Dan Clark Audio Stealth - Flagship Closed-Back Headphones

I’d honestly just rather it not say “STEALTH” on the headband altogether. The stitching doesn’t bug me at all - the overt branding on it does though. Having said that, I’m not even crazy about the leather indentation branding on ZMF leather headstraps so maybe I’m just hard to please/curmudgeony haha

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NASA’s “worm font” logo:

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Very excited to hear impressions on these. The innovations in these and the CRBN have piqued my interest for the first time in awhile. In the past I’ve always heard that DCAs tend to lack dynamics so I’m curious how these will fare on that front.

I’m also in the camp that isn’t really a fan of the aesthetic design but I’m happy to look past that if the sound is good.

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No, I think you’re right - I’d rather it not be present at all as well. The branding isn’t so “stealthy,” is it!?

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Im imagining a comical cartoon setup for most of the heists.

Like you dig a tunnel below his parcel drop off area, then a comically large saw up through the bottom of the box, and the postman drops the Stealth in, falls down into your wooden cart.

Then Taron gets a wind of this and grabs the next delivery in person and drops down a stick of TNT. You suffer minor sooting of the face and messed up hair. The kids laugh, unaware of what would actually happen standing that close to TNT.

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Just posting some measurements and initial impressions here of the DCA Stealth.

Here are the measurements done on the GRAS 43AG.

This has to be one of the best measuring headphones I’ve ever come across. Fantastic tuning. I think in certain positions it can be just a hair forward in the upper mids, but it’s all well balanced. For good recordings it’s got solid harmonic balance across the board.

Gear used during impressions:

  • DAC - SMSL SU-9
  • Amp - Vioelectric HPA V550

Very EARLY Subjective thoughts:

Detail - good but not like… Abyss or Susvara level. That said, exceptional structural definition for images and image separation (better than what I was expecting).
Microdynamics - no issues of bluntedness whatsoever. Excellent, ‘resolving’ trailing ends of tones, but once again not quite as clear as the other top tier flagships.
Soundstage - Medium sized, but very ‘open’ sounding for a closed-back. Not the widest but I was initially quite surprised by this quality.
Macrodynamics - Same as Noire and other DCAs typically.

Summary so far: This is basically a super A2C Noire. Or… kind of like a closed-back Arya (or HE1000) with a bass boost (or just EQ’d to be a bit warmer). Similar strengths and weaknesses.

*Edit - let me clarify, because some people seem to get the wrong idea here… I think these comparisons indicate a very good thing!

Other things to note:
Like the other DCA headphones I’ve tested so far, the Stealth has a particularly high driver resonance frequency, somewhere close to 300hz. This is often much lower on larger planar driver headphones (or higher mass diaphragms). Additionally, the driver resonance has an extremely low (wide) Q, which indicates significant driver damping in some fashion, meaning it’s more of a plateau than a boost when you break the seal. The driver damping seems to be one of the tradeoffs for planar closed-backs in general - although I’m curious how much of the tuning was down to the new front material.

In practical terms, this means this headphone’s bass response requires a seal. To be clear, I did not have any trouble achieving this, but it’s important to consider this if for some reason you don’t get the right fit - and this is true for most closed-back headphones in general. In more… theoretical and minimally tested terms, this damping and high resonance frequency may have some correlation to the lack of macro contrast on these headphones. At the moment there’s no conclusive evidence of that - merely examples. But hey, I know lots of people who don’t notice that stuff, and I kind of think it might be impossible to fully achieve in a closed-back planar anyway.

Adding additional measurements of seal effects for those interested:

On-head bass response (measured with in-ear mics)

Matches the on-rig results, meaning the fit is good and I didn’t have any issues with the seal.

…however, should you for some reason break the seal, here’s what’s likely to happen:

Green = small leak, Orange = large leak

So you can see the resonance frequency is around 300hz.

But as I said I didn’t have any issues with getting bass extension, just that if someone reports a lack of bass with these, it’s likely due to seal issues.

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Ahhh shucks.

I know some don’t have this as important, so this will probably impress.

I find I need it in abundance, so the Noire wasnt me jams.

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Thanks! What are your subjective thoughts comparing it to other TOTL closed-backs such as the Stellias and VCs?

Thanks for impressions. If it can’t compete on detail with the big boys, then I’m out.

That said, comparison with VC would be interesting.

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Yeah I don’t know what I was hoping for, but “super A2C Noire” wasn’t the description I was hoping for at $4k. Very curious to hear the comparison to the VC as well given I had one and loved it.

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How does it compare to, say, the Ether 2? I absolutely adore the Ether 2 with stock pads, particularly when paired with the Gilmore Lite MK2. Completely smooth and relaxing. That combo + Alice In Chains: MTV Unplugged takes me to my happy place.

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I actually think it kind of doesn’t have to. A closed-back planar that’s lightweight with this kind of tuning is kind of a crazy achievement on its own. And to have detail close to the big boys… yeah I have no complaints on those aspects. Now, I personally have a hard time with $4k headphones in general, and some of those other ones are even more expensive. But… to the Stealth’s credit, there kind of isn’t anything quite like it on the market.

I can only comment on the VO and Stellia, not the VC. But I think the Stealth is more detailed than both with better image separation qualities (planar advantage), also with a better tonal balance. At the same time, both of those have better macro contrast, so it depends on what you care about.

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I need to try the Ether 2 with different pads, because the one I tried way back was very dark sounding. I think maybe he’s updated the pads since then? But, I have one at the studio so I’ll check. But for its other aspects, if you like the Ether 2, you’ll most likely be into the Stealth.

On planar closed-backs with TOTL detail retrieval (I.e., able to compete with TOTL open backs), you’re aware of the Kennerton Rognir, right?

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Awww ): I was hoping this would be the one to change that.

Nonetheless, very impressive fr and some really cool tech to achieve that. Hopefully I’ll get to hear these at a show sometime, and maybe we’ll get to see more of AMTS down the road as it seems quite promising.

I know you had a lot of praise for the 2021 XC - how do you feel about these compared to those overall?

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All of the Kennerton planars I’ve heard so far have been a bit blunted for their microdynamics, and I wouldn’t put them on this level. But, I can’t say I’ve heard the Rognir, so I’ll reserve judgment.

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Actually that will be the most interesting comparison.

At the moment:

Detail: Stealth > XC (but not by a ton)
Tuning: Stealth > XC
Space and separation: Stealth > XC
Macrodynamics: XC > Stealth, although XC is only… okay there.

The other key thing is that the Stealth will simply sound better without EQ. With the XC, as much as it’s an improvement over the previous version, it’s also still just so much better with EQ.

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Yeah, the stock pads are dark-ish. The newer pads are the perforated and suede pads, but I’ve never tried them.

There were some very early serial numbers of the Ether 2 that had a flaw that made them even darker (I believe there info on it in the Ether 2 thread here), which is what some reviewers ended up getting to test originally.

The Aeon 2 closed feels very v shaped me, so I’m not as found of those as the AFC (with some eq to increase the bass). I actually find the highs on it harsher than the Stellia. My wife loves them though and she has claimed them for herself.

@Resolve thank you for the initial impressions. I am debating this headphone so it is helpful to read. I have one question if you don’t mind elaborating. What do you mean by macro dynamics or macro contrast? Can you give a practical example of this, maybe by referencing a specific passage in a certain track? I am not too savvy in audiophile jargon so I can’t seem to grasp the downside you’re referring to. Kind of like when people describe something as ‘musical’ - I have no idea what that means, if anything.

Yeah this is a quality that is maybe better expressed as the ‘liveliness’ of a headphone - or I think Tyll referred to it as ‘punchiness’. Importantly it also doesn’t seem to be correlated with anything measurable, so it’s not related to bass level as some people imagine. You can demonstrate this quite easily though by comparing something like an original HE-6, which has exceptional macro contrast, and one of these DCA’s, even though the DCA’s have a noticeably higher bass level.

Another great example of macro contrast is typically what you get from most Focal headphones.

Again, it’s not something I care that much about, because I’m more of a detailhead myself. But I know some people care about that quality more than detail. And I do agree that there’s a tendency for the absence of it to make things sound a bit compressed.

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