Once upon a time in a land before globally life altering virus events, I vaguely remember my scant headphone listening time as merely a fun change of pace to my beloved loudspeaker set up. Interesting how a one-time dalliance is now a mental health necessity in my house which stuffed tight with a full time working wife, two elementary-aged daughters, and a fluffy pandemic puppy. I don’t think it is a quantum leap to see why I was champing at the bit when I got wind that the new closed back Æon 2 Noire headphones from Dan Clark Audio were heading my way. Having loved my experience when reviewing the former Mr. Speakers Æon in 2018, I was highly anticipating experiencing what Dan Clark could do with more budget, a folding and a closed back design to take me far, far, far... far away from the all too familiar domestic grind.
Famed designer Dan Clark needs little to no introduction to the headphone buying world evidenced by the first production run of the new Noire line sold out instantly when launched in Dec 2020. Maybe the initial welcome has to do in part with Noire now including the highly-requested all black metallic paint colour. I had plenty of time to ogle this beautiful new finish myself while I studiously waited out the full 75+ hours break in period and have to say they do present a quietly sophisticated look paired with the unique Æon ear cup shape that is by now a standard. In many ways comparing the new Noire against the existing Æon 2 you will find that the Noire is an updated improvement rather than a radical departure from the A2’s successful design. The Noire and the A2’s are both built with Dan Clark’s personal time tested second generation 62mm × 34mm single-ended planar magnetic driver, but note that the Noire drivers show an improvement in the driver matching at +/- 1.5dV between 30Hz and 5kHz (the A2 claimed an 2dB matching of drivers). The Noire’s driver like the A2 includes some Dan Clark Audio technology standards like the Trueflow system which improves the headphones ability to produce microdetail by allowing more airflow through the motor. Afficionados will also be familiar with the extremely effective patented V-Planar driver processing, which molds the textures on the driver surface for low-frequency optimization and diaphragm stability. To round our similarities with the original A2, Noire also shares the unique folding gimbal design for the Nitinol memory metal headband. This comfortable and extremely light headband and leather strap will fold into a conveniently included lightweight custom travel case. As the world sets its sights back on normal this year the folding gimbal is a benefit that should pay buyers dividends down when you launch into your 2021 revenge travel campaign. For me, the folding gimbal mechanism took a bit of practice to master with my clumsy meathooks but ultimately just looked more fragile than it actually was. These cans will be welcome in even the smallest of carry-ons and should hold up to the rigours of travel.
Similarities with the A2 abound, but before you make this mistake of thinking the Noire is merely a recycled Æon, let me now illustrate a notable improvement where the Noire has left the A2 behind. Perhaps the most exciting refinement found new in the Noire is in a change to the perforated ear pads construction. The original Æon earpads were comprised of a solid surface on the inner wall of the pad closest to the ear. The Noire uses a newly built inner wall where half of the wall is fenestrated (perforated) synthetic Japanese protein leather, and half the wall remains solid like the old A2 pad. “What kind of tech can possibly be in a leather pad?” I hear you saying. Well, actually this new construction of the inner pad wall is responsible for the Noire’s new turning to be almost exactly aligned with the Harman Curve. Briefly, the Harman Curve is a target frequency response for what an ideal pair of well engineered headphones should exhibit. The idea was introduced to the community in 2013 when headphone whiz Sean Olive (and the Harman team) published his findings. The curve is in some ways a nexus of characteristics appreciated by the collective headphone listening community as well as specific individual measurements and Dan Clark Audio is bought in to the concept. In conversation with Mr. Clark, he expounded upon the Noire’s crucial earpad development, “the perforations allow energy at specific frequencies to be absorbed by the foam in the ear pads, which allows us to reduce the output in the midrange giving us the characteristic response of the Harmon curve.” Mr. Clark heeds that any headphone’s voicing is not something to be over-looked and few competitors prioritize this technology to give the earpads their rightful due in the final sound output.