A Surprisingly Successful Dual Driver Headphone: The Enigmacoustics Dharma D1000 Page 2


Sound Quality
Like the build quality, the sound quality of the Dharma is a bit of a mixed bag that in the end is a bit better then the sum of its parts. The thing that struck my ears when I first listened to the Dharma D1000 is its fairly good tonal balance. I would say it gets closest to neutral of all the cans heard at BigSound 2015. Relatively, the Ether and HD 800 are a bit brighter; the HE1000 is a bit laid back in the upper-mid-range; the LCD3 is a bit muffled in the lower treble; the Abyss mid-range is too withdrawn; and the PMx2 is a bit too polite lacking extension on either end, though it's very nicely balanced otherwise. For a dual driver headphone—heck, for any headphone—I find this a pretty stunning achievement.

But—and you knew there would be a but, didn't ya—it does suffer from two significant problems.

The bass, though not particularly well extended, is nicely balanced in the mix with a slight emphasis centering around 90-100Hz. The weird thing is that measurements show that the bass has huge distortion, which starts to rise below 400Hz to reach nearly 10% at 100Hz. Looking at the distortion measurements would have me thinking the bass would be a wooly, murky mess, but it just ain't so to my ears—nor the ears of most folks who listened at Big Sound 2015.


THD+Noise plot of the Enigmacoustics Dharma D1000.

Many times after eliciting opinions of the bass performance and getting word back that it seemed okay, I would show the listener the distortion curves. "No way!" would be an accurate characterization of the responses to the measurement. To this day, I simply can't believe the bass distortion is as high as measured. Yes, I can hear a thickness to the low notes and that they are not as well articulated as some other cans, but I've heard headphones that measure poorly in this area that are way worse sounding. In fact, I repeated these measurements four or more times and they come out exactly the same. Really, really, weird!

The other, somewhat more vexing issue, is the electret driver and its contribution to treble response and some people's feeling that there was some "discontinuity" during the hand-off between the dynamic and electret drivers. First, I need to say the Enigmacoustics claims the electret driver kicks in at about 10kHz and there is no cross-over shutting off the dynamic driver, so the electret should only be there to support some high frequency response. In a Big Sound post, I posited the tweeter was kicking in at about 6kHz. In response to that comment I received the following information from Enigmacoustics:

Our extremely elaborate and expensively researched/designed/customized paper-based full-range dynamic driver covers the entire spectrum from 20Hz ~ 20kHz. Therefore, the self-polarizing electrostatic driver, utilizing our patented SBESL (self-biased electrostatic) technology—same exact technology behind our groundbreaking Sopranino electrostatic super tweeter (aka the first-of-its-kind Ambience Restoration Device)—is strictly for compensating frequency range between 12kHz ~ 40kHz.

It is then impossible for anyone to detect any supposed flaw or discontinuity, because there simply isn't any cross-over network at the 6kHz frequency. We speculate the so-called discontinuity that some supposedly have picked up could very well be the product of one's own preconceived notion of our unique dual-transducer system, which subsequently may have altered their perception psycho-acoustically.

I have to say I entirely agree that the perception of a "discontinuity" by some might rightly be chalked up to "the product of one's own preconceived notion of our unique dual-transducer system." I personally did not hear anything I would characterize as a discontinuity in the treble. What I did hear, and measure, was a significant zingy peak at about 5-6kHz. At 10kHz and above, I felt the level was just a bit high, but, to the extent one can really hear these things clearly, I felt the upper-treble responded articulately.

However, there is this....


Impedance and Phase response of the Enigmacoustics Dharma.

The Dharma has a significant swing in impedance and electrical phase occurring in the 2-4kHz region. The only thing I can attribute this to is the reactivity of the filter controlling the signal to the electret and the driver itself. The plots would lead me to assume the electret driver is turning on much lower in frequency than the claimed 10kHz. To be truthful, I just don't know, and have no way to determine it.

One thing I do know is that there is an emphasis at 5-6kHz that does produce a tingy-zingy character at that point. When I went through the process of EQing the headphones while listening to pink noise, the emphasis there was readily heard, and sounded much better when dialed out. Here's my EQ plot.


If you've seen my EQ plots in the Ether and HE1000 reviews, you'll notice I had to do less adjustment through the mid-range on the Dharma, indicating its overall better tonal balance.

Imaging on the Dharma was good—better than the LCD-3, but not as open sounding as the Ether, HE1000, and HD 800. Dynamics also was good, but not great, being somewhat hampered by the lack of strong bass punch.

Enigmacoustics should be applauded for producing a competitive product in their inaugural foray into the world of high-end headphones. This is not an easy category to enter, and the Dharma pretty easily bests many well known headphone makers who pose with flagships in the category that don't remotely cut the mustard. But it's also a category where I really can't pull my punches.

Physically, the Dharma does well with build quality and styling, but falls a tad short on comfort—which again is good, but not great. It falls a little shorter on the sound front with a somewhat slow bass response—though it sounds no where near as bad as it measures—and a bit of a zingy treble around 5-6kHz.

If you're looking for your one and only end-game headphone I wouldn't recommend the Dharma—a better choice might be the Mr. Speakers Ether, HiFiMAN Edition X (review coming soon), or Sennheiser HD 800. But if you're an aficionado with multiple high-end cans looking to add another interesting headphone to your collection, the Enigmacoustics Dharma D1000 may well be an out-of-the-ordinary and satisfying exploration. It's easily the best dual-driver headphone I've heard. So, a cautious recommendation from me.

Click here if you can't see the video.

Enigmacoustics home page and Dharma D1000 product page.
Head-Fi thread here.
Wanna listen to one? Check out TTVJ's Dharma loaner thread.

Irvine, California, USA