Ether Flow Sound Quality and Subjective Listening
Testing and listening to the MrSpeakers Ether Flow is the most enjoyable experience I ever had since I started my “audiophile” journey. Right out of the box the sound quality is already superb and I was able to experience that spine-tingling or “goose bumps” sensation again when listening to my kind of music. I’ll get more into its sound quality after a few paragraphs.
I tested the Ether Flow with Schiit’s Jotunheim DAC/AMP, which in my opinion is the best desktop DAC/AMP in its price range. I also tested the Ether Flow with iFi Audio’s iDAC2 with iCAN SE amplifier. Both are great DAC/AMP combo specially if you are into DSD and you also need some bass boosting and holographic effects. I wasn’t able to test it with ALO Audio’s CDM yet, since the Ether Flow cable that I have are 4-pin balanced and 6.5mm. I currently don’t have a 6.5mm to 3.5mm adapter, and I’ll definitely test it with the CDM later when I got the appropriate adapters.
I have been listening to the Ether Flow for more than a couple of months now, and like I said earlier, it sounds great right out of the box. After giving it a few more hours of burning-in I noticed a little bit of improvement on the overall sound quality. I’m not sure if you are a believer of the burn-in process or not; but burning-in a speaker, headphone or an earphone for a number of hours may improve the overall sound quality. The usual scenario is that bass gets more defined or fuller, sound stage usually opens up, mids and the highs become clearer.
To my ears the Ether Flow is a neutral sounding headphone. Before, I thought that the HiFiMAN HE400s and Audeze EL-8 were neutral sounding headphones that are just leaning towards the warm side. However, after carefully listening to the Ether Flow and comparing them side by side; I have concluded that for me this (the Flow) is “the neutral” headphone. The HE400s and EL-8 are warmer and they also have their respective distinct sound signature. Being a neutral sounding headphone, it doesn’t mean that it lacks bass or doesn’t have extended highs. I haven’t heard the Ether (1st gen) but as far as I know, the Ether Flow offers several refinements and tuning tweaks including improvements on the bass region.
The sound that the Ether Flow produces is very clean and I think it is well-balanced overall. I also think that it is revealing; revealing in a way that depending on what source you plug it into, it reveals the sound characteristics of that source. Not only that it reveals the certain characteristics of the source, but I can also distinguish better whether the audio file being played is lossy or not.
It’s also very crisp and natural sounding, some may call it “life-like” sounding. I like how the Cello sounds with the Ether Flow, the plucking of an acoustic guitar or the sound of a violin; they just sound very real and comes to life. Getting into the specifics, I think the bass is well extended offering enough slam and rumble. As expected from a planar headphone, the bass it not that punchy but the bass sounds full bodied, round and at the same time (very) clean. The mids are somewhat forward for me, by a little bit; and they do sound lovely, rich and natural. Highs are noticeably extended, but not to the point of being sibilant; and I didn’t observed any spikes or harsh tones either.
In terms of sound stage, the Ether Flow doesn’t have a very wide sound stage, making it sound more focused. In comparison, to my ears the HE400i have a wider sound stage but it sounds less focused (and probably defused) compared to the Ether Flow. However, the Ether Flow does exhibit a good amount of separation and layering; so no need to worry about different musical instruments getting compressed or sounds lumped together.
The only thing left for me to do after this review is find a way to compare it with the HE1000 (v2) and Focal Elear / Utopia and probably the HD 800 S as well. These headphones are the real competitors of the Ether Flow.
MrSpeakers Ether Flow Review: Conclusion
I think Dan Clark and the MrSpeakers team have forged a great open back headphone here that deserves our ears’ attention. For me, the Ether Flow truly is a great sounding headphone, and like I said earlier, it’s by far the best open back headphone I have tested to date. If you look at the headphone it looks simple, all-black design with just a metallic blue ring and honey comb mesh that gives it highlights. Honestly, it doesn’t even stand out from other fancy looking headphones. But once it’s on your hands and you get a good look and feel at it, you’ll start to appreciate the details and the amount of craftsmanship present on the Ether Flow. On top of that, the sound quality that it produces, the precision and accuracy of the sound, I think that definitely stands out.
The Ether Flow does come with a steep price, at $1,800+ USD. Compared to most of the headphones on the market (specially the typical ones), it’s a very expensive headphone already. However, in contrast with other top of the line headphones, it’s not the most expensive out there. The HD 800 S currently retails for around $1,700, the HiFiMan HE1000 V2 retails for a whopping $3,000 and the Focal Utopia at a staggering $4,000 USD. There’s even a $5,000++ Stax SR-009 and you also need an expensive setup to properly drive that electrostatic headphone.
If you ask me, does the Ether Flow sound better compared to the typical headphones on the market? Yes it does, significantly in most cases. But I don’t think that the more expensive HE1000 (v2) and Utopia sound “significantly better” (parallel to the increase in price) than the Ether Flow. Diminishing returns is (very) prominent on high end audio gear. So yeah, it is expensive, but not the most expensive there is.
I don’t have anything left to say, really. I don’t find any faults or anything to nitpick about. No matter what type of music or genre I threw at it, it still delivers and presents the music exceptionally well. Audio is subjective though, and I do not want to sound overly hype here, but the Ether Flow does sound fantastic! For me, the “planar magic” is definitely present. If you’re planning to invest on a serious hi-fi headphone, I highly recommend that you consider and audition the MrSpeakers Ether Flow.