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Dan Clark Audio Expanse Open-Back Headphone Review

Dan Clark Expanse Black Dragon Premium Cable

Dan Clark's New Flagship Headphone Will "Expand" Your Soundstage

A new headphone? Always exciting. A new flagship headphone? Even more exciting. A new flagship headphone from one of your favorite headphone manufacturers? Super-duper exciting with a cherry on top.

Dan Clark Audio has a new open-back flagship planar magnetic headphone called the Expanse.

At $3,999, the Expanse is priced the same as the Stealth, their closed-back flagship released in 2021. But the Expanse is not an open-back Stealth; it's. well, the Expanse. You might ask, then, if it's an update to Dan Clark's previous flagship ETHER 2. The answer again, is no. The Stealth and the ETHER 2 are fabulous headphones, but the Expanse is a headphone all its own.

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Notes

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Pros

  • Wide, airy sound
  • Highly detailed
  • Comfortable, foldable

Cons

  • Costly
  • May be bass-light for some

Materials & Quality

I've never met a Dan Clark headphone that isn't comfortable. And while comfort is subjective, I do think Dan Clark has done a better-than-average job in this regard. Dan himself has often said that if a headphone isn't comfortable enough for long listening sessions, then the design is flawed.

At 418g, the Expanse is relatively lightweight. It's no 290g ETHER 2, but it's comfortably under a pound. It's an aluminum construction, with the NiTiNol nickel-titanium headband that is known for keeping its shape. The head strap features an ergonomic design that spreads weight evenly across the head. The strap is quilted for comfort and heat reduction.

The Expanse features a redesigned headband that was introduced on the Stealth. Instead of a mechanical slider, it's an auto-adjusting suspended strap design. This allows the strap to move freely and adapt to your head size and shape.

The ear cups on the Expanse are the same teardrop-shape found on the AEON and the Stealth, with the cups on the Expanse and the Stealth being larger than the AEON cups. The Expanse uses composite synthetic suede and protein-leather pads.

The Expanse has the signature Dan Clark folding gimbal structure that allows you to fold the headphone for easy transport in the included case. When folded, the headphone can sit in the palm of your hand.

Looks wise, the Expanse is pretty much the Stealth, but with blue instead of red stitching and open cups, of course. Personally, the black and blue color combo gets my vote over the red and black. I think the Expanse is a striking design. I love the pattern on the grilles, which is actually computer generated. The pops of blue are in the stitching on top and underside of the head strap, as well as blue that you can see through the driver.

Sound Quality

Dan Clark is known for planar magnetic headphones, but they do have an electrostatic headphone called the VOCE, which I reviewed a while back. I actually think the sound of the Expanse most closely resembles the VOCE than other Dan Clark planars. The Expanse is a very detailed headphone, and there's a crispness and snappiness to the sound that I equate with e-stats.

The soundstage on the Expanse makes you understand the name; it's quite expansive. The top end has some sparkle, but there's also a richness to the treble. I don't mean syrupy, though. It's more like substance and depth. The midrange is clear, and the low end is punchy. The bass does its job to define tracks and add some dimension, but it's not the star of the show. If you like big bass, this is not your headphone.

I actually think the sound of the Expanse more closely resembles the VOCE electrostatic headphone than Dan Clark planars. The Expanse is a very detailed headphone, and there's a crispness and snappiness to the sound that I equate with electrostatics.

On the song "Ghost Towns" by Radical Face, the piano and acoustic guitar play beautifully against each other. The higher piano notes sound twinkly and delicate, with the lower notes adding weight and mood to this haunting track. The string plucks have dimension, and hand slaps against the guitar have a satisfying clap. Vocals sound clear and near. Later in the track when piano, guitar, drum, and tambourine play together, you get details from each, but in a way that seamlessly blends into a whole: the pressing down on the piano keys, the scratch of guitar strings, the way the stick hits the drum, the shimmer of the tambourine. I actually found this whole album (The Family Tree: The Roots) to be an auditory treat on the Expanse, with the details on the array of pensive and delicate tracks hitting with a satisfying intensity.

Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction was in frequent play on my Sony Walkman and cheap-o headphones back in the way. It was quite a treat to hear it on something a little better. At the start of "Sweet Child O' Mine," I immediately perceived a layer of sound that seemed to be coming from somewhere down and to my left. Lots of detail here! The electric guitar at the beginning did come on a bit screechy for my (on some days) sensitive ears, and I had to lower the volume. But I did enjoy the clarity behind that wail. And I loved the peppiness that the Expanse gave this track. Axl Rose's voice is a love it or leave it proposition. I happen to like it, and I liked the up close and personal nature of his vocals. Yes, while the soundstage is big on the Expanse, vocals still sound relatively close.

"Away From the Mire"
Billy Strings
Home
"Sweet Child O' Mine"
Guns N' Roses
Appetite for Destruction
"Beloved Wife"
Tigerlily
Natalie Merchant
"Ghost Towns"
Radical Face
The Family Tree: The Roots

Technology

The Expanse uses Dan Clark's fourth-generation planar magnetic driver. This one is 20 percent larger than the driver in the ETHER 2, Dan Clark's previous flagship open-back. The driver uses DCA's patented V-planar technology to reduce THD and improve low-frequency extension. Also, diaphragm tension is set on an all-new system for a more uniform and consistent tension, lower distortion, and better driver matching. FEA and CFD optimized motor structures increase driver force uniformity and smooth acoustic paths to reduce distortion.

The Expanse features Dan Clark's patent-pending Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System. Now, the Expanse is a highly detailed headphone. Detail is often achieved through a boosting of top-end energy. While effective, this can lead to listening fatigue. AMTS is a way for Dan Clark to achieve resolution without an exaggerated top-end emphasis.

Dan Clark AMST

Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System

AMST is a device that's placed between the driver and the ear. It integrates waveguides, diffusion control, quarter-wave, and Heimholtz resonators into one tiny structure. From Can Clark: Diffusion elements reduce some standing save formation, while resonators act as both precision and broad filters to smooth and shape the frequency response, reducing the amplitude of response peaks and troughs from the midrange through the highest frequencies. AMTS greatly reduces standing waves so high frequencies are rendered with a refreshingly smooth, accurate, and detailed delivery.

Comparisons

Comparison to the Dan Clark ETHER 2

The ETHER 2 and the Expanse are very different headphones, both in design and sound. The all-black ETHER 2 has round ear cups with a spider-web grille design. The headband adjusts via a mechanical slider, the head strap is perforated, and the headphone doesn't fold. That being said, the ETHER 2 is an exceedingly lightweight headphone at 290g, which is a huge selling point. It has a warm, smooth, and romantic sound signature that contrasts with the more detailed and resolute sound of the Expanse. Neither is better; it depends on your listening style. People who like to get lost in their music will appreciate the ETHER 2, while more critical listeners will gravitate toward the Expanse.

Comparison to the Dan Clark Stealth

The Stealth shows off many of the same attributes as the Expanse: great imaging, natural sound, a forward midrange, accuracy, detail, clarity. I think the Expanse is the more musical sounding of the two headphones. The Expanse also has a bigger soundstage, but this is by design, as an open back is going to have a wider sound. The Stealth does have a boost in the lower regions, lending a weightier sound.

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$3,999.00

Dragon Cable Recommendation

I knew right away that a Black Dragon Premium Cable was going to be my choice for the Expanse. Because the Expanse is a highly detailed headphone, I didn't feel the need for enhancement there. The midrange and treble is where the Expanse really shines, so my goal was to add some bottom-end weight. The copper-based Black Dragon adds a subtle warmth to the bass, so your music will sound fuller. The Black Dragon will also smooth the top end without sacrificing detail.

Black Dragon Sound Signature: The Black Dragon is warm and smooth with a musical presentation. Copper strands enhance the body, shape, and immediacy of the music. The detail and expansiveness of the Black Dragon make it a flexible fit where a broad range of musical genres are played. It can also improve bass frequencies on bass-light headphones. The smooth, musical quality makes it a perfect fit for headphones that tend to sound a bit edgy or bright. Despite its warmth, the Black Dragon does not have a laid-back, lush sound. It is much closer to neutral, making it a very natural-sounding cable. For more information on finding your signature sound, visit our Sound Signature Guide.

Why Dragon Cables?

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 cables are handcrafted to 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.

The Verdict

The Dan Clark Expanse ticks every box for me: Sound quality, build quality, comfort, and looks. I love the sophisticated black design with pops of blue stitching as well as the cool grille design. The teardrop-shaped ear cups and the suspension headband make for a well-fitting and comfortable headphone. The wide soundstage of the Expanse makes music sound airy and expressive. Resolution is phenomenal; I feel like I'm hearing layers within layers, all placed precisely on that virtual soundstage. If you like a sound that is detailed, snappy, articulate, and transparent, the Expanse is going to appeal to you. It wouldn't be my pick for bassy music like EDM and Rap, but it sounds great with more metal-esque Rock; orchestral pieces; peppy, uptempo music; and music with lots of detail. I think the Expanse is good reason to "expand" your headphone collection.

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What's in the Box

  • Expanse headphones
  • Carrying case
  • VIVO Cable
  • Certificate of authenticity
  • Quick user guide

Videos

Review Video

(Coming Soon)

 

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