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Dan Clark Audio Stealth Headphone Review

A New Flagship Four Years in the Making


A lot can happen in four years. For Dan Clark Audio, what happened is an incredible new flagship, the closed-back planar magnetic Stealth headphone.

But unlike its name implies, this headphone should definitely not fly under the radar. Not that that's the intention. Dan Clark (the former MrSpeakers) has every reason to want to spread the word far and wide about this awesome new headphone and the innovative technology it contains.

The "Stealth" name has to do with Dan Clark's wish that the headphone should "disappear" and let the listener relax into the musical experience.

A huge talking point surrounding the Stealth is the innovative, patent-pending AMTS (Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System) technology that helps the headphone deliver an incredibly smooth yet detailed sound without having to rely on boosted treble. I'll get into details on this technological marvel later on. The driver, meanwhile, is a complete rebuild over previous Dan Clark headphone drivers. This fourth-generation driver is 20% larger than the one in the ETHER 2 headphone, making it DCA's largest planar driver to date.

At $3,999, the Stealth is priced at the top of the Dan Clark headphone lineup -- a collection of audiophile headphones that are handcrafted at DCA's San Diego headquarters. After four years of R&D, I think they've come up with something pretty spectacular that's worthy of its flagship status -- and price.

PROS:

  • Soundstage that rivals open-back headphones
  • Detail, detail, detail
  • Non-fatiguing highs
  • Organic, natural planar sound

CONS:

  • Price
  • May lack bass impact for some listeners

Materials, Quality & Comfort

"We set out to make the Stealth a real design statement. Made of stylish matte-black leather, carbon fiber, and machined aluminum, Stealth design takes its cues from Stealth aircraft." -Dan Clark Audio

What immediately excited me with the Stealth is that it retains the teardrop-shaped ear cups of the AEON. They're a little bigger on the Stealth, but in my opinion, the ergonomics of this shape cannot be beat. After all, our ears aren't round. For my ears, this design bests the comfort of what, for me, are oversized round cups on other full-size headphones.

It should come as no surprise that the Stealth 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 ETHER 2 being one of the industry's lightest at 280g. The Stealth comes in at 415g, just a little heavier than the ETHER C Flow.

The Stealth retains the convenient folding gimbal design of the AEON, enabling the user to easily stow and transport the headphone 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 Stealth 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. 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.

The headband itself is black leather with red stitching, and its quilted surface improves comfort while reducing heat. I love the fact that there is red 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.


Driver Technology

There is a reason the team at Dan Clark Audio spent four years on the development of the Stealth: They created an entirely new driver featuring a ground-breaking tuning system called AMTS (Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System).

When they first set out to make a new closed-back 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. So they decided to start fresh, building a new driver from the ground up.

The new fourth-generation driver is 20 percent larger than the one in the ETHER 2. But at just a couple of millimeters thick, it's actually Dan Clark's thinnest driver to date! This, despite the fact that it contains 15 magnets per channel! Something interesting about the magnets is that they are on the outside of the driver. (On the ETHER line, they were on the inside.) They put the driver in an enclosure that's very heavily damped. 

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.

This 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

" Diffusion elements reduce some standing wave 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."

Dan Clark Audio

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.


Sound Impressions

Review setup: Stealth, Black Dragon Premium headphone cable, Matrix Audio Element X headphone amp/DAC/music streamer. The Stealth is relatively easy to drive, but like any planar magnetic headphone, the Stealth will shine the more power you throw at it. I paired it with my iPhone and found that I had to crank the power too high in order to feel satisfied.

Oh, boy. I love this headphone. Balanced sound, smooth yet highly detailed, relaxed, clean, nicely placed mids, deceptively wide soundstage, and a sound that is beautifully natural and organic.

Let's start with that soundstage. Jude Mansilla from HeadFi.org says it rivals open-back headphones. Now, sometimes I "forget" whether I even care about soundstage. But just a couple of days prior to this review, I tested a pair of wireless earbuds that had a narrow sound, and suddenly I "remembered" that I do, in fact, care.

But even if I hadn't had that experience, I would have been able to say with confidence that the Stealth does indeed have a soundstage that is unusual for a closed back. Listening to some Vangelis, I was very happy to hear the sound swirling around my head and even a bit out in front of me. Bravo to Dan Clark for this feat.

Another notable attribute of the Stealth is the way it manages to have smooth treble and a highly detailed sound. Not once did I feel like details were being over-highlighted, or like the sound lacked cohesion or musicality (as to my ears can happen with a more analytical-sounding headphone). Listening fatigue? Not a thing with the Stealth headphones.

With the Stealth, I loved listening to music with lots of layering, detail, and instrumentation. The Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon version of the Calypso-sounding "Ya Mar" was lovely. This is a track with a relaxed vibe but lots of punch and detail throughout, and the Stealth managed to showcase both of these qualities. Percussion popped in my head, but not in an irritating or fatiguing way. And there is a lot of interesting percussion in this song and album, from uda drums, caxixi, and djembe to goats' hooves, fish shakers, and thrasher. These and the various other instruments in the musical interludes were all perfectly discernible. Finally, this headphone is not lacking in detail-giving ability. On this and many other tracks, I heard all of the "goodies" that other detailed headphones have shown me. On the Kottke-Gordon cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," the guitar was so crisp and zingy. Like "Ya Mar," this track has lots of percussive goodies that benefit from the Stealth's prowess with detail and punch.

Next, on the recommendation of a colleague, I called up "Sword of Truth" by Magic Sword. I wanted to hear a track with lots of slam and sub-bass, and this track delivered. Well, the track did. The headphones left me wanting a little in this regard. Listening on a warmer headphone, I could really feel the sub-bass in my body. With the Stealth, I could certainly discern it, but it wasn't that visceral experience that some may be after. As I listened to other tracks with lots of low-end impact, I determined that bass on the Stealth is defined, punchy, and controlled, but lacks the visceral impact that some may crave on more bass-centric tracks.


Comparisons to Other Planar Magnetic Headphones

Meze Empyrean

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Meze Empyrean ($2,999) -- The Empyrean headphone, an open-back planar magnetic, has a warm and lush sound. It's also known as a behemoth when it comes to soundstage. Like the Stealth, the Empyrean has a unique ear cup shape: ovoid. The ear cups swivel, offering added flexibility when it comes to fit. To my ears, the Empyrean has a rich and majestic sound that is highly emotional, and instrument separation is solid. Like the Stealth, the treble is on the relaxed side. But for me, it doesn't offer the same level of "pluck" and detail that makes percussion and strings sound so great on the Stealth.


HiFiMan HE1000 V2

$2,999.00

HiFiMan HE1000 V2 ($2,999) -- The HE1000 V2 headphone, an open-back planar magnetic, has a very detailed and airy sound that with a soundstage that really envelopes the listener. Like the Stealth, the sound is more balanced and relaxed. Bass on the HE1000 V2 is very well extended, but it's not a bassy headphone. The low end is well controlled. Treble on the HE1000 V2 is more prominent than on the Stealth, and I think this is where a lot of that detail comes from. Both are very detailed headphones, but I think the HE1000 V2 achieves more of that detail through a treble lift.

So, why does the Stealth cost $1,000 more than these headphones? And why might you opt to pay it? First, you're paying for years of R&D. You're paying for innovation. And you're paying for a darn fine headphone. Another reason might be brand loyalty: You are a Dan Clark Audio fan, and you love the Dan Clark sound. At the end of the day, all three of these options are phenomenal planar magnetic headphones. If you want or need a closed back, then the choice is obvious: the Stealth.


Dragon Cable Recommendation

Dan Clark headphones tend to be on the warmer side, so we usually pair them with a Silver Dragon or Blue Dragon cable. However, I chose to pair the Stealth with a Black Dragon Premium Cable because I wanted to add some bottom-end weight. It's a copper conductor-based cable that will add musicality and low-end impact to your headphones. The Black Dragon warms the bass and midrange tones and smooths out the top end without sacrificing detail. The immersive and natural sound of the Black Dragon was a great pairing for the Stealth.

About 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.


The Verdict

Bravo to Dan Clark on the excellent new flagship Stealth closed-back planar magnetic headphone. The Stealth lives up to its name, allowing the headphone to "disappear" while the listener focuses on what really matters -- the music. There's a lot to love with the Stealth:

  • The super-comfortable, foldable, portable design.
  • The smooth yet highly detailed sound, thanks to Dan Clark's patent-pending metamaterial tuning system.
  • The punchy, nicely controlled bass.
  • The excellent soundstage.

The Stealth has a relaxed and balanced sound that works well with many genres. I really enjoyed it with acoustic and classic rock, blues, folk, and classical. The black design with pops of red make for an eye-catching and sophisticated aesthetic. If you're a fan of planar magnetic headphones, if you crave detail and an expansive soundstage, and you want/need a closed back pair of cans, the Stealth may just land a spot on your headphone wish list!


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What's in the Box

  • Stealth headphone

  • Black leather box with red stitching that matches headphones

  • Carrying case

  • VIVO cable

  • Certificate of authenticity

  • Manual


Videos

Review Video Coming Soon


Specifications

  • Driver: 62mm x 34mm single-ended planar magnetic

  • Impedance: 23 Ohms

  • Sensitivity: 87dB/mw at 1KHz

  • Weight: 415g

  • Driver matching: 0.25db weighted 20-10,000Hz

  • THD: Less than 0.03% 20-20KHz, ref. 1KHz at 90dB


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