Based on Planar Magnetic technology, Paul Rigby reviews both the open and closed versions of these headphones
Formally known as MrSpeakers and now Dan Clark Audio (well I know that we had a street party when the name change was announced, I don’t know about you), the Aeon2 is, as you might have guessed, the second Aeon release in the series.
Hanging off a rather bendy NiTinol (Nickel-Titanium alloy aka ‘memory metal’) headband, the Aeon2 is notable by the shape of its slender earcups. Svelte in appearance with a touch of the Art Decos around the style lines, the ear cups look like a concept model. The sort that you admire but you’re not actually supposed to use in real life.
The earcups move in an articulated fashion within the skeletal aluminium frame that collapses into a compact unit that can easily be stored within the included zipper case. This unit is now truly portable.
The movement of the ear cups takes a moment or two to get used to. You begin by pushing instead of pulling and vice versa and you wonder if you’re going to break something but you quickly get used to the folding motion.
Fit, when you first apply the to your head, is a little odd. The shape of the ear cups, being rather elongated, takes a moment to get used to but I found the Aeon2 headphones, on my whopping great head size, ultimately a comfortable experience.
The motor system has been taken from the high-end Ether 2, while the enhanced damping is joined by magnets that have been positioned further away from the ear than the original model, towards the carbon fibre baffle.
These Planar Magnetic headphones arrived without cables attached. Connecting the cables to the earcups is your first job.
The included 2m Dummer cable arrives with either a 3.5mm termination with a 6.35mm convertor that is actually screwed onto the end of the 3.5mm plug or a 4-pin XLR with a spring-loaded, aluminium barrel connector on the other end.
The company also offers a “premium” VIVO cable, reportedly enhanced in audio terms (although I have not been able to test it) and a choice of 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 4.4mm tips, as well as 2m and 3m 6.35mm and 4-pin XLR terminations.
Finally, the Aeon2 cables arrive with what, I can only describe as, EQ pads but Dan Clark insists on calling them tuning pads.
There are three pairs included in the box, each pair becoming progressively thicker and denser.
The idea is to insert these pre-shaped pads into the inner earcup to modify the sound. I’ll check those out in the sound tests.
With a 13 Ohms impedance, the headphones weigh 340g (closed) and 321g (open).
I began with a vinyl version of Greenslade’s Time and Tide, on WEA from 1975. This prog outing combines organ, analogue synths, percussion, electric and bass guitar plus background vocal harmonies later in the track.
I started with the headphones supplied ‘as is’ with no pads added and the open-backed samples on the ears, first up.
My first impression was of the rather compact soundstage. Not as large or as airy as some headphone soundstages I’ve heard at this price point, with a slight restriction in treble-based reverb tails. I have to emphasise that the open-backed Aeon2 headphones were in no way claustrophobic or restricted in dynamic reach. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of room to manoeuvre here for these headphones. What the open-backed Aeon2 headphones did was trade a touch of space and air for bass authority.
For example, on this track, the bass guitar had a decidedly Chris Squire (of Yes) crunch in its style and application, emanating typical bass notes but then it plumbed further depths during its crunchy presentation. With the open-backed Aeon2 ‘phones this instrument offered great solidity and confidence while retaining a focus that enabled it to stay mobile and sprightly. There was no blooming or smearing here. The bass guitar bounced all over the soundstage, sounding punchy and a little nasty (in a good way) during its delivery.
So what I heard here was a sound that was in many respect architectural. Some headphones offer space, air, freedom to roam, reverb tails that travel for hours and a fragility that makes rice paper sound like plate armour in comparison. Not here, the open-backed Aeon2 headphones sounded like a building that was being created amongst that space because it had structure, form and a sense of presence that demanded your attention.
These headphones say, “OK look, this is a bass note. And watch this now, I’m going to put it here. Right? You got that?” A bit like standing watching a guy build a brick wall. The open-backed Aeon2 headphones are methodical and firm in their progress through a song.
Hence, percussion was compact, strong but also substantial. There was nothing airy fairy about the open-backed Aeon2’s performance.
There was plenty of detail on offer too with enough instrumental separation to provide distance between instruments and enable you to hear sonic and tonal contrasts. There was no sonic confusion here.
And with that? I turned to the close-backed Aeon2 headphones to see how they differed. Actually, when I first placed the close-backed Aeon2 headphones on my head, I paused. Frowned. Then put the open-backed pairing on again. Listened to those, swapped over and frowned again.
I am, I must admit, used to having close-backed headphones sound a little well, closed in, bass heavy and lacking in dynamic reach.
What the close-backed Aeon2 headphones did was sound, to me at any rate, more open backed than the open-backed Aeon2 headphones.
Now, being as critical as I can be here, the open-backed Aeon2 headphones do provide more air and fewer walls in and around the soundstage but the close-backed Aeon2 headphones actually control that air more efficiently and with a greater degree of management. What I mean is that, the space is not wasted or dispersed. The air is, in a way, captured and used productively.
Again, there was that sense of structure. The sense that the Aeon2 headphones were doing this and that on purpose was dominant here. Everything that the Aeon2s did was an intention. These headphones never had a suck-it-and-see approach. They constructed sound, they built it and formed a sonic structure.
So, in effect, the close-backed Aeon2 provided, if anything, a lowering of noise, a command – typical of closed backs – but also a precision and an extra sense of order. The close-backed Aeon2s were nothing if not organised. Bass was tidy and strong, upper mids were detailed and focused while treble had a forthright fragility. Nothing weak here. Treble sounded ‘meant’.
I inserted the supplied damping pads in each set of headphones and they progressively damped the sound. This EQ tweak was really not my thing, I have to say. I wanted the sound to be as open, as untouched and as unadulterated as possible but look, it’s nice that these pads are there for those who might need them. They’re not for me but they may be for you.
You really do need to spend a bit of time with both of these headphones to decide which one is best for you. Put it this way, I normally always go for open-backed headphones because I look for upper midrange detail and insight, first and foremost. Here, though, I’d plump for the closed-backed designs to give me more of that, which surprised me. A lot. The difference in sound was there but it was more subtle than you might think. The Aeon2 headphones were certainly cultured in their sonic approach but they were carefully defined too. Sound quality was balanced and poised to produce a bit of everything here.
What the Aeon 2 headphones do is not to emphasise any one frequency. They, in fact, threaten to please all the people, all of the time. Which is perfectly shocking, let me tell you.
DAN CLARK AEON2 HEADPHONES (CLOSED AND OPEN BACKED) Price: £900 each Tel: 01494 956 558 Website: www.electromod.co.uk
GOOD: comfort, styling, tonal balance, bass authority, midrange focus
RATING 8 (for each Aeon2)
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