I was one of the few who decided to get the Aeon before Dan could ship it with its intended product box and carrying case, but Dan was kind enough to include the Ether carrying case, which fits the Aeon just fine. The case is almost as small as it can get while still being robust enough to comfortably fit the Aeons inside; no complaints there. The build of the Aeon is top notch: there's only one point of articulation on each side of the headphone, and it's the point where the gimbals attach into the side of the cups. The majority of the headphone is constructed with durable yet lightweight materials; the headband is comprised of two nickel titanium shape memory alloy rods that are responsible for maintaining clamping pressure and adjusting the height of the suspension strap. These nitinol rods are malleable enough to allow for enough fidgeting once the cups are on your head. The gimbals are solid pieces of what looks to be powder coated aluminum, as are the baffles which make up the structure for which the drivers are housed in. The baffles extend to the exterior of the cups and create the black ring along the side of the cups. These rings are what you normally grip when handling the headphone once it's on your head, and their rigidity makes the Aeon feel incredibly solid. The backing of the cups consist of carbon fiber, while the dark blue portions are one of the only plastic components of the Aeon, and they're finished in a high gloss metallic paint. My biggest criticism of the Aeon's build (which I guess can extend to the Ether series) is that there's no visible detents or marks to signify which position the headstrap sliders are on the nitinol rods. This can become a little annoying at times, as adjusting clamping pressure requires subtle movements of these slider along the curvature of the rods, and eyeballing both to match for optimal fit and comfort is less precise of an ordeal than actually relying on some sort of markings. This problem is also emphasized by the fact that the left slider on the headband is slightly more loose than the right, so it tends to ride up a little easier if I'm trying to adjust the fit on my head, causing imbalance. Besides the slight annoyances with the headband adjustment, the build of the Aeon expires confidence in durability, and exemplifies smart engineering and material choices. The overall look of the Aeon is one that looks futuristic, streamlined, yet organic. Its ear-shaped cups are elegantly curved and asymmetric, while its ones-sided gimbals reinforce this aesthetic. I can see this look being highly contentious though, as many might prefer much more symmetrical shapes like circles or ovals-- the sleek and organic curvature is a welcome change for me though.
Comfort is where the Aeon's choice in materials and engineering really pay off. The Aeon is the lightest planar magnetic I've experienced; its light weight combined with a suspension headband makes for a very natural fatigue free experience for the top of one's head. In its current market of high end headphones, the Aeon is the welcome bantamweight in a grouping of heavyweight behemoths, many of which I find completely unwearable. The ear-shaped cups of the Aeon are perhaps its biggest strength, as they allow the Aeon to be as light as possible while maximizing earpad space for one's ears. At roughly only 2/3 the width of most fulls-sized cups, the Aeon's pads have as much if not more space for your ears to fit into. The pads are graciously deep as well, allowing for a very spacious fit. The pads are not memory foam though, so I worry that over time the pads will eventually compress and cause for a more intimate fit, which is cause for concern, because the pads are glued on for optimal seal. With many headphones today seemingly ignoring fit and comfort for a sole priority in sound quality, it's nice to see a headphone maker seemingly build a headphone around comfort first. The Aeon however is still a closed and well isolating headphone, so your ears will get hot over time, mitigating a completely natural experience. If Dan were to ever make an open-version of the Aeon, and calibrate it to clamp slightly less as it wouldn't have to rely on a tight seal, it would be perhaps the most comfortable headphone on the market, and one that I would surely grab with no hesitation.
The sound of the Aeon is very balanced with incredible extension down low and good extension into the treble. It has a slight lower-midtreble emphasis around 8-10k, slightly exaggerating s,sh, and z sibilants in certain recordings, but it's more mild than many headphones, as the effect doesn't show on as much recordings as other headphones I've owned through the years. Upper midrange is very robust, with a healthy and smooth rise from 1khz to 3khz, without showing many colorations are aberrations that would otherwise give the Aeon a closed-cup sound. Lower treble from 4-7khz seems to be wonderfully present yet balanced. Most headphones either have too little treble in this area or just just a complete mess. Percussion on the Aeon is rendered with a good deal of depth and tangibility due to the well-balanced treble presentation, while never becoming annoying or hissy. Room ambiance cues are easy to pick out, and vocals have plenty of breath to them as well. The bass of the Aeon extends down to the lowest notes with ease, without showcasing any excess bloat or distortion. I tested the Aeon's bass to extend down to about 32hz before rolling off, which puts it in line with the audeze LCD series. The balance of the bass in the Aeon isn't as exaggerated as I thought it would be given the Harman bass boost in its frequency response graphs. Low to mid-bass is in healthy balance, but the upper bass and lower midrange transition area around 200-400hz lacks the body, heft, and sweetness that I've grown accustomed to from other high performing headphones. I can't tell whether this lack of lower midrange heft is either a tuning choice, or a side effect of the Aeon's closed back nature, as closed back headphones usually lack the inherent inner-warmth that open-backs do. Cellos tend to lose some thickness and bloom to them, while vocals lose a little bit of guttural fortitude, and pianos lose some of their warmth and resonance that usually give them a robust and romantic quality. A slight lack of warmth and weight to its lower midrange aside, the timbral balance of the Aeon remains very good, and it throws a decently sized image with open sound despite being closed back. The Aeon's sound is very focused, with one of its inherent strengths being its instrument separation and microdynamics, allowing many different instruments and elements in complex passages of songs to be followed with ease. However I think it still doesn't compete with the best open-backs for sheer clarity though. Its presentation lacks that last bit of inner warmth and airiness that gives other open-backs an edge when it comes to rendering a believable acoustic performance around you.
Compared to the Oppo PM3:
The Oppo PM3 was gifted to me from Oppo as a thank you for participating in their beta program to help sculpt the final production tuning of the PM3. I didn't want to sell it off to essentially make money, so it was gifted to my brother and I always borrow it in situations like these to compare with other headphones for reference, as I feel that its frequency balance is among the best in the market. Tyll and Bob Katz seem to mirror these impressions as well.
Compared to the Aeon, the PM3's build holds up just as well, with a bit of luxurious flair to it. Its earpads are memory foam, allowing for a more plush experience, while its headband adjustment is smooth as butter with markings that I find sorely missing on the Aeon. The PM3's headband looks more finished compared to the Aeon's suspension strap as well, while the black and silver finish is more refined looking than the Aeon's blue and carbon fiber scheme. Being more of a portable though, its earpads aren't as large as the Aeon, and its headband doesn't have a suspension strap, so over time it's not as comfortable of an experience as the Aeon. I develop a hotspot on the top of my head with the PM3 after an hour of continuous listening, while the I never develop a hotspot with the Aeon.
Comparing the two Innerfidelity measurements of the Aeon and PM3, it's surprising how different they sound. While both measure extremely close to the ideal Harman response curve for headphones, PM3 is the much warmer of the two headphones, and its upper-bass lower-midrange is upfront and robust, if not a little bloated sounding, compared to the Aeon. I tend to prefer the PM3's meatiness in this area, but there is no denying that its upper bass is bleeding into the midrange a slight amount, while the Aeon's is remarkably controlled. Coming from the PM3 directly to the Aeon, the Aeon sounds very breathy and slightly sparkly, while the PM3 is more grounded and less airy. The aforementioned bass-bleed makes the PM3 sound more like a closed back headphone, while the Aeon remains more open sounding. Despite measurements, upper midrange around 3-4khz is slightly mellower on the PM3, while less restrained on the Aeon, giving the PM3 a more laid back sound and the Aeon a slightly more crunchy sound. The PM3's bass doesn't extend down as low as the Aeon, and it definitely isn't as controlled or powerful as the Aeon when a song has lots of sub-bass information. On Trentemoller's Into The Trees, Aeon's bass extends into subterranean levels while remaining controlled enough to not haze over the rest of the sound spectrum, while PM3's bass is thicker and hazier, but not as deep. I find the PM3 to present vocals better than the Aeon, with more weight and less sibilants, but slightly less airiness. On Adele's Hometown Glory, Adele's voice is weighty and palpable on the PM3, while it lacks some foundation on the Aeon. This particular recording also brings out some sibilances in her voice as well on the Aeon. Both headphones have faults in their frequency response, but both are remarkably balanced, however I think the PM3 has the less glaring flaws, so I give it the edge in frequency response. Aeon however has more clarity to it with less bass bleed, better microdynamics, more balanced treble, and more focused sound.
Compared to the Elear:
After reading Tyll's glowing review of the Elear, as well as getting ran over by its hype train on Head-Fi, the thought of buying an Elear to own for the rest of my headfi journey was a no-brainer. This was the headphone that could do nothing wrong and did everything better than anything that ever came before it... or so I thought. Hype aside, the Elear is an extremely bombastic sounding headphone with clarity and dynamics in spades, but it also has a couple of Achilles heels as well which don't make it quite the sea-change in the world of personal audio.
The Elear's build quality is tremendous. It is definitely one of the few headphones that has the looks to match its asking price, with a sleek looking gimbal assembly and well padded headband, as well as very plush memory foam pads sporting an almost microfiber type of covering, feeling very nice on the skin. The outer grill screams look at me using polished aluminum and a slick black and silver color palette. The Aeon still holds its ground though with its unique and organic looking presence. The earpads, suspension strap, and lack of headband adjustment markings are still take aways from the Aeon. I mentioned the Elear having a couple of glaring flaws earlier, and its comfort would be one (for me, anyways). Most people find it to be relatively comfortable, but I set my bar for comfort in the heavens. Despite its robust and luxurious build, the Elear is a slobbering behemoth next to the Aeon, and its weight causes for an eventual hotspot on the top of my head after 45 minutes of sustained listening. The clamping force of the Elear is also really high in comparison to the Aeon as well. Its super plush and exceedingly roomy pads to a fantastic job of mitigating its clamp, but you will always feel like you're wearing big headphones with the Elear. Coming off the Aeon, the Elear is just annoying to wear. The comfort is the main reason why I bought the Aeon and am seriously considering selling the Elear. I want my headphone to be a completely natural experience, and the Elear just isn't it.
The Elear measures to have the least bass of the 3 headphones being compared here, but it actually might have the most. Its prominent feature when compared to the Aeon is its overall bass heft, which brings many recordings to life with such impact and grounding presence. Its tone is dark given its bountiful lower midrange and recessed upper midrange. The Aeon by comparison is rather thin sounding and colder throughout its midrange. Horned instruments in Hans Zimmer's Imagine the Fire are slightly shouty sounding on the Aeon next to the Elear, which renders them with more warmth and depth. On the other hand, the Aeon on the same recording can make Elear's soundstage sound disoriented, with a gap in the upper midrange and spotlighted treble. Coming off the Aeon and listening to the Elear, violins can lose their screeching presence, trumpets can become blunted, and percussion can lose a bit of snap. The Aeon can't compete with the Elear's clarity and dynamics though, as the powerful image the Elear throws is full bodied yet pristinely controlled with natural decay and a dead-black background. The full-bodied lower midrange of the Elear tends to give acoustic performance more tangibility with a natural feel of room gain and resonance, while on the Aeon, instruments become drier and more one-dimensional. With its extremely opened-back nature and ease of dynamic control, the Elear is hard to beat in the specific areas that it excels in, but it has a divisive frequency response that you'll either love or hate. People who love warm to dark sounding headphones like me will suck up every ounce of its baroque-esque sound that it soaks you with, while others looking for more natural and evenly-shaded renderings of instruments and vocals will gravitate toward the Aeon, whose colorations I find less troublesome than the Elear. It has a deeper extending bass, more even upper midrange and treble from 1-10khz, but its troublesome dip around 2-300hz tends to sometimes thin out certain recordings. Luckily, an abundance of bass up to 100-150hz counteracts this effect a little bit.
In conclusion, the Aeon is a damned good sounding headphone with very few glaringly obvious frequency response problems and comfort that's second to none, on top of being one of the most isolating full-sized closed headphones on the market that's built exceptionally well. With so many assets at its disposal and coming in at under 1000 dollars, it's nice to see a company put such an effort into a headphone and refuse to follow the current price-gouging trend of today's high-end market. However it's not the perfect headphone; while its treble balance and presentation is perhaps the best I've heard on a planar magnetic to date, it lacks the lower midrange-middle midrange balance that most other planars are known for, with a mild depression in the 200-400hz range that causes many sounds to lose their heft and warmth. I would ideally like to see an open version that could somehow retain the same control and balance of the bass and treble, while reworking the midrange to be more full bodied while still retaining the general smoothness yet precision of the Aeon. All things considered, this is a headphone that just makes sense, which is something that's hard to come by these days.