Dan Clark Audio E3 Headphone Comparison & Review

Read Time: Approx. 15 min.
DCA E3 Headphones on stand

Articulate Low End and A Fun Listening Experience

Today we're going to take a look at the brand new and very exciting headphone from Dan Clark Audio - the E3. You probably could have guessed that they have taken a huge design cue from, well, all the other recent DCA headphones. That's a good thing because you know what they say, "if it ain't broke," and all that. Despite being a similar design to the Stealth and Expanse, the E3 offers some very new and exciting things sonically from other DCA headphones, and the appearance of Gorilla Glass is a first for a Dan Clark headphone. 

Dan Clark was drawn to audio at a young age. He remembers being home alone and cranking the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead. He usually had the bass and treble turned all the way up, which he said he's embarrassed to admit. But there's nothing embarrassing about an early appreciation for rock and roll. That appreciation grew into a love of loudspeakers, and eventually headphones. Begun in 2012 under the name MrSpeakers, Dan Clark Audio makes headphones that are enjoyed by audiophiles and music lovers throughout the world. The company's 2019 name change reflected a shift from the design and production of loudspeakers to headphones; in fact, headphones are the only thing currently on the menu. Dan Clark is a popular headphone brand out there, so I doubt I need to give you any more introduction. If you do want to learn more about Dan Clark Audio and the man behind the name - hint - it's "Dan Clark," - then head over to our Dan Clark Audio All Inclusive Guide to Headphones. There's a lot to unpack and I'm excited to dive into these headphones so let's not waste any more time and get to it.

Drew's Take Logo
"If I had to guess what Dan was trying to accomplish with this iteration of the driver, it was to try and make a Closed-back headphone mimic the depth of field that a typical open-back has. This is a hard feat for any manufacturer to do, the enclosure just does not allow for it in almost all cases. But with the new driver design and the help of the Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System Dan is getting closer. A Closed-back headphone with an open-back's speed and presentation would be the end game for me. Dan Clark is pushing the envelope. I love to see manufacturers win. I can't tell you how many go sideways instead of forward on new designs. I think it helps that the same designer, Dan, has his finger on all designs. I can only imagine he will present an Open-back version of this new driver design and I can't wait. This is a well-balanced headphone with a little more emphasis on the highs and mids. By no means bright, and for things like Jazz, Blues, and Americana which I spend the most time on, it checks a lot of boxes for me. Well done, Dan!" -Drew Baird, P.E.

Dan Clark E3 Closed-Back Headphones Review & Comparison [Video]

Riff Notes logo


- Soundstage that rivals open-back headphones
- Superb low-end articulation and a natural and lively signature
- Non-fatiguing highs
- Super-comfortable, foldable, portable design


- Harder to drive

The Dan Clark Audio Experience

Dan Clark E3
Dan and his team follow the principles of "California innovation," with the goal of creating dynamic, streamlined solutions that improve performance without adding complication. Along with a spirit of innovation comes a commitment to the headphone experience. For Dan, it's about more than just the way they sound. It's also how a headphone looks - to how it feels in the hand - to how comfortably it sits on the head.

"Good sound isn’t enough: if your headphones are too heavy, fit weirdly, don’t seal, or clamp too hard, it’s like having a bad seat at a concert," Dan says. "You might enjoy the music, but the discomfort keeps pulling you out of the experience. So for us, it’s balancing sound and comfort to produce headphones you can wear stress-free for hours on end for the most immersive experience we can produce."

Dan likes to ensure that each aspect of his headphones is "purpose-built," with everything being done in-house. Using off-the-shelf drivers, or headbands, or using contract manufacturing would mean making "me too" products, he says -- and that's just not interesting. "We try to bring a unique approach to all aspects of our designs," he says, "to fully control the balance of sound, comfort, and style. Off-the-shelf parts make that much harder.
Learn More about Dan Clark Audio


The teardrop-shaped earcups make a happy return with the new E3. What is seemingly the new staple design of Dan Clark Audio headphones means great things in the world of comfort and long listening sessions. They're larger than the AEON, but roughly on par with both the Stealth and Expanse, with a boxier shape due to the design nature of the flat Gorilla Glass on the exterior of the ear cups. 

It should come as no surprise that the E3 is an easy-to-wear headphone, as Dan Clark has always prioritized comfort. He's often said that if a headphone is not comfortable enough to wear for extended listening sessions, then the design is flawed. Dan Clark also likes to make lightweight headphones, with the Dan Clark Audio ETHER 2 being one of the industry's lightest at 280g. The Stealth comes in at 455g, just a little heavier than the ETHER C Flow and Stealth. It's a negligible difference and still makes for an extremely comfortable fit for long listening sessions. 

The E3 retains the convenient folding gimbal design of the Stealth and Expanse, enabling the user to easily stow and transport the headphones in the compact custom-molded case provided. Note: Always be sure to fold both ear cups inward at once. The cups themselves are a carbon/aluminum bonded design, while the body also uses titanium. The ear pads are a composite (vegan) suede and protein leather material.

The E3 also features the same NiTiNol (nickel and titanium) headband wires as other DCA headbands, but the two wires are in a more open, "flying" design rather than strictly parallel. And the headband strap itself is designed differently from pre-Stealth and Expanse models. Instead of adjusting with ratchets or mechanical sliders, the headband features a "self-adjusting suspension system." It's on an elastic that allows it to easily fit any head without needing manual adjustment. It's a cool feature and one of my favorite adjustment mechanisms on a headphone. 

The headband itself is black leather with blue stitching, and its quilted surface improves comfort while reducing heat. I love the fact that there is blue stitching on the underside of the headband. It's a semi-secret bit of detail that adds to the appeal of this good-looking headphone. The stitching design itself is quite similar to that of the Expanse, but the top of the headband features the original logos for both the Expanse and E3 respectively. 

Driver Technology

The driver design in the new E3 headphone is the latest update to the driver that was featured in the popular Stealth, which was the 4th generation Dan Clark driver that was built from the ground up specifically for that headphone. They thought they could repurpose the driver from the open-back ETHER 2 into an ETHER C Flow-type chassis, but they discovered this simply wasn't going to work. The ETHER 2 driver just didn't react properly to the dynamics of having a cup behind it.

The new 5th-gen driver in the E3 improves upon the Stealth driver, offering a more natural and lively presentation. The driver uses DCA's patented v-Planar technology to reduce total harmonic distortion and improve low-frequency extension. Additionally, diaphragm tension is set on an all-new system for a more uniform and consistent tension, lower distortion, and better driver matching, while FEA and CFD-optimized motor structures increase driver force uniformly and smooth acoustic paths to reduce distortion.
Driver diagram
This 5th-generation driver delivers low levels of distortion and high levels of detail typically associated with electrostatic headphones. But here's the thing: the detail is not achieved through an exaggerated boost in the treble. Instead, DCA's patent-pending AMTS delivers incredible resolution that doesn't suffer from a fatiguing emphasis on the highs.

What is Dan Clark's Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System?

Metamaterial: A metamaterial (from the Greek word μετά , meaning "beyond," and the Latin word materia, meaning "matter" or "material") is any material engineered to have a property that is not found in naturally occurring materials. They are made from assemblies of multiple elements fashioned from composite materials such as metals and plastics. The materials are usually arranged in repeating patterns, at scales that are smaller than the wavelengths of the phenomena they influence. Metamaterials derive their properties not from the properties of the base materials, but from their newly designed structures. Their precise shape, geometry, size, orientation, and arrangement gives them their smart properties capable of manipulating electromagnetic waves: by blocking, absorbing, enhancing, or bending waves, to achieve benefits that go beyond what is possible with conventional materials. -Wikipedia
AMTS insert
AMTS is Dan Clark's solution to the closed-back headphone challenge of standing waves in the higher frequencies, which can make treble sound harsh, fatiguing, or synthetic. AMTS is a device crafted from metamaterials (materials engineered to have properties not found in naturally occurring materials) that is placed between the headphone driver and the ear. This multifunctional structure integrates waveguides, diffusion control, quarter-wave, and Helmholtz resonators into a single small structure. It's so unique that Dan Clark Audio is actually seeking its first global patent for this system.

Think of AMTS as a programmable array of dual-function waveguides. Paraphrased from Dan Clark: When the sound comes out of the driver, it goes through a screen and then enters this waveguide, which orients the wave up toward the ear. This moves your perception of the soundstage down more in line with your ears. When configured correctly, these waveguides become waveguides and quarter wave or Helmholtz resonators. The latter can be used to remove standing waves and resonances that occur within the ear cup cavity.
OK, so what does this mean for the listener? It means treble that is smooth and accurate, and a headphone that delivers tons of detail without relying on boosted treble. Dan Clark says that they should be able to retrofit some of their headphones with this new AMTS technology.


Let's go ahead and talk about some sound characteristics. First off, the E3 is a closed-back headphone despite what you might see. What you're looking at here is the grill pattern that actually covered by Gorilla Glass 3. It's a nice design, and Dan Clark himself said that he liked using the glass as a new material aesthetically, especially because it gives off the impression that it's an open-back headphone - and despite not being one, it does have some nice airiness and openness to the presentation that we'll talk more about in a bit. You'll see two holes here as well - these are bass ports. They do well in creating a more controlled articulation of the low frequencies and play a huge role in the overall signature of the headphones.

The big thing to talk about is the fact that Dan Clark brings some of their flagship tech to a lower price point, with the enhanced AMTS tuning system. This system was found previously only on Dan Clark Audio's high-end Stealth, Expanse, and Corina headphones. All the brands have their proprietary technology, right? Meze has the Isoplanar Hybrid Array, HiFiMan has their Stealth Magnets, Focal with their specialized beryllium dynamic drivers, and Dan Clark has the AMTS, or Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning system. DCA's tuning architecture is tailored to each headphone that implements it - since each transducer is original to the headphone model, the tuning is likewise.

earcup bass ports
All headphones are subject to high-frequency standing waves which can exacerbate things like fatigue and make the treble sound harsh or synthetic. AMTS is a device that is placed between the transducer and ear that integrates waveguides, diffusion control, and resonators - all of which help to eliminate standing waves. This device helps create a sound that's more natural and alive - free from artificial or synthetic artifacts in your audio - it's not so much noise, but more the notion that something is there that shouldn't be originally, or something doesn't sound the way it should. Dan Clark has also revamped the driver design - now the 5th generation, this driver has an all-new tensioning system for more uniform and consistent performance and low noise all around and all listening levels. 

Sound Impressions

E3 headphone on stand with tube amplifier

So all this is to say that the E3 sounds good, right? Color me impressed. I took a long time to find the nuances of the E3 and how it stacks up with other Dan Clark Audio headphones and some other closed-backs at around the same price. I'll try not to get too complicated here, but here's what I heard:

For reference and - my testing setup - I used the E3 with the Matrix Audio Element M2 Music Streamer and a Blue Dragon Premium Cable for Dan Clark Audio Headphones. I also paired it with the iBasso DX320 DAP for portable listening.

The E3 might be my favorite DCA headphones of the bunch here. It has wonderfully low-end detail - it's precise and articulate - the low-end response is just the first exceptional thing that stands out to me. Come Together by the Beatles - you can hear the trail off of the sustained bass, and the exact moment the signal gets muted. Despite everything else going on rhythmically in that song, it's there. There's a wonderful smooth mids presentation - the vocal range mids are what set this E3 apart from the rest of the headphones here. Reasons Why by Nickel Creek - the vocals are incredibly intimate and close in the mix. The E3 has a much cleaner presentation of this than the Liric from Meze Audio for example. It's a touch more in the forefront on the Liric, but on the E3 it's almost like you're hearing a simulated gate on the vocal - you still hear all the detail, the saliva noises - what are those called? Spittle? Sialoquacious? But it doesn't sound as hot or in the forefront. It's cleaner because you're still not missing anything but I imagine the wider soundstage plays a role in providing more room for the vocal performance to stand apart.

So, more articulate and refined low end, smooth mid-presentation, and plenty of detail in the upper mids and highs that analytical listeners will be pleased with, there's a lot to like about the E3. It'll pair well with a ton of genres - Synthwave, Rap, Folk, Alternative, and Rock will certainly shine and sound great on these. Being a Dan Clark headphone, they are on the harder-to-drive side of the spectrum, but I had no issue driving them with the DX320 music player. Isolation is great as well, so don't worry about cranking these when you're out and about.

Another thing to note is that they are on the more difficult side of efficiency, so make sure you’re using a capable headphone amp. Like all planar magnetic drivers, the more power you throw at them the better they will perform. All Dan Clark headphones are harder to drive: the Noire, AEON Flow, AEON 2 Open, Voce, and more. Just know that you’re not going to plug these directly into your phone and get phenomenal sound quality. 
Abbey Road
Come Together
by The Beatles
(Abbey Road)
Nickel Creek
Reasons Why
by Nickel Creek
(Nickel Creek)
Fiction Family album cover
Give Me Back My Girl
by Fiction Family
(Fiction Family Reunion)
Aaron Copland album cover
Appalachian Spring
by Aaron Copland
(Copland: The Music of America)


Dan Clark Audio Headphone Comparisons

AEON 2 headphones with dragon cable in a bag
AEON 2 Closed-Back Headphone 

Next, I want to switch to talk quickly about how the E3 compares to a couple of Dan Clark options here that many will be familiar with. First, let's take a look at the Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 closed-back. The AEON 2 leans to the warm side of neutral, with a more present midrange, relaxed treble, and a pleasant punchy bass response. It certainly has a more intimate soundstage than some of the other headphones here, but the E3 delivers a more lively and mature presentation in comparison. You'll find much more definition in the low end for the E3 headphones, but if you like feeling and getting lost in the beats and music, then the AEON 2 closed-back would be a great choice for genres like Blues, Folk, and Country. Classical and Jazz also sound great if you want a more musical interpretation or tuning.
Dan Clark Audio Stealth Headphone

The Stealth and Expanse are on the top of the Dan Clark Audio totem pole with flagship-level sound - the Stealth being the closed-back headphone and the Dan Clark Expanse the open-back. The Stealth is a superb headphone for just about any occasion. Balanced sound, smooth yet highly detailed, relaxed, clean, nicely placed mids, deceptively wide soundstage, and a sound that is beautifully natural and organic. Design-wise the E3 takes a lot of cues from the Stealth, with the same updated folding mechanism, amazing comfort, and quality materials. They're both sleek-looking headphones to be sure, but they'll serve very different purposes I think - primarily with their sound and of course not to mention the price difference. The Stealth leans much more to the analytical side of things than the E3, with a plethora of detail and clarity. I was surprised that even the HD820 had a touch better bass response than the Stealth, but the thing that excels here is that the high frequencies are not fatiguing at all - thanks in large part to the AMTS. I personally preferred the E3's bass articulation, but if you like to pick out every single detail in your music, then the Stealth is one of the best headphones out there for it.
Stealth headphones with a DAP

Other Headphone Comparisons

Meze Liric Headphones with TEAC amp
Meze Audio Liric Headphone

Let's compare some non-Dan Clark Audio headphones here. First up I want to take a look at what I think is the natural competitor here: the Liric from Meze Audio. It's no surprise that I'm a huge fan of Meze - I love their designs, their sound, and tuning. All of it. It's one of our favorite closed-back planars here at Moon Audio. The price-to-performance ratio is superb in our opinion and it's a stellar-looking set of cans.

There are some nuanced differences between the two when it comes to the signature, however. The Liric is certainly a warmer presentation overall, providing more low-end response and resonance, yet not nearly as articulate as the E3. That's one of the biggest differences here. The mids are much smoother on the E3 whereas they're a little more forward and edgier on the Meze Liric. Vocals will be more in the forefront and exposed. The soundstages are similar, but I would say the imaging is actually a touch more precise on the E3 due to the smoother mids and more defined low end. Precision is the E3's trump card on the Liric. If you're looking for a warmer presentation with more clarity on the top end, then the Liric will be for you. The detail is still superb on the E3, but the Liric has the advantage with analytical listeners only if you're looking for hotter high-mid frequencies.
Sennheiser HD 820 Headphone

The other non-DCA headphones I want to take a look at is the Sennheiser HD820 - a closed-back dynamic in the close-to $2000 range. Right off the bat, the HD820 is going to be one of the best headphones on the market for analytical listeners. For those who like an exorbitant amount of clarity and detail, the Sennheiser house sound is a detail freak's dream come true. And, like the E3, sports a Gorilla Glass covering on the outside of the earcup and chamber.

The HD820 has the superior soundstage and imaging of all the headphones in this review. It's phenomenal - wide and expressive, the only other headphone with a soundstage to match is the Meze Empyrean. The HD820 has a lot in common with the Dan Cark Audio Stealth in my opinion, with a more analytical leaning, with a touch more bass than the Stealth. There's a nice bite in the details that makes it great for electric guitar tones, and the larger earcups help deliver a sense of a larger space in and around the head in which the soundstage lives. In comparison, the E3 is much closer but still presents a wide soundstage at least horizontally. The HD820 has accuracy for days on the high-end frequencies, and the E3 in comparison has it for the low end. The HD820 will be the choice for those who like to pick out every single detail with a tight and snappy bass response that's not too light, but certainly won't be the choice for bass heads. The HD820 was a touch easier to drive than the E3, and I found the E3 to be the superior headphone in terms of comfort.
Sennheiser HD820 with Black Dragon cable

Dragon Cables

For my testing session, I paired the E3 with our Blue Dragon Premium Cable for Dan Clark Audio Headphones. The Blue Dragon Cable is a wonderful way to add clarity without coloration to your favorite audiophile headphones. With the neutrality of the Black Dragon and the clarity of the Silver Dragon, the copper-based Blue Dragon will "clean" the sound of your headphones without warming or brightening it. You can think of the Blue Dragon like a wipe for your eyeglass lenses: You're removing obstructions to the best view but not altering your prescription.

Our HiFi Audio Dragon Cables bring out more of what you love in your music and audio gear. If you love your headphones but wish they had a bit more top-end sparkle - a Silver Dragon Headphone Cable would be a great option. If your USB cables keep dying - as many stock cables do - then check out our quality USB Audio Cables. We say time and time again that materials matter, and our audio cables and custom geometries actually help to bring out those desired properties in your gear and music. We make tons of custom options for our customers so that you can get the right HiFi Audio cable for your exact needs. If you have any questions feel free to Contact Us and we'll be more than happy to help.

E3 Headphone with Blue Dragon Cable
Generally, stock audio cables are manufactured with subpar materials, metals with impurities, poor geometries, and an overabundance of layers to make them look and feel like a fire hose. Inconsistency and lack of quality control in stock cables can lead to poor sound quality and a veiled sound vs. what the musician intended for you to hear and feel from the music. Dragon Audio Cables are handcrafted with the highest standards and made to order according to your specific needs. At Moon Audio, we create a custom cable for you using the highest quality UP-OCC silver or copper conductors that can be manufactured. UP-OCC metals are void of impurities and are optimized for signal transfer and sound quality. We have one of the largest collections of audio and headphone connection options available online and we create limitless audio cable options depending on your specific gear and needs.

Why Dragon Cables?
You’ve heard the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right? Well, the same applies to your brand new audiophile-grade headphone or other audio components. The weakest link, in this case, is your stock audio cable or the cheap interconnects the manufacturer threw in the box just to get you up and running. Why is the audio cable always an afterthought, when it’s just as important as the rest of your system? At Moon Audio, we use the purest and best raw materials in our cables to unveil your music. We believe that materials matter and your audio cables should have the same care and craftsmanship that manufacturers put into their audio components and headphones. Audio cables are ultimately the connection to your music. The fact remains that cabling is often considered the last priority to that of the main product and a means to cut down the overall production costs. It’s as simple as that. Dragon Cables elevate every note - as if you were hearing your favorite music for the very time. 


The E3 from Dan Clark Audio is one of the most exciting headphones I've heard in a while. Every now and then, you try something new out and you're like...."whoa." That was this experience in a nutshell for me. Dan Clark headphones are popular for a reason, and the E3 is going to please a lot of audiophiles out there. The definition and articulation at the bottom are a high point in the E3 listening experience, and the smooth mids and clarity in the top make for an incredibly enjoyable and comfortable listening experience every time I put these on. Rock, R&B, Blues, Synthwave, Folk, - it all sounds lively, fun, and resolute through the E3. The other big takeaway for the E3 is the fact that DCA brought their high-end AMTS technology to a lower-priced headphone. No longer is their best tech reserved for flagship-level headphones. This is a great thing for audiophiles everywhere. 

I'm a big fan of these headphones and I think a lot of you will be too. Dan Clark headphones are typically a bit more difficult to drive than others, and while I was able to power these sufficiently with the DX320, just keep in mind that they'll perform better the more power you throw at them. I would not recommend pairing these with a DAP like the entry-level Astell&Kern SR35 - opt for something with more power. It'll go a long way to providing much better audio quality when you're on the go. The other lovely thing about Dan Clark Audio headphones is the design - apart from being extremely comfortable, they are also super-portable. The folding mechanism is sturdy, strong, and feels premium. Great job yet again, Mr. Clark. 

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What's in the Box

E3 package contents
-Dan Clark Audio E3 Headphone
-Travel Hard Case
-Cable Bag


Weight: 455gr
Impedance: 27ohms
Sensitivity: ~90 dB/mW
Frequency Response: Yes, it has one
Distortion: < 0.1% ref 80dB White Noise

Ricky Kovacs

My dad told me to be responsible and get a job that would allow me to finance my passion for music. Well, I did. That's why I spend all day in a proverbial candy store for music lovers. It's a dream job really.

Ricky Kovacs is a performer at heart but loves to bring his passion and experience with music to others. With a background in both politics and religion, Ricky has a knack for writing about divisive topics - which is why at the end of the day he loves writing about the one thing that brings us all together: music. Outside of Moon Audio, Ricky enjoys performing music in his band, recording, video games, virtual photography, reading, traveling, partaking in the finest scotch, and spending time with his wife, newborn, and doggy.