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US headphone specialist Audeze tends to concern itself with seriously high-end headphones. Take the £1725 Audeze LCD-3s -  one of the best pairs of headphones we've heard.

As we said in that review, "while the price may understandably be a big stumbling block for many, it’s worth considering that it would take tens of thousands of pounds to buy a pair of speakers that can even approach the LCD-3s’ level of sound quality." High praise indeed.

So we have sky-high hopes for the new, more affordable Audeze EL-8 headphones.

Design

The EL-8s are available in two variations: open-backed and closed-back (note the slats on the earcups of the open-backed cans).

As with the LCD-3s, they use planar magnetic technology. This technology, also found in speakers and on products made by the likes of Fostex and Yamaha (sometimes with different marketing names), is a relative of electrostatic technology, made famous by Quad.

Planar magnetic headphones have a super-thin diaphragm that's suspended in magnetic fields created by tiny magnets placed either side of the diaphragm. This diaphragm has an electrical circuit printed on it, which, when it receives an audio signal, produces an electrical force that moves the diaphragm back and forth. Hey presto! Music to your ears. 

New for the EL-8 headphones is "fluxor magnetic technology", which Audeze says "delivers nearly double the magnetic flux density" from the circuitry. Meaning? Reduced weight and greater efficiency - handy for phones.

"Uniforce diaphragm technology" and "Fazor technology" are also present and correct. You can read up on those here, but put simply they are improvements to the magnetic planar design to reduce distortion and improve the sound quality.

Build quality

All that technology doesn't make for a small pair of headphones. As on the LCD-3s, the earcups on the EL-8s are fairly hefty.

The EL-8 headphones weigh 460g. By contrast, the Award-winning AKG K550 cans weigh 305g, the Shure SRH1540 just 286g and the Grado GS1000i 312g. 

They may be hefty, but they're also comfortable - the headband is nicely cushioned as are the earcups themselves. They certainly didn't feel too heavy from our brief listen - we'll have to wait to see if that weight is an issue when it comes to extended listening.

All told, the quality of the build and finish seemed exemplary from our hands-on time.

More after the break

Performance

We had the chance to listen to both the closed- and open-back headphones, using the Pono PonoPlayer and also a Sony Xperia Z3 smartphone - both capable of playing, and loaded with, high-resolution content.

There were a number of variables during our brief listening time: we listened to the two different models with different sources; the new Audeze Deckard headphone amp/DAC was also connected to some of the headphones; and we had no reference cans by way of comparison. And all this was on the CES 2015 showfloor too. 

Taking all that into account, though, we certainly enjoyed our time with them. On the subject of the CES noise, the noise-isolation on the EL-8 headphones is excellent. Perhaps no surprise considering their size.

Listening to the remastered Nas Illmatic XX album in 24-bit/192kHz, bass lines sound deep, detailed and agile. The sound is smooth and easy to listen to, even when cranked up nice and loud, while still offering plenty of excitement.

Vocals are similarly smooth and easy on the ear, without top edges losing that necessary clarity.

Pushed to deliver something more energetic, courtesy of a CD-quality version of Foo Fighters' Monkey Wrench via Tidal, the EL-8 headphones certainly step up to the plate. They sound energetic and full-bodied, but without losing that clarity and with not a hint of hardness.

All told, the sound quality from a selection of tracks is great - but we'd expect it to be, based on the quality of the systems we're listening to.

Our final decision on quite how good the EL-8s are will have to wait for much more extensive side-by-side comparisons.

Initial verdict

If you like the Audeze styling, you'll surely love how the new addition to the family looks. And from our time with them, we feel confident in the build quality. The only question here is how big a pair of headphones you're prepared to live with.

As for the all-important sound quality - our first impressions are certainly positive.

This is still an expensive pair of headphones, albeit 'entry-level' for Audeze, but we think they sound well on the way to justifying the price tag - our experience of the LCD-3 headphones certainly helps.

The Audeze EL-8 headphones are set for release in February 2015 and you can pre-order them now.

 

MORE: Audeze unveils EL-8 headphones and Deckard headphone DAC/amplifier

MORE: Best headphones 2015

Where to buy View all »

Audeze EL-8
£657.35
New, used, refurbished and collectable products at great prices, safely and securely from third parties, at Amazon.co.uk.
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