MrSpeakers ETHER Open Back Headphone Review – Ether You’ll Like Them or Love Them
Well known for the ‘Mad Dog’ and other mods based on Fostex T50RP headphones, MrSpeakers has brought us the ETHER models, consisting of the open-backed ETHER (reviewed here) and the ETHER C which is a closed-back variant. Both are driven by planar magnetic technology. Can the MrSpeakers ETHER prove to be a new and indisposable medium for disseminating music, or does it just cause drowsiness and send us to sleep? Read on!
- Extremely light and comfortable
- Sounds divine
- Designed really well
- Case is strong and no bigger than necessary
- Headband self-adjusts too readily unless fixed for one user
Design and Appearance
The ETHER appears to have a design which is based on the best points of other brands’ headphones, and it’s nice to see them all on one model. Plush and thick earpads, large earcups, and sturdy cable connectors which are easy enough to get the cable onto and off again. The headband and yokes are strong yet flexible and in all, the design is very well thought out and very,very light!
Durability and Build quality
Durability is always hard to gauge with new models, but nothing stands out as seeming particularly vulnerable to damage caused by wear and tear. As alluded to above, the design is a good one and the headphones should stand the test of time!
With headphones donned, comfort levels match those of any of the favoured dynamic headphones. Even the Sennheiser HD650 or HD540 models get a run for their money. People may forget they are wearing these headphones, unless they are playing music through them of course. One slight gripe is the headband strap adjusting itself bigger as the headphones are fiddled with, but there are a pair of stoppers which can be moved and secured to prevent this.
Sampled with the standard Chord Hugo as DAC/AMP, it’s perhaps important to mention that the sound can be improved by using a proper ‘plug in’ powered amp such as the excellent Audeze Deckard or the great value Musical Fidelity V90-HPA. Having said that, a humble Fiio X3 DAP can do a very good job of powering the MrSpeakers ETHER; it’s only until a rather underpowered android handset is tried that the ETHER sounds noticeably insipid and anaemic.
However, as it is the MrSpeakers ETHER dazzles and cajoles with dexterity and power, definition and silkiness, space and slam.
The ETHER is not as bassy as some other makers’ planar magnetic designs; the bass is not accentuated but does a good job. It starts low in frequency terms and does what’s required if the music calls for it. Dance genres enjoy a good bit of sub bass and hip hop or funk styles get a good weighty quality to the kick drums. It’s well controlled too; shaking drum skins are not lost through the mix, even with hard rock guitars kicking in.
Midrange is noticeably present on the ETHER; perhaps due to the relatively reined-in bass. There is perhaps a slight bump in the upper-mid range but it doesn’t cause any problems with sibilance. There’s a sense of a slightly sharper and more revealing sound but it stays on the right side of the comfort line. Due to this, vocals, reed instruments and distorted guitars stand out along with associated delay effects, creating a very pleasing and immediate sense of space and imaging.
No detail goes unnoticed, but at the same time the ETHER stays the right side of any sibilant or fatigue-inducing territory; even with a multitude of brass instruments blaring, the frequency response makes it comfortable. Not to say that the ETHER is a dark pair of headphones; there is a decent amount of sparkle and shimmer there. In other words, the icing on the cake!
Soundstage and Separation
Imaging and separation is exceptionally good on the ETHER, making it amongst the best headphones for this feature. I’ve picked out a flaw or two in tracks I’ve been listening to for years previous; there’s now a vibraslap sound out there which will always have a squeaky floorboard under it, and let’s not get started on kick drum pedals. Everything is perfectly rendered; for better or worse.
A superb soundstage is to expected from large open-backed headphones such as these and because of that, this may be the only feature of the ETHER which hasn’t knocked our socks off. However, the huge and expansive sound of these headphones serves as the perfect counterpoint to some very special sounding features indeed.
Music genres good for and why
The ETHER is best with anything which is well recorded; if the performers or musicians have colds or are wearing bracelets, the listener knows about it. Whether it’s annoying or all the more engrossing is up to the listener. A sense of space is very well rendered on the ETHER; live and classical styles come out of it very well. Other music types do very well too, but no single one can be recommended over another. They’re all brilliant.
The MrSpeakers ETHER just goes to show that a world-class headphone needn’t require a big corporation to produce it; in this world of crowd funding and 3D printing anyone can have a go, but getting it this right is going to test anyone’s mettle.