Sound Stage

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.

Shape

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

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.

MrSpeakers Ether 2

Accuracy

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.

Our Verdict

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.

Reference tool?

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.

MrSpeakers Ether 2

Musicality

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.

MrSpeakers Ether Technical Specifications

  • Weight: 370g (13.1oz)
  • Frequency response: Yes*
  • Efficiency: 96dB/mW
  • Impedance: 23 ohms
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15 Responses

  1. GrizzlybEast

    Objectively speaking: If its not musical then its not nuetral. Studio engineers go the length of buying expensively colored tube mics, compression,limiters for attack, use neutral monitors, tube pre amps to color the sound, reverb, delays, equalizers for things to sound downright dramatic and engaging. Yet audiophiles throw it all in the trash for the sake of some dry a## sounding purity that doesnt even exist in the pro world. He6,hd800,t1 are not even close to a high tier studio monitor. I know noone who uses that bright stuff to check reference. Lets get some real balance from a high end hp.

    Reply
    • 24bit

      Just wanted to say this is a great comment, Grizzly. High five and if I could start a slow clap for you, I would. More truth like this needs to be posted around the hifi community.

      Not Musical means it is not exaggerated, which means it is in fact neutral.

      Not Neutral means unbalanced, either lacking something, or something in abundance. Studio engineers in my experience don’t care what the source is, having worked at a few studios and as a DJ for a long time I can absolutely state that sound engineers don’t care…because they have a $50,000 EQ board sitting in front of them that lets them take an exaggerated instrument, route it into a neutral source if that’s what they have, and then turn that right back into exaggerated again. No studio that I am aware of actually invests time into “buying a pure amp, source, dac” ect ect because all of them will sound the same in setup and feel after downmixing and EQing for the finalized track. What they do look for is sensitive equipment that is prone to hissing and static pops as per what the recording was able to pick up, but that other equipment may mask. Recording studio’s dont want that and in my experience that is the only thing they hunt for when purchasing their studio equipment.

      Most studio’s will playback their finalized product on consumer grade speakers and headphones for the explicit reason that they will sound acceptable through the most popular type of speaker or headphone. It is extremely rare for a studio to mix their tracks for a high end experience.

      You are absolutely right, those headphones are too bright to be considered monitors or even accurate, and I’ve stated that on Head Fi for YEARS with actual backlash against me for saying it. No studio uses the HD800 to mix their stuff, it is the worst idea ever to use a neutral or flat sounding headphone like that to master a wide variety of tracks. Almost no studio is going to set up their entire audio setup that can cost in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars, just so they can master tracks with the HD800 and also had to setup that gear to pair properly with the HD800. Dubstep, Rap, RnB…hell…anything with an upright bass in classical or jazz can’t be accurately reiterated through an HD800.

      Super expensive studio monitors (speakers) resonate so low that they perform more like the Audeze’s than the HD800, T1 and similar. The HE6 is actually far better for mixing than the HD800, as it dips very low and extends very high with a nice, linear appeal on a flat EQ. The HD800 is lacking in that regard on a neutral EQ.

      :)

      Reply
  2. Jeff

    Hi Michael,
    If the Ether is a bit lacking in drama or color for you, what is your ideal headphone (or closest to it)?
    As for me, it is the HD650. My current set up is the HD650 feeding off of the Chord Hugo and I’m enjoying it very much :).

    Reply
    • 24bit

      The Flare R2A/Pro and the JH16 I think would be my answer. This actually could change in a few days because everyone has told me the Noble K10 is going to be my ideal headphone experience, my K10 is on the way right now! So, we’ll see if things change for me very soon. :)

      Reply
  3. pedalhead

    Good to see a review that tries to be objective, thanks. Can you elaborate on source and amplification that you used please? Thanks.

    Reply
    • 24bit

      Oppo HA-1, Pathos Aurium with 74′ reflektor tubes, stock tubes and medium tier upgrade tubes, calyx m, astell and kern ak120, chord hugo, burson conductor sl, rsa sr71b, graham slee solo and an asgard 2 were all part of the review.

      Reply
      • pedalhead

        Good stuff, thanks. Looking forward to hearing these at London CanJam & deciding if they’ll be an upgrade to my HE-560.

  4. pedalhead

    Good to see a review that tries to be objective, thanks. Can you elaborate on source and amplification that you used please? Cheers.

    Reply
  5. digitalzed

    How long did you use them for? I’ve heard over time they open up and settle in even more.

    Reply

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