Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac (5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.02), HP Z230 Workstation Win7/64, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming and Spotify Plus 320mbps on both computers, Fore Audio DAISy1, COS Engineering D1, Aqua Hifi La Scala II, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Questyle QP1R (AIFF), Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio (AIFF)
Headphone amps: April Music Eximus DP1, Aura Vita, Bakoon AMP-12R, Questyle CMA-800R (x2), Eversound Essence, Vinnie Rossi LIO
Headphones: Forza Audio Works recabled Audeze LCD-2/XC & Sennheiser HD800 & MrSpeakers Alpha Prime (6.3mm, 2 x 3-pin XLR), stock HifiMan HE1000 (3.5mm, 6.3mm, 4-pin XLR)
Review component retail: starting at 1'499/$1'599 for the closed and open-backed model respectively, with upgraded cables for a surcharge

'twas January 22nd. Dan Clark checked in after my review of his Alpha Prime had posted.
"Thank you so much for your kind review! I'm really glad you enjoyed the Prime. We've filed for a patent on a technology which allowed the driver to jump up in performance. We will use it for a new headphone coming up that we've worked on for 2 years. We're targeting a March review. It's actually pretty nifty. We developed a method that allows the driver to move in a more pistonic fashion. This increases compliance whilst reducing distortion. This new headphone will be a 100% ground-up MrSpeakers design. I think we'll really surprise the market with this one so please treat this as embargo until I set a launch date. We've been working on this for quite a while and it's quite snazzy. Would you like one in March/April if I can get you one?" Was I an audiophile slut? "Of course" was the only self-respecting reply. That it'd be November 2nd until Dan checked back with availability didn't matter. Being slutty and patient aren't mutually exclusive. But now there was more. "We’d like to send you the Ether and Ether C headphones. If you still have the Questlye QP1R on hand, you’d have one heckuva setup for portable audio." In the intervening months, the open-backed Ether had sired the closed-back Ether C.

Unlike some of the competition's silly presentation boxes, MrSpeakers provide an ultra-compact hard shell perfect for travelers.

Actually... the C returns to the project's origin. That had been code-named Dreadnaught. It was closed before the back came off and the air in, hence Ether. Now there were two. Twice the fun, double the flavour? Not all applications justify leaky sound. Should you care about fellow workers and co-benchers on the bus. For those apps, a sealed design is the special ops solution. It may actually not be 100% sealed. Still, it will attenuate sound leakage to a bare minimum, particularly if you don't blast it to begin with. Sealers also tend to do different bass. That adds another aspect to making that choice. Max soundstage freaks meanwhile tend to prefer open headphones for their maximum soundstage mojo. Thus the standing dare: if you can—big if!—author a closed-back headphone that sounds as open, fast and transparent as an open one. Decisions, decisions. Macho challenges. Duels in the sun of San Diego. That's where MrSpeakers are headquartered. John Wayne in speedos, facing off against his reflection? Fun and games were afoot - well, no, ahead...

If you think on it, 2015 turned out really quite the bumper crop for ambitious headphones. HifiMan released the nanofied HE1000. EnigmAcoustics bowed the hybrid Dharma D1000. Audeze brought the LCD-4. AudioQuest flew the NightHawk. Sennheiser rebooted their Orpheus. There were more. Those simply registered as highlights on my radar. And the two Ethers. I'd followed early forum chatter. Now was my chance to get etheric. Inhale that heady fresh planar air; fresh because as Dan's now ground-up designs, they no longer cannibalize Fostex membranes. To advance basic ortho tech, he teamed with Bruce Thigpen of US planar speaker house Eminent Technology. Like Magneplanars, foil membranes of planarmagnetic 'phones are edge clamped. It follows that unlike flat pistonic transducers, a planar driver has less freedom of motion along its rim. It has to arch in the middle. To get closer to pistonic action like a standard dynamic driver, the Ethers pleat their foil diaphragms. Those nouveau wrinkles claim both greater and more linear excursions.

For another first, Dan's Alpha Prime had quietly snuck in an earlier take on that embossed/corrugated membrane, then very visibly introduced 3D printed cups. Later AudioQuest adopted the same printing tech for their intricate NightHawk grill. With one Ether open-backed, the other flexing a Carbon-fibre back; with either baffle machined aluminium; did in-house 3D printing still factor? A part internal to the designs remains printed. It couldn't be manufactured any other way. The what and why remain unobtainium. The big new spec is 96dB/mW efficiency (4dB less for the C). That's digital player turf, no rubber-strapped amp boost needed. Also quite big are the single-ended V-Planar™ drivers. Those measure 2.75 x 1.75"; smaller than HifiMan or Audeze but larger than the Fostex they replace. Impedance for the open Ether is 23Ω, weight 370g. The dual spring headband uses a nickel-titanium alloy wire or so-called memory metal made popular in dentistry. The skull strap is leather with a micro suede finish on the underside. The pivots and gimbals are machined aluminium. The ear pads are MrSpeakers™ signature lamb-skin plushpuppies, flat on the Ether, angled on the Ether C. Available cabling comes in two flavours, standard Canare OFHC microphone and upgraded 24-gauge custom. Available terminations run the gamut from big to small, from single-ended to balanced. I'd get 3.5mm, 6.3mm and 4-pin XLR to play to all seasons and reasons. To learn more meant asking Dan to chime in. How much would he divulge versus keep under wraps when big brother is always watching?

Dan Clark, right, with his Japanese distributor Kenzo Kono. Photo compliments of John Darko []