The great flagship planar magnetic headphones shootout: Audeze vs. Hifiman vs. Meze vs. MrSpeakers

By Kenny Yeo - 17 Jul 2021

MrSpeakers Ether 2

The MrSpeakers Ether 2 has a redesigned driver, a lighter chassis, and even a softer more pliant cable.

MrSpeakers Ether 2

The story of MrSpeakers is an inspirational one. It began as a one-man job by Dan Clark around 2012, who modified Fostex T50RP headphones in his spare time. Business was so brisk that he soon quit his full-time job and started modifying and developing new modifications of these T50RP headphones. With the funds gained, he channeled it back into research and development, all with the ultimate goal of one day developing his very own headphone. That day came in 2015 when MrSpeakers released the Ether, a headphone designed from the ground up with their own proprietary driver. And last year, they followed up with the Ether 2, which has a lighter design, an improved driver, and an updated cable.

The carrying case will be familiar to owners of the original Ether.

Like the last generation Ether headphone, the Ether 2 comes in a maroon hard carrying case packed neatly inside a box. Opening the carrying case reveals the headphone and an accompanying VIVO cable of the owner’s choice. In this case, we received a 1.8-meter long cable that terminated in a 4-pin XLR connector. Like its predecessor, the Ether 2 uses Hirose connectors. The cable is an update on the old DUM (Distinctly Un-Magical) cable. It features silver-plated oxygen-free copper and, more importantly, is remarkably supple and soft.

The Hirose connectors clips into place nicely and securely.

Dan Clark is obsessed with making his headphones as light as they can and the Ether 2 is easily the lightest planar magnetic headphone in the world weighing just 290g. It’s over 20% lighter than its predecessor and considerably lighter than all of its rivals. How did they achieve it?

To save even more weight and to increase comfort, the leather head band is perforated - not great if you suffer from trypophobia.

Obviously, the use of lightweight materials features heavily in the Ether 2. The ear cups are aluminum and the suspension-style head band is made out of a special memory metal called NiTinol. It’s an exceptional material for headphone head bands because it is light, strong, but also extremely flexible. You can flex it into any shape and it always returns to its original form. This enables the Ether 2 to exert just the right amount of clamping force on the head. To further reduce weight and increase comfort, the leather head band has large perforations. Expectedly, the Ether 2 feels light on the head, but unfortunately, the synthetic leather ear pads that it comes with detract from the overall wearing comfort because it’s a too thin and not as well padded as I think it should be.

The ear pads are relatively thin and comparatively stiff.

To further reduce weight, improvements were also made to the driver. The driver baffle is carbon fiber and a new diaphragm that has 70% less aluminum trace weight is used. This has the nice side-effect of improving clarity and resolution. On top of that, the driver also employs V-Planar and TrueFlow technologies gleaned from the original Ether. V-Planar refers to the knurled diaphragm that the Ether 2 uses. Since it's creased in its relaxed form, it moves like an accordion does through larger motions, which means it is never stretched which can be detrimental for sound reproduction. According to MrSpeakers, there are numerous benefits to this action: it improves bass response, dynamics, treble, and reduces distortion. TrueFlow, on the other hand, refers to waveguides that reduce turbulence within the driver and help guide sound waves out more smoothly to the listener’s ears.

V-Planar technology at work. (Image source: MrSpeakers)

The Ether 2 is a technically impressive headphone and you can hear it. It sounds dynamic and fast, and there’s an incisiveness and urgency to its sound that is missing from the Audeze, Meze, and even the Hifiman. Tonally, the Ether 2 was very balanced and coherent. Its performance across the entire audio spectrum was very liquid and smooth. I don’t hear any nasty peaks, dips, or bloat. Bass is clean; mids are rich, giving vocals a full-bodied and confident sound; and the highs have nice extension, air, and sparkle, and were not fatiguing. Timbre was natural and very good too.

The ear pads have cut outs that are shaped to fit most ears.

There are, however, a couple of things worth taking note of. It sounds bright compared to the other headphones. As a result, it’s more fatiguing to listen to, especially if you are coming from more laid back headphones like the Audeze and Meze - but only slightly. Its bass also doesn’t extend quite as deep and sounds a little too polite for my liking. It could do with more punch and impact. Finally, even though it's tonally balanced, I found its overall presentation to be a little cold and clinical as if it is missing a certain kind of musicality that you get from its rivals. Diana Krall’s vocals on Just the Way You Are in her Live in Paris album sounds a little distant and frosty, especially when compared to the luscious Audeze and Hifiman. That said, I must clarify that it doesn’t make the Ether 2 an inferior headphone. It’s just not to my personal tastes.

A worthy success to the original Ether.

To round things up, there’s a lot to like about the Ether 2. Technically, it is an extremely competent headphone with a dynamic, clear, and tonally balanced sound. Though it sounds a little cold for my tastes, objectively speaking, however, I don’t think I can fault it. Furthermore, it is the most affordable headphone here by a huge margin. With the Audeze and Meze both costing more than four grand and the Hifiman asking just shy of ten, the MrSpeakers Ether 2 at S$2,899 is a veritable bargain in the realm of flagship headphones.

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