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Dan Clark Expanse Headphone Review

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 6 2.0%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 8 2.7%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 55 18.4%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 230 76.9%

  • Total voters
    299

JanesJr1

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You see, that's the issue with whatever people call "soundstage" as long as it isn't operationally defined in a way similar to what we're seeing right now in virtual reality / surround sound simulation research.

Since it isn't defined, and can't as a result be measured in any way, we're left to subjective impressions only.
As a result we're left to believing or not others' impressions. It's perfectly fine that you're unwilling to believe my own (after all they're subjective impressions of a totally undefined characteristic, which makes them a lot less comprehensible than "I hear a peak at 6kHz" - which would be theoretically measurable), but why should yours then become more believable than mine ?



I would rather think that it's more plausible that they just happen to produce the right FR at my eardrum (or at least deviate from it in a more ideal way than other deviations) for most of the spectrum for me to subjectively find whatever I personally call "spatial qualities" or "soundstage" with stereo recordings better than other alternatives, but I would not presume that this would systematically apply to others.
I find subjectively that a larger soundstage is partly associated with FR, specifically a less "mids-focused" (i.e. "U-shaped") FR. it may be that a larger "soundstage", defined as the listener's subjective impression of being in the audience at some distance from various instruments and performers, may be affected by directional or other cues from the headphones themselves (e.g. angled drivers), but also is affected by perceptual cues in the music associated with distance from the performers (tonal and amplitude balance among the instruments). The EQ applied to the recording or to playback may affect this.

In doing many A/B, bidirectional, Harman/Oratory matched, level matched comparisons, my pragmatic impression is that a significant part of a perception of soundstage is due to tonal balance. This is a perceptual cue in the recording that is affected by playback EQ. If I use headphones tuned to more to the mid's, then there is often more of a focus on just a few instruments or performers. If the recording is of a variety of acoustic instruments (e.g. an orchestra, or any acoustic performance with a variety of performers on a stage), this can cue the listener to imagine being close to or with the key performers (e.g. vocalists) or certain instruments. By contrast, a flatter tonal balance will bring a wider range of instruments into tonal (and often amplitude) balance, and cue the listener that s/he is more "in the audience". Ambience may also be conveyed by bringing reflections, resonances or more-physically peripheral sounds into the playback, particularly in the bass end of the FR.

Angled drivers, frontally-perforated earpads, open-back earcups, or other physical features may convey a wider soundstage. But my experience is that tonal and amplitude balance among instruments also plays a role. When doing A/B comparisons using EQ's that alternately give greater or lesser emphasis to the mids, I expected to find myself preferring one EQ or the other, depending on the musical material. For example, I appreciate close-miking of good female vocalists. But on the fly with A/B comparisons, even if the mid's-focused EQ sounds more energetic and revealing at first, I usually find myself preferring the U-shaped EQ with less mids-emphasis, because it makes the soundstage appear larger and the tonal/amplitude balance more like a live performance. Now, that is a personal preference; but it is definitely associated with a preference for a realistic soundstage.
 
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GaryH

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It should be understood that there's a distinction between imaging and soundstage:

They're both dependent on frequency response though:
https://www.reddit.com/r/oratory1990/comments/i9pfx1/_/g1jf75o
No I don't have measurement that directly relates to spatial attributes. However, FR is related to spatial attributes so a bad FR means bad spatial.

1. Localization in Azimuth - ITD and IID (IID is affected by FR)
2. Elevation: purely based on spectral differences at HF related to HRTF (affected by FR)
3. Sense of Depth or Distance: ratio of direct:reflected sounds, early reflections, HF attenuation with distance (affected by FR)
4. Apparent Source Width: related to lateral reflections and interaural cross correlation or IACC (affected by FR)

You are comparing an open back with a good FR with a closed back with a poor FR so I would expect spatial differences to exist. That's my point.

Interestingly, Srinivasan et al.'s (2016) study on soundstage image separation discrimination found that young normal-hearing listeners could discriminate ~2° angular separation between a sound and a masker, older normal-hearing listeners could discriminate ~6°, and older hearing-impaired listeners only managing ~30°. I suspect this could be a possible contributing cause to some, usually older, reviewers reporting that they can't really hear or distinguish that well the soundstage differences many others perceive between for example different headphones.
 
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JanesJr1

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It should be understood that there's a distinction between imaging and soundstage:
I was commenting mostly on soundstage, but do you think that imaging and soundstage are distinct, mutually exclusive spatial parameters created by distinct processes? Or just descriptive attributes of a single spatial image?

The Rting variables seem to deal a little more with imaging ... it's clarity/transparency, location in space, etc. Are the Rtings factors considered subjectively valid? It would be interesting to have blind comparisons of headphones to test the correlation with the Rtings score, if that hasn't been done.

I was coming at the issue of soundstage from a particular analysis, trying to determine why my DCA Noire has a stronger soundstage than my DCA/Drop Closed X headphones. Dan Clark describes both these phones having frontal earpad perforations, and the Noire having a more U-shaped FR, as the attributes DCA modified in order to improve soundstage. In my comparisons, I found that tonal balance is a larger factor in generating the better soundstage for the Noire. Further, I found that changing the tonal balance in A/B comparisons could affect the soundstage more than I expected.

As a closed-back headphone, the Noire usually doesn't have a deep soundstage, but its soundstage is large enough and just deep enough to convey a realistic sense of an array of instruments in space, perceived from a position in the audience. On well-recorded material, it can by exception sometimes have a deep soundstage; but absent a better explanation, I tend to ascribe that to the spatial cues in the recording itself (tonal balance of voices, reverb, etc.) I also listened to other headphones and IEM's. I found that a strong mids-focus, either resulting from the design of the transducer or from EQ, tended to reduce my perception of soundstage.

This was all done pretty carefully and I spent a lot of time making many A/B comparisons on a level-matched, EQ-matched, bi-directional basis. But it was sighted and not a formal scientific study.
 
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majingotan

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May I just drop in on this.
There was something Dan Clark said on his interview that resonated with me and my experiences.
When I first got my Sundara, I was amazed how expansive the sound stage was, and I was happy with it, till I got my Hifiman EDXS.
The EDXS sounded so expansive, it was to a fault! Indeed I became frustrated with it within the first month of owning it. I did a review on Headfi, trying to explain the phenomena as best as I could, calling it an out-of-phase kind of sound. Now this wide sound staging attribute has won over many users, but not me!
I went as far as modifying my EDXS to get a better central image, and therefore sound stage.
Open back headphones do sound open, but some of it is exaggerated, I believe Dan Clark set out to remedy that on Expanse. Chord and others, use crossfeed for headphones (not for me).
All I am saying is that, the expansive sound stage on open back headphones, may be fun but could also be a flaw.
Think of it akin having a u-shaped FR, some like it, it sounds better to them, but not everyone.

My subjective opinion about "bad" soundstage is the sensation of "hole" in the space. Dan Clark Expanse, Stealth, Aeon X Open, Aeon 2 Noires are one of the very few headphones that I've auditioned that certainly nailed center to side imaging without that hole sensation as well as avoiding the "wall of sound" flat soundstage that's more commonly observed in IEMs. What makes Stealth and Expanse is their ability to even reproduce the depth illusion where sound placements have an illusionary Z-axis perception while Expanse deliver a more fleshed-out/reverb timbre to the instruments more than Stealth. None of the other DCA headphones have that fleshed-out/reverb timbre that Expanse has and it's an addictive timbre to my subjective preferences.

I was commenting mostly on soundstage, but do you think that imaging and soundstage are distinct, mutually exclusive spatial parameters created by distinct processes? Or just descriptive attributes of a single spatial image?

It's kind of unclear to me whether and how to get more specific about the distinctions without a specific idea of how the combination of equipment, perceptual clues in the recording/playback, and the psychoacoustics of perception interact to create a spatial image, inclusive of soundstage and imaging. But if there's a way to do it, I'm interested!

My subjective opinion is that I agree with RTINGs that soundstage is distinct from imaging. In layman's terms, soundstage is akin to the size of a painter's canvas while imaging is how a painter lays out the parts of a drawing in the canvas i.e. how the instruments are reproduced in the constraint called soundstage. As I personally did not study electrical designs, I could only take what has been written by more experienced people about the combination of many factors that was mentioned (angled drivers, driver distance from eardrums, FR curve, etc.). If we're to have an amplifier to headphone matching, damping factor can certainly alter the FR curve of a headphone to either become bass heavy or bass lean, leading to perceived increase or decrease in soundstage and imaging
 
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solderdude

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I was commenting mostly on soundstage, but do you think that imaging and soundstage are distinct, mutually exclusive spatial parameters created by distinct processes? Or just descriptive attributes of a single spatial image?

Personally I think the word soundstage I would only use with speakers.
As headphones have a totally different (in and outside the head) presentation I prefer to call this 'headstage'.

Soundstage is how with stereo speakers as 3D 'image' of a recording is created in front of you which can also have the illusion of depth and even height. As if the were a stage where the performance is coming from.

Some claim headphones can do this (Binaural or with digital trickery) but I have no such luck. It is a in my head and left-right sensation for me.
So a 'stage' in my head.... headstage.

That 'stage' can be narrow to wide. For instance I perceive the HD6** series as 'narrow' and HD800 as 'wide'.
Basically what @majingotan wrote.
On top of that, mostly depending on the recording and how that was panned in the studio, I can get 'blobs' of instruments.
Some headphones have L, R and 'middle' blobs and other headphones have a more gradual 'spread' of instruments where it is less 'blobs' and more of a continuous L, R and middle stage without appearing to have blobs.

Could be FR related, could be driver size, angle, distance related and seems to not be reserved to over-ear headphones. On-ear and IEM also seem to pull that trick off.
IEM's I can't say. I don't use them regardless of how good people claim they are. Don't like the pressure in the earcanal (could be solved by CIEM I am told) and shoving earwax that is slowly moving outwards back in again and potentially (partially) blocking my ear canal. The older you get the worse that becomes.

This is what I would call a good headstage. No L-R-middle blobs.

Imaging is what I would define as how 'sharp' instruments appear to be in that 'headstage'. And.... how 'stable' they are in that headstage.
This is very frequency response related. When the FR is wobbly or peaked/dipped part of the frequency spectrum of an instrument may not be 'recreated' in the brain correctly.
Also L-R differences, be them ears, positioning on the head or L-R matching of response seems to be important, can widen/create a 'blob' where an instrument may be recreated in the brain. Maybe even (sharp) phase differences between L and R drivers > a few kHz)
So when I talk about 'sharp imaging' it is about how 'steady' and 'sharply' an instrument or voice is in that sound stage.

So yes, soundstage and imaging are related but (at least to me) have a different meaning.


IMO it has nothing to do with a headphone being open or closed at the back. This is insinuated by quite a few people.
 

MayaTlab

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Interestingly, Srinivasan et al.'s (2016) study on soundstage image separation discrimination found that young normal-hearing listeners could discriminate ~2° angular separation between a sound and a masker, older normal-hearing listeners could discriminate ~6°, and older hearing-impaired listeners only managing ~30°. I suspect this could be a possible contributing cause to some, usually older, reviewers reporting that they can't really hear or distinguish that well the soundstage differences many others perceive between for example different headphones.

Nah. Most of the discussion in this thread so far has concerned typical stereo recordings for which the notion of angle of incidence / cone of confusion doesn't make much sense when played back through headphones, not the type of signal used in this article.
 

MayaTlab

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I was commenting mostly on soundstage, but do you think that imaging and soundstage are distinct, mutually exclusive spatial parameters created by distinct processes? Or just descriptive attributes of a single spatial image?

Both terms aren't used much in articles that I've read so far on the subject of surround sound simulation. That should give a hint in regards to their usefulness.

The Rting variables seem to deal a little more with imaging ... it's clarity/transparency, location in space, etc. Are the Rtings factors considered subjectively valid? It would be interesting to have blind comparisons of headphones to test the correlation with the Rtings score, if that hasn't been done.

It wasn't compared with subjective evaluations.

There are quite a few issues with the methodology, for example :
- the "imaging" basket is basically useless since it isn't discriminatory in a significant way. Most headphones seem to pass well the tested attributes. IEMs tend to perform excellently in that category BTW per Rtings data.
- the baskets contain some attributes that are very arbitrary (such as using their noise isolation measurements in reverse to ascribe an "openness" score, without much in the way to substantiate the idea that headphones with low isolation have better "soundstage")
- the one measurement that's truly interesting, the PRTF one, as it's derived from an intuitively sensible idea (albeit not one that was tested beyond its intuitively sensible stage), was not repeated across different pinnae / rooms, to avoid the issue of one pair of headphones scoring well out of sheer luck (if a pair of headphones' design is better than another at "pinna activation", then it should be so across different heads / pinnae).

The PRTF test remains interesting and I hope that we'll get more data on that subject.
 

DjBonoBobo

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Topic?
 

odyo

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I think nobody knows for sure what exactly is responsible for the "spatial properties", just that it cannot be simply FR and low distortion. There were speculations of group delay being a relevant factor, but this has been discarded, so it seems, like many have mentioned already, angled and large drivers, together with a big distance to the pinna are the best bet.
I agree, especially the distance however what i hear from closed back DT 770 is really big soundstage unlike most other popular headphones makes me think a little bit hazyness help sounding distant.
 

Ken Tajalli

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My subjective opinion about "bad" soundstage is the sensation of "hole" in the space. Dan Clark Expanse, Stealth, Aeon X Open, Aeon 2 Noires are one of the very few headphones that I've auditioned that certainly nailed center to side imaging without that hole sensation as well as avoiding the "wall of sound" flat soundstage that's more commonly observed in IEMs. What makes Stealth and Expanse is their ability to even reproduce the depth illusion where sound placements have an illusionary Z-axis perception while Expanse deliver a more fleshed-out/reverb timbre to the instruments more than Stealth. None of the other DCA headphones have that fleshed-out/reverb timbre that Expanse has and it's an addictive timbre to my subjective preferences.
Yes, that hole in space is another way of wording it. I could get very big sound stage on left and right, but the centre image was Hollow!
This is the Mod. I did to my EDXS to combat it.
The small piece of netting helps a lot. It creates a more vivid centre image, brings vocals forward abit. it took me some trial and error to come up with the right material at the right place and right size.
Now that I look back, I did put some meta-material in a strategic place behind the diaphragm to control the back reflection, Did Dan Clark steal my idea ? :D
Soundstage is how with stereo speakers as 3D 'image' of a recording is created in front of you which can also have the illusion of depth and even height. As if the were a stage where the performance is coming from
Back in London CanJam, I came across this digital trickery:
To my amazement, it worked!
I remember distinctly, listening to Pink Floyd's Shine on you . . . , the guitars were spread about in a confused manner, but with the device activated (it does have A/B switch onboard), suddenly every instrument came into focus, the stereo image did not change size, just things got focused, speaker-like.
I was very impressed, and one of the better sounding DAC/amps on show on that day, when some well known brands disappointed.
 

Dealux

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Sorry, it appears everything you say is plainly wrong. No pinna, no soundstage.
You do realize outer ear interaction can be simulated through FR?
Some claim headphones can do this (Binaural or with digital trickery) but I have no such luck. It is a in my head and left-right sensation for me.
So a 'stage' in my head.... headstage.
I don't think that's normal lol. Even the Sundara sounds out of my head, like in front of my forehead, for all songs essentially. Your HRTF must be atypical if every headphone sounds "in your head".
It is so funny, I have both, the Sundara and the HD800 and just compared them, both with balanced cables and EQed to Harman, and while I like the Sundara, it is clearly inferior in soundstage.
There are cheap headphones that can do width. It's not that special. Neutrally tuned headphones like the Sundara and HD600 have a more natural/normal presentation when it comes to imaging.
 
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JanesJr1

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- the one measurement that's truly interesting, the PRTF one, as it's derived from an intuitively sensible idea (albeit not one that was tested beyond its intuitively sensible stage), was not repeated across different pinnae / rooms, to avoid the issue of one pair of headphones scoring well out of sheer luck (if a pair of headphones' design is better than another at "pinna activation", then it should be so across different heads / pinnae).

The PRTF test remains interesting and I hope that we'll get more data on that subject.
Interesting. I'll watch for it, too.
 

solderdude

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I don't think that's normal lol. Even the Sundara sounds out of my head

created a poll as it got me curious how 'not normal' my perception is which it could be but prefer some statistics of fellow headphone users.
 

JanesJr1

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It should be understood that there's a distinction between imaging and soundstage:

They're both dependent on frequency response though:
https://www.reddit.com/r/oratory1990/comments/i9pfx1/_/g1jf75o


Interestingly, Srinivasan et al.'s (2016) study on soundstage image separation discrimination found that young normal-hearing listeners could discriminate ~2° angular separation between a sound and a masker, older normal-hearing listeners could discriminate ~6°, and older hearing-impaired listeners only managing ~30°. I suspect this could be a possible contributing cause to some, usually older, reviewers reporting that they can't really hear or distinguish that well the soundstage differences many others perceive between for example different headphones.
The u/jaakkopasanen quote is helpful. Perhaps I'm misreading, but he appears to discount or ignore the real directional cues that are common for headphones, except for crosstalk. Either stationary or moving sound sources are easily identifiable as to azimuth. I am unclear on the specific effects of pinna filtering and will try to research it. (Although I didn't comment on imaging in my A/B comparisons, the DCA Noire was pretty accurate as to azimuth from 9 to 3 oclock. Lateral sound movement was smooth and did not seem like it had "holes" or serious "blobs".) Altitude varied much less, but that may simply be the nature of the sound source.

Sean Olive's four factors are consistent with my subjective perceptions, to the extent that I understand them. (Partly.)

Both u/jaakkopasanen and Olive attribute headphone soundstage largely to FR, but I am a little unclear to the specifics except for Olive's depth cues in the source recording.

The Srinivasan finding that older listeners have trouble with soundstage differences makes me feel a bit lucky. I seem to be very sensitive to it, and am conscious of and irritated by a soundstage that goes ear-to-ear in a straight line. And I'm 69. My listening preferences always imagine at least a forward, horizontal soundstage, which is simply a linear analogy to what we hear in the real world. That's why I spent some time on it in my A/B listening. But I find many others who don't think about it much.
 

JanesJr1

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created a poll as it got me curious how 'not normal' my perception is which it could be but prefer some statistics of fellow headphone users.
I responded to the poll, but my answer is misleading. I hear soundstage either between my ears or in front of me with either a little or a lot of depth depending on the headphone, how a particular recording was done, and the real-world depth of the soundstage in the recording venue. It's not 'one of the above'. Thank you for trying this; I will be interested what people say.
 

solderdude

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I'll add another choice.
You can change your vote.
 

majingotan

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The u/jaakkopasanen quote is helpful. Perhaps I'm misreading, but he appears to discount or ignore the real directional cues that are common for headphones, except for crosstalk. Either stationary or moving sound sources are easily identifiable as to azimuth. I am unclear on the specific effects of pinna filtering and will try to research it. (Although I didn't comment on imaging in my A/B comparisons, the DCA Noire was pretty accurate as to azimuth from 9 to 3 oclock. Lateral sound movement was smooth and did not seem like it had "holes" or serious "blobs".) Altitude varied much less, but that may simply be the nature of the sound source.

Sean Olive's four factors are consistent with my subjective perceptions, to the extent that I understand them. (Partly.)

Both u/jaakkopasanen and Olive attribute headphone soundstage largely to FR, but I am a little unclear to the specifics except for Olive's depth cues in the source recording.

The Srinivasan finding that older listeners have trouble with soundstage differences makes me feel a bit lucky. I seem to be very sensitive to it, and am conscious of and irritated by a soundstage that goes ear-to-ear in a straight line. And I'm 69. My listening preferences always imagine at least a forward, horizontal soundstage, which is simply a linear analogy to what we hear in the real world. That's why I spent some time on it in my A/B listening. But I find many others who don't think about it much.

Same here. My ears are pretty sensitive to soundstage too. Your ears are being called to get the Stealth which subjectively better imaging accuracies and soundstage to my ears (I think Stealth suits your tonality FR preferences more than the Expanse would). Best I can describe it as take Noire's imaging and soundstage (a small room) and expand all that to a concert hall room perception. Worth the $$$ only in the long run IMHO
 

JanesJr1

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Same here. My ears are pretty sensitive to soundstage too. Your ears are being called to get the Stealth which subjectively better imaging accuracies and soundstage to my ears (I think Stealth suits your tonality FR preferences more than the Expanse would). Best I can describe it as take Noire's imaging and soundstage (a small room) and expand all that to a concert hall room perception. Worth the $$$ only in the long run IMHO
A number of ASR members have hoped for a "Junior Stealth" or a "Junior Expanse", that uses the AMTS technology on a less-expensive headphone. I may be wrong, but I wonder why DCA would do that. Given their sunk costs in the technology as a smallish company, they seem to be able to charge quite a bit for their best headphones. Gearing up for selling more units of a new model at lower prices would require investment, and undercut sales of the premium models. I wonder if they would hurry in that direction as long as their Stealth/Expanse sales hold up, and most of the reviews have been positive.
 

Garrincha

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I don't think that's true. With certain songs that have hard panned instruments (usually with reverb added), IEMs can sound about as wide as any full size headphone in terms of total width.
This is just an unfounded claim without any arguments or quotation. Just pure allegation, so this statement is void.
 
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