Most audiophiles first learned of ENIGMAcoustics through the firm’s Sopranino self-biased electrostatic supertweeter (reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 99), which was developed as an add-on enhancement for use with high-end loudspeakers. Later, applying Sopranino technology in a loudspeaker of its own, ENIGMAcoustics brought forth its versatile and accomplished Mythology M1 hybrid dynamic/electrostatic standmount monitor (reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 125). Now, the firm has applied the design concepts behind the Mythology M1 loudspeaker in a personal audio context and the result is the Dharma D1000 hybrid dynamic/electrostatic headphone that is the focal point of this review.
Before delving into the thick of the review, though, it occurs to me that some of you must surely be asking, “What exactly are self-biasing electrostatic supertweeters and why are they ostensibly things audiophiles might want?” Both are fair questions. Most electrostatic drivers use thin-film driver diaphragms to which very high bias voltages must be applied, with the bias voltage typically being supplied from an onboard power source (as is the case with virtually all electrostatic loudspeakers) or—in the case of most electrostatic headphones—from a purpose-built electrostatic amplifier that delivers the appropriate bias voltage to the headphone.
ENIGMAcoustics has taken an entirely different approach by creating a proprietary self-biasing system where the electrostatic driver in essence becomes its own bias voltage source. As you can imagine, this is a hugely significant advancement, in particular for headphones, since it means users can enjoy electrostatic headphones that emphatically do not require dedicated electrostatic amplifiers. You read that last line correctly; the Dharma D1000 can be driven by most any conventional headphone amplifier, or even by small portable amps, digital audio players, smartphones, or tablets.
But next, there is the second part of our hypothetical question. Why are electrostatic supertweeters desirable to use for music playback? In the Dharma D1000 owner’s manual ENIGMAcoustics offer the following succinct justification for its design choices.
“Music passages contain overtones and transient information beyond the range of human hearing. Why, then, try to retrieve it? The answer is simple. Those tones we do hear sound more natural when they are reproduced in the company of their harmonics. Listeners will in fact hear more midrange articulation—not just the air and sparkle associated with extended high frequency response.”