Dan Clark Audio Ether Flow 1.1
Written by Chrono
The Ether Flow 1.1 is an open-back headphone from Dan Clark Audio (Formerly MrSpeakers) retailing for $1,759.99, and it serves as the entry-level offering for the Ether line. The Ether Flow 1.1 features a single-sided, planar-magnetic transducer and is in essence an update version of the original 2017 Ether Flow; improving upon aspects like detail retrieval and dynamics by leveraging innovations and technologies that have been, according to Dan Clark Audio, “trickled down” from their experience designing their flagship headphone, the Ether 2.
Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests
The Amplifier/DACs used in this review were the SPL Phonitor XE (with built-in DAC), Grace Design SDAC + Topping A90, and the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Qobuz streaming service played via Roon (exclusive mode).
What’s in the Box?
The Ether Flow 1.1 comes packaged with a nice suite of accessories. For starters, a custom-molded, MrSpreakers-branded, travel case is included. Given the Ether Flow 1.1’s full-size design, it is not a case that I would describe as compact, but it is very easy to carry around and should easily fit in something like a backpack. Also included is Dan Clark Audio’s top-of-the-line, high-end “VIVO ‘’ dual-sided hirose-connector cable. The VIVO cable included with this Ether Flow 1.1 measures 3m in length and has a ¼” termination, but it can be ordered with varying lengths and terminations from Dan Clark Audio’s website. As expected from a Dan Clark Audio headphone, you also get three different sets of front-damping filters that slightly change the Ether Flow 1.1’s tuning. I will discuss the sonic changes that the different filters introduce when we get to the EQ section of this review. Lastly, Dan Clark Audio includes a certificate of authenticity with the Ether Flow 1.1’s serial number, as well as a microfiber cleaning cloth.
The Ether Flow 1.1 is rated at a really low impedance of 23 ohms and a sensitivity level of 90db/mw. After listening to them across a couple of different sources, I would not describe these as being particularly power-hungry headphones; I never found myself going past 12 o’clock on any of the headphone amps I tested these on. Still, I feel like a discrete headphone amplifier is required if you are looking to get the most out of them, as I did find that there were audible improvements when going from something like on-board motherboard audio to the JDS Labs Element II.
Build and Comfort
It was not too long that I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dan Clark Audio’s AEON 2 headphones, of which build really impressed me. With their lightweight, compact build, AEON 2 challenged my view of planar-magnetic headphone designs, which I traditionally associated with being bulky and heavy; thankfully, a similar design philosophy can be observed on the Ether Flow 1.1.
The Ether Flow 1.1 features a blend of materials resulting in a build that feels very sturdy, premium, and remarkably lightweight for a full-size planar-magnetic headphone. Aside from the yokes having just a little flex to them, I really struggle to flaw the build and design on the Ether Flow 1.1-- it really is phenomenal. Comfort, similarly, is a standout feature of this design, and I think it may just be the most comfortable headphone I have personally ever worn. The pads feature an unusual, rectangle design, but they are extremely spacious and never made my ears come in contact with the driver or inner sides of the pad itself. Additionally, the already-low weight is distributed very well by the headband’s suspension straps and ear cups, making these very easy to wear for day-long listening sessions. Altogether, I think it is safe to say that if comfort is your priority, then the Ether Flow 1.1 is a great option for you.
I will admit that, going in for that first listen on the Ether Flow 1.1, I did not have particularly high expectations, as my last experience with a Dan Clark Audio open-back headphone–the AEON 2 Open–was vastly underwhelming. However, after listening to the Ether Flow 1.1 for the better part of this past week, I can confidently say that it has blown away any feeling of weariness I had, and has proven itself to be a rather fine headphone. Like all other headphones, though, it is not perfect, and at its nearly $1,800 price tag, it is flanked by some fierce competitors; so in this review I want to share my experience with them, as well as how they stacked up to headphones like the Focal Clear, Sennheiser HD 800S, and HEDD Audio HEDDPhone.
The bass region on the Ether Flow 1.1 feels extremely well-defined and controlled; delivering lows that, to me, sound better-articulated than on the Focal Clear and easily feel tighter than those of the HD 800S. Also, this might be fairly unsurprising given that it is a planar-magnetic headphone, but the Ether Flow 1.1 also has fantastic bass extension that reaches all the way down to 20hz. Something I found interesting, though, is that in my experience the subbass region did not always feel particularly present, and it was likely a result of the bass tuning. To me, it sounded as though the frequencies below 100hz were slightly downshelved, whilst 100hz-200hz had an emphasis. Surprisingly, this midbass rise reminded a fair bit of the elevation that the HD 650 has in this region of the frequency response; adding some midbass punch and warmth while retaining a very clean midrange transition that does not overpower any other frequency range. Also noteworthy is that the Ether Flow 1.1 responds really well to EQ; and with it you can reduce that midbass emphasis and add some more subbass presence if, like me, you prefer a more Harman-style bass response.
The midrange on the Ether Flow 1.1 is excellent. In a few words, I would describe the mids here as being very smooth and even a little bit laid-back, but they retain a very good balance that, to me, sounds very natural. I find the lower mids to be very accurately portrayed on the Ether Flow 1.1; vocals and instruments of which fundamental tones are in this region of the frequency response sound like they are reproduced with utmost fidelity. The one area where I do think that the Ether Flow 1.1 deviates very slightly from target–and this is an unusual one for me–is that I feel like the upper midrange, particularly at around 3k, could actually use 1dB-2dB more energy in the presence region just to give the mids a bit more bite and keep instruments like eclectic guitars from feeling a little distant. Aside from that very minor deviation, I really do find the mids to be great on the Ether Flow 1.1–I sincerely think that they are very enjoyable and exceptionally natural in timbre.
For resolution, the Ether Flow 1.1 does deliver very resolving mids that I think compete quite nicely with those of the Focal Clear. Still, I do not think that the mids are quite as transparent as those of the HD 800S or HEDDphone; even if marginally so, those two headphones did seem to present a better overall sense of clarity in my experience listening to them.
Unlike on the AEON 2 Open, the Ether Flow 1.1 actually has a rather pleasant treble range that possesses an adequate amount of air. Now, whilst I would describe the highs as a whole as being a tiny bit warm on the Ether Flow 1.1, there is a very subtle accentuation at 6K and 8.5K that can, occasionally, make consonants sound the slightest bit sibilant in the low and mid treble. Still, the elevations at those frequency bands are very small in their rise, and did not strike me as fatiguing or piercing. For the most part, I would say that the highs are very even on the Ether Flow 1.1; with a good linearity that suitably textures overtones, percussion strikes, and cymbal splashes. In terms of treble detail retrieval, I think that the Ether Flow 1.1 is excellent. Its internal resolution seems to be on-par with that of the Focal Clear. However, I think that the Ether Flow 1.1’s treble actually comes through just a little cleaner because the Clear’s treble spikes add a mild grittiness up-top that the former does not possess.
Soundstage, Imaging and Layering
From my experience listening to them, I found the Ether Flow 1.1 to be very spacious; with a soundstage that is quite a bit wider than that of an HD 600-series headphone and about on-par with that of the LCD-2 or DT 1990 Pro. I also found imaging to be very well-distributed across the soundstage, as sounds had a good sense of position and directionality without any audible gaps. Similarly, instrument separation is outstanding on the Ether Flow 1.1. All elements in the mix have a distinct place of their own in the soundstage, with a depth that adequately reproduces the distance between different vocal and instrument lines. Admittedly, there are other headphones like the HD 800S or even HiFiMan Ananda that perform better in these “spatial” qualities, but I think that the Ether Flow 1.1 holds its own, and makes for an enjoyable, open-sounding experience.
Although it does have a nice snap in the top-end that adds tension to sounds like strings being plucked or piano keystrokes, dynamics is definitely an area in which the Ether Flow 1.1 falters. Compared to Clear, LCD-2, and HEDDPhone, the Ether Flow 1.1 does not deliver the satisfying, physical impact that can make instruments carry more weight and feel more engaging; which is presumably an inevitable sacrifice when utilizing such a lightweight, single-sided planar magnetic transducer.
EQ and Filters
As mentioned earlier, the Ether Flow 1.1 includes three sets of front-damping filters of varying density that allow for users to customize the sound a bit more to their preference. The included filters are, from least to most dense:
- Foam Filter
- One-notch Felt Filter
- Two-notch Felt Filter
All three of these filters seem to target that slight 6K accentuation the most, and the denser the filter, the more of a cut they added. Unfortunately, as a front-damping solution, the use of filters did negatively affect perceived resolution a bit, but their inclusion is still very neat as they allow for the treble to be cooled a bit if users find it problematic and would rather not mess with DSP EQ.
Now for DSP EQ, I really do not think that the Ether Flow 1.1 requires EQ, as it has a very good tonality out of the box and I can enjoy it just fine as it is. Nonetheless, I made an EQ profile for it as I always do, just to bring it a little closer to my personal target curve. I did tweak the treble very slightly, but for me the biggest change was the bass region, where I cut a fair bit of the warmth and shifted that presence more towards the subbass region. If you are interested in trying out my EQ for the Ether Flow 1.1, the settings I used were:
Low Shelf at 85hz, +3dB Q of 0.7
Peak at 150hz, -3dB Q of 0.7
Peak at 3500hz, +2dB Q of 2
Peak at 6000hz, -3dB Q of 4
Peak at 8500hz, -2dB Q of 3
The Ether Flow 1.1 is one of the most enjoyable headphones I have had the opportunity to listen to recently. There are many things that I really like about the Ether Flow 1.1 and it has only very minor drawbacks; it has a very enjoyable, agreeable tonality, it delivers good technical performance, and it features what I think is one of the best designs for build and comfort. For me, the one knock the Ether Flow 1.1 really has against it is price, as if it came down in price to $1,500 I think it would be significantly more competitive against headphones like the Arya, Clear, LCD-X and Auteur; but price aside I think that it is a fantastic all-rounder that I can strongly recommend.