Mr. Speakers Ether 2 Review – My Favorite Flagship Page 2

On to the real meat of the review though,

the sound. To me, this is one kick-butt headphone. The frequency response is just about spot on perfect. Compared to the Aeon, the upper midrange is a bit cleaner and less shouty, the mids a bit more full, especially in the lower midrange, with a bit more bass presence and dynamics than the Aeon and a super smooth treble response that is neither bright nor warm, but exceptionally balanced. The mids are silky without being too forward or too warm. Some measurements and listening revealed to me a response which is much like a smoother, less aggressive version of the Harman Curve. This is just about right for my tastes, and everything the headphone does has an effortlessly resolving and transparent feel to it. I was most surprised by the sense of imaging however. This is one of the only headphones that feels like it has a real sense of soundstage and clarity to me without being harsh. The image it throws is distinctly in the forward-ish location in relationship to my eyeballs, and remarkably tangible. I could see some folks feeling the treble is ever so slightly dry, though I found this to be somewhat amp dependent and in general I didn’t hear the treble as being bright or overly damped or peaky. Certainly this headphone has a more natural sound to it than some of Mr. Speakers earlier headphones, such as the first generation of Ether headphones which were a bit analytical for my tastes.

This impression is aided by a kind of thickness in the lower midrange. I noticed this most on powerful solid-state amplifiers, but it was subtly present on almost all amps I listened to the Ether 2 on. There is a kind of richness or fuzziness in this range which gives certain music a fullness, without necessarily making the midrange or lower-mids louder. I can see some people having differing opinions on this, though it was subtle enough it didn’t bother me inherently. I do ultimately think it creates an enjoyable effect though and here’s why: I’ve found when I am mixing or mastering recordings adding a touch of second and third harmonic richness in the 100-250hz range such as one might get from a tube amp can create an incredible sense of spatiality in a sound if done with care and restraint. Part of the reason the Ether 2 has such a tangible and rich image is, I think, in part due to this low-mid thickness.

Another effect of this characteristic is that it counterbalances what might otherwise be a slightly dry treble. The treble is extremely detailed and fairly damped, and taken in isolation I can see some folks finding it a bit dry or ‘grainy,’ although I personally enjoy the presentation. I would descibed it as clear and well balanced and I don’t find it particularly peaky at all. However, many audiophiles prefer a much warmer sound than I do and I can see some finding the balance of say the Meze Empyrean a bit more to their taste, where there is a more aggressively – though still tastefully shelved treble. In this sense, the thickness in the low mids can help give a sense of fullness to a headphone otherwise characterized by extraordinary clarity and detail. The result being a really well balanced headphone that plays with grace. The Ether 2 a one-trick pony is not.

About the only thing I haven’t mentioned regarding the Ether 2 is bass and really there isn’t much to say because the bass doesn’t draw much attention to itself on these cans. It’s simply there as feels appropriate to each recording, with the exception of sub-bass, which on the Ether 2 seems to rumble in this incredibly clean way I rarely experience with headphones. Some of the notes below 60hz even gave me a sense of depth and space that I don’t think I’ve ever really heard on headphones before, although it was quite subtle. Still, even getting clearly perceivable response into these ranges in such a clean way is a feat unto itself on headphones, where most truly low notes just dissolve into an uncomfortable sensation of pressure on one’s ears. Really good amplifiers brought out more of this quality.

My conclusion after extensive listening was that you don’t need to spend a huge amount on amplification to get great sound out of the Ether 2. A big plus for the less well-heeled among us who might aspire to own this headphone, but balk at the multi-thousand dollar amplifiers often paired with it at shows and in Summit-Fi recommendations.

So there you have it, I’ve gushed a bit frankly. I like the Ether 2 a lot and there aren’t many things I like a lot when it comes to hi-fi. These are one of them. My personal stash of gear is relatively small compared to many hi-fi reviewers. While I have access to a number nice pieces of gear through friends or local connections, I don’t purchase much and most of my gear didn’t cost me more than two or three hundred dollars. That said, the Ether 2 is now part of my collection and it may be the most expensive headphone, perhaps even the most expensive piece of gear I own for quite a long time. I won’t bore you with discussions of value or other nonsense – this is a $2,000 headphone. If you’re reading this review, you know what this hobby is about and if this headphone is something even remotely possible for you to own. Conversely, you may enjoy laughing at people who talk about $2,000 headphones online. Either way, I’ll be here enjoying my Ether 2.

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COMMENTS
Rthomas's picture

Hi Grover,

It's been nearly a year since Tyll retired. Is Keith Howard still working on measurements for Innerfidelity. How much longer before measurements are added to the reviews?

Thanks

Thomas

Grover Neville's picture

Thomas,

I don’t have all the info on this, but its been a difficult process from my understanding. I unfortunately don’t know much more than that. However, I do certainly do some measurements on my own modest rigs, a combination of modded miniDSP EARS rigs and other things. I think of it as part of doing my homework, getting as much info as possible. I do compare the measurements I take personally to other measurements on similar systems and from well known measurers and reviewers as well as my own listening impressions just to contextualize what I’m hearing.
I also have tested my own hearing to get a rough idea of my own FR curve, and use sine sweeps and frequency related ear training tests I have from back in my Conservatory days to try to get as accurate and varied a picture as I can on the headphones response. I know its not as satisfying as real world measurements, but I do try my best to really get a handle on a headphones’s sound before posting a review up!

MattTCG's picture

This article was very well written and informative. I enjoyed reading it.

Grover Neville's picture

Really appreciate it, and its quite a compliment coming from someone as experienced as yourself!

Skycyclepilot's picture

Wonder how these compare to the HifiMan Arya...

Grover Neville's picture

I have not directly compared, but in general the Arya is to my ears a warmer headphone, with a much bugger soundstage and sense of scale. The Ether is focused and precise but doesn’t sound huge generally unless used on a very powerful amp, and still never as big as the Arya. The Arya is a little less smooth, a little more peaky in the treble (some people may like this, if you find the Ether 2 treble a little overdamped) and has a Scale of bass impact that’s really enjoyable. The Arya sounds like a headphone with a larger diaphragm. Not quite as fast, but still quite transparent. Hope that helps.

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