This is a review of the new Dan Clark Ether 2 headphone system.
If I had to distill Dan Clark’s headphone designs down to one thing, I would say he had impeccable taste as to what neutral really can be. Dynamics, sure. Resolution, of course. But it is his choice of tuning that keeps bringing me back to his playback for my more reference needs in editing and producing. The total sum of his work is a fair starting point that pulls a lot together in a way that feels most correct for the most situations.
But what if that sound isn’t exactly to your utmost preference? Dan Clark Audio (formerly MrSpeakers) seeks to address even small tweaks on the presentation with the latest release of the Ether 2 System. The latest offering from the DCA Ether 2 camp is a small adjustment to the sound via three interchangeable earpads. Earpads offer a subtle but influential transition as sound travels from driver to ear. Most importantly, they provide a (hopefully) tight seal. Without a good seal, drops in bass response can be heard up to 30dB according to research done on the subject. That’s quite a shift in frequency response. Like many things in audio (and in life) many variables often contribute to the final outcome of any situation, and from my experience, earpads can effect more than just the frequency sweep. But first things first, lets dive into the headphone itself.
The most prominent feature that differentiates the Ether 2 from its closest competition is the weight. On the kitchen scale (without cables) the review sample I received weighed a mere 293 grams. While Sennheiser’s new ultra light HD 560S may claim 240g, consider this: the new Rossen Audio Designs RAD-0 in for review hit 677g, the reference Audeze LCD-4 708g. That’s almost 2:1 lighter than some of the big players in the space.
Of course that calls upon the build to be equally proficient, and here the Ether 2 doesn’t disappoint either. The headband is a fairly unique design in the range, and the new all metal headphone cup is a nice touch in lieu of plastic bits – there are even carbon fiber elements to be found in the driver baffle. The design lacks a pivot point or gimbal on the headband, but the two wire suspension system does offer some left to right give for oddly shaped heads. For ear pad swapping, a new tacky elastomer is used to keep the exchangeable parts connected to the inside edge of the headphone. The new system that is being offered is a collection of three pairs of swappable ear pads. In addition to the stock pads, the system includes a pair of microfiber suede pads and a pair of perforated pads – more on that later.
As a whole with the stock pads, the Ether 2 starts with exceptional clarity in the mids and vocal range. Listening to Cake’s oddity Sheep Go To Heaven from 1998 album Prolonging the Magic, it was easy to notice that the lead singer’s deadpan voice translated to more nauce and higher retrieval levels than average, and perhaps even more than the reference Audeze LCD-4 was displaying in our rig consisting of the Auralic VEGA DAC and Questyle CMA 800R headphone amplifier. With Roon acting as the playback software and AudioQuest pulling cable duties, the “extra” in this region was also accompanied by a slight bump in the response on the high mids to treble. While both the RAD-0 and LCD-4 provided what some might term an “intimate” relationship with the ear, the Ether 2’s response left the listener with more openness and spatial reach. This, combined with the light wearability and general airiness of the headphone, delivered a very pleasing sense of both effortless fidelity and comfortable listening sessions. The standard earpads also offered a slight thump to the bass (a margin more than the LCD-4) but in a different location within the bass region than the RAD-0. As a whole, it was fun but tight, but totally natural in its presentation. One might argue, the LCD-4 and RAD-0 have dynamic signatures that are both top performers in their class, but take some time to settle in. The Ether 2 feels natural and open right out of the gate. It excels all the right places without causing undue fatigue for any reason. If the game here is summed up in three words I would use: open, transparent and spacious. Now, on to the new ear pad system.
The overall changes between the pads are noticeable, and add a fun level of customization or a tweak that doesn’t necessarily end up requiring a ton of elbow grease or damage risk on the purchasers part. The pads swap easily with a sticky substance providing the role of adhesive to the rest of the headphone ear cup. The suede option emphasised a little more of the natural thumpiness found in the Ether 2 signature. The texture against the head is also very comfortable, and there was a slight adjustment to bass. The microfiber texture continues around the inner panels of the pad (not just the side that touches the head).
The standard pads had perhaps the tightest bass response, but with perhaps the most energy as well. The perforated pads offered the lightest (but still tight) take on bass, but brought out the very desirable openness trait the most. Listening to Alica Keys breakout track Fallin’ really emphasised this relationship. The continuous bass beats tenured the standard pads into a position of leadership among the three, and would be my recommendation for R&B listening. One of the most damped vibes came from the suede microfiber, and very much reminded me of the exercise we undertook while evaluating Dan’s filters from the Aeon headphone. This could be translated as more control to some, but the suede pads don’t leave one with a sense of being overdamped or dead sounding at any point. Metal tracks and 80s production get reeled in a bit and make for a more consistent listen.
Overall I would say that the perforated pads would be my final choice given only one option, but the good thing with this package is you don’t have to choose. Small movements in preferences can be addressed day to day, if the mood strikes you. The fun of offering a small change with little inconvenience is a blessing to those who are constantly looking for ways to freshen up or tinker with their playback devices. In a way, the earpad is a major part of “the room” for a headphone driver, and many audiophiles I’m sure would love to swap out their loudspeaker room as easy as swapping pads on the Ether 2 is.
The Ether 2 by Dan Clark Audio is one heck of a headphone. Its spacious response and extremely high comfort levels make it a stand out performer – at any pricepoint. Now with the Ether 2 System you can fine tune the experience even further, with pit stops along the way for changing moods, preferences or just small tinkering to satiate the acoustic palate. The Ether 2 System retails for $2,299.99 but will be discounted though October 2020 to $2,199.99. Highly recommended.
More info: Dan Clark Audio