a netted velcro mesh inside. Overall, it keeps everything relatively compact and is quite handy for slipping in a mid-sized bag ‘on the go’ and offering more than decent protection to the headphones.
Aside from the case you get your Dan Clark Audio Certificate of Authenticity, a black micro-fiber cleaning cloth, and a 2 years parts and labor warranty.
Click on Page 2 for Sound Impressions & Comparisons