Cool and Confident: Mr. Speakers Ether Planar Magnetic Headphones Page 2

MrSpeakers_Ether_Photo_InsideCase

More than any other category, hard-core headphone enthusiasts love to rage about the failings of top-of-the-line headphones. It's perfectly understandable. When a $1500 headphone doesn't crush the performance of a much lower priced headphone—let's say the $400 Sennheiser HD 600 or $300 HiFiMAN HE400S—most enthusiasts are want to winge about it. But that's life. Developing headphones at this level is an expensive proposition, and normal diminishing return curves, it's quite understandable in this new but increasingly maturing category that manufacturers aren't hitting "perfection" yet...as if there were such a thing.

So, for the purposes of this review, I'll briefly describe the Ether's sonic characteristics as I heard it, and then compare them to a few other well known headphones in this rarified field.

Having spent some time with Bob Katz EQing headphones I decided to replicate his set-up on my MacBookPro and purchased a copy of JRiver's Media Center and DMG Audio's parametric equalizer plug-in called EQuilibrium. Oh boy, what a fun toy. Previously I hadn't focused on EQing headphones as I really can't review them post-EQ. What I've found (and shame on me for not figuring this out long ago) is that using pink noise and the parametric equalizer I'm able to much more readily subjectively identify exactly where headphones have emphasized or reduced frequency response. My experience with the tool has shown me that the measured performance provides a good starting point and hints at where problems lurk, but listening to pink noise and adjusting the tuning allows me a direct connection between objective control and subjective experience. Very cool. I highly recommend this tool and I will write about my experiences in a dedicated article about tuning headphones with parametric EQ soon.

My first impression of the Ether was that it was a bit thin or bright sounding. Now having had the opportunity to manually adjust various headphones, I can say with confidence that slightly "bright" or "thin" when describing the Ether is an over-simplification and misleading.

Measurements show the Ether to have a deep notch in response at 7kHz, and a subsequent significant rise at 10kHz. What I heard when adjusting the EQ of them is that, like most notches in FR, the dip at 7kHz was not terribly problematic. But the subsequent rise at 10kHz was clearly audible producing a slightly piercing character. Bass response was mostly flat as measured, but I do ascribe to the Harman target response curve that suggests a 2-4 dB rise in bass below 120Hz. Add together the slightly low bass response and the exaggerated 10kHz peak and you can see where the "slightly bright or thin" impression arrises.

Once I corrected for these two issues I found another layer of corrections to apply for personally satisfying sound. One was to implement a gentle rise from 200Hz to 1kHz, and the other was to increase the response after the raw FR peak at 3.5kHz up to the notch at 7kHz. In other words, while the narrow peak at 10kHz was fundamental to giving the impression of brightness, other areas of the upper half of the mid-range and low-treble needed a little boost. Here's how the EQ looked.

MrSpeakers_Ether_Graph_EtherEQ

Okay, enough with the pink noise listening and modified soundscape. How did the un-EQed Ether perform relative to other headphones in the category?

Tonality aside, I heard the Ether as a nice middle ground in terms of imaging and dynamics.Often times I find punchy headphones have reduced imaging, and headphones that image well lack punch. The HD 800, of course, produced the best imaging of the the group (HD 800, LCD-3F, HE1000, Ether); imaging is well known as the HD 800's greatest strength. The HE1000 seemed to produce a slightly wider deeper image than the Ether, while the LCD-3F seemed more narrow and shallow. On the other hand, the LCD-3F was heard as having more potent dynamics, while the HE1000 seemed to pull it's punches; the Ether sat inbetween there as well. The HD 800 had really good dynamics, but its aggressive sonic quality got in the way of delivering pleasure from sonic impact.

To my ears all the headphones had problems with their tonal character—the HE1000 was the most pleasant for extended listening but seemed a bit soft; the HD 800 was brilliantly articulate, but it's also abrasive; the LCD-3F had dynamic punch, but also had a lackluster treble response. The Ether was somewhat balanced in the middle, though a bit bright.

One area where I think both the Ether and HD 800 excelled was in their response to EQ. If you are going to EQ headphones, one of the things to be aware of is that the lower the distortion is on the headphones, the better it will respond to EQ. EQing will always add some undesirable artifacts; distortion in the headphones will just exacerbate the problem. (Here is where I defer to Bob Katz and decide to use JRiver and DMG's EQuilibrium as he's very picky about using an EQ that produces the fewest problems.) If you look at the measurements on the next page you'll see that the Ethers have very low distortion, making them prime candidates to take EQ well.

Another note is that the HD 800 had the best transient response (impules and 300Hz square wave response) with the Ether following second in the group. In my experience, transient response has a direct bearing on imaging. I'm not sure why the HE 1000 was heard to have better imaging than the Ether, but it may very well be that it delivered a better "sense" of space without actually being technically better at imaging. I'm likely to comment further on this in my HE 1000 review as I explore its finer points.

Want a deeper dive into the sound of the Ether and the headphones it competes with? Check out the Big Sound 2015 headphone summary.

Summary
The Ether has handsome good looks and even better comfort. Build quality and materials are outstanding. The Ether is available with a wide variety of cabling options, and comes with a remarkably unappealing but functional carry case.

Sound quality is quite good but a bit thin in character. However it does take an EQ very well. The HE 1000 is a more pleasant listening experience; the HD 800 images better; and the LCD-3F has more potent dynamics. On the other hand, the HE 1000 is less precise; the HD 800 is more strident; and the LCD-3F has lackluster treble response. Bottom line, the Ether, it seems to me, does a really nice job of establishing a middle ground in the group. It neither excels nor fails in various aspects of performance as strongly as other headphones of it's class, and given its position at the low end of the price range in the group I've got to conclude it's likely got the best price/performance ratio. Yes, I'll gladly recommend the Ether to folks as a top-of-the-line headphone—but you'll have to do your homework to ensure its purchase is preferable to other in the class depending on your tastes.

The Ether will hit the Wall of Fame, but its also going to cause a bit of a rumble on that area of the wall. It's going to take me a few days to untangle the scrum and see who's left holding the ball.

Video

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.

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?

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