Coming off the Prime and Alpha Dog, I truly didn’t expect this type of staging experience, a happy surprise for certain. As a sound stage nutter, I’m in heaven. It isn’t as vast as the HD800, but it is absolutely the largest sounding Planar to date, crushing all of the Audeze’s and Hifimans with a fantastic sense of airiness, separation, and stereo imaging width in general.
The shape of the stage is more of a rectangle, something with more of a sense of width than height, although not at all lacking in height in the slightest. The HD800 will remain king of the hill for staging properties, I think we all know that, but the Ether is no slouch and I am very impressed with it as a stereo imaging addict.
From left to right, the Ether offers a vivid sense of separation that rivals a lot of the better dynamic driver staging titans like the T1 and K812. Odd, since this is a planar driver design. I really feel like Dan is at the forefront of the staging game, as he’d done a similar thing with the Alpha Dog and Prime before this Ether, shocking most people with just how airy a “closed back” can actually be.
In this case and with more room to vent and pull air, I can easily regard the Ether as a top tier sound stage headphone.
Depth of field is hard to accomplish without angled pads, at least in my opinion, but somehow Dan managed it without his famed angled pads on the Ether. Normally, angled drivers are needed if angled pads aren’t available in the design, yet the Ether still dishes out some of the best depth and cavernous feeling staging properties out of most of the flagships I’ve reviewed this year.
It feels like the K812 and the Ether are a match for staging depth of field, but it is clear that the HD800 still best the entire lot of them. One thing I’ve noticed is that the Ether doesn’t really scale up with stage width or airiness, retaining its prowess in a similar manner even when I swap between my HA-1 and my portable Calyx M player.
The Ether is not so good at pinpoint accuracy for gaming in fps games, something the HD800 and LCD’s from Audeze fail at, but something that the Beyerdynamic T1 excels in. Doubtful anyone will make a gaming titan like the T1 any time soon with regard to special accuracy and pinpoint ability, but the Ether is plenty grand for single-player gaming.
Hell, I play a few hours a day of the new Witcher 3 for the PC and I really enjoy it. Sometimes, I forget I am wearing something on my head and that the audio isn’t pipped directly into my brain at times. When you get great sound editing in gaming and combine it with a headphone this plentiful from top to bottom, as well as this spacious and aired out, you cannot help but to totally lose yourself in these beautiful new games.
Borderlands, Witcher, Alan Wake, Bioshock Infinite…all are games I’ve been able to use with the Ether and simply lose myself in gameplay for hours on end. Sadly, most headphones at the Summit level just can’t achieve this type of immersive factor for gamers like me. I am too focused on readjusting the headband or trying to fight off the physical fatigue of wearing an uncomfortable headphone with a piss poor sound stage.
Thankfully, Dan designed the Ether properly for us heathens of the night to enjoy long gaming sessions. I would steer clear of heavy bullet fire or lots of explosions though, as the Ether is a clinical headphone and will not dim the brightness or impact what could be very painful and poorly mastered treble in video games.
Dammit. Finally, someone went into the dark cave to do battle with the HD800 and ended up coming back into the light of day with a nice head trophy. To date, no other headphone in the full-size market has this much to offer that I am aware of.
Want a very spacious headphone? No problem, the Ether has plentiful and impressive imaging properties. How about great comfort and design, a nice, firm and weighted sound signature that is well balanced without sounding reserved in quantity from top to bottom? No worries, the Ether has that covered as well.
Something this pure and neutral, something this uncolored and clinical is seemingly ideal for the majority of the high-end community. Yes, I consider it overpriced. But, I consider every flagship overpriced. This isn’t a value product; it is a very good headphone that costs the same as other products that offer similar Summit level quality. Deal hunters won’t find anything grand here.
The Ether is a headphone that the HD800 would become if it were to go back to school and learn how not to be such a snob. I hate to compare it to Sennheiser’s flagship so often in this review, but truly no other flagship out there is similar to the Ether.
Dan crafted something that dethroned the Sennheiser titan and I predict it will be the new benchmark tool for reviewers and anyone who wants to compare flagship headphones in the future. You get a nice, meaty sound signature with plentiful, deep-reaching bass, excellent comfort and dynamics that are mind-blowing at times.
Truly, this Ether would be my favorite headphone of all time if it were of a more musical tonal hue. As mentioned, purists will love the hell out of this headphone, those seeking a neutral and clinical experience should be saving up to buy one.
However, those who want a musical and colored tonality like me are going to find themselves in a bit of a bind, a bit of a moral dilemma: Either simply avoid usage, or conform to the clinical tone and get used to it…because the Ether is probably the most balanced sounding flagship to date. It lacks nowhere on an objective level, nothing feels overly relaxed or too plentiful. It is just right.