The Dharma D1000 Hybrid Stereo Headphone: A Stat-Namic Achievement
“Dearly Audio-Beloved. We are gathered here today, to witness the union between electrostatic and dynamic, coming from two different families, from two distinctly different lands…joining together as one.
Do you [insert your name here], take Dharma D1000, to be your faithfully favorite headphone, and to live together in musical bliss and perfect harmony for as long as you shall live? Do you promise to love her, listen to her, honor and keep her in a dust-free environment for rock and for jazz, for richer or poorer, and forsaking all your other headphones, be faithful only to her, for as long as you shall love listening to music?
If any one can show just cause why these two platforms may not be lawfully joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace, never to realize the exciting possibilities of bringing their musical listening experiences to a whole new different level.”
“I do…ooh, I do”, said I, as I carefully covered up my other earphone’s cups so they wouldn’t get jealous. This is one sweet listening machine!
Back in March of 2015, I first met Wei Chang, ENIGMAcoustics’ Sales Director, and I listened to a prototype version of their Dharma headphone, at Canjam SoCal in Costa Mesa, CA. I thought that it held great potential, but felt that the bass was a little wobbly and had a touch of boom to it somewhere surrounding 200Hz. I used my AK240 as a source as well their own Athena A1 headphone amplifier. Wei told me that they were still making modifications on it, and he hoped that I could someday hear the final product when it was ready for prime time. Well, that time has come!
They made several improvements since their initial mockups before presenting us with their current production version. They tweaked the design of the Washi paper dynamic driver and its associated components, which Wei says was a product of hard-tooling, painstaking refinement, recalibration and stabilization.
I find the current/production version of Dharma to be extremely efficient, and it holds a place in my top tier of picks as one of the easiest and most affable headphones to drive, exhibiting a sensitivity of 103dB @1 volt RMS. ENIGMAcoustics’ (I will call them “EA” for the remainder of the review) Dharma boasts a frequency range of 5Hz-40kHz, and measures an impedance of 26Ω. The total harmonic distortion is <0.3% and the headphone weighs 450 grams sans the cable, which measures 3 meters with a ¼” termination. For portable use and testing, I tacked on a 1/8” adapter and drove it directly out of both a HiFiMAN 901S and my Astell & Kern AK240. I never needed to go above half volume, even when raucously rocking out to some deep down, dark and gritty Black Sabbath!
ENIGMAcoustics is a company with vision, who never seems satisfied to rely on just tried and tested platforms. Wei Chang’s company has always been a leader in the field who prefers their designs to be on the leading edge. His company’s first foray into the world of electrostatics is a standalone self-biasing electrostatic super tweeter, which is used to supplement and enhance a higher-end 2-channel speaker system. The model is called the Sopranino (which, much to my dismay, is not a mini-me version of Tony Soprano). They can either reside right on a speaker’s flattop or they can be properly positioned on stands (either customer supplied or ones produced by EA specifically to pair with them). Their main intent is to supplement and improve sophisticated upper frequencies, using their patented electrostatic super tweeter that slaves directly off of the same speaker cables that normally attach to your mains. Electrostat speakers and headphones have always been coveted for their ability to produce creamy midrange and sweet sustainable highs. The beauty and importance of EA’s design, is that it doesn’t require a traditional electrostatic amplifier to supply the obligatory bias voltages needed by conventional stat designs, which also necessitates an external AC connection in order to provide a polarizing voltage. This is accomplished by a utilizing a unique process invented by EA that applies a proprietary coating onto a non-conductive membrane (as opposed to the industry standard conductive films that we are accustomed to). The membrane is claimed to be an “almost massless thin” film. The coating impregnates a nano-particle electron charge into the diaphragm. We just read our wedding vows, and we are already talking about impregnating something (;->)?
The other improvement with the Sopranino is what EA accomplished with their stators in order to work in coherent harmony with their specialized membranes. Using an explanation of the simplest terms: in a typical electrostatic design, the stators are the component that provides a charge to the membrane that causes the film to vibrate. These vibrations are in essence, the music that we hear. EA manufactures their stators out of fiberglass that has a copper-coated substrate. Even though the stators and membrane can produce some of the truest sounding music on the market, there is an inherent problem with trying to recreate the bottom frequencies accurately and with authority.
In order for a speaker to create dominating bass slam and the heart-pounding subsonic sounds that we crave, a driver needs to move some serious amounts of air, which is an electrostat’s Achilles Heel. Martin Logan, who has long been an industry leader in electrostatic speaker designs, had two innate limitations when it came to producing a faithful and accurate soundstage. The speakers didn’t offer the listener enough visceral bass, and their designs had a very limited sweet spot. In the mid-2000’s, ML alleviated one of their woes by including a separate subwoofer housed in the bottom of their cabinets. It was a marked improvement, and since then, they have incorporated a physical dynamic speaker cabinet to fill in the bottom of the musical output. Getting the two technologies to work in awe-inspiring harmony, is an art that has it’s challenges, and EA has accepted that challenge willingly by combining their Sopranino super tweeter technology along with an improved version of a dynamic driver, and rolled it all up into one heck of a brand new headphone.
Next on the scene came EA’s entry into the speaker arena, named the Mythology M1 hybrid electrostatic monitor system. They kind of play the role of “from whence we came” because the Dharma is pretty much a scaled down version of the Mythology M1 speaker system.
Mythology M1 Hybrid Electrostatic Mini-Monitor
Drum roll, please:
In walks the Dharma D1000 electrostatic/hybrid headphone. ENIGMAcoustics started the Dharma project in late 2013 and the official release is planned for late October/early November 2015. This project has been a two-year work in progress. By using the combination of the two dissimilar platforms, I was hoping that EA would also conquer the second inherent problem of stat technology, which was a limited sweet spot. Of course the mere fact of having them sitting directly on your ears, can be both a blessing and a curse in accomplishing a believable soundstage, especially when blending two different hemispheres into one cohesive continent. One single look at the earcups and you can recognize the angled inserts which direct the sound in an organized, focused direction, sending waves of musical sensations down into both ear canals.
Dharma inner cross-section
Of course a company that likes to think “outside of the box” couldn’t use just any “off-the-shelf” dynamic driver know-how. That would be trite and complacent. EA uses a 52mm Washi paper-based dynamic driver that creates a measured bass extension down to 5Hz, and I can attest that it indubitably sounds like it. (Fun Fact: Washi is Japanese in origin, made from the bark of the “Gampi” tree, or from the Mitsumata shrub…discuss amongst yourselves). Of course, we can probably only “feel” 5Hz and not really hear it, but it is the definitive frequency that actually fills in the bottom of the bottom. The Dharma’s bass output is dominating, palpable and rock solid! The dynamic speaker’s mid-bass output defines a large part of the musical presentation that can sometimes be overlooked, and here is where I feel this headphone excels in the detail department. Using Ray Brown’s, “Solar Energy”, concentrating solely on Ray’s double-bass contributions, reveals a mid-bass that is naturally appealing and lifelike, without sounding boomy or bloated like jazz bass reproductions sometimes fall prey to. I attribute this to the tight design of the paper transducer. It snaps back with enthusiastic effort, eager and well rested to take on the next passage. If the dynamic driver is too dizzy and fatigued upon recovering from the last series of interpretations, how can it be properly prepared to take on the challenge of suitably revealing the next attack of his elegantly plucked bass notes? Hearing and feeling the vibrations of his abrasive slides over the string’s windings as Ray magically manipulates the real estate of his bass’ fingerboard, reminds me of my own time spent struggling with the bass guitar, and the callouses that forever mark the memory. The overall tonal balance is complimented by using the stat’s free-flowing energy to supplement the dynamic driver’s upper-range detail and spirited lift.
Dharma outer cross-section
There is a misconception in earlier Dharma reviews, that the crossover from electrostatic to dynamic starts at 5kHz. Wei tells me that this inaccurate information. EA’s extremely elaborate and expensively researched, customized paper-based full-range Washi dynamic driver, covers the entire spectrum from 20Hz to 20kHz, and their proprietary SBESL (self-biased electrostatic) super tweeter is strictly for compensating the frequency range between 12kHz to 40kHz. Actually, I wouldn’t call it compensating, I would call it more like complimenting from what I heard when I listened to Jorma Kaukonen’s – “Blue Country Heart”. During Jorma’s rendition of “Big River Blues”, Dharma shows off her dynamic range prowess, proving that accurately reproducing the deeply seeded notes of an Appalachian jug’s underbelly, the slap-happy musical complications of a washboard and spoons, and the upper reaches of a free-spirited fiddle, all at the same time, doesn’t have to be a chore. The dual transducers each take on their assigned tasks with precision and ease. Nothing sounds like it is straining, struggling, or being over-burdened. That’s the beauty of multiple platforms inside one device. They can be individually tailored to be voiced the way that ENIGMAcoustics wants them to sound, and it’s up to each listener to decide whether or not they got it right. I think they did.
Dharma left side
Choices, choices, and even more choices:
For those headphone lovers that love the sound quality of an HE-6 but is looking for more accurate bass slam, this might be the all-in-one earspeaker that you have been seeking. For an audiophile who enjoys the detailed soundstage of an HD800, but requires a headphone with more musicality, less etched harshness, and a performance that can be heard of as less clinical, the Dharma might be for you. For a music-lover who likes the soundstage and detailed upper register nuances that the HE1000 offers…the D1000 accurately renders the cymbals, brushes, tambourines, and cowbells in a dazzling arrangement. The interpretation is clear, concise, and refreshing, thanks to the electrostatic portion of this happy, symbiotic family all chipping in to form one common sensation.
Featuring high-grade aluminum alloy covers, swivels, and bridges, my review sample was extremely comfortable to wear for hours on end without feeling any signs of fatigue. I can personally attest to many hours of listening without even remembering that they were on my head. The headband and adjustment band is constructed out of hand-stitched genuine leather and the material on the earcups that makes direct contact with the ears is made from protein (PU) leather. Dharma’s circumaural earcups mated effortlessly with my cranium, and I was able to obtain a levelheaded seal, thanks to memory-foam inserts in the padding. The sound travels through EA’s solid copper woven headphone cable from the source, right into your ears.
The build quality is commendable. To put this in perspective…my review pair has been in the grubby hands and on the greasy heads of multiple reviewers, which also includes shipping across the four corners of the world. Also, it has been exhibited at multiple trade shows. So, akin to a rental car, it has been smashed, bashed, dropped and stepped on by some of the finest audiophiles on earth, and it exhibits absolutely no signs of wear. My personal time handling it, consisted of me wearing premium white cotton gloves, and only after receiving a professional grade salon hair wash. Yeah right!
Dharma quality craftsmanship
The D1000 has a realistic and trustworthy soundstage that competes with the best of them, and is situated at a very reasonable price point of $1190 USD, that wholeheartedly competes with the likes of the MrSpeakers Ether, Sennheiser HD800, HiFiMAN HE-6 and certainly the HE1000. The soundstage is large and in charge. Each time I shut off the surrounding world and found time to enjoy a dedicated listening session, I found myself enveloped and immersed in the sound signature, and was pleasantly surprised to see how capable the Dharma was at taking on all of the music genres that I could throw at it, and how incredibly at-ease it was, in co-existing with any source material and component that I mated it with. Running it out of a Krell KSA-5 headphone amp (Black Gate’d to the hilt!) offered an equally enjoyable experience through all of the music the genres that I fed into it. I found that when I use it out of an extremely high-powered amp, like my Wells Audio Enigma, same as when I attempt to use an overly efficient in-ear monitor, I started to pick up the some frequency noise as I turned up the volume knob without any music playing. If there is ever a headphone that might be honored to be called “too efficient”, then this might be the one, but I doubt anyone else but me would attempt to use a headphone amp that is rated at 50W @8Ω.
Great time to be an audiophile:
Everyone likes his or her sound in a different way. It is a matter of preferential taste. If we all heard and saw things the same way, then this would be a pretty dull planet to live on. So, every headphone isn’t for everybody. But if I had to pick one and only one headphone to, let’s say, to take to a desert island, it would definitely be the Dharma. I say this while taking into consideration the extreme comfort, ease of use with different sources (amped or not) and the price (I am going to need to save my money for lots of sunscreen on that island).
I feel that there is a definitive theme and trend for a large portion of audio component manufacturers in 2015. For the last 20 years, we have been pretty stagnant in terms of reinventing the wheel, when it comes to new speaker and headphone developments. Cabling has been experimented with extensively, and driver material and earcup housings can only go so far. The advent of man-made materials has definitely brought about some new and interesting configurations, but we still put our headphones on one cup at a time.
But this year, there seems to be an new influx from our favorite companies and “mad scientists” devising ways of tweaking headphone signatures, by mixing and matching multiple technologies to create one specialized sound, that could never have been done before. We were restricted by the idiosyncrasies of any one particular platform’s limitations. Solely using a dynamic driver, air motion transformer, magnetic planar, orthodynamic or electrostatic transducer to flavor our headphones had their inherent limits. Blending together multiple technologies in one housing, has expanded our limited “world is flat” mentality, wide open from something that appeared to have pretty much reached its limit, to a hobby that has been thrust down stimulating and newfangled paths. These are exciting times for headphone enthusiasts!
Being both hobbyists and purists, what good would owning a quality component be, if we couldn’t also enjoy the “thrill of the chase” by trying to make it sound better. Also, not every headphone has perfect synergy with every other component that is upstream of it. So, I was pleased to find out that the cable is indeed detachable, and contains the same termination that can be found on the HD800. I was interested in seeing how my Moon Audio Black Dragon aftermarket cable for my Sennheiser, would fare on the D1000. Once I introduced the Black Dragon into the mix, there was a significant improvement in the resolution of the detail on some of my higher quality recordings. On Cannonball Adderley’s – “Something Else”, Art Blakey’s hi-hat rises and cymbal tap-taps, took on an added dimension of detail and sparkle. At the same time, there was an immediate enhancement in the timber of Miles Davis’ trumpet taps and Hank Jones ivory tickles. Comparing tracks off of “Cheek to Cheek”, a delightful album of duets between Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga — carefully analyzing the soundstage whereabouts of each individual voice during their tantalizing harmonies — offered me a deeper aural awareness of each of their roles as the two individual voices blended into one single, delicate arrangement, while at the same time, maintaining personalities of their own. Offering the capability to be able swap out the stock cable with other choices makes the Dharma an even more desirable opportunity. All headphones should follow suit.
The Dharma D1000 meets or exceeds most of my expectations, when pairing it up with some of my favorite genres of music. Its extremely clean top end makes it a natural choice for hi-res recordings that have been well recorded. But, on the opposite side of the token, it can also be used with an average 256kpbs music file, straight out of your DAP or smartphone. Versatility is Dharma’s middle name. Whether you want to hook it up at home to your $5K superdac, feeding your $4600 SET tube headphone amp, or just use it while sitting in the park with your Nano or smartphone, I think that you will always yield very positive results in both situations. She is very easy to love, and I wouldn’t mind sharing my lifetime with her (but I still want to see other headphones on the side (;->} ).
How many headphones can you really say that about?
Sources: Astell & Kern AK240 Digital Audio Player HiFiMAN HM901S Digital Audio Player LG G3 Smartphone w/ Android iPhone 5C 2014 MacBook Pro 15” Theta Basic Transport
a.k.a - Immtbiker (Moderator on Head-Fi). Aaron's audio addiction started in 1969 when he bought his first cassette player with the Beatles White album from money saved on his paper route.
He knew then, that audio was going to consume his life. He started his illustrious career selling home audio/video while getting his degree in engineering. Aaron has since embarked on a lifetime musical journey, that has constantly fulfilled his needs to be at one with music and all that it represents.