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Take it to the limit: MrSpeakers Ether C headphones

The Audiophiliac gets down to business, listening to the MrSpeakers closed-back, noise-isolating Ether C headphones.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read

I reviewed the open-back MrSpeakers Ether headphone last June, and since then my admiration for its sound has only deepened. The Ether is clear as a bell, easy on the ears, beautifully made, and supremely comfortable. The new model, the Ether C, shares much of the original's tech, but it's a closed-back, noise-isolating headphone. Those real carbon fiber ear cups lend a distinctive look and quality feel to the Ether C.


MrSpeakers Ether C headphones


The headphone was designed and made in the company's factory in San Diego, California, the Ether C's planar-magnetic driver measures 2.75 by 1.75 inches (69 by 44mm), and it's mounted in a precision-machined aluminum baffle. Impedance is rated at 23 ohms, and the ear pads are covered in real lambskin leather. The Ether's Nitinol "memory metal" and real Italian leather headband ensure an unusually comfortable fit. The Ether C over-the-ear headphone weighs 13.7 ounces (390 grams).

The included storage case is compact and rugged, so you can take the Cs with you and no matter what the headphones will stay safe.

Comparing the open-back Ether with the closed-back Ether C the first thing I noted was there's no claustrophobic, stuck-inside-the-head soundstage, the Ether C sounds like an open-back headphone. The two Ethers differ in two ways, first the Ether C is a little less sensitive, so you have to run the volume control a little higher on the Ether C than the Ether to hear the same volume. Next, the Ether C's low bass oomph, power and depth are superior to the Ether's, but the open-back Ether sounds clearer and more dynamically alive than the closed-back Ether C. Of course, if you listen in noisy environments like a train, plane, bus, car or outside, the Ether C provides much better isolation from noise than the open-back Ether.

To check out its noise-hushing abilities I took the Ether C, with my Astell & Kern Jr music player for a ride on the NYC subway. The Ether C did a decent job keeping the roar of subway trains at bay, but the Ether C is nowhere as effective as true noise-canceling headphones. Fair enough, but the C's sound quality is light years ahead of any noise-canceling headphone on the planet. The Jr player and Ether C combination was superb, the sheer transparency and purity of the sound makes you feel closer to the music. It feels live, like it's happening right now!


MrSpeakers Ether (left) and Ether C (right) headphones

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

When comparing the new Sennheiser HD 800 S open-back headphones, the Ether C was more vibrant and exciting; the HD 800 S was softer, sweeter, and the stereo imaging was bigger and broader than the Ether C's. I also felt it was more transparent than the HD 800 S; the C's bass was clearer and deeper than the 800 S's. I ran those comparisons with my Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL headphone amplifier.

It was immediately obvious the Audeze LCD XC closed-back headphones trumped the Ether C's bass. The LCD XC's low-end was weightier, deeper and more powerful, and dynamic impact was more visceral, but the Ether C bested the LCD XC's overall clarity. I liked both headphones, for different reasons.

As the hours rolled by the Ether C kept surprising me, from one recording to the next they all sounded nice; the music always drew me in.

In the US, MrSpeakers sells the Ether or the Ether C direct for $1,499.99, in the UK they're £1,250, in Australia AU$2,399. A variety of user-replaceable headphone cable types are available, including cables with quarter-inch (6.3mm), eighth-inch (3.5mm), and four-pin XLR plugs. Ether C is sold with a 15-day return policy worldwide, but there's a 10 percent restocking fee for returned headphones.

MrSpeakers' Dan Clark is already finishing his next headphone, his first electrostatic design. Can't wait to hear that one!