MrSpeakers Ether 2 advances the art of headphone design

Lightweight and high-end headphones don’t usually go together -- until now, with the MrSpeakers Ether 2.

The MrSpeakers Ether 2 headphones

I've lost count how many MrSpeakers headphones I've reviewed, but their Ether 2 is the headphone maker's biggest leap forward. First because it's the world's lightest planar magnetic, over-the-ear headphone, and the sound is deliciously clear, but not to the point it ruthlessly reveals recording flaws. As flagship high-end headphones go it's a midprice design, the Ether 2 runs $1,999 in the US, £1,900 in the UK, and AU$2,900 in Australia.

The Ether 2 differs from the original Ether and Ether Flow in that it now sports all-new drivers, and coming it at 10.2 ounces (290 grams) it's 3.75 ounces (90 grams) lighter. That's awfully light for a full-size, over-the-ear headphone, but the Ether 2 still feels plenty durable. The handsome design looks like it should wear well over time. The protein leather-covered ear pads are luxuriously finished, and you get a rugged carry case to store and protect the headphones.

The Ether 2's proprietary planar-magnetic driver measures 2.75 by 1.75 inches (71 by 45mm), and it's mounted to a carbon-fiber baffle. Impedance is rated at 16 ohms. The standard 6-foot-long (1.8-meter) cable is supremely flexible and comes terminated in your choice of a 2.5, 3.5, 4.4, 6.3mm or 4-pin XLR plug. Longer cables are available for an additional charge.

The Ether 2 is an open-back design, so it doesn't do a thing to hush external noise. The headphone is designed and made in San Diego, California.

While Ether 2 is lightweight I don't find it especially comfortable over long listening sessions because the ear pads' head-clamping pressure is a tad too high, even after adjusting the headband to minimize pad pressure. Comfort is average for high-end 'phones, but head sizes and shapes differ, so you may find the Ether 2 more comfortable than I do.

Listening to the 2

The Ether 2 sound is transparent but not ruthlessly so. This headphone won't bore holes into your eardrums when playing over-compressed or harsh sounding recordings, and it will still do full justice to audiophile recordings. Its keenly balanced sound makes it an easy headphone to live with. I'm using a Monoprice Liquid Platinum tube headphone amplifier for all of my listening tests. 

The Ether 2 melts away as it pulls you into the music. That's exactly what happens with jazz singer Betty Carter's extraordinary live The Music Never Stops album. The artistry of her subtle phrasing and dynamics are on full display, there's a direct connection to her music over the Ether 2. She's fronting a big band, but it's such an intimate sound.

Sticking with jazz I cue up saxophonist Lee Konitz' Strings For Holiday (Tribute to Billie Holiday) album, the sax and the string chamber group's sound is downright opulent, while their unexpected harmonic twists and turns keep me on the edge of my seat. Dousing the lights and savoring the mood of this brilliant album is a delight.  

The Ether 2 is especially well-suited to movies, as the sound is liberated from the ear cups, and dialogue is full bodied and natural. Mica Levi's menacing score for the sci-fi thriller Under The Skin churns and rumbles with ease, the Ether 2's control over the deepest bass passages is to die for.

Comparing the Ether 2 with the Hifiman HE1000v2 headphones both are superb, but the HE1000v2 produces a more spacious and three-dimensional soundstage. The Ether 2's tone is more fleshed out and solid, while the HE1000v2 reveals superior detail in the quieter parts of the music. I'm more aware of the acoustics of the room the musicians were playing in over the HE1000v2, and treble detail sparkles more. The Ether 2 brings the instruments in closer, so the sound is more intimate than what I'm getting from the HE1000v2. These two headphones present different sonic perspectives, the Ether 2 digs deeper, the music has more weight, and feels more fully developed; the HE1000v2 is more transparent and livelier.

The MrSpeakers Ether 2 is a refined design that will have strong appeal for headphone aficionados and newcomers alike.