Audeze ups the ante, again, with the EL-8 headphones

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The high-end headphone scene never ceases to amaze me. Competition is fierce, especially at the upper reaches of the high-end, $1,000+ headphones that are still getting better all the time. Not only that, the Hifiman HE400S ($299, £219, AU$419) is easy to recommend to folks who want to get a taste of high-end sound without breaking the bank. It’s a great headphone for the money.

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I initially reviewed the EL-8 in 2015, but Audeze has since made a slew of running changes, including new thinner and lighter in weight diaphragms. The original andcurrent EL-8planar-magnetic diaphragms are huge (100mm), that’s more than double the size of most conventional dynamic headphone drivers, and their impedance is rated at an easy-to-drive 30 ohms. The headphones build quality feels remarkably substantial, it weighs 1 pound (480 grams), and the cables are user-replaceable. I’m reviewing the closed-back version, which does a great job sealing out external noise. There’s also an open-back EL-8 that sounds similar, but lets you hear the world around you. The open- and closed-back EL-8s sell for the same price: $699, £599, AU$1,149, and the headphones are made in California.

There’s nothing shy and retiring about the EL-8’s sound. I’ve heard all of Audeze ‘phones, and even compared with the much more expensive LCD Series models, the EL-8 holds its own in terms of energy and excitement.

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I mostly listened to it plugged directly into my iPhone 6S, and the EL-8 ‘s effortless clarity, solid sure-footed bass, and extended treble came through loud and clear. Even so, I couldn’t resist plugging-in my AudioQuest DragonFly Red digital converter-cum-headphone amplifier to my iPhone 6S to see if it could improve EL-8’s sound, and it did. The Red bumped up the dynamics and the solidity of the bass.

Comparing my very early production EL-8 to the latest EL-8s I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did “break-in” the new one continuously for five days playing music in my main system before comparing old and new EL-8s, and here’s what I heard.

The new EL-8 was clearer, so when Ryan Adams really digs in on his acoustic guitar on his “Live at Carnegie Hall” album, I hear more about the way he’s hitting the strings. I also heard more of Carnegie Hall’s ambience with the new headphones, the old EL-8 brought Ryan closer, and shut down some of the sound of Carnegie Hall and the audience.

Next I switched between the new EL-8 and the Audeze Sine on-ear headphones as I listened to the new Radiohead record, “A Moon Shaped Pool.” For starters, the mighty bass drum on “Identikit” didn’t reach as deep as it did on the EL-8, it wasn’t even close. In fact, the Sine miniaturized the sound, and it was distinctly less comfortable. The EL-8 closed-back also did a much better job sealing out external noise than the closed-back Sine. Frankly, it was no contest, but the Sine is a lot smaller and more portable.

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So if you’ve been reading the Audiophiliac blog for a while, and waiting till something strikes your fancy, the latest EL-8 might be the one. After all, reading about great sound is all well and good, but in the end you have to hear it for yourself, with music you know on a deep level, and then digest what a great headphone like this can reveal. The music has been there all along, but you never heard it like this before.

In the US, Audeze sells the EL-8 direct with a 30-day return policy and free shipping; the customer is responsible for paying the return freight to Audeze.

(cnet.com, http://goo.gl/vQfnVs)

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