For starters, both Ethers are supremely comfortable. Whilst they're no smaller than competing full-sizers, they feel that way. It begs the curious question why. Is it the barely-there Nitinol wire bridge? The clever distribution of remaining weight? The ultra-plush pads? Whatever Dan's trickery, it works a real treat well beyond Halloween. That said and for as deep as he has managed to push the usual open/closed discussion into the background, textural/behavioural differences with concomitant impact on perceived openness and transparency remain. On how it lets go of notes and their fades, the Ether acts exactly like an open-baffle electrostatic speaker does. The C's higher damping mimics box speakers which kill off the rear wave by design or at least attempt to. Though it applies across the bandwidth, this damper on ring-outs was the most noticeable in the 2nd and 3rd octaves above middle C. Be it Andy Narell's clattering steel drums hammering out a Jazz riff or Claude Chalhoub's slinky Stradivarius violin floating a melismatic motif in his upper registers... by contrast, the C applied a damper pedal to their fades. The direct upshot became that the Ether sounded freer, faster and more open including staging wider. The presence of 'walls' behind the C drivers did telegraph on textures.

Not only was the C bassier too, its white damping pads' transmissibility to returning LF created a more resonant ringy fuzzy gestalt quite like ported alignments. That said, the bass of either Ether seemed unusually low in distortion. Likely this doffs a cap at the V-Planar's improved linear excursion. As most know from inferior subwoofers—the original walking Sunfire comes to mind—high bass distortion sounds louder if also dirtier. It's a strange instance of dirt being good (until one knows better). Instead of clean pummeling whacks into a punching bag, one transitions into minor mortar hits surrounded by erupting debris. Things don't settle as quickly. There's some spraying dirt delay. On that count, both Ethers did cleaner hence lower distortion bass than the EnigmAcoustics Dharma. Endemic to any such observation is that the D1000's bass sounds louder, hence more impressive on first or even second blush. However, etheric bass is more accurate. If you want more of it, simply engage EQ in a DAP or install a music player plugin like FabFilter Pro-Q on your PC or Mac. Now you might select +1dB at 62Hz, +2dB at 31Hz as I did on the QP1R; or some such response that best suits your tastes. Regardless of assist, the C's low end is naturally a bit fatter, bigger and bloomier than the open-backed version's. And just as you'd hear on a ported speaker versus a sealed variant—Wilson vs. Magico—that bass gestalt also influences the overall feel.

If you're a micro detail and adrenaline fancier, you'll gravitate to the Ether. If you like it a bit thicker, bassier and warmer, you'll prefer the Ether C. With that general stage set, it's time for some sibling rivalry by way of the Alpha Prime, another sealer and the previous MrSpeaker range topper. It acts as our most direct jumping-off place for the Ether C. What progress has the no-more-Fostex newcomer made? For these trials, I exploited my Forza Audio Works Noir Hybrid silver/copper leash with 2 x 3-pin XLR ends and all Furutech connectors. Because all MrSpeakers models use the same quick-release locking plugs—these ought to be cause for major plug envy by competitors!—swapping was a matter of seconds; plus subsequent volume adjustments to account for differences in sensitivity.

Alpha Prime vs. Ether C. Time stands still for no man. Progress or die. Stand still and get run over. Whatever your favourite motivational clunker, it applies. In most ways, this juxtaposition repeated the above. What's more, the delta of performance was similar. Over its precursor and first V-Planar sighting, the C played it freer, faster, more open and lucid. It also staged bigger. As though that weren't sufficient, it also did more bass. In short, if the Ether didn't exist; and you performed this comparison blindfolded and hands off, with someone else moving 'phones on and off your noggin; you'd swear that the C was an open-backer versus the Prime's doors-shut sealant. Make no mistake, that is the real breakthrough, takeaway and hurray. Don't indulge silly complaints or disappointments that by using Dan's latest iteration of V-Planar tech, the open Ether still sounds more open, airy and spacious than the C.

Ether C vs. Audeze LCD-XC. Having previously called the Alpha Prime a "poor man's Audeze", this instantly begged the question. How would two rivaling planarmagnetic closers close this deal today? Having an equivalent balanced Forza leash for the LCD-XC, apples were apples. And so they were on gestalt and on-the-level performance. Having said that, I felt that the Ether C slightly surpassed the XC on liquidity and subjective speed and had the tauter more natural bass. Audeze have always leaned toward slightly elephantine LF which have their own appeal. Yet when juxtaposing acoustic upright, the Ether's take was the more realistic and astutely seasoned. Once I factored in wear comfort on which the Ether C absolutely crushed the LCD-XC, this once diehard Audeze fan had to confess that it was time to move on lest one be road kill. If I had to choose today, I'd take Dan's without hesitation. The 'family' resemblance remains but the rating has reversed.

Ether vs. Audeze LCD-2. With my curiosity revving, I now had to know how my pre-Fazor LCD-2 would stack up against the open-backed Ether. For Audeze fans, this became a rerun in the not-Okay Corral. The Ether had the better frequency extremes—more presence region life, more brilliance region sparkle, quicker more accurate low bass, more incisive upper bass—more overall liquidity. Again, it KO'd the Audeze on lower physical weight and greater wear comfort. That said, for maximal orthodynamic lucidity, illumination and transparency, the HifiMan HE-1000 in my stable remains tops. It's the orthodynamic version of Sennheiser's HD-800. Of course its twice-the-coin sticker over the Ether renders it irrelevant to many. And the $1'795 Edition X based on the HE-1000 platform is still too new to have carved out a formal rating in the overall pecking order.

Ether basics. The dark moist chewy occasionally chocolaty hooded opaque orthodynamic signature of budget Fostex, earlier Audeze and Oppo made them into very attractive alternatives to the brighter needlier leaner dynamics from Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic. Planar constant impedance is a drive virtue whilst lower efficiency often meant strap-on amplifier help for portafi; or better bigger stationary amps. With the Ethers, drive requirements welcome DAP, no add-on amp bricking required. Whilst the liquid non-choppy planar signature remains, gains have been made to treble elucidation and distortion reduction in the bass. Most admirable perhaps is that the closed-form Ether narrows the gap. It undermines the quasi stuffy boomier side effects of barricading the rear wave. It rewards listeners in need of better sound proofing with a closer approximation of unrestricted open-backed performance. Both Ethers also set a high standard for build quality and wear luxury. One expects (should expect!) tweaked-to-the-max products from big firms with relatively unlimited financial and engineering resources. Getting equivalent or better attention to detail from a boutique firm is less common. Here Dan Clark shows real teeth and chops. Disregarding the LCD-3 and 4 which I haven't heard, in my estimation his Ethers now sonically edge out their LCD-2 and LCD-XC equivalents by a small margin on sound, by a vast one on comfort. Despite the hinky name, MrSpeakers have matured into a major player on the current planar headfi scene. This turns up competitive heat. The consumer wins with more choices as players keep each other on their toes. On that count, I predict that Dan's competition is paying very close attention to his latest. Stand still and get run over. What exciting times in performance headfi we live in. Wowsers!

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