The Etherial Mr. Speakers Ether Flow
I had only two days with a pre-production Ether Flow before my house was invaded by the French. I was quite enjoying the pre-production Flow, but the Focal Elear and Utopia turned my world upside down. By the time Dan Clark, CEO and Founder of Mr. Speakers, sent the production unit my world was in a bit of an uproar. Though I didn't mention them, the Flow was ever present in my listening tests...it kept whispering to me, "It's not about "The Best" anymore, it's about character."
I'll have to explain...let's work through it.
Mr. Speakers Ether Flow ($1799+)
The Mr. Speakers Ether Flow is a full-sized, circumaural, open acoustic, planar magnetic headphone. I find it a pretty good looking headphone; it's not that much has been done to decorate it per se, but I find its simple, elegant, form-follows-function design appealing.
The main capsule housing component is a black anodized milled aluminum part just over four inches in diameter, and has machined features to mount the driver assembly, rear cover, gimbal swivel pins, and cable connector. There is an earpad mounting plate attached to the main capsule frame that is ABS plastic with a rubberized coating to provide more friction to prevent the pads from turning...nice touch. Materials appear to be of very good quality.
Holding together the two capsules are two thin NiTinol memory metal bands clamped at either end by a small metal spacer and the headband-end/swivel assembly. A simple leather strap with nifty plastic sliders at either end for adjustment acts as the headband, which very effectively distributes the weight over a large portion of the top of the head. Slider adjustments for size are smooth and secure when the slider clamp screws are tightened properly.
At 400 grams (sans cables) I'd consider it a light headphone in this category. For comparison: Audeze LCD-2=570gr; HiFiMAN HE1000=470gr; Focal Utopia=490gr; Sennheiser HD 800 S=380gr; Focal Elear=438.
Glove leather covered soft memory foam earpads are suple and comfy; ear entry holes are rectangular (45mm X 66mm) and should be large enough for most. The hole mimics the size and shape of the driver beneath. The Flow now has angled earpads, which Dan Clark claims provide better bass response and a more secure comfortable fit, especially behind the ears.
The DUM cable included is a "Y" configuration and is six feet long. The headphone connector ends use Isamwoo SN-8-4(P) connectors, the player end sports the ubiquitous and excellent Neutrik TRS 1/4" phone plug. DIYers can purchase the headphone end connectors directly from Mr. Speakers here. Previous versions of this cable were somewhat stiff and kinky; the current cable has a much softer fabric cover and exhibits much less cable-born noise.
The included molded, hard-side, clam-shell case is brown and butt-ugly but very functional. Cables must be removed for storage, but are very quick and easy to detach and re-attach.
I find the light weight, ample earpads, and the really excellent caliper pressure and adjustability of this headphone delivers superbly comfortable listening. I think this is a very well built and functionally designed headphone.
Mr. Speakers has accumulated a nice string of innovations, which you can read about on the Ether page, for this review I'll focus on the new TrueFlow baffles for which the headphone is named.
Similar in some ways to the Audeze Fazor, the intention of the TrueFlow baffles is to reduce turbulence in the air flow around the magnet assembly. The Ether Flow has a series of four bar magnets glued to the inside of four trays that are mounted side by side. Each tray has a series of holes drilled on either side of the bar magnet to allow the sound through the driver assembly.
The above 3D rendering shows the bare tray and magnet at the left, and with the TrueFlow baffle (in green) installed. It does seem sensible to me that having these smoother air flow channels is likely a good thing.
The above two images were made by Mr. Speakers using a 3D CAD program modeling airflow through the two structures. Dan Clark is well aware that this is but a very crude approximation of what's happening with sound waves, which may be quite different. Acoustical finite element modeling is unfortunately prohibitively expensive for them, so Dan took his best shot with air flow for illustrative purposes. I would take these illustrations with a big grain of salt, but, after listening to the Flow in direct comparison with the previous Ether, I definately hear the sound as smoother and less grainy.
The really weird thing in all of this is that headphone enthusiast ZGLISZCZ designed and published a very similar part for the Foxtex TX0RP in Jan of 2015, and made the files available for for enthusiasts to download to 3D print for themselves.
And then ZGLISZCZ went off-the-hook and designed a bunch of really weird cool looking baffles. From what I could tell, he was trying to vary the acoustic load across the diaphragm to get it to move in more desirable ways.
Upon release of the Ether Flow, and the announcements that the design was being patented, hobbyists pointed out the similarity of this prior art. ZGLISZCZ became aware of the situation and posted his displeasure on Head-Fi. If you want to read the nity-grity just read the next few pages of the link. Bottom line: Dan was unaware of ZGLISZCZ posts, and when he learned of it he removed one of the five claims in his patent to remove the ear side waveguide, and gave credit to ZGLISZCZ's prior art on his Ether Flow product page. I did have a PM exchange with ZGLISZCZ, who remains somewhat disappointed that his originally open source project my now suffer limitations due to the pending patent. From my point of view simultaneous(ish) invention happens all the time, and the right and wrong of these types of situations, in the eyes of the law, is very, very complicated and can only be found under the mountain of money needed to litigate a result. Though it's a bit of an awkward dust up, I don't find any fault with the actions of Mr. Speakers at this time.
Alrightythen, let's have a listen...