....so here we go!
I'm going to try to stick to talking about JUST these headphones, as they are pretty much their own thing.
I will leave comparisons pretty much out of this as much as is possible,( except to provide a frame of reference),
I'm also reminding everybody that these impressions are just that, IMPRESSIONS, they are subjective, they are MY opinions. For math, go look at the graphs.
To begin.... out of the box, these are a very well built, fairly comfy set of headphones with a nice tactility and a rather "high-end" appearance having a nicely stitched headband and leatherette-over-foam cups. The dark matte colour scheme is elegant. The overall construction is sturdy without being tank-like. They aren't too heavy,(my LCDs can be), and, once the clamp effect loosens up, these will be one of the most comfortable headphones to wear for long listens. I love that they are open-backs...if they weren't I sense that these could be very dampy and dark and claustrophobic. (Yes. There are closed back magnaplanars, btw, I just don't like how they sound, in general.)
I think the cable might be about 6 inches shorter than I like, but certainly this isn't a deal breaker. One could always have another cable built for them.
Some folks might find them warm,(as in sweaty), as they are pretty cushiony and the pads are foam-stuffed leatherette.
The sound is LOVELY;
If you have read my reviews, you know that I am a big fan of neutral/flat sound sigs.
These are not that.
But they are very pleasantly not, a modest V sig that doesn't put the mids very far back at all.
There is an airy, almost sparkling character to them, it's a very non-fatiguing sound.
I have had NO issues of sibilance or stridence in the highs and mids, and the bass, while most definitely present, is NOT at all overwhelming or exceedingly forward. They are pretty transparent! And there was no detectable mudiness or loss of clarity, instead these are light, airy,(yes, again), articulate and warm, with just the right amount of punch.*
" Nimble" is a good descriptor for the bass presented by these.
The upper and mid ranges are very very nice. As a listener of a great deal of classical music, this is very important to me.
I would describe the sound here as lively and lucid. The very highest is not at all strident or harsh, I never found the need to turn down the volume, which is usually the sign for me that the highs are TOO. MUCH.
The balance is pretty exquisite.
There's a reason that the HiFiMan HE line gets very high marks, and I've heard headphones that cost way more that don't really do it better.
I listened to a LOT of the aforementioned Jonn Serrie "Thousand Star" album, over and over, just to see how agile these headphones really are at the high range.
They didn't lag even a little bit, and the repro of the 'crystal singing metal spirally whistling stuff' was as good as just about any I have heard. Again, absolutely CLEAR and CLEAN with EXCELLENT transparency is a good phrase to describe how these do. Bass was distortion free, even the very lowest rumbly bits.
Acoustic and vocal musics are presented cleanly as well and the organicity that MUST be present is very much there. Fast finger-style guitar, violins, percussion and keyboards are all happily managed...
STAGE is excellent. The head space provided by those nice wide open backs is very very good.I would say that there were several times in which I experienced that out-of-head sense of the music that one seeks from a set of very good headphones. I don't usually get that so early on in listening to new, fresh-from-the-box gear, it seems to take longer to get a new set of cans there. To be fair, many of my headphones, by virtue of being more clinical, are probably a tad less forgiving...
....not saying that these are FORGIVING, as in crap into them is transfigured into magical music miracles, or that I really ever run crap music into headphones.... it's just that they present music quite beautifully pretty much right away.
I really REALLY,(yes, again), like these when played on my Schiit Lyr, which is often described as a golden pairing with magnaplanars... I got it for the Audeeze LCD headphones line and it has been absolutely peachy with these HE4XXers.
BUT. These sound very nice from the JDS Labs, both The Element and the O2. They are also nice with the Woo, but the Woo might "over-sweeten" the sig just a tad. Not much, but these are NOT clinical cans and a really NOT clinical tube amp could be a little over much "sweet" on them. The ONE Woo that I think is SPECIAL with these would be the WA7 Fireflies. It's Just Right.
I guess I am saying that I don't think you will need to run out and buy a special amp for these, certainly not a very expensive one. The O2 price-point is right on reasonable and will do these well...until you decide to move up and out and have gear that supports these and other nice headphones too. I even have a little HiFiMan EF2A tubie headphone amp that runs these pretty sweetly... it's fun with them and heck, it's made by the same folks, so, why not?
These are a nicely priced,(especially here on MD!), set of magneplanar headphones with a beautiful, fairly transparent, and agile sound that comes in a pretty comfortable and very well-built package that will perform WELL pretty much any music that you might choose them for. They are low enough impedance to not require a towering powerhouse of an amp,(but will be the better for a GOOD one), and the listen is effortless.
You can spend a bunch more before you find a better sounding set of magnaplanars. I'd have paid more for these.
The few Cons;
The cable could be a bit longer. I found myself working a bit when reaching around the counter-top while listening and tying to get the cable to reach.
These clamp. As with other clampy cans, I have found that they loosen up over time. But right now, the clamp-effect shortens my listening time.
I think I would prefer a velour covering for the pads over the leatherette, as, I bet these do get sweaty during hot weather!
There isn't a case for them, not even a soft bag. NOT a deal breaker or even significant, I have PLENTY of them about. It just seems like it would have been keen for them to toss in a dust-cover bag or something to help prevent scuffing when I don't have them on my head.
Which won't be all that often.**
* I don't do anything remotely bass-head. So I might be missing something that fans of The Bass would find negative or detracting in these headphones.
** No. I am not tossing my beloved Beyerdynamics over for these, nor my Grados, nor my Senns, and not the LCDs either. Not even the Fostex. But I sure do like these for every day listening, especially when I want something non-fatiguing or that doesn't need full-on attention to enjoy what I'm listening to.***
*** Like when I'm typing headphone reviews.