Dan Clark Audio Headphones Look Alike But Sound Different
Comfortable. Collapsible. Clean-sounding. Clever alliteration aside, I am a big fan of Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 portable planar magnetic headphones.
San Diego, California-based Dan Clark Audio was known as Mr. Speakers until a couple of years ago, and the AEON 2 was the first model to be unveiled under the new name, an update to the original AEON Flow. The AEON 2, with its glossy red coloring, is available in both closed and open-back styles. Dan Clark subsequently released the closed-back AEON 2 Noire, in more traditional but no less striking metallic black. Customers often ask us how the AEON 2 closed-back compares to the AEON 2 Noire, and the short answer is this: They might look like the same headphone in different colors, but they definitely have distinct sound profiles.
Materials, Quality & Comfort
I've tried a variety of headphones from many manufacturers. Some headphones are quite comfortable, and some are so-so. What I can say is this:
AEON 2 headphones are the most comfortable headphones I have tried.
From the moment I put them on, I had the sense that it was custom-made for my cranium. Lightweight, just the right amount of clamping, super-comfy ear pads ... yes, please.
Beyond supreme comfort, the most notable physical feature of Dan Clark AEON 2 headphones is portability. AEON 2 headphones feature a collapsible, hinge-free folding gimbal design that allows it to fold in on itself to roughly half of its size. The folding process is simple and seamless -- just be sure to fold both ear cups inward and upward at the same time -- and the result is something compact enough to stow in a bag or backpack. Note that the AEON 2 carrying case is half the size of the original AEON Flow case, making for an extra-tidy travel experience.
AEON 2 headphones are incredibly lightweight -- about 11.5 ounces. That's about an ounce-and-a-half heavier than the ETHER 2, which is the lightest full-size planar magnetic headphone on the market. Still, they're really light. But that does not mean they have plastic parts.
The cast aluminum baffle on the AEON Flow headphones has been replaced with a carbon fiber and machined aluminum design on the AEON 2 that is rigid but lighter. The headband is a pair of thin wires that sit above a leather strap. It's made from NiTinol, an alloy of nickel and titanium dubbed "memory metal" that is known for keeping its shape under stress. Now, I don't recommend picking the AEON 2 or any headphone up by the headband, but if you do, you have a degree of assurance with the AEON 2 that the headband will regain its shape if you manage to bend it.
AEON 2 ear cups have a teardrop shape. They are designed to complement the natural shape of the skull, and they fit me in a pleasingly snug and natural way. The cups are finished in a glossy deep red, with a honeycomb design on the baffle. The synthetic leather ear pads are plush and comfortable, and I thought they were real leather. Honestly, these are the best-fitting, most comfortable headphones I have worn to date.
AEON 2 headphones come with Dan Clark's DUMMER (Distinctly Un-Magical) cable, but you have the option of upgrading to the new flagship VIVO cable. Dan Clark says the VIVO is a transparent-sounding cable crafted from silver-plated OFHC copper that is more supple and less microphonic than its predecessor.
For the AEON 2, Dan Clark took the driver from the flagship ETHER 2 and completely redesigned it. This new, 100 percent proprietary driver design features patented TrueFlow and V-Planar technology. This second-generation motor design bumps up the bass, increases soundstage, and delivers realistic dynamics. A highly efficient transducer keeps weight down by reducing magnet size. TrueFlow improves airflow through the motor, producing a major upgrade in detail retrieval. V-Planar driver processing puts texture on the driver surface for superior low-frequency performance and improved diaphragm stability.
For the technically inclined, here's a little more on these proprietary technologies:
A conventional planar driver is assumed to move as a flat surface, but this is not realistic, as the driver is inflexible and "locked" at its boundaries. Thus, it moves more as a bowed surface than a plat plane. Through a technology known as knurling, deep creases are implemented in the diaphragm, allowing the flexibility needed to fit larger motions for a deeper musicality. The V-Planar driver allows expansion and contraction of sound without losing fidelity or stretching it too thin. V Planar can push more air at low frequencies, and deliver better dynamics, high-end frequency response, and lower distortion.
Planar magnetic drivers use magnets in their motors. These magnets create right angles through which audio waves must pass, which can be difficult. When sound waves have to travel through hard angles, turbulence in the audio-waveform tends to mask lower-level details. TrueFlow addresses this issue by filling in the area between magnets with perforated material, eliminating hard right angles so the driver moves air through a flat, perforated surface. The result, according to Dan Clark Audio, is a nearly perfect acoustical structure that yields notable increases in resolution and dynamics as well as extended frequency response.
With an impedance of 13 Ohms and sensitivity rating of 92dB, the AEON 2 is pretty easy to drive - with a couple of caveats. First, we find that planar magnetic headphones tend to reach their full potential the more power you throw at them. Second, just because you can drive your audiophile headphones from your phone doesn't mean you should. When you invest in higher-end headphones, you want to maximize your ROI by pairing them with a quality headphone amp/DAC (digital to audio converter) or DAP (digital audio player).
Sound Impressions: AEON 2 Closed vs. AEON 2 Noire
At first glance, the AEON 2 Noire appears to be just like the AEON 2 Closed, but in metallic black instead of red. However, the differences are more than skin deep. These are not the same headphones in different colors. The AEON 2 Closed and the AEON 2 Noire each have their own sound signature.
The AEON 2 Noire comes with perforated ear pads made from synthetic leather, which allow the headphone to achieve sound similar to the Harman Curve. The Harman Curve is a sound signature that has been found to appeal to most headphone listeners. It approximates how quality speakers sound in an ideal room.
The AEON 2 Noire has slightly boosted bass and treble, which is known as a V-shaped or U-shaped tuning. In comparison to the AEON 2 closed, the Noire has a lighter midrange, more forward and zingier treble, and a wider soundstage. This is in contrast to the warmer, fuller, and more intimate sound and more impactful midrange of the AEON 2 closed.
I started my sound quality comparison review by listening to "The Big Country [Alternate Version]" by the Talking Heads. I love the original, but I prefer this uptempo version. With the AEON 2, David Byrne's already exaggerated diction is extra crisp and full of nuance on the AEON 2. You can literally hear the spittle collecting on his parched lips. There's a lot of sibilance (exaggerated "S" sounds) coming through, too, which may bother some listeners, but for me it's part of the charm of Byrne's unique voice. I also really enjoyed the timbre of the guitar - full and twangy. With the AEON 2 Noire, David Byrne's vocals were set back a bit. I could still discern the sibilance and other vocal nuances in his voice, but the effect was more muted than on the AEON 2. The bass was super punchy and tight. Cymbals, a constant presence in this track. caught my attention early. They weren't offensive, just noticeable.
Next, I listened to "Ya Mar" recorded by Mike Gordon and Leo Kottke. This Calypso-inspired track contains lots of interesting percussion, including caxixi, goats' hooves, talking drums, tire hub, djembe, thrasher, fish shakers, and uda drums. While I don't necessarily know which is which, I had fun picking out the distinct sounds., which was easy to do because the AEON 2 has great separation. Vocals were relatively front and center, with the bass providing nice punch and rhythm. On the AEON 2 Noire, the upper-range percussion rendered with quite a bit of zing, with lots of pops and taps that I could "feel" in my head. Again, vocals were a bit set back. Overall, I found that this track had more sparkle than on the AEON 2.
I use Natalie Merchant's "Beloved Wife" as a test track because I find that it can sound different depending on the headphone. This track is an interesting combination of rich bass, sweet vocals, and mellow piano and acoustic guitar. There's a lot of bass in this track, which can obscure the sweetness of the vocals and piano. The more warm and forward midrange on the AEON 2 brought Merchant's vocals to the foreground, giving them a richness and depth of emotion. Now, there is some bass boom that is inherent in this recording. It was definitely prominent with the AEON 2 Noire. At the same time, I found that Merchant's vocals sounded less recessed than vocals on other tracks. A highlight was the piano, which sounded so, so sweet.
Finally, I cued up Pascal Latoublon's "Friendships," a House number that, yes, I came to know through TikTok by way of Instagram. This is far from my usual taste, but I've been really taken by this one, both the melody and beat. The track sounded warm and full on the AEON 2. It was enjoyable, but I preferred it on the AEON 2 Noire. I really felt the AEON 2 Noire come to life with this track, the tuning suited for the deep, impactful bass as well as the upper frequency shimmer.
Soundstage on the AEON 2 is on the intimate side, with vocalists in particular often sounding like they are performing right in front of me. Soundstage on the AEON 2 Noire is a bit wider and deeper than the AEON 2, though not to the level of an open-back headphone. While vocals always felt very close with the AEON 2, I had the sense that they were farther in front of me when listening to the AEON 2 Noire.
Tuning pads: The AEON 2 Closed and the AEON 2 Noire come with three pairs of tuning pads, allowing you to achieve four different listening experiences. You simply peel the backing off of the pads and affix them into the ear-wells on your headphones. In order from least dampening to most dampening, the pads are: black foam, black felt, and white. What this means is that if you want to soften the treble, start with black foam and work your way to white depending how dramatic of an effect you desire.
AEON 2 Closed:
Sound: Warm side of neutral
- More present midrange
- More relaxed treble
- Tight, punchy, impactful bass
- More intimate soundstage
Genres: Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Country, Classical, Jazz
AEON 2 Noire:
Sound: Slight V-shaped tuning; Harman Curve
- Boosted bass
- Livelier treble
- Lighter midrange
- Wider soundstage
Genres: Pop, Rock and Roll, EDM, Electronica, R&B
The Dragon Cable Experience
Recommended Cable: Silver Dragon Premium
Think of audio cables as synonymous with your car's air filter. When it's clean, your car runs better. Likewise with the right cable, the sound coming from your headphones will be clearer. Some cables will color the sound of your headphones, while others will boost clarity.
To level the playing field during my testing session, I paired each headphone with a Blue Dragon Headphone Cable for Dan Clark Audio. For the listener who wants a "clean" sound without changing anything in the sound signature, I recommend this cable. The Blue Dragon is a neutral-sounding, copper conductor-based cable that promotes a calm sound. You can think of it like a cleaning cloth for your eyeglass lenses. You're not altering the properties of the lenses; you're just removing any detriments to the clearest view.
Free to experiment after that, I found that I liked the AEON 2 with a Silver Dragon Premium Headphone Cable for Dan Clark Audio, while the Blue Dragon cable was my choice for the AEON 2 Noire. The Blue Dragon is a great cable for vocals. As the midrange is a bit set back on the Noire, I found that the Blue Dragon provided the best midrange enhancement. The Silver Dragon is a great match for warm-leaning headphones like the AEON 2 Closed, as it will pull out some of the obscured middle and high frequencies will adding some top-end sizzle.
Recommended Cable: Blue Dragon
The portability, comfort, and under-$1,000 price tag make the AEON 2 Closed and AEON 2 Noire headphones very attractive options. Both of these hifi headphones feature great bass, resolution, and low-distortion sound befitting every great planar magnetic headphone. Truth be told, I love both headphones, and would have a hard time choosing one over the other. But I'm here to help you decide. For the listener who wants a more natural, warm-ish sound with rich and robust mids and relaxed highs, the AEON 2 is the way to go. For someone who wants a more "fun" sound with a wider and deeper soundstage, the AEON 2 Noire is the pick. (That being said, you could swap the ear pads on their headphone to achieve the tuning you desire -- perforated pads on the AEON 2 and non-perforated pads on the AEON 2 Noire.) Whichever closed-back AEON 2 you choose, you will be getting a great planar magnetic headphone that you might never want to take off.
What's in the Box
The AEON 2 comes in a sturdy black flip-top box that reveals a tidy, hard-shell carrying case with a separate small box for the cable. Inside the carrying case are:
- Snugly folded headphones
- Certificate of authenticity
- Quick user guide
- Cleaning cloth
- Tuning kit that includes three sets of pads
Dan Clark AEON 2 Headphone Unboxing
Frequency Range:Not Published. Dan Clark Audio believes frequency response specifications are generally not real-world numbers and are often exaggerated.
Impedance: 13 Ohms
Sensitivity: 92dB SPL/1mW Sensitivity
Driver: 62mm x 34mm single-ended planar magnetic
Driver matching: +/-2dB to target curve, channel matched to 0.5dB weighted 30-8KHz
THD: less than 0.3% 20-20KHz, 0.1% 100-8KHz
Baffle: Carbon Fiber
Headband: Nickel-Titanium (Nitinol) memory metal
Earpads: Japanese Synthetic Protein Leather (perforated on the AEON 2 Noire)
Cable: ¼” with 3.5mm or 4-Pin XLR DUMMER Cable (optional upgrade to VIVO cable)
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