Reviews by mikewr


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: -"clean" sound
-very tight and unobtrusive base
-well extended and grain free treble
-VERY good isolation
Cons: -analytical sound; not natural
-mid-base lacks punch/impact
-heavy; uncomfortable design
-my pair came with a VERY short cable
If you look in my profile you will see that I've jumped around brands trying to find my ideal sound signature. I went from bright and exciting HE-400's, to heavy sounding LCD-X's, to STAX L-300's, and I finally have a pair of HE-500's which I think have the most "natural" midrange I've heard yet. I recently had the opportunity to purchase these EL-8 closed backs. I was in the market, saw a good price for one used, and jumped on it - kind of a blind purchase at that. The first thing that struck me about the sound was the base...This might be the most neutral I've ever heard. I only say that because I've spent the last three years listening to thick and heavy Audeze base and other warm headphones like the STAX L-300 (at least I think it's warm) and now the HE-500, which I think is slightly on the warmer side. I know the base may be a deal breaker for many due to how laid back it is, but I personally think it's quite possibly the best base - for my tastes - that I've heard on a headphone. It doesn't get in the way of any of the other frequencies, even on base heavy songs. Furthermore it extends quite well down low compared to the HE-500, which is the only other headphone I own at the moment. Prior to owning the EL-8 closed back, I thought the HE-500 had the perfect amount of base to be considered "natural", as in life like without adding too much to the song. However, when comparing the EL-8 to the HE-500 on songs with a lot of rumble or kick in the lower frequencies, the HE-500 almost sounds too crowded down low compared to the EL-8. At least this is what I initially thought. Now ,after further listening, I believe the EL-8 takes away a lot of the rumble in the lower mid-range and the upper/mid base and instead emphasizes the upper mid-range, which leads me to the part of the EL-8's that make it unique compared to anything else I've heard.

In my opinion, the EL-8 has a very "artificial" sound. Many who read that word tend to squirm at the thought of owning such a headphone, as did I. However, I spent the last 3-4 years thinking i loved a warmer sound; until I heard the HE-500, which is ever so slightly on the warmer side in my opinion but is nowhere near the "dark-ish" sound of the Audeze LCD-X, or just recently the LCD 2 Classic when I owned it. Keep in mind I have not seen any frequency response graphs on the EL-8 closed backs. In my honest assessment, i think either the lower mid-range is fairly recessed or the upper mid-range is fairly emphasized. While this sounds like a bad thing, in my opinion it creates a very unique presentation in today's headphone market. Whereas headphones like the HE-500 or Audeze LCD's or Sennheisers etc. etc. all try their heart out to create a "real" or "natural" sound, with the HE-500 doing the best job at this from what I have heard (according to my tastes anyway), the EL-8 sound like what I imagine a serious studio monitor should sound like. No, I'm not saying that the sound is totally accurate, at least i don't think it is, however the EL-8 presents this kind of "clean" yet "smooth" sound that I don't think many will be accustomed to upon listening to these things.

When I say clean, I attribute that to what I was saying earlier; the lower mid-range is either recessed or the upper mids are emphasized. In, for example, an rock track with a solid and constant drum kick and some hefty guitar work.. i.e. a LOT going on in the "background", on the HE-500 the track will have this... I'm gonna call it an "ambient rumble", and by that I mean you can hear the resonance of the drum kicks, the heft or natural timbre of the guitars, and the deep rumble of the base on some parts of the song. All this kind of happens at once, creating a kind of deep "baritone" or rumble to the mid-range along with the voice of the musician. It sounds very "realistic". However on the EL-8, all the resonance from the drums and strings and the deep rumble of the sub-base in certain parts of the track are... recessed to the point that everything sound clean. What you mainly hear is what dominates the upper mid-range, like voices for example. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the mid-range as a whole sounds less messy compared to a more "realistic" presentation on the HE-500. This is why I said that the sound these present is like what I would expect out of a studio monitor.

Going back to when I said "clean" and "smooth" - when I describe the sound as smooth I mean that nothing is overemphasized. Usually, in my experience anyways, the main perpetrator is the treble. It can either be too bright or rough sounding. I thought the LCD-X and the LCD-2 Classic both had a rough/grainy treble and to an extent this applied to the upper-midrange as well - despite having a dark sound signature. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is due to the many peaks in the treble region i noticed when looking at frequency response graphs. This kept them from having that smooth/laid back sound I was expecting from them, especially the 2 classic. On the EL-8, the treble isn't emphasized enough to be sibilant at all. But what I really like though is that it accomplishes this without having this recessed treble range often found when looking for a "smooth" or laid back treble. In my opinion, the treble is near perfect in it's presentation - I can hear no peaks or grain AND it isn't too laid back to the point where details are kind of hidden in the mix. As I stated before, I spent a while listening to darker sounding headphones thinking that signature was for me; but upon listening to the some brighter cans and eventually the HE-500 I noticed that I was missing a lot from the treble region in cans like the HD650 and the LCD series. The HE-500 has just enough.. I hesitate to say "sparkle"... I think enough air would be a better word to describe the treble on those things. The sound signature on the HE-500 as a whole is hard for me to describe because I'm honestly having a hard time deciding if they are neutral (fairly flat) or natural (a bit of warmth with a well extended but toned down treble region). But my point is that the HE-500 has a very non-in your face but detailed and airy treble region that makes them a pleasure to listen to. However, the top end of my HE-500 sounds almost grainy in comparison to the EL-8's! I never would have described the treble on the HE-500, or even higher pitched voices for that matter, as grainy until I heard the EL-8's! I also want to add that I am not just referring to the top end with the word smooth, but the low end as well. Due to the base being as tight and controlled as it is, without ever feeling out of place in the presentation like say and LCD series Audeze (one of my gripes about the X and the 2 Classic was that I felt the base was all to often the "star of the show" and took attention away from the rest of the sound), the low end on the EL-8 is just... it's VERY pleasant and "smooth" (an odd word to describe base, I know). The treble and base both work to create a very pleasant listening experience for me, despite the sound being much more artificial than natural.

All in all, I would hesitate to recommend the EL-8 to a friend because I haven't heard anything else like it in my journey through this hobby. I can see why this headphone get's so much flack; they have this love it or hate it sound which has many qualities to inspire dislike in it - like a lack of a lot of bass impact and a dip in the lower mid-range and/or emphasized upper mid-range which creates an analytical/artificial sound signature. These are especially a victim in today's market, which is filled with warm, punchy/dynamic, and more natural sounding headphones in the EL-8's price range. However I find something quite charming about these. Such an artificial and analytical sound that isn't offensive in the treble or base region creates a very "engaging" sound for me. The sound stage isn't all that wide, nor is the imaging the best I've heard, but that doesn't really matter when I'm listening to them. I feel like I'm hearing the song for what it is. I get the sensation that nothing is truly added, and while the lower mid-range feels recessed I still don't feel like I'm missing anything at all. I can still hear everything because the base isn't thumping and the treble only has enough detail and never an excess of sparkle or grain to distract me. I think the lower mids being recessed relative to the upper mids is what causes this sensation of "clarity" that I find addicting. Again, this clarity isn't caused by the treble region being harsh or dry sounding like so many other headphones, it is in fact the mid-range being emphasized. Lastly, the cherry on top and why I chose to keep these: they are truly closed back. By truly, I mean that they really do isolate you from the rest of the world when listening to them. I have heard many people say this about them, but these isolate like no other closed back I have heard. This creates a sensation of a pitch black background to your music that only emphasizes what I have been ranting about this whole paragraph. To my ears, these are really something neat. They let me hear my music differently than my HE-500's, which offer a "beefier" and more lively sound in comparison thats mor in line with what I would expect to hear at a live performance.

Equipment used:
-Burson Conductor Virtuoso amp and dac with sabre dac chip - very big and spacious sounding amp/dac, but has a very laid back; non-punchy sound. In other words, a very gentle sounding amplifier. A neutral or slightly bright amp (can't tell which one for sure). I love this with the HE-500, an overall laid back yet "big" and detailed sound that I'm positive 7/10 people would think is too laid back..
-Audeze Deckard amp and dac - basically the exact opposite of the Burson; very punchy and dynamic sounding with a smaller sound stage that pushes details in your face. A warm amp. I preferred the EL-8 on this amp more than the Burson because i felt it complimented the 8's overall intimate presentation.
  • Like
Reactions: trellus
Thanks for this! I especially appreciate the descriptions of the differences between the sound on the HE-500 and these EL-8 closed, as they put words to the same differences I hear but could never articulate! :D