Mad Dog, Alpha Dog, Prime, Ether, Ether Flow and now Aeon. MrSpeakers is on quite a roll since 2012 and is now a bonafide manufacturer in their own right of some amazing planar headphones with their own unique sound signatures.
And it is not simply a rehash of what has gone before, we are talking about bringing new ideas to planar design both externally and internally. The Prime saw 3D printed cups, the Ether series saw the introduction of Dan’s V-planar technology, a variation of Bruce Thigpen’s knurling effect on planar designs.
Didn’t stop there either with last year’s TrueFlow waveguide technology delivering a better and smoother management of air flow to reduce distortion and deliver as much detail as possible into the final presentation.
And in 2017? We have the AEON which, if I am reading this right, has just about everything that has gone before thrown into a new body form for a much more attainable $799.
What Is The Pitch?
When the “dog” series got pulled MrSpeakers left a gap right in the sweet spot of headphone pricing. We can debate sweet spots all day long with the HD600/650 fans but at today’s market pricing $799 for the AEON more or less fills that gap once again vacated by those early creations.
Not only is it more price friendly but it brings all the flagship goodies such as V-Planar and TrueFlow technologies down to a more affordable level as well as offering a brand new single sided planar magnet driver.
In doing so MrSpeaker’s hope to reach out to a much wider market who might find the Ether series a bit more than their budget can afford but want a taste of the quality of sound this series can bring to the table.
And it is not just a shrunken down Ether either. It has a new and dare I say more modern design, certainly a little more compact and at just 13 ohms perhaps one of the least demanding planar headsets out there right now. DAP uses takes note.
The AEON is a smaller design than previous headphones printed by MrSpeakers. The teardrop contoured cups with carbon fiber paneling is much more eye-catching than the traditional Prime or Ether circular design and does lend a little more weight to the concept of the AEON being a much more transportable headphone than what came before.
There is a method to the madness because it allows MrSpeakers to develop a much more elongated cup and pad design that is a more natural fit to the human ear. It may initially look like a portable headphone but side by side the AEON is much taller than the Ether series as a result.
MrSpeakers has retained the NiTinol headband design of the Ether series which makes the form factor all cup and not much else from certain angles. It is an excellent move though as the NiTinol “memory metal” design carries virtually no weight and spreads the pressure really nicely across the head when in use.
The rest of the design is made up of a 3-printed baffle, pivots, and gimbals but unlike the previous Ether design, this is only a half gimbal arch and not a full gimbal double screw as you find in the Ether.
The presumption here is the majority of the weight is off center in the arch of the AEON with no weight to the front requiring additional metal to keep it steady. I also like the connector finish on the gimbal with clean curves and less exposed screws at the connection points.
MrSpeakers has taken that comfy headband strap they used in the Ether series and placed it under this NiTinol frame for comfort and balance and added adjusters on either side for fitting purposes. These adjusters operate within about 2 inches of space so it should cope with most head sizes. The tensioner joint that holds the strap and NiTinol bands retains the FLOW moniker as per the Ether Flow series.
Just one small note about the strap. This may be a production run-off or a purposed change but the strap on the AEON is a little thicker than either my Ether O or my Ether C Flow with what looks to be a slightly superior leather material making it a little stronger in my opinion.
All of this reshaping and reduction of the materials, especially on the gimbals, brings a net weight reduction of 50g and down to 340g. Now that is not the lightest in the market, that accolade goes to the SINE series from Audeze at just 290g but that is a very definite portable on-ear form factor and much smaller than the AEON.
The AEON is circumaural, a full sized closed planar headphone and in that class, only the open back HE400s at 350g, also a single-sided planar magnet design, comes close.
MrSpeakers have switched to a new 6-foot DUMMER (Distinctly Un-Magical) cable and it is slightly different to the original DUM cable on the flagship Ether series. Some things though are consistent with this cable with the same Hirose dual-entry connector system, quarter jack termination and fabric jacket making it look to all extents and purposes the same as the DUM cable.
A few things to note with this cable. The first is that it is fixed in length and termination meaning you cannot customize this cable at the heck out like you can with the Ether Dum cable options. If I am not mistaken this is not a handmade cable like the DUM hence you cannot simply customize as you like.
Second both cables are copper designs with similar construction but there is a slight difference on staging and resolving capabilities with the DUM over the DUMMER. MrSpeakers emphasizes that this only starts to appear once you start connecting the AEON to some seriously high-end amps. Of course, you can order a DUM cable balanced if you prefer as an optional upgrade for $199.99.
These are the comfiest MrSpeakers headphones I have worn to date and perhaps the comfiest planar in the market today. The reduced weight combined with the elongated teardrop circumaural design and NiTinol/leather headband design is almost perfect for day and daily prolonged use. The headband is adjustable and the strap has some pliancy in it making this a very flexible and lightweight design.
The PM-3 is a comfy on-ear and it had some very comfortable pads to offset that pressured feeling on your lobes. The SINE DX’s small teardrop cup design clamps harder and holds its position better but the pads are not as soft as the PM-3 and the sweet spot takes some fiddling.
The AEON is better than both in this respect with neither the pads touching any part of your ear due to the dimensions of the cup and pads recess and an excellent pressure balance right around the head. It neither clamps too hard nor presses down on your scalp and instead just sits nicely on your head with just the tiniest bit of movement with sudden head turns but nothing that would dislodge the seal or positioning.
This is also a closed headphone so it seals and isolates pretty good. The circumaural design leaves less to chance compared to on-ear pad designs and the flatter front line of the pads run smoother down the side of my cheekbone than the rounded pads of the Ether series.
Despite being not as thick as the Ether pads the AEON seals is really excellent though its frequency isolation seems a little different compared to the Ether C. The C seems to target much lower frequency attenuation and the AEON seems superior at the mid-to-higher end of background frequency attenuation.
Accessories & Packaging
The AEON comes with a similarly styled case to the Ether series, perhaps a touch light and smaller with a more simplistic internal lining. This is a black zipper hard case, perhaps on the large side to be called portable but certainly small enough to throw into a bag for a long journey.
Inside you get your DUMMER cable with a screw on quarter jack converter in a single plastic bag behind a simple nylon mesh, a set of tuning pads (Dan loves his pads so this is no surprise) and the headphones. There is also a little foam block between the cups to prevent driver impact during shipping which I find quite useful for when moving around in general.
All of this is enclosed in a fairly compact and understated black retail box alongside your certificate of authenticity, a black wiping cloth, and a quick user guide sheet.
I think it is important to draw a point of context when discussing the tonal quality and general performance of the AEON. The AEON will be ok from a weaker source but it will sound so much better with good quality portable amping. It will sound outstanding with a desktop amp with good output power. You can read more in my matching notes on the variations found but suffice to say that that the AEON is slightly inefficient but does scale wonderfully well, perhaps better than any planar at this price point.
The second point in the fact the AEON has two different presentations. One without the little tuning pads, which is a little brighter and one with the tuning pads inserted into the cups adding a little warmth. This 2-second insert makes a small but very likable tweak to the general timbre of the AEON, delivering much more sub-bass power in the process and switching from a neutral to bright to neutral to natural sound that I really like.
Tonality & Presentation
With the pads inserted and amping out of a 2.2w solid state amp (iHA-6 form Cayin) I got a powerful, fast-paced and very detailed sounding presentation. Yes, it is a closed design so the staging is a little more on the intimate side and not as open as you would find on an Ether Flow O. However, it’s imaging and control is more precise than I expected it to be so you never feel like you are hitting walls in instrumental spacing. There is more than enough air and extension on both ends to prevent it from sounding shelved down or congested.
The depth and sub-bass definition on the AEON is fantastic and personally, I find it very addictive listening to how the AEON delivers its low-end over a wide range of genres. It’s an elevated sub-bass perhaps quite linear and even-handed up to 100Hz before drops down a little beyond 200Hz which means it’s not an overly warmed up mid-bass with the power being generated well south of 100Hz.
The pads increase that power making this a hellish good headphone for anything that requires excellent depth and sub-bass presence such as kick-drums and double drum pedal work in general. And this is power without bloat also so it not a soft vague kind of omnipotent presence smearing all over the detail. It’s pretty tight, with excellent texture and detail.
The drop post 200Hz will deliver a cooler sound, possibly a little thinned out so it won’t deliver a classic mid-bass impact. Personally, I am just fine with that as I prefer my power to reside a lot lower in the FR to prevent upper bass bloom and an overly muddy presentation which the AEON successfully avoids. It does mean some instrumental work will lack a bit of authority and richness that you will find in other more elevated tonal presentations.
Mids on the AEON have a mild boost from around 800Hz to 1k but otherwise sound fairly balanced and well behaved. Instrumental separation and clarity are excellent with a timbral quality that errs more to natural to neutral with the pads and neutral to clean without the pads.
Staging, as mentioned, is more to the intimate side so vocals move a little further forward in positioning and instrumental work a little further back than you would find on say the EL8 and importantly lacks congestion or typically closed cup honkiness.
I know Dan loves his headphones to have a good neigh effortless vocal presence with plenty of spacing not to get lost in the mix. The mild boost up to around 1-2k adds a little warmth, particularly to mid-pitch female vocals. Male vocals still sound clear and well-controlled but do not offer quite as much body.
Presence wise the AEON has a burst of energy around 3-5k from a little dip around 3k. It is not elevated much beyond its 1k boost so its remains fairly coherent sounding though brighter and more energetic without the pads with a very clean and clear attack. Certainly snares, cymbal crashes will have plenty of focus and presence and generally percussive passages will be a highlight.
With the pads inserted this takes a slightly warmer tilt to the lower treble energy bringing it down maybe 1-2dB and increasing note body to produce a slightly smoother response which I really enjoyed.
Upper treble from 5-10k is forward, sparkling and perceptibly articulate. It’s likely where a lot of people will draw their conclusion that the AEON has a generally neutral to bright signature without the pads.
Generally speaking, I find source and amp matching to play a role in this with weaker sources generally losing a bit of control over the top end. With the pads inserted and connected to a better-powered desktop, or a tube desktop for that matter such as the Studio 6 from ALO I got a more effortless airy sound but still plenty of sparkle and extension.