February 10, 2020 8 min read
Review written by Andrew Park (@Resolve)
The review unit was provided on loan from headphones.com for evaluation.
With MrSpeakers rebranding to Dan Clark Audio comes the release of two new planar magnetic headphones, namely the Aeon 2 (open and closed). This review focuses on the closed version (A2C), and in many ways I consider this to be the more interesting one. The current landscape of high end planar magnetic headphones doesn’t include many closed-back offerings. Yes, there are several Audeze closed-back planars like the LCD2 Closed and the LCD-XC, along with the older Ether C Flow series from MrSpeakers, however the Aeon series is markedly different due to its dramatically reduced weight and improved comfort. The big question mark for me with this type of lightweight planar is if the concessions made to reduce the weight impact performance, and were they able to retain technical performance - not sacrificing one for the other.
Efficiency: 92dB/mW Closed, 94dB Open
Weight (without cable): 327gr Closed, 327gr Open
Cable: Detachable 2m premium dual-entry cable with 3.5mm and 1/4" termination
Impedance: 13 ohms
Price: $899 USD
The A2C's build is very similar to that of the older model and that’s a very good thing, with a few key differences. For starters, there’s a hinge on the yokes that allows the headphone to fold up for portable use. Again, this is one of the reasons why the closed version is very interesting. Additionally, the top headband feels a bit smoother than the original if memory serves correctly. Moreover, these are very light for planar magnetic headphones, coming in just over 300g. My one complaint with the comfort is that just like the original, there’s just a touch too much clamp force from the Nitinol wire that pushes the cups towards your head. It’s something that isn’t noticeable right away but over time it does press a bit much, so for those of us with larger heads it may be a problem. Still, the A2C has very soft teardrop-shaped pads that lessen the pressure, and it’s considerably more comfortable than any other closed-back planar. I’m a big fan of this design philosophy.
Dan Clark Audio have changed the transducer design substantially as well. It still appears to be a single-sided magnetic array, meaning some concessions were made to make it lighter and more comfortable. But interestingly it appears the entire structure was also redesigned, with reduced mobile mass for better restorative force, and the magnet array has been placed on the inside of the cup rather than the outside. The theory is that this design change imparts better detail retrieval and microdynamics.
For sound isolation, the A2C is one of the better options, partially due to the way it seals onto your head. Not only does it do well at blocking sound coming in, it’s also really good at blocking sound going out (when you’re wearing it). I suspect it does a better job at this than many closed-back headphones, including the Focal Elegia and the HD820.
Just like with the original, Dan Clark Audio has included a number of tuning pads to change the tonality. These can easily be altered by the listener by simply inserting them into the earcup. They range in thickness of material for a lesser to greater effect on curbing treble frequencies.
Lastly, the A2C is a muted cherry red color instead of the dark navy blue. While this may look great to some, I prefer the matte black aesthetics off the Ether 2. Still, it looks and feels like a high performance piece of equipment so it gets good marks there too.
It turns out that the aforementioned design changes for the transducer have actually resulted in improved technical performance over the A2C’s predecessor, in most categories. The original Aeon Closed already had decent technical performance for detail and speed (although certainly not above its price point), but the dynamics were a bit lacking and bass presence felt a bit lean. Moreover, the stage was particularly closed-in sounding. With transducer updates for the A2C, Dan Clark Audio is looking to improve on these shortcomings.
The biggest improvement on the original has to be the A2C’s detail retrieval, and it was immediately noticeable to me. No, it doesn’t compete with multi-thousand dollar flagship planars, but for a closed-back comfortable planar, the detail retrieval for individual instrument lines, microdynamics, textural nuances and image clarity are superb. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s on par with some open-back planars around its price point. This is the kind of thing that gets me excited about planars in general.
The A2C is a very fast headphone, just like its predecessor, exhibiting both excellent leading edge speed and having good control of decay. This is actually what I liked so much about the original as well. For macrodynamics, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, there is more slam, and it does punch harder than its predecessor, but this is likely due to the differences in tonality as well. Adding a touch of EQ to tame the bass response reveals that it’s still not on par with something like the Focal Elegia or the Audeze closed-backs. But of course, we probably shouldn’t expect it to - those Audeze headphones are bricks coming in at over twice the weight of the A2C, allowing them to have larger transducers and double-sided arrays.
This is where I’m a bit disappointed in the A2C. The changes to the transducer design and implementation were meant to improve the soundstage, and it absolutely has improved, however it’s still very much a closed-in kind of sound compared to open-back headphones. Now that's not to say the A2C isn't a noticeable improvement over the original in this category. Stage depth for front left and front right is quite a bit better, and it also has solid lateral presence - for a closed-back - but the center image is also still very “in-my-head”, as opposed to an even distribution across the front of the stage. It’s something that’s again recognizably better on the Focal Elegia, even if that headphone doesn’t have the same depth capability as the A2C. Thankfully, image distinction and instrument separation is remarkably good on the A2C, and this again is a good indicator that the A2C has improved its detail capabilities.
Timbre for the A2C isn’t particularly noticeable as a planar - apart from its tightness, instrument separation and other performant qualities - so it doesn’t have the dry thud I sometimes worry about. But due to the tonality, it can come across as somewhat aggressive, depending on the tuning pads that are used.
Measurements taken on the MiniDSP EARS rig, which is not to be considered as or compared with industry standard. The following uses the HPN compensation.
The default tonality is relatively neutral, with good bass extension, lots of treble sparkle, and a somewhat dipped upper midrange and lower treble. I find this tonality to be fairly agreeable for the most part, and nothing sounds dramatically out of balance. Keep in mind that the 4.5khz elevation is just a feature of the measurement rig and regularly shows up for most headphones. This is not an accurate representation of how the headphone sounds in that region, but it does sound slightly recessed in that whole range to my ear. The A2C also has acceptable bass to midrange distinction, even if the bass is elevated slightly more than I like. This also imparts the perception of increased punch and impact, and I do have to admit that it’s effective. The only other issue that I hear is a slight peak at 8khz, adding a bit of extra zing to the consonant range.
The treble sparkle can be tamed by adding the tuning filters. I found I preferred the soft black foam inserts. But the 3-5khz dip may be more of an issue depending on the type of music you enjoy. It causes certain instruments like pianos to occasionally sound ever so slightly muted or muffled. Listening to Tingvall Trio's 'Beat' demonstrates this, where the upper frequency ranges of the tonal resonances for certain piano hits are pulled back in favor of the lower frequency range (the primary impact of the tone).
On the other hand, this is a potentially desirable feature for more upbeat music, or anything that uses electric guitars. There’s a risk that an elevation in this region can cause a bit of a shouty or shrill sound to those instruments, and I’m personally fine with the dip for more modern music. In some ways the tonality here reminds me a bit of the ZMF Verite, which is also noticeably recessed in the same range, and so when comparing the two it’s easy to hear the similarities. Needless to say, this wouldn’t be my first choice for jazz and acoustic music without EQ, however for pop, rock, metal, and EDM the A2C’s tonality will likely be very enjoyable.
At the A2C’s price, the Focal Elegia has to be the other closed-back headphone that comes to mind as a comparison. In some ways the default tonality of the A2C is more agreeable for certain genres. Also interestingly the detail capability is at least on par with the Elegia, and perhaps even favors the A2C. But for macrodynamics, soundstage, and the Elegia’s near perfect image distribution across the front of the stage, the Elegia wins. Keep in mind that the Elegia also uses a dynamic driver instead of a planar, so really if you’re looking for that closed-back planar sound specifically, the A2C is the clear choice.
The LCD2 Closed hits like a truck, but I find that the A2C’s detail capability is at least as good if not better (from memory). Moreover, the A2C has a much more normal tonality without any tonal imbalances like the LCD2 Closed has. For stage and imaging, however, I have to once again give the edge to the competition. Personally I find the Audeze offering to be much too heavy to take seriously as a headphone I’d actually use for more than an hour, and so in my mind the A2C is the more usable headphone.
When I think of the Ether 2, I think of a headphone that was almost great, but because of its tonality and dramatic recession in the lower treble, it misses the mark for me a bit. But, it’s obvious that a lot of the good things achieved by the Ether 2 were brought on board for the A2C. In particular, I actually think the detail capability for the A2C is really quite close to that of the Ether 2. The latter has a much more spacious and open sound of course, but there are good reasons to prefer the A2C, particularly due to what is in my opinion a superior tonality (for most genres)
The Sennheiser closed-back flagship dynamic driver headphone has decent instrument separation and stage for a closed back, but I find that it lacks a bit of punch, and there is a somewhat congested sound for certain instruments. The A2C is nowhere near as spacious, but it does have better speed and in general is a more fun headphone. These two also have very different tonalities, with the A2C also coming out on top in my opinion.
Dan Clark Audio’s Aeon 2 Closed is absolutely an improvement on its predecessor, and I do recommend it. If you’re specifically looking for a closed-back planar, this is easily one of the better ones in my opinion. Importantly, it’s light, comfortable, and usable, and it does provide some truly excellent detail retrieval. My one gripe is that while the folks at Dan Clark Audio nailed almost all of their design goals, the center image isn’t as fully represented across the front part of the stage, and it still feels like a closed-back headphone to me. But, it’s also important to remember that this is a closed-back headphone, and so the fact that it sounds like one really shouldn’t be a reason not to buy it. The other important consideration that sets the A2C apart is that it is one of the more portable closed-back headphones on the market - even more so than its competition. So for anyone looking for a lightweight, portable, closed-back planar, the A2C gets my recommendation, especially for more modern and upbeat genres of music.
Check out the video review here:
- Andrew Park (@Resolve)
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