MrSpeakers ÆON Flow Open - Early Impressions and Measurements

Discussion in 'Headphone Measurements' started by Hands, Oct 14, 2017.

  1. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Disclaimer: Dan asked me to provide feedback on a few AFO prototype headphones during the development process. He was really great to work with and receptive to feedback, and I do genuinely believe he's put out a great headphone. Regardless, I may have some biases because of my involvement.

    I will try to get right down to it when talking about the AEON Flow Open (aka AFO), but we know I'll ramble on regardless. The fact of the matter is that I think it sounds really good, and I don't hear a whole lot wrong with it. In that regard, there's just not much to say. But I will say things regardless!

    I can start, though, by saying the AFO is tuned somewhat in the same vein as the Sennheiser HD600/650, the Creative Aurvana Live or E-MU variants, the PMx2, or perhaps even the Eikon/Atticus in a sense. None of these headphones sound exactly alike, but they all kind of have a similar vibe going on (warmer sort of neutral, maybe a bit bass heavy, but generally balanced, not bright, and not screwed up sounding - balanced in their own ways). The AFO sounds to me like a bit of a departure from the Ether line or the closed AEON model.

    The AFO comes with three types of front damping you can experiment with: a foam piece, as included with the closed AEON, and two pairs of white felt pads. The white felt pads are very similar sounding, but one makes the headphone just a bit darker and smoother than the other. The felt pads have either one or two small notches cut out at the top, with the two-notched pair being the slightly darker-tuned one.

    I'm glad Dan provides tuning options. They are not too numerous, incredibly easy to install (don't even need to remove pads), and I found it pretty easy to find what I liked the best in a short time. They also don't dull the sound too much to my ears, or, in other words, they don't make things sound dead for the sake of tone.

    Without any extra front damping, the AFO is honestly listenable to my ears, but not my preference. The upper-midrange has a hot spot that sounds a bit screechy, and the treble is a bit too bright and present relative to my tastes. Still, I didn't find myself cringing or wincing, but I also didn't want to stick with that long. So, I moved on. I imagine some will like this sound, just like some like the HD600, while I find it too hot in the upper-mids. Since the AFO has these options, I won't dwell and beat on how the AFO sounds without using additional front damping. Others can chime in with their own thoughts and preferences to fill out the whole picture.

    I have not yet tried the foam inserts, but I did go for the white felt pads. I tried the one notch version, liked what it did, but wanted just a hair more. The two notch version seemed to do the trick - subtle over the other, but just enough. (The inclusion of two very similar felt pads may be overkill and too much for some users, but those of us that are picky will appreciate the granularity this offers.)

    So, with the two notch, felt pads inserted over the drivers, the AFO just sounds...pretty balanced to me.

    In this config, here is how I hear the AFO relative to my modded HD650 (which honestly needs new pads and may be warmer sounding than is usual):

    - Switching from AFO to HD650 makes the HD650 sound somewhat dull, soft, and veiled in the treble, with less "pop." But the HD650 still edges it out in sheer smoothness and coherency, which I'm not sure any headphone tops. The AFO manages to sound livelier and a bit brighter in the treble, crisper and sharper, without overdoing it. Of course, once I acclimated to the HD650, the AFO sounded a bit exaggerated at first. So, it goes both ways, depending on your starting point.

    - The upper-midrange on the AFO is a bit more pronounced relative to the HD650. The AFO can sound a bit more rough around the edges, but this is again relative to the HD650. Despite that, the AFO made distorted guitars and the like sound rather vivid. Otherwise, they have a very similar midrange curve below 1KHz or so. The upper-midrange on the AFO, after I added front damping, was well within my comfort zone.

    - Bass on the AFO sounds nice and strong. Tastefully emphasized much like the HD650, but with a little better extension, and a little cleaner overall, i.e. less of that HD650 sort of woolly bass.

    - Similar to the above, even with the strongest available front damping, I still found the AFO to sound powerful and dynamic, top-to-bottom. It was engaging to listen to.

    - AFO is a little more forward and aggressive sounding, but it still has decent staging and air, even if it's not quite as open sounding as the HD650. But the HD650 can be somewhat laid-back at times. Thankfully, the AFO seems to minimize or eliminate the sort of odd staging I think plagues many planar headphones. Anything panning from channel to channel sounds continuous on the AFO, but sits closer to your face than on the HD650. It's possible some may find the AFO too forward sounding, but I don't mind. I also don't mind expansive, super-3D sounding headphones, so I'm less picky here.

    - Resolution seems good on the AFO. It picks up minor details on my test tracks. Jury is still out on if it resolves the same "plankton" and "krill" as the HD650, but it does well enough that I'm not particularly concerned. (Update: Further listening on various amps make me think the HD650 may just be a hair more resolving, but I think still puts the AFO in an impressive position. And some may prefer the crisper, less veiled sound of the AFO over the HD650, or perhaps prefer it due to cleaner bass. I think either approach is sensible.)

    So, really, it's not quite as smooth and cohesive as the HD650 (nothing is, though), and some may find it too forward, but it also seems to break through the HD650's veil, brings somewhat better bass to the table, and can sound a bit more lively and vivid at times within the confines of sounding really balanced and non-fatiguing. The AFO also sounds good at lower volumes. But it does like powerful amps, as it sounded a bit thin from my phone and couldn't always get loud enough for me.

    What ultimately matters to me is that I just want to put on a pair of headphones and have everything simply work together within my taste boundaries. When that happens, I just enjoy my listening and leave it at that. A/Bing headphones can throw that off, of course, so I'm not talking about that so much. Anyway, there are very few headphones that do that, like the HD650, certain iterations of the PMx2, and similar. The AFO so far seems to fit that criteria as well. That alone is about as good of an endorsement as I can give. It's a very small group of headphones that pull this off.

    I know I've been blunt and harsh plenty of times about MrSpeakers products (still can't believe I listened to the Ether C with zero front damping and had no idea that wasn't its stock config for a day or two...), and I know many in this community are hesitant about the brand for a variety of valid reasons. I get it, and I won't beat that dead horse here. Dan, reached out to me, and I see that as a step of good will of sorts, which I won't turn down! But I cannot deny that this is easily the best MrSpeakers headphone I've heard to date, to my ears and tastes, and one I genuinely really, really enjoy so far.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2017
  2. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Here is the frequency response of the left channel with NO front damping installed in the pads. You can see a curve somewhat resembling something like the HD600/650. The upper-mids may stick out a bit much, as can some small spikes in the treble. Still, this is definitely serviceable, and I could easily see some preferring this sort of sound.

    NOTE: Bass measurements are very tough to get right on the AEON headphones. They are so, so sensitive to getting a great fit and seal with pads. It's possible the bass has even better presence and extension than seen here. As such, keep it in mind that these may not have the consistency and accuracy of some other headphones I've measured.

    Also, I have no idea what's up with that sudden drop in treble above 8KHz. I certainly don't hear it that way. Just goes to show measurements aren't everything.

    Aeon Open Frequency Response Left.png

    CSDs aren't too bad, but they do show some spots with excess energy. Ideally, I would like to see this cleaner. You can hear a bit of this excess decay in listening, but, thankfully, front damping basically removes this in subjective listening.

    Aeon Open Left No Damping CSD.PNG

    Again, keep in mind my rig is not suited for super low, super accurate distortion readings. But what we can see here is a relatively smooth, clean line, i.e. no distortion spikes. Bass distortion looks fairly good for my rig and is better than what you will see on the HD650, for example. The sudden rise in the treble is due to the weird response drop as seen above, which, again, I don't hear myself. Consider this preliminary to show that nothing is really screwed up, nor would I expect it to be given Tyll's results of the AEON closed. Let's wait for his results to come through.

    It's also possible my amp and mic/mic-in get weird with the Aeon stuff. They require a surprising amount of "juice" from the amp I used and could affect THD results.

    Aeon Open THD Left.png

    Now, here's where things get interesting. The included front damping options do a great job knocking down the upper-mid hump, but I think they all leave it there just enough to give the AFO a bit of extra flavor in that area, in a good way. And the response overall is a bit smoother.

    Now, you might thing this looks pretty dark tuned, or that maybe you could hear a discontinuity between the upper-mids and treble (or a hump around 6-8KHz). I would suggest going back to my impressions where I said these sound a bit brighter than the HD650, less veiled. And I don't hear them as etched or rough either, but not quite as smooth as the HD650. All this can really show is the damping does work. You can also see the different felt pads are very, very subtle in their differences, but just enough to make things click in some cases.

    Aeon Open Front Damping Comparison.png

    I won't go through every front damping CSD result, but you can see a more cohesive response and some decay issues cleaned up relative to the actual response and output levels.

    Aeon Open Foam Damping CSD.PNG Aeon Open One Notch Damping CSD.PNG Aeon Open Two Notch Damping CSD.PNG

    Overall, these results are pretty good, I think. But I do find some disconnects between this and what I hear. In these cases, I just have to trust what I'm hearing and enjoying.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2017
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  3. TMRaven

    TMRaven Friend

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    Man I can't wait for mine to ship out. Finally the headphone I've been waiting for (good balanced sound but incredibly comfortable.)
     
  4. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Thanks Hands. Your post finally led me to order AFO.... Oh well..:p
     
  5. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    @Hands

    Thanks for the impressions. It's very cool that Dan is using your feedback during the tuning process.

    How does the Aeon Open compare to the Oppo Pm2 in terms of bass quality? I briefly owned the Pm2 and felt that it blew away my HD650 in the lows. (Amp = Mojo 2 and Dynalo Mk2 made by Spritzer).

    I wonder if any of these new sub $800 open backs will replace the 650 as your main can. :)
     
  6. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

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    This quote from @Hands is pretty meaningful:

    Now, here's where things get interesting. The included front damping options do a great job knocking down the upper-mid hump, but I think they all leave it there just enough to give the AFO a bit of extra flavor in that area, in a good way. And the response overall is a bit smoother.

    Now, you might thing this looks pretty dark tuned, or that maybe you could hear a discontinuity between the upper-mids and treble (or a hump around 6-8KHz). I would suggest going back to my impressions where I said these sound a bit brighter than the HD650, less veiled. And I don't hear them as etched or rough either, but not quite as smooth as the HD650. All this can really show is the damping does work. You can also see the different felt pads are very, very subtle in their differences, but just enough to make things click in some cases.

    I can see people who like the 650 but want better resolution and bass liking AFO. For the most part I find myself listening without the pads but just with a touch of EQ. But I think most would prefer the tuning pads as they are dead simple and take seconds.
     
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  7. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Hmm, just the PM-2, not the modified PMx2? I believe the AFO sounds more full and dynamic. In terms of quality, it is probably somewhere in between the two, leaning towards the PM-2, worst case scenario (perhaps better, but I want to be safe in my assessment).

    I prefer not to use EQ because, first, my rig has no way to implement EQ without resorting to hardware methods. But, second, I like to be able to have a headphone I enjoy that I can take anywhere and not worry about EQ. Third, digital EQ usually applies its own sort or digital filter, which can tarnish the sound, especially if you want a NOS sound or use stuff like Schiit with super great filters.

    I would hesitate to say the AFO has more resolution. The HD650 may sound more veiled, but it's still very resolving, unless you just meant bass. It has some other performance benefits over the AFO (openness, smoothness and coherency, etc).

    I personally would not get rid of my HD650 for the AFO, but I could see someone preferring the AFO for sure. To be fair, some of the very best headphones I've tested are ones I still would personally not take over the 650. For example, the Utopia from the right amp is great sounding. I can see why people would want that as their main headphone. But I'd still go for my HD650. In the case of the HD650 and AFO, having both as complements to each other is nice too.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2017
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  8. gbeast

    gbeast Mighty Moral Power Ranger

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    When do these ship?
     
  9. TMRaven

    TMRaven Friend

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    Nothing's worse than a 2khz emphasis for headphones, for my tastes. Do the felt inserts touch your ears compared to the foam?
     
  10. gbeast

    gbeast Mighty Moral Power Ranger

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    Oh shoot double post...the previous one was not finished

    Not sure that the 650 has elevated bass (maybe some amps get it there) but if it has atleast the amount of bass as the 650 then it will suffice. Also I hope it has a bigger soundstage than the 650 as well. It doesn't have to sound as 'open' but it would have to have a bigger soundstage for me to consider buying it.
    I hope to hear it soon
     
  11. kitantisune

    kitantisune Acquaintance

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    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
  12. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

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    The pads on the production unit seem a touch stiffer which is giving more room inside the cup. I'm not getting close to even the thickest pads. But I don't have dumbo ears either. :p
     
  13. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    No, the felt pads are maybe 2mm thick at most.

    I would say the AFO has a smaller, more forward stage. Kinda like the Elear and Utopia. In fact, sometimes the AFO makes me think of a less weird Elear with some callbacks to the later Mad Dogs.

    All of them and then some, plus some of my own. I've detailed it elsewhere and don't feel like typing it again.
     
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  14. Ash1412

    Ash1412 Friend

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    Can you do -45db and -70db csd measurements for these, just to compare with your old Ether Flow measurement?
     
  15. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Yeah, but I'll probably forget by the time I have a chance to do that. You may need to remind me.
     
  16. TMRaven

    TMRaven Friend

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    Stream of Consciousness first impressions of Aeon Open:

    -they attenuate the most amount of noise of any open planar I've heard-- moreso than Audezes. I attribute this to the incredible seal from the pads.
    -earpads are stiffer than Aeon closed, leading to slightly more perceived clamp.
    -placing my hands over their grills indicate that they aren't as open and sensitive as other open planars I've heard. Hiifman open planars are especially sensitive to frequency response changes when blocking their openings, but Aeon open changes only a little.
    -upper-bass and lower midrange blossoms with full emphasis-- something which Aeon closed lacked.
    -Aeon closed is shout-city in comparison to open. (by this I mean tinny emphasis in upper midrange-lower treble.)
    -soundstage of Aeon open is not much larger than closed-- if not the same size. very intimate.
    -tone generation of low bass tones indicates amazing extension-- some of the cleanest 30hz and 25hz tones I've heard. mild drop-off from 35 down to 30 down to 25, but very strong to 35.
    -Aeon closed most likely gives the sensation of slightly deeper bass because it isn't getting as masked as much by the upper bass. Overall I'd say the Aeon Open has more bass and is a meatier sounding headphone. (testing using Trentemoller: The Mash and the Fury, Past the Beginning of the End, Moan.)
     
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  17. Ash1412

    Ash1412 Friend

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    Bump. I forgot as well lol
     
  18. TMRaven

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    I am finding the AFO to sound the best without any inserts so far. The 1 notch felt tends to attenuate vocals a little too much. It is definitely a warm headphone with the 1 notch inserts, though, so it will have many fans.
     
  19. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I'll copy/pasta this from another thread. Some additional thoughts having spend more time listening to the AFO and HD650:

    I think with really, really good amps, like the Super 7, the 650 still beats the AFO in resolving the smallest details. The AFO is quick to give the perception it is more detailed due to having brighter, crisper, less veiled sounding treble. But when you listen closely, the 650 still pulls ahead. Lesser amps will not exhibit this.

    That's not to say the AFO is not resolving. It is actually quite good, but it stops just short of pulling out what the 650 can. But, you know, some might prefer the less veiled, crisper sound on the AFO, and that's totally fine too. And the AFO has cleaner bass with better extension, though I think all the mods I applied on my 650 bridged this gap mostly. Or some might like that the AFO has more aggressive sounding mids without being as hot as the HD600. It definitely has a place for many folks.

    I found myself finding reasons to listen to either from time to time. Usually I only ever reach for the HD650. So that says the AFO is pretty darn good. Still, if I had to pick one for myself, it would have to be the 650. But I can easily recommend the AFO to many that don't feel the same about the 650 as me.

    I do want to stress that the AFO almost necessitates having short hair and no glasses. It's incredibly sensitive to having an air-tight seal.
     
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  20. Ash1412

    Ash1412 Friend

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    2nd bump!! |\/|
     

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