The Etherial Mr. Speakers Ether Flow Page 2


Sound Quality
With the introduction of the Focal Utopia and Elear, and now the Mr. Speakers Ether Flow, I find myself feeling the entire complexion of the high-end headphone world changing. The identifying characteristic of this change is balance. When first listening to all three of these headphones my first thoughts were of how marvelously balanced they are.

First impressions of previous high-end headphone experiences were usually along the lines of, "Okay, that sounds a little weird. Let's see if I can get used to it." With these new cans it's more like, "This sounds great! what's going on here exactly?" Previously, high-end headphone choices were more about the lesser of evils; with these new cans it has now become about the flavor of their character and your personal preference. It's going to make my job harder, but it's also going to make all our listening better.

For me, the sound of the Ether Flow is...well, etherial. While all three are well balanced, the Focal headphones hit hard with tremendous dynamism but their images, while superbly defined, are small and in the head. The Ether Flow on the other hand provides a bit more distance and relaxed listening. The image is higher in my head and has more depth. Though instrument separation and pin-point precision is not as good as the Focals, the image is stable and quite well defined.

In my Focal Utopia review I posited that depth of image may actually be an illusion created by reducing energy in the presence region—say 800Hz to 2kHz. The Ether Flow seems to reinforce this idea. To my ears and in measurements when compared to the Harman traget, the Ether Flow is a bit recessed in the presence region giving it a slightly "V"-shaped response. Even linguistically this makes sense: less present = more distant.

Bass response of the Ether Flow is quite good overall, certainly much better than the earlier Ether. Extension is good but not great, and I hear some mild upper-bass emphasis. Though not hitting as hard as the Focal Elear, the Ether Flow's bass has plenty of heft and seems somehow lithe and agile—no murky mush to be found here, maybe just a little of what some might call bloom. This improved bass over the previous Ether may be due in part to the new angled pads the Flow sports.

Midrange is good, though slightly scooped out in the presence region, and slightly intruded upon by the bass. Compared directly to the Focals I'd say it's slightly poorer at portraying the music as a cohesive whole. But again, the Flows do a lovely job of providing a sense of space for the music, so you shouldn't read this as the sound being disjointed, but rather as it having this mildly soft, etherial character. It doesn't have the image depth of the HD 800 S, but it has more body to its image.

If I have any real nits to pick with the Flow it's that with the presence region dialed back a bit, the treble area above seems to come forward some making it sound a bit bright up top. The resolution of the upper ranges, however, are significantly smoother then the preceding Ether, likely due to the TrueFlow baffles doing something agreeable to smooth out the treble. Though not as precise as the Utopia or HD 800 S, I find it better resolving than the HSE 1000—where it's too soft and defuse—and much less disagreeable than the HD 800 S with the somewhat emphasized area around 5-6kHz. I'd say the Flow nicely splits the difference between the Focals and the HD 800 S and HE1000 when it comes to image size. This is about as bright as a headphone can get before I'd shy away—but I'm quite sensitive to those sorts of things. If you like a lively headphone, these will probably suit your fancy quite well.

I have a very hard time criticizing the Ether Flow, whatever warts I might be able to point out I still find the overwhelming impression of these cans is that of beautiful balance and then an inviting etherial character. The also well-balanced Focal Elear has tooth rattling dynamic punch, but it's image is small, and it's a bit too warm. The Focal Utopia keeps the punch and adds world-class resolution, but the image doesn't get any bigger...and it's $4000. The lack of bass and 5-6kHz emphasis gives the HD 800 S a thin, analytical sound compared with the Flow. Even though the Flow is slightly recessed in the presence region, it's less so than the HE1000. Both have a soft etherial sound, but the HE1000 seems almost bodiless in comparison as the Flow has more dynamism and heft.

The Ether Flow is a rather simple but very well thought out design. Build quality and materials are very good, and the headphone is light and very comfortable. The included cable and clam-shell carry case are top notch—though the case is a bit ugly. (Think of it as theft aversion.)

The sound quality of the Ether Flow is simply lovely. The tonality is well balanced, but a bit "V" shaped with a slightly emphasized bass and treble—or you could say they're neutral but for the somewhat reduced presence region. Imaging is good with a fairly large image up and forward in the head. Dynamics are good, but I'd call it bouncy rather than punchy. The overwhelming impression is that of balance and then an etherial space in which the music plays happily.

With the Ether Flow I think Dan and the Mr. Speaker crew have punched through into the world-class level. Heck yes these are going on the Wall of Fame. Come Monday I'll tell you who's been knocked off by the Focals and the Ether Flow.

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Mr. Speakers home page and Ether Flow product page. dicussion thread.
Head-Fi reviews and discussion threads here and here.

Mr. Speakers Headphone Products
3366 Kurtz Street
San Diego, CA 92110