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Nectar Hive Review (Electrostatic Headphones)

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 23 20.4%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 53 46.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 27 23.9%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 10 8.8%

  • Total voters
    113

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the electrostatic Nectar Hive headphone. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $600 (seems to be replaced with HiveX).
Nectar Hive Review Electrostatic Headphone Stax.jpg


The headphone as tested came with the upgraded sheepskin pads. I am told the company has moved away from the stock pad that is supplied with these anyway. Four small Velcros hold the pad which I found insufficient as it was easy to pull the pad off. The build feels somewhat plasticky and creeks a bit. Fit is very different than my Stax headphones and is tight around my ears.

Electrostatic headphones require special amplifier with high voltage bias feed. I went into my bin of Stax headphone amps I have and selected the SRM-313 which is transistor based (to avoid issues with aging tubes in my other ones). The testing you see is the combination of these two working together.

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 challenging with respect to bass. After much playing I think I got it close but likely you can do a hair better with more effort.

Nectar Sound Hive Measurements
As usual we start with our frequency response measurement:
Nectar Hive Measurements Frequency Response FFT Electrostatic Headphone Stax.png


Very strange pattern of peaks which I am guessing are resonances caused in the panel. The peaks are well above our target so likely the sound will be bright especially when combined with flat bass response. Here is the relative frequency response for EQ development:
Nectar Hive Measurements Relative  Frequency Response FFT Electrostatic Headphone Stax.png


I was stunned how low the distortion was at 94 and 104 dBSPL:
Nectar Hive Measurements distorion relative THD Electrostatic Headphone Stax.png


I performed an FFT and could not find any harmonic distortion that rose above the noise floor of my room:
Nectar Hive Measurements distorion FFT Electrostatic Headphone Stax.png


So likely SINAD is higher still. Here is the absolute value:

Nectar Hive Measurements distorion THD Electrostatic Headphone Stax.png


You might have noticed that I am missing the 114 dBSPL in the above graph. The combination of headphone and amplifier could not go above 106 dBSPL. Anything above that produced horrid distortion that was off the charts. So there is a massive cliff here.

Group delay is messy:
Nectar Hive Measurements Group Delay Electrostatic Headphone Stax.png


No sensitivity or impedance measurements since I can't probe the headphone by itself.

Nectar Hive Listening Tests
Out of box tonality is good but I quickly ran into some high frequency notes all of a sudden jumping out at me. And overall impression being somewhat closed. I went ahead and programmed a bunch of filters to boost the bass and smooth out the repeating ringing:


Nectar Hive Equalization EQ  Electrostatic Headphone Stax.png


The sound was now much more open and triggered brightness was gone. Alas, as soon as I moved on from my female vocal tracks, the bass became extremely distorted with my first filter in place. I played around with it and no filter would allow me to have the combination of good bass and no distortion. Distortion was so bad that I finally turned the filter off.

Even without the filter, the ability to play loud is simply not there. Go past slight above average listening level and the sound starts to get dirty and congested. Keep turning up the volume and you now start to get mild static to go with that. Crank it up more and hell breaks loose at 3:00 o'clock.

I say this headphone is only useful for mild to average listening levels -- with the amplifier I have at least.

Conclusions
While there are some merits here such as ultra low distortion at low playback levels, frequency response and myriad of resonances are a serious flaw. Fortunately their effect is not large unless a tone hits on them and you hear the sharp zing. For some music this may be fine and indeed at very low volumes this was an enjoyable headphone to listen to. Then again, you could pick up a planar magnetic headphone and have most if not all of that sound plus tons more dynamics.

Overall, I can't recommend the Nectar Sound Hive.

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

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

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Doodski

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Here's the makers website link>
 

SuicideSquid

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I can't imagine ever wanting to listen to headphones above 90dB, let alone 100dB, but still, what a mess.
 

Vraxoin

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Interesting that they're using the same general structure as the JVC HA-RX700/900 models. Just a retrofit? At least the closed back 700 almost demanded application of some dampening material to the cups.
 

Ata

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Great to see another (well priced) electrostat review, it is not too bad and somewhat correctable via EQ. Would have been great to be able to compare to the affordable end of Stax products!
 

Doodski

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Would have been great to be able to compare to the affordable end of Stax products!
 

norcalscott

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Hard to rate this anything other than "poor" - so many better options out there in this price range.
I retract this post due to the manufacturer raising some interesting questions about the testing. I really appreciate the manufacturers engaging here in constructive manners.
 
Last edited:

LTig

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Are we sure that the massive amount of "audible" distortion is caused by the headphone and not by the driving amp? Maybe a more powerful (well one with more output voltage) amplifier is needed for this headphone.
 
OP
amirm

amirm

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Are we sure that the massive amount of "audible" distortion is caused by the headphone and not by the driving amp? Maybe a more powerful (well one with more output voltage) amplifier is needed for this headphone.
No we are not sure. I get a similar problem with my Stax headphones. They just don't want to get loud, especially in bass.
 

Doodski

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No we are not sure. I get a similar problem with my Stax headphones. They just don't want to get loud, especially in bass.
Perhaps a O-scope screenshot of the voltage is in order? ...and see the clipping..
 

Garrincha

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Dangit. I had high hopes for these to be decent for price to performance ratio. Oh well, on to the next good thing.
Me too, I was almost ordering one, now I am thinking again. Interesting project in any case, what a shame the result is not better. But thanks for the measurements and helping in making informed decisions on purchases, Amir.
 

Aperiodic

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BTW, the major issue is the frequency response here which is anything but smooth.
No we are not sure. I get a similar problem with my Stax headphones. They just don't want to get loud, especially in bass.
Isn't limited dynamics more or less 'part of the deal' with most planar drivers, whether speaker or headphone? Especially 'single ended' planar magnetics where the magnetic field drops according to the inverse square law as the distance of the magnet to the driven surface increases (as happens when you turn it up)? Thus the force being applied varies in a non-linear fashion relative to input volume. Not so with electrostatics, where the panel is acted on by stators on each side- as the force drops off on one side, it increases on the other. But 'stats have similar mechanical constraints in excursion. Never owned a planar anything, but I've heard quite a few and I don't remember dynamics being anything special in most of them.
 

dlaloum

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Isn't limited dynamics more or less 'part of the deal' with most planar drivers, whether speaker or headphone? Especially 'single ended' planar magnetics where the magnetic field drops according to the inverse square law as the distance of the magnet to the driven surface increases (as happens when you turn it up)? Thus the force being applied varies in a non-linear fashion relative to input volume. Not so with electrostatics, where the panel is acted on by stators on each side- as the force drops off on one side, it increases on the other. But 'stats have similar mechanical constraints in excursion. Never owned a planar anything, but I've heard quite a few and I don't remember dynamics being anything special in most of them.
MicroDynamics on the other hand, are one of the things that electrostatics (both speakers and HP's) do superbly...

You need to define "dynamics" - are you seeking the ability to provide a Dynamic range of 20db above the listening level... I typically listen at no more than 75db - and with peaks of max 20db (hard to find recordings with such dynamics!) - that takes you up to 95db....

These are easily capable of that!

I have a vintage pair of Stax SR-X... and they do sound very good - and yes they are relatively bass light... but relative to what? - I am no fan of the Harman curve which 60% of people tested prefer.... that places me in the 40% that don't prefer that profile, and do prefer something with "lighter bass" - but I also require Bass definition, clarity.... rather than quantity.

What concerns me with this ES-HP is the resonances - I wonder how my old SRX's would measure!
 
OP
amirm

amirm

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Isn't limited dynamics more or less 'part of the deal' with most planar drivers, whether speaker or headphone?
Speakers yes, but not headphones. I can push planar headphones with EQ to impressive levels.
 

PeteL

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I have no experience with Electrostats to be honest, But I do have to say that to my ears Dan Clark´s Voce Electrostatic was quite something when I heard it. Hope one gets reviewed at some point. Totally different price range though, and not sure of the amplification needed.
 

GWolfman

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Look at that low distortion! Too bad it's a brick wall though, or should I say precipice (at least with your setup).
 

ayane

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Maiky76

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the electrostatic Nectar Hive headphone. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $600 (seems to be replaced with HiveX).
View attachment 213831

The headphone as tested came with the upgraded sheepskin pads. I am told the company has moved away from the stock pad that is supplied with these anyway. Four small Velcros hold the pad which I found insufficient as it was easy to pull the pad off. The build feels somewhat plasticky and creeks a bit. Fit is very different than my Stax headphones and is tight around my ears.

Electrostatic headphones require special amplifier with high voltage bias feed. I went into my bin of Stax headphone amps I have and selected the SRM-313 which is transistor based (to avoid issues with aging tubes in my other ones). The testing you see is the combination of these two working together.

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 challenging with respect to bass. After much playing I think I got it close but likely you can do a hair better with more effort.

Nectar Sound Hive Measurements
As usual we start with our frequency response measurement:
View attachment 213832

Very strange pattern of peaks which I am guessing are resonances caused in the panel. The peaks are well above our target so likely the sound will be bright especially when combined with flat bass response. Here is the relative frequency response for EQ development:
View attachment 213833

I was stunned how low the distortion was at 94 and 104 dBSPL:
View attachment 213834

I performed an FFT and could not find any harmonic distortion that rose above the noise floor of my room:
View attachment 213835

So likely SINAD is higher still. Here is the absolute value:

View attachment 213836

You might have noticed that I am missing the 114 dBSPL in the above graph. The combination of headphone and amplifier could not go above 106 dBSPL. Anything above that produced horrid distortion that was off the charts. So there is a massive cliff here.

Group delay is messy:
View attachment 213837

No sensitivity or impedance measurements since I can't probe the headphone by itself.

Nectar Hive Listening Tests
Out of box tonality is good but I quickly ran into some high frequency notes all of a sudden jumping out at me. And overall impression being somewhat closed. I went ahead and programmed a bunch of filters to boost the bass and smooth out the repeating ringing:


View attachment 213838

The sound was now much more open and triggered brightness was gone. Alas, as soon as I moved on from my female vocal tracks, the bass became extremely distorted with my first filter in place. I played around with it and no filter would allow me to have the combination of good bass and no distortion. Distortion was so bad that I finally turned the filter off.

Even without the filter, the ability to play loud is simply not there. Go past slight above average listening level and the sound starts to get dirty and congested. Keep turning up the volume and you now start to get mild static to go with that. Crank it up more and hell breaks loose at 3:00 o'clock.

I say this headphone is only useful for mild to average listening levels -- with the amplifier I have at least.

Conclusions
While there are some merits here such as ultra low distortion at low playback levels, frequency response and myriad of resonances are a serious flaw. Fortunately their effect is not large unless a tone hits on them and you hear the sharp zing. For some music this may be fine and indeed at very low volumes this was an enjoyable headphone to listen to. Then again, you could pick up a planar magnetic headphone and have most if not all of that sound plus tons more dynamics.

Overall, I can't recommend the Nectar Sound Hive.

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

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/

Here are some thoughts about the EQ.


Notes about the EQ design:


  • The average L/R is used to calculate the score.
  • The resolution is 12 points per octave interpolated from the raw data (provided by @amirm)
  • A Genetic Algorithm is used to optimize the EQ.
  • The EQ Score is designed to MAXIMIZE the Score WHILE fitting the Harman target curve (and other constrains) with a fixed complexity.
    This will avoid weird results if one only optimizes for the Score.
    It will probably flatten the Error regression doing so, the tonal balance should be therefore more neutral.
  • The EQs are starting point and may require tuning (certainly at LF and maybe at HF).
  • The range around and above 10kHz is usually not EQed unless smooth enough to do so.
  • I am using PEQ (PK) as from my experience the definition is more consistent across different DSP/platform implementations than shelves.
  • With some HP/amp combo, the boosts and preamp gain (loss of Dynamic range) need to be carefully considered to avoid issues with, amongst other things, too low a Max SPL or damaging your device. You have beed warned.
  • Not all units of the same product are made equal. The EQ is based on the measurements of a single unit. YMMV with regards to the very unit you are trying this EQ on.
  • I sometimes use variations of the Harman curve for some reasons. See rational here: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...pro-review-headphone.28244/page-5#post-989169 NOTE: the score then calculated is not comparable to the scores derived from the default Harman target curve if not otherwise noted.
Good L/R match.
The Headphone seems to be limited at LF and not clean at HF, so take this EQ with a fistful of salt...

I have generated one EQ, the APO config file is attached.

Score no EQ: 81.2
Score Amirm: 88.1 with LF boost: 94.5
Score with EQ: 103.5

Code:
Nectar Hive Score EQ [email protected] 96000Hz
June212022-114748

Preamp: -5.6 dB

Filter 1: ON PK Fc 42.12 Hz Gain 5.54 dB Q 0.50
Filter 2: ON PK Fc 916.91 Hz Gain -0.98 dB Q 1.41
Filter 3: ON PK Fc 1493.30 Hz Gain 6.03 dB Q 4.92
Filter 4: ON PK Fc 1586.00 Hz Gain -4.03 dB Q 6.94
Filter 5: ON PK Fc 2014.00 Hz Gain 5.56 dB Q 2.51
Filter 6: ON PK Fc 3036.00 Hz Gain -2.75 dB Q 3.85
Filter 7: ON PK Fc 4495.98 Hz Gain 4.48 dB Q 3.75
Filter 8: ON PK Fc 5778.50 Hz Gain -7.50 dB Q 6.00
Filter 9: ON PK Fc 6694.50 Hz Gain 4.00 dB Q 4.41
Filter 10: ON PK Fc 8404.39 Hz Gain -2.75 dB Q 7.00

Nectar Hive Score EQ Flat@HF 96000Hz.png
 

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