Mr. Speaker’s ÆON is decently efficient, with 95dB/mW at 13 Ohm impedance. I’ve heard it said, in spite of this, they really need a powerful amp to bring them to life. Maybe I have a different interpretation of “powerful”, but I find ÆON to sound just as dynamic out of my Opus#2 as it does from my desktop DAC/Amp, the Audio-GD NFB-28.
I do, however, suggest a good long session of burn-in. Upon first listen, ÆON sounded rather dull to my ears. Clear and detailed, yes, but seriously lacking in dynamics. Rather boring. So I put them aside for a couple hundred hours running pink noise. I can’t give you an exact time for when they started to open up, as I wasn’t monitoring them that closely. But when I gave them another listen, I really loved what I heard.
One more note before I talk about sound: I’m not using the included filter you can put between your ears and the drivers. I thought I would, as I love a good warm sound, but it lost too much clarity and transparency, and didn’t add anything I especially liked. So Pinky is running ÆON naked.
ÆON is a rather flat headphone, with natural, warm timbre. There’s a good amount of air and light on the stage, but ÆON is aiming more for realism and easy listening than bright, hyper analytical tuning. Smooth liquidity is balanced beautifully with clarity and detail, making this a stellar all-arounder. It just sounds right.
Treble is bubbly and marvelously clean. It possesses that bite which can only be achieved with proper extension, though ÆON is not in its own right harsh or aggressive. A good amount of sparkle gives life to these highs, without overdoing it. The treble, while having a touch of warmth, brings light and great detail to the proceedings… not to mention resolution. The bowstrings of violins are sharply defined, every symbol crash precise. ÆON’s upper registers are some of the very best I’ve heard, and oh so satisfying.
Vocals, whether male or female, have excellent body. There’s a mild richness, and superb depth. They’re of moderate size, and sat utterly neutral on the stage. Once again, you hear ÆON’s masterful balance of musicality and detail retrieval. All the texture and nuance of the artist’s voice is revealed, swathed in seductive warmth. For me, it’s the mids, particularly vocals, where I can tell how transparent the sound is. ÆON attains high levels of transparency. What warmth there is does not intrude much on the cleanliness of the presentation. A measure of air fills the gaps between elements, giving you a strong sense of how they layer each other.
It wasn’t until I sat down right now and asked myself, “How is ÆON’s bass?” that I realized there isn’t much. You see, ÆON tricked me! There’s such warmth and richness I took it for granted ÆON must house a full low-end. But it doesn’t. When you play a song you know has dominant bass, ÆON’s poverty shows itself. There is no visceral punch, and only the hints of sub rumble. Black Sabbath’s first song on their first studio album ought to be a powerhouse of low frequencies. Your mouth is supposed to open a bit, as an involuntary sign of awe. You will not experience Black Sabbath with these headphones. Yes, there’s good detail and texturing, blah, blah, blah… but not the soul of rock. ÆON is much better suited for acoustic and classical. Melissa Menago is a glorious treat!
Soundstage is decent but not extraordinary. I do quite enjoy the depth ÆON can create. Imaging and separation is outstanding. Resolution and transparency is high, but not the best. Taken together you have a mighty fine closed-back headphone.
I only own one Planar headphone, the Audeze LCD-2 v2 Fazor ($995.00), so I feel that would be a fair comparison. Even though they seem to be built for different purposes, one being closed, the other open, one light and portable, the other really not in any way. But their price is close… as is their sound.
Starting with treble, I find Audeze to extend just as well as ÆON. The LCD-2 is less warm or smooth up top. There is better shimmer, and slightly more detail. Neither headphone is all that aggressive, and they share a lot in common with how they portray their highs. But Audeze does come off a little brighter and airier. It sounds like the ceiling opened up, letting in extra light.
ÆON’s mids are thicker, LCD-2 a touch thinner. Both have very clear, powerful vocals. ÆON comes off warmer and lusher. LCD-2 is cleaner. ÆON has a delightful roundness, or depth, to the vocals, and in comparison, LCD-2 sounds flatter. I feel ÆON may retrieve details a little better, but LCD-2 is more transparent by a hair.
Both LCD-2 and ÆON have exceptional bass on a technical level. Planar drivers of this caliber produce some of the lowest sub-bass around, and it’s punchy and well-defined. LCD-2, though, has more body, producing a greater rumble. ÆON’s bass may be quicker, with a finer sense of texture, but only by the smallest margin.
The LCD-2’s soundstage is a little wider, and more than a little taller. Depth probably goes to ÆON. Imaging and separation is god-tier on both. Though, to my ears, ÆON renders at ever so slightly higher resolution. Very slight. ÆON layers a little better, also. LCD-2’s comfort is one of its biggest detriments. It’s heavy and awkward, doesn’t feel great when worn. ÆON beats it without breaking a sweat.
Now for a more interesting comparison. The AudioQuest NightOwl ($698.75) is a mere hundred cheaper, closed back, and efficient enough to be driven by most mobile devices. I can understand why so many people have asked me for this comparison. However, that is sort of where the similarities end. These two headphones are tuned for two very different people.
Starting with treble: NightOwl is rolled-off, and does not extend as far as ÆON. For the most part, it makes up for this with carefully placed peaks to bring light, resolution and detail to an otherwise dark set of cans. But there’s no substitute for true extension, and you can really hear the loss when switching between these two. NightOwl’s treble is thick, and surrounded by deep, warm overtones, yet it does a nice job of piercing the gloom. ÆON simply has more light and air and sounds more natural up top.
Who wins at the mid-range is really a toss-up over personal preference. Both are rich, deep, and detailed, but NightOwl does go that extra mile with its warmth and lushness. If it lost clarity and resolution because of this, it would be an easy matter to decide… but it does not. It keeps up with ÆON surprisingly well, merely taking a different route. Listening to Amber Rubarth’s vocals, NightOwl has a way of immersing you in a more complete way. The vocals are possessed of a little extra soul. NightOwl aims for Romantic over Neutral, and it does it better than any other. Again, whether this is the right choice depends entirely on you.
Where NightOwl beats ÆON, hands-down, is the bass. Now, I’m sure someone somewhere will bitch about that comment, but this is my subjective opinion, of course. The sub-bass is there, like with ÆON, but there’s serious quantity. Mid-bass, also, is present in a big bad way. We’re not talking loose or boomy, either, but tight, controlled, and detailed. It’s not quite on the level of Planar resolution, but goddamn, it is satisfying, and agile like a mofo! NightOwl and ÆON give you tremendous depth, but NightOwl’s lows are fuller and puts a smile on my face every time.
Soundstage on NightOwl is wider and taller, though I’d give depth to ÆON. Once again, imaging is stellar on both. I’m not sure I’d give either the edge on that. Yet ÆON takes it in separation and resolution by the smallest amount. And again, layering is ÆON’s forte. In terms of comfort, NightOwl is one of the very best, and even easier on the head than ÆON.
Now for some quick comparisons with headphones I think are important to this discussion:
The Sennheiser HD800 (can be found for around $1,000 now.) is significantly clearer and airier. Of course, the soundstage dwarfs ÆON’s. I doubt anyone would be surprised to hear that. Resolution is also noticeably higher on HD800. There is a drier, more analytical quality, whereas ÆON is warmer and has that lushness. But get this, the HD800 has more bass. What the f**k?! I know, but it’s true. HD800’s treble is just as extended, and brighter and more detailed. This is also arguably the most comfortable headphones in existence. Not even ÆON can compete.
The Meze 99 Classics ($309) are not the hard downgrade you may expect. For starters, the mids are even clearer, but also thinner. The soundstage is quite a bit wider. There’s more air and brightness in the highs and mids, but never enough to take away the rich, musical quality. ÆON’s bass is deeper and of significant technical prowess. However, Meze is fuller down low, with more seductive tonality. With stock pads, the 99C is certainly less comfortable, but with the Brainwavz Angled Sheepskin, I find they actually surpass ÆON.