Audeze EL-8 Open-Back – Land of Open Glory – Expert Review
Based in Sunny California, Audeze have endeavoured to spread a little spare sunshine around; even to the point of piercing the gloom here in the UK! We’re all aware of the effect The Golden State’s orange juice has on us in the mornings, and it appears that its headphones aren’t far behind in being able to part the clouds, if only in terms of dazzling audio resolution.
The planar magnetic EL-8 Open-Back is a bit of a departure from Audeze’s other designs; it’s smaller, lighter and and more travel friendly with an ability to be folded flat – not that the idea of stopping listening and packing these headphones away is particularly alluring.
Design and appearance (e.g. attractiveness, feel)
I say that the Audeze EL-8 Open-Back is lighter than the other models; and while that may be the case, they still have a fair bit of weight. When compared to the average portable out there they won’t win any Oscars unless there is a strong supporting cast. But if viewed as a headphone for any quiet scenario such as for home use too, the EL-8 Open-Back returns to the podium like something out of Ben-Hur.
They’re decorated with a wood-like veneer design around the edge of the earcups, which looks a little more understated when compared to the LCD range, but still follows the Audeze theme of natural wooden tones.
Durability & build quality (e.g. cabling, connectors, materials)
Despite the initial surprise at the headband which consists of a relatively thin band of steel with a sprung pad in the middle, plus the departure from other Audeze designs where the yokes are concerned (the pivoted parts holding the earspeakers), we were reassured of the solid build quality when handling the headphones. Nothing about the Audeze EL-8 Open-Back goes against Audeze’s pedigree where build quality is concerned.
Even taking the design of the headphones into account, the cable is perhaps the greatest departure from previous designs. It’s ribbon-style and the connectors are more reminiscent of those you might find on a memory card, with 4 separate contacts on each side. Being 2m/6.5 feet long, an extension cable may be required for home use with full-sized amplifiers as the Audeze EL-8 Open-Back was primarily designed for portable players.
When nestled on the head the Audeze EL-8 Open-Back is quite comfortable and does not feel heavy, but we all have different opinions where weight is concerned. At 460g (or just over a pound) they are lighter than the LCD range by a fair margin. The headband cushion is comfortable too, but when adjusting the headband back or forward there may be a tendancy for the headband’s rubber coating to pull on the hair.
Suitability for intended application
Being an open-backed portable, this EL-8 version is obviously for those who want a low profile way of taking great quality music to the office or to enjoy in quiet spaces outdoors. These headphones may run into problems in noisy environments, or if the wearer wishes to not cause a nuisance to those nearby. There is a EL-8 Closed Back for such scenarios, so take your pick!
The earcups on the Audeze EL-8 Open-Back fold down flat and so can reduce the size of the headphones in a bag or case; however the travel case supplied with them could be more substantial, amounting to a soft cloth pouch which will protect the headphones from dust.
Bass (e.g. punch, low extension):
Being a planar magentic model, bass comes naturally to the Audeze EL-8 Open-Back! It’s all in proportion of course, there’s no bloat for the sake of it. It’s emphatic when called for and never steals the show. It is tight and detailed, enhanced by harmonics within the unfettered midrange and upper frequencies.
Mids (e.g. vocals, acoustic instruments):
The mid-range can be zoomed in on and enjoyed whether there’s a lot of action or not; it is all taken in the EL-8 Open-Back’s stride. This headphone can certainly keep its head.
Nuance is not lost and every tremelo and vibrato within a vocal performance is faithfully served up along with accompanying reverb trails, making for a very convincing and moving presentation.
Treble (e.g. high hats):
The upper frequencies are a perfect complement to the rest of the range, neither too bright or too dark. This is a personal opinion of course as we all have a differing amount of sensitivity to this region, but Audeze have obviously put some thought into this and hit a perfect balance between sharpness and dullness; they sparkle without glare, and massage auditory systems in a non-drowsy way.
Soundstage & Separation
Soundstage may suffer a little from the grill on each side; the larger earcups of the LCD range give audio a good chance to breath but this should have been scaled down for the EL-8 Open Back along with the earcup size itself, with a greater chance of any otherwise reflected audio escaping.
Separation is as good as any open backed headphone in the EL-8’s price range; even bringing out details I had never conciously noticed before such as that rhythm guitar low down in the mix, or that backing singer who was multi-tracked and not the subject of a delay effect.
Music genres good for and why
Genres from classical to slow and heavy EBM were tested with the EL-8 Open-Back; the headphones are sensitive and precise enough to convey the finer touches and emotion of the Brandenburg Concherto, as well as vibrating the skull with Rhesus Factor’s ‘Commando 242’, an unremitting heavy synth track of little subtlety! The relatively neutral tuning of the Audeze EL-8 makes it a perfect jack of all trades, and a master all of them as well.
Small and light (in comparison to Audeze LCD Series)
Ver comfortable to wear
Some may still find them just a little heavy on the head
Carry pouch not as substantial as a hard case
6 foot / 2 metre cable only
Please take a look at our video review for the Audeze EL-8 Headphones below: