MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open Planar Magnetic Headphones Page 2


Well, Sean Olive isn't going to like this review.

I was super excited for these to show up at my front door. In the midst of my RMAF show reports and trip to Boston for the Listen Inc. headphone measurement seminar, I found myself with a good stretch of time for just casually listening to the new Aeon Flow Open.

For me that means noodling around on Tidal for new I'm not familiar with. I dig contemporary sounds from around the world so I decided to explore some African electronica. (Check out John Wizards, Zaki Ibrahim, Moonchild Sanelly, and Stab Virus.) The problem with musical journeying of this kind is you invariably stumble on numerous poor recordings. Somewhere along the line I found myself listening in a state of mild astonishment at how the Aeon Flow Open made everything sound good regardless of recording quality...within reason. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Sound Quality
I find this headphone very hard to describe. Primarily it's because any time I use any adjective to give you a picture of the character of the sound quality you're impression will likely be too strong. The Aeon Flow Open is tuned with a very deft hand, and all its characteristics are remarkably subtle.

This is a mildly warm headphone; relaxed and inviting; both smooth and resolving. I'd say it's strongest characteristic is a very mild bloom in the upper bass and lower mid-range, and a slightly veiled or muffled character in the upper mid-range. If it sounds like I'm describing the HD600, you'd be right; this may be the closest I've heard.

In principle, I tend to think dynamic drivers have the upper hand in treble resolve over planars—both magnetic and electrostatic—which to my ears always have some sort of haze or blurring or zazz in the treble. I hear very little of that with the Aeon Flow Open; just a very slight zinginess 8-10kHz, which the included damping pads control very effectively. I'd also recommend wearing the Aeon Flow Open a little forward and low to reduce this effect. That said I do think it sounded ever so slightly rougher or grainier than the HD 600/650.

The Aeon Flow Open has significantly better bass extension and less distortion in the bass than the HD600/650—this is a significantly more weighty sounding headphone. I would like to hear a little more umph in the sub-bass, but that's rare to non-existant in an open headphone. MrSpeakers has done a great job of making an open headphone with an appropriately strong perceived bass response.

The Aeon Flow open comes with three sets of damping filters that very easily insert into the ear pad openings and which are held in place by a snug fit. The treble zing can be damped in ever increasing steps by: having no filter; inserting the black open-cell foam filter; the one notch white filter; or the two notch white filter. I don't hear these as effecting the treble amplitude response as much as I hear them imposing an ever stronger damping or deadening character. By the time you get to the two notch white filter it begins to sound like you're in an anechoic chamber...a little.

At first as I went through the filters I felt like the one notch white filter was for me, but as I listened over time I felt a little freer to use the filters both to modify the sound of the recording slightly, and, maybe to a greater extent, depending on my mood. Sometimes I wanted things smooth and mellow, and sometimes I wanted a little excitement. I found these filters very effective in adjusting the listening experience—more so than any other filering or tuning system in any other headphone I've experienced.

Imaging was very nice. While MrSpeakers calls this an open headphone, it has quite a bit more isolation than most other open headphones. So much so that I'm tempted to call it a semi-open headphone. In my experience, with open headphones that are almost transparent to outside sounds, you wind up not being able to develop a psychoacoustic differentiation of space between the musical space on the recording and the real acoustical space in the room around you. I think this gives you the impression of more depth to the music than is really there.

The Aeon Flow Open does provide a little isolation barrier between you and the acoustic space around you, which tends, to my ears, make the depth of image seem a little less than if it were a fully open headphone. None the less, the Aeon Flow Open delivers an image of very comfortable width and depth. Instrument separation and specificity are very good. The Aeon Flow Open strikes a wonderfully pleasing balance of precision and a sense of the whole in it's portrayal of space.

Likewise the dynamic punch is spot on. The Focal Elear, for example, has unbelievable punch; while I enjoy it, I find it at times a distraction form the musical experience. The Aeon Flow Open has plenty of punch when called for, but it's also not going to knock a tooth out. Again, a superbly balanced headphone.

One thing I noticed in measuring the Aeon Flow Open and confirmed in listening is that it's extremely sensitive to seal. If you don't have a good seal you're not going to get solid, punchy bass response. Those who wear glasses need to understand you'll not get the full experience with the Aeon Flow Open without removing your specs.

So why is Sean Olive not going to like this review? Well, the Aeon Flow Open really doesn't match up particularly well with the Harman target curve and yet I find it more pleasing than any other headphone I can think of, even when they match the Harman target better. MrSpeakers own Aeon Flow Closed is closer to the Harman target, yet I pretty easily prefer the Aeon Flow Open.

Even I can tell this headphone has a slightly more muffled or veiled sound than what I would consider technically neutral. And yet, over time the sound of the Aeon Flow Open tantalizes me with it's musical listening pleasure. I confirms my belief that getting close to neutral is important, but once close there's wiggle room to tune things around a bit to give the headphones a pleasing character. The Aeon Flow Open has taught me that while "transparent" is very good, "inviting" might be even better.

The Aeon Flow Open is a mildly warm and extraordinarily inviting headphone. Bass is powerful for an open headphone, but has a slight bloom in the upper-bass/lower-midrange. Midrange has a mild warm tilt and laid-back presence region. Very slightly muffled or veiled are both too strong a word, but it's there. Treble is articulate and without any harshness. There is a slight treble zing 8-10kHz, but is well controlled to taste with the included damping pads. Though not totally neutral, I find the Aeon Flow Open has an extremely alluring sonic character, and once my head had adapted to its sound I just didn't want to take them off.

Styling is a bit unusual, but quite appealing to my eyes. Comfort is second to none, though it's worth noting that the adjustment sliders do, from time to time, need to be tightened up to hold securely while donning and doffing the cans. Build quality is simply outstanding, with mostly metal and leather parts. Synthetic materials, when used, are top quality. Accessories are minimal having only a cable, 3.5mm to 1/4" plug adapter, and hard side, clam-shell case.

Hell yeah, the Aeon Flow Open is going up on the Wall of Fame. This is clearly, to my ears, the best sounding sub-$1000 open headphone on the market. Will it knock others off the wall? Hm. I think I've got to get the Focal Clear in here to do some comparing, but things will happen. In the mean time, get your head under a pair of MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open headphones, this is a great headphone!

View on YouTube here.

MrSpeakers home page and Aeon Flow Open product page.
SBAF thread and Hands post with CSDs showing effect of damper pads at 8kHz. impressions thread and review by MattTCG.

MrSpeakers Headphone Products
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Rthomas's picture

Hi Tyll,

Thanks for the review, finally it looks like we have a reasonably priced upgrade to the classic Sennheisers without any glaring weaknesses. It only took 14 years :D

A few years ago you did an AMA on Reddit where you said the point of diminishing returns was around $300.

Now that 'Mid Fi' has moved up to $500 to $1000 and TOTL cans are at $4000 how close does something like the Aeon Open get to the likes of the Utopia and LCD-4? My guess is that the Bass on the Aeon goes lower than the Utopia and the Aeon's treble is likely to be more even than the LCD4.

Considering these factors are these outrageously priced TOTLS $3200 better or $200 better at the most? :D

MattTCG's picture

I see my name referenced at the end of this well written and accurate review. I like this. Makes me feel fuzzy and warm:-) This is a great time to be in the hobby. I hope to see more manufacturers putting out sub $1k products that offer this level of performance and enjoyment with the build quality to back up the purchase.

veggieboy2001's picture

A great review as always Tyll, thank you!

was curious of your take on how easy these are to drive...Most planars seem to crave power, are these best with a beastly amp,or can you get away with less juice? I'm sure the scale well with the better you feed them.

Thanks again!

coastman25's picture

If the nearest rival to these phones in terms of sound quality are the HD600's which currently sell at $240.00 ie a third of the price of the Mr Speakers then a better case than this review needs to be made to justify buying them!
I still do not understand your obsession with reviewing either exotic or expensive headphones. I could never justify spending more than $300.00 myself on a pair of headphones, because to enjoy hifi quality listening you do not need to.
Others will have either a lower of higher bar but there are loads of good quality headphones within the more affordable range of $100 - $500, which you seem to ignore these days.

Vinhcomputer's picture

HD600 is $400 MSRP though the street price is much lower and this Aeon Flow is $800 MSRP with much better bass extension, look, material, case included, blah blah with some trade off. Let's wait and see what street price for these Aeon will be. Besides, HD600s are mass produced in a much bigger scale than these just released Aeons.
But right now, HD600 is a no-brainer choice in street price and Aeon Flow is mostly for enthusiasts.

seppukusword's picture

I have both headphones you mention along with the Monolith M1060 all running custom cables with XLR balanced connections to a Jotunheim and I find it intriguing how someone can compare the sound from two completely different approaches to the end result. The Aeon Open outperform the HD600 in every possible way, except for perhaps soundstage. The HD600, for example, have zero bass capability vs the AEon's. Do you have both as well? Interested in your thoughts.

What ae you powering your cans with to do the comparison?

Vinhcomputer's picture

(somehow my previous comment only show the subject after saving so here I'm posting it again).
The HD600 is $400 in MSRP though the street price is (much) lower than that, and the Aeon is $800 in MSRP with much better bass extension, better look, material, case included, etc. with some trade off. Let's wait and see what street price will the Aeon be.
Besides, HD600 is mass produced in much bigger scale than the just released Aeon Flow so if the Aeon is well received by customers then its cost will be lower.
However, right now, the HD600 is a no-brainer choice due to its street price/performance and the Aeon is only for enthusiasts with fat wallet.
What people hope to see soon is maybe a Massdropped Aeon :).

Core's picture

“I still do not understand your obsession with reviewing either exotic or expensive headphones.”

InnerFidelity is for audiophiles by audiophiles. There will be twenty-two open circumaural headphones on the wall of fame—including the retired ones—that InnerFidelity labels as $299 to $5 250. The number of open circumaural headphones less than $299? A big fat juicy zero. So your chances of convincing Tyll to review more headphones that cost $100 to $298 are about the same as my chances of convincing the Nobel Foundation to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Kim Jong-un.

coastman25's picture

I did not know being an audiophile had a price tag that is because it does not!
Even the great Tyll, Nobel Prize pending has often said that the audiophile headphone world for him starts around something like the HD 600 combined with a bottleneck amp total cost just over $500!!! Others may have either a lower or higher starting point. I am happy to agree with Tyll.
In regards to the “Wall of Fame issue” Tyll said this in his blog dated, Mar 30, 2016.
“My general principles so far is that for each category page I need one or two headphones in each price range that I feel are the best performers. Generally speaking, I see the price ranges as: Under $100; $100-$300; $300-$600; $600-$1000; and $1000+" and
“Another problem with this WoF page is that it's missing any headphone entry for headphones less than $299, and there are no headphones between the $399 HD 600 and $1499 Ether”
He then made a plea to readers for suggestions “what headphones do you think I should consider for these empty price ranges?".
I along with many others I responded. There are plenty of audiophile quality headphones available in these price bands I think you will find.

Core's picture

I agree that there are good open circumaural headphones that cost less than $300. But I still believe that Tyll is mostly interested in reviewing the ones that cost about $800 or more. But even if Tyll reviews a steady stream of headphones that cost $2000 or more, I shall not be upset. Because this site is for audiophiles.

You may not believe it, but being an audiophile does have a price tag. That tag might say $300 or $100 for you. But for many other audiophiles, that tag is more likely to say $2000 or $5000 or—O my sweet Jesus—$55 000. And I do not think Tyll has an obsession with reviewing expensive headphones. I think Tyll might be reviewing headphones that he believes many visitors to his website might be interested in buying.

coastman25's picture

The innerfidelity website is owned by TEN: The Enthusiast Network part of the Sports & Entertainment Home Tech Group. Tyll Hertsens is merely a contributor.
You can believe what you like, whilst the rest of us live in the real world.

SoapBox Sound's picture

Yes, I totally agree with you.

Similarly, I wish car magazines would STOP running articles and reviews of Corvettes, McLarens, M-Series BMWs, and the ilk.

After all, my 1981 Dodge Aries was Motor Trend's Car Of The Year; don't tell me that the Porsche 911 GT2 RS that just ran Nurburgring 6:47.3 is better than a K-Car.

coastman25's picture

Speed isn't everything when it comes to cars!
A Porsche 911 GT2 RS is just another car in a traffic jam only burning more fuel.

Core's picture

The Enthusiast Network also owns Stereophile. If you think the headphones reviewed by Tyll are expensive, what is your opinion of the prices of devices reviewed at Stereophile? Is it possible that both of these websites are targeting the same individuals? Is it possible that Tyll’s boss asked him to put a heavy emphasis on reviewing expensive, very expensive, and extremely expensive devices? Just like at Stereophile?

Once in a while, Tyll will review inexpensive or moderately priced headphones. But I think the vast majority of headphones reviewed by Tyll will continue to be expensive, very expensive, or extremely expensive. Real world? No. What the typical audiophile is going to buy? Yes.

Vinhcomputer's picture

@coastman25: Could you please list top 10 headphones/earphones about $300 or less (the street price of HD600/650) that haven't been measured by Tyll so people can vote and help him choose some pairs to measure or review? I'm also very interested in that. Let's set aside build quality for that price tag though.
I believe that true engineering gems can only be found in moderate to low price things since even novice can create somewhat better things in some aspects with exponential increase in price. Masters put full pride in their work so they don't do that kind of thing.

coastman25's picture

I think this is up to Tyll. If he wants he can ask his readers for suggestions. However someone like Tyll who attends many shows and is well versed in the headphone world will have no lack of possible contenders. Its his Blog so up to him and the owners of the site I guess.

seppukusword's picture

I agree 100%. If you want budget headphone ratings, there are plenty of sites for those. It's not worth the energy or time to do a full review and measurements on low quality closed cans we all know do what they do.

I have the Aeon Opens and find it amazing how people prejudice a headphone because of a price. If anyone things the Aeons are overpriced, listen to them on a Jotunheim with balanced XLR cables and you'll no ever say that again!

Martin.'s picture

I wonder how these do against the Elear? Seeing as his review for the Elears was full of praise, maybe they are worth the extra 200 bucks? Maybe the Aeon open are easier to drive?

dpippel's picture

Great review Tyll, and thanks as always for your opinion. Speaking of which, any idea when you'll be getting around to to doing a review of the Sennheiser HD 660S? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on how it compares to the AFO.

JMAX2016's picture

If Tyll says it’s the best sub $1k open headphone, that means it beats the Elear. Right? If so, I have to hear these. I live in PA, any idea where I could hear them? And any idea where I could buy at a discount from MSRP?

seppukusword's picture

there is somewhat of a thriving market in sales and trade of pre-owned Mr Speakers headphones. Just Google around and you're bound to find them for about $400-$500.

I'd never sell my Aeon flow's. They are just that damned good and I've compared them to many, many options.

gixxerwimp's picture

You say in the video (9:00) that you saw the FR curve and thought the bump would adversely affect the sound. But in your "How Tyll Reviews Headphones" video, I recall you saying that you always listen for impressions before you measure so that you aren't influenced by them. Wonder if you can clarify.

Harry Manback's picture

It's interesting to see ads on head-fi for Mr. Speakers headphones with a quote from Tyll and a "wall of fame" badge.

I think that objectivity in reviews are now fair game to question. It saddens me that there are fewer and fewer truly objective reviewers around anymore.

So long I may visit you on occasion, but not regularly any more.

AncientWisdom's picture

It's a chicken egg thing. You're insinuating the ad is the chicken. But I (and I think most visitors here) believe the review is the chicken. If the review is objective and truthfull, what's wrong with Mr. Speakers using that in their advertisement? It's a truly thing in their favor. Something brands always struggle in in marketing is how to convince people that it's not just them themselves that think a product is great, so it makes sense to me to use such an endorsement.

seppukusword's picture

I get a kick out of some comments here where people make definitive statements about the Aeon Flow's vls the HD660's or the M1060's without every owning or hearing any of them. How does one become an expert on something without ever touching the unit?

Being in the position of owning the Aeon Flow's, the M1060, BD 1990 and the HD660s I can definitively say the Aeon Flow and the HD660 are so divergent from one another that comparing them is like comparing a tricycle to a Mclaren.

Spike_Goldman's picture

Whatever you do don't plug these Aeon Open headphones into any decent headphone amp and try to work. Right now I am supposed to be working and Van Morrison's Healing Game has me totally engaged and distracted.

Most money I've ever spent on cans. Worth it.