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Dan Clark Stealth Review (State of the Art Headphone)

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the just announced Dan Clark Audio Stealth closed back planar magnetic headphone. Company was kind enough to share with me a couple of samples which I have been testing and playing with in the last couple of weeks. It costs US $3999.

The price made me think this was a giant headphone but I was shocked how it was packed in a very small case when folded:

Dan Clark Stealth Review Closed Back Planar Magnetic.jpg


Everything is soft touch and buttery smooth as you hold the headphone. Fit is very comfortable for me and I have no complaints to report.

The Stealth headphone uses a special “acoustic metamaterial” is placed after the driver to tune and optimize its performance.:
Dan Clark Stealth AMTS meta material.jpg


Metamaterial is usually a 3-D construct that has better properties than any solid base material. It can be designed to perform a number of acoustic functions from diffusion (to deal with standing waves for example) to resonances (acting as filters to tune the frequency response). We saw an example of such metamaterial in the KEF LS50 Meta speaker I recently reviewed where it was used to reduce reflections within the enclosure better than any normal acoustic material. The down side is cost which as you can imagine is contributing to the retail cost of Stealth.

Stealth weighs 415 grams:
Best closed back headphone.png


The cup is asymmetrical and driver is mounted at a slant. It has an inside height of 74 mm and width of 50 mm. Maximum depth is 29 mm.

Note: The measurements you are about to see are made using a standardized Gras 45C. Headphone measurements by definition are approximate and variable so don't be surprised if other measurements even if performed with the same fixtures as mine, differ in end results. Protocols vary such as headband pressure and averaging (which I don't do). As you will see, I confirm the approximate accuracy of the measurements using Equalization and listening tests. Ultimately headphone measurements are less exact than speakers mostly in bass and above a few kilohertz so keep that in mind as you read these tests. If you think you have an exact idea of a headphone performance, you are likely wrong!

Fitment on the fixture was somewhat variable. I spent quite a bit of time messing with them and what you see is the best I could get.

Dan Clark Stealth Measurements
Sit back and be prepared to be amazed:

Dan Clark Stealth Frequency Response Measurements.png


Yes! We have the highest compliance to our target curve of any headphone we have ever tested! The bit of deviation is dependent on mounting the unit on the fixture. The only deviation is a small bump between 100 and 160 Hz which company feels is necessary to give balance to the headphone sound.

Here is the relative frequency response which gives you a better sense of how close we are to our target:
Dan Clark Stealth relative Frequency Response Measurements.png


The first sample I received had stunningly low distortion measurements. Alas, a small tweak had to be made to it which bumped the distortion a bit in low frequencies. The result is still impressive especially if you look at the level of distortion higher in the range:

Dan Clark Stealth Distortion Measurements.png


For kicks, I measured the distortion at 94 dBSPL at 2 kHz and converted it to SINAD. That produces 81 dB! It is incredible that a mechanical device is able to produce so little distortion especially when you consider that this value is the sum of the distortion in the headphone plus the measurement microphone and measurement noise.

Here is the same in absolute dB:
Dan Clark Stealth THD Distortion Measurements.png


Notice the wide gap below our reference of 40 dB above 100 Hz. And how it is frequency independent hinting at lack of resonances. The Stealth is a league of its own here.

Group delay is very clean above low bass:
Dan Clark Stealth group delay Measurements headphone.png


Company asked me to measure the impulse response and its fast settling so here it is:
Dan Clark Stealth Impulse Response Measurements.png


Impedance is flat and low as you can expect from this type of technology:
Dan Clark Stealth Impedance Measurements.png


You need a beefy headphone amplifier to drive the Stealth:
most sensitive headphone.png


I was fine using my RME ADI-2 DAC so it doesn't have to be crazy power.

Dan Clark Stealth Listening Tests
I usually measure headphones before listening but this time I was first asked how it sounded so I decided to listen. That was a mistake as I could not stop listening to them to do the measurements! This is one of the most transformative experiences I have had in audio! What an incredibly clean, dynamic sound with absolute correctness in tonality. Naturally there was no need to apply any EQ.

On spatial qualities, it is also excellent which is surprising for a closed back headphone. The Sennheiser HD800S may be a tad better but I consider what that headphone provides to be artificial, albeit of the rare, nice kind. Not so with Stealth. Every bit of spatial quality when it comes to separation of instruments and left and right positioning sound natural and normal like the world's best audio system.

Conclusions
Both objectively and subjectively the Stealth makes a leap forward in headphone sound reproduction and possibly for any audio reproduction. It is that impressive of a product. You all know that I don't usually waste a lot of words praising products. Mostly because I get so many excellent products to test and have my dream stereo that not much impresses me. But the Stealth did just that. It changed my outlook on how much better your experience can be listening to these headphones.

In some ways the Stealth reminded me of OLED TVs. The first time you watch them and see the inky blacks and wonderful contrast, you have regret that all that time you didn't get to see what your content really looked like. Stealth does that for sound reproduction.

There is no getting around the high cost of the headphone though. I grilled the company left and right on why this headphone costs so much and whether the cost could come down. My wish and hope is that it does come down in price to make it more affordable to more people. For now, not only is this some you should buy if you can afford it, but if you are an audio company and want to know what best in class, "correct" sound reproduction is like, you need to buy this headphone. You will finally have a true reference for quality and tonality.

It is my pleasure to give the highest praise and recommendation I possibly can to Dan Clark Stealth Headphones.

P.S. A condition of sending this headphone to me for review was that it would have to be returned to the company. It would be a sad, sad day when that happens!

Edit: video review just posted:


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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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1000ROUNDZ

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Wow immediately came here when I saw the announcement. Can’t wait to audition them. Alas, price point is too high me. Maybe the Aeon 3 when the tech trickles down!
 
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amirm

amirm

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nice!
What about the tactile bass?
Ah, the deep bass is to die for. But it is headphone bass, not speaker bass. You obviously don't feel anything in your belly. But you hear cleaner bass that goes deeper than most stereo speaker systems.
 

Merkurio

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Not a fan of the gamer-ish design (I vastly prefer the original Aeons), but the performance is undeniable and a great milestone for the industry, kudos and huge respects for @Dan Clark!

Unfortunately, the price is positioned far above of most people are willing to pay for a headphone, no matter how good it would be.
 

BrokenEnglishGuy

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Ah, the deep bass is to die for. But it is headphone bass, not speaker bass. You obviously don't feel anything in your belly. But you hear cleaner bass that goes deeper than most stereo speaker systems.
But can you feel the bass hitting your ears?
this headphones hit hard as no other can do?

By measurements this can be one of the best headphones :)
 

Zim

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What an achievement. Looking forward to this trickling down eventually.
On a personal preference note, the “Stealth” on the headband and red threads ironically aren’t stealthy. IMO.
 
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Migel83

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The optical point is awsome.My Little friend Dan Clark good job.
But for me it is dream to possed one maybe some Day,hope it gives in Europe to sell.
 

gvl

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I grilled the company left and right on why this headphone costs so much..

And? Is it just based on performance alone or labor and material cost, eg each pair us custom tuned by Mr. Clark himself by inserting micron thickness platinum shims to tame down resonances in driver?
 
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