RMAF 2018: MrSpeakers Ether 2 and Abyss Diana Phi

The well-dressed twenty-something’s eyes were wide open and he was rocking back-and-forth in his chair with a look of euphoria on his face.

“You gotta hear this!” He yelled at his friend who was hovering over his shoulder checking the track listing on the laptop that was part of the system feeding the new MrSpeakers Ether 2 headphones he was demoing.

They quickly swapped positions and queued-up the track again.

I glanced over expecting to see some rock, indie, electronica or EMD song title. Instead it was a Diana Krall track and I have to say I was surprised at the tenacity of so many audiophile ‘standards’ for critical listening that still permeate hi-fi shows, but that’s a topic for another post.

Walking the floor of the massive hall housing CANJAM RMAF 2018 I checked out more new headphone and headphone-related hardware than I had laid eyes on in many moons. There’s a lot of seriously great-sounding gear to write about, so lets get down to brass tacks with some brief show takes and start with the aforementioned Ether 2.

MrSpeakers Ether 2

Dan Clark of MrSpeakers.

I spoke with Dan Clark about the $1,999 USD Ether 2 after I waited for a spot to sit and get some head time with the new model as his tables were packed with people wanting to hear the new ‘phones. One of the first things you notice after the change to the ear-cup outer enclosure is the cabling which is a new design based around the Voce electrostatic cable and is built around silver-plated copper according to Clark. It is incredibly light and incredibly supple and I have to say was practically unnoticeable during moving while listening to the Ether 2. The new hand band design is even more comfortable than the previous Ether, which I loved for extended listening.

The listening set-up I used consisted of a Mojo Audio Deja Vu music server, a Mystique V3 R2R DAC and an ubër-rare Cavalli Liquid Glass hybrid-valve headphone amplifier. Clark queued-up a Madeleine Peyroux track – “Bird on a Wire” – for me and I sat back for a listen. The first thing that struck me was the resonant depth of Peyroux’s voice – far more chest-oriented than from the throat – which to me translates as far more lifelike in reproduction – with an organic, palpable touch in the midrange/lower-mids of every key stroke from the piano and a sparkle to the decay that completely lacked brightness and instead focused the mind on the weight of the hammer strikes on each note.

Next I tried an electronic track – “Incompressible Flow” by MIKTEK. This cut helped me establish how large the sound stage capabilities are of the Ether 2, which was huge, but never felt exaggerated in it’s size. There was a deep-v 3D placement of instruments well back in the middle of my skull with tremendous drive and control of not only dynamic swings in the song, but reproduction of both micro and macro dynamics with resolution that bordered on analytical, but never actually strayed into that territory. Bass reproduction inccured one of the greatest impacts during my listening session and when I spoke with Clark about it he said “We wanted an audiophile headphone that bassheads would love. We hope we’ve done that.”

Abyss Diana Phi

Abyss is a company out of Buffalo, NY and talking with brothers Eric and Jason Skubinski about their latest iteration of the $4,000 USD planar-magnetic Diana (now Diana Phi) and it’s 32-Ohm impedance, they readily admitted that factoring the mobile phone market was becoming more and more prevalent in their thinking when it came to headphone design. The D-Phi chassis and headband anchors are machined out of high-grade aluminum and finished with a super-durable ceramic paint. The D-Phi is available with XLR, 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced, as well as standard 1/8th-inch cable terminations and is one of the most comfortable and light headphones I’ve ever worn. I did my listening via an Eleven Audio Broadway balanced head amp being fed by a Brooklyn DAC+. I listened to Tidal Hi-Fi and Tom Waits “The Heart of Saturday Night” came across with all the emotional tenor I’m used to from this cut albeit in an incredibly balanced, laid-back presentation full of subtle instrumental cues, timbre and pitch accuracy with real 3D spatial separation between Waits’ vocals and the myriad instrumentation and street recordings used throughout the track. These are easily one of the most eye-catching and chic-looking headphones I’ve seen and wouldn’t look out of place in a Vogue magazine shoot.

The D-Phi is masculine but stylish enough that I could see why it’s been a big seller with men, but would expect women who appreciate amazing sound wanting to wear them because they look so damn good. Bass was stygian and threw me off because I didn’t expect 63mm transducers capable of reproducing such ultra-low bass notes “Dreaming of the Crash” off the Interstellar soundtrack had me rock back in my chair when it hit because it possessed such undistorted impact. I was genuinely impressed and arranged for a review pair in November once production was up and running.

Jason Skubinski .

I’d love to write more on what I’ve listened to so far, but time is my true enemy at this show and I have to get back to the rooms so I can bring you more coverage.

Up next I’ll be writing on the new Astell & Kern SP1000 and SP1000M mobile players (and the slew of firmware updates A&K has in the works for the APK implementation and MQA for the SP1000) as well as their T5p 2nd Generation headphones and the Meze Empyrean headphones. Check back soon.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest

Rthomas's picture

Hi Rafe,

Thanks for the Ether 2 impressions. Can you please give us an approximate timeline for when we will see the first set of measurements from Keith Howard for a new release headphone?

Personally I would love to see the new Ether 2s measured but can you please let us know which headphones are currently in the measurements pipeline?



Rafe Arnott's picture
I've been waiting for finalization of the measurement tool and it's integration into the website like everyone else. Keith Howard is working as hard and fast as he can to get it up running in conjunction with our IT department. My hope is within three weeks, and first up would be the Quad ERA-1, then most likely the Audeze LCD-4z, LCDi4, and Mobius, HIFIMAN 1000SE, H6se and then the Sennheiser HD 820.
Simply Nobody's picture

Great news, HD 820s are in the list :-) ............

Rthomas's picture

Hi Rafe,

That's brilliant. Really looking forward to those measurements!