ETHER 2: Impressions and Discussion
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MattTCG

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Dan Clark of MrSpeakers fame never seems to rest. He is always working harder to build on his former success and make something better. An ambition for perfection might seem a fool’s errand, but it’s often where greatness can be achieved. To be honest, when Dan told me that he was working on ETHER 2, I didn’t exactly think it was his greatest brainchild (sorry Dan). First of all, the original is an amazing product in its own right. I wondered just how much improvement he would be able to make in a successor and honestly whether or not people really wanted an ETHER 2.

And then he called me up one day to give me the particulars of ETHER 2. New design changes would be present where ETHER 2 borrowed the single pivot point technology from Aeon. I remember that call well and musing to myself, “damn, that’s smart and it makes perfect sense.” Single pivot point has better reliability and would be easier to manufacture. Dan went on to reveal that the design changes would yield additional benefits. A key result would be that he could lower the curb weight of the headphone by approximately 50 grams. Now that really had my attention. The production model actually went considerably lower than that 50 gram reduction coming in right at 288 grams total (minus the cable). This is remarkable to me. The weight of the Audeze LCD series is laughable to me, tipping the scale at nearly two times the weight of ETHER 2. Why anyone would want to wear something weighing almost a pound and a half is beyond me. Audeze doesn’t even publish the weight of their LCD line under the specs on their website…shameful. ETHER 2 is literally weighs in at half as much.

Additionally, the ease of manufacturing ETHER 2 would likely allow to keep an aggressive price for this headphone. It was at this juncture of the conversation that I began to appreciate the scope of just how special ETHER 2 could be. Even back in the day when Dan was cranking out Mad Dogs from his garage for a measly $300, I remember that he was always respectful of the cost of his products even when others were charging many times more. Dan seems to have retained his early days appreciation for the cost of his products and is always maneuvering to keep prices low and reasonable. I appreciate this. Heck, we all appreciate a good deal and when price/performance works more in our favor.

Now, what about the sound. Does it deliver the goods? I’m going to call the ETHER 2 a rather bold departure for MrSpeakers from their typical “house sound.” I really enjoyed the original ETHERS and they are still a fine product. But, for me they always needed the tuning pads or EQ to get to where I was happy with the signature. The originals could at times be lacking for warmth and body. Plugging in the ETHER 2, I was shocked at what I heard. No EQ or tuning pads needed whatsoever! The sound of this headphone was warmer, smoother and at the same time more resolving than anything that I’d heard from MrSpeakers before, even more so than Aeon Open.

I don’t like to use the word “natural,” but it does come to mind when thinking of descriptors to tag the ETHER 2. There is just no harshness or strident sound coming from the ETHER 2. Another big change is improved sound staging. Both width and depth are improved over previous ETHERS, extending well off the shoulder during my listening sessions.

It would have been much easier to simply make the structural and cosmetic changes to ETHER and roll out ETHER 2. But this is more than that, much more. ETHER 2 sports:

* an all new driver redesign from the ground up

*an all new motor

*an all new cable

*an all new baffle design

MORE ON THE SOUND

There are a few aspects of this headphones signature that I’d like to call significant. The first is the manner in which ETHER 2 reproduces bass. The sub bass on this headphone is flat down to almost 10 hz. Wait…did MattTCG just say flat down to nearly 10 hz? Oh yes, I did. You might want to label ETHER 2 an audiophiles basshead dream. The bass is just phenomenal in its ability to maintain texture and integrity down to a ridiculously low level. Please don’t misunderstand me here. This is not a th900 where the bass on all source material is jacked up. The bass here is linear to the recording. Put on some electronic music that features real sub bass and hold on to your seat. I’ll have to harken back to the release of the original lcd-2 pre fazor to conjure the feeling I got with ETHER 2 when I first put them on and cued up the music. The lcd-2 was fairly strong down to around 30 hz or so but it was somewhat “one note” with those frequencies and slightly murky. The bass with ETHER 2 goes lower and is much more textured.

If you’re thinking that ETHER 2 might be a one trick pony, you’d be wrong. This headphone offers the best sound stage from a MrSpeakers headphone to date. Room acoustics come across very realistically. Notes decay nicely and trail off from the front to the back of stage convincingly. The stage is spacious. And while not hd800 spacious, it’s still a nice improvement over previous ETHER headphones.

Next, if you’re into dynamics you’re going to love ETHER 2. The ability of the transducer to go from delicate and detailed to big and bold happens shockingly fast…almost estat fast. ETHER 2 can punch hard and effortlessly even at moderately low volume levels.

WHO IS ETHER 2 SUITED FOR

If you are a fan of the hd650 but want more sub bass and better resolution, then I imagine that you’d very much enjoy this headphone. If you always wanted a totl Audeze headphone but found the comfort and quality lacking, then you would very likely be a fan of ETHER 2. If you like the resolution and fine detail of the hd800 but find it too thin and lacking warmth and bass response…you should try ETHER 2.

WHO IS ETHER 2 NOT SUITED FOR

If you think that the hd800 on a Magni 3 has plenty of warmth and bass response, then e2 might not be for you. If you are not a fan of the “planar sound,” that probably won’t change for you with this headphone. Some people are drawn to the sound of a dynamic drivers. I can appreciate both.

WRAP UP

This is an exciting time to be in the headphone hobby. Reflecting back on the past 20 years in the hobby there have been headphone releases that were truly significant in that they helped to define the hobby and helped to advance it. Often these “special” releases proved what was possible with the type of signature they rendered. One such company that has led the way in helping to define the hobby is Sennheiser. With products like the hd90 (Orpheus), hd650, hd800 and many others they have made generational contributions that shaped the concept of what was possible in the hobby.

Looking, listening and considering what MrSpeakers brings to the table with ETHER 2, I would put this release in the category of “important and significant.” And a contribution that will help to shape the hobby. There are technical aspects about the build of this product that are truly noteworthy.

The build that results in a curb weight of 288 in a planar magnetic flagship is a substantial contribution. It shows that flagship headphones, even of the planar magnetic variety, don’t have to weigh a pound and can be worn comfortably for hours at a time. Consider the hd800. I’ve always found the ergonomics and comfort fairly good for long listening sessions. The ETHER 2 is almost 100 grams lighter than the hd800.

And then there is the sound. When I think about the sound coming from ETHER 2, the words haunting, and addictive come to mind first. The way that it renders music gives me an instant emotional connection to music. That sense of connection is the very reason that I’m in this hobby. It is the very reason that I listen to music at all. ETHER 2 has given me the most enjoyable, straight out of the box, plug and play experience I’ve had since I’ve been into headphones. It renders music in a manner that is simply ethereal. For me, it offers an experience that might be more comparable to a good set of speakers than anything else. At the very least e2 is “speaker like” in its ability to render sub bass and it’s ability to be transparent to the source material. Pictures will be posted shortly and driver specifications and graphs will follow after that.
 
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MattTCG

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Pad impressions to follow in this post soon.

It’s nice to have choices, for a multitude of reasons. Mrspeakers now offers a choice of both suede and perforated pads to go along with the stock leather pads. These pads are designed to offer a signature that complements the stock pads. So for those of you who are looking for something a little different with ETHER 2 house sound and don’t care for EQ, you now have choices.

The perforated pads will bend the signature towards neutral with more of a “reference” sound. There is still a good dash of warmth from the original pad signature, but these will offer a new level of transparency. If you like fine detail, subtlety and sonic nuance, then this may be the pad for you. Sound stage is the best with these, pushing well off the shoulder for width and digs out depth cues very well creating a spacious musical platform.

The suede pads take a somewhat different approach. I’ll cautiously refer to these as the “basshead” pads (evil grin). Sub bass sounds punched up around 3 db or so (just a rough guess). But don’t be mistaken here, nothing in the signature is out of place. There is still a seamless transition from bass to mids with no bleed whatsoever. But damn, the bass really hits hard with these pads! There is a more intimate presentation of vocals and stage here.

While both perforated and suede feel softer than stock, the suede is the softest. Because the suede is the softest pad, it should offer less clamp for those who feel that clamp with the stock pad is too much.

So now there are three pad options with each offering a different flavor and are each compelling in their own way. It’s difficult to say which is my favorite. It’s in the early going but I have to say I’m drawn to the sound and comfort of the suede pads.
 
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snejk

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If $2000 is what you get with easy and cost concious manufacturing I’m curious to how a difficult to produce Ether 2 would be priced. Also not sure I agree with the application of the word aggressive with regards to the pricing.
 
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If $2000 is what you get with easy and cost concious manufacturing I’m curious to how a difficult to produce Ether 2 would be priced. Also not sure I agree with the application of the word aggressive with regards to the pricing.
I admit. These are not cheap and certainly not in budget for everyone. I feel the e2 is very competitive with Susvara ($6k) and lcd-4 ($4k). So it's not too much out of line to say "aggressive pricing." Considering the bigger picture, putting a $3k price tag on these would not have been out of line considering the market for this level of performance.

Also consider that there is a significant amount of R&D involved in building the all new driver from the ground up. I certainly appreciate your concerns about price. Prices in the headphone market have gotten somewhat OOC in the past few years. I do however feel that the e2 is fairly priced, all things considered.
 
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Interesting how everybody else seems to be moving to high impedance drivers and Ether 2 has actually gone in the other direction with a mere 16 ohm rating.

Matt, did Dan happen to tell you what the sensitivity is? About the same as the original Ether or did it go up/down?
 
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MattTCG

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Interesting how everybody else seems to be moving to high impedance drivers and Ether 2 has actually gone in the other direction with a mere 16 ohm rating.

Matt, did Dan happen to tell you what the sensitivity is? About the same as the original Ether or did it go up/down?
He did. Let me check my notes and I'll get back to you. I do remember that it will be easier to drive. But let me check the numbers.
 
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MattTCG

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I can not find any additional info other than Dan wanted to make the e2 so that it's full potential was opened by mid level amps but offering "scale" for higher end gear. Also e2 will not puke on a good strong DAP like qp2r or Sony 1A. I hope this helps.
 
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If $2000 is what you get with easy and cost concious manufacturing I’m curious to how a difficult to produce Ether 2 would be priced. Also not sure I agree with the application of the word aggressive with regards to the pricing.
Word.
 
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I recently upgraded an old pair of Ethers to ECF. Despite the fact that I already have fantastic open cans and specifically upgraded for a purpose (loud work environment). I nonetheless considered upgrading to EFO, given how much I liked the original Ether sound the EFO's near universal praise. Then the Ether 2 is announced and puts me completely at ease... perhaps in a year or two I can consolidate my open cans into a pair of Ether 2's an be better off for it :)
 
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Daniel Lodewyk

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I feel like to complain about cost in regards to a Mr. Speakers headphone is asinine...

Mr. Speakers delivers quality products at prices (like mentioned before) are less than his direct competitors. But not only that, Dan's products are of high construction quality and materials. He is also very pragmatic for example with his design allowing the Aeon to be played with a Chord Mojo or a DAP and allowing them to scale greatly to say a AudioValve Solaris or other TOTL amplifier.
 
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I feel like to complain about cost in regards to a Mr. Speakers headphone is asinine...

Mr. Speakers delivers quality products at prices (like mentioned before) are less than his direct competitors. But not only that, Dan's products are of high construction quality and materials. He is also very pragmatic for example with his design allowing the Aeon to be played with a Chord Mojo or a DAP and allowing them to scale greatly to say a AudioValve Solaris or other TOTL amplifier.
Fanboys sticking their heads up manufacturers asses.... always amusing. Oops, I meant to say asinine.
 
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I feel like a lot people don't understand the R&D costs and other expenses required to make a new headphone from scratch while still turning a profit in order to fund further growth. Places like MrSpeakers and ZMF are small boutique shops. They are not multi-million dollar companies like Focal or Sennheiser. Yet they are still cheaper than a lot of the competition. (Utopia - $4k, LCD4 - $4k, HEK - $3k, Susvara - $6k.)

Does it suck it's not cheaper? Sure, but it is understandable and reasonable once you understand a little bit of the business/financial side of it. Nobody is forcing you to buy $2k headphones to get good sound. The budget minded consumer has more options today than they ever have in order to get excellent sound, big money not required. Hell, my hd580 probably gets 30% of my head time despite owning an HD800 and Auteur.
 
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If $2000 is what you get with easy and cost concious manufacturing I’m curious to how a difficult to produce Ether 2 would be priced. Also not sure I agree with the application of the word aggressive with regards to the pricing.
Pricing has gotten out of control in the past 3 years.

I admit. These are not cheap and certainly not in budget for everyone. I feel the e2 is very competitive with Susvara ($6k) and lcd-4 ($4k). So it's not too much out of line to say "aggressive pricing." Considering the bigger picture, putting a $3k price tag on these would not have been out of line considering the market for this level of performance.
That's a matter of opinion but I do think Hifiman is definitely out in space with their pricing. Audeze has always been on the higher side but their support and product quality are nothing to complain about.

Sometimes you pay for what you get (this doesn't pertain to every instance in the audio world obviously).
 
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MattTCG

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Pricing has gotten out of control in the past 3 years.



That's a matter of opinion but I do think Hifiman is definitely out in space with their pricing. Audeze has always been on the higher side but their support and product quality are nothing to complain about.

Sometimes you pay for what you get (this doesn't pertain to every instance in the audio world obviously).
I have owned three sets of Audeze headphones, lcd-2/lcd-2c and lcd-3. There is plenty to complain about.
 

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