by Dan Browdy
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article about the release of the then-new MrSpeakers Ether C headphone. This closed-back version of the well-received Ether took many by surprise and I quickly fell in love with it. While it isn’t without its faults, many people have called the Ether C the best closed headphone you can buy right now. Now, MrSpeakers has announced a successor to the Ether C called the Ether C Flow. Let me get this out of the way up front: it’s even better than the original.
For some background on Dan Clark and MrSpeakers, I recommend checking out the [Ether C article] mentioned earlier. Since that article was published, Dan has been working on a new project: an electrostatic Ether. Electrostatic headphones are new territory for MrSpeakers and the team learned a lot while iterating and improving the new headphone. They discovered, amongst other things, that proper air flow between the driver and the ear could improve resolution and speed. With this new knowledge in hand, they went back to the Ether and Ether C to see if they could improve the airflow on the V-Planar driver. The result is their new TrueFlow waveguides. I’m no engineer but here’s my take on it: they put some specially shaped pieces of plastic on either side of the magnet structure to make the air flow better. Obviously that’s oversimplifying things; the magic is in the shape of the waveguides and they went through countless iterations to get the curves and angles just right.
The current Ether C, version 1.1, has a sound that I characterize as a shallow U-shape. It has wonderful sub-bass and sparkling treble. Everything in between, from the mids through the mid-bass, is slightly laid back and thin. Because of this, while it’s a great all-around headphone, it really excels at genres like electronica. It has a character to it that some people, myself included, love. What Dan has done to the new Ether C Flow is make a few changes to the original formula, resulting in a sound that’s altogether more balanced. The complaints most often heard of the current C are that it doesn’t have enough bass and that it can be too bright; Dan has directly addressed both of these criticisms.
In the previous headphone, the frequency range from the lower mids through the mid-bass was nice and flat, sharply transitioning to a satisfying bump to the sub-bass. This was great if your music focused on sub-bass (hello, EDM!), but could sound a bit thin on other genres. Now that range from the lower mids through the sub-bass ramps up and connects smoothly to the bumped sub-bass. This fills in that range so it no longer feels thin, while retaining that nicely boosted sub-bass that was so special in the original Ether C. If that wasn’t enough, the bass bump starts at a higher frequency now. I heard many complaints from people that the Ether C didn’t have enough bass. It seems Dan got tired of hearing that one because the mid-bass is now more elevated than before, making the sound noticeably bassier overall. It’s a small bump, only 2-3db, so it doesn’t turn the C Flow into a bass monster. But it’s a nice addition, even for someone like me who didn’t find the Ether C’s bass to be particularly lacking before. It’s a clichéd example, but “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk is a great place to hear how the bass has shifted. On the C v1.1, the bass guitar doesn’t have much presence. It is clean and detailed, but doesn’t have the drive to move the song along like it should. With the C Flow, the bass guitar has noticeable punch and body, while retaining that legendary planar detail. It’s not overwhelming or forward in the mix, it’s simply filled in nicely.
The treble has received a welcome update in the C Flow as well. It feels both smoother and faster. The treble was wonderfully splashy before but it could feel a little harsh on some tracks. With the original Ether C, I personally like using one of MrSpeakers’ black tuning pads to dial back the treble a hair. In the new headphone, that harshness is completely gone and I don’t feel the need for a tuning pad. It’s easier to listen to and seems to have a bit better transient response, making it feel more detailed at the same time. The treble on the Flow isn’t as forward in the mix, thanks to the boost to the middle frequency ranges. This makes the headphone sound less bright and some will find it less detailed. I’d argue that the headphone is at least as detailed, if not more so. It’s lost that “virtual detail” that you can get from cranking up the treble unnaturally. All that detail is still there, but it’s not shoved up front and center like it was.
The mids overall feel much the same. The slight bump to the lower mids as it ramps up towards the bass shelf does give it a little more body, which is a welcome addition. The mids feel more balanced in the mix now, where before they were slightly overshadowed by the splashy highs. In the straight-forward rock track “Tom Sawyer” by Rush there’s hardly any sub-bass to speak of to my ears, so it feels bass-light and mid-recessed behind the splashy cymbals. On the C Flow, this is not an issue; the bass drum has impact, the guitar, keys and vocals are all front and center where they need to be, and the cymbals don’t overwhelm – it’s a much better rock headphone now.
Another effect of the change to the tonal balance in the Ether C Flow is that it doesn’t have the immediate sense of space or air that the Ether C v1.1 has. I sometimes like to think of audio gear as a spectrum of sounds from dry and analytical on one side (e.g. HD800) to lush and musical on the other (e.g. HD650). I think the original Ether C definitely leaned towards the analytical side of the spectrum and now it’s shifted towards the musical side. This places it very near the center of the spectrum where I personally find the most fulfillment. If you preferred the analytical nature it had before, you might not like the new C Flow as much, which is probably one reason why MrSpeakers still has the original headphone for sale on his site.
Aside from the sonic changes, there are a few more things to note. First, the $1799 price includes the upgraded “DUM cable” by default, an option that used to cost an extra $150. As the headphone was tuned with the DUM cable, this ensures that everyone will hear it as it was intended to sound.
Since two versions of the Ether C are now being sold, MrSpeakers needed a way to differentiate them visually. As such, they’ve changed the pattern of the carbon fiber on the Ether C Flow from a diagonal pattern to a checkerboard pattern. They’ve also added a few more subtle touches, such as adding the word “Flow” to the headband slider and changing the color of the mounting screws. The Ether C is among the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn and that hasn’t changed with the Flow. The weight remains essentially the same, gaining only 15g from the new wave guides. The ear pads have changed slightly to use a thicker leather, adding some durability, while using slightly less internal foam. They are meant to be interchangeable with the old ones so they can be used on any headphone in the Ether family without changing the sound.
It appears that Dan Clark will never be known for resting on his laurels. While some may be bothered that he’s constantly refining and upgrading his existing designs, there can be no doubt that the quality of his headphones has been getting better and better. Now he’s taken what is arguably the best closed headphone on the market and made it better. He took a look at the criticism of the Ether C and came back with the Ether C Flow.
What we have now is a headphone that’s more detailed, easier to listen to, more suited to all genres, and more musical for only $150 more than the previous headphone with upgraded cable (note: the Ether C v1.1 is now priced at $1499 including the DUM cable). It lost some of the unique character of the Ether C v1.1 in the process of becoming more balanced, but it’s moved in a direction that I’m very happy with. I have no problem calling the Ether C Flow the best closed headphone on the market now.
More info: https://mrspeakers.com/