Gramophone Dreams #62: Dan Clark Audio Stealth & Warwick Acoustics Bravura headphones

I am an artist by trade. Saws and brushes and cameras are some of the tools I use. The aesthetic quality of the things I make is determined not by my skill with tools but by the dynamic relationships I establish among space, color, tone, and shape.

Of those elements, shapes are the most important because they are the first thing a viewer notices and the chief vehicles for transmitting sentiment and artistic intent. Stylized shapes, like those in popular art, may induce superficial responses in the viewer. Taut, Euclidian shapes suggest their author is of a higher mind; the Parthenon and Pantheon exemplify this type of shape making.

But mysterious, previously unknown shapes that resist categorization—shapes that make the viewer wonder why or how or what in hell (Is this really art?)—can accomplish something extra-important: They can expeditiously direct the viewer's mind to that difficult-to-pinpoint place where thoughts are just about to slip free of conscious control.

Sleep and dream researchers call that subtle psychic junction between will-directed thought and the deeper realms of dreams hypnagogia. Hypnagogia is a vivid, transient state of mind characterized by a sense of enhanced creative lucidity. In my art making, hypnagogia is where ideas are spawned and problems solved—where mystery and understanding coincide (footnote 1). It's a place where everything makes sense, but I can't explain it.

My job as a visual artist is to fashion objects that direct viewers' minds to that place, to set a stage in front of them to keep them scanning the object, indefinitely, for its hidden structure, artistic intent, and some measure of shared artist-viewer understanding.

I discovered what I just described not by reading books or studying old masters in museums but by playing Miles Davis's fusion recordings (especially In A Silent Way from 1969) where each passing burst of sound energy, each instrument's singular momentary contribution, is an expanding energy shape—a kinetic dream incubator—moving through an imagined, velvety-black soundscape.

As I wrote the words above, I was stopping every few sentences to lie on my bed and listen, eyes closed, to a complete side of In A Silent Way (MFSL LP 1-377) with Dan Clark's new closed-back Stealth planar-magnetic headphones. Logging into this Miles recording was easy: It began as I lowered the tonearm on the Linn Klimax record player; seconds later, as my head settled into the pillow, the first hints of hypnagogia kicked in. This is the beauty of great recordings and fine headphones: I don't have to force my noisy, awake brain into silence. Artists like Miles Davis and headphones like Dan Clark's Stealth can do that for me.

Dan Clark Audio Stealth headphones
My first encounter with Dan Clark's Stealth (footnote 2) was unforgettably pleasurable. I had just walked through the door at CanJam NYC 2022 when my long-time-no-see friend, Sue Regan, sales and operations manager for Dan Clark Audio, ran out from behind a table and hugged me. I thought, Wow! That'll be the high point of my CanJam day. Forgoing small talk, Sue took my hand and led me to a seat at the Dan Clark/HeadAmp table where, as I approached, I saw my old guitar-playing cowpoke friend, Gene, getting up.


After some moments of "How you been? Heard anything good?" small talk, I sat down and noticed Gene had been listening to the Willie Nelson–composed, Owen Bradley– produced Patsy Cline hit, "Crazy" (16/44.1 FLAC, MCA/Tidal). I tapped the Play triangle on the iPad and in less than one minute, tears were streaking my cheeks. Before the song ended, I was laughing and crying simultaneously. This was by far the most real, natural, and richly textured the Divine Ms. Cline had ever sounded via digital. I kept mumbling, "Oh my God! This sounds like it does on a juke box!" After two more Patsy Cline hits, I declared "Dang! I'd forgotten how true-to-life that BorderPatrol DAC could sound." When I said that, Sue frowned and responded sternly, "No, Herb! It's Dan Clark's Stealth headphones that made that Patsy Cline sound so good."

Before my CanJam Saturday ended, I had dragged several reviewer friends to Sue's table to experience the relaxed, tear-pulling realism of Patsy Cline through the $4000 Stealth closed-backs powered by HeadAmp's overachieving GS-X headphone amplifier/preamp ($1795) and the always-natural BorderPatrol SE DAC ($995–$1850).

Stealth design features: In a conversation, Dan Clark told me that his black and red, stealthy-looking Stealth employ a designed-from-scratch planar-magnetic driver that he says is 20% larger than the diaphragm in his previous flagship, the Ether 2. "It is also substantially thinner and surrounded by more magnet power than any previous DC design."

To me though, the big news is a patent-pending innovation: Dan Clark's new Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System (AMTS). The AMTS is an intricately formed, wafer-like partition situated between the Stealth's driver diaphragm and its deeper-than-average ear cavity. According to the Dan Clark website, the AMTS "integrates waveguides, diffusion control, quarter-wave, and Helmholtz resonators into one compact structure." According to Dan, this acoustic tuning filter involves "a programmable array of duel-function meta-material waveguides that first orient the sound from the diaphragm up towards the ear," which, Dan says, moves the perceived soundstage down, toward eye level. He believes this lowered image position provides a more natural and hence more immersive perspective.

Secondly, these waveguides become quarter-wave Helmholtz resonators, allowing Dan Clark engineers to remove the standing waves and resonances that propagate in the sealed cavity between the listener's ear and the Stealth's diaphragm. According to Dan, "this allows us to tune out problems between 5kHz and ultrasonic regions." It's probably what makes the Stealth sound so smooth and covertly quiet.

The other innovation—the one I imagine is responsible for the Stealth's unusually relaxed presentation of low-level detail—is a machine developed in-house that allows Dan Clark to more consistently and precisely tension the Stealth's planar-magnetic membrane. This extra-consistent tensioning should allow fabricators to more precisely match diaphragm pairs, which, in turn, should lower distortion, focus transients, and solidify soundstage descriptiveness. Stealth driver matching is specified to within 0.25dB (weighted 20Hz–10kHz) in their enclosures!

A significant amount of the Stealth's quiet character is undoubtedly a result of the resonance-control damping inside its carbon-aluminum earcups. Despite the fact that open-back headphones sound more open, my personal auditions suggest that Sony's made-in-1989 MDR-R10 closed-back headphones deliver the most lifelike, voice-is-right, tempo-is-right headphone sound I've yet encountered. I can't say I know why the notorious R10s sound more natural than other headphones, but I do know that Sony's MDR-Z1 (which I reviewed in Gramophone Dreams #16), ZMF's Vérité closed-backs (Gramophone Dreams #35), Focal's Stellia (Gramophone Dreams #41), and now Dan Clark's Stealth all make vocals (especially female vocals) sound extra-realistic, in more or less the same way the MDR-R10 did.


If I were forced to speculate why these closed-back headphones sound so real, I would say it is because they reproduce changes in volume in a more controlled, linear fashion than the open-backs I've used. The most obvious characteristic of live sound is its perfect dynamic linearity. When volume changes are compressed or inconsistently reproduced, like they are in most audio systems, familiar voices sound off. To my ears, well-engineered closed-backs have a slight edge in reproducing vocals correctly.

The Dan Clark Stealth weigh 415gm and present a low (23 ohm) impedance and a low (86–87dB/mW) sensitivity. I drove them mostly with the $3000 Pass Labs HPA-1 headphone amplifier and $6950 Linear Tube Audio's Z10e integrated headphone and speaker amplifier.


Listening: I thought the best way to examine the effect of the Stealth's AMTS filter might be to listen to a record with copious high-frequency information. I turned to a record I use to align cartridges and toe in speakers: René Clemencic's et ses flûtes (LP, Harmonia Mundi HM384). News of Clemencic's passing, on March 8, arrived while I was working on this report; my heart was celebrating the diverse musical pleasures he gifted the world with as he played these unusual, preclassical compositions through a variety of period flutes. What struck me most with the Linn Klimax record player/LTA Z10e amplifier/Stealth headphone combination was its complete lack of grain, brightness, or glare. My Falcon LS3/5a Gold Badge speakers show some glare with this recording; they also expose all the microphone-placement difficulties associated with recording flutes. In contrast, the well-managed smoothness of the Stealth's presentation was notable and compelling—but unusual. As with the Miles Davis album discussed above, the Stealth's sound was clear, finely detailed, and extremely well-balanced—but also somewhat distant, lacking some of the sharp, vibrating air, raw bite, and high-frequency directness I normally associate with this recording.


When I played this disc through HiFiMan's $6000 Susvara open-back planar-magnetics, the instruments moved closer to the microphones. Brief moments of "flute glare" appeared, but so did a subliminal sense of René Clemencic's lips and the wind from his chest. Because the Susvara transmitted a more tangibly physical presence in the top several octaves, the upper harmonics of flutes were more emphatically and vividly portrayed. In contrast, the Stealth's upper bass and lower midrange were tauter, fuller, and more vividly portrayed than the Susvara's.

When I played Face B of et ses flûtes through the closed-back $2500 ZMF Vérité (my current closed-back reference), the sound from its dynamic beryllium-polyethylene naphthalate drivers seemed faster, more brightly lit, and more clean-air transparent than it was through the Stealth. The Stealth countered with a more even octave-to-octave tone character.


Playing Chimère (24/96 FLAC, Alpha Classics/Qobuz) with the Denafrips Terminator Plus DAC sourcing the LTA Z10e, the 300 ohm, 99dB/mW–sensitive ZMFs reproduced Sandrine Piau's alluring soprano voice and Susan Manoff's piano accompaniment in a more vibrant and direct manner, with faster, sharper transients, than the Stealth; but the Stealth showcased my beloved Piau in a more overtly beautiful, sensuous, emotionally engaging manner. Over the course of my auditions, the Stealth demonstrated an unmatched virtuosity with female vocals.

Footnote 1: Clune, Michael, "Night Shifts." Harpers, Vol.344, No.263, April 2022. pp.26–36.

Footnote 2: Dan Clark Audio, 3366 Kurtz St. San Diego, CA 92110. Tel: (619) 501-6313. Email: Web:


noamgeller's picture

As always, beutifully written, thank you!

windansea's picture

wonder how these compare against the RAAL "earfield monitors"

Herb Reichert's picture

I make that comparison in GD64


Jack L's picture

..... this recording;" qtd H.R.


I would not compare any loudspeakers vs any headphons sonically.
Apple to orange comparison !

Why? The soundwaves from the L & R channel loudspeakers hit BOTH our L & R ears (at microscopic time diffence), but headphones/earbuds only allow music of one SINGLE channel to inter ONE ear only.

That's the reason I won't go for any headphones at all as in any music performances, we listen with BOTH ears. Headphones/earbuds give us something else sonically let alone being looked upon as anti-social.

Listening with both ears is believing

Jack L