Comparisons with Other Headphones
LCD-2 and LCD-3 owners who are looking for a portable headphone that sounds identical to their beloved LCDs will find the EL-8 closer to their ideal than the EL-8C. The EL-8 captures most of the LCD’s soundstaging dimensions and harmonic character, lacking only that last iota of resolution, specificity, and inner detail. The EL-8 may not “scale up” (scaling up is the ability of a pair of headphones to sound better as you upgrade the headphone amplifier or source) quite as dramatically as the Audeze LCD-2, but when I went from an iPhone 5 playing Tidal to the Sony NW-ZX2 playing the same Tidal tracks, it was quite clear that the EL-8 preferred the additional drive and delivered a more detailed, dimensional, and involving result when powered by the Sony.
Earlier I mentioned the upper-frequency differences between the AudioQuest NightHawk headphones and the EL-8s. Both these have well-above-average bass and sub-bass response but the EL-8s are more “hi-fi” and spectacular, while the Nighthawks have a more natural (but not neutral) and relaxed presentation both in harmonic balance and dynamics. The EL-8 gave me a more accurate sonic picture in inner detail and upper frequencies—and was certainly a more accurate headphone—but the NightHawk has an engaging character that is hard to resist.
Listening to Shawn Colvin’s “Get Out of This House” from A Few Small Repairs via Tidal, the Oppo PM-3’s darker and smoother harmonic character compared to the EL-8 was quite obvious. On a better recording, such at Fences’ “Arrows” via Tidal, the EL-8’s higher resolving powers and cleaner upper midrange and lower treble outpointed the PM-3. In long-term comfort, the PM-3s won. The PM-3’s secure, single-connector headphone cable connection was another point in its favor. But in absolute sonic terms, the EL-8 is a better headphone in the important categories—accuracy and fidelity to the original source.
Although it has a higher MSRP, the Sennheiser HD-700 open-enclosure headphones are currently available for about $150 less than the EL-8. The two had far more in common sound-wise than I expected, with similar harmonic balances and sonic perspectives. The Sennheisers were slightly more “Technicolor” with a dollop of extra midbass air, and a bigger, wider soundstage, while the EL-8s were more matter-of-fact, and in the end, more accurate. Comfort-wise the Sennheisers won with less side-pressure and lower weight. Unfortunately, if you want a headphone that travels well, the HD-700’s relatively fragile metal mesh and lack of foldability take it out of the running.
Creating from a single design a closed-back and an open-back headphone that sound identical in both versions is a difficult feat I have yet to hear accomplished. While the two Audeze EL-8 headphones are sonically similar, those differences in sound are sufficiently profound that most listeners will very likely have a preference based on their own tastes and program choices. And while neither EL-8 will completely satisfy an Audeze LCD owner looking for the perfect portable LCD surrogate, both do capture much of the speed, immediacy, and presence of the Audeze headphone lineup in an easy-to-drive and portable package.
SPECS & PRICING
Transducer type: Planar magnetic
Magnet type: Neodymium
Driver size: 100mm
Maximum power handling: 15W (into 200 ohms)
Maximum SPL: >130dB
Frequency response: 10Hz–50kHz
THD: <0.1% (1kHz, 1mW)
Impedance: 30 ohms
Optimal power requirement: 200mW–4W
Efficiency: Open-back, 102dB/1mW; closed-back, 100dB/1mW
Weight: Open-back, 460 grams; closed-back, 480 grams
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