MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open Headphone Review

It has been a constant trajectory of upward growth for Dan Clark and MrSpeakers headphone products. Only a few years out from modding T50RP headphones and his collection of original sonic creations has grown from a single model to more than eight, spanning costs from $3k for his VOCE electrostatic down to the subject of today’s analysis, the newly-opened AEON Flow ($799).

While the closed AEON has received some solid feedback from the online community, open configurations for headphones generally deliver more air and breathability (both sonically and physically). The transducer technology of the new open remains steadfast planar magnetic – in tune with the rest of Mr. Clark’s creations – but the size is notably smaller and more ovoid than run of the full-size Ether headphones. Almost triangular in nature, the odd shape fits well around the top of the ears while making room for the earlobe of even the largest of ears as it rounds out the bottom. It’s a good shape for the size, reducing the extra bulk of a circular design and redistributing the distance where it is needed most. The two-wire nickel-titanium suspension system of the review unit provided just enough pressure to hold its position on the head, without overcooking the clamping force. Hitting this squarely is a shockingly hard thing to do for many high-end headphone manufacturers and its near perfection in this example was most welcome. This tension can of course change over time as with other materials, but if the Nitinol (as the cool kids call it) is the same grade as the other MrSpeakers headphones then it should prove to be a non-issue. Initial impressions were excellent in terms of comfort and left the critical listening sessions with a solid sense of durability and longevity. The cable is removable and connects with an easy snap to the termination that can be upgraded to a balanced cable if desired. Aftermarket wire can also be utilized, but Dan also offers a few of his own cables options on his site as well.

Overall the entire headphone feels a step up in physicality from your average consumer headphone. Everything from the solid click of the cable snapping into place to the motorcycle gloss finish helps justify its upper end cost of the middle ground market. $800 is a tricky place to play. It’s not quite a mid-tier $500 headphone, but still a 20% stride away from the $1k plateau that marks a small change in the market perception. Still, that cost could present itself as a 20% discount value proposition to some, the luxury market these headphones live and breaths in hardly plays by the same set of rules as the mainstream headphone consumer.

The Aeon comes with three sets of tuning material to place inside the earcup and is designed to either increase or reduce damping. As one moves up the scale treble is slightly shifted in quantity, but there is also a slight taming of overall quality. The staging perhaps takes a small hit as things move back, but it’s easy to see how anyone could fall in love with any of the three stages. There is less of a change from the white foam two to three than there is from nothing to stage two. When all three pads are crammed into the earcup (not the intended use) the mids and treble remain surprisingly balanced within each other, but the bass seeps through like a listening position right next to a sub. This controlled variable is more complex than your run-of-the\-mill bass or treble adjustment, and may well provide useful augmentation for those willing put in the time to try out each pad.

One might assume that in terms of laying out his wares, in an ideal world Dan might opt for a similar voicing of his well-received Ether Flow models and just take the resolution down a notch to compete with the price point. Alas, this is not the case with the Aeon, but buyers will still be rewarded with Dan’s impeccable ear for balance and quality sound. This time around the smaller sibling feels just a tad more laid back in the mids to treble range, not egregiously so, but just enough to be able to pick it out by comparison on the first pass. Female vocals like Norah Jones Don’t Know Why appear well-placed and a good distance out from the head in a psychoacoustic sense. The difference in Dan’s big step up (Ether Flow, $1,799) is more resolution and sparkle in this zone. Compared to slightly less expensive HiFiMAN Sundara ($499) the Aeon had a little more meat on the bone when constructing Norah’s vocal track, but traded the perceived girth for a little less air on the very top end. As with all MrSpeakers products, the EQ curve is nailed to the wall with both political correctness and sonic finesse. It’s a sound that is full. Full of texture, full of life, full of piss and vinegar or soft subtle micro-feelings – depending on your choice of music. It’s all there on display in fashion that takes a vast manufacturing knowledge, a keen ear and just plain good taste. It’s fat without the bloat, even if his upstream endeavors are capable of a little more. For those who $2k is out of reach, the Aeon does deliver on the promise of a taste of the Ether. How much? Enough to fall under standard issue audiophile terms and then some – the top 10% is the hardest and most expensive to collect on. The Aeon is right there, playing along with this old hifi adage.

The low is fitted and honed to the point where it strikes with authority and little else to muddle the way in its delivery. It is by no means a bass heavy headphone, but produces when the music calls for it. More importantly, it is tight and punchy when it counts. Listening to the bare bass guitar on the opening Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up the Aeon, picked up the nuances of the string picking as well as the low impact of the final note that drops in the measure. While the Sennheiser HD650 on hand was also able to recreate some of that same feeling, there was a slight undertone of blur to the same string, fogging the picture. Perhaps even more telling when the verse kicks in, Jason’s vocals are much more tinny and threadbare pushed up next to the Aeon’s aforementioned richness in the mids. Once again it was a fuller picture, in more ways than one. Also noteworthy during this comparison is a noticeable overall comfort and fit which proved a stark contrast from the MrSpeakers specimen than the larger, more unwieldy classic Sennheiser beast. Audio revelations are important, but fit is such an important factor for long listening sessions, where even the slightest deviation will slowly burrow its way to discomfort given the opportunity.

Even with the lowest damping pads on the Aeon, the treble quality appears fairly smooth and natural, vacant of any harsh peaks or hot sizzle. Completely removing the pads does add a bit of pizazz to the arena, but at the lowest setting the “minimal” recommended form of black foam damping material does provided an adequate representation for critical listening. Rational and splashly, cymbals drift around the stereo image with relative ease, providing plenty of information to their cause without screaming it in your ear. There were a few headphones on hand that had better extension, but plenty of air and control of the highs made for a more satisfying listen than just treble for treble’s sake.

The Aeon Flow Open strikes a solid chord with a robust, information-dense recreation of sound. The construct of the headphone is equally robust and helps validate the $500+ market category this device finds itself in. It’s a comfortable wear that isn’t afraid to promote that lived-in feel of music and the human voice. Dan Clark did a great job of creating a headphone that delivers at its pricepoint, while still leaving a little room for growth to his flagship cans. While the two lines aren’t mirror copies of each other, they are close family and harness the same acute sensibilities of a designer who knows what to look for in balanced, yet vibrant acoustics. The Aeon stands firmly on its own two transducers, sustaining the speed and dynamics that are required from a market that is increasingly coming into its own, both with technological advancements and appealing frequency choices. It’s keeping up with the pace of change, if not setting new standards for what can be done for a sub $1k premium headphone. Highly recommended.

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