I notice the Massdrop x MrSpeakers Ether CX headphones have just dropped again. Lots and lots of users requested these after the first drop ended. I said some nasty things about these cans on the discussion page, and I meant them at the time. Now that I've had more time to get to know these excellent phones, I hope my comments here will help others make an informed decision before shelling out a lot of cash on something they probably haven't listened to before. Ok, here goes.
Visual appeal, construction quality, and comfort. The carbon fiber cups are absolutely lovely. So good looking. The synthetic protein Napa leather earpads are sumptuous, just pure luxury. The cables: meh. I'm thinking Periapt or Ursine a little bit later down the road, something that flows and drapes more smoothly and not so crudely as the included DUM/DUMMER cable. (Someone please remind me which one comes with the CX.) These are some heavy cans, and they clamp a little much for my taste, although that force is probably necessary for a good closed back seal. These factors cause me some physical fatigue after a while, but please note that I have not experienced any listening fatigue. The one bad design decision was to leave the underside of the head strap unfinished. The rough leather pinches and musses my hair. I call it the MrSpeakers Noogie.
I agree with everyone else regarding the packaging. Very unimpressive. I'll leave it at that.
The Great Burn In Debate. After some coaching and encouragement from friendly Massdroppers, I went full steam ahead with burn in. I used two adapters (the included XLR-1/4" and a Sennheiser 1/4"-3.5 mm) to connect the Ethers to my FiiO X3 2nd gen, playing pink noise at first, then switching to a long playlist on repeat at low-to-moderate volume. I let them run around the clock for a few days. I wonder if burning them in under powered amplification would have sped things up, but I wasn't set up logistically for that procedure. Did burning them in improve the sound quality? I must grudgingly admit that yes, it did. Do they sound like $900? Hmm. Errr... Well... Does my hesitation speak volumes? More later about the very important question of these being worth the money.
What ticks me off is that MrSpeakers does not burn in the headphones before shipping them out. We waited a LONG time for these headphones to ship. Another week for the factory to burn them in would have made their arrival and first listening so much sweeter. This feels like a mind game: "We're going to send you an unfinished product. Please don't criticize it until your buyer's remorse wears off and you've gotten used to how unremarkable it sounds." The case could be made that it can be enlightening and exciting to listen to your headphones evolve, but to me, it's just tedious labor.
Sound quality. Ok. These are headphones for the connoisieur. The seasoned, sophisticated, savvy listener. They take some effort to reap their rewards. If you're like me and want totally ready to go, plug and play satisfaction, you won't find that here with the Ether CX. They are not an instant gratification machine.
The sound is thick, dark, and dense. Almost - but not quite - sluggish. Full. Rich. Strong. You get all the music, just not in stunning detail. To me, they are the audio equivalent of vaseline on the camera lens. Tastefully blurred. Softened. Reduced glare. We are spared potential ugliness that may exist in the music. This is why I haven't experimented very much with the included tuning kit. It seems like it would just be adding more vaseline to the lens.
I plugged my Ethers into my Massdrop x Cavalli Tube Hybrid amp and did extensive A/B listening with my Focal Elex, Beyerdynamic DT-880 Premium 32 ohms, and Audioquest Nighthawk Carbons. The breakthrough moment I had was with Avicii's "Levels." Even in mp3, this was an immersive, transcendent musical experience. It was like the Ether CX were made for this music. In contrast, Richard Strauss's Duett-Concertino was disappointing. My Elex gave this piece a lively, natural, engaging performance, with better bass and balanced cohesion of the different instrumental parts.
So yes, these headphones will probably work better with some genres than others. I suspect that they may demand more from other devices in the signal chain as well. Something Zeos Pantera has said more than once in his recent YouTube reviews is that he had heard and enjoyed certain favorite headphones, but never really heard them until he paired them with the right DAC/amp combo. I'm waiting for the THX AAA 789 to drop again. I have a feeling this amp might really take my MrSpeakers phones to the next level.
Conclusion. Are they worth $900? I can't tell you whether to bet it all or play it safe. I can only tell you my reaction. Like another Massdropper, I sold my Fostex TR-X00s and replaced them with the Ether CX. I never developed a connection with the Fostex, but I am coming to love the Ethers. They are growing on me, in spite of my bad attitude. I will not be selling these headphones anytime soon. I would happily pay $500 for a headphone of this quality. Which implies that I unhappily paid $900 for these ones. Live and learn. As much as I lusted after these and as thrilling as it was to be in on the first drop, it was a risk to buy something that no consumer had ever heard before. I hope to attend expos in the future, so I can actually experience stuff before making purchase decisions.
As I get to know my MrSpeakers, I am learning things about myself - how I listen and how I think about and enjoy music. I thought I knew these things pretty well before, but this experience has shown that the old cliche about how we never stop learning actually has a lot of truth in it. If you buy a pair, maybe you'll learn something about yourself, too.