Cool and Confident: Mr. Speakers Ether Planar Magnetic Headphones

For a long time Mr. Speakers' Dan Clark, Founder and CEO, has worked his way up the ladder from enthusiast, to modifier, to manufacturer of heavily modified Fostex T50RP headphones. With the Ether (starting at $1499), Dan has completed the transition to a headphone completely designed and manufactured from scratch...and sounding better than anything he's previously produced. Congrats Dan!

Description
The Ether is a full-sized, circumaural open acoustic, planar magnetic headphone. The look is superb, to my eyes, the outer exterior ring around the grill is a lovely, deep, fine metal-flake red. The rest of the build is a manly black.

Construction quality and materials are top-notch. Ear pads are soft suple leather; a heavier grade of leather is used for the headband strap. Earpads are replaceable—they use the common edge flange mounting, and are perfectly circular and four inches in outside diameter. The headband tensioning arcs are NiTinol—also called "memory metal", a nickel-titanium blend having some unique properties, which include being 10-30 times more elastic than most metals. Other than the headband adjustment sliders, all remaining headband hardware is metal. The swivel arem, Dan tells me, are hogged out of billet aluminum

Comfort is very good with the Ether. Their light weight (370 grams) and plush leather ear pads and conforming headband strap do a very good job of providing a comfortable fit. The only problem I had was that the size adjustment sliders are a tad too loose, and the act of putting the headphones on my head will usually move one of the sliders making me readjust the headband every time I don the headphones.

The headphones sent to me had the DUM (Distinctly Un-Magical it says on their website) cables terminated in both 4-pin XLR and 1/4" plugs. I found these cables a bit too inflexible for my liking. Dan Clark tells me these cables are being replaced with a more pliable cable. The E-Valucon connectors (SN-8-4(P)) used to connect the cable to the earpieces is one of the nicest headphone connectors I've seen. DIYers can purchase them directly from Mr. Speakers here.

Accessorization is minimal but adequate for a high-end, home-use headphone. The Ether comes with a cable chosen at purchase by the buyer from a fairly broad range of options—XLR, 1/4", 3.5mm, 2.5mm balanced and RSA/ALO termination. Also included is a rather bulbous looking brown, molded, hard, clam-shell case with zipper closure. It may be rather large and funky looking, but it's nicely protective and functional.

V-Planar Diaphragm Technology
I must say that I've seen a number of headphones in the last year that have evidenced innovative thinking on the part of manufacturers, which, in the end, really didn't pan out sonically. I'm happy to say that Mr. Speakers V-Planar knurled diaphragm does seem to work fairly well.

MrSpeakers_Ether_Animation_VPlanarWithoutTo the right you see a representation of a normal diaphragm membrane driven between two magnets. These thin diaphragms do have a degree of elasticity, but you can imagine that the tension within the diaphragm gets greater as it excursions to its extremes. Too much tension on the diaphragm will limit large excursions and therefore distort the acoustic signal it produces. Too little tension and the diaphragm will flop around more likely to produce modal break-up. This makes achieving proper diaphragm tension critical with normal flat diaphragms, and as a by-product oft times produces unit-to-unit variations in performance.

MrSpeakers_Ether_Animation_VPlanarWithObserving work done by Bruce Thigpin to optimize diaphragm performance in Eminent-Technology planar magnetic speakers, Clark developed a headphone diaphragm with a knurled surface. This shape reduces the change in tension in the diaphragm as it makes large excursions, which improves a couple areas of performance. It allows more of the surface of the diaphragm to move as a flat piston, which in turn keeps the wavefront flatter as it approaches the ear—arguably a more natural sonic presentation. It reduces the difference in diaphragm tension between the middle resting position and the extremes of excursion, which in turn will reduce distortion of reproduction at high volumes—possibly improving dynamic range performance. Lastly, because of the knurling, diaphragm tensioning becomes less critical. It's still damned important, no doubt, but unit-to-unit variations might indeed be reduced with a knurled diaphragm. Mr. Speakers did work with Bruce Thigpin in the development of this diaphragm, who is also listed as a co-inventor on Mr. Speakers patent application for this realization.

Whether or not this technology delivers on the sonic promises of the design is difficult to say with certainty—I would not characterize the Ether as having break-through sonic performance in its class, but I also consider them as solidly competitive in the >$1000 price category. I can tell you that the measured distortion of the Ether is as low as the best planar magnetic headphones I've measured; and is almost completely free of impedance variations over the audio spectrum. Most planar magnetic cans that evidence distortion spikes usually have corresponding spikes/features in the impedance plot.

Well...let's get on with characterizing their sound on the next page.

COMPANY INFO
Mr. Speakers
3366 Kurtz Street
San Diego, CA 92110
619.501.6313
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Seth195208's picture

Dan still hasn't fixed the moving illustration. It should show a single sided motor. Other than that, Mr Thigpen has really outdone himself. Wow!

thune's picture

V-planar diaphragm technology is not dependent on the magnet structure. The illustration is perfectly correct for what it is intending to show. There is nothing to fix.

Seth195208's picture

..that something in your product is built a certain way when it is not? Are you saying that it is not misleading? To each his own, I guess.

gevorg's picture

Thank you for including EQ corrections in the review, would love to see more of them in the future.

TMRaven's picture

I'd actually like to see measurements of headphones un-eq'd then eq'd together, it'd be interesting to see how each one responds to EQ measurably.

castleofargh's picture

on your screenshot of equilibrium, the little orange rectangle on the top right means you clipped the signal.
not that it's really a surprise with the gain set at +36db ^_^.

johnjen's picture

I gave up even trying to achieve decent EQ on my 800's after repeated attempts to come up with something that was even acceptable, let alone 'better'.
That is until the BS2015 post dealing with EQ showed up.

Since then I've been pursuing this with very gratifying results and I know I'm still not all that close.

But this entire topic is way more significant than I had imagined, at least based upon my own previous experiments anyways.

I look forward to exploring and learning more about all of this.
Especially the 'what stuff to use' and 'how' parts…

Thanks Tyll for kicking this entire topic into the foreground.

JJ

veggieboy2001's picture

...maybe we shouldn't call this lovely sonic experiment BS2015....

lol

Lunatique's picture

I've been advocating EQ'ing of headphones for years (as well as using HRTF plugins like TB Isone) and people used to criticize me for doing it. It feels like vindication that now Bob Katz has talked Tyll into doing it. :D

Seeing EQ curves in Tyll's review puts a big smile on my face. It also gives me better insight into the sonic characteristic of the headphone too (although measurements can do that pretty well too).

MattTCG's picture

The adjustment issue that you mention is easily resolved. Once you've got a feel for exactly where the sliders should be to give you a proper fit, simply use a Philips screwdriver and make about a 1/4 turn on the screw that goes through the leather strap and slider. This will keep the slider from moving around and you'll have a perfect fit each time.

Stereolab42's picture

Doesn't work for me. The screw turns but has no effect on the slipperyness of the slider.

24bitbob's picture

I jumped on the EQ bandwagon following Bob Katz's contribution in Big Sound 2015. I gotta say, for me it's game over. I have never experienced such musical pleasure as I have out of my modded, EQ'd HD 800's: clean, agile, detailed, and so, so enjoyable. The bass is much, much better, and the brightness for which the HD800's are notorious has been tamed. Now I can wear these headphones for hours on end, not because they're comfortable (they are), but because I enjoy listening to music on them so much.

I bought a vst plug-in called Equilibre, which I had some success with (and which is quite a bit cheaper than Equilibrium referenced above) using the method outlined by Bob in BS 2015. The game changer for me was trying out Sonarworks, which offers EQ profiles for individual headphones. Owning modded HD800's, I got them to calibrate my own headphones which involves sending them off to them, a process that took a couple of weeks. The sounds I'm hearing now are to be treasured. I'm honestly not interested in searching out other headphones. From what I've read the leap in quality I've achieved puts my HD800's quite a way ahead of anything that has come along since. I haven't heard the Ethers or the HE1000's, but I'm confident I don't need to, to realise musical bliss.

I will add that I use a Windows 10 laptop which is dedicated to playing music: Windows 10 / JRiver, plus the Sonarworks plug-in; no JPlay or other such tweaky audio software. I've contemplated getting a dedicated music player like an Auralic Aries or Aurender, but since EQ'ing my headphones I am more than happy with what I hear.

EQ can offer big gains, is relatively cheap, and whilst getting it setup right can be fiddly (it's endlessly tweakable), it quite quickly takes your listening pleasure to a better place. And if you decide don't like it, you switch it off. Very few mods in the high end offer such versatility.

johnjen's picture

I too highly recommend the Sonarworks Ref 3 plug-in.
My 800's are modded and even using the average compensation curve (albeit a modified one) the results are stellar, WAY better that ANY of attempt I tried.

It does motivate me to want to send my HP's in for them to measure and make a custom EQ curve as well.
What kills it for me is the shipping cost to Latvia and back.
Its like nearly 1/2 the cost of buying a new set of 800's.

But the results even as inexact as they are, are nothing short of amazing.

This is THE BEST I have EVER heard my 800's.

Game Over Indeed!

JJ

xp9433's picture

Did you compare the same EQ settings using JRiver's own parametric EQ against using Equilibrium?

Any chance of a quick word on any SQ differences you heard?

Thanks
Frank

inventionlws's picture

I am very curious about how the frequency response of a headphone respond to the EQ, also, the effect of EQ on the step response and the impulse. Can you run the test tone through the EQ program and test the phone? That would be very interesting I assume.

castleofargh's picture

for those who can measure headphones, or find a guy to do it for you, a very convincing way to simulate EQ is the EQ part of room eq wizard.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/j3xkhkad21ph0y2/simulated%20EQ.png?dl=0
here is with an IEM(I had removed the filter). the full line is the measured IEM, the doted line is the estimated signature using the EQ settings showed in the popup window.

then I entered those values into a VST EQ and looped it in the measurement with virtual audio cable:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/ymgxa2wto55g8yv/measure%20IEM%20with%20EQ%20ap...
on the right still the same expected result from REW, on the left the actual measurement with the EQ applied.
the differences are super small and come in fact from me being unable to get the exact frequency value in the EQ VST I was using at the time.

it's a pretty amazing tool, but of course you first need a measurement of your headphone. I'm sure you can find someone to give you the file from the same headphone model that he measured(should be close enough). like some of the folks in changstar V2.0.
my stuff isn't so great and is limited to IEMs.

once you have one measurement to play with and REW installed, you can run any EQ simulation you like. amazing stuff!!!! even more so when you realize it's a free software.

wiinippongamer's picture

The red ring around the cups looks tacky as hell.

Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Hey Tyll, I just got the HE500 and I noticed it has two sets of pads, a velour pair, and a synthetic leather pair.I'm wondering which pads were on while you did the measurements for the HE500 & whether or not you have an opinion on which one sounds better and also measures better, I've grown to trust your opinion, so I'd love to know what you think and would appreciate the feedback. From what I hear the synthetic leather pads isolate and seal better and have tighter bass and snappier transients, the velour pair seemed a bit slow and smoothed over, though was marginally airier and had a wider and more distant imaging. If you don't know which pads measure/sound better, I'd also be curious in your knowledge about pads, seal and how they relate to measurements regarding the tightness and squareness of transient waveforms

(whether or not velour pads or leather pads seal better or measure better/ The oppo Pm2 I think has alternative pads as well, I'd love to know your observations in experimenting with pad changes with those headphones, it might give me some constellation on which pads I should use on my new He 500's)

Thank you for your time

detlev24's picture

I believe he measured with the stock velours on; but let's wait for his answer.

You can get measurements of different pads, e.g., there (first post):

http://www.head-fi.org/t/646812/hifiman-he500-he400-jergpad-mod-v2-5

I ended up with the (new) FocusPads - for comfort, since sound signature is influenced only slightly.

However, the HE-500 should be an excellent choice for EQing (due to its low distortion)!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Yup. I measured with the stock velour pads.
Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Thanks for the feedback, but I'm still curious which sound/measure better, any comment on that? though I know impressions of the pads are largely on personal preference and opinion.

Thank you for your time

detlev24's picture

1. FocusPads (IMO)
2. stock velours (measurement)
3. stock pleathers (measurement)

I didn't find a measurement for the FocusPads on a HE-500, so this is based on my preference and surely influenced by comfort.

Take the current Jergpad Mod, which measures better than the stock velours; and might have been example for the FocusPads.

detlev24's picture
Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Thanks for pointing me into the right direction and for some advice, the citation to the measurements on Headfi have helped thanks!! :)

Joe Bloggs's picture

So happy to see this content on innerfidelity. It feels like more people in the future will get to hear what I've been hearing all these years So can somebody point me to Bob Katz's EQ method and a report on this "Big Sound 2015"?

Miscellaneous thoughts:
1. Pink noise gets touted as an important tool in EQing but I don't see how it helps you pinpoint problem frequencies. For me, a sine tone generator has always been where's it's at. The key (if you need to suss out the whole frequency response of a pair of earphones by ear) is capability to apply two layers of equalization directly on the sine generator's output,
i) an EQ shaped after an equal loudness contour

(say the 60dB curve, with your own customizations as you get experienced with your own ears' actual response--and you would listen to these sine tones at an estimated 60dB to match), to let you compensate for your ears' uneven response to different frequencies,

and ii) the actual EQ for your earphones, to be determined by listening to the sine tones.

An illustration of this from my dusty image archives...

From right to left: signal generator, equal loudness EQ, actual headphone EQ

2. As you do more sine tone listening testing and EQing, you may find that the frequencies of peaks and nulls as detected by your measuring rig do not "exactly" correspond to the frequencies of said peaks and nulls as heard by your own ears; for full size earphones the difference may be on the order of a few % in frequency (yet enough to make you almost miss the actual peak to be compensated for), for some in-ear earphones, you may hardly recognize which measurement peak what you hear was supposed to correspond to... (at least that's what I hear with my earphones compared to your measurements. ) If you come to the same findings, I would love to hear any experts (like those that so often grace these pages in interviews etc.) chime in with their thoughts on why this is so and what can be done about it... Until we figure this out, the differences in what we hear from the same headphones are about as hard to reconcile as this classic icon -> ...

castleofargh's picture

they just mainly talked about the harman target as a good starting point for EQ, and how they liked a gentle rise in the 200hz to 1khz instead of electrical dead flat.
but I believe Bob plans to post more on the subject.

Strumento's picture

Will the Ether C make it to the Wall of Fame?