Review: Dan Clark Audio Stealth
The Dan Clark Audio Stealth Headphone Reviewed. The newest headphone from Dan Clark Audio is none other than a new flagship, priced right around the latest shelf created for high end audiophile headphones, $4k. That’s expensive, but DCA has also included quite a bit of new tech and thought into the headphone as well: so do we have a new competitor in the $4k class?
Opening the box for the new Stealth certainly leaves one with an impression that the whole business of DCA headphones has been elevated a notch. The enclosed case is wrapped in black leather with red stitching, which holds another velvet-lined box with both the travel case and cables. The most noteworthy item of the build is without a doubt the form factor, which in some ways resembles the AEON series of headphone more than anything else. Unlike most flagship headphones, the Stealth is a foldable design and fits into a relatively small case for easy transport. Now, the build does depart from that line of headphones on many fronts, being a little bit larger in cup size with many more frills and bells attached. Viewable through the inside of the earcup is Dan’s patent-pending meta material tuning device called AMTS. The planar magnetic driver is also 20% larger this time around and is an all-new design for the leading flagship.
The headband is also red stitched, quilted leather – with elements of carbon fiber and machined aluminum rounding out the appearance. Whereas the Dan Clark Ether 2 headphone offers suspension via an adjustable headstrap, the Stealth has a “self-adjusting suspension system” which expands to conform to the size of your head. In execution, I found the Stealth to sit just a little more lightly on my head, both in terms of caliper pressure and the feeling you get from the overall weight of the headphone pulling down. High points for comfort, wearability and light weight (for a full size flagship). The shape of the pads fits my ears perfectly, but I also appreciate the leather outside and suede interior texture of the wedge shaped pads as well. No doubt plenty of R&D was spent on the sonics, but it is also clear that Dan wants his headphones to be the comfiest flagships out there. The tension rods that hold the headphone in place across the top make the piece slightly microphonic, but only if you knock on them directly. Not something that happens very often in real world listening experiences.
Dan Clark Audio Stealth Sound Impressions
To my ears the DCA Stealth headphone sounds very similar in frequency response to some of the great production references I’ve had the pleasure of hearing over the years. I have a suspicion that most of this gear also measures well, but since reviews we give here are done with ears only, I can’t confidently say that is the case for all of it. Items like the Benchmark DACs, and even the more recent LCD-1 from Audeze have provided stellar flat response for monitoring sound. Where things get really special in this high performance case is the delivery of clarity hand-in-hand with a natural smoothness. Frequency response doesn’t always tell the whole story when it comes to the experience of listening to a headphone, and the stealth delivers on the illusion of a spacious response, layers of instruments and a precise stereophonic layout. In addition to detail retrieval that one might expect from a headphone in this price range, it does so with a phonetically tender touch.
The sound of the Stealth is more unique than any other Dan Clark headphone I have heard to date, and represents what I would consider a slight departure from headphones like the AEON series and even the Ether 2. All very noteworthy entries in the annals of great audiophile headphones, but DCA’s new flagship is something different. The treble especially represents something new in the field. For a closed back headphone, the highs and instruments like cymbals feel nuanced, but not fatiguing. Dimensional but smooth in a natural way, without curbing any of the shimmer or shine.
On the head the stealth feels fairly well damped without being constricted. Closed back designs often struggle with reflections coming off the back of the cup, and the focus here seems to be reining in a lot of that complication and preserving the original signal in such a tiny closed off “room” of sorts. You can hear that in the way music plays. Undoubtedly someone will ask, “Does it sound like an open headphone?”. With all the spatial reasoning and air to the mids and highs, the Dan Clark Audio Stealth definitely leans this direction as much as any closed back design can. What perhaps is most interesting in terms of the psychoacoustic trick is that the soundstage tends to fall a bit forward of the head. While the DCA Ether 2 open back lands superbly to the left and right, the Stealth creates a facade of “in front” just a hair more by comparison.
The bass is tight and punchy, but a tad more subdued in the overall presentation than the Ether 2. The bass drop on the outro to Billie Elish’s Bad Guy was met with a far more concise response than any other headphone on hand. The sensation is almost akin to the way a wave hits the ear in a loudspeaker system with perfect bass in a well controlled room – just gorgeous. You can really perceive the grit and edging to the sound, an acoustic treat that isn’t just bass bloat or one-note mush. And although not the most sophisticated of tests, a frequency sweep starting at 20 Hz did produce some reasonable sound at 20, with more noticeable volumes popping up around the 30 mark. The finesse showcased by the Dan Clark Audio Stealth in this test also exceeded the performance of even the well-crafted Ether 2. Mechanically speaking, the new DCA flagship appears to be a beast, dynamically it’s a sledge hammer with a feather touch. Quick and responsive, it keeps things controlled and clean, even when things get messy. It even makes it easier to pick out low-fi samples and added superficial distortions on instruments, as the trend seems to be growing these days.
The use of meta material is slowly creeping into real world usage for audio design. With the launch of KEF’s LS50 Meta, channeled material is used behind the speaker to help control resonances banging around in the cabinet. The use in the DCA Stealth is played through the meta material. Headphone makers are always looking for new ways to fine tune vibrations, resonances and overall sound, especially when it comes to the difficulties introduced by the additional “wall” in a closed-back can. The Dan Clark Audio Stealth’s unique sonic recreation is one of the first representations of this IRL for the personal audio market and brings a new overall listening experience to the field. This is achieved with what sounds like an uber responsive driver and plenty of control from the surrounding materials – a real technological feat. It feels fast, responsive and supercharged with potential for accurate back-and-forth swing of the diaphragm. After all that, you still manage to get some amazing top end air, realistic cymbals and right-there vocals in the mix. To be honest, there isn’t much “production” gear that comes to mind when I think of items that check off all these boxes, which is where the real value comes in for the high-end game. New tech, new sounds and “the full package” options are starting to pop up, and it looks like Dan Clark has thrown down the gauntlet with the Stealth.
More info: Dan Clark Audio Stealth