Sources and amplification:
The low impedance of 16 Ohms shouldn’t make the Ether 2 too hard to drive to loud volumes. Getting a headphone to play loud isn’t always a problem, but getting them to sound right is a task not always achieved. Most of my review time went into products that have more than enough power to drive the E2’s. Desktop gear has been my weapon of choice, but there are also some portables that do the MrSpeaker justice.
My stand is, that full sized cans should be used with full sized gear, as over ear headphones have always been better performing with them. The Ether 2 though doesn’t necessarily demand a full stack system to get to good sound, but it scales up with bigger gear.
Let’s take a look at a mix of desktop and portable electronics.
Cayin – iHA6 (+ Chord Qutest)
The iHA6 is an amplifier I have put away for a long time now, and I only took it out for this review. Not that it’s a bad amplifier, quite the contrary, but living space arrangements with my spouse and kids have asked for as little electronics as possible.
The iHA6/Qutest combination spits a lot of details, with superb layering and resolution. Bass is punchy, tight and very well controlled. The sound is very linear, with a modest rich tonality. The sound stage stretches wide, deep and high, as it goes out of your head with excellent imaging.
The background is black as the night and I love how clear the musicians and instruments come out. It’s a very competent sound on technical levels, where everything is in the picture.
Schiit Audio – Lyr 3 (+ Chord Qutest)
If you want to bring some warmth to the Ether 2 you might want to consider giving him some tubey goodness. The Lyr3 is a great choice for this purpose.
You’ll get a more musical sound, with softer bass and smoother sound overall. With the Lyr 3 the E2 has a slower bass, with less punch and authority. If you’re into tightness and punch, then you might want to look elsewhere. Low ends go deep into sub-bass, but they’re missing some thunder and foundation.
The Ether 2’s background isn’t as black as with the iHA6 for example, resulting in slightly worse imaging. The Lyr 3 helps in softening out the treble of the MrSpeakers, upper treble has a faster rolloff and doesn’t have the bite like with a transistor amplifier.
Mids are full and lush, just like you’d expect them from a tube amp. The body is excellent and the same goes for note size and weight.
Chord Electronics – Hugo2
The Hugo2 is one of my favorite products in my arsenal. It’s an outstanding sounding transportable DAC/Amp, that can drive any of my head or earphones. With the Ether 2 I have set it to blue Crossfeed and use the white reference filter.
The Hugo2 has absolutely no problem driving the MrSpeakers, at dark orange volume setting I get moderate listening levels. Bass has good control and high resolution. It goes deep with decent authority and rumble. Lows are punchy and dynamic, which makes them a real treat to listen to.
Midrange is clean and transparent. Vocals have good emotions and rendering, with excellent body. Instruments sound realistic and life-like. Mids enjoy good body and weight, with outstanding resolution.
Treble is bright and silky. I never had issues with the Hugo2 as my main source. Highs are rich, energetic and crisp with good sparkle in them.
The Hugo2 creates a sound stage that makes you feel like you’re right in the middle of the event, where you can see the performers on the stage and pinpoint every instrument with ease. The MrSpeakers/Chord combination has perfect imaging and layering, with superior resolution and detail retrieval.
What always surprises me about the Hugo2 is how it reacts to different sources. For example when I use a battery powered source like the SP1000 or SP1000M the body sees a significant change, compared to when fed by my PC.
Astell&Kern – SP1000M
I don’t think Astell&Kern products are made for full sized headphones, as most of them aren’t driven well. My expectations weren’t very high when I hooked up the Ether 2 to the balanced output of my SP1000M. I need to crank up the volume to roughly 100 out of 150 steps, to get to my desired listening volume.
Bass is a looser and not as well controlled as with the Hugo2 or iHA6, but it’s still better than expected. It’s also slower and softer than it can be. The E2 has good extension on both ends, with a deep reaching bass that has good body, and wide going treble with very nice sparkle.
Surprising to me about this combo is, that the mids are well formed and rich. Vocals have good body and emotions. What I’m missing though, is the darkness of the background, which makes the instruments stand out so nicely. With the M it’s not that well done in my opinion.
Treble extends well and has, as mentioned, good sparkle in it. It’s lacking in air and bite though, it’s again not very energetic.
Overall, the AK isn’t up for the task to get the Ether’s right in my opinion. Their DAPs are excellent with IEMs, but full sized isn’t their expertise.
I don’t have a big selection of full-sized headphones, as my listening time at home is very limited. Therefore this section has to concentrate on actually just one other headphone. The Sennheiser HD800S has to serve as a reference point here. Many people know the German revamped flagship as it is a wildly popular headphone, so it hopefully provides sufficient insight on the Ether 2’s sound for a good audience.
Sennheiser – HD800S (1699$)
The Sennheiser and the MrSpeakers are two different animals. It starts with their respective driver technologies used. The HD800S is a dynamic driver, which comes with a rated 300 Ohms impedance, while the Ether 2 is a planar-magnetic headphone with 16 Ohms. The Sennheiser is considerably more difficult do drive, and to me craves a good desktop amplifier.
Sound-wise the Sennheiser has less body throughout, a weaker bass that does not extend as wide as the Ether’s. The MrSpeakers has a thicker midrange and a darker background to me. It sounds more spot on and faster. The Sennheiser convinces with one of the mightiest sound stages in any full sized headphone. It reaches noticeably wider, but not necessarily deeper. The Ether 2 has more weight in its instruments. The treble on the Senn is dryer to me.
Personally I reach for the Ether 2 more when I want to listen to my favorite albums.
It’s been the first time for me that I got to listen to a MrSpeakers headphone on a truly extended period, and I have enjoyed it a lot. It’s a headphone that’s moderately easy to drive, but it sure likes to play with desktop gear. My preference goes to transistor amplifiers when it comes to pairing these cans, but a decent tube amplifier can unleash a musical and relaxing sound.
MrSpeakers has made a very nice headphone with the Ether 2, and it personally convinced me with the pitch black background, excellent imaging and resolution, coupled with a finely tuned balance across all frequencies.
It is light and very comfortable to wear for hours of listening fun, it stays secure on my rather small sized head and I can enjoy its sound without fatigue. What I am not very fond of though, are the earpads, which make me sweat and heat up my ears quite a bit.
It’s a weird thing to say, but the Ether 2 is a wonderful headphone that I enjoy coming home to after a long and hard day at work. It makes me forget all the stress of the daily big city life.
Bravo MrSpeakers, the Ether 2 is a solid recommendation for me.