Mr Speakers Ether C is a World Class Sealed Headphone Page 2


Sound Quality
The Mr. Speakers Ether C is hands-down the best sealed full-size headphone I've ever heard...easily. It sounds much more like an open headphone—there's no congestion; little unevenness; and it throws a decent image. Tonal neutrality is very good, only slightly lean sounding. Vocals are uncannily organic.

Before I tell you the modest ways in which this headphone misses the mark, I need to talk about my subjective experience with the Ether C. I have two sets of music I listen to for evaluative listening: One is a set of about 25 short (10-25 second) snippets I use for very focussed objective listening, and then a set of about 30 or so full-length tracks for a more subjective listen. Many of these tracks I've used for decades. Imagine how much it sucks to have a favorite song burned out from too much radio play, then magnify that by 1000. I can say honestly that I rarely, if ever, get swept up by musical listening pleasure by these tracks; I've heard them far too many times.

And yet, as I prepared for this review, time after time, I would become enraptured by the very well recorded tracks. I even have some poorly recorded (by comparison) tracks in the mix I use to see how well a headphone behaves with marginal recordings (CSNY and Santana) and here too I simply fell into the remembrance of the times and the joys of my youth. The Ether C is very hard to evaluate objectively as the subjective experience it delivers is so potent.

The bad news? I need to preface this by saying these flaws are modest and pointing at them will usually cause them to be magnified when read. Don't do it. These issues are audible, but compared with the terrific overall balance they fade quickly as the mind accommodates.

Bass response is a bit low. Sealed headphones have an advantage over open headphone in pumping up the bass response and extension. Measured bass response is essentially flat, and I like to hear about 3dB of boost below 150Hz—which can be achieved with a sealed headphone. Unfortunately, doing so usually introduces some unevenness in bass response. I do hear and see in measurements some modest unevenness in the Ether C bass response, and my hearing of it causes me to sense it as lacking just a bit of slam. It's fairly tight, but could be tighter. Had Mr. Speakers raised the bass further, it's not unlikely that we'd hear better bass tonality, but we might loose more tightness in the process. My guess is that Dan is playing a balancing act in the bass, and has found this to be his preferred tuning compromise.

Bass to mid-range transition is excellent; the tonal profile from 150Hz to 3.5kHz is essentially dead-on the Harman target response. The mid-range on this headphone is glorious. Vocals have a near perfect balance of fundamental tone, overtones, consonant punctuation, and lip smacking spittle. More than once I said to myself, "This is what this track should sound like!" Everything is alive and organic.

Treble tonal profile is very good, but, may be a dB or two too elevated around 3.5kHz. There's a small, narrow-Q measured feature at 10kHz that, to my ears, adds a mild swishiness that tends to blur transient response. In switching back and forth between the Ether C and Sennheiser HD 800 S, it was clear the 800 was reproducing cymbals with a natural tone, while the Ether C obscured the shimmer with a bit of haziness. I also heard the 800 as having significantly better imaging, clearly delivering a sense of depth the Ether C couldn't muster. I think imaging is a result of clean transient edges that allow your ears to perceive clearly the psychoacoustic cues needed to develop a sense of space. The Ether C falls a bit short of really good open headphones here, but for a closed headphone it's pretty terrific.

MrSpeakers_EtherC_EQ My EQ setting for the Ether C.

EQing the Ether C is pretty easy since there's not much tonally wrong. I boost the bass about 4.5dB below 150Hz, and try to notch out the little feature at around 10kHz. I think the EQ does some good tonally, but after some long listening I found myself preferring the Ether C au natural. EQ does add some artifacts, and since the Ether C is so close to right on it seemed more liquid and organic to me when run without EQ.

But wait, there's another way!


Mr. Speakers also includes some tuning filters with your Ether C purchase. The filters simply tuck into the earpad hole and seat under the edges of the earpad at the bottom of the well. Included are two black and one white tuning pads. The black pads are more acoustically transparent then the white. Adding pads reduces treble response; they can be stacked in the well in increasing amounts of treble reduction by using one black pad, two black pads, or one white pad. Here's a graph of the pads effect.


The pads do seem to do a nice job of reducing treble in a graduated way, and they also seem to boost the bass a notch. In listening, one black pad seemed just about right to suppress the treble oddity and warm the headphones a bit. But again, I was torn between a slightly better tonal profile and a slight loss of detail articulation. I'm not going to pass judgement one way or another in this review; if you get the headphones you'll have the bits to play with it yourself. Have fun!

Lastly, I'll repeat what I said at the top of this review in slightly longer form: This is a great headphone for audio pros. As I did my listening tests I became ever more confident that this was a headphone I could trust. I've never said that to myself of any other headphone; the trust was always significantly conditional. Yes, there are some minor issues mentioned above, and yes, you will have to make a small mental adjustment of a few dB in the bass, but these problems seem to fall below the threshold of psychoacoustic accommodation. In other words, once you get used to them, you'll be able to simply trust your ears.

This is a great headphone! Build quality, comfort, and styling are outstanding. Sound quality is superb. Tonal neutrality is excellent, as are dynamics, and imaging is particularly good for a sealed headphone. Audio performance is modestly marred by a slightly soft and slightly low in level bass response. There is a small resonant feature at 10kHz that makes the mid-treble slightly swishy sounding. But these flaws are slight and the overall impression is almost overwhelmingly musical.

Time after time I found myself saying, "This is how this track should sound!" Audio pros will be particularly pleased with a headphone you will soon learn to trust. College students, this is the one time I would say eating raman for two months is worth it. Headphone enthusiasts, this is the one sealed headphone to get. Headphone manufacturers, buy one right now and take a good hard look, you've got work to do.

The Mr. Speakers Ether C will go up on the Wall of Fame...and I'm betting it will be years before it gets knocked off. I feel like I haven't done justice to this headphone in this review; I just don't have the words...

What I want to do is put the Ether C on your head and say, "See!?" But you wouldn't hear me sealed away in your private ecstasy. Damn.

Click to view on YouTube.

Mr. Speakers home page and Ether C product page.
SBAF Ether C thread.
Head-Fi reviews and thread.

MrSpeakers Headphone Products
3366 Kurtz Street
San Diego, CA 92110