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I got an invite/reminder from Massdrop today to write a review of my new Ether CX. Well, I need to evaluate these for a much longer period of time. I am reserving judgment and a formal rating and review for later. If pressed to do it now, I would rate them three stars for price to performance ratio.
I am still struggling mightily with the idea of burn in. I am highly skeptical that any audio hardware changes enough over time that we can perceive it differently. My Focal Elex phones sounded stunning out of the box and remain my favorite cans to this day. I think they sound even better several months later than they did when I first put them on. Did the headphones change? No way. My perception changed. My AQ Nighthawk Carbons sounded good brand new, and sound GREAT now. Same deal: I changed; the headphones did not. BTW, I'm thrilled to have gotten the Nighthawks after the drastic price decrease ($700 down to $300) - my condolences to those who paid the higher price.
Regardless of my attitude toward the myth of burn in, I am willing to give these Ethers the benefit of the doubt. I will give them (or me) more time. While Focal sounded fabulous right away, I am very regretful to say that these high-dollar MrSpeakers headphones have not wowed me yet. They sound good, just not great. Almost boring. Dull. Disappointing. I want LIFE in my music. The sound coming from these Ethers is leaning towards the murky side. Orchestral instruments sound very authentic on my other cans (e.g. the 1991 Addams Family soundtrack on CD through Elex and 58X Jubilee). This same album was disturbing on the Ethers - distorted and fake sounding. Ouch.
Strong words, I know. Maybe these are an acquired taste? I've never listened to planar magnetic phones before. Maybe it's simply that they're closed back? Maybe I haven't found the right signal chain combo yet. They seem to play very slightly better with my Schiit Magni 3 than they do through the Cavalli tube hybrid amp, but if anyone has any DAC / amp suggestions to make these things really sit up and talk, I would love to hear them. Could it be that they're genre specific and I just haven't tried the right stuff yet? Damn, I hope not. I love my Elex as all-rounders. I know, I know. If I love Focal so much why don't I marry them.
Well, it's early in the game still. Given time, other reviewers will step in and offer their insights. By then, I hope to bring you all a more favorable report.
Planar drivers, regardless of if they are in speakers or headphones, need break in time. I have gone through the break in process with three sets of planar speakers and four sets of planar headphones... Pretty much all of them sounded pretty flat, cold, and lifeless out of the box. With time they "came alive" - soundstage opened up, imaging got more precise, overall dynamics improved, bass developed, etc. Magnepan even says it's not just a matter of break in hours, but also a matter of time for the diaphragm material to "relax" after being assembled.
My break in process usually consists of letting the headphones (or speakers) play all day/night long and then spending a short time listening every night. That way my brain doesn't "break in" with the equipment. Some people like to break in just by using them, but I am more interested in the final sound signature rather than waiting for them to develop over weeks/months of listening.
For what it's worth, I feel that dynamic drivers also benefit from break in time - but it is definitely a requirement for planars based on my experience. Magnepan told me 200 hours for my speakers, so the 100-200 hours Massdrop recommends for the Ether CX seems reasonable. I have probably about 170 hours on mine at this point and really enjoy the sound.
Thank you for the good advice. I am looking forward to getting to know these headphones better.
Seconded on break in. I was able to compare the Fostex t-50rp with 0 minutes and another pair with roughly 150 hours and there is a very big difference. Everything is stuck in the middle or
Yours should have a decent amount of break in time on them by now... any updated thoughts?
They are better - I do like them more now. I'm still carefully listening, testing, and comparing. More details in another week or two.
How does your CX compare to Elex now? Any better than 2 weeks ago?
I own and love my Elex but am considering getting a pair of CX to listen in office.
Any comment is greatly appreciated!!!
Although addressed to @AllegroMaestoso , I will chime in. The Elex are all around brighter, detailed, more dynamic, and have a larger sound stage. CX feel a bit softer, more restrained. Still enjoyable, to be sure, but if I wasn’t constrained to using a closed back, I would always first reach for the Elex. However, the Elex does DEMAND your attention and becomes fatiguing after a while. The CX can be comfortably listened to for far longer.
Thanks for chipping in. I pulled the trigger earlier today. Can't wait!!
Hope you love them!
No matter how you feel about the whole burnin topic, really, really burn these in for at least 100 hours. Don’t listen to them during that time, otherwise your brain will be adjusting. I am most definitely NOT a believer in burnin, however in this case I make an exception!
Other than the question of fatigue, @jsmiller58 totally nailed the differences between the two headphones. Maybe I have a higher tolerance for what the Elex demands from the listener, or maybe I just haven't had a long enough session yet to fatigue me. My final review is now posted - many more details there on how I feel about the Ether CX. I'm glad you joined the drop. Let us know what you think when you get them and burn them in.