The Open EL-8
This version clearly is the better one of both to my ears. The EL-8O shows good transparency and especially its speed is remarkable. Next to that you get the lovely clarity most of the planar magnetic headphones are so famous for. In general I would say the tuning is more to the neutral side but with a good touch of warmth. Like most orthos it has great instrument separation. Trumpets and piano sound extremely good on it. The EL-8 O has a good left-right balance but there’s no 3D feeling, something a lot of headphones have problems with. Another thing that will immediately strike you are the slightly forward vocals with this headphone. Sound stage is quite good and it sounds quite spacious but it isn’t the widest or deepest either, all the other Audeze’s score better in this area.
Bass: The depth of the bass is lacking a bit but it has good body, especially when it’s being amped. Compared to the LCD-X and LCD 2.1 it is missing depth and has a lower level of layering but for this price range you get quality bass.
Mids: I always enjoy the Audeze mids and the EL-8O also has good clear mids that are very detailed, rich in detail, and most of all musical. Like I mentioned before voices can sound slightly more forward.
Treble is very nice with good clarity and speed. Treble actually is fairly extended and very natural sounding. I don’t think anyone will find the EL8-O’s treble offensive sounding.
The open EL-8 produces a realistic sound, certainly when amped a little. The EL-8’s are supposed to be easy to drive and while they are they do scale up quite nicely when using an amplifier. You don’t need a big expensive desktop amp to drive them to their full potential either, a simple portable amp like Picollo in example does the trick already. Straight from iBasso’s now discontinued DX90 DAP and the AK240, I found the EL-8O to miss body and emotion, and I really suggest using an amplifier along with these orthos. It may be the easiest to drive Audeze on paper but amplification does improve the EL8’s performance (both open and closed). Sure, for a lot of people the EL-8 straight out of a DAP will sound good enough, but to me it’s on the limit and I clearly prefer it “amped”. And once you’ve heard it amped, I doubt you’ll go back to what you were doing before.
I ended up using the EL-8O a lot with the Chord Hugo as a desktop setup at work and it came close to replacing my Hugo and HD650 work setup. The EL-8O on the ALO Audio CDM is even so sublime and together with the V281, the CDM is the amp the EL-8O sounds best on. Lovely detail, good attack/speed and a bit of tube smoothness to make it all so musical. One of the portable amps I always try when using/reviewing orthodynamic headphones is the Bakoon HPA-01M. Bakoon in general is known for its excellent synergy with orthos and it’s no different here when plugging the EL-8 in to the Bakoon’s Current Output: Powerful sound, good tight bass, musical mids and exciting treble. All you need.
The EL-8O amped is quite a good headphone and I enjoy it a lot but at the same time it hasn’t managed to replace the HD650 + Hugo setup I daily use at work. For some reason I keep getting drawn back to the HD650 dynamics. At home I regularly picked up the open EL-8 and especially my girlfriend loves using it straight out of her tablet when she’s watching movies.
The closed version of the EL-8 (EL-8C) has a very different tuning than the open back. It especially shows less body in the midrange which makes the vocals even more upfront. At the same time the level and quality of bass and treble levels is about the same. The big difference is in the mids section, giving the closed version more of a U or V curve with forwarded vocals. The Mids in the closed version are missing body, timbre and layering. Maybe treble is a tad less airy also, but the difference is minimal.
I have really tried to love the closed version and have used it with a multitude of amplifiers and sources but the love never came. I really expected the EL-8C to sound better or I expected it to suite my preference better but it didn’t. The LCD-XC is still my favorite closed headphone of the Audeze product line.
The Hifiman HE-400i is harder to drive and sounds softer and smoother, more like the HD650. It’s a more relaxed sound with more natural voices. The EL-8O is more energetic and faster, more direct aka aggressive sounding compared to this Hifiman. In the end I also prefer listening to the HE-400i over the EL-8O, even if the Audeze has the edge on detail. The He-400i is also cheaper. Hifiman’s HE-560 sounds even faster, is more detailed and has a bigger sound stage. I’d call it a more “reference tuning”. The EL-8s are priced in between the $499 and $899 Hifiman headphones.
Sennheiser’s HD650 produces a warmer, slower and smoother sound than the EL-8O. When properly amped, it’s bass goes deeper, is more layered and has more impact but it isn’t as tight as the EL-8s bass. The Senn has smoother mids that present more timbre but the treble is more rolled off in the German headphone.
I wouldn’t immediately know to what closed headphone I would compare the closed version. It’s completely different from the XC and the other closed full sized headphones I have here like the Beyerdynamic DT770AE, T70 and the COP. The EL-8C to me is quite far away from the level of the LCD-XC, I had hoped it would be as close as the EL-8O is to the 2.1/X but it unfortunately is not.
I don’t really see the EL-8s as little brothers of the LCD series, they are a design of their own with their own characteristics. The open version is quite good but not good enough for me to lay down the well amped HD650 (big fan!) and the easy to drive HE-400i. That being said, I am convinced a whole lot of people will love its sound and they will prefer it over the slow HD650 and smooth HE-400i. It depends on what you expect from a headphone, and it is an Audeze after all. I’m pretty sure that those who are coming from a lower end headphone will absolutely love it but my advice is to listen to the other mentioned headphones first if you have the possibility to. I never expected to type this because I love every single headphone Audeze ever made up to now, I just expected too much of the EL-8s I guess.
The EL-8s are not as transparent and detailed as the LCD line-up but the more you listen to the EL-8O, the more you will like it. Again, the open version is a pretty good headphone but it’s not the best headphone in this segment for me. The love for the closed version unfortunately didn’t really come. I wouldn’t be surprised if Audeze came out with a new revision of that closed version in the near future.
For those on a budget wanting an orthodynamic headphone there nowadays are several options in the price range. Do look at the low priced and new Hifiman HE-400S and some of the offerings of Mr. Speakers as well. Owning an Audeze headphone on the other hand is always something magical and if you think the EL-8O suits your tastes best, you can buy it from their online store (free shipping in the US) or via one of their dealers.