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Dan Clark Stealth vs the world subjective review

metasharp

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Hello,

I was lucky enough to listen to many expensive headphones. I'll start by thanking to Headonist to have given me that chance. And a friend who brought some ASR praised hardware as well.
The hardware I own are in blue.

Headphones
B&W P7 (~300€) Bluetooth
B&W PX7 Carbon (~400€) Bluetooth

Dan Clark Expanse (~4.000€)
Dan Clark Stealth (~4.000€)
Earsonics EM3-Pro (~900€) IEM
Final Audio D8000 Pro (~4.000€)
Meze Liric (~2.000€)
Sennheiser HD 800 (~1.200€)
T+A Solitaire P (~5.000€)
ZMF Vérité Closed Koa (~2.000€)

Amps
Lejonklou Giella PI (~2.350€) HP amp
Paltauf HPA-100 SP (~4.000€) LS+HP amp
Paltauf KHV ESD Mark 2 (~6.000€) HP amp

DAC+Amp
Okto dac8 PRO 8Ch (~1.300€) DAC & HP amp
Sabaj A4 Full Digital audio Amplifier (~80€) DAC & LS+HP amp plugged on B&W 685 S2 speakers
Smyth Realiser A16 (~4.500€) 15.1.8 DSP & DAC & HP amp (no chance yet to try the Speaker Edition)
Topping DX3 Pro+ (~200€) DAC & HP amp (in normal mode, no gain since we forgot the remote controller)

DAC
Weiss DAC-502 (~10.000€) DAC

Software
ASIO4ALL (windows driver to force windows to send the digital signal to the external DAC)
Foobar2000 (media player)
+ ASIO output (foo_out_asio)
+ bs2b dsp (foo_dsp_bs2b)
+ Meier Crossfeed (foo_dsp_meiercf)
+ VST 2.4 adapter (foo_vt)
Foobar2000 VST plugins
+ Proximity (TDR Labs)
+ space360 (cytosonic)
Not tested : Impulcifer

My researchs (any advices to answer those are welcome)
- Best audiophile HeadPhones + (if possible) all-in-one DAC/DSP (optionnal)/AMP
- Best audiophile bluetooth HeadPhones with ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) + clean microphone
- Best spatialization DSP system to use HeadPhone to view movies and/or play games

Summary & Key take aways
HeadPhone wise : Dan Clark Audio Stealth is a closed headphone that sounds like an open one. To my ears the Stealth sounded the best of them all. Other headphones didn't seem as clean to me.
Source to Amp wise : Dan Clark Audio Stealth sound signature changes a lot depending on that. Best results I had was using the Weiss + any Paltauf.
Bad surprise 1 : I was quite suprised that using ASR reference dac8 PRO and DX3 Pro+ with it didn't give me as much listening pleasure as the super expensive Weiss/Paltauf combo.
Bad surprise 2 : Dan Clark Audio Expanse sounds like a closed HP... and has nearly no spatialization (I mean by that: everything sounds like it's within your head). To me it's a big disappointment.
Stealth+Sabaj : is not really bad but requires to push the volume from 20 to 40 which shows how much power that amp lacks. The result is not super but for 80€... it's unbeatable IMHO.
Raw Spatialization : Weiss + Paltauf + Stealth gave me something that goes from left to right ear by climbing 5cm in front of your forehead. That's the best result I had without any DSP/Plugin. With other headphones : little to no spatialization. With Stealth + other DAC/Amp : same, little to no spatialization in front of you, only sides.
DSP Spatialization reference : Best results by far was the Smyh Realiser A16 I test a few years ago. I can certify I couldn't make any difference vs a real 15.1.8 system except for low bass impact.
DSP Spatialization : Out of all the plugins I tried, space360 gave the most convincing effect... all the rest was really so so. But at what cost! Such a loss in terms of sounds quality!

Detailed review
To be written.
 
Last edited:

Curvature

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I think you might have a better time reviewing and listening if you learned some of the more technical aspects of audio gear and perception. Right now you're presenting lay impressions. This has about as much evidentiary value as an Amazon review. Which is to say some, and a lot of doubt besides that.
 
OP
metasharp

metasharp

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I kind of a agree with you, however I have no test equipment myself.
So I'm doing with what I have to provide an honest feedback.

I do agree with you, numbers are reliable in what they measure. However I'm quite interested to understand why some really strange things happened during my tests.

Why was the Expand so bad and sounding like a closed HP for example. I invite you to try one after the other both the Expand and the Stealth. It's shocking. It felt like a 500$ headphone versus a 10.000$ one to me.
Why the Stealth yielded worse results in terms of listening experience on bests reviewed ASR equipments vs some untested ones (Paltauf, ...). Is it because this headphone requires monstruous power to be driven properly? Since no DSP was enabled I wonder. Or maybe a flattering default EQ that I don't know of?

It's why I'm interested in your point of views that we could maybe explain with numbers.
 

jae

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Both Stealth and Expanse don't require massive amounts of power at normal listening volumes, maybe only at loud volumes. It's worth normalising the volume at which you're listening between amps since the output SPL will be different which will drastically effect how it is perceived. Also it seems some of these are tube amps, which may be not only adding distortion but potentially also changing FR of the headphone in the case of the Expanse due to higher output impedance. Also, is it the Topping DX7 Pro or the new Topping DX7 Pro+ version? The older DX7 Pro has somewhat of a high-ish output impedance, could possibly affect the FR of low-Z headphones. If you don't want to think about gear again and what it may or may not be doing to your headphones just get the new RME ADI-2/4 PRO SE DAC, or one of the new Topping combo units if you are on a budget. Then all you have to worry about is the headphone and DSP. Not many people here are going to ever suggest or reason buying or using multi-thousand dollar boutique tube amps that have no published specs.
 

Curvature

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Why was the Expand so bad and sounding like a closed HP for example. I invite you to try one after the other both the Expand and the Stealth. It's shocking. It felt like a 500$ headphone versus a 10.000$ one to me.
I've tried them both. They are very similar. Nice, clear. Likely the clearest midrange of any headphone I've ever tried, although I EQed a bit of the top down.

Like @jae said, you have to ensure the volume is the same: within 0.1dB, measured electrically at the terminals. When I tried them it was at an audio store, so I couldn't measure. However, when you know something about how electronics works and how you hear, you can do reasonable comparisons, and where you can't compare with certainty you leave that aspect to doubt.

Outside of that, most electronics have no audible signature to speak of. This includes tubes, but only when they are overdriven; but then everything overdriven will start to impart its own formula of failure on the signal. Sorry bruv.
 
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metasharp

metasharp

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Sorry I made a mistake it was a DX3 Pro+. I edited my post.

In fact I tested first most expensive heasets on Weiss+Paltauf without touching any settings in between, just plugging headphones one after the other and adjusting volume to somehow a similar level.
So between Expanse and Stealth (both in XLR, nothing changed regarding settings/volume).

Regarding what I'm considering buying for myself actually I'm thinking of:
- Dan Clark Audio Stealth review
- SMSL SU-9 Pro (DAC plugged on PC with USB) first tests
- Topping A90 Discrete (HP AMP plugged on DAC with RCA) review
- Topping LA90 AB (LS AMP plugged on HP AMP with XLR and on my B&W 685 S2 LoudSpeakers) review
- Topping RCA 6N cables
- Topping XLR 6N cables
 
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johnwmclean

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Something is maybe wrong with the Expanse itself? Have you considered that? You only have to look at the reviews to understand there is a gross deviation subjectively in your assessment.
 
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metasharp

metasharp

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I don't think it was damaged. Try it yourself you'll see.
 

solderdude

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Paltauf HPA-100 SP = 30W in DCA headphones.... (equivalent to connecting the Stealth to a 150W/4 ohm speaker amp)
You can destroy the DCA with it. Above a few Watt distortion in the bass starts to set in.

The Expanse has a bit more 150Hz which is often associated with boomy closed headphones, but not yet as bad but may be why you associate.
 
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metasharp

metasharp

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You're mixing up everything dude. This amp is dual loudspeaker and headphones. Differents outputs/specs, etc. I don't think it throws 30W to headphones.
 

johnwmclean

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I own an Expanse.

I also own:

HD800S
DCA Noire
Stax SR-007
STAX SR-009S

DIY CFA2 Dual mono balanced amp
DIY KGSSHV Carbon amp
DIY Dynalo Super Susy mini

RME ADI 2 FS Dac
Chord Mojo2

The Expanse is excellent, my favourite.
Even out of the Mojo2 it’s wonderful.
 

Chester

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I own an Expanse.

I also own:

HD800S
DCA Noire
Stax SR-007
STAX SR-009S

DIY CFA2 Dual mono balanced amp
DIY KGSSHV Carbon amp
DIY Dynalo Super Susy mini

RME ADI 2 FS Dac
Chord Mojo2

The Expanse is excellent, my favourite.
Even out of the Mojo2 it’s wonderful.

Ah, someone who owns the Noire and the Expanse. As a Noire owner I would be very interested in how you feel these two headphones compare.
 
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metasharp

metasharp

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And you don't think the Expanse sounds like a closed HP without any soundstage? Because it's how it sounds when I listen to it.
 

staticV3

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You're mixing up everything dude. This amp is dual loudspeaker and headphones. Differents outputs/specs, etc. I don't think it throws 30W to headphones.
The HPA-100 SP will output 27W into a 23Ω load:
HPA-100 SP_ Max Power vs Load.png HPA-100 SP_ Max Voltage vs Load.png
These are calculated values based on Paltauf's official specs.
 

johnwmclean

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The Noire has an excellent tonality and a great sound signature, it’s just pleasure every time I listen, and my love for it hasn’t dimmed since the arrival of the Expanse. It improves in all areas incrementally, not night and day but a good boost in performance. The price ratio really doesn’t justify the purchase, but hey you only live once.
The Noire is a fantastic value, somewhat a bargain.
 
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metasharp

metasharp

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To me I expected the expanse to sound open and the stealth closed. And it was the total opposite in practice.
 

bbgma1234

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I kind of a agree with you, however I have no test equipment myself.
So I'm doing with what I have to provide an honest feedback.

I do agree with you, numbers are reliable in what they measure. However I'm quite interested to understand why some really strange things happened during my tests.

Why was the Expand so bad and sounding like a closed HP for example. I invite you to try one after the other both the Expand and the Stealth. It's shocking. It felt like a 500$ headphone versus a 10.000$ one to me.
Why the Stealth yielded worse results in terms of listening experience on bests reviewed ASR equipments vs some untested ones (Paltauf, ...). Is it because this headphone requires monstruous power to be driven properly? Since no DSP was enabled I wonder. Or maybe a flattering default EQ that I don't know of?

It's why I'm interested in your point of views that we could maybe explain with numbers.
I appreciate anecdotal/experiential reviews or observations.
Even though I appreciate this is "audiosciencereviews" the truth is there are 2 camps that often bicker, but the most helpful truth lies between both of them (pardon the incoming wordplay) summing of the two.
We need the science, well-measured. It tells us a lot!
If someone in a room of $100K gear well-balanced and maintained says something like "it sounded veiled and like it was accurate but from behind a curtain" there's a good chance the measurements will say "I was surprised to find the noise was as high as -80dB".
The anecdotal often offers people to imagine how equipment they don't use interacts with the source and loud of gear via an important piece of science: the ears!
The science often offers other gear options for similar comparisons, sometimes bc the tester themselves comes to appreciate either certain pleasant playback equipment because they too are human, or because they discover what the most ruler flat repro is.

In this case, I think the truth about the disappointments on expanse are that it is open back, but with padding and muting meant to control the soundstage and reduce external intrusion from open back, and these are combined with the truth of marketing: they needed/wanted to bring in more revenue with a new design.
Something tells me its working bc now more people are choosing between buying stealth or expanse, when prior they were deciding between stealth 5 other brands (lcd4/5, abyss, etc).

I do think there is intent behind this design and on the high end of headphone amps there are going to be many who prefer it, but I also believe enough people will convince themselves they need it because it looks slightly cooler even if it sounds more muted and "focused".
 

Curvature

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I appreciate anecdotal/experiential reviews or observations.
Even though I appreciate this is "audiosciencereviews" the truth is there are 2 camps that often bicker, but the most helpful truth lies between both of them (pardon the incoming wordplay) summing of the two.
We need the science, well-measured. It tells us a lot!
If someone in a room of $100K gear well-balanced and maintained says something like "it sounded veiled and like it was accurate but from behind a curtain" there's a good chance the measurements will say "I was surprised to find the noise was as high as -80dB".
The anecdotal often offers people to imagine how equipment they don't use interacts with the source and loud of gear via an important piece of science: the ears!
The science often offers other gear options for similar comparisons, sometimes bc the tester themselves comes to appreciate either certain pleasant playback equipment because they too are human, or because they discover what the most ruler flat repro is.

In this case, I think the truth about the disappointments on expanse are that it is open back, but with padding and muting meant to control the soundstage and reduce external intrusion from open back, and these are combined with the truth of marketing: they needed/wanted to bring in more revenue with a new design.
Something tells me its working bc now more people are choosing between buying stealth or expanse, when prior they were deciding between stealth 5 other brands (lcd4/5, abyss, etc).

I do think there is intent behind this design and on the high end of headphone amps there are going to be many who prefer it, but I also believe enough people will convince themselves they need it because it looks slightly cooler even if it sounds more muted and "focused".
All of what you wrote is guessing and speculation.

The point is not to guess, to stay away from the temptation to guess and extrapolate from guesses, and to figure out ways to test reports and assumptions.
 

bbgma1234

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All of what you wrote is guessing and speculation.

The point is not to guess, to stay away from the temptation to guess and extrapolate from guesses, and to figure out ways to test reports and assumptions.
Not at all true, but here goes the aforementioned bickering, which actually proves my point :)
I said it is the combination of EXPERIENCE and SCIENCE together that paints the full picture.
By the way, when you add the measurements to the listening experience, the anecdotal is just as important because...we're measuring what we are listening to...with ears...on human heads.
We are the test subject as much as the equipment.
It all fills in the details.
I promise you in 5 years we'll have the same disagreements about whether AI is just basing its "opinion" on math and facts or if it is "feeling" something unique.
I love gathering the data and understanding the "where things went wrong" between measurement and experience.
Our ears do amazing science when matches to brains.
We get the BEST results using all of the data together.
 
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