The Expanse’s Cooler Older Brother
Mids are fantastic
Cons: Subdued Sub-bass
Dr. Soundstage or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Soundstage (if you get that joke, you’re cool.) Up for review today are the Dan Clark Audio (DCA – Mr. Speakers) Ether 2. The Ether 2 is the predecessor to the DCA Expanse with their 3rd-gen V planar-magnetic drivers. One of the Ether 2’s major selling points is that it is made from titanium, aluminum, and carbon fiber – which allows it to weigh in at only 290g (making it the lightest TOTL planar headphone on the market.) The Ether 2 also comes with 3 different ear pads (attached with a sticky reusable adhesive) which can change the sound signature, allowing the user to switch how the headphones sound quickly and easily. If you don’t feel like reading the whole review below, the Ether 2 are extremely detailed and accurate and a great option if you don’t feel like paying for the Expanse.
Build Quality / Comfort:
The build quality on these is fantastic. After my negative experience with the HD 820 having anodizing rub and scratches, the flawlessness of the Ether 2 is a fantastic change. They do feel extremely light and the Nitinol (Nickel-Titanium) headband is capable of amazing contortions before popping back to its original shape without so much as a whimper. The drivers are massive, but the earpads are smaller – I find the perforated leather earpads to fit comfortably with room for my ears and the clamping force is strong, but not overwhelming. The headband does not leave any pressure sports to speak of, likely due to the low weight of the headphones, and allows the head to breathe easily. You can change out the earpads to get different sounds from each one (that’s why DCA calls it the Ether 2 System.) I am testing with the perforated leather, which I like the most – feel free to buy one to test how each earpad sounds (other reviewers have done that, but I don’t have the free time to do so – just know that you can tune the sound with ear pads.)
The stock VIVO cable is really good quality, and one of the best stock cables I’ve had the pleasure to experience. There are no microphonics (yay!) and the cable is long enough for whatever setup you have in mind (probably – don’t make it weird.) The cable is also better than the stock Focal Utopia 2020 cable, which is stiff and unpleasant because it is softer and more flexible. So, you’re probably wondering why I have a Corpse Cable hooped up to it if the stock VIVO cable is so good. Easy. The stock cable is only 6.35mm and I like XLR4 terminations. You can get the VIVO in XLR4, but it’ll cost you $300, whereas a nice 6ft Corpse Cable will run you $150. More in the next section on why I needed XLR4. Oh, and it comes with a nice hard case that is quite small, 2/3rd the size of a Focal case.
Sound / Source / Comparisons:
Looking at Crinacle’s frequency response graph for the Ether 2, we see a VERY neutral response until we get into the highs. I am powering these from Tidal Hi-Fi to my Burson Conductor 3X Performance (3XP) to an XLR4 Corpse Cable (dead quiet.) The reason that I have the XLR4 Corpse Cable is because these are the most power-hungry headphones I’ve ever tested on the Burson. I maxed them out at 99/100 on the Burson on Low Gain compared to the JM Audio XTC-Open (XTC-O) at 55/100 on XLR4. The XLR cable allows these to run at a good volume level at 85/100 instead. Switching to high gain on the Burson is a PAIN, so this saves me a lot of effort while trying to compare headphones back to back. On high gain, these are easy to power, so don’t worry that you won’t be able to run them as long as you have a decently powerful amp (I’d guess 2W+ @32 would drive them easily, maybe even 1.5)
As usual, I don’t like breaking down headphones solely by frequency range since every song has bass, mids, and highs (and I can’t tell the difference between vocals at 1900 Hz and 2100 Hz.) So, I will start with bass-heavy songs, then move to mids-focused and lastly highs-focused songs, then break down each song by how all the pieces are presented. You can find my Tidal test tracks playlist in my signature if you want to compare them to your headphones. I’ll be starting with a bass-heavy song that I like to use a lot, David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue.)” The intro bass drums come in heavy with good impact and detail. The hi-hats in the background can be heard clearly. The sub-bass is good quality and with decent quantity, but won’t make you stop breathing as it does on the XTC-O. The vocals and synths are very well represented with a very large and life-like soundstage. The bass continues with excellent representation and fast response and a decent taper-off. Overall, the bass on the Ether 2 is very good, but you can tell that the sub-bass is more neutral than boosted like it can be on some headphones and as you can see in the Freq chart.
The next song I’m using to test bass is Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive.” The intro vocals and guitars come in cleanly with that massive soundstage feeling once more – impressive. The bass at 0:28 comes in hard and with one of the cleanest representations I’ve heard on this song (many headphones have a lot of bloat in the bass on this song.) The chorus sounds excellent at 1:52, with the vocals not sounding recessed at all like they can on some headphones while maintaining that huge soundstage. You can also hear details in the background that are hidden on lesser headphones. Overall, this is one of the best representations I’ve heard of this song.
Moving on to Weaving The Fate’s “The Fall,” the Ether 2 shows one of the best guitar representations I’ve heard of this song. Both the distorted and clean guitars are beautifully done and super clean sounding. The vocals come in clearly and accurately while sounding close, but then switch to a further back sound when the chorus hits (there’s that open soundstage again.) The ether 2 just comes across as a highly detailed headphone, displaying all of the pieces of the song right where they are supposed to be. Mids are definitely where these headphones shine.
The next song I’m using to test mids is Gym Class Heroes “Stereo Hearts.” The intro vocals and piano come in clean and with one of the best representations I’ve heard on this song. The bass at 0:23 is sick with that same quality bass impact from the previous songs. These headphones are just really impressive with their soundstage and layering – the vocals and instruments come in cleanly. The “boombox” bass at 1:30 is there, but it is missing the sub-bass punch I get from this song that I get with the XTC-O – the vocals are clearer and the soundstage is wider though on the Ether 2. The Ether 2 comes across as cleaner and less veiled than the XTC-O, shame about that extra sub-bass though.
For the highs, I’m going with Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes” again to test for “S” sibilance, which is very apparent in this song if the headphones have sharp highs. The intro bass and trumpets sound great as I’ve come to expect from the Ether 2. They sound clean and crisp with that soundstage back. Sometimes soundstage can make the mids on a song sound pushed back, the Ether 2 manages to avoid that issue. There is no sharp sibilance on the Ether 2, that roll-off in the upper mids/low-highs is paying off in spades on this song. Once again, it’s easy to hear details on these that you’d miss on other headphones.
The last song is Brian Michelle McLaughlin’s “Across the Burren,” which many headphones have done a terrible job of representing due to the piano that can sound sharp or sibilant/echoey. The Ether 2 does a good job of avoiding the sharpness in the highs on this song which can get up to over 3k Hz. The dip at 4k may disappoint some people, but there aren’t a whole lot of notes missing in the range – mostly some snare and symbols – they’re still there as evidenced in “I’m Good (Blue)”, just parts of them are slightly subdued.
The comfort, weight, and build quality of the DCA Expanse’s older brother are impeccable. At half the price of those, the Ether 2 is a master class on how to tune a headphone. Yes, there’s subdued sub-bass, which I do miss (it’s still there, there’s just less of it.) If you want sub-bass, get the XTC-O or some other bass-heavy open back (I can’t think of very many, the Utopia and HEKv2 have subdued Sub-bass and bass also.) The mids and highs on these with the soundstage and separation put these up in the upper echelon with the Focal Utopia and HEKv2, neither of which I have any more to do a back-to-back, but it’s up there. Get a pair of these, they’re getting hard to find and they’re worth it.
You can buy them from Audio46 using my affiliate link if you want: https://audio46.com/?ref=wolfhawkaudioreview.com
|Headphone Scoring – Each category can be split into quarter points:|
|Ear Pads / Tips||1|