A Surprisingly Successful Dual Driver Headphone: The Enigmacoustics Dharma D1000 Page 2


Sound Quality
Like the build quality, the sound quality of the Dharma is a bit of a mixed bag that in the end is a bit better then the sum of its parts. The thing that struck my ears when I first listened to the Dharma D1000 is its fairly good tonal balance. I would say it gets closest to neutral of all the cans heard at BigSound 2015. Relatively, the Ether and HD 800 are a bit brighter; the HE1000 is a bit laid back in the upper-mid-range; the LCD3 is a bit muffled in the lower treble; the Abyss mid-range is too withdrawn; and the PMx2 is a bit too polite lacking extension on either end, though it's very nicely balanced otherwise. For a dual driver headphone—heck, for any headphone—I find this a pretty stunning achievement.

But—and you knew there would be a but, didn't ya—it does suffer from two significant problems.

The bass, though not particularly well extended, is nicely balanced in the mix with a slight emphasis centering around 90-100Hz. The weird thing is that measurements show that the bass has huge distortion, which starts to rise below 400Hz to reach nearly 10% at 100Hz. Looking at the distortion measurements would have me thinking the bass would be a wooly, murky mess, but it just ain't so to my ears—nor the ears of most folks who listened at Big Sound 2015.


THD+Noise plot of the Enigmacoustics Dharma D1000.

Many times after eliciting opinions of the bass performance and getting word back that it seemed okay, I would show the listener the distortion curves. "No way!" would be an accurate characterization of the responses to the measurement. To this day, I simply can't believe the bass distortion is as high as measured. Yes, I can hear a thickness to the low notes and that they are not as well articulated as some other cans, but I've heard headphones that measure poorly in this area that are way worse sounding. In fact, I repeated these measurements four or more times and they come out exactly the same. Really, really, weird!

The other, somewhat more vexing issue, is the electret driver and its contribution to treble response and some people's feeling that there was some "discontinuity" during the hand-off between the dynamic and electret drivers. First, I need to say the Enigmacoustics claims the electret driver kicks in at about 10kHz and there is no cross-over shutting off the dynamic driver, so the electret should only be there to support some high frequency response. In a Big Sound post, I posited the tweeter was kicking in at about 6kHz. In response to that comment I received the following information from Enigmacoustics:

Our extremely elaborate and expensively researched/designed/customized paper-based full-range dynamic driver covers the entire spectrum from 20Hz ~ 20kHz. Therefore, the self-polarizing electrostatic driver, utilizing our patented SBESL (self-biased electrostatic) technology—same exact technology behind our groundbreaking Sopranino electrostatic super tweeter (aka the first-of-its-kind Ambience Restoration Device)—is strictly for compensating frequency range between 12kHz ~ 40kHz.

It is then impossible for anyone to detect any supposed flaw or discontinuity, because there simply isn't any cross-over network at the 6kHz frequency. We speculate the so-called discontinuity that some supposedly have picked up could very well be the product of one's own preconceived notion of our unique dual-transducer system, which subsequently may have altered their perception psycho-acoustically.

I have to say I entirely agree that the perception of a "discontinuity" by some might rightly be chalked up to "the product of one's own preconceived notion of our unique dual-transducer system." I personally did not hear anything I would characterize as a discontinuity in the treble. What I did hear, and measure, was a significant zingy peak at about 5-6kHz. At 10kHz and above, I felt the level was just a bit high, but, to the extent one can really hear these things clearly, I felt the upper-treble responded articulately.

However, there is this....


Impedance and Phase response of the Enigmacoustics Dharma.

The Dharma has a significant swing in impedance and electrical phase occurring in the 2-4kHz region. The only thing I can attribute this to is the reactivity of the filter controlling the signal to the electret and the driver itself. The plots would lead me to assume the electret driver is turning on much lower in frequency than the claimed 10kHz. To be truthful, I just don't know, and have no way to determine it.

One thing I do know is that there is an emphasis at 5-6kHz that does produce a tingy-zingy character at that point. When I went through the process of EQing the headphones while listening to pink noise, the emphasis there was readily heard, and sounded much better when dialed out. Here's my EQ plot.


If you've seen my EQ plots in the Ether and HE1000 reviews, you'll notice I had to do less adjustment through the mid-range on the Dharma, indicating its overall better tonal balance.

Imaging on the Dharma was good—better than the LCD-3, but not as open sounding as the Ether, HE1000, and HD 800. Dynamics also was good, but not great, being somewhat hampered by the lack of strong bass punch.

Enigmacoustics should be applauded for producing a competitive product in their inaugural foray into the world of high-end headphones. This is not an easy category to enter, and the Dharma pretty easily bests many well known headphone makers who pose with flagships in the category that don't remotely cut the mustard. But it's also a category where I really can't pull my punches.

Physically, the Dharma does well with build quality and styling, but falls a tad short on comfort—which again is good, but not great. It falls a little shorter on the sound front with a somewhat slow bass response—though it sounds no where near as bad as it measures—and a bit of a zingy treble around 5-6kHz.

If you're looking for your one and only end-game headphone I wouldn't recommend the Dharma—a better choice might be the Mr. Speakers Ether, HiFiMAN Edition X (review coming soon), or Sennheiser HD 800. But if you're an aficionado with multiple high-end cans looking to add another interesting headphone to your collection, the Enigmacoustics Dharma D1000 may well be an out-of-the-ordinary and satisfying exploration. It's easily the best dual-driver headphone I've heard. So, a cautious recommendation from me.

Click here if you can't see the video.

Enigmacoustics home page and Dharma D1000 product page.
Head-Fi thread here.
Wanna listen to one? Check out TTVJ's Dharma loaner thread.

Irvine, California, USA

lukeap69's picture

I wonder why you have recommended HEX but not the HEK. Is it because of price?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
lukeap69's picture

That makes sense Tyll. I will be waiting for your HEX review. I will be skipping the Dharma...

Rillion's picture

Concerning the THD+noise, this might be a case where looking at the spectrum generated by just a ~100 Hz input tone could provide more insight. It may be that the type of noise and distortion generated is just not very audible in music.

Cheepnis's picture

Could you clarify if this is the Darma from Big Sound 2015 or a final version? I heard there were some changes made.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
This is a production version I received right at the end of Big Sound.
Seth195208's picture

Placing an open back electrostatic driver closely in front of another driver will cause a lot of bizarre interference between the two. The rear of the electrostatic will fire into the rear driver, and the rear driver(including low frequencies)will fire into the back of the electrostatic. The could be the reason the impulse response has such a hard time settling down. On the other hand, if the electrostatic is sealed in the back, it would cause it's own problems.

Josuah's picture

The bass, though not particularly well extended, is nicely balanced in the mix with a slight emphasis centering around 90-100Hz. The weird thing is that measurements show that the bass has huge distortion, which starts to rise below 400Hz to reach nearly 10% at 100Hz. Looking at the distortion measurements would have me thinking the bass would be a wooly, murky mess, but it just ain't so to my ears—nor the ears of most folks who listened at Big Sound 2015.

I'm afraid this comment makes me think you need to get a better understanding of harmonic distortion and different types of distortion. THD is not necessarily going to come with a loss of separation between notes or inability to clearly hear what you are expecting to hear—there can still be a very distinct start and stop to sounds and overall focus on the primary tone. Harmonics can instead add pleasing or unpleasant "richness" to the sound, and in low frequencies often makes listeners happy because it adds weight and pressure to bass.

To use an analogy you might not like being used in reference to your listening tests, this is the difference between a car enthusiast's subwoofer and an audiophile's subwoofer.

This may in fact be why you felt the bass was more extended and the headphone tonally flat. Not because it was actually providing clean bass at the correct SPL, but because the increased distortion as the frequency dropped provided additional acoustic energy to boost the SPL while the pure tone that should have been present was lower in amplitude. Or it is the cause of the frequency response rise in lower frequencies. This is precisely what Rillion is alluding to when he suggests running an FFT frequency analysis for a pure tone.

A "wooly, murky mess" of bass is more likely to be a result of high group delay coupled with high reverb / decay.

(Also, after hitting preview I don't see any way to submit the post. I have to hit back.)

zobel's picture

You are spot on in these thoughts.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
....but when I see distortion this high on headphones, it usually is a murky mess.
Josuah's picture

Harmonic distortion and a smeared, incoherent sound could be two symptoms with the same root cause. Such as poor control of the driver. However harmonic distortion should be not be considered the cause of smeared, incoherent sound or a measurement of smeared, incoherent sound.

But that association seems to be what you were stating with:

Looking at the distortion measurements would have me thinking the bass would be a wooly, murky mess....

followed by:

Many times after eliciting opinions of the bass performance and getting word back that it seemed okay, I would show the listener the distortion curves.

After reading that, someone is likely to come away with an incorrect understanding of THD+N measurements and how to interpret them. I don't think that's good.

Valhallatier's picture

After all this time, i knew there's something wrong with many of tyll's review, and i'm right. He doesn't know that much about how sound travels, though he know the electronics.

GNagus's picture

I'm not expecting to find a teeny tiny crossover with inductors and capacitors in the headphones, but with no filters present wouldn't there be some cancellation with the drivers overlapping frequencies? Also, bass and treble extension aren't as good as I would expect, assuming that is a key benefit of multiple drivers

zobel's picture

It seems that if the drivers summed in phase at the eardrum the overlapping frequencies would be strengthened, and not cancelling. Who knows in these cans of worms though? Your point that this design, employing two drivers for the frequency extremes, should at least have a decent bass response is well taken.

Seth195208's picture
zobel's picture

What do you think is significant and of interest to us from these white papers, Seth? What light has been shed here concerning Tyll's distortion measurements ?
I have the same questions that you raised above about driver placement. Could that arrangement have something to do with the distortion measurements? (Yes it could, he said.) Thanks for your thoughts!

Seth195208's picture

...explaining his findings on the audibility of non linear distortions..

zobel's picture

I have Dickason's books, and every copy of speaker builder magazine they printed, but never followed Vance Dickason and crew when they started doing voice coil mag. I have been reading others though, and I'm still building systems, so the wave guide stuff is something I've been following. It was interesting to see his findings on the subjective audibility of non linear distortion being directly related to SPL. Is it true then that equal amounts of measured THD (as a percentage of SPL) are perceived to increase with volume? Does it matter where these distortions are in frequency, and in bandwidth (Q)?

About the THD subject; as Einstein said, "We can't measure everything that counts, and not everything we can measure counts." I think, as Geddes states, THD and IMD are too broad and ill-defined to be factors useful in determining subjective quality in transducer response. That is not news. We already have known that the spectrum and Qs of the peaks are the determining factors in the audibility of these distortions. Plots of IMD showing the location of the non linear distortion in relation to frequency are a good tool to show audible spectral distortion. Waterfall plots, and though somewhat less readable, step response and square waves, effectively show frequency response in the time domain. Good tools, those.

And of course the all important SPL/frequency graph! Some day we will be able to present that data as a flat line for flat headphone response. Now there are too many factors that we haven't been able to include in the measurement process. Among these are the individual's ears acoustic interaction with the cans, and that alone is huge. Then there is the realm of the individual's ear/brain interpretation of the same SPLs, which includes hearing acuity and sensitivity, and other factors we don't know about yet, so we can't measure. Hearing, as with all the senses, actually occurs in the brain ultimately. We are just learning about the brain, which is, by far, the most complex thing we are aware of in the entire known universe. Will it be possible in the foreseeable future to connect directly with the brain electrically, via the auditory nerve, replicating and bypassing the ears organs? A wireless implant, not bluetooth ;-) that can be switched into your auditory system (post ear), and switched out for biological hearing would be pretty nifty. That would be the ultimate "headphone" don't you think? Just don't lose your remote.

barun432's picture

Nice Review, Tyll. Please try to review one of the Final Headphones, a company from Japan. They make this awesome headphone called Pandora Hope VI, which incorporates Dynamic driver and balanced armature driver technology. They go for around $600 nowadays and will knock a lot of headphones from your Wall of Fame (All Closed backs in fact) if you listen to it. Hope you review one of their headphones if not the one mentioned above, cause they all have this hybrid driver technology.

Seth195208's picture
barun432's picture

Am talking about a full fledged review of the PH6 and 4 is not a hi-fi audiophile grade headphone like the PH6. He did a measurement earlier this year but not a review. PH6 from a mobile phone scales as good as an un-modded Sony MDR CD-3000 from a high-end desktop rig and in todays headphone market that is unheard of. Hope Tyl will review it so that more people get to know about it.


zobel's picture

Some people will not have comfort problems with these; those with mid to small ears that don't stick out from the head much. Leaves me out.

Shalow's picture

Tyll, I tried to correlate distorsion measurements and what I hear for sometime. I hadn't figured it out completly, but I found a very interesting paper here :
The paper is pretty old, but what they found is pretty interesting. Did you ever had a look ?

Beagle's picture

...is that it never seems to integrate with the rest. It stands on it's own, away from the proceedings, like a kid at recess who's too shy to play with the others.

Mr.TAD91's picture

Cool headphone. It's nice to see how the two driver technologies can work together. Hey Tyll, have you got any impressions on the Pioneer Master 1 headphone? I am really looking forward to your review of them.

I am worried however, about the "fine tuning" the AIR studios technical director did, as I have read some reviews on previous Pioneer + AIR studios products (amplifiers and speakers) that were less than satisfactory in my eyes. As I see it, the engineers and designers should get most of the play time when bringing a new product to the market. This should especially be the case for the Master 1, as they are very costly for a headphone.



zobel's picture

Health and happiness to you, and thanks for hosting this forum! Looking forward to another fine year of music and the gear to enjoy it on at home. You are appreciated, and would be greatly missed if you weren't doing what you do.

Mr.TAD91's picture

I'll ditto what zobel said. And happy holidays/Merry Christmas to all. This time of year I've been rewarding myself for hard work with long listening sessions. We're all very fortunate to have innerfidelity as a solid resource and Tyll as a reviewer. I am anticipating what the future holds for headphione and speaker technology in the new year!

m8o's picture

Yes, I'm very happy I bought them on a Massdrop drop.

Still waiting for Tyll to get his hands on a McIntosh MHA-100, especially to couple with the HE-1000; as almost every person to a rule who has heard the combination says it's the best they ever heard the HE-1000. Now I have to wait for a Sonorous VI review too? -lol

m8o's picture

p.s. this is in response to barun432 above.

lunaswav3's picture

Hi Tyll, happy almost new years! lol. Your reviews are truly in-depth & awesome! I had a small question regarding 2 particular headphones I was interested in acquiring. Have you done a review on the AKG K 142 HD yet? For the price and it's label as Studio headphones, I was interested in your opinion regarding them. Also, I wanted to get the cult-classic SONY MDR-CD900ST, and was just wondering what you'd think of them? Keep up the amazing work you do for us techie audio geeks, lol. Thanks! ♪

Also, I found IF through YT, lol. Cheers!

markm's picture

I'm a new Dharma owner. I just joined the forum after reading a number of Tyll's excellent reviews. I spent the past year putting together a little two channel speaker system. The "hub" of my stereo is the Nuprime DAC-10H. I was pleased to see Tyll's positive review as a I think it's a great piece of kit. With the DAC-10H balanced HP out, I decided it was time to upgrade my RS1 and purchased the Dharma last week.