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Dan Clark E3 Headphone Review

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 4 1.8%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 12 5.3%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 33 14.5%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 179 78.5%

  • Total voters
    228
Just because someone can afford a Ferrari doesn't mean they can drive it.
What does that mean, I ask sincerely? I could also say that one doesn’t have to lay an egg to know if it tastes good. What’s your point? That I can afford a flagship headphone but don’t know how to listen to it?
 
I just think that the headphone recommendations are misleading because the emphasis is on what is measurable—that is tuning—and headphones are about so much more than that.

I can’t remember the exact quote (or the og poster) but it went….

All the graph tells you is how this headphone/iem measures in this instance on this particular coupler, how you interpret that with your particular hrtf, ear canal length mode/volume, position on head/in ear is a minefield but the representative graph is the best we’ve got.

When measurements became a thing about 12odd years ago I thought “brilliant“, no more “dodgy blind buys” but I soon learned and now from a starting point of Harman 2019 iem target curve I’ve adapted it with PEQ over the years to my current fav target curve which is quite different, it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of the 5128 research.
 
srkbear, when comparing E3 to your other headphones the only EQ that you applied all the time was built in xBass button in your dac/amp?
If so, perhaps you could get closer to your preference curve by applying half or less xBass boost manually with a low shelf filter (since E3 already has 5.5db Harman curve boost built in)?
Oratory wrote that Low-Shelf at 55Hz with +12.3dB and Q 0.65 gets very close to xBass: "a lower Q-factor (e.g. 0.5 or 0.6) will shift some of the subbass energy into the lower mids, and a higher Q-factor (e.g. 0.7 or 0.8) will do the opposite and shift some of the lower mid energy into the subbass."
So perhaps +5 or +6db low frequencies boost should be enough for E3 in your case?

"This gets you within 0.1 dB of the XBass curve."
Filter TypeFrequencyGainQ-Factor
Peaking36 Hz1.4 dB2.00
Peaking47 Hz-3.6 dB1.40
Low Shelf52 Hz6.5 dB0.71
Low Shelf80 Hz5.8 dB0.58
(but I don't know how to recalculate values for 4 filters to get only half of xBass, so with a single low shelf it will be easier, though a bit less accurate)
Thank you, I’ve already tweaked the PEQ for the E3s in Roon and they sound terrific. As I said they’re an outstanding headphone by every imaginable criterion. To deny that this site heavily promotes the Stealth, Expanse and E3 as the only game in town (which is not an unreasonable assumption—there is no other headphone manufacturer who has been critiqued so generously or effusively on here as DCA) is being disingenuous.

And the only criterion that has been invoked to justify this promotion is their compliance with Harman, which in my view seems to be a function of there being no other objective reference point for headphones available to use as a benchmark on a site that emphasizes scientific evidence. Has anyone on here not seen a headphone they adore get a poor rating and held their tongue?
 
I can’t remember the exact quote (or the og poster) but it went….

All the graph tells you is how this headphone/iem measures in this instance on this particular coupler, how you interpret that with your particular hrtf, ear canal length mode/volume, position on head/in ear is a minefield but the representative graph is the best we’ve got.

When measurements became a thing about 12odd years ago I thought “brilliant“, no more “dodgy blind buys” but I soon learned and now from a starting point of Harman 2019 iem target curve I’ve adapted it with PEQ over the years to my current fav target curve which is quite different, it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of the 5128 research.
I’m fully with you. I just think we should omit the “review” aspect of headphones on here and just call it “measurements”. There is without question a degree of promotion going on here around Dan Clark’s gear, given how often Amir underscores that he uses his Stealth as a benchmark, and has offered no other justification for this other than their Harman compliance. I have seen several posts dismissing “detail retrieval” as a bunk term that “doesn’t exist”. Do you agree with this? Are all Harman tuned, comfortable headphones the same?
 
Yes, but that's not what this discussion is about, I mean it's not what sparked the discussion from @Grobbelboy & myself. srkbear can like any target he likes, that's for him, but I'm astounded he had to try the E3 to find out! I mean it's a long rambling post of his and then you find out he just doesn't like the Harman Curve - "big wow".
I didn’t have to try the E3 to find out, come on, you know me better than that by now, I hope? Perhaps my writing style uses metaphors and literary devices too freely on a scientific forum and subjects me to being misunderstood, that criticism would fit. I only used the Harman story as a means to convey that I think the criteria (criterion) we use to “review” or “recommend” a headphone is flawed.

I bought the E3 because I have come to trust Amir as a reliable authority on which to base my purchasing decisions, and his effusive praise of all of DCA gear is impossible to miss on here. My FOMO was based on his lavish praise and his promotion of his DCAs as his benchmark, and literally the only criterion he has invoked to justify this is how pleasurable it is to find a headphone properly tuned (especially the low end) right out of the box.

As a consequence I felt compelled to check out what all the fuss was about, and it turned out that his reliance on Harman as the only benchmark was a disappointment. Couple this with the fact that many of the headphones I adore that have been reviewed on here have gotten savaged, for no other reason than they didn’t measure up to the only criterion he has available to measure!

Let’s just accept that with the current technology headphones are not suitable to objective analysis and stop calling these assessments “reviews”. As much as we endeavor to maintain objectivity, there is some promotion and bias going on here, and if I can be seduced by it, surely many others less invested in scientific rigor might be as well.
 
I have seen several posts dismissing “detail retrieval” as a bunk term that “doesn’t exist”. Do you agree with this? Are all Harman tuned, comfortable headphones the same?
Visual detail retrieval for me in the terms of say a oscilloscope would be a very good thing so if it can be applied to audio gear I suppose I can make it work. As per the Harmon tuned gear of course they won't sound the same... Too many variables and tolerances involved for this to occur. My question is do people really require the Harmon curve or has it become of relevance by making something that can be PEQd.
 
I didn’t have to try the E3 to find out, come on, you know me better than that by now, I hope? Perhaps my writing style uses metaphors and literary devices too freely on a scientific forum and subjects me to being misunderstood, that criticism would fit. I only used the Harman story as a means to convey that I think the criteria (criterion) we use to “review” or “recommend” a headphone is flawed.

I bought the E3 because I have come to trust Amir as a reliable authority on which to base my purchasing decisions, and his effusive praise of all of DCA gear is impossible to miss on here. My FOMO was based on his lavish praise and his promotion of his DCAs as his benchmark, and literally the only criterion he has invoked to justify this is how pleasurable it is to find a headphone properly tuned (especially the low end) right out of the box.

As a consequence I felt compelled to check out what all the fuss was about, and it turned out that his reliance on Harman as the only benchmark was a disappointment. Couple this with the fact that many of the headphones I adore that have been reviewed on here have gotten savaged, for no other reason than they didn’t measure up to the only criterion he has available to measure!

Let’s just accept that with the current technology headphones are not suitable to objective analysis and stop calling these assessments “reviews”. As much as we endeavor to maintain objectivity, there is some promotion and bias going on here, and if I can be seduced by it, surely many others less invested in scientific rigor might be as well.
I would love to have DCA Stealth headphones and apply my usual maximum high frequencies to them. Like this. >>>
PEQ (6).png
 
I fully agree. What I don’t agree with is dismissing all the other technical aspects of a headphone as apocryphal simply because we lack a rig capable of assessing them. To say that there’s no such thing as “detail retrieval” is taking the concept of cognitive bias too far.
But there is no such thing as detail retrieval. Every headphone delivers the full frequency spectrum, more or less good, though.
 
I imagine hearing small details with more definition or better definition and the subtle playing of a percussionist for example.
So is there any headphone which, EQed to Harman, can not do that?
 
So is there any headphone which, EQed to Harman, can not do that?
Some are better or worse than others. Imagine perhaps a PEQ adjusted a million different ways even if trying to get the Harmon curve one can never be that exact when making the headphones and so the Harmon curve is a guideline for the majority that hear this way.
 
Some are better or worse than others. Imagine perhaps a PEQ adjusted a million different ways even if trying to get the Harmon curve one can never be that exact when making the headphones and so the Harmon curve is a guideline for the majority that hear this way.
You do not need to meet the Harman curve exactly to hear all "details", it is just a myth that there are different quality stages of "detail retrieval", mostly it is just elevated treble.
 
You do not need to meet the Harman curve exactly to hear all "details", it is just a myth that there are different quality stages of "detail retrieval", mostly it is just elevated treble.
I agree on the elevated treble thought there but it is coming down to transducers having maybe +/- maybe ~5 to 6 dB variation across the mid bass on up the frequency graphs? Whatever it is technically it is enough to make all sorts of different sounding transducers.
 
I already do that for all my cans anyway. I did say that I learned my own lesson on my tuning preferences from buying the E3 and I do not fault the site or anyone else for my ignorance. What I take exception with is this claim that there’s no such thing as “detail retrieval” and the implication that tuning is the whole story with headphones. All of the other gear put to analysis on here achieves recommendation status via valid criteria that I trust and consider aligned with the mission of ASR as being about objective data. Until we achieve some scientific way of qualifying all the technical details of headphones on the bench, I don’t think that discrediting those performance factors is the appropriate way to handle these limitations.

I didn’t have to try the E3 to find out, come on, you know me better than that by now, I hope? Perhaps my writing style uses metaphors and literary devices too freely on a scientific forum and subjects me to being misunderstood, that criticism would fit. I only used the Harman story as a means to convey that I think the criteria (criterion) we use to “review” or “recommend” a headphone is flawed.

I bought the E3 because I have come to trust Amir as a reliable authority on which to base my purchasing decisions, and his effusive praise of all of DCA gear is impossible to miss on here. My FOMO was based on his lavish praise and his promotion of his DCAs as his benchmark, and literally the only criterion he has invoked to justify this is how pleasurable it is to find a headphone properly tuned (especially the low end) right out of the box.

As a consequence I felt compelled to check out what all the fuss was about, and it turned out that his reliance on Harman as the only benchmark was a disappointment. Couple this with the fact that many of the headphones I adore that have been reviewed on here have gotten savaged, for no other reason than they didn’t measure up to the only criterion he has available to measure!

Let’s just accept that with the current technology headphones are not suitable to objective analysis and stop calling these assessments “reviews”. As much as we endeavor to maintain objectivity, there is some promotion and bias going on here, and if I can be seduced by it, surely many others less invested in scientific rigor might be as well.
I'm sorry, but in your original post you go on & on about comparing the E3 at stock vs your other stock headphones, so of course there are frequency response differences. You then go on to say "Turns out I really don’t like Harman tuning". I mean why are you writing all these paragraphs of stuff when obviously there are gonna be differences when the frequency response is different, & then on the back of that you start talking about measurements not capturing everything when clearly the measured tuning of your different headphones explains the differences you experience.

Nowhere in your post did you say you EQ'd all your headphones to Harman and then compared them (but invalid for you anyway since you don't like Harman), which would have been more interesting, and then yes you can't expect them to sound identical even after doing that - like I said before due unit to unit variation and peculiarities in how the headphone design interacts with your own anatomy when you wear them. But nothing you talked about in your original post proves that because you were comparing them at stock, so of course there are differences - massive measured frequency response differences! So, look, you've not discovered anything ground breaking and your long original post did nothing to support anything you were saying anyway. I have to say it's annoying to have to read such long-winded posts about someone buying an expensive and probably very good (not because of the price) Dan Clark E3 and then performing somekind of illogical assessment and coming to illogical conclusions, all whilst taking up lots of space & people's time on here and whilst adding as an aside some negative karma to Dan Clark E3 & Harman even if that wasn't your intention. (And yes, not everyone has to like Harman, but that's not what this is about.)
 
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You can probably guess by now that it wasn’t there. I was truly gobsmacked—I went back and forth between my rolled off HEKses to the E3s to my modded Utopias and back to the E3s, over and over again, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. Compared to my stalwart favorite headphones I was used to, these E3s sounded positively hollow—certainly their performance otherwise was absolutely top notch, but there was no “slam”, fullness, warmth, energy or fun at all compared to all these “can’t be recommended without EQ” headphones I’d paid a fortune for and hung my head in shame for adoring.

I fled to this thread in desperation for an explanation. I was offered all sorts of hypotheses that just didn’t align with what my senses were telling me. I eventually gave up, until I had basically resigned myself to having defective ears—although I did run pink noise through these damn things for about two weeks straight in spite of myself hoping for a miracle that never came.
It might simply be a matter of seal. Other headphones you are comparing are open backs, so their bass response does not change much (if any) with differences in seal. I have not seen specific measurements for E3 but I'd strongly suspect E3 bass response would be seal dependent.

Then I happened to come back here recently looking to see if anyone else shared my perceptions. And I suddenly realized that there had been one sage bit of advice offered to me that I had somehow overlooked—namely to forget about focusing on the sub bass rolloff on the far left of the FRCs, and instead redirect my eyes on the MID BASS between my Utopias/HEKses compared to these here E3s. And sure enough, it turns out that Harman tuning doesn’t care so much about that particular region from 80-140hz or so. Harman is much more about solving that sloping rolloff in the sub bass region instead. And of course the mid bass is where all that fullness, warmth and slam lives, which is why I love the headphones I have. When I went back to listen to the E3s, sure enough that emphasized sub bass was there all along, all the more audible because there’s nothing to obscure it from its neighbors to the right a bit.


That is incorrect. Many people, including Amir, criticized Harman research for not being selective enough below 50Hz and in fact 100-500Hz region is one of the key differentiators between good and not so good headphones.

From : A Statistical Model that Predicts Listeners’ Preference Ratings of Around-Ear and On-Ear Headphones

1717921274429.png
1717921317142.png


The headphones in the “fair category” have too much energy between 100 Hz and 500 Hz, which made vocals sound too muddy and colored. The error response has a reasonably flat slope, which could be misleading. However, if data below 50 Hz were ignored the slope would have a greater downward tilt.

In any case, Harman research is not simply a single tuning that everybody is supposed to like. Amir presents it as such, possibly in an effort to push industry towards a single tuning and bring an end to the circle of confusion, but that is Amir, not Harman research. If you prefer less bass and more treble, you might be in fact what research calls Class 3.

1717921556577.png



I actually far, far prefer U-shaped tuning, which my HEKs and Utopias give me in spades. I should have known better, because like just about all FOMO, I wasn’t missing a damn thing.
I would not describe either of these headphones to be U shaped. In fact, what you describe that you like is more of a V shape than a U shape.
 
I imagine hearing small details with more definition or better definition and the subtle playing of a percussionist for example.
That’s about it. How fast a diaphragm can move to reproduce the sound of instruments authentically, how much space an instrument is given in the mix, plus there’s other factors such as soundstage, imaging, timbre, etc. These are not apocryphal terms. Surely any audiophile can appreciate a headphone that can achieve these qualities and appreciate the difference between a planar vs a dynamic driver or a closed back vs an open back. It seems odd to have to answer this question to be honest—I didn’t make up these terms.
 
I'm sorry, but in your original post you go on & on about comparing the E3 at stock vs your other stock headphones, so of course there are frequency response differences. You then go on to say "Turns out I really don’t like Harman tuning". I mean why are you writing all these paragraphs of stuff when obviously there are gonna be differences when the frequency response is different, & then on the back of that you start talking about measurements not capturing everything when clearly the measured tuning of your different headphones explains the differences you experience.

Nowhere in your post did you say you EQ'd all your headphones to Harman and then compared them (but invalid for you anyway since you don't like Harman), which would have been more interesting, and then yes you can't expect them to sound identical even after doing that - like I said before due unit to unit variation and peculiarities in how the headphone design interacts with your own anatomy when you wear them. But nothing you talked about in your original post proves that because you were comparing them at stock, so of course there are differences - massive measured frequency response differences! So, look, you've not discovered anything ground breaking and your long original post did nothing to support anything you were saying anyway. I have to say it's annoying to have to read such long-winded posts about someone buying an expensive and probably very good (not because of the price) Dan Clark E3 and then performing somekind of illogical assessment and coming to illogical conclusions, all whilst taking up lots of space & people's time on here and whilst adding as an aside some negative karma to Dan Clark E3 & Harman even if that wasn't your intention. (And yes, not everyone has to like Harman, but that's not what this is about.)
I’ll accept that I misconstrued my point. My post was an overly floral and metaphorical attempt to point out the limitations of basing a rave review and a recommendation solely on tuning. I bought the E3 based on Amir’s raves about DCA—I don’t believe that he’s made these headphones his benchmark solely because they don’t require EQ. I’ve made that point several times since. If you like I’ll delete the original post so we can stick to that debate. I’m not moving the goalposts here, I promise.

Plus I don’t regret my purchase—I just reject the number of reviews of fantastic headphones that have not been recommended simply because they miss the Harman mark. Please stop denying that that’s the a priori benchmark to beat on here.
 
You do not need to meet the Harman curve exactly to hear all "details", it is just a myth that there are different quality stages of "detail retrieval", mostly it is just elevated treble.
Oh that’s silly. Evidence? There’s no differences in quality amongst headphones other than tuning? Crinacle is full of it? The speed and accuracy of a headphone and the quality of materials and design have no bearing on the end result? Then why does anyone including yourself spend more than $50 on a headphone? Why does Amir claim a $4,000 headphone his favorite? Knock off the gaslighting, that’s an absurd claim.

Of course some headphones are capable of reproducing detail more accurately than others—I’m a huge skeptic when it comes to those who claim they can hear differences among DACs and am fully on board with cognitive bias, but your claim is taking this principle too far. I PEQ all my headphones fo suit my tastes but I am not about to accept that there’s no quality differences between my Koss Porta Pros and my Utopias other than treble, give me a break.
 
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That’s about it. How fast a diaphragm can move to reproduce the sound of instruments authentically, how much space an instrument is given in the mix, plus there’s other factors such as soundstage, imaging, timbre, etc. These are not apocryphal terms. Surely any audiophile can appreciate a headphone that can achieve these qualities and appreciate the difference between a planar vs a dynamic driver or a closed back vs an open back. It seems odd to have to answer this question to be honest—I didn’t make up these terms.
It is not odd, it is important to have definitions. Which piece of content is supposed to sound which way for a given term like "detail retrieval"? Give me a timestamp on a music content and explain. It helps with repeatability of claims about a thing being more retrieving than other. Different reviewers can mean different things with "detail retrieval". Using these terms without frame of reference is lazy and reviewers never really go into details of definitions nor there is good resource on these subjective terminology.
 
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