MrSpeakers Aeon closed-back headphones

I got an e-mail last summer from my colleague Tyll Hertsens, editor of our InnerFidelity website. "Recently reviewed and really liked the new MrSpeakers Æon," he wrote. "They're a little rough-sounding as sealed headphones tend to be, but the tonal balance is superb. I got three in for review to make sure they're consistent. After measurements I asked [MrSpeakers'] Dan Clark if I could forward them to you because I like them so much and thought you should hear them. . . . I really think you may enjoy them."

I've never been a fan of close-backed cans, although I used to use a pair of Sony MDR-7506es for monitoring on-location recording sessions, for the isolation they provided from ambient noise. I'd bought the Sonys in 1994 on a recommendation from the late John Dunlavy, who felt they were the most neutrally balanced headphones he'd heard, and I used them for many years before retiring them when their plastic-on-foam earpads disintegrated. Since then I've exclusively used open-back headphones, primarily Sennheisers and, more recently, Audeze's LCD-Xes. But in a recent conversation, our webmaster, Jon Iverson, reminded me that I am not like many audiophiles: Open-back headphones radiate as much sound outward as they do inward, which disturbs others in the room. For those people, the isolation offered by closed-back cans is essential.

I read Tyll's review and thought I should give the Æons a listen.

The MrSpeakers Æons have teardrop-shaped, cushioned earpieces, sealed with carbon-fiber backs, that fit around the ears. The skeletal headband comprises a leather strap and two hoops of Nitinol, a "memory alloy" of nickel and titanium that, after being deformed, returns to its original shape when reheated. The rectangular diaphragm is pleated—MrSpeakers says that this, their V-Planar technology, improves the diaphragm's pistonic motion—and has narrowly spaced conductor traces. The single-ended magnets, placed between each ear and diaphragm, feature MrSpeakers' TrueFlow technology, designed to smooth the flow of air through the magnets. Electrical connection is via locking plugs at the base of each earpiece. The Æons come in a smart plastic carrying case.


I plugged the Æons into the ¼" output jack of Ayre's QX-5 Twenty, fed it data from my Mac mini over the network using the Roon player app, and settled down to some critical listening. The isolation from external sounds was good enough for me not to hear my niece telling me it was dinnertime. My ears did get a tad sweaty after a couple hours' listening, however.

Tyll wrote that the Æons' tonal balance was "spot on but for a very slight emphasis [from] 5–10kHz." With dual-mono pink noise from Editor's Choice (ALAC files ripped from CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) I could indeed hear some mid-treble emphasis, but the sound was otherwise smooth, with an uncolored midrange. With my Fender bass tracks on that disc, the bass was tight, with well-resolved leading edges, but low frequencies seemed a little lightweight. Even so, the 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice were audible at full level down to 40Hz, with the 32Hz tone shelved down, and the 25 and 20Hz tones inaudible at normal listening levels. With the half-step toneburst track on Editor's Choice the Æons spoke cleanly, though with a slight emphasis to the leading edges of the lower-frequency tonebursts.

"Groovin' High," from Patricia Barber's Monday Night: Live at The Green Mill Volume 3 (24-bit/96kHz ALAC file from, features Barber on piano accompanied by double bass and drums, with tenor-sax solos from Jim Gailloreto. Musically this is a great album, but the sound is a bit too close-miked and thus dry, and it had an aggressive edge through the Æons. However, these headphones come with two thin foam pads that can be inserted into the earcups. Tyll Hertsens found that these pads reduced the output by about 1dB above 100Hz, and by about 2dB above 1kHz. With the pads, the low frequencies were in better balance with the midrange. With my unreleased recording of Jonas Nordwall playing the Toccata from Widor's Organ Symphony 5 (24/88.2 AIFF file), the organ's pedal pipes had enough weight to underpin this movement's upper-frequency magnificence, particularly at the climax, when Jonas opened the shutters in front of the ranks of pipes in Portland Oregon's First United Methodist Church to shake the sanctuary.

The wide dynamic range of this recording tempted me to play it again, this time increasing the volume from an indicated "80" on the Ayre's front panel to "87," but the sound became congested at the climax. Playing the same file from an SDcard at the same loud level with the MrSpeakers driven by the Naim Uniti Nova's headphone output, the sound was free of congestion. And if I had to swear to it with my hand on my copy of the very first issue of Stereophile, the low frequencies sounded more extended with the Naim than they had with the Ayre.

Feeling adventurous, I selected the Naim Internet Radio station with the Naim app running on my iPad mini. Charlie Haden appeared, playing his "La Pasionaria" with guitarist Antonio Forcione—a recording from their Heartplay (320kbps, 44.1k MP3 stream, Naim 098). I'm a longtime fan of the late bassist, and hadn't been aware of this recording he'd made for Naim Records in June 2006. You'd think the audible degradation of lossily compressed recordings would be most apparent in the highs, but I've always found the bass to suffer most—it acquires a somewhat soggy quality. But despite the lossy compression, the sound of Haden's double bass was full-bodied through the Æons, the leading edges of notes well defined.

Was the sound still a little rough, as Tyll had said in his e-mail? Perhaps, but to put his comment into perspective, I needed to compare the MrSpeakers with some familiar headphones using uncompressed WAV and AIFF files.

For comparisons with my Audeze LCD-X open-back headphones ($1699) and Thinksound's On2 closed-back, over-ear 'phones ($199.99), which I reviewed in April 2017, I played the pink-noise track from Editor's Choice with a Studio Six Digital iTestMic stuck between the earpieces, and noted the Ayre's volume-control settings required that I match the sound-pressure levels using the Studio Six SPL Meter app on my iPad mini. For the record, the 13 ohm Æons were 5dB less sensitive than the 22 ohm Audezes, and 11dB less sensitive than the 50 ohm Thinksounds.

The On2s' sonic signature is dominated by some mid-treble forwardness, coupled with forceful low frequencies. With Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, performed by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Lockington (24/96 ALAC file, eOne), the Thinksounds' upper bass was not as clean as that of the MrSpeakers Æons, though the high-frequency balance was similar. With Patricia Barber's "Groovin' High," the bass was again better defined through the Æons, and the cymbals had more top-octave energy. For a penny under $200, the Thinksounds are an excellent value, but they were outclassed by the Æons. The MrSpeakers were also more comfortable, which will be a factor if your headphone listening sessions are long, as mine tend to be.


Turning to the Audeze LCD-Xes, the sound of Tom Hipskind's cymbals in "Groovin' High" was closer to the Thinksounds than to the Æons, with less top-octave emphasis. Barber's spoken interjections before Gailloreto's sax solo sounded more outside my head than through the Audezes. However, Larry Kohut's double bass was more full-bodied with the LCD-Xes than with the Æons, sounding like a larger instrument. Jonas Nordwall's pipe organ similarly sounded bigger through the Audezes, though the MrSpeakers did decode a bit more of the church ambience.

I've been playing a lot of Peter Gabriel the past few weeks before having to commit these words to print. "Solsbury Hill" from the Special Edition of his 2011 album, New Blood (16/44.1 ALAC file ripped from CD, Real World 00038), has become a favorite, Gabriel's husky baritone set against the arrangement for piano and orchestra. The Æons slightly emphasized the "blat" of the brass instruments, the space around the instruments, and the phlegmy edge to the voice; in general, voices sounded more natural through the LCD-Xes, with more weight to the lows but less top-octave air. I'll stick with the Audezes, but the MrSpeakers Æons, too, are headphones I could live with.

Summing Up
Tyll Hertsens concluded his review of the Æons with: "both audio enthusiasts and professionals will find themselves pleased as punch with this high-value audio transducer. Tonal balance and transient response are extraordinary . . . only some roughness and slight dynamic compression belie the fact that this is a sealed headphone and isn't going to deliver the finesse, smoothness, and liquidity of some open headphones."

I don't have a lot to add to that, other than this: I suspect the dynamic compression Tyll mentioned might be amplifier related, given the Æons' demanding impedance. Using the foam filters is, to my mind, mandatory rather than optional, to optimize the balance between the low frequencies and the midrange. Without the filters, the MrSpeakers sounded too lightweight, too forward in the highs. But the Æons have opened my ears to what can be achieved with closed-back headphones. Nice!

MrSpeakers Headphone Products
3366 Kurtz Street
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 501-6313

Graham Luke's picture

I recently auditioned these headphones and was very impressed with them; "rough-sounding"? Well, I must have missed something...

w1000i's picture

I own them, and feel they have more energy at the top , which I like with watching movies، and sometimes I use the pads with some music

Graham Luke's picture

Interesting. Is it straightforward changing the pads? Have you tried the open version of the Aeon?

Rlotzkar's picture

is the bleeding edge of low technology. Yes, they are easy to change.

My only very minor criticism is the headband adjustment doesn't have quite enough friction and will slowly slide out of position.

Wickham's picture

I've had the same problem on the closed aeons. I had to tighten the set screw beyond what I thought reasonable.

tonykaz's picture

Mr. Paul McGowan and the happy lads at PS Audio in Colorado have finally started taking orders for their New & Improved Power Plant ( the P20 ).

Paul is claiming this design is their ( PS Audio's ) "finest expression of performance to date"! Phew, that's a hell of a claim, doncha think?

Anyway, I'm anticipating that you and your lads will all want to experience this device and that PS Audio will be more than Anxious for you to turn your writers loose on this new tool which is already being evaluated in the Asian Marketplaces.

I will pay close attention to every nuanced observation that you can describe and phrase.

Engineering wise, PS Audio is on one hell of a series of superbs yet they seem rather cautious about braggadocio and hubris.

Tony in Michigan

ps. the P20 weighs 105 lbs, costs $10,000 ( $100 per lb. +/- ), it's a different design concept than their P10 and P5.

If it's any good, the lads will have a good feeling about sharing their discoveries.