I was already considering buying the MrSpeakers Ether C Flow 1.1 new, so when Zeos reviewed the Ether CX and pronounced that it certainly was not just a cheaper, worse version of MrSpeakers' closed back flagship headphones I felt compelled to action. After all, these are still $900 USD headphones and they sound like a good competitor for your next musical headphones in the $800 to $1600 price range. If nothing else is read from this post, then I want you to know that these are worth the price in my opinion, and knowing what I know now I would certainly buy the Ether CX again even if they were priced higher as it has delivered to me the musical experience I wanted from closed back headphones.
I have a long winded series of posts that is almost too embarrassing to share over at HiFiGuides forum under the "Drop + MrSpeakers Ether CX" thread where I go over burn-in at 50 hour intervals and ear pad swaps. Oh, yes, um, I can report that I too have had the anecdotal experience of headphone burn-in and while I will remain skeptical of most major sound changes during burn-in, I will also assert that over 200 hours of pink noise and sine sweeps has absolutely transformed my Ether CX from "meh" to "I didn't know what I didn't hear before the Ether CX."
Hour 0: Excitement as I carefully un-boxed the Ether CX from the most unassuming of small cardboard boxes and first connected my new headphones to the waiting Periapt cable to the balanced XLR of my Monolith 788 Desktop DAC/Amp. I went to Tidal and pulled open a play list and listened hoping for the world. And I was disappointed by "meh" sound. The highs were too much, there was no real sound stage to speak of, the bass really non existent, and I was not having a good time even after I threw in the lighter foam and two-notch felt. To be clear the imaging was present but there was no separation or depth between sounds, and it felt like the sound was a small, thin band around and through the back of my head. But I was not disheartened as every forum and poster and even the instructions in the box told me that burn-in was required for the Ether CX. I immediately began the burn-in process.
Hour 50: The sound had notable changed for the better. For one, it was out of my skull and to the best of my conveyance appeared to be gaining depth and separation. The bass, probably more so from the tuning pads than burn-in, had appeared adding some warmth to the sound. Bass attack and decay was beginning to become better defined but wasn't what I had hoped it would be. The treble had softened but it was still dominant to the point that I had listening fatigue after about an hour. I did note that as the treble had calmed down between 0 and 50 hours in, that I felt I was able to retrieve more detail than previously. I think this has to do with the combination of added sound stage, separation, and treble development.
Hour 100: The bass has become properly punchy sounding with a clean, clear decay with a feeling of sub-bass rather than a sudden wall of air pressure hitting my ears. The warmth continues to be fairly full giving a pleasantly musical fun voicing. Highs are starting to calm down to a more balanced state and are no longer distracting. Interestingly, the sound stage has moved out to the front and expanded a bit more to the right and left. The expansion to the front has allowed the imaging and separation to get even better which allows for more detail retrieval. My one complaint is transfer of micro-phonics from the stock and Periapt cable, but I can live with it.
Hour 150: My mind was being blown up by the Ether CX. It was like hearing and experiencing music for the first time again when you realize that there is more to music than whatever basic speaker or headphone had presented before as you went up in quality. To be clear, I don't think this is unique to these headphones and I suspect that I would be wowed by different competitively priced and well performing headphones in a similar manner. But with the Ether CX, Dusty Springfield’s The Windmills Of Your Mind just presented details in the strings, flute, and brass with Dusty's voice that I just never found before.
Listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter performing Zigeunerweisen Op.20. The Wiener Philharmoniker was hands down fuller sounding on the Ether CX. I still think for critically listening I prefer my old headphones for focusing on just the violin soloist, but effortless detail presented in the musical sounds of the Ether CX was that next level of enjoyment that I wanted. As an example, my old headphones and the Ether CX do sound stage and imaging well enough to know the size of the stage and relative placement of the microphones, but the Ether CX has that additional detail of the subtle echos of the hall and better decay and this warm sound that makes me want to continue to enjoy my music.
Explosions In The Sky, Wilderness the Ether CX gave an absolute trouncing to my previous daily driver headphones. The beginning of the song with the juxtaposing staccato picking and legato sound was notable better. Abrupt picking sounded good alone with my old headphones, but the musical sound just became noise when the rolling synth sound comes in; however, the Ether CX presented everything as music throughout, together, alone, and with the sound stage and separation of both the picking and wandering synth was just leagues better.
All throughout the 150 hour mark session, I found myself just getting lost in the music and wanting to listen to more. It was very difficult to complete the HiFiGuides Forum post that I wanted to share. At this point, the Ether CX was totally worth it to me.
Hour 200: At this point, I think I can retrospectively say that now it was my head burning-in more than the headphones.
If there was a difference, it was slight. I was listening to the Pentatonix version of Perfect where Beyonce (the cello) was brought out and was used as the ultimate accompanist to the vocal track. As the song progresses, the dueling pushes the music to these emotional places that are just powerful and the background vocals and the a Capella sound effects are just so precise and punchy.
David Bowie’s Space Oddity is a song that I can enjoy when I am in the right mood, but now for a lack of a better descriptor going along with the ride somewhere far above the moon.
Amy Lee’s Speak To Me (From “Voice From The Stone”) usually pulls me in anyways, but at the halfway point into the song the complexity that has been building and this time I found myself surprised. It surprised me with the space and separation and tone, and then it is just a piano, Amy Lee, and wispy tones moving about at the end. And I’ve somehow not gotten to this place before where I was so transfixed that this song was over too soon.
My wife really likes Lady Gaga so of course I listen to her music, and the bright tones of a harmonica in Million Reasons near the middle of the track have bugged me before as almost coming out of the track on my old headphones. With the Ether CX I can appreciated it as a mixing detail nuance morsel to be consumed rather than an out-and-out flaw. It doesn't correct poorly produced and mastered music, but it is definitely more musical and fun voicing than my old headphones.
I’ve listened to Maria Callas on CD and streamed so many times and her voice and performances always stood well on their own, but with the Ether CX I heard Puccini’s aria Oh Mio Babbino Caro like it was somehow completely new to me.
To clarify, the Ether CX is not an aggressive sound, but it was able to put me into something like a flow state where the sounds and experience and feelings were happening so quickly and I was so caught up in just the listening to music that it was the only thing that existed for those moments. I know the novel and have read it many times, but it still took my breath away.
Hour 220+: With Dekoni Elite Fenestrated Sheepskin for Beyerdynamic headphones, because I wanted to go with flat pads like stock to preserve imaging as another HiFi Guides Forum member reported that angled pads may mess with imaging while giving more sound stage. The Dekoni Elite fenestrated sheepskin pads is a wider and more comfortable pad than the stock MrSpeakers just because I no longer have my ear touching anything. The square hole for the record didn’t both me unless I had to adjust the headphones and then I was keenly aware that my ear was just touching them for a moment until the sound shoved that thought out of my head. Also, Dekoni sheepskin products just have that premium feel that as it comes up to skin temperature just disappears.
What the round cavity with fenestrated surface did to the sound was smooth out the top end (8 kHz to 11 kHz notably) while still preserving more than enough detail. The bass feels a little more present with the additional space but never feels out of control or boomy. This is sort of what I expected, but the added bonus that I didn’t foresee is it helps out vocals just sit at the fine edge between neutral and warm which has given my Ether CX what I feel may be best musical voicing I could have hoped for.
Testing out Echoplex by Nine Inch Nails, the kick drum is stronger than ever as I think the planar drivers can finally interact with more air. It has that punchy, immediate, and full sound that doesn’t go overboard. Ailee’s performance of I Will Always Love You and with this combination of tuning, pad, and headphone the tone and vibrato in her voice is just enough to tell my ears that it isn’t neutral because it just has that hint of warmth which livens the listening and watching experience. It really makes me think the word ‘natural’. Maria Callas performing Carmen, Act 1 “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” on Tidal has me feeling La Davina absolutely owning that opera. Then take the wall of aggressive sound that is Fall Out Boy The Phoenix. Yes please, I will have more of that! Rush YYZ, I wanted to see if the bells at the beginning still image correctly and found myself floored by the entire epic performance because I couldn’t change songs. Black Label Society Trampled Down Below had the guitar riff at 3:33 just sounds so immaculately clean and executed.
The switch to the Dekoni pads has helped lessen the cable microphonic noise some, but I still want an IEM cable for these. I don't have the cable in yet but I have ordered on and it is on the way.
Hour 300-ish: I have swapped to the Dekoni Elite Hybrid pads for Beyerdynamics and I have found the combination that I want. The fenestrated pads made music sound more like an open back by letting more sound in-and-out. In this way, the sound does lose some energy which allowed for my to put more power into the headphones. But then in trying out the hybrid pads, I found the combination to make the Ether CX again sound like a proper close back. What do I mean with that. I mean it retains that energy that bass has and adds that rich warmth through the mids and gives the highs just the right amount of energy to sound detailed but shy of anything that can be called sharp on well mastered songs.
Hybrid pads have a cooler feel as the section touching your head is velour. The outer most edge that is sheepskin does touch your head as well to provide some sealing, but it comes up to temperature and the feeling disappears nicely. The larger pads moved the sound stage out a small amount as would be expected with larger pads and more volume of air around the ear. And again, being fenestrated and with thicker foam inside of the pads, these do dissipate sound energy before it hits your ear so it is possible to lose some level of detail if you aren’t using an adjusted volume or listening critically. Lastly imaging remains a strong point of the Ether with these pads. Yosi Horikawa Letter and other imaging songs still had defined placement that wasn’t notably skewed.
The Ether CX have become my daily driver headphone for music, gaming, VOIP, anime, movies, and pretty much anything I use my computer for that has to do with audio.
TL;DR: I didn't know what I didn't hear before the Ether CX... 5 out of 5, would buy again.