Reviews by silvrr


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Plays just about anything, great build quality, good sonic.
Cons: Tries to be a all-in-one but should focus on doing one thing really well.


When I decided to sell my Chord Mojo the iDSD was one of the units that got put on my list to research more.  If you have a box to check, the spec sheet of the iDSD BL probably does it.  Super High PCM sample rates, check, DSD, check, absurd wattage output, check, optical, USB, coax and analog inputs, check.  On top of that iFi follows some great design and build practices, high quality material and parts are standard on every iFi product I've seen to date.  
With my past AMP/DAC being truly portable with the Mojo and my current AMP/DAC Schiit Jotunheim) being more a standard desktop solution I found the iDSD BL to fall somewhere in between.  With a price for the BL at $549.00 and the Mojo ($529.00) coming in slightly lower and the Jotunheim ($499.00) coming in even lower than that the iDSD BL has some stiff competition to compete against in the eyes of this reviewer. 

I received the BL as part of a Head-Fi loaner tour.  It went on to the next person when I was finished with my review.   I have no connection to ifi other than this loaner tour.


Packaging & Accessories:
The BL comes in a nice box with a sleeve on the outside that has the graphics.  The inner box is like a iPhone box and there are two smaller boxes below the iDSD to hold the accessories.  There are a ton of accessories.  USB 3.0, RCA, Optical mini adapter, 6.35 to 3.5mm TRS adapter, a bag, non skid silicone mat, two silicone bands and two adapters to go type A to type B usb.  If you plan on using USB your going to need a lot of these cables and adapters as the USB input is a Type A male connector, not the typical USB type B (printer cable) you see on a lot of DACs.
One of the things I see repeated about the BLs specs is its 4 watt power output.  Yes, it can do 4 watts, however that output is only into a 16 ohm load and it's likely only for a fraction of  a second.  Notice that the continuous power output figures are much lower and not at 16 ohm.  Furthermore if you look at the continuous power output (which is a more real measurement of what the amp can do) they rate it at 64 ohms and its 1560 mW.   Or wait, is it 1000 mW into 64 ohm continuous output, they are both listed on the page I linked.  
I'm not saying the BL isn’t capable of powering most of the headphones out there, however, I think iFi should concentrate on providing solid ( and not conflicting ) values for output instead of some values for marketing to throw around.  Additionally, those power values are given using turbo mode, yet for some reason the dynamic range measurement is done in ECO mode.  Something tells me figures aren’t so pretty when measured in Turbo mode.  


USB (Rear)
SPDIF Coax (Rear)
SPDIF Optical (Rear)
*Note that the SPDIF ports are combined and limited to 192Khz PCM
3.5 mm TRS (Front)
RCA (Rear) Fixed or variable output
6.35 mm TRS (Front)
USB Power (provides 5V 1.5 Amp when BL is off)
I find the BL design to be a bit odd.  Is it portable or more of a desktop solution?  It's small-ish and can run off battery which would lead a lot of people to believe that it's portable product.  However, it only has a 6.35 mm headphone output, which is normally found on full-size cans.   I don’t see a lot of people rocking full size cans on the go.  Also, with the exception of the apple CCK you're going to need some type of speciality cable to hook up your your Android phone or a DAP.  The USB input is a male port and won’t work with the common cables I see being used with phones and DAPs.   Yes, optical and coax are available to mobile users, however, your aren’t going to listen to anything over 192khz and DSD is out of the question.  Additionally, all the cables they give you are for full size applications.  
I was pretty excited to see the 5V 1.5A port on the side of the BL  Thoughts of Volumio running on my Raspberry Pi feeding the BL while I move around the house were flying around my head.  That is until I clicked on the BL and noticed that the power to that USB port is cut when the BL is powered on.  I thought this would be nice for mobile users until I really thought about it, if my phone is dying/dead and I want to listen to music I need to charge it via a USB port.  The power port on the side of the BL is not a USB input only power.   OK, so someone with a DAP with plenty of power could listen to that while they charge their phone on the go.  Nope, useless there to, don’t forget once you power the BL on that port goes dead.  Not to mention with the BL connected to a DAP and your phone there is a mess of wires and quite a bit of bulk, not really portable.  I really don’t get how someone would use this port.  There are battery boost packs the size of my thumb that can charge my iPhone 6s a couple of times, Id much rather keep that in my bag than the BL.  
OK, so the BL is more of a desktop solution.  This makes sense given the 6.35mm headphone jack and the RCA outputs (variable and fixed output available).   Then why have it use a battery, why try to make it small and powered off of USB?  If it's meant to be a desktop solution, provide a traditional power input and increase the footprint a bit, give use a bigger volume knob.  
I kind of get the feeling that the BL is like a swiss army knife, yes it's great when you can pull that toothpick out of your knife, or save the day with your bottle opener or some other trick tool.  To have all that stuff you're making sacrifices in size or design somewhere else and most of the time all you really want is a good knife.  
The BL and all the accessories it comes with actually are very nicely built.  The chassis feels very solid and all the ports, knobs and switches feel solid.  The black coating on the BL should hold up, if feel like I see this coating on a lot of products and it holds up well.  Overall, the BL has very good build quality and is what you would expect at this price point.  

The BL has three power levels, Eco/Normal/Turbo.  I kept the BL in ECO most of the time with my Ether Cs. .  Only when I needed a bit of a boost on a track with a low recording level did I use normal.  The turbo made the volume knob a bit touchy as the power increases very quickly.  With my HD6XX I used either normal at the very top of the range or turbo at the very bottom.  Small volume adjustments in Turbo with the HD6XX were much easier.
I used the BL via USB with two Linux variants; Mint and Arch Linux (volumio) and both times was plug and play.  Connecting the BL to my iPhone 6s via a CCK worked also and the CCK plug fits into the male USB port on the BL nicely without the need for any other cables.  On Windows (7 and 10) a driver is required.  I hate having to install drivers (this is a windows problem not a iFi problem) but iFi does make it easy, single file, click and it's installed.  It's also just a single item in your programs. (unlike Chord which left 3 or 4 programs to uninstall)
The battery.  It lasts a long time, I really didn’t use it in a portable situation during my review.  However, I did have it connected via optical and wondered how it would fare without its USB power source.  It lasted over night without going dead even though I left it powered on.  The one issue I have is that it cannot run straight off the USB power source, it has to get some juice in the battery if left totally dead before you can listen again.  This was one of the reasons I sold my Mojo, I guess I'm bad at remembering to plug it in at the end of a listening session. Also, if I am constantly going to have something plugged in why not just have a desktop solution with a real power source.  By the time I unplugged the optical and USB it was just as easy to unplug my Jot power cable and the USB to move them.  

First off I would like to cover some of the ‘sound enhancement’ features and switches of the BL.  
3D+: Maybe this didn’t pair well with my headphones or just isn’t my cup of tea but I found this ruined whatever song it was applied to.  I think the same effect could be gained with some bad EQ adjustments.  The output from the BL becomes harsh and I could never leave it on for more than a short stint.  
Xbass+: A bass head may like this feature.  If you like the sound signature of your headphones and just sometimes just want a bit of a bass boost this isn’t going to be your cup of tea.  There is a large boost in the bass and while it remains clean and I never heard distortion from it, it's just too much.  Some of their other products have multiple stages of this bass enhancer but the BL does not, it's on or off.  A dial or multiple stages is needed here.
The rest of the review is done with these two items in the off position.
Filter: Switching between bit perfect, minimum phase and standard resulted in no difference for me.  
Other Gear Used During this Review:
Mr. Speakers Ether C  v1.1 (No tuning pads):
Sennheiser HD 6XX Headphones:
Schiit Jotunheim w/DAC: [Jot used in single ended mode only]
[Source 1] Raspberry Pi running Volumio:
[Source 2] Desktop PC (Windows 10 via USB running Foobar)
Overall Impressions:
My initial impression of the BL when I first plugged it in was that there was way too much energy in the high end frequencies.  Songs like The Chain from Fleetwood Mac would have an over emphasis on the tambourine and cymbals which became a bit distracting.  As I normally do with a review, I spent a few days listening to only the BL, let my ears become accustomed to it and get to know the sound signature.  Over this period the high end emphasis became less apparent but would still be noticeable during some songs.
I spent quite a bit of time listening to the BL, trying different genres and going through my normal review playlist.  I found the BL to be extremely competent and it drove my Ethers (low impedence) and HD6XX (high impedence) with ease.  I never found it running out of steam trying to reproduce low frequencies and it pulled a the detail out of my recordings that I was used to.
After a few days I started doing some A/B testing with my Jot.  If you look at my other reviews I generally go through specific recordings and note the differences between a known (my Jot in this case) and the review sample.  I ended up finding that I was writing the same thing over and over again so I figured I would just provide it once and save some bandwidth.
From a technical perspective I could be happy with the BL or the Jot.  They both power my cans with lots of room to spare and other than the BLs high end issue I noted above they are on par with how they reproduce the music.  Here and there I would think one was pulling a bit more detail than the other but without a switch box to rapidly switch it's really hard to say reliably that one is better than the other.  
Overall, it will come as no surprise that I prefer the high end reproduction of the Jot.  For bass and mids I really like the Jot better too.  The BL has plenty of authority and control for the low frequencies but I just prefer the Jot.  I found guitars coming out a bit warmer from the Jot, and it should be, an acoustic guitar really isn’t a cold instrument.  We are starting to split hairs here though.  
I think the biggest difference I noticed between the BL and Jot is I could sit back and listen to the Jot.  With the BL I was always in review mode, not really enjoying the music.  When doing my A/B tests I often end up getting off task and just listen to the music with a review sample.  That never happened with the BL, I was always listening to it and not the music or just sitting back and enjoying myself.

I think the BL is a great example of what is possible today in audio.  A device that can easily be transported, plays basically every format and bit rate available, and can power anything from IEMs to super high impedance over ear headphones.  The BL provides a ton of options and flexibility, it can be used as a DAC and pre-amp for your speakers and has a wide variety of input options.  The construction is top notch and all the ports and materials are top notch.
Furthermore, with the exception of the high end reproduction on certain songs I think it's very good sonically too.   However,  I never really enjoyed the BL, I never got lost in the music with it, I never ended up halfway through an album wondering how I got there.  I wish I could give a characteristic or specification to express this better but I'm failing at finding a way to express it in more objective terms.
Finally, would I recommend the BL to someone?  With the exception of someone who has very power hungry cans and wants a transportable (not portable) solution; I would say no.  If you want a very competent portable player the BL isn’t it, it's not portable, I would only put it in the transportable category.  You really can’t stuff it in a pants/coat pocket with your DAP.  If someone doesn’t have the need for portability there are a ton of full-size and even transportable (within a house) solutions that come in at a lower price than the BL and are just as competent sonically.
This review is a bit short on details of the sonics of the BL but I found it really hard to spend a ton of time reviewing a product and trying to communicate every last detail about the sound when I really don’t think people should buy it.  As I said earlier in the review I feel like the BL is the swiss army knife of the Head-fi world; if you're in the market for a DAC/AMP figure out what you really need and get a ‘knife’ that does what you really need and leave the gimmicks behind.

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@MLGrado I never said they compromised for cost or that it isn't a sonically good amp/dac.  Its compromised in function.  Its to big to be truly portable (ala the Chord Mojo) and while trying to keep the size down you have to compromise for things like standard connectors and on a desktop amp I like a nice big volume knob.  Furthermore the fact you NEED their cables/adapters to use the BL is just odd to me.  
Hey man long review and covered a lot. though to critize it for being a bad battery charge or average dac is very hard and I have heard other stuff at higher price ponts that sound s*it that are raved about here. at end it may not be oyour sound but guess you tried the power and imatch settings to get things rite for your hphones. the cable is for droid and apple phone - they all have female a sockets. they dont make you buy their cables bro
Thanks for your insight, @silvrr. I own the original iDSD Micro and have to say I agree with most of your findings, save for the high-end being particularly pronounced (I paired mine with DT880s, for poop's sake!). I admit I was somewhat tempted to upgrade when I heard there was a new release, but the orange-on-black aesthetic and minimal improvements don't really do much for me; might just get a Jotunheim and relegate the iDSD to DAC service. Hope you're too discouraged by the negative feedback, critical reviews are almost always poorly received for some reason :p
I'm on Android and ordinary micro USB/TypeC to USB-OTG cables work well enough when I'm running music out of my mobile. The supplied blue one is good enough for regular desktop use. Not quite sure you necessarily have to use iFi's own stuff, though some would argue the SQ is superior that way.

And hey, I find the power-bank functionality useful! Saves me having to carry an extra gadget to and from school/work. You wouldn't believe the number of times the iDSD saved my ass when I was stranded with a dying phone, haha.


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: All in one, Lot of power, fantastic sonics
Cons: Limited digital inputs


As much as I like the idea of a separate amp and DAC having a all in one solution is really nice.  I setup to listen in a few places in my house and only having to grab a single unit and a single power cord is nice.  This is how I ended up with the Chord Mojo, a portable solution with desktop performance.   When I had The Element in house as part of another review, I asked for some extra time to do a review and compare it to my Mojo.  The Element is $230 cheaper than the Mojo and uses a more traditional DAC but initial listening tests put them very close together in terms of performance.

I received The Element while doing some beta testing for JDS Labs ( ) and they sent along The Element to use during my review of their beta equipment.  After I sent the beta equipment back I asked if I could keep The Element around and do a review of it.  After I completed this review The Element was sent back to JDS labs.  They did send me a t-shirt for participating in the beta tour, but I shunk that in the wash and gave it to my wife, so I shouldn’t be influenced by their generous gifts.  

I am not a critical listener; I don’t find enjoyment in listening to music and trying to listen for every last detail.  When I listen to music I generally am sitting in a comfy chair, or in bed, and relaxing and enjoying the music.  I appreciate detail and accurate reproduction but tend to lean towards a warmer more laid back sound.  In the past I have had a pair of DT880s which while very technically competent were just too bright and aggressive; I much prefer something like my Ether Cs.
I don’t claim to be a golden ear and all the opinions I state in my reviews are just that.  I try to use songs that I have listened to on a number of setups in my reviews; both speaker and headphone based.  I know how I have heard a song in the past and how I think it should sound and that's what I base my opinions off of.


I am not big on packaging.  To me, people get too concerned with what their gear comes in.  The Element comes in a very nice but simple package.  The actual unit is sandwiched in foam and the transformer ships in a separate box.  See the pictures below for further detail.  

The Element comes with the necessary power supply (wall-wart) and a USB cable to connect to your source, that's it.  Enough to get you playing and enjoying music and nothing else.  

Technical Specifications (From JDS Labs Site):

Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz+/- 0.1dB
THD+N 1kHz, 150 Ω0.0009%
IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 150 Ω0.0004%
IMD SMPTE 150 Ω0.0005%
Noise, A-Weighted-108 dBu
Crosstalk @ 150 Ω-67 dB
Output Impedance0.1 Ω
Channel Balance+/- 0.56 dB
Max Continuous Output, 600Ω140 mW (9.4VRMS)
Max Continuous Output, 150Ω505 mW
Max Continuous Output, 32Ω1.1 W
Peak Output Power, 32Ω1.5W

Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz+/- 0.15dB
THD+N 100 Hz -0.15 dBFS 0.0023%
THD+N 20 Hz -0.15 dBFS0.0016%
THD+N 10 kHz -0.15 dBFS0.0019%
IMD CCIF 19/20 kHz -6.03 dBFS0.0011%
IMD SMPTE -6.03 dBFS 0.0012%
Noise A-Weighted dBu 24/96-102 dBu
Dynamic Range (A-Weighted)>112 dB
Linearity Error -90 dBFS 24/96-0.02 dB
Crosstalk -10 dBFS 100K RCA-100 dB
USB Jitter Components 11025Hz-113 dB
Maximum DAC Line-Output, 100K2.10 VRMS

Interface USB, Audio Class 1
Native OS Support Windows XP/7/8/10, OS X, Linux
Audio Formats 16/44, 16/48, 16/88.2, 16/96,
24/44, 24/48, 24/96
Objective Measurements:



Digital via USB only
Analog via RCA
Line out via RCA on rear (If configured as such **)
¼ (6.35mm) Headphone jack on the front
**Note that there are two options on the JDS labs site for The Element.  Basically you can order it with or without a set of lineout RCAs on the rear.  The Element starts at $349.00 and adding the line out RCAs adds $20.00 to your tab. Some early reviews may not include this as the Element was announced in June 2015 and the line out option added in October 2015.
DAC and Amplifier design:
“The Element processes digital audio through an SA9023 controller and PCM5102A DAC. While the PCM5102A supports 32-bit, 384kHz audio, we’ve intentionally selected a UAC1 controller for maximum software and OS compatibility.” and “Linear regulators provide 30VDC to clean LME49600 buffer amplification stages, with peak output power in excess of 1.5W at 32 ohms”
I really like the aesthetic of The Element.  Minimalistic and simple with the majority of the sockets and buttons hidden on the back.  The orange ring below the volume knob and the LED lighting are both subtle and less obvious in person than they appear in pictures, in my opinion.  
The top of the chassis and the knob (and I assume the orange ring) are all machined from Aluminum.  The bottom of the unit is some sort of plastic and has a bit of give to it.  However, once you put The Element on your desk you're never going to notice that again.  I loved using The Element as it was plug and play and volume adjustments with it are a pleasure.  As a Mojo owner/user it was really nice to have a big physical knob to reach for and make adjustments rather than finding specific buttons and making multiple clicks.  The knob has a very smooth movement and could only be improved with slightly more drag.  
The rear contains all of the I/O with the exception of the ¼ inch headphone jack which resides on the front.  All of the I/O were solid and I didn’t have any loose connections or connectivity issues. As part of my review of their beta equipment and this review, I was doing a lot of cable swapping and all the connections remain solid, I likely did more plugging and unplugging in the weeks I had the Element than many will do in its lifetime.   

The element only has a single digital input via USB.  No drivers are required on Windows (7, 8.1 and 10 tested) or Linux (Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and RuneAudio tested). I don’t mind drivers that are easy to install but if something can run driverless it's really a perk to me, I keep my computers pretty clean I like driverless DACs.  Sorry I didn’t have a Mac to test but JDS Labs cites no driver support for Mac also and as the Element is USB Audio Class 1 it shouldn't need drivers.   The Element will also play via a iPhone (and I assume iPad) via the apple lightning Camera Connection Kit (CCK).  Be sure to use a longer USB cable going into the CCK as the element picked up some interference from my 6S when placed directly next to it.  Moving a foot or two away alleviated the issue.
The JDS labs site cites support for 16/44, 16/48, 16/88.2, 16/96, 24/44, 24/48 and 24/96.  However, 24/192 from all of my PC based sources played without issue.
There are two gain levels on The Element, 1.0 and 4.7x pushing the button on the back switches between the two.  Using the 1.0 with my Ether Cs required generous use of the volume knob and I tend to listen slightly lower than many (I often turn down rigs when at head-fi meets after someone else was listening) The 4.7x setting  is where I did 99% of my listening.  I kept the knob between 9 and 12 o’clock the majority of the time.  (Note that the volume knob starts at 6 o’clock and moves clockwise back to 6 o’clock at full power)
Connecting RCA cables to the input automatically switches to the line-in input and by-passes the DAC.  There is no button to switch between the two.  
JDS Labs provides some nice flow charts of the functionality of The Element and rather than repeat all of it and explain them, go check their instructions!

I wanted to be able to quickly A/B the Element and Mojo so I loaded up two identical laptops with Volumio, created some playlists and clicked play on both simultaneously. I also used a digital multi meter to ensure both units were putting out the same voltage.  (a 1Khz test file was used)
The keen observers (or those that know both units) will spot the ⅛ to ¼ adapter being used on the Mojo.  I also used a ¼ to ⅛ adapter with my ⅛ terminated cable at times to make sure the playing field was level.  I have also never noticed either of the adapters causing issues when using them.
Other Gear Used During this Review:
Mr. Speakers Ether C V1.1 (No tuning pads):
Chord Mojo:
[Source 1] Raspberry Pi running Volumio:
[Source 2] Desktop PC (Windows 10 via USB running Foobar)
[Source 3] Dell D630 Running Volumio
Overall Impressions:
As I usually do with a review I will take whatever I am reviewing and listen to it for a few days just to get familiar with it, see if anything pops up and note any thoughts I have against my normal setup, the Mojo in this case.  During general listening I really found that The Element was giving what I thought was the same presentation I get from my daily driver, The Mojo.  I was impressed that I was getting the same ques in width and placement that I get with my Mojo.  Overall I found The Element to have a very balanced sound accompanied by very nice soundstage.  I think the objective measurements really show what I was hearing, really flat response and plenty of power to go around.  
I initially started my A/B the same way I normally do, no volume match but get them close and then listen to some test tracks, pick out details or a drum beat and see how The Element compares.  When switching back and forth I noticed that I would think there was a difference and then I would switch back and think it was just in my head.   After a few days of doing this I decided to set up the A/B station pictured above.  I volume matched the output of the two and listened to the tracks listed below.  Here it really became apparent that I could not pick out any differences reliably.  Any differences that may be there are so tiny that I figured I couldn’t pick them out in a blind test.  
Enter the blind test.  With the same two computers playing the same track (and still volume matched) I had my wife switch between the two with my back turned. However, I was able to hear the plug being inserted which made the test not blind so I abandoned the idea.
After that failed exercise I went back to listening to them sighted.  I listed for overall response, soundstage, detailed, sound placement, everything trying to pick out differences.  I would focus on a single element within a song, like the way a drum is struck, and switch back and forth.  I listened for small details and where they were placed and how clear they were (the Keb Mo track is great for this).  After two weeks of going back and forth and really trying to pick out differences, I still could not pick them apart.  
Detailed listening notes:
I generally use this section to give detailed notes on the differences noted, as I couldn’t reliably pick them apart, so I'll instead list the songs I used during the A/B. These songs cover a pretty a large chunk of the music I listen to and cover a lot of things that I was listening for between the two units.  The Keb Mo and Clapton tracks are great for listening to soundstage and placement, The Foo Fighters is a OK track sonically but is in 24/192 and as it's not specifically supported per JDS labs I wanted to see if anything showed up.  The Eagles tracks are well known demo songs and are tracks I have heard a ton and on a lot of different setups.  Money for Nothing is a great recording and has a lot of dynamic elements.  The Daft Punk track I generally use for a bass test on headphones but it also has quite of bit of detail throughout the song.  
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - Bring Life Back to Music (16/44)
Eagles - Hell Freezes Over - Hotel California (16/44)
Tom Petty - Damn the Torpedos - Refugee  (16/44)
Steely Dan - Aja - Home at Last (16/44)
Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms - Money For Nothing (16/44)
Eagles - Hotel California - Hotel California (24/96)
Foo Fighters - Saint Cecilia - Iron Rooster (24/192)
Eric Clapton - Unplugged - Lonely Stranger (16/44)
Eric Clapton - Unplugged - Running on Faith (16/44)
Keb Mo - Slow Down - Everything I need


The scientific side of this hobby will say that any two pieces of equipment that measure well and are volume matched will sound identical.  I think that is the case here, both of these DAC & Amplifier combinations measure extremely well and are overall very neutral and therefore were indiscernible to my ears from one another. I spent a lot of time trying to find differences between these two and listened to all kinds of music but found that they really perform identically to my ears. With harder to drive cans or another person's ears these two may seem further apart but with the Ethers and to my ears the Element provides a ton of performance for the cost.
It is really tempting to sell my Mojo and pick up a Element and pocket a few hundred dollars.  However, I have a few flights and travel coming up and the portability of the Mojo will come in handy.  

James Cygnus
James Cygnus
Have you noticed any power on "pops" or other noise?


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Tonal Balance, Sound stage, Weight
Cons: Price, Could be bass light for some


I first heard the Ether back in August of 2015, I'm not sure if the Ether Cs were even announced back then.  I like what I heard but I was already starting to look for a set of closed back cans and kinda ruled out the Ether.  Almost a year later and I am in the position to by a top of the line set of cans and the Ether C is on my radar.  I spent a lot of time reading comparisons of the Ether and Ether C and decided to bite the bullet and buy a pair.  I was not disappointed.  I loved my ZMFs but after a quick initial comparison they haven’t been plugged in since.  

I have no connection to Mr. Speakers and I paid for this pair of Ether Cs out of my own pocket.  

About Me / My Listening Style / My Reviews:
I am not a critical listener; I don’t find enjoyment in listening to music and trying to listen for every last detail.  When I listen to music I generally am sitting in a comfy chair, or in bed, and relaxing and enjoying the music.  I appreciate detail and accurate reproduction but tend to lean towards a warmer more laid back sound.  In the past I have had a pair of DT880s which while very technically competent were just too bright and aggressive; I much prefer something like my ZMFs or the HD650 and now the Ether Cs.
I don’t claim to be a golden ear and all the opinions I state in my reviews are just that.  I try to use songs that I have listened to on a number of setups in my reviews; both speaker and headphone based.  I know how I have heard a song in the past and how I think it should sound and that's what I base my opinions off of.

Hardware & Specifications:


I bought my Ether Cs used, so I didn’t get the first unveil and experience of the factory packaging.  I also can’t speak to the accessories as I didn’t get the whole enchilada and I can’t find anything definitive on the Mr. Speaker’s site.  From what I have seen though there is an outer box, the headphones, your selected cable(s), a cleaning cloth and the hard shell case.   
Technical Specifications (From Mr. Speakers Site):

Weight: 394g
Frequency response: Yes* (this obviously needs to be updated but is what is currently on the site)
Efficiency: 92dB/mW
Impedance: 23 ohms


Objective Measurements:

Design and Build:


The Ether C uses a 2.75” x 1.75” planar magnetic magnetic driver that was designed by Dan of Mr. Speakers ( @Mrspeakers here on headfi).  The main frame of the headphone is aluminum with a 3D printed inner structure (see pictures below).  The headband is made from two strips of Nitinol “Memory Metal” (a blend of Nickel and Titanium) and a leather comfort band.  The cups are carbon fiber and in my opinion a fantastic choice; not only for esthetic reasons but also weight savings.  During some of my research before purchasing I saw that an early prototype was a wooden cup which I can only imagine would have added weight to the final build.  There are tiny inclusions and bubbles in the carbon cups (see picture above, looks like dust) but to the naked eye they are not visible and I only noticed them after taking the above picture with my macro lens.  Otherwise, the carbon cups are flawless and have a top notch finish on them.  


All of the headphones parts are very high quality and very well thought out.  The majority of the headphone is aluminum or carbon fiber and the plastic parts are used in places where I have no concerns for longevity.  The attention to detail in the parts list is evident as you look at the fasteners and materials selected.  Everything is of a high quality and in my opinion, worthy of the price point.

The standard cable (non DUM) is great and my only complaint is that the outer covering after the split is a bit rubbery/tacky and can get tangled occasionally.  That is getting picky though.  I love the smooth connection on to the headphone and the satisfying click.  Again, top notch hardware choices.


The lamb-leather pads are very comfortable and the ear openings are of a good size.  I have larger ears and although my ears do touch the pads when wearing the Ether C, I haven’t had any comfort issues.  Overall the headphone is very light and the clamping pressure is just right for my preference.  I loved my old DT880s comfort wise and I would put the Ether C on par if not above the DT880s, they disappear on your head.  


The Ether C was released with two white felt pieces over the driver (below the ear pad) and is commonly known as the v1.0 tuning.  Later Mr. Speakers released a v1.1 tuning that now comes stock and replaces one of the felt pieces with a porous black foam.  This can be seen through the black material of the ear pad to determine what version you have.  I am not sure what method is used for the cutting of the dampening material (white felt/black foam) but again the attention to detail is evident, the pads only fit in one way as they are cut out to precisely fit the opening above the driver and around each screw.  These are not being cut in the back room with a pair of scissors.  


Final piece of the puzzle is the tuning pads.  There are additional white and black pieces of felt that can be placed in the ear pad to tune to your liking . For frequency response graphs and response with different pad combinations see Dan’s post in the Ether C thread:


Isolation is pretty good, once music is playing an outside sound has to be pretty loud before I hear it over the music.  Isolation for others (from your music) is pretty good also.  My wife and I can sit in the same room, me listening to music and she is either on her phone or watching TV and not bother one another.   When I turn it up a bit she notes that she can hear it but that it is rather subtle.  Ether C is a closed and sealed headphone with the exception of one tuning port on the top of the metal ring the headband mounts to.  There are two similar looking ports right above each headband mount but they do not penetrate all the way.

How do they sound?

All of the impressions below are with the v1.1 tuning with no tuning pads installed unless noted.  I have the standard (non DUM) cable.  

All music music used in this review was ripped from a CD in either ALAC or FLAC at 16/44.1, unless otherwise noted.  

Other gear used during this review:

[DAC] Parasound Zdac:

[AMP 1] Parasound Zdac Internal Amp

[AMP 2] Schiit Lyr: (General Electric 6BZ7 tubes)

[Headphones] ZMF Master Model V1 (Fostex T50RP base):

[Source 1] Raspberry Pi running RuneAudio:

[Source 2] Desktop PC via USB running Foobar/Wasapi.

Overall Sound Signature:

Here is a really good post from Dan of Mr. Speakers on the bass of the Ether C and why some people may perceive it differently:

The seal is very important from what I have found.  Lose the seal and the bass will fall away.  The Ether Cs can dig rather low and after all my listening I have never heard them not responding to the bass line in a song.  I see a lot of comments about bass quantity and I can see where they come from.  On some songs the bass line can fall behind the mids and highs a bit but to me they never really sounded bass light or lacking.  Get a solid recording with good mastering and the bass will sound very balanced.  

The mids are fantastic and have a nice snap to them.  As you can see in my detailed notes below there aren’t a lot of notes on the mids.   The mids seem to stay in line, never lacking or causing issues with balance of the other tones.  

I had the Ether Cs about a week before my v1.1 tuning kit arrived and thought the higher frequencies may be just a bit accentuated compared to the rest of the tones.  After installing the v1.1 foam all that went away.  Everything is nicely balanced and there is a nice air in the upper registers  and no issues with sibilance or harshness.  Occasionally I would want a bit more in the upper registers when listening to something like acoustic guitar and switching to the Zdac’s amplifier section took care of it.  The Lyr does have a bit of roll off in the very upper registers.  

Detail is fantastic and listening to guitar strings vibrate or subtle echoes or other sounds on a more open recording method is just fantastic.  Detail comes out without really having to listen for it or concentrate on it, a few times I would notice something in a recording and then switch to another setup and see that it is there but not as prominent.  

I had the HD800S in for review a few weeks back and that was the best headphone I have heard to date with regards to detail, placement and separation of instruments.  The Ether C is the second headphone now that I have heard what sounds like a instrument playing form a completely different source within the same cup.  There is fantastic placement and separation when the recording provides it.  The soundstage isn’t as impressive as the HD800S in terms of width, but I have heard nothing like it from another closed headphone.  


Eagles - Hell Freezes Over - Hotel California

This is one of my favorite songs and was the first CD I ever purchased.  Needless to say I have heard this song on a lot of setups.  The guitar intro is spot on and the bassline from the congas is nice and tight.  There is plenty of bass for me and more importantly, with the heavy bass line the guitars and shakers are still very distinct and clear.

Nearing the end of the song as there are three guitars playing  all at once along with the bass from Schmidt, everything stays very separated and you can easily pick out each guitar.  


Ethosphere – Existence - March Of Tyranny

For reference this song can be download free here:

Not my typical style of music but I love some of the bass lines from a few of the songs on this album.  The Ether C does not have the bass quantity of my ZMFs on this track but still hit all the same frequencies and do provide a nice rumble from the very heavy bassline.  Not sure the Ether C would satisfy a bass head but I think most would be happy with the bass quantity provided here. There is definately some tactile cues for the bass on this track along with what you hear from the Ether C.


Eric Clapton - Unplugged - Lonely Stranger

Clapton’s voice comes out front and center here.  Closing my eyes, Clapton’s voice is projected  slightly in front and the guitars come in from each side.  The guitars are projected slightly to the front also but only so far as they do not sound like they are coming deadpan from the left and right cup.  The piano is projected off to the left and behind everything else.  Having watched this concert a number of times the placement of everything is spot on.  

Tonally, things are spot on.  The little bit of bass in the song is rendered nicely and the guitars sparkle without being sibilant or overdone.   


Foo Fighters - St. Cecilia - Iron Rooster (24/192)

For reference you can download this free at 24/192 at:  The Foo Fighters are not known for their recording/mastering but the Ethers are handeling it well.  I am noticing the guitar loop that starts the song staying separate from the rest of the song as it continues in the background.  I have listened to this song quite a few times on my ZMFs and feel like the background is a bit more smeared in and less separated than what the Ether C is offering.  


AC/DC - Back in Black - Shoot to Thrill

I can rock along to this song on the Ether Cs.  There is a bit of bass lacking for what I am looking for in this song.  Listening specifically to the guitar & drum solo at ~3:20 there is a bit missing.  Just a touch of warmth and everything would be spot on.  Adding a single black tuning pad to each ear can help in instances like this, however, for me the straight v1.1 tuning is good enough that I wouldn’t bother to roll in the pads if I knew I was going to cue up this album.  


Keb Mo - Slow Down - Everything I Need

I love using this song for listening to a headphones ability to put you in the music.  There are sounds happening all around you in this song and the Ether C does not disappoint.  The Ether Cs do something I have only ever heard from the HD800S.  Keb Mo’ is front and center but with everything going on around you the sensation is there that there are multiple drivers within the same cup.  The main tone of the song is playing and a little detail will come up in the lower left like it’s placed just behind your earlobe coming from a completely different source.   At 1:25 there is a knock on something wooden that almost made me turn around.  Fantastic separation and placement throughout this song.  

Tonality is great here too.   On a lot of setups Keb Mo’s recordings can come off a bit bass heavy.  Here everything thing is nicely balanced.   There is still a nice full bottom end but it doesn’t seem overdone given the instruments that are playing.  


Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - Give Life Back to Music (256K AAC)

Hmm, this is a tough one, for me there is enough bass and great extension.  The Ether C is definitely hitting all of the low notes on this song but I can definitely see where a lot of people would not think there is enough bass quantity.   To me it sounds balanced with the rest of the song and is very tight and controlled, there is a lot of detail in the bass and you can definitely pick out the notes being played on the bass where on lesser setups it just sounds rather smeared together and electronic in origin.  


Miles Davis - Kind of Blue - All Blues

The tonal balance on the Ether C continues to work in a number of genes.  I would love to see how this was recorded.  You get a great sensation of sitting behind the drums with a horn player on either side of you.  There is a piano set off in the left corner a little bit away from the drum set.  It's been a few weeks since I had the HD800S in for review but I think this is pretty darn close in terms of soundstage and placement, I'm sure back to back the HD800S would win but the Ether C wouldn’t be far behind.  


I was looking for an end game closed headphone and really took a gamble purchasing an Ether C after only hearing the Ether awhile back.  I have not been disappointed.  The Ether C is not cheap but provides top quality materials and construction and a fantastic listening experience.   I have had the chance to listen to a lot of cans between what I have owned and at head-fi meets. There are definitely options that do specific parts of the overall equation better than the Ether C.  However, the Ether C does so many parts of the overall equation so well that they will be staying as my daily driver, and only headphone, for a long time to come.  

Other Reviews:

Head-Fi Ether C thread:
Other Reviews from Me:
well done mate!!!
This review led me to order them! Great informative review.
Great review. Totally agree with your comments about them. I have the HD800S as well . Both lovely sounding headphones. Not sure about the Flow upgrade from what I have heard.


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Detail, Clarity, Soundstage
Cons: Bass sometimes lacking, Price



I have had the chance to listen to the HD800 a few times at local Head-Fi meets. However, I have never got a good chance to listen to them, either the person who owned them didn’t have any music I could reference off of or the background noise was way to high at the meets.  However, in the time I did spend with the HD800 I found that I really liked it for some music, the HD800 had incredible clarity and soundstage.  When Todd posted the loaner program for the HD800S, I jumped at the chance to have an extended listen.  The HD800 has been on my short list for a while to get some solid head time to narrow down before my next upgrade.
I was sent the HD800S in exchange for my review by Todd The Vinyl Junkie (TTVJ).  I have no connection to TTVJ or Sennheiser other than receiving the HD800S for evaluation.  The HD800S went on to the next reviewer after my week.

About Me / My Listening Style / My Reviews:

I am not a critical listener; I don’t find enjoyment in listening to music and trying to listen for every last detail.  When I listen to music I generally am sitting in a comfy chair, or in bed, and relaxing and enjoying the music.  I appreciate detail and accurate reproduction but tend to lean towards a warmer more laid back sound.  In the past I have had a pair of DT880s which while very technically competent were just too bright and aggressive; I much prefer something like my ZMFs or the HD650. 

I don’t claim to be a golden ear and all the opinions I state in my reviews are just that.  I try to use songs that I have listened to on a number of setups in my reviews; both speaker and headphone based.  I know how I have heard a song in the past and how I think it should sound and that's what I base my opinions off of.


Hardware & Specifications:


The HD800S come very nicely packaged.  There is an exterior retail box which covers a very nice box that holds the actual headphones.  The inner box is lined with a soft fabric and is cushioned to hold the headphones.  The HD800S comes with the boxes, headphones, a ¼ terminated cable, a balanced 4 pin cable, a manual, 8GB USB drive and a cleaning cloth.  There is a small bag to hold all of the accessories included.  The 8GB USB drive contains the manual and a print out of the measured response for your specific pair of headphones (added below under objective measurements)

If you want to see an unboxing here is a video that shows process from start to finish:


Technical Specifications (From Sennheiser website):

Impedance: 300 Ω

Frequency response: 4 - 51,000 Hz (-10 dB)

THD, total harmonic distortion 0.02 % (1 kHz 1 Vrms)

Cable length: 3m

Transducer principle: Dynamic Open

Weight w/o cable: 330 g



Objective Measurements:

As I said above Sennheiser provides a copy of the headphone measurements from factory testing.  Note that the below graph only goes from 100 Hz to 12.5 kHz.  For full spectrum measurements see the link below.


For other objective measurements see the measurements from Innerfidelity:

Design & Build:

The HD800S looks almost exactly the same as the HD800 with the exception of the black colored frame.  They feel very solidly built and if given the proper care should last a very long time.  The frame and most of the headphone is plastic, given the choice I would take a plastic headphone at this weight class and build over a metal frame any day.  

The included cables are nice and have a satisfying click when you connect them to the headphones, however, my preference would be for something with a bit more flexibility and a slightly softer sleeving.  The cables are quite long also, which is nice and a bit cumbersome at the same time.  This is really a personal thing so make your own decision on a 3 meter cable. The cable does also not like to be coiled, if you try to roll it up it becomes a tangled mess.  Not an issue if you regularly keep your headphones out but if you put them away each time the cord will drive you nuts.

The HD800S like the HD800 is an open headphone.  There is basically zero isolation from outside noise.  Also, being open there is basically nothing keeping the music in the headphone, which means whatever you are listening to, everyone else in the room gets a listen also.  The isolation may be a point that would make me not end up getting a pair of these, I really like to zone out and listen; noises from outside sources can interfere with my listening experience easily.  I had to figure out what a noise was in a song at one point, turned out it was just my dog snoring away at my feet that was barely audible over the music.  This should be well known to anyone researching this headphone but is really something to think about depending on what environment you primarily listen in.

I found the HD800S very comfortable.  Occasionally I would need to adjust the pads on my head as I would get a pressure point but I found I could wear them for multiple hours without issue.  The pads are a bit stiff but with proper adjustment can be comfortable and don’t retain much, if any heat.  I would say that the DT800 remains the most comfortable headphone I’ve used to date.  My ZMFs with lambskin pads are very comfortable also and seemed plush compared to the HD800S when switching back and forth, however, the lambskin can get sweaty occasionally.  The opening for the ear is a nice size, I have large ears and my ears do not touch anything on the inside of the cup when listening.  

Overall you get what you would expect from flagship headphone.  Top tier construction and materials and good comfort.  The pads could be a bit softer but are comfortable for extended listening sessions.


How do they sound?

Todd of TTJV noted that he burned the HD800S in for around 100 hours before sending them out for review.   So they were brand new but had some time on them before my week long review.  

All music music used in this review was ripped from a CD in either ALAC or FLAC at 16/44.1, unless otherwise noted.  

Other gear used during this review:

[DAC] Parasound Zdac:

[AMP 1] Parasound Zdac Internal Amp

[AMP 2] Schiit Lyr: (General Electric 6BZ7 tubes)

[Headphones] ZMF Master Model V1 (Fostex T50RP base):

[Source 1] Raspberry Pi running RuneAudio:

[Source 2] Desktop PC via optical running Foobar/Wasapi.


Zdac Amp vs. Lyr 2:

The Innerfidelity review of the Zdac amplifier section notes that the Sennheiser HD600 was top of the list when voicing the Zdac during design. Based on this I thought the Zdac might be competent at driving the 300Ω HD800S as the HD600 is a slightly less sensitive headphone.  

Overall the Lyr is a bit smoother on the top end, the Zdac can easily drive the HD800S but I really prefer the sound of the Lyr.  On a song like Get Lucky from Daft Punk the fatter bottom end of the Lyr is noticeable also.  On songs with a lower recording level I was hitting the top end of the Zdac’s output, for very dynamic music it could be limiting.  I really prefer the Lyr so it was used for all the listening tests below.  I think the slightly rolled off treble pairs well with the bright HD800S and is something to think about when purchasing this headphone or another amp.  

Overall Sound Signature

The short version? Bass response is good but the HD800S will never be called bass heavy or even nearing that claim.  I think most will still consider the HD800S to be weighted towards the higher end of the frequency spectrum. Cymbals were the only instrument I had a issues with as they occasionally became very prominent. If you want to hear every flaw in your recordings and have a headphone to really evaluate gear with, I would put the HD800S at the top of your list.

When I put on the HD800S and queued up a song, my first thought was there was no bass, good mids and the upper frequencies are exaggerated.  This was helped somewhat when I moved the amplification duties to the Lyr, however, my overall thoughts were the same.  Then as I generally do for a review, I spent quite a while just listening to my entire music library on shuffle and letting a bit of brain burn in happen.  As I listened I noticed that with the exception of a few frequencies the HD800S is nicely balanced, the bass will never thump but the HD800S can dig very low.  When I say they can dig low, I am speaking to response and playing the notes not how impactful the bass is, the HD800S will never be a bass head set of cans.  

On the higher end of the spectrum, I think the HD800S will sound bright to most as it did to me in the beginning.  As I really concentrated on the highs I found they were never peaky or sibilant and never really took over the song.  The one exception to this is the cymbals on certain recordings, whatever frequency they reside at seems to come forward in a recording and be more prominent than it should to my ears.  Not all cymbals had this result, but it did show up a few times over my week long review.  


Frank Sinatra - Greatest Love Songs - Fly Me to The Moon (In other words)

The intro to this song has a great soundstage with the intro percussion off to the far left and the other percussion coming in later on the right channel.  Although some of my listening tests before this found the bass can be lacking I think on a song like this it is nicely balanced.  The horns later in the song are just a bit “shouty” but not enough to make me reach for the volume knob and turn it down.  This is a genre where the HD800S excels.  


Eric Clapton - Unplugged - Lonely Stranger

Really shining here, great soundstage and everything is nicely separated.  The one thing that really struck me as I listened to the HD800S though a number of songs is how two instruments can be playing from one side yet sound completely separated and not encroaching on the individual note generation of one another. Clapton’s voice is front and center and the guitar drums and percussion are playing individually on the left and right.  Not to say that every headphone cannot do this with this recording, but the definition and separation by the HD800 is really superior here.  I put my ZMFs on for a bit and listened back and forth.  Such a difference in the placement of everything and the soundstage.  The HD800S sounds much more open and “speaker like” than the ZMFs, which is to be expected given the open vs closed nature of the two headphones.  

Eric Clapton - Unplugged - Old Love

Same album and style of song and basically the same result as above.  However, I am noticing the cymbals are a bit more accentuated and coming forward a bit more than they should.  I went back to Lonely Stranger and the same cymbal is there but it isn’t as prominent.  I love the guitar and the rest of the song but those cymbals are just too prominent.  


Foo Fighters - St. Cecilia - Iron Rooster (24/192)

For reference you can download this free at 24/192 at:  A nice balance of the electric bass and acoustic guitar on the intro of the song.  However, once the electric guitar comes in I really have to turn it down as the upper registers are just to harsh.  I would listen to the acoustic sections all day long though.  


AC/DC - Back in Black - Shoot to Thrill

The HD800S is just out of its comfort zone here.  The drums are lacking any real kick and I really can turn it up and rock to this song.  The drum solo starting at 3:23 is all mids and sounds pretty dry and sterile.  I switched to the ZMFs to write this, toe tapping the whole time, this just isn’t what HD800S was made for I think.


Eagles - Hell Freezes Over - Hotel California

I know this is cliche as a review song but this was the first CD I ever bought and it has always been my song to reference for a new setup, I've heard it on everything from a Bowers & Wilkins 802 setup with Mcintosh amps to Apple earbuds; so I know it well and have heard it on a wide range of equipment.  

The guitar in the first 30 or so seconds is just fantastic, then comes the bass line and I am really let down.  Yes the full range is being hit but the HD800S is just to polite and it really could use some thump here, which it just cannot do.  Leaving that behind, the rest of the song is really fantastic, those that have seen this concert know there are a string of guitars lined up along the stage.  You can really get that sensation listening here.  Henley is front and center but I can pick out guitars on the far right, far left and on either side of center.  

I switched back to my ZMFs to make sure I wasn’t just putting that soundstage into my own head.  Ooooh that bassline is back, but really I can forgive HD800S for lacking on that end for the fantastic guitars and amazing soundstage.  The ZMFs give a nice distinct left and right side of the stage but the inbetween is muddy, I cannot clearly place anything on either side of where Henley's voice is positioned.  

Back to the HD800S (that beautiful bass line is gone) but the guitars are so good.  I revisited the intro one more time and the notes are there, the HD800S can dig deep, however, that first bassline has no impact, no weight to it, and I really think it should.  

Eagles - Hell Freezes Over - New York Minute

I listened to this song twice and afterwards realized I didn’t have any specifics to write as I just sat back and enjoyed it.  The HD800S is really in its element on a song like this.  The next song on the album, Pretty Maids All In A Row, really is the same way.  The low end is perfect for a song like these and the mids and highs just sing.  


Miles Davis - Kind of Blue - All Blues

If the HD800S is out of its comfort zone playing AC/DC then with Miles Davis it is having fun and doing so with ease.  There are instruments all around your head and the horns sound nice and smooth, nothing is getting harsh.  The piano is off in a corner a bit and it feels like the drum set is wrapped around your head.  I don’t normally listen to this album much but sat and listened to it for awhile because it's just different on the HD800S, really enjoyable.


Steely Dan - Aja - Aja

I am able to turn this song up quite a bit without the treble becoming harsh and overall the balance is really nice.  The drums have a nice tone, however, the cymbals sound a bit off at times.  The speed and clarity during the drum solo is really nice, each hit is very clear.  

Steely Dan - Aja - Home At Last

The cymbals are nicely balanced here and aren’t sticking out to me as they were in Aja.  I can really sit back and enjoy this song.  If I were to be really picky I would like to see a touch of warmth in this song, its not cold or sterile but i've always heard this song a bit warmer than what I am hearing with the HD800S.  


Led Zeppelin - IV (Original CD Master/Pressing) - Stairway to Heaven

One thing I have noticed throughout this review is the HD800S will reveal any quality issues in the recordings you have.  On this song the hiss of the original recording is very noticeable during the first part of the song but becomes less noticeable as the song moves through each section and picks up volume.

The all acoustic first section of this song is really nice, the headphones are in there element. Move into the second section and everything is still as it should be.  Moving into the third section and the drums come in; I don’t think the drums have enough weight and the pickup in tempo just doesn’t have the same effect with the drums lacking.  The electric guitar at the beginning of the fourth section is right on and has my toe tapping, then the little drum riff at 6:20 comes and is totally bleh and ruins it.  I tried listening to this song off another master (Mothership and 1994 re-masters) and although slightly better it really still isn’t there for the drums and with the other parts of the song pushed up its not as pleasant to listen to as the original pressing.

Led Zeppelin - IV (Original CD Master/Pressing) - Going to California

Acoustic guitar mandolin and vocals, the HD800S says ahhhh and is back in its comfort zone.  This is pretty much how all the Zeppelin albums I listened to with the HD800S went, the acoustic/folk music was fantastic however, get to a more rock oriented song and either the bass guitar or drums really aren’t as they should be.  The one exception would be Whole Lotta Love where the rhythm is really supplied by the bass guitar and not drums and HD800S didn’t do to bad.  


Less Loss - Drums, Drums, Drums - Individual drum presentation -- drum set (24/96)

For reference, this track can be downloaded as a 24/96 WAV file for free at:   Listening to this track move through the drum set and the tone of everything is correct in my opinion.  The kick doesn’t really have any thump to it but it sounds very balanced with the rest of the set.  I chose to include this track in the review to see if the tone and response to each drum was off compared to one another and they sound balanced to me.  Some of the issues I am having with rock music may be the mastering and when given a flat response to a song that was possibly mastered to a expectation of a more V shaped typical consumer speaker/headphone the HD800S is sounding flat.  The alternative is that the HD800S is really revealing of poor mastering and compression of some albums.  


Engegardkvartetten - String Quartets: Haydn - Solberg - Grieg - Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): String Quartet In D, Op. 76, No. 5 - Finale - Presto (24/96)

For reference, the is track can be downloaded for free at:  This is just wonderful, the low end is perfect here and the high end of the violin notes are great to.  Even switching over to the Zdac amp doesn’t push the highs over the edge.  Very balanced and very enjoyable to listen to.  I guess that's why so many HD800 owners always have a lot of classical on their players at meets.


If you read through all my listening notes you are likely catching on to the theme and what my conclusion will be.  What the HD800S does well, it does extremely well.  Give it acoustic guitar, jazz, or light rock and it will put a smile on your face.  The soundstage and clarity are fantastic and some of the best I have heard.

However, give it some rock and it really doesn’t produce.  The drivers can hit very low, but drums and heavy rhythm guitar just are not as they should be, there is no impact or weight to the bass.  The chief complaint you read on the HD800 (non S) is the treble and I think even with the re-tune in the HD800S treble still rears its head now and then.  The HD800S never really was sibilant or harsh to the point I needed to turn it way down or wanted to stop listening.  However, certain instruments, cymbals mostly, were too prominent is some songs and just sounded out of balance with the rest of the music.

I would love to have HD800S, but it could not be my only headphone.  My library of music contains way too much rock and some of my favorite songs just were not as they should be.  However, there are entire albums that I could put on and be totally happy with the HD800S.  As a reference headphone it is fantastic and really reveals recording deficiencies and the differences between equipment easily.  

At the time of this review the HD800S is going for $1700 and the used HD800 market is running around half that.  If I were looking to pick up a HD800 right now I would look long and hard at a used set of HD800 and the mods that can be done.  With a set of modded HD800 and $850 in my pocket I am left with a lot of options.  Either an amplifier/DAC upgrade or a ton of music to be purchased.  I haven’t had any real head time with a modded HD800 but would look long and hard at the differences before picking up a HD800S for twice the price.  


Other Reviews:

Head-Fi HD800S thread:
Other Reviews From Me:
Oh yeah, on the Unplugged album, Walking Blues has some incredible bass with his foot stomping on the stage…
Just say'n is all.
I run my 800S with a Oppo HA-1 that has plenty of kick!   They are always talked about being bass shy, but IMO, when driven by a powerful amp and turned up they have plenty of bass.  If I want a touch more, I'll EQ them 4db @ 20Hz and they have all the thump they need ...for me!   Plus they still exhibit plenty of detail & nuance even EQ'ed...   I have almost 200 hours on my set and they continue to improve...!
One of the things that fails to get get mentioned is running them balanced.  My Oppo puts out 2X the power over the SE cable and I think that helps the bass with my Class A amp!...just my 2 cents


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Small, portable, great sound
Cons: May run out of juice on power hungry headphones
I made some changes just before I was sent the Mojo for review that really made this review into a David vs. Goliath and old vs. new matchup.  The mojo is the latest technology, fits in the palm of your hand and runs off a battery.  My Zdac and Lyr 2 setup is big, hot, sucks power from the wall and relies on older technology.  The Zdac was released in early 2013 and the Lyr relies on tubes which have been around since the beginning of the 1900s.
I really enjoyed my short time with the Mojo and want to say thanks to Todd for putting this review tour together.    
I was sent a Mojo in exchange for my review by Todd The Vinyl Junkie (TTVJ).  I have no connection to TTVJ or Chord other than receiving the Mojo for review.  It went on to the next reviewer after my week with it. 
About ME / My Listening Style:
I am not a critical listener; I don’t find enjoyment in listening to music and trying to listen for every last detail.  When I listen to music I generally am sitting in a comfy chair, or in bed, and relaxing and enjoying the music.  I appreciate detail and accurate reproduction but tend to lean towards a warmer more laid back sound.  In the past I have had a pair of DT880s which while very technically competent were just to bright and aggressive, I much prefer something like my ZMFs or the HD650. 
Hardware & Specifications:
Packaging is pretty simple, the Mojo comes in a two part box with a bit of foam to cushion in transport.  No frills.  The side of the inner box displays a road map of sorts to the color indications for the bit rate display.  The only accessory is a USB cable to hook the Mojo up to a source and/or power for charging. 
You do not get a power adapter, and you will need one.  Chord recommends 1A output form a 5v source to charge the Mojo.  Many USB ports will not provide the needed power to charge the Mojo (it will charge, but take forever).   I used a iPad charger that I had as a spare.   The iPad charger puts out 2.1 amps at 5v and charged the Mojo overnight.  I put the Mojo on the charger each night and in the morning it was charged and ready to go (as indicated by the charging light not being illuminated)
**This was a review sample, it had been passed to 5-6 other reviewers before I got it, so your results may vary.
Technical Specifications:
These are pulled from Chord’s site at:
Works with Android, iPhone, Windows and Mac
Charges in just 4 hours to provide up to 10 hours use.
Compatible with headphones from 4Ω to 800Ω
The case is machined from a single solid block of aluminum.
Three digital inputs - USB, Coaxial, and Optical
Plays all files from 32kHz to 768kHz and even DSD 256
Output Power @ 1kHz (600 ohms 35mW) (8 ohms 720mW)
Output Impedance: 0.075 ohms
Dynamic Range: 125dB
THD @ 3v - 0.00017%: 
A few specifications I didn't find on Chords site:
For Americans: 3.23” W, 2.44”D, 0.85”H
For the Rest of the World: 82.8 W, 62D, 21.5H
The tiny feet on the bottom add a bit to the eight but its not much. There is also a picture below comparing it to my iPhone 6s.
6.1 Ounces
Objective Measurements:
For a good summary of the objective measurements of the Mojo see the link below:
Using the Mojo:
I would recommend reading the manual while your mojo is charging for the first time.  There is some good info and its brief but provides some important details on use.  A lot of people are suggesting a 10 hour minimum first charge, not sure where it came from but seems to be going around, the manual is silent on it.
The Mojo’s chasis is two pieces of aluminum held together by 8 screws on the bottom.   It is a really solid piece and should last a long time. After going through the hands of a number of other reviewers and being shipped all over the country it looked like new to me, no scratches and finger prints wipe off with a t-shirt. The little orbs/balls are actually free floating in the holes and can spin around.  Not sure if anything can get behind them and cause an issue but as long as you keep your hands relatively clean I cannot see it being an issue.  All the jacks feel solid and don’t provide any wiggle or feel loose. 
Most of the Mojo’s external features are pretty self-explanatory.  There are two headphone outs which is unique but everything else is pretty normal, except for those glowing orbs. 

Those little orbs tell you a few details during playback, and perform there functions as noted in the picture above. 
The power orb displays the sampling frequency being fed to the DAC by your player of choice using the colors below:

The volume buttons also display a range of colors depending on the volume settings in use.  There appears to be three stages of the volume indication.  From zero the Mojo runs through the color field above quickly and then starts back over at red and moves to light purple.   There is a final stage where only the + volume button will change colors.  I found with my headphones I was always in the second section of volume indication and typically was in the dark blue range with my ZMF’s.  With the M6 Pros I was in the second volume section but stayed below the yellow/green range.  When just wanting some background music I was in the first section in the light purple.
I scrolled through the user’s manual before the Mojo was sent to me and got a basic understanding.  Hold the power button for two seconds to turn on and wait for the faint click and its ready to go.  The power ball cycles through the colors as it starts up. 
To use the Mojo as a DAC only and provide a 3V line out output you just click both volume buttons right after the Mojo powers on. 
I found coarse volume adjustments to take too long either by clicking the ball or holding it down.   However, I found fine adjustments to work nicely by giving the ball a few clicks.  I tend to flip the volume down if I need to talk to someone rather than pause a track so a quick dial is my preference, or a mute button.
Via USB on the Raspberry Pi it was plug and play.  RuneAudio recognized the Mojo and displayed Mojo in the list of output devices.  On all of my Windows PCs the drivers installed without issues (Windows 7 and Windows 10). 
Optical was plug and play also, once I remembered to enable my optical out.  24/96 content played with no issues and was reported correctly by the power balls color.  24/192 gave a subtle click/pop in my left ear each time I started the song.  I don’t have another optical source to test so this may be the fault of my motherboard.      
How does it sound?
I used the following gear, other than the Mojo, during this review:
[DAC] Parasound Zdac:
[AMP] Schiit Lyr: (General Electric 6BZ7 tubes)
[Headphones] ZMF Master Model V1 (Fostex T50RP base):
[IEMs] Mee Electronics M6 Pro:
[Source 1] Raspberry Pi running RuneAudio:
[Source 2] Desktop PC via optical running Foobar/Wasapi.
 [Source 4 – Work Laptop] Lenovo X240 (Windows 7 Playing Pandora/Tidal)
Music is ripped from a CD in either ALAC or FLAC at 16/44.1 unless otherwise noted.  Player and setup is noted above in each source listing.  
I received the Mojo on Saturday and did some general listening over the weekend.  I spent a lot of time on the Mojo and found it worked nicely as a portable solution.  With one power cord (Pi power source) I can move my entire listening rig up to the bedroom or into a quiet room in the house.  The battery lasted through each session (up to 4 hours).  Initial impressions going back and forth with the Zdac/Lyr stack is the Mojo is a bit more controlled and the stack doesn’t have the same snap/control to the sound.  The tubes in the Lyr were brand new and only had ~10 or so hours run time.  They were left on over the weekend and by Monday things seemed a bit more evenly matched. 
Steeley Dan – Aja: I went back and forth a number of times on this one trying to hear differences.  I ‘think’ I could hear a very slight difference in the drum stick click Steve Gadd makes around the 5:00 mark.  After a number of times back and forth the Mojo has a more realistic click to me, that is splitting hairs though.  Overall the two systems are pretty evenly matched using this sample.  I had to look over and see which device I was plugged into twice during this stint so that tells you how close the two setups are.
Steely Dan – Deacon Blues: Concentrating on the saxophone after around the 4:00 mark my preference is the Zdac/Lyr stack, I think the stack is just a bit smoother and more pleasant to listen to.
Beastie Boys – Slow Ride: Listened to the first ~25 seconds of this song over and over again on both setups.  I call this one a draw.  The Mojo is really impressing me here as I turn both setups a bit so see how bass is handled.  There is a heavy bass line after the initial percussion intro.  The Mojo holds its own even as I push the volume.
Dire Straits – Money For Nothing: This is a quieter track overall when it comes to recording level and I like to listen to it pretty loud.   The Mojo struggled on this one; it was pushed into the light purple/white volume levels and couldn’t produce the bass the Lyr was at this volume level.  The Lyr is just really hitting its stride and sounds fantastic, switching to the Mojo and the bass suffers and overall things are sounding a bit harsh.  The Lyr is capable of putting over 5 times the wattage into the ZMFs as the Mojo, I was surprised it took this long for me to run into a test where the Mojo ran out of power compared to the Lyr, really says something about the Mojo.  
Eagles - Hotel California (Hotel California): The Mojo is lacking in bass during the intro.  The Lyr is big and full on the bass line but the Mojo is losing the bass behind the rest of the song as the volume goes up.
Fleetwood Mac - The Chain (Rumors): This is another song with a lower recording level.  The Mojo is getting pushed into the third volume stage if I want to turn this one up.   The Mojo and the ZMFs do not pair well as you push the Mojo, it becomes a bit shrill and the bass and mids really suffer. Turning it down the Mojo pulls ahead, I'm liking the Mids from the bass guitar better. Although very close I would say the Mojo is keeping everything separated a bit more.
Eagles - Hotel California (HD Tracks 24/96):  I call this one a draw.  I really pulled this track up to listen to what I assume is a brush on the snare drum at a few points in the song.  It's in the lower back of the left ear on both setups. Both setups were equal to my ears in placing it and separating it from the rest of the track.  That placement that is almost behind your ear is something I first noticed with the Zdac, when I had my Modi, it was there but didn't have the same placement and desperation.
Daft Punk - Get Lucky (256 AAC) I focused in on the claps in this song.  The have a good presentation in both width and sound on both setups, I'm calling this on a draw.
After running into the power issue on the Mojo I remembered that you can set it to a DAC only mode and get a 3V line out.  I set this up to take the amp out of the equation and ran both the Zdac and Mojo through the Lyr.  
I spent a lot of time switching between the two while listening to Hotel California (Hell Freezes Over) and a few tracks from Rumors by Fleetwood Mac.  I would think the Mojo was pulling more detail and the Zdac had a bit of a veil but then I would switch back and hear the same from the Zdac.  I tried both longer listening sessions and rapid switches and came to the conclusion that any differences are so small that I would never be able to blindly say this is the Mojo and this is the Zdac.  That result really goes for the whole review I did, except when the Mojo runs out of power and the differences become very evident.
I really enjoyed the Mojo, for its size and the fact that is runs off battery it really punches above its weight.  Being able to move my entire listening rig up to the bedroom by unplugging one cord and carrying it all in one had was pretty nice.  However, I think for power hungry cans or inefficient cans I would be sure to get a demo and compare it to a desktop setup.  During my listening tests, when combined with a track with a lower recording level the Mojo would struggle.
When I didn’t run into power issues the Mojo was wonderful sonically.  There is a lot of detail and a smoothness that I really enjoyed. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a portable setup.  I held its own against a power hungry desktop setup and only rarely ran out of power and started to struggle.  
Other Reviews:
Other Reviews from me:
Long Term Update (12/14/2016):
I sold my Mojo last night and figured I would post up in my review on why I sold it.  
The first really isn't the Mojos fault but something to think about when buying one.  I constantly ran out of battery and/or found it dead.  I would have it on and forget to turn it off and come back to find it dead.  Again, not the Mojos fault at all, however, from a dead state you have to wait for a small charge before the Mojo will fire up and let you listen.  I had it fire up a few times and then die until it had a better charge.  This is with a 2.1 amp Apple iPad charger too, so no lack of current.  This and over extended absences the Mojo will self drain and you end up with short listen times or it can be completely dead.  
Second was the static.  I beleive this is linked to the lack of galvanic isolation on the board (which was done to save battery life).  So when next to my iPhone 6s or next to a Raspberry Pi with Wifi, (both of which I use as a source) you could get static from the EMI.  Using longer cables and getting the Mojo away from the device can help.  I would also get the same result on Optical when charging, which I assume is for the same reason.   
I still think the Mojo is a great product, however, I didn't end up using it in a mobile application as much as I thought I would and that combined with the annoyances above let me to move on.  I think Im going to stick with a all in one product for the ease of moving around my house, however, it will be powered by mains and not a battery. 
A good honest review, that highlight's the flaws....when reading the Mojo thread, you would think it's "the second coming" !
Thanks for the feedback.  The Mojo is pretty good when you consider its size and that it runs off a battery.  During my initial listening I got the impression that the Mojo was pulling a lot of detail and had a great presentation of the music, and began to think there was something well above and beyond what my lyr/zdac was providing.  However, when switching back an forth for longer listening sessions and later quick A/B tests the two setups were revealed to be very closely matched.  I do think there are differences between the two, however, in a blind test I do not think that I could say which is which.  I wonder if "the second coming" people are comparing the Mojo to a known standard and believe that the differences are so night and day that they could pick the Mojo in a A/B comparison easily.   
Great review!!