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Audeze EL-8 Closed-Back

Posted

Pros: Retrieval of Details, Quality Build, Ligh Weight Planar Headphone

Cons: Price still over $500, Overall size

 

 

Audeze EL-8’s and Deckard Amplifier

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Let me introduce myself my name is Adam I am a 38 years old, I have been into audio equipment since I was in highschool. I don’t consider myself an audiophile, I am just an average guy that loves music. I like to listen to my music with the best possible quality. My journey to Head-Fi started one day doing a search on the web for headphone reviews. Just about all searches for headphones and earbuds brings you to Head-Fi, after lurking for a couple weeks I finally made an account and here I am writing reviews. Being on Head-Fi I have learned so much and I am learning something new every day.

 

My reviews are written geared towards the average consumer since most web searches direct you to Head-Fi. Head-Fi reviews get more traffic than most pro-audio magazines or any designated review site, you won't find my reviews filled with audiophile terms or do I use graphs, meters, or charts. The only charts and graphs I care about are the quarterly ones that come in the mail about my 401K. To be honest audiophile terms confuse me, some of them have 2 different meanings depending on who you talk to, or the definition says to see another term. Being a simple guy and write know better than a high school student, you will fully understand my reviews. My goal is to let the average consumer know if this product is worth their hard earned cash.

 

Before I get into the review I would like to say thank you to Jonathan Scull from Scull Communications  for making this review possible. I am not employed or am I being compensated for for this review. This review is based on my honest opinions, the EL-8 and Deckard Amplifier can be purchased directly from Audeze from the following link.

https://www.audeze.com/

 

When you want the top of the line headphones there are a couple companies that pop into my head, with Audeze being one of them. When you are serious about a hobby like headphones there is no doubt that if you want the best there is a hefty price tag that comes with it. Audeze specializes in high end headphones, using planar magnetic drivers instead of dynamic drivers. They are what I would call a boutique company, and produce and assemble their products mostly by hand giving them better control over quality. The EL-8s are there first headphone that comes in under $900 price point. EL-8s are a closed back design using Fazor elements and Fluxor magnetic structure and Uniforce diaphragm design, that greatly reduces their weight that typical planar headphones are known for. The Deckard amplifier is a Class-A headphone  AMP/DAC combo, Audeze teamed up with BMW DesignworksUSA for the design of the EL-8 and Deckard. The Deckard is Audeze first amp/dac, the EL-8s and Deckard both have an industrial look to them. Both products are assembled in Costa Mesa, CA  with the parts being sourced out all over the world.



 

 

SPECIFICATIONS  EL-8

Style

Closed-back circumaural

Transducer type

Planar magnetic

Magnetic structure

Fluxor magnets

Magnet type

Neodymium

Driver Size

100 mm

Maximum power handling

15W (for 200ms)

Maximum SPL

>130dB

Frequency response

10Hz – 50kHz

Total harmonic distortion

<0.1% (1KHz, 1mw)

Impedance

30 ohms

Efficiency

100dB / 1mW

Optimal power requirement

200mW – 4W

Weight

480g


 

 

 

ACCESSORIES EL-8

 

2m (6.56 feet) Audeze headphone cable

3.5mm to 1/4in stereo adapter

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS Deckard AMP/DAC

 

Line Out

 

Type

Single-Ended Class-A

SNR

106dB A-Weighted

THD+N

0.00045% at 1kHz 2VRMS

            A-Weighted

Frequency Response

5Hz-100kHz, -1dB

            (-0.03dB at 20Hz/-0.07dB at 20kHz)

Line Out Impedance

50 ohms

 

Headphone Out

 

SNR

106dB A-Weighted

THD+N

<0.1%, 20Hz - 20kHz

            4W with 20 ohms load

            A-Weighted

Frequency Response

5Hz-100kHz, -1dB

            (-0.03dB at 20Hz/-0.07dB at 20kHz)

Output Impedance

3 ohms

Output Power

4W at 20 ohms

 

DAC Section

 

Sample Rate

16 - 32 Bit

 

44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz

            176.4kHz, 192kHz

System Support

Windows XP/Vista/7/8/8.1

            USB2 driver requires installation

            352.8kHz, 384kHz, Supported by Mac only

            Native support for Mac OS 10.6.4 and above

Gain

Low=0dB, Mid=10dB, High=20dB

AC Input

AC100V: 90V-110V

            AC110V:100V-120V (Factory Default)

            AC230V: 210V-230V


 

 

ACCESSORIES Deckard AMP/DAC

 

6-ft. USB cable

6-ft AC power cord

 

PACKAGING

 

EL-8s come in a very nice heavy duty box, there is an outer sleeve that slides off, then you are presented with there name on a the box. The box lid kind of unfolds like a book, the flap is secured with a magnet, opening the lid you are presented with the EL-8s laying down in a nice precut hi-density foam core. On the other side of the box you will find your manual and accessories.

 

The Deckard is packaged in a similar box but without the magnetic flaps. The Deckard is sandwiched in between hi-density foam that keeps it floating in the middle in case it’s banged around during shipping. Both boxes are very well put together for long periods of storage.

 

 

BUILD AND FIT

 

How  products look is almost is as important as the sound these days, I know I wouldn’t want an amp/dac that looks out of place on my desk, that goes the same for the headphones. The Deckard has a very industrial look, but keeping it stylish at the same time. the footprint isn’t any bigger then a large text book. The chassis is made off all metal with a nice finish on it that won’t attract fingerprints. The Deckard DAC section plays 16 to 32-bit audio and sampling rates from 44.1kHz to 384kHz on Mac OS 10.6.4 and above. Windows computers are limited to 193kHz and 24-bits. Window users will need to install the drivers since it’s native Mac OS. I have a Lenovo laptop and it was very easy to download the drivers from there website, they also include a disc that the drivers can be installed from.

 

 

 

 

On the front panel you will find 2 switches and the volume knob, the volume knob is a good size to ensure easy controlling, it has a very smooth feel to it. The first switch is to change your inputs, you can either use USB or RCA. The switch next to it is the Gain switch that can be set to high, medium or low.

 

On the back of the Deckard is the main power switch and the outlet for the power plug, the power cable is very heavy and thick. You will also find the RCA input and outputs, the outputs can be used to hook up speaker monitors. Also on the back is the input for the USB cable, the USB cable is also heavy duty and is very long in case your source is far away. On the bottom of the Deckard are 4 rubber feet to keep it from sliding or scratching anything. You  won’t have to worry about it sliding, it has a good amount of weight to it. Powering on the amp/dac there is a blue led on the front panel that turns on. The led is not to bright or dim, some amps lights can be overly bright and just be annoying. After powering on the amp it can become warm to the touch like any other amp/dac. Some amps can run really hot, the Deckard has a fin like design on the sides that I would assume helps carry the heat away from the internals and keeping it from overheating. Before using the Deckard it’s recommended to rack some hours up on it, to release its full potential giving the inside components a chance to settle in. I really like the design of the amp/dac, it’s simple and classy and very clean looking. I have a glass desk and it looks great next to my laptop.

 

 

 

The EL-8s are a closed back headphone that's made of mostly metal with a wood veneer finish around the edges that's coated for protection and durability. The wood gives them a nice modern look to them, it’s a very different look from there LCD series. The LCD’s have a vintage or antique style, the EL-8s look more up to date. The face of the ear cups have a nice machined ring pattern on them having a semi-gloss finish, the outer part of the earcups has a satin finish that makes the machine finish stand out nicely. The ear cups can be rotated to lay down flat on a desk, the ear pads are slightly angled and made from leather. The ear cups can be lowered for people with longer heads. Adjusting them they have a nice positive click so you can match the other side to the same length. They are connected to the headband from a pivot point and adjust to conform to the side of your head. On the underside of the metal headband there is a padded leather strap that stretches upwards when wearing them to ensure a secure fit..

 

 

 

 

Being one of the lightest planar headphones they are still on the bigger side, I personally wouldn't wear them outside. Being on the bigger side they are still very comfortable and not too heavy. There clamping pressure was a little tight at first around the cheek area, it was easily fixed after stretching them out slightly. To get the most out of the headphones you will have to make sure they are positioned correctly so they won’t leak any sound.

 

 

 

The cables attached to each ear cup with a proprietary design plug that reminds me of a Lightning cable Apple uses. The plugs can only be attached one way for right and left so don’t force them in. A flat cable is used with a nice non-slip rubber finish. I have read some other reviews on the cable how it attaches, some people think its not secured enough. They are held in place with a magnet on each side, I personally really like this design. One of the biggest problems when cables fail for me is getting them caught on something and ripping the wires off the inside terminals. With Audeze’s design if you were to catch them on something the magnet isn’t strong enough to keep it locked on, and giving it a chance from breaking the wires. They plug in with enough force for them not to fall out during normal use, I have tried walking around with them and they never failed. I wish more companies would have designs like this, cables are not cheap. On Audezes website they also offer replacement cables from balanced and cables for ios devices. I really like the overall design of the EL-8s, it’s some what minimalistic and industrial. They are very clean and smooth looking, they are also very comfortable and can be worn for long periods. I do wish they supplied a shorter cable the one provided is pretty long.

 

 

 

SOUND

 

All my listening was done with hi-res files using the following with the EL-8s without the Deckard. AK100II, Samsung Alpha cell, and a Lenovo Ultrabook. Audeze EL-8s were made to be driven easily for portable devices, I still find them too big to take out of the house. It’s recommended to burn them in to get the most out of them. Right out of the box they were on the brighter side, but after 100 hours they really changed for the better. I am not big on burn in but the El-8s improved drastically, maybe it’s the planar drivers with dynamic drivers I rarely hear a big difference if any. After racking up some hours if I had to describe the EL-8s in one word it would have to be Smooth.

 

 

The one thing that really stood out to me was the smoothness of the bass. They are far from being something for bass heads, the bass is more on the balanced side. They do go low and give you a nice low end rumble, but the midbass is still more prominent. It’s very tight and detailed without ever spilling over into the midrange. The midrange is just as smooth and balanced with hint of warmth to them. They have no problem reproducing fine details in vocals, especially with good live recordings. Upper frequencies is where the EL-8s shine, they can keep up with the higher priced headphones with no problem. At first straight out of the box they could almost be fatiguing, but after some hours racked up they settled into place very nicely and balanced out with the rest of the frequencies. EL-8s upper notes have a clarity to them that is done with almost no effort and can keep up with the fastest of tracks. Listening to string bands with orchestras sounds almost too good to be real.

 

Comparing the higher frequencies to Audio-Technicas MSR7, the EL-8s are not as much in your face like the MSR7s, but have the same clarity to them. I like using the MSR7 as a reference point when comparing headphones because of their unforgiveness to recordings. The MSR7s mids are also more upfront than the EL-8s with the EL-8s being more laid back. Comparing the low end the MSR7 have more quantity with the EL-8s having more quality. It’s kind of like Kim Kardashians low end she has more quantity then quality, we all know what that must look like underneath.

 

The EL-8s placement and instrument separation is some of the best I have heard for a closed back headphone.  They give you a good sense of space and air to them, especially for being a closed-back headphone. The music doesn’t feel like it’s right on your ear but more around you, the angled pads probably help with this. A lot of companies are going with the angled earpads these days.

 

Now using the EL-8s with the Deckard RCA out just as an amp, really brings these to another level of listening experience. When I use an amp I don’t want to color the sound, I want to drive my headphones to their full potential. This is exactly what the Deckard did for the EL-8s, It breathed new life into them. Driving the EL-8s directly from my phone or the AK100ii I could max the volume out. First thing the Deckard is dead quite plugging any source I had and with any headphone. I had the gain switch set at the medium setting for just about any headphone I used with it. Using the Deckard with the EL-8s really gave hip-hop, rap and electronica a nice low end rumble and boom. To make it simple it made them sound more lively and more engaging, like I said I am a simple guy and like explaining things so everyone can understand them.

 

 

I personally don’t like reviews where they say there rolled off at this frequency or they have a spike at this frequency or there is a dip here and there. I respect reviewers that write like that it’s just not me and doesn’t help me much. Especially when everyone isn’t using the same source, amps, files, listening levels and placement of the headphones. And something to my ears that sounds warm might sound bright to you. But anyway using the DAC section when plugged into my laptop via USB, I could tell it sounded a whole lot cleaner and more refined right away. My laptops sound card is pretty good by itself. But using the Deckard I could clearer hear things I didn’t hear with my laptop alone. Plugging headphones straight into the laptop jack I could easily listen all day at max volume, with the Deckard at the medium gain I could go slightly above half way for a comfortable listening level, the Deckard isn’t the most powerful amp, but it will for sure be enough to drive higher impedance cans. The only hard to drive headphones I have are Beyerdynamics DT 770 Pro’s at 80 ohms, they are not the hardest to drive and not the easiest to drive. Listening to the DT770 right out of my laptop they can sound very dull and boring. Using the Deckard really showed me what they are capable of. I also hooked up a pair of Audioengine A5+ threw the rear outputs, so I could take advantage of the DAC in the Deckard. On the down side it would have been nice to see a balanced output for headphones, especially when a lot of people run there Audeze headphones with balanced cables. Although I never use balanced cables except for studio monitors.


 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

My overall thoughts of Audeze's more affordable products is they hit it out of the park. They keep the quality of their more expensive offerings that they are known for, and they also bring the quality of the sound they're known for. If you're looking for a closed back headphone that has an overall neutral sound with unbelievable refinement these will definitely please your ears. Their desktop Deckard pairs very well with the El-8s and won't take up to much real estate on your desk. The prices are still a little steep even for being Audezes more affordable line up. But you know what they say you have to pay to play, and Audeze is a specialty company and doesn’t turn out products like big corporations.

 

 

Products like these will never be seen in your average Big Box store but  hopefully Audeze has plans to bring more affordable and portable products in the near future. Maybe we will see them expand their top of the line products in the future as well. Thanks for reading I hope I helped anyone interested in Audeze’s new line up.

Posted

Pros: very detailed sound, durable build, unique detachable cable, comfortable fitment, excellent isolation

Cons: heavy, needs a warmer amp (portable is fine), requires a long burn in


This is a review of Audeze EL-8C closed back planar magnetic full size headphones:  https://www.audeze.com/products/el-8-collection/el-8-closed-back, with a bonus review of Audeze Deckard desktop DAC/Amplifier: https://www.audeze.com/products/amplifiers/deckard 

 

Before I start my write-up, I would like to Thank Audeze for providing me with review samples in exchange for my honest opinion.


 

The lineup of popular audiophile headphones is filled with legendary names of companies that earned their reputation over decades of consistent flagship releases.  There are no shortcuts to join that fraternity, unless you have something truly outstanding to offer right out of the gate.  I wouldn't classify Audeze as a newcomer, but relative to other well known audiophile companies you might as well refer to them as one.  That is why I find it to be amazing how much headway this company made in their 5+ years, joining the lineup of other audiophile dinosaurs.  With my primary focus on portable headphones and audio sources, I haven't been covering as much full size cans unless I know it could be driven efficiently with a gear in my review collection, but that doesn't mean I haven't been lusting after one to review.  So when I heard about the new line of Audeze products, EL-8 in open and closed back variation, and their spec favoring portable DAPs and even smartphones - I jumped at the chance to review one of their latest offerings with planar magnetic driver technology.

 

I was especially curious about the aspect of portable source requirement, either directly from a DAP or a smartphone and maybe with a portable amp, and of course I was interested how Audeze was able to scale down their flagship LCD design.  Another decision I had to make was a choice between open back and closed back design.  Without a doubt, open back design is the way to go if you're craving an expanded airy sound, but in my mind it defeats the purpose of "portable" use.  The consequent action of an open back is a lack of sound isolation and significant sound leakage – in my opinion a total contradiction of portable sound definition where you can’t enjoy listening to a music without distracting others around you and by not being able to isolate yourself from other outside distractions.  With all this in mind, I choose to review a closed back version of EL-8 which I will refer to as EL-8C.  As a bonus, I was also offered an opportunity to test their new Class A amplifier/DAC, a debut product from Audeze under a model name "Deckard".  Now without further ado here is my review of EL-8C and Deckard.

 

Arrived in a large box, I wasn't surprised since I already expected these headphones to be a plus size.  After opening the box and flipping over the magnetic cover flap, I was looking at a folded flat solid design with two oversized metal earcups planted inside of a thick foam cutout including shaped foam pieces going inside of earcups.  The first thought that crossed my mind, was it even necessary to have this level of drop protection for something that build like a tank?  Apparently it is, and I learned my lesson about planar magnetic headphones where you are no longer dealing with a typical dynamic driver and now need to consider a super-thin diaphragm surrounded by an array of tiny neodymium magnets that create a magnetic field driving this transducer (driver).  So no matter how solid EL-8C design appears to be - you need to avoid any drop shock which can damage its internal components.  As a matter of fact, I was told that after the initial release, Audeze was diligent enough to go back and to re-enforce their packaging to make sure there are no hiccups during the shipping.

 

The flip cover of the box has its own storage under another nested flip cover where you find accessories, booklet, and a dated certificate of authenticity hand signed by one of the Audeze technicians.  Honestly, I've never seen this level of attention [hand signature] before from any other product I reviewed in the past, and it definitely made my unboxing experience a lot more special.  Regarding included accessories, you will find a detachable cable, 3.5mm to 1/4" adapter, and a soft drawstring storage pouch.  There is nothing special about the adapter, though it has a nice rubbery grip.  Storage pouch is not really intended for a durable headphone protection but rather as scratch and dust shield.  I did confirm that Slappa Full Sized hard body Pro case fits EL-8C snuggly and secure, though you can't flip earcups flat.  It would have been nice for Audeze to come up with their own hard shell case to take full advantage of fold flat design of these headphones.

 

I will talk more about the cable a little bit later, but do think that for the price of these headphones it would have been nice to include a second set with a shorter cable and mobile controls.  The original included flat cable is rather long at 2m, and considering a suggested mobile application of EL-8C, in my opinion it would have been a good idea to include a bonus 1.3m cable with a universal inline remote/mic with a single control button for Play/Pause/Call to accommodate both iOS and Android users.  Audeze already offers as an add-on Apple specific (3-button including volume control), Astell & Kern (2.5mm balanced) and Pono/Sony PHA-3 (dual 3.5mm balanced) cables, so including a shorter universal 3.5mm smart cable would have made sense to complete this rather modest accessory package.

 

EL-8C unboxing and accessories.

 

  

 

  

 

I was a little bit surprised with Audeze decision to use flat cable, but do have to admit it has a nice durable shielding, decent strain relief, and a small rubbery y-splitter.  Flat cable is typically tangle free and easy to manage, especially when you are dealing with 2m length, but at the same time it contributes to a little bit of microphonics effects which I found in this case.  Nothing too extreme or distracting, though you will notice it a bit, especially when music is idling.  Of course, the star of this cable is the connector.

 

Resembling a shape of apple's "lightning" connector, it has a total of 8 contacts (4 on each side, a secure attachment (actually requires a bit of force to pull it out), and a safety disengagement if extra pulling force is applied to avoid damage of the cable and equipment attached to it.  Each connector is labeled with corresponding L/R marking, and the inner blade of the connector is keyed so you can't plug it flipped.

 

EL-8C cable.

 

  

 

  

 

When it comes to a design, Audeze had a helping hand from Designworks - A BMW Group Company.  Thus it wasn’t a surprise to me these headphones have a solid masculine design with a touch of "warmth" in a form of a wood veneer accent.  I always joke with my friends who drive bimmers about spartan interior design where there is a touch of wood trim just to make it appear more "luxurious" which sometime feels out of place.  I know, it's all a matter of a personal taste, but I would have preferred all black design to complement bold look of these full size headphones.

 

Weighting exactly 500g (according to my digital scale) and another 40g for the cable, EL-8C is the heaviest headphones I have tested, thanks to its all metal construction and planar magnetic drivers.  But despite their weight, I found EL-8C to be very comfortable to wear for extended period of time.  A plush cushioning of earpads (never got warm) and inner headband's suspended "bridge" make this weight to be distributed without uncomfortable pressure points – definitely a well thought of ergonomic design.  Protecting a spring-loaded suspended inner soft cushioning of headband, outside of it is a solid steel band with a decent clamping force.  To make it more comfortable, during my week-long burn in of these headphones I kept EL-8C over a soccer ball to stretch the headband.  Clamping force became a lot more tolerable, and sound isolation still remained excellent.

 

The headband height adjustment is well controlled with a precise click action.  Attached to a headband at a joint that swings 180deg (flipping earcups flat on either side), you have a metal half-yoke attached at a single point to earcup which also provides a degree of tilt for adjustment around your ears and head.  Back of earcups is all metal, where the inner round piece has a brushed surface finish.  Wood veneer piece only goes around the edge perimeter of earcups.  Earpads are marshmallow soft with a very nice cushioning and angled shape, sloped up toward the back of your head behind your ears for a better seal and isolation.  The 100mm driver size and a large earcup design provides plenty of room for earpads opening which is deep enough to encapsulate your ears completely.

 

Overall, I'm a bit on a fence classifying EL-8C as truly portable headphones.  They are definitely bigger than some of my other 40mm/45mm/53mm full size headphones, though I'm also aware they are not as big as some other planar magnetic headphones.  Wearing them around a neck is out of the question, and walking with them for extended period of time will start to feel uncomfortable since 500g of weight is not exactly feather light.  Their closed back design and relatively slim footprint (in comparison to other planar magnetic cans) should make them a good candidate for use in the office or maybe during extended commute.  But I would personally use them at home, sitting comfortably on the couch rather than dragging them outdoors.

 

EL-8C design details.

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

 

I always feel there are so many sound shaping options when it comes to in-ear headphones, everything from selection of dynamic vs balanced armature drivers or the hybrid combination of both, more common replacement cables, eartip "tip rolling", and so on.  With full size headphones you don't have the same luxury, especially when it comes to drivers.  But one technology has been making a lot of headways lately - planar magnetics.  The principle behind this technology is almost 40 years old and has been seen in other headphones and speaker releases under "orthodynamic" and "electrostatic" names in the past.  It evolved over years to a more portable consumer friendly design thanks to thinner diaphragms, smaller magnetic elements, higher efficiency, etc.  I will not go into details of the history behind evolution of planar magnetic drivers, but would highly recommend reading of Tyll's excellent article about it: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/how-planar-magnetic-headphones-work#LZqqBpJ43xJHmiW6.97.   Audeze also played an important role with their innovations, specific to EL-8 models with a patent pending Fluxor Magnetic Structure (increasing magnetic flux density to reduce the weight and to improve efficiency) and new Fazor elements and Uniforce diaphragm (improvement in planar magnetic design to reduce distortion and to improve resolution and imaging), all of which you can read about in more details here: https://www.audeze.com/technology/engineering.

 

There is definitely a lot of info to read about the technology behind the design of Audeze EL-8C 100mm planar magnetic drivers that can handle up to a whooping 15W of power (though for a brief 200ms period), with an optimal power requirements of 200mW to 4W and ultra wideband 10Hz-50kHz frequency response.  But at the end of the day I treat any audio gear as a black box where the only thing that counts is the SOUND.  I already mentioned that I focus more on portable audio gear, and Audeze made it clear that EL-8C has low 30ohm impedance which can be driven by any portable source, including smartphones, but they also truthfully mentioned that use of external amplifier will produce better results.  If you look at their efficiently of 100dB/1mW, this will already give you a clue that you will have to push your volume higher than your typical portable headphones. 

 

Was I able to drive EL-8C from my Galaxy Note 4 smartphone?  Sure, without a problem, but I had to push volume to the max and found performance to be on a weaker side.  Driving it from HO of my laptop was not a problem and it was loud enough, though a sound wasn’t as resolving due to poor quality of ThinkPad built-in audio interface.  I also found that it wasn't really necessary to drive EL-8C from a hefty desktop tube amp, and it had a great synergy even with my portable amplifiers.  Along with EL-8/C, Audeze also released their own Deckard desktop amp which I'm going to talk about at the end of my review, but do want to mention that synergy with that amp was really good!

 

If you are craving a portable stack up to take with you on the road with EL-8C, I found a great solution to make it happen.  I have a large number of DAPs in my review collection and went through all of them trying to figure out which one will have a better synergy with these headphones.  Prior to that I also tried my Note 4 and to my surprise found sound to be rather smooth but lacking energy, being more on a dry side, and obviously not having enough juice to drive EL-8C to a higher volume.  With my other DAPs, using AK120ii, X5ii, QA360, N6, and LP5, I found a better synergy using N6 and LP5 due to their powerful amp section being able to bring EL-8C sound to LIFE with greater dynamics, better low end texture, improved retrieval of details, and smoother upper mids and treble performance.  Unfortunately, limited GUI of LP5 and lack of EQ was a deal breaker in this particular case, so I chose Cayin N6 as my best available option to drive EL-8C.  Here is my assessment of EL-8C sound analysis straight out of N6 headphone output.

 

After 200 hrs of burn in (don't jump into conclusion about their brightness until you put it through a burn in pace, it will get smoother!!!), I hear EL-8C as having a neutral-bright signature with a highly revealing sound that has an excellent retrieval of details (on micro-detail level) without crossing a threshold of harsh analytical sig.

 

Low end has a great extension down to a sub-bass, but its best described in terms of quality rather than quantity.  It's slightly north of neutral level, and it greatly benefits from bass boost (more about it later).  Mid-bass has a fast punch, and slams with an authority, but at the same time it's well controlled with a surgical precision separation from lower mids.

 

Lower mids are on a thinner side which takes away a little bit from a body of a sound. Upper mids are bright, crisp, detailed, close to smooth-analytical level.  They are pushed slightly forward, in some songs even overpowering low end.  With mids being brighter and more analytical, vocals loose a little bit of their organic natural feeling and sound a tad dry.

 

Treble has fantastic extension, bright, and crisp.  At the same time, I'm not sensing any sibilance even considering a slightly mid-forward bright nature of the sound.  It's not even harsh or grainy, just a fantastic bright detailed sound.

 

Depth of soundstage is slightly above the average while the width is phenomenal, expanded way above average to the right/left.  Separation and layering effect is excellent, you can easily distinguish and pick every instrument, even in complicated music passages.  Due to a wide staging the positioning/imaging is also excellent.  I wouldn't call it having a 3D placement, I think closed back design holds it a little back (with slight depth limitation which affects accuracy a bit), but for a closed back headphones it still sounds very good!  Just don't expect the same airiness effect as you would find in open back design, something I'm sure EL-8 open back nails with flying colors.

 

Overall, I was happy with a wide-bandwidth detailed sound of EL-8C from N6, but still felt like I didn't push it to their full potential.  Next step was to try it with portable external amplifiers, and I looked into my go-to FiiO E12A and Cayin C5.  E12A pair up was OK but not as tight as I expected, after all - it's designed for IEMs.  But once I paired up N6 with C5 - I honestly couldn't believe my ears!!!  This Cayin stack took EL-8C performance to a whole new level!  I heard improvement in dynamics of the sound, low end got tighter and better defined, upper mids became smoother, and width/depth/height of soundstage expanded noticeably (especially depth, still closer to intimate side but with addition of 3D imaging).  The most impressive improvement happened when I turned on bass-boost - it literally changed neutral bright sound signature into a more balanced smoother warmer sound with a powerful sub-bass rumble, a tighter mid-bass punch, and more body in lower mids.  This change brought a more organic feeling to a sound especially when it comes to vocals.  In comparison, E12A also has a bass boost but it affects a narrower band of mid-bass while C5 has a wider bandwidth boost covering sub-bass and some lower mids.  After experiencing N6+C5 stack up driving EL-8C, I can't imagine driving it with any other source I have now, except maybe with Deckard which also delivered a smooth and warm sound, though it was more transparent relative to a source without too much coloring.  If given a choice, for my own personal taste I prefer C5 bass-boost coloring all the way!

 

Cayin N6+C5 stack up with EL-8C

 

 

Since this is my first pair of planar magnetic headphones, I don't have any other ones with a same driver technology for comparison, though I'm planning to look into reviewing and comparing similar offerings from Oppo and HiFiMAN.  In a meantime, I wanted to do a quick comparison with a few of my other favorite full size headphones, using EL-8C straight out of N6 HO without "coloration" of C5 enhancement.

 

EL-8C vs MSR7 - MSR7 has a little deeper sub-bass with more quantity, similar mid-bass punch, warmer lower mids with more body, upper mids are a little less detailed (not the same level of smooth micro-details), and treble with a similar extension but not as smooth as EL-8C.  Also, MSR7 soundstage is more intimate in comparison, while EL-8C sounds wider.

 

EL-8C vs R70x - R70x sound is warmer and a little more balanced, sub-bass and mid-bass have a lot of similarities though not as tight and detailed, mids are thicker, warmer, pushed a little bit back and with less details in comparison.  Also, R70x treble doesn't have the same level of extension as EL-8C.  Surprisingly, closed back EL-8C had a lot of similarities in soundstage characteristics with an open back R70x, though airiness of R70x has its advantage.

 

EL-8C vs HP150 - HP150 has a more elevated sub-bass, similar punchy mid-bass, similar thinner lower mids, while upper mids are not as detailed and also warmer and smoother.  Treble has a nice extension, but not on a same detailed level as EL-8C.  Also, HP150 soundstage doesn't have the same level of width/depth.

 

Throughout this testing I was especially impressed with how closed back EL-8C performed in comparison to open back ATH-R70x.

 

 

In addition to reviewing their new EL-8C headphones, Audeze also extended this opportunity with an offer to look into their own new desktop amplifier - Deckard.  Having desktop amp goes against all of my "portable" principles, thus I don't have any big amps that I use at home.  I was very close to turning down this offer, but in the last minute changed my mind, and so glad that I did.

 

Deckard is truly a work of “industrial design” art brought by the same group of Design Works (BMW group behind EL-8 design) and combining functionality of a very powerful Class-A amplifier and a high-performance DAC.  Arrived in a rather large box, it had a very secure foam packaging inside to protect its solid aluminum brushed surface from any scratches or dents.  Accessories included a standard power cable with a separate common earthed ground, a digital USB cable, a driver on a mini CD, instruction manual, and a card signed by Audeze employee (really appreciate this personal attention touch).  I was a little surprised that Audeze didn't include RCA audio cable as part of the accessories.  As a minimum, I think it would have been a good idea to include at least 3.5mm to RCA audio cable.

 

Deckard unboxing and accessories.

 

  

 

  

 

The design of Deckard is truly an eye candy which made me wish I would have a dedicated audio listening desktop setup.  The casing of amplifier is constructed from a solid brushed aluminum while the sides have a clever design with a built-in heatsink.  I didn't take it apart but can imagine that at full power the circuit will get hot and natural air cooling or alloy body casing won't be enough to absorb the heat.  Using sides of the casing to integrate a solid chunky heat sink fins was just brilliant!

 

The back of amplifier has a power plug connector with a large power switch, a pair of RCA inputs (analog amplifier input) and RCA outputs (as part of Line Out 50 ohm pre-amp output), and USB DAC digital input connector.  The front of the amplifier has a large volume dial knob with a good resistance and a comfortable grip.  I just wish the knob position indicator would stand out more, though I do understand that it fits a theme of minimalistic industrial design without any color marking.  The headphone output is 1/4" jack (and speced with 3 ohm output impedance with a power rating of 4W at 20 ohms), and you also have blue power LED indicator and 2 rocker switches, one for selection of USB (digital) or RCA (analog) inputs and another one for Gain selection (low=0dB, med=10dB, high=20dB).  Interestingly, the middle perpendicular position of the switch is a default low "no gain" setting.  Flipping a switch up will set it to Medium gain of 10dB, and flipping it down to High gain of 20dB.  I think it's a very good idea so you can always start at a baseline of low gain in the middle default position, and then decide which way you want to go without blowing your ears or headphone drivers.

 

Deckard design details.

 

  

 

  

 

As far as sound shaping goes, the performance was smooth, warm, tight, and transparent.  Deckard had a perfect black background, and added slightly warmer signature to a sound, but I didn't sense too much of coloring or exaggerated warm distortion.  As a matter of fact, even so I enjoyed a bass boost with C5 portable amp, while using Deckard I didn't miss bass boost too much.

 

I found DAC performance of Deckard to be quite good as well.  After installation of drivers, DAC was recognized without a problem on my ThinkPad running Win7.  I'm not sure which DAC chip Audeze implemented in their design, but it was on par in sound quality when comparing laptop+Deckard to some of my portable DAPs (with either CS4398 or PCM1792) driving Deckard from LO.  According to the spec, it handles 16bit-32bit samples with a rate of 44.1kHz to 192kHz, though there is also a mentioning that up to 384kHz is supported by MAC only.  Since I have issues with DSD file playback on my laptop, I wasn't able to verify higher sample rates, but I can confirm that Deckard breathed a new life in my laptop when playing lossless high res FLAC files that sounded very dynamic and detailed playing from my ThinkPad as a source.

 

Deckard as USB DAC.

 

 

I already mentioned that it would have been a great idea to include RCA analog cable with Deckard, and instead I ended up using some of my generic 3.5mm to RCA cables found at home.  Curious enough to find out if a better quality cables can improve the sound performance of the Deckard, I reached out to AudioQuest with a request to test a few of their cables. 

 

For digital connection I choose to use AQ Forest USB (A->B) cable (http://www.audioquest.com/usb-digital-audio/forest) with a solid 0.5% silver conductors and air-filled foamed polyethylene insulation.  I know some people are not cable believers, but I have tested a number of digital usb cables from AudioQuest in the past and found them to be very reasonably priced with a significantly better build quality in comparison to any generic cable, and some noticeable sound improvement.  This particular 0.75m Forest USB cable I choose is priced at around $35, and we are talking about quality cable with a sturdy USB A and USB B connectors, premium conductor material, and durable shielding.  Surprisingly, in comparison to the included Audeze usb cable, a sound with AQ Forest was a little bit louder and a shade brighter.  After further discussion with AQ, they suggested their digital cable lowers a noise floor which should improve Signal to Noise ratio resulting in a louder perception of a sound.  Either way, I was pleased with a marginal sound improvement and also the looks of this cable.  Is this a must have upgrade?  If you want to squeeze out every ounce of sound improvement and care about solid usb connectors – I would go for it, just get it longer than 0.75m to have more flexibility in your setup.

 

   

 

For analog connection I choose to use AQ Evergreen 3.5mm to RCA cable (http://www.audioquest.com/bridges-falls/evergreen).  Also very reasonably priced around $35, this one features a solid long-grain copper conductors and air-filled foamed polyethylene insulation.  Again, this is a very reasonably priced cable with an impressive build quality and nice tight fitting connectors.  In my comparison of AQ Evergreen RCA vs Generic RCA cable - I found it to add a little more transparency and a touch more brightness/details to a sound.  It wasn't exactly night'n'day difference, but its amazing build quality, durable shielding, and a tight fitted gold plated connectors (love how the housing is green, but the label was printed red and white to distinguish the sides) - was a no brainer to use this cable for connection of audio source to Deckard.  I also found 3.5mm plug to fit nicely with all of my DAPs.

 

 

 

 

Overall Summary.

 

It’s very exciting to get a chance to test a piece of a new technology, especially when you hear so much about it discussed in audiophile communities.  I don’t have much experience, yet, with other planar magnetic headphones, and I can’t compare EL-8C to Audeze flagship LCD series.  But I can tell you with certainty that in a right setup these headphones shine with a sound quality like I have never experienced before.  Here, Audeze offers an amazing opportunity to take a planar magnetic technology with you on the go in a beautifully crafted and durably built closed back headphones that isolate you from outside world while you submerge yourself into the spacious ocean of sounds filled with micro-details and smooth neutral tonality.  You can accept this experience as is or enhance it with a slight warm coloring that can transform a sound into a new balanced dimension.  Definitely a great audiophile quality product at a consumer friendly price!

Posted

Pros: will help all those ISO more neck pain

Cons: heavy, clamping, meh sound

This review is of the Audeze EL-8 Titanium. My initial impressions are via the lightning cipher cable from Tidal on my iPhone 6 Plus (the assh0le iPhone, as I put it). They will be updated in due time with my impressions via Bimby and Mjolnir 2. 

 

Although I will occasionally listen to a pop single for kicks, 99.9% of my music is classical. 

 

Pros:

Mids - The bread and butter of a good headphone is a good midrange, and EL-8 has it. Solo cello is rich and satisfying. 

Decay - Although not as fast as HE-6 or K1000, or as supremely natural as HD800, it has a pleasing wetness. 

The Eighteenth Century - Not kidding. Currentzis's Così fan tutti really came alive, shoutout to whoever was singing Come Scoglio. Ditto for the sinfonia to Vivaldi's Incoronazione di Dario and the finale to the second act of Händel's Rinaldo. These cans like the smaller, daintier ensembles of the Baroque and Classical periods. (Strange connection to my beloved K1000.) The 'Credo' from Herreweghe's Mass in B minor wasn't impressive by HD800 standards, but was enjoyable nonetheless. 

Vocals - Voices sound natural and resonant. 

 

Cons:

Lacks Transparency - Sennheiser gets schiit for an alleged veil, but listening things like John Eliot Gardiner's Magic Flute Overture, I felt the recurring urge to remove a curtain between myself and the music. It felt muffled, distant.

Soundstage & Imaging Capabilities - For larger orchestral ensembles, you really crave instrument separation and great width. EL-8 Titanium provides neither. Imaging is not more than acceptable—clearly outclassed by the HD600, which I bought new for 1/4 the price on Amazon, which Sennheiser brought to market some 15 years ago. Soundstage is cramped. For Wagner in particular, EL-8 was a decidedly poor performer. 

Isolation - Doesn't provide much. On the go, Bose every day of the week.

Leather - Audeze is rightly lauded for its microsuede pads for the LCD series. As a vegetarian, I would prefer a leather-free version.

Comfort - Much heavy! Very clamp! Such fatiguing! Wow. Though the headphone is large and heavy, my average-sized ears are pushed against my head and pinched at the bottom by a lack of space. 

 

On the fence:

Treble: Audeze has never delivered noteworthy treble, and EL-8T could have done more to change that narrative. It's better than most of the LCD series, and it's certainly inoffensive and great for badly recorded stuff, but more air and sparkle would help 

Bass: Not overwhelming, but with decent impact and lovely extension. Carly Rae Jepsen and Katy Perry sound great. Nevertheless, HE-6 (which I purchased used for $100 less than EL8T after sf taxes) and others clearly outclass it in clarity.

Build quality - Aluminum, leather, and plastic. Heavy! Cable is very nice.

Solo piano - Not bad, but not exactly a step up from QC25. I'm notoriously picky about this, and although K1000 is my current favorite, I want to hear LCD-X.

 

Value for the money: F+

Get an HD600. Get an HD650. Get an HD630VB. Get a PXC 550. Get a QC35. Get a QC20. Get a K700 series. Get an HE-400 series. Get an HE-500 series. Heck, get an HD800! Or an HE-6 and Jotunheim!

 

Audeze is the prime culprit in the overpricing of headphones, having strictly enforced a $1000 minimum price tag for years, and the EL-8 Titanium, while a welcome $800 entrant and satisfactory for pop music, is a disappointing choice for most classical, and is bested by any number of cans in the $250-$350 range (ok, discounted HD800/HE-6 aside).

 

Audeze fails to give me a reason to purchase or recommend the EL-8 titanium, and I will be returning mine to the apple store. The value is Just. Not. There. 

 

I give it a "+" for the cipher cable. That bit of innovation is certainly welcome. 

 

More to come when paired with main rig at the weekday pad.

 

Preliminary impressions with MJ2 and Bimby suggest a significant improvement beyond Cipher cable (perhaps three stars). However, because Cipher/portability is such a selling point to EL8, and because the resulting sound is so mediocre relative to price, I will leave my above review unchanged.

Posted

Pros: Looks, portability, comfort

Cons: Missing upper mids, loose connectors

I had originally posted this in the impressions forum, but after a little updating and some consideration, I decided to post it as a review as well.

 

After owning the closed-back EL-8s for 4 months, I finally feel confident enough to give some impressions. These represent approximately 150 hours of listening to the EL-8s, and probably about the same amount on a collection of other headphones.

 

First, a bit about me. In 2011, I bought some ATHM40s. In 2014, I sold them for HiFiMAN HE-400s. At the time, I was lucky enough to own a pretty decent floorstanders. But then I moved from my roomy Tucson townhouse to a tiny Boston graduate student apartment. Since then, I've been on a war path that included a Maverick Audio D1, the NAD VISO HP50s, a Project Debut turntable, Audeze LCD-3s, a DACMini CX, and the Grado GS1000e. So I've been "critically listening" since 2011, but only for about a year and a half with headphones.

 

 

Second, the EL-8s seem to be a very divisive headphone. On one hand, we have three different five star reviews, and on the other, we have awesome folks like Asr saying that they are "one of the worst headphones I've EVER heard". I don't mean to pick on Asr specifically, he's just the first I recalled. There's a lot of love for the EL-8s, and a lot of hate too. Personally, I think that's because the EL-8s have a very distinctive sound that works for some people and not for others.

 

 

Third, my first pair of EL-8s had a failure in the right driver. If you tapped on the cans a bit, it might cut back in, but there was no doubting that there was an issue. Audeze was quick to send me a new unit, which I got back in about a week. They were very responsive when I called them, so I would recommend that route if anyone else has the same issue.

 

 

Finally, since this is my first attempt at a "real" contribution here, I thought I'd explain how I went about listening. I'd start with my LCD-3s, and listen to a song while noting the moments in that song that struck me as awesome. Then, I'd grab my EL-8s, and listen to those same parts and try to compare. Eventually, I built up quite a large list of songs and moments. For me, the most helpful reviews are the ones that compare headphones to each other, rather than talking about one set of cans in vacuum. So I took a few of those moments, and wrote down my thoughts while listening to the EL-8s side-by-side with as many headphones as I could. I think I built up a pretty big list.

 

 

  1. Other headphones
    1. NAD D 1050: the midrange
    2. NuForce Icon 2: entry level
    3. Centrance DACmini: hi-fi (for me)
  2. Amps, DACs, Sources
  3. Conclusions

 

Compared to other headphones

All headphones (not pictured: GS1000 and SR225)

 

 

NAD D 1050

NAD D 1050

 

Overall, the NAD D 1050 is a solid DAC/amp combo. The remote that it comes with is extremely hard to read, which is only a downside when it's dark. The volume knob has extreme precision, but it would be nice if the LEDs that showed the decibel level had a bit more granularity. I personally prefer 1/4" TRS to the 3.5mm miniplug, but for the EL-8s the miniplug is good.

 

 

Shure SHR1540 (NAD D 1050)

 

Shure SHR1540

 

Before getting into sonic characteristics, I think it is worth pointing out here that there is "no contest" in terms of comfort: the Shures are a clear winner. They feel lighter, and the pads feel "cool" against my head for a long time, while the EL-8 feels like a bit of a clamp and definitely warms up.

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

The base drop at around 37 seconds is the only thing you need to listen to in order to hear the drastic difference between these two cans. On the Shures, it's a massive transition in the song. The baseline sits a good ways away from the treble and the contrast is readily apparent. On the EL-8s, the drop is much more subtle. You would think it was an additional instrument joining in, not a transition in the piece. Giving the EL-8s more volume doesn't appear to affect this much, which was surprising to me.

 

The vocal crescendo around 2:40 ("Oh my wrinkles build on me, build on me, build on...") highlights the second massive difference. The Shures seems to push all the treble together into a bit of a muddy mess. It sounds like the notes are being played over one another, and it becomes impossible to differentiate the subtle differences between the notes of the drum and ... I'm going to call it "the bells." It's the thing playing the primary melody. Putting on the EL-8s, the subtle differences are plain as day, and this particular segment of the song sounds like music again. I'm honestly shocked at how poorly the SHR1540s perform here -- but perhaps this can be talked up to preference.

 

 

Do it Again by Steely Dan

 

This is the version of of "A Decade of Steely Dan."

 

This time, the differences in base are a little more difficult to pinpoint. The Shures absolutely put more distance between the drums and the (what I believe to be a) washboard. But right around 20 seconds, the keyboard seems to blend together entirely with the guitar. At around the 50 second mark, the cymbal is blurred on the SHR1540s. Crystal clear on the EL-8s.

 

 

There's a particular vocal sound at 1:55 -- "when you know she's no high climber." I think the detail in the EL-8s really outshine the SHR1540s here. On the EL-8s there is virtually no blurring between the vocals and the background instrumentals, even as the pitch increases. With the SHR1540s, the vocals seem to "disappear" for a split second into the piano.

 

 

In One Ear by Cage The Elephant

 

The opening bass note at around 8 seconds sounds drastically different. On the Shures, the bass note is "what's happening." Everything else sounds like subtle background. The note is booming, and it fills your entire head. On the EL-8s, the bass note provides a nice ambient background to the incredibly crisp guitar.

 

At around 2:45, many instruments drop out, and the harmony is built up again. On the Shures, this buildup is dominated again by the bass. The hi hat and the snare are unmistakably muffled. Here, the EL-8s lose something in the low ends -- the bass line is not as "thumpy" as on the Shures, but the hi hat and snare are rendered in exquisite detail. To be more specific, on the Shures, it sounds like a simple "whack" of the hi hat that blurs into a snare hit or two. On the EL-8s, you can hear the roll off of the hi hat and it is kept entirely distinct from the snare.

 

 

Beyerdynamic T90 (NAD D 1050)

 

T90

 

Yes, the T90s are open and my EL-8s are closed. Clearly, that's going to give the T90s an advantage in some respects. So it's worth noting now that that T90s don't isolate as well as the EL-8s, and they leak a lot more sound. When I compare the EL-8s to other headphones below, the same will apply.

 

 

Comfort wise, I'd say it is a tie. The T90s start to feel warm just like the EL-8s do, but instead of feeling like a head clamp they feel like they're going to fall off. Aesthetically, I'd say the white ring around the mesh on the T90s that resembles a tacky eMac from 2005 is quite a bit more tacky than the wood band on the EL-8. But even as a Head-Fi member, I'm willing to admit that's a matter of opinion (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it's in my ear and my ear alone).

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

The bass drop at 0:37 is absolutely fantastic on the T90s. The bass is present but not overwhelming, thumpy, and well imaged without compromising the details of the highs. The precision is absolutely stinging (in a good way -- extremely precise, in the forefront when it should be and in the background otherwise). In comparison, the EL-8s sound like they are missing something, almost like there is a wall between the low-frequency instruments and the treble. The "bells" sound a little bit stale on the T90s, especially when directly compared to the EL-8s. The EL-8s reproduction of each entire note -- from the note's initial impact to its decay, sometimes lingering and sometimes cut off by another note -- is several steps ahead of the T90s.

 

The vocals around 2:40 are a clear win for the EL-8s. The T90s do a much better job than the Shures at maintaining separation and preventing instrumental blurring than the Shures do here, but still pale in comparison to the EL-8s. The T90s seem like they are almost overwhelmed by the frequency range, whereas the EL-8s seem unfazed. Perhaps I'm anthropomorphizing a bit here, but that seems like the most succinct way to describe it. The T90s keep the very high and very low clear and detailed, but everything in the middle seems to disappear into noise.

 

 

Do it Again By Steely Dan

 

The T90s have an extremely hard time separating out the piano from the baseline until about the minute mark, where things clear up a bit. There's a lot of detail lost here, which becomes apparent right away after putting the EL-8s on. The vibration of the guitar becomes fine and detailed, whereas the whole thing sounds muddy and mixed together on the T90s (in comparison).

 

The T90s sound straight-up better in every respect than the EL-8s at 1:55. The vocals are smooth, the piano is crisp, the percussion is imaged well and punchy. By comparison, the EL-8s reproduce the vocals extremely well, but the piano has substantially vanished and the percussion feel crammed.

 

 

(at this point I opened a Snapple -- did you know the praying mantis is the only insect that can turn its head?)

 

 

In One Ear by Cage the Elephant

 

The opening base hit at ~8 seconds is pretty well done on the T90s. It sounds clean, well-separated, and not at all muddy. Much more immersive and wide soundstage than the EL-8s. The muttering about "a bag of gummy bears" at the start of the song is just as detailed as on the EL-8s (you can't quite taste the gummy bears -- for that you need a better cable). At 12 seconds, there's a guitar that comes up suddenly in the left channel -- the attack and detail here are much better on the EL-8s, but they certainly aren't bad on the T90s. Again, the EL-8's percussion detail is a step ahead.

 

The build up at 2:45 is different with the T90s as well. The guitar is much more forward and fast on the EL-8s, where the T90s seem to focus on the bass. The T90 details outside of the mid-highs are just as good as the EL-8s, and even better in the lows. But the EL-8s absolutely steal the show with the main guitar line and the snare/hi hat.

 

 

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 250Ohm (AlphaPads, NAD D 1050)

 

DT 770

 

Comfort wise, I'd say this is basically a tie. The alpha pads are great, but they get pretty hot. The DT770s don't seem to clamp down quite as much as the EL-8s do, at least on my head.

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

I think I like the bass drop at 0:37 on the DT 770s the best. I've also heard them on the Bottlehead Crack amp through the PeaceTree DAC iT, and they were excellent there as well. The base is tight and controlled by still very present. It doesn't overwhelm you, and you can "feel" it a lot more than the T90s or the Shures. Absolutely fantastic. Comparisons here most drastically demonstrated what the EL-8s were "missing" in the lows. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the details in the highs -- from the vocals to the "bells" to the hi hat / snares / claps -- are superb on the EL-8s. The DT 770s make the vocals sound much less smooth, while at the same time making the "bells" blur together.

 

As for the vocals at ~2:40, the DT 770s do not do very well... the "bells" blur into the percussion (especially the hi hat and the claps) and the ambiance in the background sounds like slightly melodic noise (which, incidentally, is how a few of my friends have described this entire song). The EL-8s bring the detail, and they do it exceptionally well. There's another instance of this messiness around 1:45, where the vocals transition from a female singer to a computerized extremely low voice. Later, at around 2:20, the vocals are mixed. Here, the DT 770s fail to keep all the instruments from bleeding into each other, but the overlay of the two voices is absolutely fantastic. The EL-8s are the opposite: the instruments remain isolated and composed, but the overlay of the voices sounds a little... off? The lower voice seems to disappear, and the higher voice dominates.

 

 

Do it Again by Steely Dan

 

The DT 770s avoid the issues the Shures had at the 20 second mark -- the piano and guitar are clearly and well separated. The reverb off of the high hat is also excellent. The "shimmering" at around 1 minute is also pretty good on the DT 770s, but it is still much more detailed with the EL-8s.

 

The DT 770s don't blow the EL-8s out of the water at the 1:55 mark like the T90s did. The 770s are much more recessed, and don't carry the same "liveness" as the T90s. Although the DT 770s definitely maintain a bit more "liveness" than the EL-8s do at this point in the song. The vocals on the DT 770s sound a little smoothed over, whereas they sound appropriately rugged and detailed on the EL-8s. The guitar solo around 3:00 carries a bit more depth with the DT 770s, but a lot more detail on the EL-8s. I would say that the EL-8s have a very clinical treatment of the solo, whereas the DT 770s are a bit more "fun."

 

 

In One Ear by Cage the Elephant

 

The big drop at ~8 seconds are much more subtle on the DT 770s than on the T90s, so the DT 770s and the EL-8s are a lot closer in this regard. The EL-8's detail really shines against the DT 770s with the opening guitar before the 30 second mark.

 

The build up ~2:45 is also not so great on the DT 770s. "Burning the town down" sounds pretty troubled (granted, it is screaming. So what'dya expect?), but the bass remains thumpy and clear. Everything but the bass, however, has some issues. The guitar starts to become sluggish when other instruments step in, and even the singer's articulation seems to suffer when the song becomes more complex. I much prefer the EL-8s rendering than the DT 770s here.

 

 

HiFiMAN HE-400 (Moon Audio pads, wjernst's custom cable, NAD D 1050)

 

HE-400

 

Let's just all take a second to remember that you pick up an HE-400 for $250.00 NEW on Amazon. If that isn't the best bang/buck in headphones, I don't understand what "bang" is.

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

The dark sound signature of the HE-400s are apparent from second 0 of Obedear. The base drop at ~35 seconds is clean and controlled, but is not "thumpy." The HE-400s are the first headphones on this list that come close to capturing the level of detail in the "bells" as the EL-8. Overall, this first part of the song shows that the EL-8 and the HE-400 have a similar signature except for the highs -- the EL-8s have a bit more there than the HE-400s.

 

Around ~2:40 the HE-400s encounter a problem. They just aren't able to capture everything that's going on. The mids get lost, and the base losses focus. The vocals are still rendered in lovely detail, but the EL-8s are able to capture the entire ensemble from the bass to the highs. I'm still extremely impressed with the performance of the HE-400s compared to some of the more expensive headphones I listed earlier.

 

 

Do it Again by Steely Dan

 

The base kick at the 20 second mark is so subtle on the HE-400s that you might miss it if you blink (with your ears). It's still controlled and tight, but it does seem undeniably recessed, even compared with the EL-8s.

 

At 1:55, the HE-400s have no problem keeping everything separated and clean. Compared to the Shures, for which identifying the instruments here is a auditory Where's Waldo, the HE-400s have excellent imaging. The details on the main guitar are still better on the EL-8s, but it is a close match.

 

 

In One Ear by Cage the Elephant

 

The bass drop at 8 seconds is a lot more satisfying on the HE-400s than on the EL-8s, but it doesn't have the same punch as a lot of the Beyerdynamic headphones. Again, it is very controlled, very tight. On the EL-8s it is similar, but more recessed. After the drop, the EL-8s still take the cake with what I've described as a perfectly "stinging" guitar in the left channel. This still sounds good on the HE-400s, but it is just so well timed, so detailed, that the delivery on the EL-8s is just superior.

 

At the 2:45 mark, I hear the vocals being a lot more recessed (compared to the EL-8s) on the HE-400s (and that's during the yelling). The guitar gets a little blurry as well, but the percussion is still rendered in extremely accurate detail. The buildup also seems less dramatic -- like the instruments aren't augmenting each other like they do on the EL-8s. Not quite sure how to describe this any better than that, though...

 

 

Audeze LCD-3 (pre-fazor, Moon Audio Silver Dragon, NAD D 1050)

 

LCD-3

 

Unlatching the Pelican case containing my LCD-3s and connecting my Moon Audio Silver Dragon cable felt like bringing a gun to a knife fight. But the Audeze-on-Audeze violence seems necessary to compare two different takes on the Audeze "house sound," plus, as an upside, I really like listening to the LCD-3s.

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

Ah... finally having the cake and eating it too. LCD-3s successfully give a controlled, non-recessed bass response at the ~35 second mark while maintaining insanely good details in the highs. The vocals are excellently conserved. By comparison, the EL-8s makes the percussion sound tinny, and the bass sounds bloated. I was surprised to find the EL-8 bass bloated, given how recessed it seemed in other tests. But after switching back and forth several times, I can find no other word to describe the difference. The bass on the EL-8s sounds like it is spread out, unfocused, and not very powerful. Maybe "bloated" is the wrong word.

 

The EL-8s and the LCD-3s are actually pretty close soundstage-wise at the 2:40 mark. The LCD-3s definitely have better bass (more controlled, more detailed) than the EL-8s here, but both do an excellent job of imaging. I think the EL-8 matches the LCD-3s with detail in the highs, and the LCD-3 is a little ahead in the mids.

 

 

Do it Again by Steely Dan

 

Both the LCD-3s and the EL-8s handle the initial bass kick subtly, but not to the same extent that the HE-400s do. The EL-8s seem to muddle the bass a little bit compared to the LCD-3s, and the EL-8s are missing a bit of detail and refinement in the mids as well. This is especially apparent at the minute mark "shimmer."

 

The LCD-3s handle the vocals around 1:55 much better than the EL-8s. The LCD-3s preserve their detail and musicality while the EL-8s seems to make them a little more rigid and clinical. Both headphones do an excellent job maintaining a complex soundstage, but the LCD-3 stage is absolutely both wider and deeper.

 

 

In One Ear by Cage the Elephant

 

The LCD-3s really outshine the EL-8s in the first 45 seconds. The speed of the guitar, the richness of each tone, and the perfect reverb from each percussion note is incredibly apparent. In comparison, the EL-8s seem cheap and unfocused. The bass at 8 seconds is exceptionally satisfying on the LCD-3s, as good as the T90s I think. Maybe better, with a little more details in the lows.

 

The LCD-3s also outclass the EL-8s at the crescendo at 2:55. The detail in the LCD-3s, as well as the more precise imaging, really does a fantastic job providing a solid foundation for the vocal high point of the song. In comparison, the EL-8s seem to be missing a lot of low mids. It is difficult to say, but I personally think I can hear a better dynamic range here with the LCD-3s than with the EL-8s, but it is close.

 

 

NAD VISO HP50s (V-MODA cable, NAD D 1050)

 

HP50

 

I think that a lot of people who wrote off these headphones did so when they saw the shape of the pads. For my ears, the odd rectangles work and the headphones are "over-ear." If your ears are very large, this might not work out so well... but I still find the HP50s to be more comfortable than the EL-8s.

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

What drastically different sound signatures! From the very start of the song, the EL-8s sound higher pitched, and I think they do a better job of representing the grainy start to the song. The HP50s also just don't have the detail the EL-8s have, in the vocals, in the bells, in the lows... anywhere. Perhaps that's to be expected with the dynamics vs. orthos. Now, the bass impact! The HP50s are the opposite of subtle. While listening to the EL-8s, you might think "oh, that's a nice bass line for this song." With the HP50s, you would think "this song has an AWESOME bass line!" It's everything you could want bass to be: it isn't overpowering, it is clean, it is full/rich, and it fits perfectly with the song.

 

At ~2:40, I think the HP50s have some of the same issues as the DT 770s, but less extreme. A lot of detail in the reverb of the percussion disappears entirely. Vocals seem harsh, but aren't pain-inducing. The bass continues to be forceful and pleasant throughout, but the detail loss in the mids and highs is troubling. Overall, I'd say the biggest issue is really the vocals -- they seem to be lowered a bit compared to the EL-8s. Still just as loud -- but actually lower pitch. I'm not sure if that's even possible, or if it just my ears playing tricks on me.

 

 

Do it Again by Steely Dan

 

The HP50s have the same issue as the Shures at around the 20 second mark -- the guitar and the piano fuse together. It doesn't seem to be as drastic as the Shures, but it is unmistakably still there. In comparison, the EL-8s sound exceptionally detailed.

 

The guitar solo at ~3 minutes sounds very different on the EL-8s than on the HP50s. The HP50s really bring up the background sounds, and the EL-8 seems to highlight / amplify the guitar a bit more. This is likely a function of the frequency response, and could easily be reversed in different settings, but for this particular song, it is certainly a difference. It is hard to say which I prefer. I like the EL-8s ability to articulate the detail in the guitar, but I also like the more ensemble sound of the HP50s.

 

 

In One Ear by Cage the Elephant

 

Wow! What a bass hit! I actually checked to make sure I hadn't turned on an equalizer or anything. For whatever reason, the HP50s have more bass here than even the T90s. For me, the bass is a bit rough at the start. The HP50s seem to bring the entire soundstage forward. The vocals and the guitar are about on the same level, but with the EL-8s the vocals are clearly in front of the guitar.

 

The HP50s surprised me at 2:55 -- I thought they'd become muddy and fail to render everything that was going on. Instead, the HP50s seemed to excel in the chaos and produce a pretty good ensemble. Everything is very clear, just like in the EL-8s. The percussion (especially the cymbals -- or it might be a hi-hat hit really loud) lacked the detail that the EL-8s bring, but overall it worked pretty well.

 

 

NuForce Icon 2

 

The Icon is a nice entry-level DAC/amp. It's got a few different inputs, and can even power speakers if you figure out the strange phone jack-like system. It's got an extremely small footprint, which makes it ideal for a cluttered desk.

 

Grado Prestige SR255 (NuForce Icon 2)

 

Grado Prestige SR255

 

The Grados are a lot lighter than the EL-8s, and the Grados don't feel like they're going to fly off my head if I move around too much. Thousands of words have already been written about the EL-8 cable, but I want to add that, compared side by side to the Grado cable, the EL-8 cable feels like string. The Grado cable is thick and feels like a durable, quality product. The Grados I used also terminated with a TRS / quarter-inch jack, which I prefer to the 3.5mm terminator on the EL-8s.

 

 

The Grado's also don't get "hot" against my face like the EL-8s and other leather pads do. That's probably purely a property of the pads/cups Grado uses.

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

Let's start with the bass drop ~37 seconds. On the Grados, for the first time, I think the bass is cleaner and more focused. It seems to kind of overflow in the EL-8s by comparision. The Grados keep it contained and tight. Neither have the crazy bass impact of the T90s or the DT 770s, but I think the bass on the Grado's is preferable, at least to my ears. Let me clear(er) -- the Grado bass seems to be cleaner and more controlled but also more impactful and punchy. I stand by that "focused" is the correct word. I guess you could say the bass is slimmer (tight), but also more forward, making them seem more impactful.

 

At ~2:40, I think the SR255s have a similar issue to the HE-400s. There's just a lot going on and behind some very powerful vocals. The EL-8s render the entire thing, front to back. The Grados get about halfway back and then blur the rest. Specifically, the EL-8s render the vocals in their entirety while maintaining excellent details in the percussion. The Grados seem to miss out on the grandness of the vocals and have a much slower percussion.

 

 

Shadow Stabbing by Cake

 

(Apologies for changing songs -- I didn't have my entire collection with me.)

 

For me, this is a great test song because so much happens in the very first 15 seconds. There's percussion, two guitars, and vocals. The clear superiority of the EL-8's detail is immediately apparent. The Grado's are a little scratch on the first guitar's notes. The percussion sounds pretty flat on Grado's, but has a lot of depth to them on the EL-8s.

 

 

The bass guitar, however, is much more impactful and present on the Grado's than on the EL-8s. On the Grado's, it sounds like the bass line "fills the room", whereas on the EL-8s make it sound like the bass line is filling the apartment above and below you, or is being practiced quietly in the corner with a muffle/mute (whatever you call them for guitars).

 

 

Stamp on the Gound by ItaloBrothers

 

Since the bass comparison between the EL-8s and the Grados were giving me a bit of confusion (how could the Grados seem more controlled AND more impactful / punchy? I still think focused is a good word for it), I decided to throw a song with a crazy amount of bass in it.

 

The drop in Stamp on the Ground is at around ~55 (lyric: "drop the beat"). I gave the Grados and the EL-8s a lot more volume than I had been doing with the other tracks, and the Grados responded really well. Again, the bass on the Grados sounds more focused, tighter, and more impactful. All-around superior bass to the EL-8s, as far as I could tell from these three songs with this DAC/amp.

 

 

Again, we see supreme detail in the EL-8s, especially in the parts of the song before ~55/the drop. The recessed sections of the song -- 2:10 to 2:50 -- also are substantially more detailed on the EL-8s. The atmospherics at the beginning and end of the song are extremely immersive and full. But the bass is lacking! I'm really torn here -- if only I could get the bass of the Grados and the detail of the EL-8s... thank god for the LCD-3s.

 

 

Centrance DACmini CX

 

DACMini ProJect

 

I'm extremely pleased with my DACmini CX, especially in combination with the LCD-3s. Even at it's (relatively) low price point, I would say the DACmini can go head to head with much more expensive amps like the ALO Studio 6. Since the DACmini was recently on Massdrop, I imagine we'll start seeing them everywhere. My only real complaint is that the labels above the input selector LEDs can be difficult to read when it is bright, but since there are only 4 of them, you very quickly figure out which is which.

 

 

Right off the bat, I can tell the DACmini CX gives the bass a lot more impact with the EL-8s. They don't seem to be "missing something" nearly as much through the DACmini as the did with the NAD D 1050. More below.

 

 

Since I really like vinyl as a medium, I also tested Poison in the Well by 10,000 Maniacs. The turntable is a Project Debut Carbon DC connected to a the Project Phono Box S via the stock grounded interconnects. The phono preamp is connected to the DACmini CX via AudioQuest Evergreen cables (0.6m). The cartridge is a brand new Ortofon 2M Red.

 

 

Audeze LCD-3 (Centrance DACmini CX)

 

LCD3 and EL-8

 

I've already commented on the comfort differences above, so I won't rehash that here.

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

My initial impressions listening to the DACmini with the EL-8s was that the bass came through with a lot more impact. And the additional amping certainly does help bring out the bass in the EL-8s. Comparing to the LCD-3s gave me a slightly different impression, however.

 

The bass drop at ~37 seconds has good impact on the EL-8s with the DACmini, but the LCD-3s make it much more "full". The EL-8s have a bass that hits you and you can feel it, but the LCD-3 bass seems to "fill the air" and really give solid presence. While I've previously said that the EL-8 has more "focused" bass, in this particular side-by-side it seems to much more narrow than it is focused. The bass seems to vanish quickly on the EL-8s while it seems to linger a little longer on the LCD-3s. It isn't rolling off because it isn't a frequency thing, and it isn't a control thing either because the LCD-3s have excellent bass control. There's simply less bass presence.

 

 

At around ~2:40, I can hear what some people have described as "tinny" properties of the EL-8s. The vocals come through with stunning, holographic clarity on the LCD-3s, but have a tiny bit of a "cheap speaker" sound on the EL-8s. Like the singer is performing through a (large) tin can. It's strange, because the vocals elsewhere in the song sound fine. But in this particular section, they seem to fail.

 

 

Shadow Stabbing by Cake

 

The guitars have a lot more character on the LCD-3s. They sound much more synthetic and digital on the EL-8s. Especially the imperfect little "twang" at the end of each strum. Again, the bass is substantially more "full" on the LCD-3s. The initial attack of the bass -- the thump/impact -- is excellent on both the EL-8s and the LCD-3s, but during the reverberation and the fade the LCD-3s really excel at preserving the presence of the bass in the song while the EL-8s seems to lose something.

 

Vocals are much more forward on the LCD-3s, and seem to be complete/authentic/natural.

 

 

Tonight by The Colourist

 

This is a great test song. It's got guitar, percussion, and male and female vocals in the first 30 seconds and some great harmonizing in the first 45.

 

The guitar at the very beginning (~1 second) actually sounds better to me on the EL-8s than on the LCD-3s. On the LCD-3s the guitar seems to be set back and muted. On the EL-8s, it's very forward and appropriately harsh. Some might prefer the "smoother" sound of the LCD-3s, but for songs in this genre, I prefer the relentless sound the EL-8s give.

 

 

That's where the EL-8's advantages end, however. The female vocals are definitely getting that "tinny" sound which sounds especially grating during harmonization. In fact, after ~45 seconds, when the sound becomes sufficiently complex, the soundstage on the EL-8s completely collapses. It sounds like toddlers in an overcrowded daycare all demanding that the teacher give their crayon drawing the undivided attention such a masterpiece must deserve. On the LCD-3s, there's a lot of air and the whole thing sounds well put together. Honestly, this is the first song/setup combination I've found that's fairly unpleasant with the EL-8s. Don't get me wrong -- they're not Apple earbuds, but they aren't good either.

 

 

Poison in the Well by 10,000 Maniacs (vinyl)

 

From this comparison, I don't think the EL-8s are good transducers for vinyl. In general, the vocals seemed to be getting clipped on the high end, and the snare was very forward. The guitar, however, had plenty of air.

 

The LCD-3s, however, had nearly perfect vocals and pushed the snare a little farther back and made it much more full. Additionally, there was a lot more detail and precision in the guitar (although I'd say it had about the same amount of "air"). The soundstage, just generally, also seems much deeper on the LCD-3s.

 

 

Grado GS1000e (Centrance DACMini CX)

 

Grado GS1000e and EL-8

 

Comfort wise, these phones are in different leagues. The EL-8s feel like they have a lot of clamping force and are very heavy. The Grados feel lightweight but secure. I can wear the Grados substantially longer than I can wear the EL-8s -- there's no contest here for me. The Grados are orders of magnitude more comfortable.

 

 

These Grados have approximately 150 hours of burn-in, and are relatively new.

 

 

Obedear by Purity Ring

 

Holy soundstage! The Grados make the EL-8s sound like an entire middle school band attempted to record a mixtape in a porta-potty. The Grados sound like Carnegie Hall. In my opinion, the Grado sound stage is almost as "holographic" as the LCD-3s, and perhaps even a little wider. Several times during the ~2 hours I compared the Grados in the EL-8s, I found myself listening to the Grados beyond the clip of the song I was examining because they are just so wonderful.

 

Bass -- the EL-8s absolutely have a bit more thump to them than the Grados, but the Grados can do what the LCD-3s can do: the bass seems to reverb a lot better and provide better support to the song as a whole. The EL-8s just seem to lose each bass note a little too early, even though the initial thump is pretty good.

 

 

In terms of detail, the EL-8s definitely do a better job at enunciating the highs and the quick attack on the percussion.

 

 

At ~2:45, the Grados don't outperform the EL-8s as drastically as I expected them to. The sound stage, of course, is much wider on the Grados. And while the Grados certainly avoid the "tinny"ness of the EL-8s here, they don't seem to have the resolution of the LCD-3s. I suppose the planar sound is the trick here, at least to my ears.

 

 

Shadow Stabbing by Cake

 

Again, the soundstage. The Grados are really able to lay out each instrument at distances that the EL-8s just don't seem able to reach. The guitar on the Grados is almost as good as the LCD-3s.

 

The bass on the EL-8s doesn't seem substantially more impactful as it did in Obedear. The Grado bass has some good richness and grain that the EL-8s seem to smooth over. But the EL-8s absolutely give a satisfying thump.

 

 

Tonight by The Colourist

 

First -- the soundstage. The EL-8s and the Grados are much closer here. The primary thing I listened to is the percussion at ~2 or 3 seconds. The EL-8s do a good job getting them pretty far back and to the left, but the Grados do so even better without sacrificing any detail.

 

The percussion and guitars are much more natural and alive on the Grados, and the EL-8s give them a bit of an artificial sound. However, the Grados don't do a very good job of maintaining their detail when the song becomes complex at about ~41 seconds. On the EL-8s, it sounds clean, detailed, and accurate. On the Grados, it sounds messy and unfinished. Almost like whoever was in charge of mastering the song screwed up.

 

 

The vocals are also a little more forward on the EL-8s (both male and female, but more pronounced for female vocals). The Grados seem to push them back a bit, although they do sound more natural (but less detailed) on the Grados. You might say the vocals on the EL-8 sound a bit more clinical.

 

 

Poison in the Well by 10,000 Maniacs (vinyl)

 

There's no doubt in my mind that the Grados are the superior headphone for vinyl. The Grados sound open, full of air, tonally warm, and extremely natural. The EL-8s sound condensed, crammed and analytic. On the EL-8s, the percussion sounds almost synthetic, and the vocals sound grainy. On the Grados, I also get much better bass presence that seems to live long enough to provide background to the melody.

 

The EL-8s produce all the bass notes (obviously), but it doesn't seem to complement the rest of the song, or provide the same level of naturalness as the Grados. You can say its a tear in a salty sea all you want, but it was not cleaned up by the end of the week.

 

 

Other Headphones

 

Oppo PM-1 : I got to listen to one of the PM-1s that Oppo loaned out a while ago. I didn't listen to these three specific songs, and I'm going off of my notes, so take this with a grain of salt. It seems like the PM-1s have much better bass response than the EL-8s (Our Own House by MisterWives). When the EL-8s feel like they are "missing something," the PM-1s are able to deliver. The detail on the PM-1s match or surpass the EL-8s, except possibly in the very high range, where the EL-8s seemed to have a slight edge.

 

ZMF Blackwood : Listened to these for quite a while at the most recent Denver meet (thanks to Tedman), and I also got to compare them to my EL-8s on Tedman's awesome custom rig. Overall, I think the Blackwoods produced far superior bass to the EL-8s, but lacked the immense details in the rest of the range. I wish I had written down more, but I wasn't smart enough to keep detailed notes.

 

 

Amps, DACs, and Sources

 

 

Over the past three months, I've done my best to compare the EL-8s across a number of different DACs, amps, and sources. Since I never had them all together at the same time, I did the comparison in multiple parts.

 

 

Part 1: MacBook Pro, FiiO E12 "Mont Blanc", NuForce Icon 2, AudioQuest Dragonfly

 

Different DAC/amps from MBP

 

For this comparison, I used a 24-bit version of Ellie Goulding's Lights off of Haclyon. I used the most recent Fidelia. In order to feed the source into all three amplifiers/DACs at once, I created multi-output device in Audio MIDI Setup. I enabled drift correction on all three devices.

 

 

The FiiO was set to high impedance mode, no bass boost, no crossfade. The Dragonfly was set to match the song ("pink"), as was the NuForce Icon 2. I did volume balancing by ear, and then used a microphone to confirm the SPLs were approximately the same.

 

 

Everything was fed into a FiiO HS2, so I could change the stack by simply rotating the knob. I'd highly recommend this setup for comparing different stacks.

 

 

In order, I prefer the NuForce, the FiiO, and finally the Dragonfly. The NuForce is a clear winner, and the differences between the FiiO and the Dragonfly are much more subtle. The NuForce just opens up the sound stage substantially -- you can hear it get wider every time you switch to it. A real "wow" moment when compared against the other two. I think the NuForce boosts the lows up quite a bit, or at least makes them sound more immersive.

 

 

The detail on the Dragonfly and the NuForce are equivalent to my ears, but I would say the Dragonfly is a bit more detailed in the highs than the E12. I still prefer the sound of the E12 over the Dragonfly because the music seems to have more depth (soundstage goes farther back) on the E12 in a pretty drastic way. I wouldn't normally say that I prefer soundstage over detail, but in this case it seems I do.

 

 

The NuForce does an excellent job with the percussion at ~35 seconds. The bridge at ~42 is also handled well by the NuForce. The FiiO, compared to the NuForce, seems to bring the vocals forward and push everything back. The Dragonfly seems to push everything back.

 

 

I attempted to confirm these results (or at least see if they matched) with my LCD-3s. I definitely still prefer the NuForce. In fact, the difference seems to be even more severe on the LCD-3s (not surprising). The soundstage, in general, was simply better on the LCD-3s, and differentiating between the Dragonfly and the FiiO became more difficult (which was surprising!). Perhaps I've just convinced myself that I can hear the difference, but after nearly 20 minutes of back and forth A/B testing I think the FiiO is fuller and does a better job representing the detail in the vocals.

 

 

Part 2: Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12, iPod Mini 2nd Gen, iPhone 5S

 

Different sources

 

I spent a lot longer than I care to admit trying to figure out how to take a picture without my tablet and without my iPhone. I've got a Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12, a 2nd generation iPod Mini (EMC 2044), and my iPhone 5S connected through the FiiO HS2 and into the E12 amplifier.

 

 

The mini is playing 16-bit ALACs loaded with iTunes. The tablet and iPhone are streaming 16-bit FLAC from Plex.

 

 

Wake Me Up by Avicii

 

Honestly, the EL-8s make it kind of difficult to differentiate between these three sources, which is perhaps a bad sign. It is pretty easy on the LCD-3s, on which I prefer the Mini, followed by the iPhone, followed by the Galaxy. On the LCD-3s, the Mini sounds more detailed and more crisp. About halfway through the song, there's a few vocals and guitar details that come through substantially better on the Mini than on the Galaxy. The iPhone is somewhere in the middle.

 

After a rather dramatic increase in volume (beyond my normal listening levels), the differences became a little more apparent on the EL-8s. I still prefer the Mini over the other two sources, but I'll admit it is pretty subtle. The Galaxy seems to have some dynamic range problems when the vocals diverge substantially from the instrumentals (~2:25 in my cut). Compared to the iPhone, the Mini seems to make the vocals a little less "hissy" and seems to make some of the noisy (~3:15) parts of the song more musical. But again -- it is very subtle.

 

 

Place to Hide by O.A.R.

 

Again, with the LCD-3s, I can differentiate between these three sources very easily. With the EL-8s, it's more difficult. Maybe my ears just aren't good enough -- using the LCD-3s to hear a difference between these sources is using the Hubble telescope, whereas the EL-8s feel more like binoculars. Yeah, some of the stars look kind of different, but to really tell you need better magnification/resolution.

 

It sounds like the Mini gives the sound more richness and definition. The iPhone and the Galaxy seem to blur things together. But again, it's just extremely subtle...

 

 

For the EL-8s, I think a DAP is a DAP is a DAP. Unless you are really, really critically listening, I don't think they have the resolution to really reveal any issues as far upstream as the DAP. Granted, each of these devices I tested also used a different DAC, and I'm entirely convinced there's a difference between the PeachTree dacIT and the NAD D 1050's DAC amped through the NAD D 1050 that's audible on the EL-8s. I wish I had a FiiO X5 to test -- maybe it would do a better job presenting a sound closer to that of a desktop / full size system.

 

 

Conclusions

 

Sonic properties

Overall, I'd say the sound of the EL-8s is unique. You'll either love 'em or hate 'em. If you are a "treble head" who enjoys crisp and detailed highs, you should give the EL-8 closed a listen. If you're a bass head who wants a booming, thumping bass, don't even bother picking these up.

 

  • Bass: the bass is controlled and tight. With the right amping, it can even be punchy, but without the right amping you should prepare for disappointment. "Tinny" bass and generally unimpressive lows are absolutely a possibility. Even with the proper amping, the bass won't compare with excellent (and admittedly much more expensive) LCD-3s. If you like the bass on the HE-400s, you'll probably like the bass on the EL-8s. If you like the bass on the Beyer cans... you might want to stay away.
  • Highs: absolutely excellent detail, on-par or exceeding more expensive dynamic phones like the Grado GS1000e. Still nothing like the LCD-3s, but definitely more detailed than lower end planars like the HE-400s. They do sound a bit clinical, especially on jazz or more classic rock, and absolutely when compared to the Grado sound or the NAD HP50s.
  • Mids: there's a lot less body in the midrange than on other, even cheaper headphones like the Grado SR225s. They are still detailed, but can become very recessed.
  • Soundstage: not so great, especially compared against open cans like the GS1000es or the T90s. They do better against cheaper closed cans like the NAD HP50s, but still don't compete with the $500 Shure SRH1540.
  • Vinyl: I don't think these are the headphones you want for vinyl. Too synthetic, unnatural, cold, clinical.

 

You're either going to love them or hate them. I happen to love them. The music I listen to really benefits from the delivery of detailed highs and a controlled bass. Female vocals -- very important to me -- sound lovely, almost as good as the LCD-3s. And they're closed, which means I can listen to them in my office at school. But based on others I've talked to, you shouldn't just go buy these without auditioning a burned-in pair. These aren't like the HD600s; they are divisive and potentially alienating to many ears. But if it works... it works!

 

Comfort

These aren't as comfortable as the Grado GS1000es or the Shure SHR1540s. They've got a good amount of clamping force, so if you have a larger head you might find them more uncomfortable. The pads feel fine, although they do get hot against your face after a while. I find I can wear the EL-8s for about 2 hours before wanting to take them off for a bit. I can wear my LCD-3s for about 4 hours, and the Grado GS1000e for about 5.

 

Price

 

At time of writing, the EL-8s are selling for $700. Bottom line: I don't think these are $700 dollar headphones. Do they out perform the $250 HE-400s? Yes. Do they outperform cheaper closed headphones like the DT770s? Certainly, unless you are a bass head. Do they beat out the $600 T90s? Much harder to say. Only if you really like the sound signature.

Posted

Pros: Well built, comfortable, good overall product from Audeze,

Cons: Requires proper tweaking (EQ, amplification) for desired sound, takes a little while to get used to the soundstage at first. Connectors can be loose.

First and foremost, I have experience with several different headphones, namely much of the Ultrasone series (Pro 900, Pro 750), Denon D2000, D5000, and Fostex TH600. I mainly deal with closed back headphones because of the utility that I generally use headphones for, and the privacy that closed back designs provide. I am well aware of the shortcomings of closed back cans, however this review is going to really focus on the headphones themselves rather than a closed vs. open debate.

 

Audeze's "cheapest" headphones to date, the EL-8 series, are certainly good contenders in their space. The EL-8 closed (EL8-C) is a well made device. Some have disagreed and stated the user of cheaper veneer wood; while this could have certainly been improved on I think Audeze was trying to separate this headphone from their much more expensive series. I personally think the wood accents are well placed, however this is purely from a design standpoint. The entire casing is mostly metal/solid and the headphones are heavy at 480g for the EL-8C. Surprisingly, I like the heaviness of the product, especially the solid nature of the entire headphone: it feels very good in the hand and does not feel like it will break. Compared to many other headphones, this one is very proprietary with custom connectors for the left and right attachments. I confirmed with Audeze that replacement/extra cables will be on sale soon through their website, as well as balanced cables for the EL-8. It seems Audeze has taken an Apple-style approach to their newest headphone as it is one solid piece, essentially. Not much can be easily done, but I don't have much to complain about. I wore these headphones for 10 hours straight several days and I did not have an issue with comfort, in fact these are some of the most comfortable headphones I have worn. The weight doesn't bother me and the large cup size is perfect. Yes, it's not real leather on the cups, but the material is well made and cooling, and comfort is no issue. Furthermore the cups are very nicely attached to the entire product, making for a solid device in the physical aspect.

 

 

Onto the sound: these headphones are different from most of the headphones I've experienced in that they are planar magnetic headphones with magnets aligned such that they create a large magnetic flux from essentially the same size magnet as a smaller driver. For the EL-8C, I found it VERY important after listening for many hours to have a tight, closed seal on the cups to ensure the soundstage remains clean. These headphones are very sensitive to 'openness' and wearing them too loose drastically impacts the lower end and overall soundstage.

 

When I first got these, I plugged them into my iPhone and listened to a few lossless files without any amplification. This was to test the wide claims by Audeze that these are easily powered by a device like an iPhone with no amplification. At 30 Ohms and 100 dB/mW, these are pretty sensitive and low powered cans. This was true, but as usual I am used to the significant increase in performance from proper amplification, so my next test and all listening thereafter was done with amplification. I used the Fiio E17 amplifier primarily for my listening; I did also have a JDSLabs C5 amplifier but I found the Fiio to be more suited to these cans. My DAC is an audio interface from Focusrite, and I ran a passive attenuator to control the volume. 

 

Comparing these to the Denon D5000 or the Fostex TH600, these are very different soundstages. The Denon/Fostex both have very strong, punchy bass. The EL-8C's don't have that punch, and are not going to provide that "banging" experience. These are very balanced headphones, if one wishes to look at the graphs Audeze provided for their EL-8 open series you can see that there is essentially flat response from 10Hz-7,000Hz with a slight dip at the 7KHz mark - not sure if this is the same with the EL-8C, but I don't really look at frequency curves for headphones with as much rigor as speakers because there's no set measurement (Audeze used a specific device, but every ear is different, and there's no perfect positioning that can be guaranteed). 

 

With a bit of tweaking with the Fiio E17 amplifier, which has a nice amount of EQ (bass and treble, stepped adjustments with a lot of flexibility) I was able to get these sounding pretty damn good. I set the bass to be boosted quite a bit as I am used to harder hitting cans and a slight increase on the treble. The mids on these cans are very clear, something that planar headphones are well known for.

 

These are very "flat" headphones without any EQ/amplification and whatnot, and may not provide what every listener wants. It's a unique style with new elements from Audeze, and the structure of the headphones requires a tight fit - moving positions on my head I was able to find the correct fit for the soundstage I wanted. This may seem odd, but these cans are very sensitive to different positions and tightness and finding the right fit is key. Once that is done, and EQ/amplification is added, the EL-8C performs beautifully. Note: EL-8C will still *NOT* have the same bang as the D5000 or even the Fostex TH600 with regards to punch on the bass. Rather, the EL-8C will provide, with proper EQ/amplification, a solid, stereo-like soundstage with good, clear bass, crisp mids and clean treble. 

 

The best way I can describe the soundstage is to that of my main studio monitors, PreSonus Sceptre S8's which are co-axial and have an extremely well rounded stereo soundstage. These EL-8C's, although not loudspeakers, provide that "360 degree" soundstage around my ear. This is the difference I found between the Denon D5000 and Fostex series vs. the EL-8C: if you're looking for pure bass impact, then these are not the cans for you. If you want amazing sound isolation, a stereo soundstage and (with proper EQ/amplification) good, clear bass that is pretty heavy hitting with mids and treble in a nice sync then the EL-8C's are for you.

 

I would also quickly like to mention the sound isolation on these things blows many of my prior headphone experiences away: these things are extremely snug, isolate noise very nicely, and that's a huge plus in my book. It's also obvious that the soundstage is determined on the right fit as I mentioned, so these things are certainly proper closed back circumaural headphones with large pads. Excellent sound isolation on both sides, and very little leakage when comparing these to other closed back headphones.

 

For value, I got these at $599, $100 less than the MSRP because of an open box deal, which was essentially new. So I am happy with the price I paid, especially considering these are new headphones.

 

The few cons I have: takes a while to get used to the sound of these planar cans, and also requires a lot of burn in, EQ, and proper amplification pairing in my opinion, even though technically these work fine with no amplification. This takes a bit of time. Also, the connectors are proprietary and not the most snug, but I haven't had much of an issue, though there have been times where these connectors have been sort of loose. As noted in the beginning of this long review, Audeze is going to sell cables for these things (including balanced ones) and they told me within 30 days or so (probably end of May). Should be interesting to see what they have in store.

 

 

To conclude: if you are looking for the classic sound of the Denon D5000 or similar Fostex TH600, or even something much more bass-centric like Ultrasone Pro 900's, these are not going to provide that "kick." With a little bit of patience, tweaking settings and finding the right fit, however, the EL-8C shines and has its own place on my desk as well-built, comfortable, very dynamic headphones. Certainly a great purchase, and I am happy with the overall product. There are places for improvement, and it does take effort to get the sound to what you may desire, but once you get the sound and physical fit right listening to these things for hours upon hours is seamless, clean, and a comfortable pair of closed back headphones with technology that is still fairly new in the respective design.

Posted

Pros: Detail oriented, balanced, great sound stage (for closed)

Cons: Crinkly pads, not highly portable.

I am very happy with these. I pair them with a Fiio X7 and enjoy them on breaks at school. I enjoy a lot of classical music and OSTs when studying and the sound profile on these makes those genres a joy. The caveats I mentioned are that the pads are a little noisy when you first start wearing them. The sound is sort of like a crinkling plastic bag, its just a little irking and I'm not sure what causes it. At first I was expecting to peel back the rim of the pads and find some protective wrapping that had been left in by mistake or something. I want to say that the crinkling noise has died down with use, it is also totally possible that I have just become a little desensitized to it. These headphones are super substantial and therefore maybe not ideal for commuting and the such. I read several lukewarm reviews in my research on these headphones and I'm really glad I disregarded it.

Posted

Pros: Brilliant Sound, Beautiful Design, Impressive Portability, Price

Cons: Proprietary wires, a little heavy (approx. 1lb)

Initial Impression:

Even the unboxing experience was great. Everything was neatly presented, it came with a certificate of authenticity, and even the cardboard(?) they used for the box was smooth and pleasant to touch. The headphones immediately had a premium look and feel, from the lack of visible plastic to the addition of the ebony wood veneer.

 

Build Quality:

The build quality of these headphones is simply fantastic. Everything is perfectly in place, nothing is misaligned, it seems that great care was put into the assembly of these headphones. The die-cast metal seems very sturdy so far and the lambskin leather looks as if it were new despite exposure to sweaty ears or cold temperatures. I've only had these headphones for roughly a month now (October 20th), but I expect these to hold together quite well based on what I've seen so far.

 

Aesthetics:

Aesthetics is a completely subjective area and so to address this, I will just provide a combination of my and my friend's opinion.

My opinion: It is, very literally, a BMW for your ears. Designed by BMW DesignWorks USA, it is a combination of the circles-and-contours design language found on the beautiful BMW cars as well as the traditional Audeze wood-and-metal design found in the LCD lineup. I find it to be the most attractive headphone Audeze makes and everyone I've shown them to, regardless of their audio-gear knowledge, think they're very attractive and luxurious (if not large).

My friend's opinion: These headphones represent the epitome of quality for an extraordinary price.  Aesthetically, they are extraordinarily pleasing, comporting beautiful contours, and designed extremely precisely so everything looks exactly in the proper place.  The instruments consist of wooden highlights which provide a wonderful natural look.  The ear pads are of a luxurious leather which feel like one just enclosed the ears with soft soothing comfort and enhance the high end appearance of the headphones.  Truly a superior aesthetically pleasing device.

 

Sound Quality:

This is arguably the most important part of a headphone review so I will use a combination of numerical data and my own, subjective opinion.

The numbers:

Style - Closed-back circumaural

Transducer type - Planar magnetic

Magnetic structure - Fluxor magnets

Magnet type - Neodymium

Driver Size - 100 mm

Maximum power handling - 15W (for 200ms)

Maximum SPL >130dB 

Frequency response - 10Hz – 50kHz

Total harmonic distortion <0.1% (1KHz, 1mw)

Impedance - 30 ohms

Efficiency - 100dB / 1mW

Optimal power requirement - 200mW – 4W

What these numbers mean is essentially, these headphones deliver a massive range of un-distorted sounds with an essentially flat frequency response.

My opinion/experience: These headphones have phenomenal clarity and precision. I've listened to literally every type of music I can think of that may challenge these headphones and these headphones rise to the challenge. They handle everything from Miles Davis to . Beyond this, I've tried giving the headphones more and more power to see where they start to distort and, well, they don't. I turned the volume until it hurt my ears but the headphones never buzzed or peaked or anything. Needless to say, I've been blown away for the past month.

 

Sound Signature:

Flat. Very flat. The low-end roll-off is lower than I can hear, even at high volumes, and the high-end roll-off is higher than I can hear, and everything in between is essentially flat.

I've been ever so fortunate to get the opportunity to listen to both the LCD-2s and LCD-Xs, and to be honest, it sounds a lot like the sweet spot in between the two. It is flatter and more analytical than the LCD-2s but warmer and richer than the LCD-Xs.

 

Other Notes:

Despite being closed-back headphones, they sound positively open. A huge soundstage with excellent spacing between instruments (you can really easily identify what is making what sound).

 

Overall:

These headphones are easily the best portable planar-magnetics, and I would argue that they may be the best headphones for $1,000 and under (yes that mean I think they're better than the HD700s).

Posted

Pros: Full, excellent soundstage and stereo imaging, comfortable for long listening sessions

Cons: Long break-in period

For me, the Audeze EL-8Cs satisfy a long awaited two year search for a closed headphone that I can use at work that sound just as good as my home theater setup.  I enjoy them so much, that I cannot wait to get into work so I can listen to them.   I work in a old brownstone on the street level near a pane glass window, so I hear a lot of street noise.  For the past year I have been using a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50Ws, but I was not getting the noise isolation I desired and it was just lacking the full sound I was looking for.  If I did play at volume levels to drown out the sound, there was noticeable leakage to my surrounding co-workers.   I've looked at other closed headphones, but either the sound was not of my liking, they hurt my ears over long periods of time, or they leaked sound worse.  These included V-Moda LPs and LP2s (which my son's now have), B&W P5s (returned), Beats Studio & Executive (both returned), Audio Technica ATHESW9As (which do sit on my ears and is used only for travel).  From my experience, I decided that I wanted headphones with large ear cups that completely surrounded my ears, did not overemphasize the bass and presented the music realistically, like the 25 year old headphones I have at home - Sennheiser HD570s, which are comfortable for long listening sessions, but are open and leak sound terribly.  As mentioned above for reference, my home system consists of Paradigm Signature Speakers - pair S2s (fronts), C3 (center), 15" Servo Sub,  pair SA-25s (sides), and pair SA-30s (rear), driven by a Denon AVR-4311CI, with sources  Denon DBP1611UD, Apple TV, Roku 3, and MediaSonic HW180STB Homeworx, and a Samsung PN64D8000FF as display, so I'm expecting a lot from a closed-back headphone.



The eclectic genres I listen to consist of but are not limited to Contemporary Jazz, Metal, Pop, Rock, Acoustic, and Alternative.  I recently listened to various tracks trying to compare the sound from my Audioengine N22s or the inputed source directly - iPod Classic, iPhone 6, or a MacBook Pro for a review I submitted on the N22s.  I did not hear a noticeable difference in sound from the input source or the amp.  The sound was full and the soundstage was incredible.   I mainly attribute this to the Audeze EL-8Cs.  As compared to the ATH-M50Ws I used before, the music is fuller.  I have more bass extension, but it is not booming, and the mids and highs are much clearer, so voices and cymbals are clean and sound wonderful.  The stereo imaging is incredible.  When I first unpacked them, I thought they sounded the same as my ATH-M50Ws and thought I just waisted a substantial amount of money for very little gain.  However, It did take a long time to break them (two work weeks - 80 hours) to finally hear their full potential.  They do sound excellent directly connected to a portable source, but require more power than the ATH-M50Ws, so using an amp is beneficial.  These can be cranked up a notch through my amp and still not disturb my surrounding co-workers.

Audeze EL-8 Closed-Back
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Description:

The closed-back EL-8 offers all the benefits of the open-back EL-8 — flexible, lightweight and loaded with new technology — while isolating the listener and reducing ambient noise as no sound escapes the earcups. The EL-8 closed-back is also sensitive enough to be driven directly by portable players and smartphones, but an external amplifier produces better results. They're built with superb craftsmanship, wood veneer accents and enormous attention to detail. Package Includes 2m (6.56 feet) Audeze headphone cable 3.5mm to 1/4in stereo adapter Patent-Pending Fazor elements Fluxor magnetic structure Uniforce diaphragms Specifications Style Closed-back circumaural Transducer type Planar magnetic Magnetic structure Fluxor magnets Magnet type Neodymium Driver Size 100 mm Maximum power handling 15W (for 200ms) Maximum SPL >130dB Frequency response 10Hz – 50kHz Total harmonic distortion <0.1% (1KHz, 1mw) Impedance 30 ohms Efficiency 100dB / 1mW Optimal power requirement 200mW – 4W Weight 480g

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