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Dan Clark E3 Headphone Review

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 4 2.0%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 10 4.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 32 15.6%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 159 77.6%

  • Total voters
    205

srkbear

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Vindicated!!! I got the A stock version of the E3s in the mail today and they are like night and day to the first pair I received that were open box. This pair sounds incredible with all the bass I could possibly hope for, fulfilling my goal of obtaining my first true Harman-compliant cans. The first pair I received literally have zero bass. None. Again, like a floor speaker without a woofer. I don’t know if it’s a cable issue or the headphones themselves, but you can hear a difference from space! Sending the first pair back—Audio46 are befuddled as well, but I bet this is why the first owner sent them back…

@Robbo99999 @Dan Clark
 

srkbear

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It sounds like you may not be getting a good seal. If no music is playing rub your fingertips together and circle the cups near where the pad interfaces with your head, if you can hear your fingers you aren’t sealed. Adjust position as needed, in some cases people with small heads may want more clamp force in which case contact our support for a free kit to adjust.
It was the headphones themselves—I’m about to test the first pair with the cable I received with this A stock version I just got this morning, but it’s unequivocal that the first open box version I received is defective. No matter how much PEQ I threw at them (I chose a low shelf at 100 hz and a Q of 2.5 and kept cranking up the gain), I could not get a bass response from that pair.

The ones I just received are thrilling, celestial, unbelievably physical and exciting. I’m so relieved and so pleased I followed this through—now I see where all the accolades came from. You’re an extraordinary designer, and I fully expect these to be my new go-to headphones (and I have a formidable collection). Thanks for your passionate efforts for the industry and for your accessibility on this site!

—Steve Klemow
 

Ahmonge

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You’re an extraordinary designer, and I fully expect these to be my new go-to headphones (and I have a formidable collection). Thanks for your passionate efforts for the industry and for your accessibility on this site!
Dan Clark Audio has an top notch customer service, which is -for me- as important as a good product offering.
 

srkbear

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Dan Clark Audio has a top notch customer service, which is -for me- as important as a good product offering.
Yes so I’ve heard! Fortunately Audio46 does as well. Hifiman is also super great about this—they’ll let you trade up any headphone you have of theirs with a higher tier product for a fraction of the list price difference. Which I’ve done, twice.

I agree with you that this is so important. Contrast this with Focal, to whom I paid $4,400 for a 2020 Utopia, only to have them release the 2022 version at $5,000 (!)—which only fixed the driver instability and failures my pair is notorious for, and they offer no trade up at all. For a brief period they offered a $1,000 credit for the 2020 version off the full price of the 2022 as a trade in—which is insulting. And I’m sure they turned around and sold the trade ins refurbished for a hefty profit.

I think it’s time for headphone prices to come down in alignment with their technological progress, which is why I’m a fan of Hifiman and Mr. Clark here, for releasing these E3s at half the price of the flagships. These sound at least as good as the Utopias, are a far more innovative design, are more comfortable and ingenious in their aesthetics and foldability/compactness, and have more modern, Harman-compliant tuning. It’s also about time that other designers got the Harman memo as well.

I think I’m done with headphone shopping for awhile, if not ever. Done with DAC FOMO too. And streamers. Probably amplifiers. I’ve got more than I ever could have hoped for in my present system, thanks to the guidance from this site. Waiting the next big technological watershed innovation—personally my money is on Spatial Audio. That’s the future.
 

Robbo99999

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Vindicated!!! I got the A stock version of the E3s in the mail today and they are like night and day to the first pair I received that were open box. This pair sounds incredible with all the bass I could possibly hope for, fulfilling my goal of obtaining my first true Harman-compliant cans. The first pair I received literally have zero bass. None. Again, like a floor speaker without a woofer. I don’t know if it’s a cable issue or the headphones themselves, but you can hear a difference from space! Sending the first pair back—Audio46 are befuddled as well, but I bet this is why the first owner sent them back…

@Robbo99999 @Dan Clark
That's crazy isn't it that there's such a big difference, well I'm happy for you! God knows what was wrong with the other pair (from a technical fault point of view) that it was incapable of delivering any bass (even with EQ) whilst still having a good seal.
I think I’m done with headphone shopping for awhile, if not ever. Done with DAC FOMO too. And streamers. Probably amplifiers. I’ve got more than I ever could have hoped for in my present system, thanks to the guidance from this site. Waiting the next big technological watershed innovation—personally my money is on Spatial Audio. That’s the future.
That's a pretty good place to be in (I'm kinda getting there)! And yes, I think Spatial Audio (combined with easy & accurate scanning of your personal HRTF so that they can be realistically tuned to your own person with minimal fuss) is the future.
 

srkbear

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That's crazy isn't it that there's such a big difference, well I'm happy for you! God knows what was wrong with the other pair (from a technical fault point of view) that it was incapable of delivering any bass (even with EQ) whilst still having a good seal.

That's a pretty good place to be in (I'm kinda getting there)! And yes, I think Spatial Audio (combined with easy & accurate scanning of your personal HRTF so that they can be realistically tuned to your own person with minimal fuss) is the future.
I agree on the latter as well! I can imagine why headphone manufacturers are reluctant to implement this—it would theoretically obviate the need to own more than one headphone, if done right.

Apple has taken steps towards this by including an audiogram app on iPhones that performs a fairly robust analysis of your hearing capabilities—I asked an ENT colleague of mine his thoughts about it and he said it was the closest thing to professional audiometry he’d yet seen in a home-use device.

The iPhone subsequently creates a selectable EQ profile tailored to your results that adjusts their AirPods (especially the Pro 2 or Max) to accommodate for your hearing deficits (I’m not sure what standard FRC they’re using as a reference). I personally think that both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max sound terrific, and I notice a significant subjective improvement when I use my “optimized” EQ profile.

Of course I still find myself wanting to tune it further to accommodate my particular preferences jn the low end, but Apple headphones are tuned towards a more bass-forward presentation in general, so rarely. When combined with their head-tracking Spatial Audio capabilities I think what they’ve accomplished is fairly groundbreaking. Quite a few folks still grouse that they’re “lossy”, but I question whether there’s much of an audible advantage over the 48khz/24 bit they’re rated for. Most Atmos mixes aren’t mastered beyond this, and I think those that are done well (with a minimum of gimmickry) sound extraordinary.
 

Robbo99999

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I agree on the latter as well! I can imagine why headphone manufacturers are reluctant to implement this—it would theoretically obviate the need to own more than one headphone, if done right.

Apple has taken steps towards this by including an audiogram app on iPhones that performs a fairly robust analysis of your hearing capabilities—I asked an ENT colleague of mine his thoughts about it and he said it was the closest thing to professional audiometry he’d yet seen in a home-use device.

The iPhone subsequently creates a selectable EQ profile tailored to your results that adjusts their AirPods (especially the Pro 2 or Max) to accommodate for your hearing deficits (I’m not sure what standard FRC they’re using as a reference). I personally think that both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max sound terrific, and I notice a significant subjective improvement when I use my “optimized” EQ profile.

Of course I still find myself wanting to tune it further to accommodate my particular preferences jn the low end, but Apple headphones are tuned towards a more bass-forward presentation in general, so rarely. When combined with their head-tracking Spatial Audio capabilities I think what they’ve accomplished is fairly groundbreaking. Quite a few folks still grouse that they’re “lossy”, but I question whether there’s much of an audible advantage over the 48khz/24 bit they’re rated for. Most Atmos mixes aren’t mastered beyond this, and I think those that are done well (with a minimum of gimmickry) sound extraordinary.
I don't really agree with the theory of EQ'ing headphones to account for hearing capabilities as that could lead music to sound unnatural, as we are born with certain hearing characteristics, as well as age related hearing loss which I also don't think should be EQ'd out unless you require hearing aids to understand the world. I do agree with your personal HRTF being mapped and then that incorporated into headphones so that flat anechoic speakers can be accurately simulated by the headphones, but I don't agree with "hearing capability correction" that you describe Apple is doing (if indeed that is what they are doing). But yeah, that's off-topic, but an interesting short aside, for a couple of by-the-by posts. (And I agree that good personalised spatial audio would theoretically reduce the market for new headphones, as long as there was no room for improvement in the software & "scanning" side of the offering assuming that wasn't tied to just one model of headphone, because if it's spatial capabilities were tied to just that one model of headphone then improvements in the spatial audio in future iterations would mean the customer would have to buy the new revised headphone to get that improved iteration, but yeah off-topic).
 

srkbear

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I don't really agree with the theory of EQ'ing headphones to account for hearing capabilities as that could lead music to sound unnatural, as we are born with certain hearing characteristics, as well as age related hearing loss which I also don't think should be EQ'd out unless you require hearing aids to understand the world. I do agree with your personal HRTF being mapped and then that incorporated into headphones so that flat anechoic speakers can be accurately simulated by the headphones, but I don't agree with "hearing capability correction" that you describe Apple is doing (if indeed that is what they are doing). But yeah, that's off-topic, but an interesting short aside, for a couple of by-the-by posts. (And I agree that good personalised spatial audio would theoretically reduce the market for new headphones, as long as there was no room for improvement in the software & "scanning" side of the offering assuming that wasn't tied to just one model of headphone, because if it's spatial capabilities were tied to just that one model of headphone then improvements in the spatial audio in future iterations would mean the customer would have to buy the new revised headphone to get that improved iteration, but yeah off-topic).
Yeah but it’s good off-topic! Moving on though for the courtesy of others. :)
 

Benesyed

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I wonder if there's something off about my open box expanse that I was not at impressed by them as other people. Maybe I'll see if I can send them into to DCA to have them inspect it if its an option
 

srkbear

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Dan gave a talk on Passion for Sound on the benefits of a headphone break in period (see attached). Someone in the comments called it “burn in”, and I responded that I’d prefer to call it “break in” to differentiate it from the conflated woo topic involved with cables, DAC, etc.

The guy who hosts the site responded thus: “I don’t know about cables, but it’s real for electrical components such as capacitors so any device (DAC, amp, etc) with capacitors absolutely needs burn-in too”.

That’s what I get for engaging on that forum. I wish Dan would insist upon coming back on to set that straight. Pisses me off that they’d use him as a shill for their pseudoscientific agenda.

 

solderdude

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Dan wants to sell headphones. Manufacturers usually don't want to alienate prospective buyers and as most people believe in burn-in (break-in), cables and sound of DACs amps etc. he will not become a denier in those areas and scare of buyers.
The whole 'burn a headphone in' shtick works well for headphone sellers so buyers have enough time to get used to the sound.

If burn-in were really a thing your bass-shy E3 would have gotten bass by now.

Just skip that part and just enjoy what Dan sells... which are good but pricey headphones.
 

lowmagnet

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Mine should arrive on the 12th. Looking forward to having some isolation again (I live near a sawmill, and there are backup alert systems going off all the time over there)
 

lowmagnet

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It has arrived, a day early. Thanks to a shop I've used in the past: moon audio. First impressions were that it was packaged and packed so carefully! Layers of bubbles, some foam wedges, are real peace of mind upon opening.

The 3d-printed block for keeping the earcups from smooshing should really help with longevity! The case is nicely formed, and there's one way to put them away. Attaching the included 4.4 cable. Man I like this cable, it has a really nice surface and I don't catch any microphoning. Probably because of that connector. Man, that's a sturdy connector. I love it.

The housings, yokes, and headband assembly is superb. I didn't know how the glass would look in person, but holy crap is the screen printing sharp and ultra-high-dpi. It really does look like a grille. cool trick! I love how these look similar to all the other long-pad circum-aural headphones.

I'm running it off of my Topping A90 Discrete and D400 EX. Of course the DAC is the DAC, and the amp is capable of decent power to various loads, so I have no worries for power. They measure fine, they haven't let me down.

Music is stopping me from writing more. It's going to take a while to form a real opinion on it, and I'll keep most of it to myself. It really works as it measures, (well, and without much distortion in the low end. uncanny)
 

lowmagnet

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Yeah, good question, Dan Clark might be able to answer that one! Perhaps they're well made enough that the only item that will wear is the pads (which you can replace). I've had a few of my headphones (not Dan Clark) going back to 2015 and generally it's just the pads that need replacing if you look after them.
My HD650 have had their earpads, 2 cables, and the head pad replaced since 2008. My wife is wearing them right now. excellent value in those terms.
 

isostasy

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My HD650 have had their earpads, 2 cables, and the head pad replaced since 2008. My wife is wearing them right now. excellent value in those terms.

I'm interested to know how the E3 compares to HD650 if you have thoughts to share? Preferably with EQ as the bass difference is going to be most noticeable but also what most people EQ on the HD650 anyway.
 

Laphr

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It has arrived, a day early. Thanks to a shop I've used in the past: moon audio. First impressions were that it was packaged and packed so carefully! Layers of bubbles, some foam wedges, are real peace of mind upon opening.
Can D3 be compared to some speakers You have, are they different or are similar? Speaker moves more air and volume of pressure for sure, but as best You can to compare.
 

lowmagnet

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I'm interested to know how the E3 compares to HD650 if you have thoughts to share? Preferably with EQ as the bass difference is going to be most noticeable but also what most people EQ on the HD650 anyway.
My 650s have seen thousands of hours, and I haven't really listened to my dynamic drivers since getting into planars. The main difference is that while they both have open sound and good presentation, the 650, and any open backs, let all the noise of the world in and as such, it's hard to determine without an quiet room (challenge: impossible, the main reason I got closed back)

Can D3 be compared to some speakers You have, are they different or are similar? Speaker moves more air and volume of pressure for sure, but as best You can to compare.
The only speakers I presently have are a pair of 1993 SMG-A Magnepans coupled with and SVS 3000 Micro. Since the speakers are old, they too don't compare. I hear a lot more detail on the headphones due to their closed nature.

I tried the EQ from up thread, but prefer the E3 without any cross or eq.
 

Laphr

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Thanks for the answer.
So they are not headphone-ish compared to speakers, I hope.
 

lowmagnet

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Thanks for the answer.
So they are not headphone-ish compared to speakers, I hope.
They sound very open, just like my Arya Stealth or HD 650 or any other open back.

I've tried them with crossfeed both on and off in roon, and I don't think it adds enough to leave it on.

They do not sound "in your head" they sound "in a room", if I were to describe the result
 

Dan Clark

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Thanks for the answer.
So they are not headphone-ish compared to speakers, I hope.
The key concept of tuning around the Harman response is that it replicates the tone of a good speaker in a good room using a target based on decades of research. That and then the AMTS taking the “room” in the ear pad out of the equation…

So you get a more “speaker-like” upper range but without the room colorations in the bass and middle registers, in some ways the absence of standing waves kind of makes it the best of headphones and speakers.
 
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