Had lunch and a mini meet with a couple of friends from the local Head-Fi group and got to try two new-to-me and relatively new-to-the-market pieces of gear, the MrSpeakers Aeon closed back portable headphone and the Metrum Amethyst, an all-in-one DAC and headphone amplifier.
I was fortunate in that both the friends I met this time had pairs of this headphone, so I got to sample two different pairs. Overall, the sound of the headphones seemed fairly consistent, though it seemed one pair, the newer pair, had a bit more bass than the older one. One was an earlier pre-order pair and had already been burned in beyond the recommended 150 hour mark, the other was relatively new and had not seen as much listening time. Both had the foam inserts that were missing from earlier pre-order pairs, the owner of the older pair received his later on from MrSpeakers in the mail and the owner of the newer pair received them in the box with his.
From a tonality perspective this is probably the most even and coherent sounding of any of the company’s newer headphones. Despite that, I had a few notable issues with it. The lower midrange is a bit recessed and middle midrange is a bit forward, making the mids sound lean and vocals a bit forward. The presence region is also recessed, causing horns and brass in particular sound too far back and made the overall sense of bite from instruments seem muted in the mix. The mid treble peak is enhanced by this presence region recession and can occasionally get piercing, though it’s normally fine. The tonality overall is pleasant, the bass boost is definitely noticeable and bit too much for me, but isn’t so elevated as to obscure the mids and treble.
The bass and the mids on this headphone sound very soft, hazy and artificially thick sounding. Bass seems to extend, but on the very low end it lacks authoritative impact that adds to the sense of a lack of foundation and body to the sound. The bass in general is also not very precise here, it seems to run together and lack definitive impact, coming off slow and woolly sounding, with big thudding bass instead of more precise and fast strikes and didn’t convey details like the decay of drums realistically. The midrange sounded hazy and imprecise, the balance kept it from sounding too thick, but there was still a sense that the mids were somehow a bit muffled. The treble was fairly smooth and had a good, sharp sense of impact, but sounded a bit hashy and imprecise.
Staging on the headphone seemed somewhat wide and shallow. I also found it difficult to place instruments on the stage unless they were clearly coming only from one of the channels. I had high hopes for this headphone, especially based on the initial measurements but came away a bit disappointed. I think this price range is barren of options and options for decent closed back headphones are generally few and far between. The headphone also definitely feels and wears like a premium headphone, with MrSpeakers always impressive build quality and ergonomics. Both of those factors may weigh heavily in its value proposition for some, but I felt the acoustic performance simply wasn’t there even if it did improve on both the Ether C headphones at least from a tonal perspective.
I have a little experience with the Metrum Musette which this new combination DAC and headphone amplifier seems to be aiming to replace in Metrum’s lineup. I felt the Musette had a much warmer, softer and bloomier sound to it that didn’t really fit my preferences. The Amethyst seems to take that really thick and meaty sound typical of Metrum’s NOS DACs and really refines it into a much more precise, sharper, and quicker kind of sound that I tend to prefer. It still retains some of its warmth and weight but with much cleaner imaging and dynamics than the Musette. Using the headphone output, the unit was able to drive my HD800’s well enough, I was about about 2 o’clock on the dial in low gain to drive those, closer to 11 o’clock in high gain. I felt the sound of the amp and DAC was an excellent pairing with the HD800, complementing its tone and not feeling like it was holding back its speed and clarity. Imaging seemed quite good, making placement relatively simple to discern and the stage was fairly large sounding on it with the HD800, without feeling as diffuse as it can sometimes seem. This combination unit was certainly a pleasant surprise and a highlight of the meet for me.