Dan Clark Audio Æon 2 Noire Headphones Review
Jay Garrett takes a trip to the dark side with this excellent new high-end headphone…
Dan Clark Audio
Æon 2 Noire Headphones
Alone time. Until a few years ago, this was a commodity that was taken for granted by most of us. Then, unprecedented government-enforced lockdowns occurred, which saw most of us forced to spend time indoors with partners, flatmates and family. Suddenly, being able to close your eyes and drift into your favourite album at a decent volume without annoying anyone else became priceless. And so it remains, even if we're now relatively free-range humans again!
Of course, personal audio also provides a potentially less expensive and more compact route for those seeking excellent performance from their music replay equipment. It also assists with our all-around immersion in high fidelity, thus improving mental health.
Closed-back cans are the perfect way to perform this disappearing trick at your desk or in the living room. So, having reviewed both open and closed flavours of Dan Clark Audio's Æon 2, I thought it time to try the latest iteration, the stealthy-looking Æon 2 Noire. This pair of £900 headphones is not to be confused with the flagship Stealth, at four times the asking price.
There are many similarities between the Æon 2 and the Noire, the latter being more an evolution of the lineage than standing out on its own as the Æon 3, for instance. Firstly, both designs centre on Dan Clark's second-gen 62x34mm single-ended planar magnetic driver. This sports home-grown tech, such as the DCA Trueflow system, promising improved detail retrieval by allowing more airflow through the motor. Additionally, the Noire benefits from the company's patented V-Planar driver processing, which moulds the textures on the driver surface for low-frequency optimisation and improved diaphragm stability, says the manufacturer.
Finally, giving the contemporary silhouette to the Æon 2 and Noire is the unique folding gimbal design for the Nitinol memory metal and leather headband. This results in an extremely light and comfortable headband and enables the headphones to be folded to half their size. Their compact folded nature means they can easily be transported in handbags, rucksacks and carry-on luggage while cosseted inside the equally compact hard case. On the subject of comfort, the Noire weighs 328g and sat nicely clamped upon my ears thanks to that clever headband.
Where the Noire has been updated is the construction of its earpads, formed of a newly built inner wall where half is fenestrated (perforated) synthetic Japanese protein leather. This design differs from the original A2 construction, which features a solid surface on the inner wall of the pad closest to the ear. Dan Clark told me: “The pad was designed to reduce the lower midrange/upper bass energy to deliver a fit to the Harman-style curve, i.e. a more neutral voicing. As a result, the regular closed [back] has a response a little more typical of a planar headphone with a richer lower midrange/upper bass and a slightly leaner sub-bass delivery.”
For those not totally up on this, 'the Harman curve' is a particular target frequency response for what a well-engineered set of headphones should demonstrate, as per Sean Olive and the Harman International team in 2013. Dan adds: “We did this for several reasons. The first was to offer a choice of voicing, as no curve, including Harman, is right for everyone. And by allowing any user to simply swap pads to get the voicing they want, it's also a way to offer a colour/style option, not just a tuning option.”
If you are searching for a dream pair of non-fatiguing yet wonderfully communicative closed-back cans, your quest ends here! No matter what I threw at these, from the lo-fi antics of Iggy and The Stooges to the blast beat-laden extreme metal of Strapping Young Lad, the music sounded unerringly smooth yet detailed and incisive. No wonder this is supposed to be Dan Clark Audio's best-selling headphone design…
You could never call the presentation 'rose-tinted', as the upper range remains nicely extended and detailed – so the Noire, contrary to what its name suggests, is not a dark-sounding design. Even through my well-mannered desk phones of choice, the Ultrasone Edition 15 Veritas – combined with Chord Qutest and Auris Audio Euterpe – the discordant musings of Sonic Youth can occasionally see me reaching for the volume control to turn it down. Yet while Dirty Boots still had plenty of bite, I enjoyed this classic at higher levels with toes uncurled, and jaw unclenched.
Whereas more polite-sounding headphones dull and blur the recorded acoustic – similar to a phone's beauty photo filter – the Noire still imparted detail. It unpicked the hypnotic strains of My Bloody Valentine's Blown A Wish to great effect, so I could still enjoy Bilinder Butcher's dreamy vocals amidst all the other musical goings on.
It wasn't just the noisy stuff where the Noire showed its evenness and poise. Plugged into a Moon 430HA headphone amplifier, I Want To Tell You 'Bout That performed by Jazz luminaries Stanley Clarke, McCoy Tyner and Al Foster came over with plenty of space. Clarke's funky bass pulls had a lovely snap, while Tyner's piano and Foster's drums, especially cymbals, were a joy. With The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, Tyner was unleashed with wonderfully clear-cut edges to his piano flourishes, demonstrating the deft midband of this pair of headphones. Indeed, it was Foster's tight hi-hat and tasteful cymbal strikes that really had me nodding as each hit came across with the right amount of air and space. Even the toms in Al Foster's solo gave me the sense that I was receiving this dynamic information anew, thanks in no small part to the lightning transients of the Noire's featherlight drive units.
This highlighted another of the Noire's strong points to me. I found myself intending to play a particular track and then letting the album run on – thanks to the way the Noire laid everything out before me in such a clear way. I also loved the pin-point instrument positioning within the soundstage, yet there was never a sense of having detail machine-gunned at me. As I am, those of you prone to marathon listening sessions will really like these headphones.
Kraftwerk's Techno Pop played to the Noire's strengths, as it imparted the music's energy and vitality. The talented upper midband and lower treble region gave the classic synths real character and delivered the vocals in a less flat and robotic way than many rivals I've heard. However, while I enjoyed the snappy, driving bass, the Harman Curve's low-end treatment does mean that other similarly-priced headphones offer richer, more sumptuous extreme bass frequencies.
Although this headphone generally sounds balanced, I can understand how orchestral aficionados might feel as if they're missing out on something – because the lower bass doesn't have the grunt of some designs around this price point. For instance, cellos and double basses can lose presence, even though they never ever lack transient attack or harmonic content. Similarly, low register pipe organ music is stripped of its ominous grumbling sound, just a bit. So if you prefer big and bouncy rather than tight and lithe, you might find yourself adjusting your amp's EQ.
Compared with the Sendy Audio Peacock and Oppo PM-1 open-backed planar magnetic designs, the soundstage from the well-isolated Noire is impressively spacious, more akin to the Æon 2 Open. Curiously, the trade-off of a more expansive soundstage is generally a looser sound. This characteristic is usually displayed when comparing open and closed-back headphone designs, in my experience. Yet the Noire delivers a more expansive stereo soundstage than expected, and I never thought the recorded acoustic sounded boxed in.
Are you the type of music fan who sits plugged into their headphones for hours on end, blissfully blocking out colleagues or family? If so, the Dan Clark Audio Æon 2 Noire could well be your end-game package. While open-backed designs often offer a more expansive soundstage, the Noire does exceptionally well – and adds closed-back tautness and rhythmic snap. Additionally, you get incredible detail, lightning-fast transients with an energetic midband, and a more extended treble than the Æon 2 Closed. This all comes wrapped up in a beautifully-finished pair of black headphones, complete with a degree of portability. An essential audition, Dan Clarke Audio's new Æon 2 Noire does so much, so well. Hear it if you can.
StereoNET’s resident rock star, bass player, and gadget junkie. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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