Learn about the Key Factors To Consider when buying headphones and you will always get a great pair. It’s likely that those who are serious about audio quality recognize Audeze as a key player in the HiFi industry. Historically, Audeze has focused on full size high-end (and expensive) headphones, boasting top-notch planar magnetic drivers. But lately, it has been gradually expanding into more affordable and portable options. Not too long ago, we reviewed the company’s first on-ear headphone, the SINE, and were thoroughly impressed.
But Audeze isn’t done in the over-ear field. It’s expanding its full planar magnetic technology to lower-costing and streamlined over-ear designs. The EL-8 series heads this effort, and we have the open-back variant to review for you guys today. Let’s find out if the right balance is hit in our Audeze EL-8 open-Back over-ear headphone review.
Price: $699 on Amazon
Available: May 2016
Model: Audeze EL-8 Open-Back
Summary: The EL-8 may fool you into thinking this is just another well-made over-ear headphone, but this is Audeze that we’re talking about. There is top-notch planar magnetic driver technology packed in those open-back ear cups. That said, despite a streamlined design, the EL-8 are still girthy and cost a pretty penny.
What We Liked
- Sophisticated design and premium build
- Exceptional comfort and fit
- Stellar audio detail and accuracy
- Optional cable with Apple lightning connection and custom in-line DAC
What We Didn’t
- Not a portable size and doesn’t fold
- Proprietary cable ear cup connection
- Sound could be airier and soundstage more expansive
Audeze EL-8 Open-Back Specs
|Frequency Range||10 - 50,000 kHz|
|Driver||100 mm, planar magnetic|
|Cable Length||6.56 feet|
|Inline Remote||Apple-compatible version via lightning port connection or just standard cable (no remote/mic)|
Size-wise, the EL-8 Open-Back aren’t a huge departure from Audeze’s top-end LCD series. They’re still meaty for an over-ear, and at a weight of 460g, these aren’t going to be a pair of headphones you take out and about (then again, the sound leak of open-back ear cups is less than ideal for public use). Rather, the purpose of the EL-8 is to refine, streamline, and beautify what a full-sized open-back headphone can be. Audeze is betting that not every audiophile puts great value on sound and little on ergonomics and function.
While the design is unique, it still maintains a simplicity and effortlessness that Audeze devices are known for. The company’s sophisticated craftsmanship probably shines through the most in the EL-8, as we have metal construction with an elegantly smooth finish that curves about from every angle. The dominate matte, black finish gives it a stealthy appeal, while the wood panels around the ear cups add a graceful touch. Mind you, this is similar styling as seen in the flagship LCD series (as well as the speaker grill openings on the ear cups, which make an “A” shape), but the EL-8’s takes aesthetics and build to another level.
Thankfully, when you have the EL-8 in your hands, that sentiment is still true. These headphones are as solid as they come. Every part of them are feel sturdily put together, and the thick metal members give off a substantial-ness that justifies its considerable price tag.
The cushionings are also done well. At the top, you’ll find a strip of leather-wrapped cushion where your head contacts the headband. Cleverly, it’s elastically attached on either side, leaving a gap between the very top of the slim metal headband in order to adsorb some of the pressure. Remember that this is a weighty headphone, so we’re glad that Audeze has engineered an efficient solution for comfort. This also goes for the sizable ear pads, also leather-wrapped and thick.
On the bottom, you’ll notice that the EL-8 features a detachable cable, and each ear cup gets its own connection. This is always a nice-to-have, as you can switch to another cable preference or replace it if it fails. The included stock cable is of the flat, rubbery style, has a considerate length of 6.5′, and feels as sturdy as the rest (albeit, a bit on the stiff side).
Going back to what we touched on before, the EL-8 is not really a portable headphone. It’s full-sized, weighty, and doesn’t fold. But then again, this is an open-back headphone, so it’s meant to be used in a quiet and isolated environment. Sound will leak in and out, so buyers need to understand the use case – in which you’re trading sound isolation for quality. Open-back headphones produce superior sound staging and airiness relative to the more typical closed-back types.
Fortunately, despite the considerable weight, Audeze has the appropriate mechanics in place to make the EL-8 as comfortable as any. The fit of the meaty ear pads help a lot in that regard. They feel like big pillows around your head, providing substantial support and engulfing your ears completely. The seal is actually so well done that you can feel a pressure shift when you do take them off. That may bother some people, but rest assured that sound leaking from the wrong areas is minimized.
The top supple head cushion is also a great solution to alleviate a troublesome pain-point (figuratively and literally) in a lot of headphones, where the weight causes a pressure ache at the top of the head. The EL-8 remains comfy in lengthy listening sessions.
It’s a given that the sound out of the EL-8 is exemplary. Typically when we’re talking about headphones in this price range, it is intricacies that are discrepant on sound quality. In that respect, let’s talk about the where the EL-8 excels and areas that may be contentious for some of the high quality-tuned ears out there.
First, Audeze’s planar magnetic driver reproduction excellence is definitely present. This means that the EL-8 also achieves that unrivaled clarity, detail, and quickness that the technology is known for. That fact appears to effortlessly carry about the insanely wide frequency range: 10 Hz – 50 kHz. What I particularly feel puts the response a large step above the rest is the brilliant treble, in which you can hear minuscule details and sparkle unachieved by most.
That prowess carries over onto the mid-range, seamlessly. As you go down the frequency range, you get a sense of objectively. The EL-8 is very precise and clinical in its production. That’s a great thing in regard to the trueness of music, but it is that some listeners don’t get enough fulfillment from a “reference” sound. You should expect a spectrum that focuses on phenomenal balance rather than one that gives off indulgent oomph. For instance, the bass is more about definition and accuracy, which bassheads could interpret as flat.
The benefit of open-back design also shows in the soundstage. The EL-8 are certainly more open-sounding than closed-back headphones, but with that said, it’s not as wide as it could be. We imagine that Audeze wouldn’t supply the EL-8 series all the tricks that the higher costing LCD series is given. That goes for imaging as well. We have heard a larger 3D sound space in other full-sized open-back headphones. In our opinion, that puts the EL-8 in a weird spot, because it doesn’t quite reach the open sound level that many enthusiasts may expect. It’s in between really good closed-back and top-notch open-back headphones, but then again, that sounds like it was the idea.
We were thoroughly impressed with the EL-8 Open-Back headphones, however, we better be for a $700 asking price. In regard to design and build, we certainly feel like the pricing is justified. Just bear in mind that Audeze reserved a bit of the audio excellence for its top-end LCD series, which makes sense. The planar magnetic drivers still deliver the exceptional detail that’d you’d expect, but open-backs can be more expansive sounding. All-in-all, these are outstandingly solid, unique, and well-rounded over-ear headphones.
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