MrSpeakers / Dan Clark Audio Ether 2 Over-The-Ear Headphones
From their humble beginnings of modifying Fostex T50RP headphones, to developing patented V-Planar technology and eventually creating ground up electrostatic headphones, MrSpeakers has continued to push the envelope while staying grounded to their roots. Now with their latest flagship offering, the Ether 2, Dan Clark Audio (previously named MrSpeakers) aims to cement their legacy in the world of headphones. Let's take a look and listen...
The Ether 2's lineage becomes even more evident when you hear them. The Ether series has always had an airy, ethereal quality to them and the Ether 2 takes those aspects to another level. I distinctly remember being quite fond of the original Ether's sound (and it's sexy red paint job), but it wasn't perfect and needed tweaked in a few areas (particularly in the low end). MrSpeakers addressed several issues people had with the Ether and subsequently released the Ether Flow. The Ether Flow incorporated their newly developed TrueFlow waveguide technology, which helped boost resolution, dynamics and improve frequency response. It was well received, yet personally I felt the Ether Flow lost some of the magic of the original Ether. Along the way, MrSpeakers mastermind Dan Clark developed an electrostatic headphone, the Voce. Creating the Voce was a significant achievement in its own right and at the same time, also helped MrSpeakers add some new tricks up their sleeves. Enter the Ether 2, which is unabashedly an amalgamation of the Ether line and the electrostat Voce.
Best Of Both Worlds
Continuing down the long list of its technical achievements, the Ether 2 has fantastic imaging, instrument separation and soundscape. While the staging doesn't feel necessarily wide, its airy presentation, quick drivers and liquid black background create immense sense of depth and layering. On multi-instrument acoustic songs and complex electronic tracks, everything stays clear and separated to the point where it can be hard to know what to focus on. If that's considered a problem, it's certainly a good one to have. While listening to World Saxophone Quartets "The Holy Men", you can easily discern the placement of each sax, which further affirms my previous statement. One of the main things I ask myself when evaluating soundscape is, does it present music in a realistic way? Compared to the massive soundscape of the HD800, the Ether 2 is more intimate, yet it feels more true and not as artificial sounding. I think the Ether 2 works much better with a wider range of music, where the HD800 excels at more specific genres.
Upon evaluating the Ether 2, I honestly struggled to define how it sounded. Usually when assessing a headphone, something sticks out in the frequency response or it blatantly leans one way or the other. Not so much with the Ether 2, which tonally is incredibly balanced and inoffensive sounding. At the same time, the Ether 2 manages to never feel boring or lacking in musicality. That's a hard combination to pull off, yet the Ether 2 manages to do it with ease.
Higher frequencies feel extended, expressive and have a great deal of airiness. The smooth yet detailed treble response also helps keep listening fatigue to a minimum. I tend to listen to music on the louder side, and at no time did I encounter any treble spikes or areas of sibilance. On Scott Weiland's criminally underrated album 12 Bar Blues, the song "Cool Kiss" can be an absolute nightmare to listen to on many headphones. It's lo-fi production and non-stop grating wall of sound were handled quite nicely by the Ether 2, even at louder listening levels. The highs on the Ether 2 display a certain degree of elegance that very few planars can pull off. Some people might want a tad more extension, but I think most will be more than happy with the Ether 2's treble response.
Whenever you hear about "planar bass" going forward, the Ether 2 should have a mandatory picture next to the accompanying text. The linear response from the upper bass to the sub bass is a thing of beauty. The low frequencies reach so deep, I'm pretty sure you're required to call 811 before listening to anything with immense sub-bass. However, it's not just how far the bass reaches on the Ether 2's that impressive. The texture is superbly nuanced, capturing every note and inflection. Also the speed of the Ether 2 provides some serious quality slam when called for. On MNLTH's opening track "Japan" from his Time album, cascading bass hits from 100 to under 50 Hz are reproduced with authority and accuracy. There are very few headphones, regardless of transducer type, that can reproduce low frequencies with such articulation and aggression. Very impressive!
I saved the midrange for last since it seemed to take a back seat to its stellar siblings. Now, that's not to say the midrange on the Ether 2's is bad, in fact it's quite the opposite. It's actually good. Really good! In the overall linear response of the Ether 2, the midrange just kind of blends in and disappears. Vocals are slightly forward, sound very clean and coherent. Instruments have great clarity and sense of placement. On The Doors romping blues track "Been Down So Long" from LA Woman, Jim Morrison's sublime vocals come across expressive and authoritative. Likewise the slide and rhythm guitars are well defined and energetic. Personally I didn't have any issues with the mids as I felt they fit in perfectly with the balance of the headphone. On the other hand, I could see someone wanting a bit more meatiness in the midrange. This can be easily addressed several ways, including amp pairing. I found my tube hybrid Liquid Platinum amp beefed up the mids while helping retain the Ether 2's overall signature.
Less Is More
The reduction of weight is just one of the many improvements that Ether 2 has over its predecessors. It boasts an entirely new motor designed around MrSpeakers TrueFlow technology. This also includes a diaphragm that's 70% lighter than used in previous models. The driver baffle is composed of carbon fiber, helping further reduce weight while maintaining rigidity. MrSpeakers employs their trusty flexible NiTinol metal headband support system, while upgrading the headband strap to webbed leather. Further helping comfort are high quality synthetic leather ear pads that utilize an ear shaped opening (opposed to a rectangle or oval shape). Finally the all metal cup and mounting arm not only looks fantastic, but feels premium and built to last.
Also introduced with the Ether 2 is MrSpeakers new premium VIVO cable, which replaces the venerable DUM cable used with previous Ether models. The DUM cable was a quality cable, but the VIVO is a big upgrade in many ways. The VIVO feels robust, yet is incredibly flexible without being microphonic. It also uses silver plated OFHC copper which is an excellent match to the Ether 2's tuning. Included as well is a standard black MrSpeakers clamshell hard-case and certificate of authenticity.
TOTL On The Go?
One of my favorite surprises I had when testing the Ether 2 was trying it out with my iBasso DX200 DAP (with Amp4s module). Not only was the Ether 2 powered aptly, but it proved to be a very compatible match sonically. It just so happened I needed to pick up around the house, so I put the DX200 in my pocket and went mobile with the Ether 2. Now I wouldn't normally do this on a regular basis, but the mere act of walking around doing chores with a TOTL headphone on your head is incredibly satisfying. Even more so considering the list of TOTL headphones you can do this with are few and far between. Lastly another great combo for someone that wants semi-portability or has limited desk space is the Chord Hugo 2. Chord's transportable DAC/AMP pairs perfectly with the Ether 2, squeezing out every last drop of resolution and nuance, while still drawing you into the music.
Additional Equipment Used During This Review