Before we move on, an additional word about MrSpeakers’ patented V-Planar diaphragm technology is in order. The diaphragms used in most planar magnetic headphones are flat planar membranes, tensioned at the edges, covered with conductive traces, and positioned in close proximity to their companion magnet arrays. Musical signals passing through the traces interact with the surrounding magnetic field, causing the diaphragm to move back and forth, producing sound. One problem, however, is that the movements of traditional planar magnetic diaphragms are not uniform over their entire surface area. Instead, there is more driver excursion toward the centre of the diaphragm and less toward the edges, which is not ideal.
Seeking a solution, Dan Clark collaborated with designer Bruce Thigpen of Eminent-Technology fame to invent a patented, pleated (or ‘knurled’) diaphragm material said to address “nonlinear driver motion by more deeply creasing the diaphragm to increase compliance.” MrSpeakers says that V-Planar technology enables the diaphragm “to behave as a more idealised planar surface and also improves its acceleration,” adding that, “with more of the driver surface in linear motion, V-Planar can not only push more air at low frequencies, but with greater acceleration also delivers better dynamics, high-end frequency response, and measurably lower distortion.” We suspect V-Planar technology might well be the ‘special sauce’ responsible for giving MrSpeakers’ ETHER C headphones their remarkably quick, agile, and exceptionally detailed sound.
Another factor contributing to the ETHER C’s sound, however, is appropriate use of critical damping techniques. Perhaps because of his loudspeaker design heritage, Dan Clark thinks critical damping in headphones is of paramount importance and a factor he believes many otherwise good designs overlook. In baffles of the ETHER and ETHER C headphones there is, directly in front of the drive units, a small, recessed rectangular tray that is designed to hold rectangular foam sheets of damping material. In the original (v1.0) ETHER-series designs, these sheets were made of a white foam material.
Now, in the v1.1 ETHER models, the inner white foam sheets (the ones closest to the wearer’s ears) are replaced with sheets of a new grey foam material whose consistency, damping, and filtration characteristics are different to the original material. Clark says these foam dampeners act as acoustic multi-pole filters and that the effect of introducing the new material (in conjunction with the old) is to add a broader set of filter parameters, thus giving the ETHER C an even more open, balanced, and lucid midrange and upper midrange sound. Having performed the v1.0-to-v1.1 upgrade on our review set of ETHER C’s, I can confirm that the upgrade is effective and entirely beneficial, making an excellent headphone even better.
How does the ETHER C sound? Let me start by saying that it is strongly clarity and detail orientated and that it is the sort of headphone created by and for listeners who well and truly love sonic neutrality (honestly, if you like your headphones with a dollop or two of euphonic colourations, then the ETHER C is probably not for you). Neutrality seekers, though, will be drawn by the ETHER C’s ‘what-you-hear-is-what-the-record-has-to-offer’ honesty and sonic impartiality. One other key benefit to bear in mind is that, because the ETHER C is a closed-back design, it also offers an inherently lower noise-floor than open-back models do.
Through the ETHER C, great recordings sound great, good recordings sound good, and not-so-good recordings sound, well, a bit flawed. The only complaint I could see some listeners bringing forward, then, might be that the ETHER C has a very slightly less warm and also somewhat brighter-sounding demeanour than the open-back ETHER does, although in terms of bottom octave bass the ETHER C is the stronger performer of the two. Moreover, the ETHER C is exceptionally detailed and revealing and has an extraordinary ability to retrieve multiple layers of low-level sonic information—even when other larger-scale dynamic events may be unfolding.