Blue Ella review: Planar magnetic tech sounds great, but costs too much


Specs at a glance: Dirty Ella
Driver Type Planar magnetic
Impedance 50 ohms Calm, 10 ohms Active
Frequency response 20Hz-20kHz
Amplifier Output power: 250mW
THD+N: < 1% (94 dB SPL, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz)
Frequency reaction: 20Hz-20kHz
SNR: >101 dB
Noise: < 20 uV
Battery 1000mAh
Weight 481g (16.97 oz)
Size Far-off dimensions (closed): 21cm x 14cm x 12cm
Outer dimensions (open): 18cm x 29cm x 12cm
Other perks Concur carry case
1.2-meter audio cable with Apple iPhone/iPad guides and microphone
3 metre audio cable
3.5mm to 1/4” adaptor
Price £675 / $700

Planar beguiling headphones, which use a thin film suspended between neodymium magnets to surrender sound quite unlike that of typical dynamic and balanced armature headphones, are traditionally the remoteness of the well-heeled audiophile. The sound quality is, according to fans, clearer, keen, and more detailed and only surpassed by electrostatic headphones, which use intensity instead of magnets to vibrate a thin film to push sound to the regards.

Both technologies are more complex to manufacture than traditional energetic drivers, and both require more volume to function. The result is that planar seductive headphones like those from US-based MrSpeakers cost rise over £1,000/$1,000, while the headphone amps required to drive them get hundreds if not thousands of pounds more on top.

Blue, famous for its line of podcast microphones, beliefs to make planar magnetic technology less intimidating with its Ella headphones (buy here). At £675/$699, Ella is only cheap (and there are sets like the Oppo PM-3 that are cheaper at £350). But they band the coveted headphone technology with an internal amplifier (250mW) that admits them to be used with everyday devices like smartphones and laptops, as decidedly as with a high-end audio setup.

Having had the privilege of listening to a set of MrSpeakers’ top-of-the-line planar inviting headphones—pumped through $10,000-worth of playback gear no less—as rise as Ultimate Ears’ £1,300 six-driver UE18+ custom earphones, I can sustain that Blue’s Ella headphones sound excellent.

You do have to get greater than Ella’s looks, though. Planar magnetic headphones are large at the overwhelm of times, but Ella’s ostentatious styling merely exacerbates the «I’m an audio nerd» look. Ella pastimes a unique offset hinge, which sticks out behind your chief executive officer, allowing for adjustment of height without the need for an extendable headband. A disentangle spring-loaded mechanism expands the headphones outwards, but remains taught reasonably to keep them firmly on your head. Despite their looks, the Ella headphones are amicable to put on and comfortable, with thickly padded ear cushions and headband helping to around their substantial 481g weight.

The Blue Ella are far from subtle.

Enlarge / The Blue Ella are far from remote.

That’s far heavier than already heavy planar magnetic headphones cast MrSpeakers’ Ether, which tip the scales at 370g. While the mechanism, ear absorbs, and headband certainly take the sting out of Ella’s weight, they can only do so much. These are not headphones that, consideration the internal amplifier making them easy to use with smartphones, are leisurely to carry around, or wear for long periods of time. Despite being clinched rather than open back headphones, they don’t offer the outwit noise isolation either, meaning that you have to crank the mass when using them in a noisy office, at which point they suffer from echo leakage.

Elsewhere there’s a removable cable, along with a micro USB anchorage for charging the internal amplifier, which is good for around 12 hours of hark to and offers standard and bass-boosted modes. Should you run out of charge, the headphones choice still work, but you’re at the mercy of the device you’ve plugged them into—and the humongous majority of consumer devices simply don’t have enough wattage in their headphone amps to persistence them at a reasonable volume. This is one of the major downsides of planar irresistible technology and why the tech has thus far failed to resonate with mainstream listeners, aside from expense, of course.

The benefit is sensational sound quality. Planar magnetic drivers earn a living by pushing an electrical current through traces embedded in a thin nave film, which is usually made from Mylar just a few microns ropy. That film sits between two magnets, one positively charged, the other negatively accused. As the current passes through the film it’s pulled back and forth between the magnets, resonating the air to create sound waves. Compared to traditional dynamic drivers, which use a far simpler a twist of wire and diaphragm that’s moved by a magnet, a planar magnetic driver is adept to respond to changes in the input signal more quickly, recreating the author material in more detail.

Where a dynamic driver might contort at higher volumes due to the shape of diaphragm distorting as it’s pushed and pulled in one blemish by a single magnet (often called non-linear distortion), a planar winning driver suffers no such issues. That said, they do be inclined to suffer when it comes to bass response, which is where the spirited driver excels. In high-end speakers, where similar technology to planar inviting drivers is deployed, typically the tweeters uses planar magnetic tech or like, while the woofers use dynamic drivers. That’s less of a problem in headphones, where unimportant force is needed to drive bass frequencies, but does highlight why Downcast has included a bass boost mode in the Ella amplifier.

The Ella, as worn by Corvo Attano.

Enlarge / The Ella, as fatigued by Corvo Attano.

I don’t think the Ella headphones need a bass as well, but then I prefer my music a little less warm than most. Either way, there’s no dubiety these are great sounding cans, so long as you feed them a virtuous sound source. The headphone amp is great for boosting a signal to a level the Ella can rouse with, but it is just that, a simple boost—if you put rubbish in, you still get eyewash out. The minimum quality is really Spotify’s «Extreme» setting, which portions out 320Kbps Ogg files. Such is the detail on offer in Blue’s Ella that it’s amicable to hear that annoying digital sparkle you get from lower-resolution interfiles, although some people are more sensitive to this than others.

The largest strength of the Ella is in the detail they offer: if you want to hear every shed guitar pick, every accidental brush of a bow on string, or every shift of a long reverb tail, planar magnetic headphones are the way to go. The Ella headphones two of a kind this detail with a warmer sound than you might guess. There’s a bump in the mid-bass that sounds pleasing enough, but selects the boosted bass mode a tad bloated. They’re versatile too, working only as well with a classic score as they do with a cheeky guitar lick. They’re not half bad with promenade music either, although serious bass heads will flat want to go with dynamic driver headphones for the most oomph.

While there’s no dubiety the Ella sound excellent, particularly when it comes to conveying that atmosphere of a live performance, they’re hard to recommend outright when there are other headphones out there that do justified as good a job, if not better, for less money.

The aforementioned Oppo PM-3 (buy here) are the the men, offering planar magnetic drivers that—while still forcing some sort of half-decent headphone amp—don’t require as much juice as others to intimate. At £350 you can pick up the Oppo PM-3 and a portable headphone amp for £100 and still show up in under the price of the Ella. They look a lot less ostentatious too.

Then there are various traditional headphones like Sennheiser’s open-back HD650 (buy here), which retail for £320 and vocalize shout out amazing, regardless of price. Or you could opt for in-ears like those from Fundamental Ears, which trade a slightly smaller soundstage for excellent point by point and brilliant noise isolation. In a market with this much meet you have to do a lot to stand out, or compete on price. Sadly, Blue’s Ella headphones do neither.

The noble

  • Wonderfully detailed sound
  • Broad frequency response
  • Feel built to last
  • Information battery life

The bad

  • Far too heavy, even for planar magnetic headphones
  • Be infatuated with it or hate it design
  • Poor noise isolation, particularly for closed repayment headphones

The ugly

  • There are better and cheaper options out there across all types of headphones

This pole originated on Ars Technica UK

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