Under DNA I was treated to a transformative experience at CanJam SoCal 2023 in the form of a preview of what was soon to become one of my favorite Headphones, and in all likelihood the best value in a headphone period, the Dan Clark Audio E3 Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone. As soon as a production sample became available I was sent one for review. Since the Dan Clark Audio ETHER C Flow was my first reference headphone, and the Dan Clark Audio STEALTH is my favorite non-electrostatic headphone, I found the idea of reviewing what amounts to the updated replacement of the ETHER C Flow to be very exciting.
The Dan Clark Audio E3 Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone
Employing an all-new 5th generation planar magnetic driver featuring new diaphragm materials combined with highly optimized V-Planar knurling and an all-new tensioning system for a more uniform and consistent performance, lower distortion, and enhanced consistency the Dan Clark Audio E3 Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone can be considered an upgrade of the stellar performing Dan Clark Audio ETHER C Flow (though it should be noted that it was a ground-up design and that it simply takes up the slot formerly held by ETHER C Flow in the Dan Clark Audio line), combining the openness and warmth of the Dan Clark Audio EXPANSE with the linearity and deep bass extension of the STEALTH, approaching the speed, clarity, and musicality of midrange of the CORINA.
As part of their meticulous tuning and engineering, Dan Clark Audio integrates their patent-pending Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System (AMTS), an inline device placed between the transducer and ear that integrates waveguides, diffusion control, and resonators into one compact structure that eliminates standing waves while giving complete control of the high frequency response profile.
A Dual-Mode Bass Port set into the unique Gorilla Glass 3 earcup delivers unrivaled control of the bass frequency response, creating a superbly balanced, impactful bass experience that is full of power yet free of bloat or midrange creep.
For ergonomics, the E3 uses Dan Clark Audio’s signature self-adjusting Titanium “Memory Metal” headband with Suspended Comfort Strap and fold-up gimbaled clamping system, along with internally perforated velour faced sealed earpads.
Like all Dan Clark Audio products, the aesthetics are stunning, with an elegant blue and black color scheme. In keeping with all of the later Dan Clark Audio designs the E3 uses ear shaped cups which I understand improves seal and efficiency, especially when coupled with the above-mentioned fold up gimbaled clamping system. The Gorilla Glass 3 panels sport an attractive honeycomb pattern.
For accessories the E3 comes with a small zipper travel case which the E3 folds up to fit in and the famous Dan Clark Audio VIVO Super-Premium Headphone Cable with your choice of connector (2.5mm TRRS, 3.5mm TRS, ¼” TRS, 4.4mm TRRRS, and 4-pin XLR) encased in an elegant magnetic clasp box.
Living with the Dan Clark Audio E3 Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone
After my usual 100 hour burn-in using my Qobuz burn-in playlist, I connected the Dan Clark Audio E3 Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone to my reference system an LSA VT-70 Tube Integrated Amp, Audio-gd R2R-1 DAC, Black Dragon Cables, and Core Power Technologies A/V Equi=Core 1000 and just listened for a few days. The sound was quite musical with a mellower sweeter midrange than either the ETHER C Flow or ETHER 2, with a slightly warmer, tighter bottom end than the ETHER C Flow and a sonic signature closer to the EXPANSE with tighter deeper bass and a more neutral tonal balance though not quite as resolute as witnessed listening to Omega’s “Én elmegyek” (“Omega 5” – 16-bit/44.1kHz – Qobuz). The soundstage was quite expansive and three-dimensional.
Listening to “Girl from the North Country (Live at Nippon Budokan Hall, Japan – February 28, 1978)” as performed by Bob Dylan (“The Complete Budokan 1978 (Live)” – 24-bit/96kHz – Qobuz) was a front row at a live concert experience, with Bob up front, and the other musicians scattered on the stage before you.
The soundstage for André 3000’s “I swear, I Really Wanted To Make A “Rap” Album But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time” (“New Blue Sun” – 24-bit/48kHz – Qobuz) was positively ethereal with the layers of woodwinds, percussion, and synth. The detail was exquisite and palpable.
‘Larger than life’ was my first thought on hearing Dolly Parton’s “Rockstar” (24-bit/96kHz – Qobuz) from her latest album of the same name, a tribute to Rock & Roll with covers of what we assume are her favorite Rock songs, featuring guest performances on most of the songs by the original artists, including Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (“Let It Be”) though the real show stopper, other than the title track, was “Freebird” featuring Lynard Skynard. The sound was so epic that I listened to the full album, all 30 songs. There is no question that Dan Clark’s love of Rock bled over into these headphones.
Next, I did something I rarely do, I booted up Bandcamp and pulled up my 1980 album “Departure From” (Gary Alan Barker – 16-bit/44.1kHz – Bandcamp) to listen to a sound I am intimately familiar, my piano. Starting with “Who Holds the Sun” I was so entranced with the flooding memories of those early recording sessions that I listened to the whole album. One of the problems I had with this album was that I mixed it on an audiophile system, so it never quite sounded right on low-resolution systems. The E3 gave me the sound I was always looking for, both the good and the bad unfiltered, the hums and buzzes of the musical equipment, the pops and clicks of the tracks being brought in and out. Despite being a mix of mono recordings I could hear the boundaries of my small living room which served as my recording studio. All presented with a musicality that made even the harshest instruments a pleasure to listen to. The dynamic range was such that you could feel the full impact of songs that moved from simple quiet passage to clamoring crescendo without compression or unintended distortion.
The hardest part about doing this review was getting sucked into the music, I found myself listening to albums I had no intention of doing so, but it was like hearing my music for the first time.
To do my initial tonal balance and sub-bass test I chose my usual track for this purpose “Can-utility And The Coastliners” (Genesis – “Foxtrot” – DSD). Peter Gabriel’s voice was more conversational with more of an in-the-room feel, rather than whispered into a microphone as I get with most headphones, still intimate, but with a layer of artifice removed, on the other hand, the jangly beat of the guitar strings seemed intensified. The soundstage itself was large and enveloping. The sub-bass was extremely tight and controlled, with deep extension and good weight, but not augmented as I was expecting based on the previous tracks I had listened to, which leads me to realize that contemporary recordings are pushing up the bass levels overall. It is also clear that the E3 has increased dynamic range at the cost of slightly higher power draws taking full advantage of the glut of high-powered headphone amplifiers that has risen over the last few years.
Picking a Jazz track was a challenge because what I had heard so far told me the E3 would excel at Modern Progressive Jazz, which makes up the bulk of my collection, so I was looking for more traditional Jazz without resorting to vintage recordings (vintage, in this case, referring to the ‘40s and ‘50s, as opposed to the ‘60s and ‘70s which most of you will think of as vintage, but being old, I think of as contemporary) so I picked “Take Five” as performed by Arne Domnérus, Bengt Hallberg, Egil “Bop” Johansen, George Riedel, and Lars Erstrand from their famous “Jazz at the Pawnshop”. Since I don’t have the DSD version I went back to Qobuz for their 24-bit/88.2kHz “30th Anniversary” version. You could place each of the musicians up on the open stage about five feet away in a huge nightclub. The speed and articulation, especially in the lower registers really do rival electrostatic headphones.
Having left the best for last, I queued up my 24-bit/96kHz vinyl rip of “The Firebird Suite” as performed by Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (“Stravinsky: The Firebird; Borodin: Music from Prince Igor”) and the E3 passed my “chill” test with flying colors (given a sufficient resolution playback system I get chills during a specific passage). Timbre of the instruments was perfect, along with the imaging and air around the musicians. The soundstage was vast and three-dimensional.
Conclusions on the Dan Clark Audio E3 Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone
I may have understated in this review the musicality of the Dan Clark Audio E3 Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone, so let’s be clear, that is the E3’s strongest suit. I won’t say that it is exactly forgiving, that is not the type of musicality we are looking at here, believe me, if there are flaws in the recording, the E3 will not cover them up, but they make the experience so pleasurable that you won’t care about them. Like its predecessors the ETHER C Flow and the STEALTH, the E3 has an extremely neutral tonal balance, with deep well-controlled sub-bass. There might be a slight depression in the upper midrange, and a slight peak in the mid-treble, but this could just as easily be the speed of the E3 revealing information you didn’t notice before and not creating distortions you did. It is hard to say, I can say that going from the E3 to the ETHER C Flow, the ETHER C Flow feels shouty, but going the other way, you don’t feel like you are missing anything with the E3. The bass appears to be stronger without being boomy as with open-back headphones, which may be an attribute of the increased dynamic range and bass control, in fact, increased speed, dynamic range, and bass control with lower distortion can account for pretty much everything I hear in the E3.
Every generation of Dan Clark Audio headphones has been a significant improvement over previous generations and the Dan Clark Audio E3 is no exception to this rule, Dan has been fine-tuning his perfect tonal balance to achieve his goal of the ultimate sound signature with every headphone he has made, and the E3 is definitely a strong step in this direction. It is time to retire my ETHER C Flows, there is a new top gun in town.
Manufacturer’s Webpage: https://danclarkaudio.com/