Product Review: Audeze EL8 headphones

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If this is the first time you’ve heard the name ‘Audeze‘, you’re probably not alone. They’re an American company which produces premium headphones and we’ve got our hands on the latest pair…

As something of a headphone nerd (alright, a full-blown headphone nerd), Audeze has been on my radar for a good few years now, but with most of their range of cans priced in rather lofty territory, the brand haven’t necessarily always been on the minds of the general public. This is something that Audeze hope to fix with their latest offering – meet the EL8.

We’ve established that Audeze are definitely in the bracket of ‘high-end’ manufacturers, so even though the EL8 represent their first attempt at a ‘cheaper’ model, these are still a premium product and still fit the price bracket too. But from the moment they arrived in-store for demonstration, it was immediately obvious why. From their substantial packaging to the lustrous finish of materials, the EL8s are as much a slice of eye candy as they are ear candy.

Aesthetically speaking, these Audezes are some of the most beautiful headphones I’ve had the fortune of testing. Designed by BMW DesignWorks USA (yes, that BMW), the EL8s are serious head-turners. The beautiful metal and wood veneered circumaural cups sit neatly at the end of the superb looking headband, whilst the leather ear pads are supple and smooth to the touch. If prizes were given purely for looks then the Audeze would wipe the floor with the competition without any question. Such a shame that the wearer won’t see them when they’ve got them on!

These are the EL8 open back model but you can also buy a closed back version.

These are the EL8 open back model but you can also buy a closed back version.

As a caveat, the only downside to this fancy casing – and to the technology that makes them work – is that they’re are a fairly weighty 460g. They never became uncomfortable when using, but those that really like to head bang will be surprised by their bulk when in motion.

Rather than use the more traditional drive-units that most brands will plump for, the Americans have opted to use an ‘electrostatic’ design, which is every bit as fancy as it sounds. The quick explanation is that electrostatic designs (or orthodynamic as they’re also known) use a thin film placed between two metal plates in each side of the headphone. When a musical signal is passed through these metal plates, the super-thin film is able to move, allowing sound to be heard. Distortion figures are extremely low on this type of transducer, meaning clean and clear sound across the frequency range… and breathe!

Given the more modest market that Audeze are aiming to reach with the EL8, they‘ve sensibly decided to try and make the headphone as easy to drive as possible – and at only 30 ohms, they can be driven fairly well from any smartphone or tablet. Most of the listening to test was from a Cambridge 851 hi-fi setup, but when the EL8s were connected to a Samsung Galaxy S5 they still performed admirably, although a portable headphone amp would definitely give stronger results. Those who only plan to use these on the move may wish to investigate the closed-back EL8 that Audeze also offer, as these will help to eliminate sound leakage.

Firing them up for the first time showed how important a good running-in period is with headphones like this. Out of the box they sounded shut in and congested. After 24 hours of solid use they were sounding a great deal livelier, give them 48 hours and they really start to shine. Still firmly in IDM mode after my article all of two months ago now, Autechre were up first. Detail retrieval was fantastic, with all the minute details that make up ‘Gantz Graf’ presented with microscopic precision.

For an open back model, bass reproduction was spot on, with a solid heft to the bottom end always making itself known when called upon. But for all their obvious talents at digging up the little nuances in the track, the EL8s still had me catching on to the rhythm of the track (which I promise is actually there if you listen hard enough).

Feeling I was getting to grips with what the EL8s were capable of, I moved to Nirvana’s seminal second album, ‘Nevermind‘. ‘In Bloom’, with its thunderous drumming by Dave Grohl sounded fantastic, really and truly fantastic, and the EL8s seemed to really have hit their stride. Musicality was key here. I wasn’t focusing so much on the whats, wheres and whys, I was rocking along like I should have been, brilliant stuff!

Compared to my reference headphones, Sennheiser’s HD800 (which I LOVE!), the Audeze offered a narrower soundstage, with less noticeable separation between instruments on most tracks. In fairness, though, this could be said for 99% of headphones on the market, and when listening across a number of genres (but more specifically with rock), the more natural soundstage of the EL8 made them preferable to Sennheiser’s flagship set.

As my playlist grew and grew, the EL8’s strengths (and marginal weaknesses) became more and more apparent. Classical, Jazz, Rock, Industrial – the list goes on and the EL8 seemed to favour no one particular genre, but still embodied the music almost with a buzz; with life. These Audezes seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what they were playing and seemed just as keen to listen to the music as I was. They steadfastly refused to offer an analytical approach to sound, proclaiming themselves far happier at the prospect of a good old sing-a-long than a day at the office studying frequency response charts.

When it comes down to it, that’s sort of why we listen to music in the first place. Well played, Audeze – you’ve found another follower in me! Hugely recommended.

To listen to these fantastic headphones or indeed any other headphones in our wide range, feel free to pop in-store for a free demo or to find out more you can speak to one of our Telesales team on 0333 900 0093.

To find out more about the Audeze EL8 Headphones, click here.

Author – Chris, Liverpool store