Audeze EL-8 Closed-Back Headphone Review

Build Quality
PRICE $699

High-resolution sound
Planar magnetic drivers
Made in the U.S.
Lacks mic and phone controls

The Audeze EL-8 may be the first planar magnetic headphone sensitive enough to come alive with portable music players.

I’ve reviewed a lot of headphones, but I’ve never encountered anything quite like the Audeze EL-8 before. It’s the first high-end planar magnetic headphone to come alive and sound fully transparent with portable music players. Now, sure, we’ve heard similar claims for other high-performance, full-size headphones; and yes, they play, but too much of the headphone’s potential is forfeited with portable devices. The EL-8 sounds scary good with my humble little iPod classic.

Audeze makes nothing but planar magnetic headphones. The technology differs from more conventional dynamic headphone driver designs because, rather than use a voice coil to move the driver from the edge or middle of the diaphragm, Audeze’s patent-pending Fluxor driver’s voice coil is distributed over most of the driver’s surface, and Neodymium bar magnets are positioned to maximize flux density relative to the voice coil’s straight traces to keep distortion low. Audeze’s Fazor acoustic lenses in front of the drivers are said to improve high-frequency extension, lower distortion, and produce better imaging. The EL-8 planar driver is also a lot bigger than most dynamic drivers, at 100mm in diameter.

The EL-8 is still a good deal smaller, lighter, and more sleekly designed than Audeze’s flagship LCD series headphones. Build quality feels positively robust. The EL-8’s metal headband, ear cups, and yokes are beautifully finished, and the ear cushions and headband’s ample padding ensures comfort. The EL-8 is a true circumaural design, and the large ear cushions really do completely cover my ears. There are two EL-8 models: closed- and open-back. I had the closed ’phone, which blocks out a good amount of external noise. The only real design missteps are the proprietary connectors on the ear cups that limit cable-swapping options. The EL-8 comes with a 6.5-foot cable terminated with a 3.5mm plug; a 6.3mm adaptor is included.

The EL-8 is more sensitive than most planar magnetic designs, so I found a lot to like about its sound plugged into my iPod classic, and I devoted a fair amount of time getting to know this headphone while grooving to standard- resolution lossless files. Even so, resolution and clarity were never in doubt. The EL-8 delivers inner details, the real subtle stuff running through Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack album. It’s mostly Cooder all by his lonesome on guitar bathed in a deep reverberant field. Bona-fide audiophile recordings that forgo dynamic range compression, like Dick Hyman’s From the Age of Swing were fully liberated by the EL-8s.

Things were going so well, I wanted to try a better music player, but one that didn’t break the bank, so I hooked up the brand-new $199 FiiO X3 Gen2 and compared it with the iPod classic. It was no contest: The tiny FiiO smoked the iPod! So yes, there’s room for improvement, but the iPod solo or your iPhone will positively shine with the EL-8.

Next, I compared the EL-8 with an Audeze LCD series headphone: the latest version of the $995 LCD 2. For these auditions, I used Audeze’s new Deckard home headphone amp, and the first thing I noted was how open the EL-8 sounds, though it’s still not as spacious as the open-back LCD 2 (the EL-8 Open-Back is better than the EL-8 Closed-Back I’m reviewing in that regard). In any case, the LCD 2 had a sweeter, more laid-back presentation, while the EL-8 was more immediate and clear. Planar headphones are known for their outstanding bass potency and definition, and both Audezes delivered the goods.

Audeze is definitely upping the ante. With the EL-8, they’ve brought out their lightest, most comfortable, best looking, easiest to drive, most affordable, made-in-the-U.S. headphone, and maintained Audeze’s signature sound. Well done!

Specs Type: Over-the-ear
Driver Type/Size: Planar magnetic, 100mm
Impedance: 30 ohms
Sensitivity: 100 dB/1mW

Company Info