07. October 2021 · Comments Off on Dan Clark Audio Stealth Headphones · Categories: Headphones, Hifi News, Hifi Reviews · Tags: , , , ,

DAN CLARK AUDIO STEALTH HEADPHONES REVIEW

Dan Clark Audio Stealth headphones are built in California, distributed in the UK by Electromod and cost £4100. Janine Elliot takes a listen to this high-end headphone and seems to be rather enamoured by it.

Having recently reviewed and been amazed by the Aeon 2 Noire from Dan Clark Audio, previously known as Mr Speakers, I was tempted to listen again with what is their best and newest headphone, the £4100 “Stealth”. Retaining the tear-drop shape of the Aeon this planar magnetic headphone is hand-built by Dan and his team in sunny San Diego, California, and the culmination of four years of hard thinking and technical exploration.

CONSTRUCTION

A lot of thought has gone into the design of the Stealth, both inside and out – even the box that it all arrives in shows Dan is so very proud of his new cans. This is beautifully presented.

Dan Clark Audio Stealth Review Box

A beautifully presented package that reflects the asking price.

Just like the Aeon, this headphone can be folded into half its size (for carrying about in the supplied box) meaning the full-size headphone can be stored in a larger handbag or rucksack. The Stealth is heavier than the Aeon, largely due to the fact that Dan has nearly doubled the number of magnets to 15 on each ear speaker, but the overall mass is still lighter than many, weighing in at 415g. Helping to keep that weight down is the carbon-fibre ear-cups and the use of a thin Nitinol framework to hold the headphones comfortably on your head. Nitinol, by the way, is a mixture of nickel and titanium, a stretchy memory metal as used in teeth braces, spectacles and bras!

Dan Clark Stealth Headphones Review Side View

A beautifully crafted design and look using exotic materials such as carbon-fibre.

AMTS

Most people consider closed-back headphones the weaker link in terms of sound quality. For a start, you are getting blocked off from the outside world which can cause pressure issues and then with the back “wall” you get reflections, standing waves and colourations. Dan rectifies this in two ways. Firstly the heavily damped ear-cup has small ports, and secondly, it uses AMTS, Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System, a 3D printed block sitting between the planar diaphragm and your ears to tune the sound. This contains a series of holes like a beehive, that tailor the sound, changing its direction to your ear. KEF use a similar system in their LS50 speakers behind the tweeter to absorb the sound and prevent reflections. Dan’s system is a baffle diffuser acting as a quarter-wave and Helmholtz resonator, which ends up removing standing waves and resonances that are created between driver and ear. Such is the design that it even programs the final frequency response of the drivers, ending up with a smooth but detailed soundstage.

SIZE MATTERS

Where the Aeon has a large 62mm x 34mm diaphragm, the Stealth takes this even further with their new 4th generation driver measuring in at 72mm x 50mm, some 20% larger than the E2 driver, and it uses their patented v-Planar technology to reduce THD and improve low-frequency extension. The diaphragms are made on an all-new system which allows for better matching. Indeed, each planar diaphragm is matched as close as ¼dB, as opposed to ½dB in the Aeon, and matching is done without the earpads in situ, as they can vary considerably and therefore affect the overall result.

I felt the larger size of the diaphragms gave for a much more natural sound in my ears. With 15 magnets on each, that does add to the weight of the Stealth but I didn’t find at any time that 415g overtly heavy – there are much heavier headphones out there. The Stealth was just so comfortable on my head that long listening sessions were easily accomplished and an absolute pleasure. Whereas the Aeon has an adjustable headband with ratchets, the new Stealth has an elasticated system which I found much more comfortable and easier to adjust.  Visually the Stealth easily looks £4000, with its matt black and red design with beautiful patterned quilted leather headband inner and a “Stealth” labelled exterior. The large ear pads are synthetic suede and leather and feel extremely comfortable.

Dan Clark Audio Stealth Headband Close up

The Stealth headphones have meticulous attention to detail throughout.

SOUND QUALITY

To give the Stealth the best chance of showing itself off I listened using the enclosed balanced 4-pin cabling, connecting to the Schiit Ragnarok 2 integrated amp, also made in California and also distributed by Electromod. For headphone lovers, this £1799 amplifier has a massive headphone output of 24W into 32 ohms which is more than ample for the inefficient planar cans. Some of my listening also included the Astell and Kern SE180 DAP, though it really needed a step-up amplifier to work at its best.

This was to be the quickest ever review for me. Just playing a few bars of Bach’s Goldberg Variations BWV988 and I was hooked, being overcome by the top-end clarity and extension, and the general openness and neutrality. Strings and harpsichord were positioned perfectly between my ears, and the angled diaphragms helped produce a sound more akin to speakers and hence more realistic. This was a game-changer. All classical music played was realistic and addictive.

I decided to listen to a series of classics that were better known as TV adverts and films; things like Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9 second movement (Hovis advert), Di Capua’s “O Sole Mio” (Walls Cornetto), Tchaikovsky Swan Lake “Dance of the Swans” (Batchelors soup) – you get the idea. Whatever the mood or instrumentation, the performance was clear with precise positioning and was neutral and dynamic when it needed to be. Nothing daunted the Stealth. Everything was played with detail, though still maintaining that important musicality.

Dan Clark Stealth Headphones Detail Headband 2

Comfort is paramount with Dan Clark’s Stealth headphones.

One of my favourite albums for assessing speakers and headphones is Naim’s ‘True Stereo’ that is recorded using just a pair of AKG 414EB condenser microphones into a Nagra IV-S reel-to-reel to record a varied selection of styles of music forms. Jim Gailloreto’s “Jump St(u)art” has highly charged playing with the four musicians (drums, tenor sax, Rhodes keyboard and acoustic bass) producing different textures and dynamics that were beautifully presented on the Stealth. Not only was the soundstage in all the tracks of this album perfectly presented but the openness and neutrality pushed the boundaries of closed-back headphones. Not just this, the lower bass was extremely confident for a planar. Indeed, “Saudades on 8th Avenue” (Stew Cutler) had an excellent bass guitar holding the piece together with ample guts, with guitar and drums making up the trio. Cymbals were very clear, the top end never disappointing me. The speed of transients is exceptionally fast with planar/electrostatic designs as the elements are so light and close, and the performance has exceptionally low distortion, but the side effect can mean that imperfections in recordings will show up more readily, and this was the case with this album due to the occasionally over-modding of the magnetic tape on the Nagra. Headphones will show these more than loudspeakers, especially when you consider that loudspeakers can have 10% distortion!

Stealth headphones by Dan Clark Headband logo

There’s no mistaking the name of these cans from Dan Clark Audio.

Turning to Supertramp’s ‘Crisis What Crisis’ the atmospheric start was equally addictive and the distinctive vocals and excellent guitar lines kept me hooked. “Safe from Harm” is punchy electronica with bass lines and vocal injections below the main vocal that was easy to pick out clearly in their own space and time. That bass line was also more extended than the planar magnetic diaphragm of the earlier DC models. Indeed, I was again very impressed at how improved the bass was. Listening to Barkley James Harvest “Lady Macbeth”, not only was the bass extended and the top end tight, but all the vocal lines competing against each other could be individually picked out to a degree I hadn’t heard before. Such was the detail that the digital errors in the 16/44.1 recording could be heard. Listening to the same music via analogue LP improved things profoundly, of course. Even with the pin-sharp clarity, the Stealth was still excellent in terms of musicality with a smoothness and richness to the music that was addictive.

Listening to the excellent STS’s reel-to-reel ‘40 Years Anniversary’ recordings took the listening to a whole new level. John Vice’s “Moonlight over Georgia” had great depth and imaging, and most importantly great musicality; just because everything is so tight and neutral and extended doesn’t mean it can’t sound real.

Dan Clark Stealth HEadphones Full view side

Unassuming and stealth-like, but wait until you try these headphones on and start to listen.

CONCLUSION

Dan Clarke really has excelled himself with the new Stealth. I am sure he won’t rest on his laurels but will somehow make an even better headphone in the future, but for the moment you should make a plan to listen to the Stealth if you are in the market for £4k cans to play all genres of music.

Don’t be put off that they are closed-back; they are so open and neutral I never once felt “locked inside”.

The word “Stealth” means a “cautious and surreptitious action or movement”, and it really did everything with a great sensitivity and care that surpasses many other top-end cans, but this headphone also did everything with great confidence and speed, whether that be its neutrality, dynamics or imaging.

That £4100 sum really doesn’t amount to that much when you consider the smiles you’ll get from listening to music on them. These should be on your buying list if you want 8k resolution and musical sensitivity to make all your music sound great.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality and Comfort:

Excellent build and novel design folding into the supplied case. Supremely comfortable even when listening for extended periods

Sound Quality:

Impressive neutrality, imaging and low distortion. Amazing openness for a closed-back design

Value For Money:

Excellent – even at its price!

We Loved:

A closed-back design that sounds open-backed

Neutrality

Extended frequency response

Low distortion

Encapsulating sound stage

Comfort over the head

We Didn’t Love So Much:

Some might not like the tear-drop shape but that is about it.

Elevator Pitch Review: The Stealth is quite an unassuming headphone and it being closed-back I thought I might find the £4100 price overinflated, but boy, was I wrong. This is quite a surprisingly open and highly technically developed product that even left me wanting to listen again and again and again.  Paying 4k for 8k resolution is a small price for your ears.

Price: £4100

Janine Elliot

 

 

 

 

 

Review Equipment:

Schiit Ragnorok, Brockseiper, Slee (headphone amplification), Astell and Kern SE180 (DAP), Pre-Audio (turntable)/AT33sa (cartridge)/Manley Steelhead (Phono-stage), Krell KPS20i (CD), Ferrograph Logic7 15ips/½ track (Reel to reel), Tellurium Q and Townshend (cables).

Specification

  • Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System (AMTS)
  • 4th generation v-planar driver with large diaphragm.
  • Improved driver tensioning system
  • Auto-adjusting suspended strap
  • DRIVER: 72mm x 50mm single-ended planar magnetic
  • Driver matching: 0.25dB weighted 20-10,000Hz
  • THD: less than 0.03% 20-20,000Hz, ref 1kHz/94dB
  • Headband: Nickle Titanium
  • Baffle: Carbon Fibre
  • Earpads: Synthetic Suede and Leather

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