MrSpeakers Ether C Flow Sealed Planar Magnetic Headphone Page 2


Sound Quality
To my ears, the Ether C Flow is neutral to slightly "U" shape sounding. Measured frequency response shows a headphone that is quite close to the Harman target response. Bass is boosted about 5dB above flat below 150Hz; the boost does not intrude into the mids but is slightly excessive in the mid-bass. Though following the target response quite closely, by ear it sounds somewhat too emphatic in the mid-treble area.

Dynamics are quite good, but not great; imaging is fairly good, a little shallow, but not great; resolving power is fairly good, but not great. Overall, other than the one flaw of a slight peak at 6-7kHz the Ether C Flow is rather like a KLR motorcycle: it's capable of doing just about anything you could ask a motorcycle to do, but it doesn't do anything really well.

For me this headphone is a bit of a revelation. With measured response so close to the Harman target it allowed me to spend quite a bit of time getting a feel for a headphone with that response...and figuring out whether I liked it or not.

I think this is a worthy exercise for serious headphone enthusiasts. I think many of us have grown used to responses that are roughly flat to 1kHz, and I think it's well worth the time to use a good EQ to boost the bass 5dB from 150Hz down, and induce a gentle rise from 600Hz to about 1500Hz before the quicker rise to 3.5kHz in the raw response. At this point the added bass and presence does seem more correct to me. The problem now is fine tuning that response to discover exactly where neutral is.


Comparison of the Harman Target Response(red), measured head response with left and right speaker (blue) and left and right ears summed with left speaker only (green), and Ether C Flow raw response (purple) .

What I'm hearing with the Ether C Flow is what I would broadly consider as a neutral response, but I also hear some slightly distracting brightness. Measurements do show a small peak at 6-7kHz, which is not a good place for emphasis as it can be quite disturbing—the HD 800 has a larger peak here that is quite annoying. When I tune it out with EQ the headphone becomes more enjoyable for me. Here's my EQ settings for the Ether C Flow.


The interesting thing is that even when the spike is tuned out, I still find the Ether C Flow lacks smoothness and the integrated and coherent sound I hear, for example, on the Focal Utopia. The C Flow lacks the refinement of killer open cans, even though it may be more tonally neutral than many. This may be evidenced by the somewhat rough looking response—lots of wiggling about there.

When I compared them to the previous Ether C, I found them again to be more tonally neutral, but not necessarily more enjoyable as the Ether C has a more integrated sound to my ears, and lacked the slight emphasis at 6-7kHz. I prefer the older Ether C to the new C Flow if allowed to use EQ. When I compared it un-EQed to a raft of other sealed headphones (ATH-M50x, ATH-MSR7, SRH1540, NAD VISO HP50, Focal Spirit Pro, E-Mu Teak, and Oppo PM3) it was pretty clearly a more neutral sound, but it was also sometimes the case that I would have preferred listening to the other cans, though less neutral, for their somewhat smoother and gentler on the ears character (ATH-M50x, NAD VISO HP50, and Oppo PM3).

The lesson here might be that neutral and really good sounding sealed headphones will be very hard to create. It seems likely to me that the best performance will eventually come from headphones that are designed to give very well behaved, smooth responses, which are then EQed with DSP to deliver a neutral response. Forcing a headphone to have the Harman Target Response acoustically may introduce unevenness and distortion.

On the other hand, the Ether C Flow is extraordinarily neutral right out of the box, and I think would serve audio pros needing a sealed headphone very well. Other than a very slight propensity for a bit of excess brightness at 6-7kHz, this is a tonally honest sealed headphone—something very hard to come by in a closed can. It's probably a better choice than the Ether C with it's more neutral sound, and a much better sealed alternative for pros than the LCD-XC, or EL-8 Closed, or many others. But I also have to say that for many pros the Audio Technica ATH-M50x at less than 1/10th the price may work just as well. Basically, sealed headphone performance is extremely variable. Buyer beware.

For headphone audiophiles my conclusion may be somewhat more depressing. MrSpeakers in an excellent maker; the Ether C Flow is, by comparison with other sealed headphones, an excellent performer. The problem is that it just may not be as satisfying as we would like. We've known for a long, long time that sealed headphones just aren't as good as open cans for refined listening. The Ether C Flow just reaffirms that for me. The take away point may be that you're just not going to find world class listening with a sealed headphone...and maybe you should even try. My recommendation may be to simply get one of the less expensive headphones mentioned above when you need isolation, and spend the big bucks on and Ether Flow open headphone to use at home...which is a truly excellent headphone.

Flow Upgrades
After hearing all four headphones, I would say that upgrading an Ether to Ether Flow is a good value. Going from the Ether C to Ether C Flow will get you more bass and a bit more presence, but you get a little less refinement and a small peak at 6-7kHz. That's a tougher call, it's more of a side grade.

The MrSpeakers Ether C Flow is a superbly styled and built headphone that is very comfortable to wear. Included cables and case are likewise excellent.

Sound quality is superbly neutral for a sealed headphone, but a small peak at 6-7kHz and a generally unrefined sound prevent it from achieving audiophile quality sound commensurate with its high price. For that I'd suggest the Ether C and a bit of bass boost. Audio pros, however, may find its honest presentation makes it an excellent tool when speakers are not an option. This is a trustworthy, though expensive, headphone.

I like this headphone very much, and will give it an InnerFidelity "Wall of Fame" recommendation largely on its excellence as a monitoring headphone for audio pros. For audiophiles it's a tougher call. It's not that I think the Ether C Flow is a poor performer—it's not, it's a very good sealed headphone—it's just that I think audiophile sensibilities are not well served by sealed headphones at this time, and you'd be better served by a much lower cost sealed headphone when you need the isolation, and save the big money for open headphones when you can listen in quiet spaces. If you are intent on an expensive sealed headphone that performs well, I love the Ether C with a bit of bass boost.

Editor's Note: This headphone was initially given a "Stuff We Like" award. Subsequent to this review, Tyll decided it warranted a "Wall of Fame" slot based on its excellent tonal balance and application in the pro audio world, and the sense that it was a reference level headphone even if his personal tastes had him preferring the previous Ether C. Click here for the full explanation.

Click here to view on YouTube

MrSpeakers home page and Ether C Flow product page.
SBAF threads here and here.
Head-Fi reviews and thread.

MrSpeakers Headphone Products
3366 Kurtz Street
San Diego, CA 92110

Dreyka's picture

You mentioned with the Ether Flow that you had trouble getting it to seal which was the reason for the poor THD+N performance. Why is this the case with these headphones.

I don't even think the Ether Flow should be considered an open headphone considering the noise attenuation is like that of semi-open designs.

Apothecary2's picture

There always seems to be people who freak out whenever the M50x is compared positively to more expensive headphones.

von Schatu's picture

Very nice and honest review. I was kind of expecting your mixed feelings when I have first seen the rugged frequency response of the headphone.

Your opinion of the 6k peak of the Ether C Flow reaffirmed my thoughts, that the Harman curve in the 3-10k region is incomplete. I have several good quality sealed headphone at home (M50x, M70x, MSR7, PM-3), and almost every one of them has a smaller or bigger dip in that region. At least the ones that sound good. If you check you see that the Ether C has one as well. The only headphone that I have that tries to follow the Harman curve - albeit with a 10k peak - in this area is the M70x, and it is pretty abrasive to the ears. But when you remove the 10k peak and lower the whole region by 3-4 dB, the sound improves immensely! Therefore I think it would be an area worth researching.

By the way it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the M70x. They are not the most musical headphones for sure, but for the price they follow the Harman curve like no other, and their sound signature is very close to mastering loudspeakers.

ADU's picture

The Harman curve really only applies to: 1) measurements made with the same head and torso simulator as theirs (Tyll & IF use a different HATS system), and 2) those who prefer Harman's "preferred in-room listening" curve. That was my takeaway anyway from the articles and measurements made in the Harman Reference room.

Harman's calibrated/preferred in-room response (which is also the basis of their target headphone response curve) was the result of subjective tests with both trained and untrained listeners. And it is not necessarily an accurate representation of the steady-state (aka "in-room") response of an anechoically flat speaker.

ADU's picture

"Preferred in-room listening" should've been "preferred in-room _loudspeaker_".

luvmusik's picture

Wish someone might let Tyll borrow a bass heavy version of the vintage Sony MDR-R10 in mint audio shape for him to review. Forgoing their expense, it would really be an interesting review, perspective and historic mark. Iconic closed back biocellulose woody tested in modern times, and probably much fun in the listening process.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

1) Thanks Tyll! always love new cans reviews!

2) The harman curve finding..and that matching closely to the curve isnt necessarily a guarantee of a perfect sounding very interesting. I suppose it helps validate that while there's alot of great data which can be gathered and analyzed for headphones, we arent yet at a place where that data can completely tell us what we want to know.

3) I very much appreciate the comparison to other closed headphones..especially ones in different price brackets. The closed can quest is a challenging one..fraught with the limitation of closed backs....but its good to see what cans sound well in this realm.

Peace .n. Living in Stereo


NickS's picture

Thank you for this review. I had intended to update my Ether C to the Ether Flow C, but will now make sure to give the new model a listen before ordering the upgrade.

Based on the lack of mention in the video and elsewhere, I think you like the Oppo PM-3 considerably less than Bob Katz. It would be interesting for the two of you to explore this more as it might help readers get a handle on your personal listening tastes/biases. (The PM-3 is my second favorite closed headphone, after the the Ether C.)

hanshopf's picture

Bob Katz also raved about LCD-X, which Tyll did not really get warm with. I bought PM-3 as well as LCD-X after reading Bob's insightful articles, but must say that I am disappointed by both of them (to a lesser degree with the Oppo because it's very good for a closed can) and disagree, that either of them is neutral. I am experienced enough to know how an orchestra sounds in the hall and afterwards in the studio, but do not find, that any headphones I met delivers this same degree of naturalness in timbre that I hear in the studio. Bob's writing made me hope that the Oppo and to a lesser degree the LCD-X deliver in that sense. But for me they don't. I tend to believe this has less to do with different views on what neutral is meant to be, but more with different listening experiences due to different HRTF's. Probably the only way to be sure that everybody hears the same with headphones is personal HRTF. I therefore doubt that a discussion between Bob and Tyll about why they experience the PM-3 differently would bring fruitful results.

NickS's picture

That could certainly be one of the topics. I'm not sure why you would not want to put what you "tend to believe" to the test and have them compare with and without a HRTF.

hanshopf's picture

Yeah, right, but I think both of them stated their opinions extensively. I believe there are more fruitful topics to discuss, for example the detailed evaluation of what the measurements tell us, which Tyll made this summer at Harman's studio.

zobel's picture

But not as good as the Sennheiser HD 380Pro. Almost everyone likes the Sennheisers better, especially if you have comfort in mind, and larger ears. They are $150 also, bur definitely better than the ATH M50X. They are audiophile quality with better low bass and better balance across the entire frequency range than the HD600, for example.

mav52's picture

I really enjoy your reviews, but in your listening sessions , why not mention what headphone amp your using.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I always use my reference headphone amp, the Simaudio Moon Neo HA430.
satir's picture

Every iteration of Ether now has Inner Fidelity puffy award. All bruised egos soothed now?

Corsair's picture

A bit negative, but on the money

Andrew452's picture

good Artisto is the fantastic masterpiece art photo and also as well as Chief Executive Officer Alexey Moiseenkova just recently nice.

Rolin's picture

Since getting my LCD-4's in Dec last year, my SRH1540's office headphone, and my SE846 on-the-go IEM's have stopped being enjoyable.

Are the MrSpeakers Ether C Flow headphones the best bet for my new office headphone? Or should I look at the Audeze LCD-XC?
Leakage factor is super important to me, as well as sound quality and engagement.

Sources that would be used is the GOv2 at the office and / or my Onkyo Granbeat DAPhone.

maxmanraju's picture
maxmanraju1's picture