MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Closed (will address as AFC in this entire review) is the first MrSpeakers headphone that I have ever listened to, I don’t have any idea with MrSpeakers/Dan Clark Audio’s ‘house sound’ but I have heard a lot of good things about the Aeon series, thanks to my audio friend to lend me his AFC for this review. Between, MrSpeakers is now changing its name to Dan Clark Audio, Mr. Dan Clark is the man behind the brand and headphone; hence the name (because they don’t do Speakers anyway), design and manufacturing are done in San Diego, USA. You may hear of Mad Dog, Alpha Dog, and Ether series, but there were only three series of headphones by them currently, Aeon, Ether, and Voce, Aeon series is their most affordable headphone in the lineup and selling for 800 USD.
MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Closed (800USD retail price, 2017 product and succeeded by Aeon 2 Closed in November 2019)
AFC is a very beautiful closed-back, over-ear headphone, I love the color scheme of it, and it is really easy to take a good photograph of it, after all, it is a genuinely beautiful headphone. I love the idea of Mid-Fi closed-back headphones, and as you know, the market is already pretty saturated with Mid to Hi-Fi of open-backed headphones. I do favor opened back headphones over closed back, but there is some environment restriction that using open-back headphones is not always practical, because open-back headphones don’t isolate noise at all and leak pretty amount of sound, this will be quite disturbing, this is why Closed back headphone still has demand in the market despite physical weak points of the sound quality. Clamping force is good enough to hold position and not being too forceful as well, nice.
The dark blue color scheme is eye-catching with a glossy surface, the teardrop contour cup design is unique and surprisingly covered up my ears nicely, finished with a carbon fiber paneling which added nice touch aesthetically. The headband is what they called using ‘Nitinol’ material, which is very light and subtle and should spread weight evenly combine with the leather head strap. I found that the Nitinol headband (memory metal that will return to original shape after deformed with reheated) is not as robust as I like although lightweight. The ear pad is quite thick and well-cushioned, certainly added up the comfort of the headphones.
The cable is what Dan Clark Audio called DUMMER (Distinctly Un-Magical) cable, which selling for 99USD alone at their website, while I don’t know what material lying inside, it is covered by fabric and terminated in 3.5mm configuration, I kind of like this cable despite it is quite heavy, and the ‘Hirose’ dual entry locking mechanism used is not my favorite, I much prefer dual entry 3.5mm for better aftermarket option and much more mainstream in my opinion, but not a major complaint, the cable is well built and has good heft, I like it personally.
Speaking of technology, AFC is quite advanced, utilizing both V-Planar Technology and TruFlow Technology; former is a technology that improves diaphragm’s pistonic motion and has narrowly spaced conductor traces, and the later is a technology that features magnets placed between each diaphragm for smoother airflow of a magnet. We can see most of the planar headphones manufacturers have similar technology in different naming, it is much more common now, and we indeed have seen a lot improvement in terms of sound quality and efficiency of Planar headphones recently, which is always a good thing. A travel case (clamp shell type) is included, but you will need to detach the cable first in order to fit inside the case, it will be much better if they included a bigger case.
Rated at 13 Ohm only and 95dB/mW of sensitivity, however, I don’t think this is an efficient headphone as rated above but certainly not difficult to drive. A portable headphone amplifier should be more than enough, but we always recommended a desktop headphone amplifier. I tested to drive it with my Huawei Mate 20, although you will get enough listening volume the sound is awful, with thin body and rough treble with spike edges, it is a laughable result, I am not sure with something like LG V series of smartphone but don’t just pair it with a typical smartphone, this won’t do it justice.
Foam Pad Insert
The best thing about AFC is that you can slightly alter the frequency response by inserting a foam pad into the headphone; it is a very simple process. I try to compare them with and without the black foam pad.
The frequency responses changed significantly, especially with tracks where treble made up most of the music. The black foam generally smoothed the treble a bit and give the bass a little weight. However, I found that I prefer the sound without any foam pad.
Without the foam pad, I found that it has a livelier and sparkier treble, the attack and bite is more immediate, and transparency also increased slightly, the sound is more open. The foam tends to tame the signature down a bit, and I can see treble sensitive person prefer the foam pad but to be honest, I never found AFC to be a very bright (yes, the treble is a little apparent) headphone, so it is not an issue for me. Everything just sounded more natural to my ears without the foam pad, and the review impression will be made without inserting the foam pad as well.
I have paired MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Closed with my laptop connect to Stoner Acoustics UDXA and EGD, feed to M2Tech Marley II, I have tried different pairing with JDS Labs The Element, Centrance Audio DACPort HD, feeding lossless and high-resolution music through Foobar2K and streaming Tidal Master.
I posted in my Facebook Fan page to express my disappointment towards sound quality of AFC and some guys seems to argue against my opinion strongly, I even spent few more hours with the AFC and tried to match it with different DAC and amplifier to see if I missed anything, I also try to contact some of my trusted ears and ask for their opinions, I am sorry, but my opinion will have to be here to stay, after all, I will have to be unbiased and honest as much as possible when reviewing a product, if my review really make your eyes pain then I apologize for that, but this is solely my honest opinion, there are plenty of positive reviews for AFC out there if you need one just googled them, this review, however, is my listening impression done with AFC (no pad inserted).
If you decided to stay with me, let’s proceed to sound quality, shall we? AFC is a neutral sounding headphone with slightly tilting towards the cold side, just a very slight approach, though, so it is still neutral in my dictionary. AFC is quite balanced too in terms of frequency response; however, I do think some might think it lean towards bright sounding (with significantly weak bass), this is quite a thin-sounding headphone, and this is why I think Dan Clark can improve it. Thin sounding nature combine with a horrible dynamic of the AFC, make me can’t stand with the sound for 10 minutes, I am sorry if this sounded harsh, but I am trying my best to make my opinion sounded nicer.
The dynamic is almost dead, very flat and boring, don’t get this wrong with balance sound, you can have a balanced sound but still be dynamic sounding, in my honest opinion this is a design flaw, or maybe just the designer personal preference, this just doesn’t sounds ‘audiophile’ enough and too boring to my taste, the soundstage is quite cramped although I understand that this is a closed-back headphone, but the soundstage is still too small and cramped, as like all instruments hardly get any space to breathe, the more complex the music passage gets, the worse it gets. The instrument separation is bad as well, and I can’t believe how much I dislike the sound of AFC, I even suspect AFC that I reviewed is a flawed unit, but I can’t get another pair to confirm. If you have followed my review extensively, you should know that I seldom dislike and post a negative comment on the review unit (mostly I just don’t write a review for them if it didn’t sound good), everyone does hear differently and YMMV.
While the transient and dynamic level is hopeless, the treble is my favorite parts regarding the entire sound of AFC, but I can see some will find it lean to bright sounding (because of the sound signature), it is quite clean and well detailed here. Midrange, however, disappointed me with the ‘boxy’ sound, which rather too closed in, especially on the vocal, has an odd tone that I don’t like. Bass, as I said, is lean and dead, while I feel it is quite balanced in terms of quantity, but lacking slam, depth, impact, and rumble.
Detail level and resolution are okay though, transparency is okay too, but nothing too spectacular at this price range, it is an 800 USD headphone, and I expect more. I have the least experience with closed-back headphones, but I am okay with Sennheiser HD202 ii (although bloated bass and a little boxy sounding too), Creative Aurvana Live! (still owned it, the midrange is a little recessed and sounded uneven, but beautiful tone), ZMF V1 and Thinksound On1 (I like it, and it lack some dynamic too, but for the price, I won’t blame it, quite transparent and clean too), all of them didn’t give me such a big disappointment as AFC gave to me, they are all fairly cheap headphone, and I am okay with their weaknesses, but AFC is selling for 800 USD when it is new (discontinued now), I can’t get it and I really can’t accept the flaws and sound signature.
Please spend your hard-earned money wisely. If you didn’t need a closed-back headphone, get the Hifiman Sundara at half the price, and Sundara is way much better sounding than AFC, highly detailed, and more complete in the sound. Even spend on Drop X Sennheiser HD6XX will get you a much better sound too, which has a superb tonal, or else the Philips X2 at 199USD, even X1, are much better choices.
I don’t know Mr. Dan Clark personally and I don’t have any hatred on their products as well, I respect your preference if you like the AFC and I apologize if my review sounded harsh, good news though people said the version 2 is clearly better but I have never tried the Aeon Closed two so I can’t say about it, but the AFC that I have tried, if it is not a flawed unit, then I am really disappointed and can’t seem to understand how can it gain so much popularity. Thanks for your time, don’t get upset and drink a coffee, have some music, but on something else other than AFC.