Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Review
Jay Garrett evaluates the first two headphone designs from the new Dan Clark Audio brand…
Dan Clark Audio
Aeon 2 Headphones - Open and Closed
When MrSpeakers changed its name to Dan Clark Audio, it also announced a new pair of Aeon planar magnetic headphones, one set with a closed-back and the other open – and so the £900 Aeon 2 range was born. Interestingly, the design sports a motor assembly taken from the award-winning Ether 2, we're told. The new motor flips the magnet and flow structure to the outside of the headphone, but uses the same high-precision machined airflow system as the Ether flagship. Dan Clark says that this results in a “major upgrade to resolution, soundstage, dynamics, tone, and imaging…”
Both versions of the Aeon 2 are rated at a claimed 13 ohms impedance, with sensitivity quoted at 92dB/mW for the Closed back and 94dB for the Open back model. Perhaps sensibly, Dan Clark doesn't publish the frequency response of his headphones, so as not to participate in “spec wars”. The package weighs in at 340g for the Closed version and 321g for the Open, achieved in part by replacing the original cast aluminium baffle with carbon fibre and machined aluminium. Not only is this more rigid but, it’s lighter, which also means wearing the Aeon 2 for extended periods is not an issue.
Fans of the original Aeon Flow will be glad to see that most of its design has been retained – although one major upgrade sees these Dan Clark cans become even more portable. The ingenious earcup yoke gimbal folds in on itself, meaning that these full-sized headphones can pack away into one of the smallest cases I've seen for any high-end design, let alone planar magnetic ones. In use, there is a good amount of clamping force from the Nitinol headband, and the adjustable support strap sits nicely on the top of the head. Adding to the comfort and excellent isolation, on the Closed model at least, are sumptuously thick synthetic leather earpads.
Interestingly, Dan Clark bundles tuning pads to change the tonality of the headphone through the density of the material. These are fixed in place by simply inserting them into the earcup. Other goodies include a premium 2m Dan Clark DUMMER cable with 3.5mm and 6.3mm termination by way of a threaded jack adapter. The earcups are finished in a deep metallic red with the sides of the Open fitted with a black honeycomb mesh and the Closed with carbon fibre inserts. They have a high-quality look and feel, and I never felt self-conscious when wearing them in the office or on the commute, which can happen with larger-bodied designs.
Planar headphones are generally sought out by those looking for low distortion and lightning-fast transient response. Well, you can tick both of these off the Dan Clark shopping list. As well as impressive leading-edge handling and a natural controlled decay, the Aeon 2 delivers a subtly warm and dark tonal character with remarkable bass extension. Additionally, there is a good deal of slam, which is no mean feat considering the size of the transducers working behind the scenes.
As one would expect, the Closed model has a more immediate central stage than the Open, which has an overall advantage here. That said, the Closed still manages an impressive stage depth. However, panned mixes seem to flick from side to side through, rather than in front of, my head. This was most noticeable while listening to tracks like One of These Days from Pink Floyd's Meddle. The heavily echo-treated bass was thick, taut and hypnotic while the slide guitar cut through wonderfully. Yet in the section that I call “the Dr Who bit” at around the 2 minute 50 second mark, the Open model gave more space to the effect, while the Closed was a touch more in my head.
The Closed version is still a convincing performer though, especially where imaging and instrumental separation are concerned. Yet it was on tracks such as A Walk Across The Rooftops by The Blue Nile that the Open variant had the upper hand – highlighting as it did the recording’s width, depth and height. Strings were allowed more room to breathe. With the Closed model, the processed snare sounded physically too close for comfort in comparison with the larger vista offered by the Open design.
The Aeon 2 has slightly elevated bass which lends itself to a good sense of impact. This matches well with a glass-clear midband that prevents anything from getting obviously muddied or overblown. Additionally, there’s a fair amount of sparkle sprinkled upon the treble, the upshot being that tracks such as Tearing Me Up by Bob Moses are presented as nature intended. Lesser cans can get lost in trying to handle the vast swathes of bass at one end together with the hi-hat cymbals and tambourine at the other. This results in what we call in the hi-fi reviewing trade, “a godawful mess”. Not so the Aeon 2, although the Closed design was obviously having to work harder in this regard. Still, it turned in a highly credible sound.
Both models really enjoyed well produced contemporary tracks, a case in point being London Grammar's Hey Now's mix of rumbling bass, synths and muted guitar plucks. The intro reached my ears and laid the foundation for Hannah Reid's low register vocals that gave an air of authority and honesty before she allowed her voice to soar. All the while, the Aeon 2 tracked dynamics faultlessly. Sinead O'Connor's Jerusalem, although a very different record, was a seminal demonstration of the speed that planar designs such as this are noted for.
On the whole then, both models have a neutral tonality that also suits the broad range of music genres I listen to. That said, I found myself preferring to use the thin black inserts in the Closed just to tame some of the highest highs when in the office. While out-and-about, that treble sparkle adds definition to vocals that can sometimes be overpowered by the urban environment, so it's nice to have the option. I dare say that if the Closed were simply used for the commute and other excursions, then the tuning is excellent as is.
Makiko Hirabayashi's piano work in the track Rain was luxuriously presented with a rich tonality, matched by the resonant woody tones of the accompanying upright bass. The percussion was layered nicely in the stage with the kit drum sat in centre-back of the space created. As the piece picked up pace, however, there were moments when some of the percussion in the upper midband and lower treble lacked the shimmer I get from a decent pair of loudspeakers or larger planar designs such as Oppo's PM-1. This leads me to think that there may be a dip in the Aeon 2's voicing here.
Once focused on, I could hear this trait evident in acoustic, singer/songwriter tracks. It didn't lessen my enjoyment any, and I would not have this prevent me from purchasing the Aeon 2. It's just that, once back on to tracks such as Raspberry Swirl by Tori Amos, we were very much back in the Aeon 2's comfort zone. This isn’t to say that these headphones are unable to hold my attention; the haunting stylings of The Last Beat of My Heart from Siouxsie and The Banshees’ Peepshow kept me transfixed for its entire four-and-a-half minutes, as I allowed the lead singer’s icy voice to fill my head as the pulsing rhythm marched on. Glorious!
Dan Clark Audio's new Aeon 2 headphones are undoubtedly an improvement on the first iteration, which were already pretty darned fine. Having the option of Closed or Open-backed variants is a really smart move, I think. The Open version naturally has the winning hand where soundstaging is concerned, and at giving some frequencies the space needed not to become tiresome. However, the Closed version is an impressive performer in its own right. Here you have a pair of portable, compact planar magnetic headphones that’s light and comfortable to wear – yet which is sonically a match for its Open sibling in most respects.
There may be better choices of headphones if you specifically favour acoustic-lead jazz music, but I very much doubt that you will find it in such a talented small package – especially if you have planar drivers in mind. Overall I can see the Closed being the more popular variant of the two, but there is a distinct market for packable open-backed designs for personal listening. Thanks to the Dan Clark Aeon 2 you can have one set for the journey and another for when you have arrived. In my book, these are perhaps the finest planar headphones available for the audiophile on the go right now.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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