HEADPHONES: MrSpeakers’ Ether-C planar magnetics
Planar magnetic headphones which deliver the beauty of planar sound without the spill.
Planar magnetics are a high-end headphone technology — easier to drive than electrostatics, in theory lower distortion than conventional dynamics since the conductor excites the whole surface rather than a single point. While inevitably inhabiting the higher price bracket, their detail and speed can be thrilling. In this market MrSpeakers, a small company from California, has grown its reputation by upgrading and sometimes radically revamping Fostex planars, notably the T50RP — we reviewed the company’s ‘Alpha Dog’ design a few years back.
But in the Ether-C, MrSpeakers has delivered a headphone all its own. They’re remarkably light for planar designs, partly thanks to “industry-first” NiTinol (nickel-titanium alloy) ‘memory metal’ which fixes a light but sturdy floating headband system in the perfect position to deliver fit and comfort.
While an open-backed Ether design is available, these ‘C’ versions are closed, so provide isolation both in and out. MrSpeakers does recommend the ‘C’ version for the road and the office, but note that the thick braided and rather kinky premium DUM cable which was used to voice the Ether terminates in a full-size quarter-inch stereo jack suited to a proper headphone amp, and that’s how we tested them. At the headshell end they connect using four-pin plugs that pop on and secure with a twist.
Those closed shells are striated by a snazzy carbon-fibre pattern, and you get a solid bulbous case for storage. But the star of the construction is, of course, the planar transducer itself, which MrSpeakers says is “processed” with its V-Planar technology, introducing pleating which allows the driver to push more air at low frequencies, with greater acceleration, better dynamics, and measurably lower distortion.
We’re not arguing — we enjoyed the Ether-C using the company’s premium DUM cable (it’s $100 less with the standard cable) and it proved an absolute delight. By chance we began with Chick Corea and Gary Burton’s piano/vibraphone marvel ‘Hot House’, and couldn’t have selected a better demonstration of the Ether’s tonal accuracy and scintillating speed. Such is the detail portrayed and the complete lack of overhang that there’s none of the mid-bass emphasis and bloom so common in dynamic drivers, and silences, when they come, are as transfixing as the music itself.
Well-recorded and acoustic music benefits greatly in beauty from such presentation, but the Ethers are by no means a one-genre pony, nor do they lack for bass. Well-mixed pop and rock was well supported by real unexaggerated electric bass. On occasion the sheer edginess of it all could conflict with a modern mix — Lily Allen’s ‘The Fear’ played at volume had too much edge, not enough smoothness, and spoken voice on radio or podcast could become overly slimmed by the lack of plumminess in the low mids.
But those riveting highs, real and taut bass, spectacular speed and longterm listening comfort proved great joys, and all the more remarkable for coming in a closed design. A delightfully thrilling pair of headphones.