On the inside, the ÆON features planar magnetic drivers that offer roughly two-thirds the working surface area of the larger ETHER drivers, but that otherwise use the two signature technologies that set all MrSpeakers planar magnet drive units apart. These technologies include proprietary V-Planar driver diaphragms and Trueflow magnet array waveguides. In a nutshell, V-Planar diaphragms feature lightly pleated or ‘knurled’ surfaces said to allow almost the entire driver surface to move in a linear fashion, rather than bowing inwards and outwards in the centre like the membrane of a drumhead. V-Planar technology is the brainchild of Dan Clark and Bruce Thigpen (of Eminent Technology fame). In turn, Trueflow technology is a clever system whereby the magnet array grid of the driver is fitted with miniature airflow-smoothing waveguides that help prevent distortion by reducing disruptions in airflow as the diaphragm moves back and forth. The key point is that the ÆON driver is, for all intents and purposes, a slightly scaled down ETHER Flow driver, which is a fine design pedigree to have.
Last but not least, the ÆON comes with a clamshell-type carry case moulded of black thermoplastic with a zipper closure and a soft, plush-feel liner. The ÆON case is essentially a second-generation version of the widely admired ETHER case, with improvements that include a thinner design overall, plus an internal pouch for carrying a digital audio player, plus a space for the ÆON’s signal cables.
If the foregoing description sounds promising (and it should), let me tell you in advance that it doesn’t begin to do justice to the real-world sophistication and nuance of the ÆON’s sound. Stated simply, the ÆON sounds far more accomplished than its relatively modest price might suggest, as we will discuss in a moment.
For my listening tests I used a Windows/jRiver Media Center-based music server loaded with standard and high-res PCM, DSD, and DXD audio files feeding a Questyle CMA600i DAC/amp, an RHA DACamp L1 portable DAC/amp, and the Moon Audio Dragon Inspire IHA-1 valve powered headphone amplifier. For comparison purposes I had on hand both the original MrSpeakers ETHER C headphones (with v1.1 driver upgrades) and newer generation ETHER Flow headphones, both of which have been favourably reviewed by Hi-Fi+ in issues 135 and 141 respectively.
Perhaps the first thing that captures the listeners’ ears about the ÆON is its articulate, transparent, and emotionally communicative midrange and upper midrange response. In those regions, the ÆON frankly does not sound like any sub-£800 headphone I have yet heard; instead, it sounds as if it really should be carrying a four-figure price tag. While some might rightly argue that the ETHER models do offer a smidgeon more refinement and resolution than the ÆON, I think most listeners would agree that the ÆON comes surprisingly close, which is greatly to its credit. The midrange is, realistically speaking, where most music lives and it is in this area that the ÆON’s greatest sonic strengths are revealed.
For an example, consider the track ‘I Could Eat Your Words’ from Patricia Barber’s Verse [Premonition, 16/44.1]. The track opens with an extended passage that highlights all of the deep and breathy delicacy, textural intricacy, and all-around nuance of which Barber’s voice is capable, and the ÆON does a fine job with the voice, making it a fascinating and captivating treat for the listener. There is a finesse about the ÆON’s sound, coupled with a self-assured quality that leaves the impression that one’s ears are ‘in good hands.’
But as the track unfolds, the rest of Barber’s ensemble—consisting of Michael Arnopol on bass, Neal Alger on guitar, Dave Douglas on trumpet, and Joey Baron on drums—joins in at about 1:40 into the song, adding terrific musical richness and depth. Two initial stand-out elements are Arnopol’s confident-sounding and deep-plunging acoustic bass lines, and the beautiful contrasts provided by Baron’s deft brushwork on his snare drum and cymbals. The ÆON gave a taut and beautifully controlled rendition of Arnopol’s bass, while showing admirable definition and detail on Baron’s percussion work—especially on the cymbals. But perhaps the real pièce de résistance in the track arrived in the form of Douglas’ brilliantly sultry and evocative trumpet solo—a solo that, as reproduced through the ÆON, sounded so vibrant, so rich in emotion, and so immediate that it took on a deeply moving quality of ‘reach-out-and-touch-it’ realism.