The Swan Song Audio Headphones are a beautifully wood-crafted single dynamic driver open-back circumaural headphones. They are priced at $1950.
Disclaimer: The Swan Song Audio Headphones is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Swan Song Audio for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about dynamic driver headphones we reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
As part of this review, Mike has co-opted in 3 people who tried the headphone for themselves and gave him direct feedback on what they thought about them. You can find that feedback on page 2.
Swan Song Audio has the potential to become a serious player in the audiophile niche hobby if their cards are played in the right order.
Not long ago, their owner, Tony Crocker, traveled to my home to drop off some gear for me to enjoy: an open back headphone with no name, as well a portable DAC/AMP. Today, we will detail the open back headphone.
Strap in. I have a ton to say about this one.
Swan Song Audio worked in collaboration with Shipibo Audio, as well as Przem, on the processes involved in crafting all Walnut housings of this headphone. Both the gimbals and the headband area were crafted by Shipibo as well, with Przem taking over the production of the wooden parts, including the wooden disks.
Each of these disks can be unscrewed and latched onto the edge of the wooden cups and each alters the sound of the tonality of the headphone in various ways. If you want a darker tone, a medium or a much lighter appeal, each wood disk variant will get you closer to your desired tonality.
Beyond that, the headphone is solid. I mean SOLID. All metal parts, combined with a thick cut of Walnut equates to excellent build quality.
Each driver is 40mm and made by Nhoord Audio. They are thick boys, they are weighty and the headphone exudes a premium feel, unlike most other wooden bowl cut headphones that I’ve reviewed in the past.
We audiophiles pay absurd amounts of money for custom woodie bowls or mods. Having this stock on a headphone that sounds this good to start is a blessing.
Wooden Tone Disk Plates
You are given a few sets of wooden plates that will be unscrewed on and off, each wood type alters the sound to a darker to more vivid presentation tonality. I prefer the medium, the best of both worlds.
You’ll get a nifty 2mm hex screwdriver as well, which will let you adjust the headphone earcups section to your head shape. Tony did this for me when he arrived, adjusting the headphone earcup swivel mechanism to my head so that they don’t move.
You don’t need someone else to do it for you, you can do it yourself, as I’ve undone the screws to loosen them and readjust to make sure that I could do it myself as a normal consumer would.
I started my Journey with the Cherrywood’s Number 2, which are a medium tonality in weight bottom and offers a neutral-ish treble experience. This review will be focusing on them for the majority of the review.
The Cherry number 1 plates offer noticeably lighter, more aired out experience, slightly less bass, equal clarity, noticeably more treble quantity with a brighter appeal.
The Rosewood plates have a slightly larger hole and offer, to my ear, the darkest sound signature and seem to be intended for such.
Think LCD-2 Gen1 dark sound. It is very weighted, velvet-like and in my opinion, focusing on soothing low-end bass omnipresence, while the top end is gentle, sweet and very tamed.
I prefer the Rosewood for Jazz and the Cherry number 1 for Classical. However, I cannot recreate the overall hue and tonality that each wood type brings on their own vs altering sound via any digital function through software. Meaning, they are intended to be played with, so use them. The woodie’s tonality cannot be fully replicated through software, each has a flavor of their own.
The Rosewood is just so lovely for relaxing Jazz and slow-paced tracks. Anything bass centered or with a focal on male vocals? This is for you. It is highly fatigue-free and can be used indefinitely, while I find the other two are slightly more treble happy and can feel a little more energetic over time.
The Cherry Number 1’s are classical masterpieces. They make the stage feel even more open and prone to a lighter, more neutral flavoring. When I am on a classical binge, Cherry’s for me. When I want to relax and listen to some beats, Rosewood’s all the way. So take my fidelity ratings as all equal, but with tonality and overall heft of the physicality between each plate offering being slightly different.
The Cherry Number 2’s are middle of the road, can do most things very well, offering very noticeably more heft to the sound than Cherry 1’s, and noticeable less heft to the sound than Rosewood Plates. 3 flavors, each are lovely for their own domain.
The Swan Song Audio headphone was designed with a screw-on and detachable standard dual 3.5mm cable. Each earcup has a normal 3.5mm input, which then terminates to also a standard 3.5mm plug.
Ok, so let’s talk about cable quality. I dislike the older style Audeze and Hifiman v1 cables. We called them garden hoses because, essentially, that is exactly what they felt like. They were thick, stiff and extremely difficult to deal with.
I am very saddened over the cable this headphone has and I know Tony invested a lot of effort into producing it this specific way. It feels very DIY and custom, however, the stiffness factor is very similar to the v1 Audeze and I feel like that is something we audiophiles dislike.
We don’t want this type of cable. It is unfriendly to portability and so stiff that there is no slack at all when plugged into my source. A full 3-4 inches of total horizontal hanging off the end of any source when laid flat is something I do not want. I also don’t want a two-tone look to it, that is subjective. Half the cable is laced in fabric and half is a hard casing that leads into the earcups.
What We Need
We need something short and light, braided and similar to something that UcoTech just used in their earbuds that I just reviewed. Something that CIEM cables usually offer, a thing much much thinner, something pliable and user friendly. Letting the weight stay as low as possible seems a better route, in my opinion.
What I love
What do I love? I love the connectors, they are supremely fantastic in quality. However, like Audeze, they are simply too big and long. Those older Hifiman and Audeze headphones had connectors so large, a lesson they still have not learned to fix.
You cannot move your head down without damaging the ends potentially over time if you keep doing it over and over during the course of the day. I’m terrified to sneeze with this on my head because that jerking motion downward could probably do some damage.
Thankfully, this headphone is easy to buy a new cable for if you want. A normal dual 3.5mm male to male 3.5mm is all you need. If there is a v2 of this or a future revision to what is offered, I hope the headphone cable is completely swapped out for something else entirely.
Keep the connectors, they are awesome, drop the cable between them, please. This is an issue for me because the headphone itself is so light, that the heavier cable yanks down on it and weighs it in a manner that I find negatively appealing. However, the cable itself is absurd in quality. There is no doubt about that, this is super-premium and Tony said it was intended to be.
Comfort & Fitting
Oh my goodness! Yes. So much yes. These earpads are the most marvelously comfy earpads I’ve used in years. They are bowl cut, but they are also real leather and perforated, they breathe very well.
They are not excessively large, they are also not on-ear, they envelope my ears. This is an ideal design. If I had an award for the best earpad design out there, this would win it.
The earpads are moderate in stiffness factor, which means they are not super hard al’a’Grado, nor are they super plush feeling. They rest on my ears just right in form fit factor and do not sink in too much. This is important for fit needs because the headphone doesn’t clamp much at all and has less clamp than my Grado GW100 and White models do.
The screwed-in angle requirements you need to dial in when using it for yourself and adjusting to your head make this headphone + earpad combo very, very good. I can wear the headphone for hours and not get sore or tired. Whereas after about an hour with the Grado G-Cush, I get indents in my skull skin over my ears.
The underside of the headband has a very plush feeling and offers great support. Overall, the comfort experience is very nice, also thankfully, the headphone is not heavy or cumbersome. Yes, the earcups stick out a lot, but truth be told nobody will care when they hear this headphone. Nobody.
Similar to Audeze, we are gifted a magnificent hard case that is shockproof, waterproof and quite stellar in visual presentation as well. This shouts premium and this is how all headphones over $500 should come, at least, in my opinion.
This travel case has a latch and release function on it that is uncommon of normal flip locks, which means that there is a small level of extra protection in that the case will not flip open when the latches are released. You need to manually unlock the latch and then press down on another “button lever” to release fully, then flip up the locking mechanism to open the case.
I love this style of case. It makes me happy that just flipping up a latch does not open the case, I never wanted that. You’d think that type of easy-open design is a good thing, it isn’t. I want that double protection of manual release requirement.
Click on Page 2 below for Sound Impressions, and peer reviews