If you can only own one pair of headphones, are these the ones to get?

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones

The Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire is the third iteration of the company’s Aeon line of headphones. Unlike its stablemates, the Aeon 2 and the Aeon 2 RT which come in both open and closed back versions, the Aeon 2 Noire is available only as a closed-back set of cans. It shares many of the same unique design features as the other models including the same handsome styling and planar driver technology, but its tuning is said to have a notable difference that helps the Aeon 2 Noire stand apart.

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Highlights

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphone

  • Sound signature is tuned to follow the HARMAN Curve.
  • Proprietary Planar Dynamic Drivers.
  • Some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever tried.
  • Carbon fiber, Aluminum, and Titanium construction ensure light weight.
  • Collapsible design and hard-shell case allow for easy travel.
  • Comes with 3 different earpad inserts for additional sound tuning.
  • They look sharp and have a quality feel.
Introduction

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones Closeup

I’ve been a closeted fan of Dan Clark Audio (formerly MrSpeakers) headphones for quite some time. I have had a chance to sample their headphone wares at various audio shows over the years, but I had not gotten around to conducting a review before. I’ve always admired their plucky spunk as an upstart headphone modding company and watching them progress into designing and building their own headphones from the ground up. Each year, whether at RMAF or CanJam, or even Munich High End, the designs would increase in both quality and sophistication, and the resulting sound would follow suit. DCA’s higher-end Voce (electrostatic) and Ether (Planar) headphones have always been must-listen-to items whenever I was at a show, as I found them to be good touchstones to compare against other similar products. But the Aeon line also caught my attention for both its supreme comfort and impressive sound quality for the price. Finally, through a combination of good timing and admittedly some minor league jealousy at Mel Martin’s excellent review of the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Open headphones, the company graciously sent me a pair of the new AEON 2 Noire to try out. What makes the Noire different from the pair of headphones that Mel reviewed? Well, first they are only available as a closed-back design. Second, they are a very fetching black color and that’s the only shade they come in. Third, and probably most intriguing is that the Aeon 2 Noire is purposely tuned to track the HARMAN preference curve for headphone frequency response. While I have sampled (and own) loudspeakers that are designed to follow that speaker preference model, I don’t know that I’ve listened to a pair of headphones that have purposely claimed to do the same. This ought to be fun!

DAN CLARK AUDIO AEON 2 NOIRE HEADPHONE SPECIFICATIONS
Design:

Circumaural, Closed-back Headphones with Planar Magnetic drivers.

Driver:

62mm x 34mm single-ended planar magnetic

THD:

less than 0.3% 20Hz-20KHz, 0.1% 100Hz-8KHz

Weight:

328 grams

Finish:

High gloss black earcups with carbon fiber baffles.

Accessories:

Single 2.0-meter-long cable with 3.5 mm termination and ¼-inch screw-on phono plug adapter.

MSRP:

$899.99

Warranty:

2 years parts and labor.

Website:

Company Site

Company:

Dan Clark Audio

SECRETS Tags:

Dan Clark Audio, aeon2, planar, closed-back, headphones, noire, Headphones Review

Design

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones side

There are currently 3 models in Dan Clark Audio’s Aeon headphone line, the Aeon RT, the Aeon 2, and the Aeon 2 Noire. On the surface, the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire looks very similar, in many respects, to the Aeon 2 Open headphones that Mel Martin reviewed last year. These headphones collapse for travel in the same ingenious way as Mel found and they take up minimal space when in their hard-shell case and tossed in a backpack.

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones band

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones details

The minimalist wire-style headband is made from lengths of Nickel-Titanium (Nitinol) for increased durability. Attached to that base frame is an adjustable wide leather band that suspends the headphones on your head. At each end of the Nitinol headband are a pair of aluminum arms that are connected by a pivot hinge. These delicate-looking machined aluminum arms are what allows the Aeon 2 Noire to collapse into such a compact package for travel. I like the design of them because they remind me of the suspension arms from a high-performance car. The arms attach via a single point to the oblong-shaped earcups. The earcups themselves are made of aluminum with a carbon fiber baffle. I like that they are finished in a deep, polished black color with the carbon fiber weave pattern visible on the outside of each cup. Very slick looking! The earpads are suitably soft and thick and are covered in a soft Japanese synthetic protein leather with perforations on the front half of the interior walls.

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones Aeon logo

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones inside

Unlike the Aeon 2 Open that Mel reviewed, the Aeon 2 Noire is only available as a closed-back design. Inside each earcup is a proprietary 62mm x 34mm single-ended planar magnetic driver, designed and developed in-house. The manufacturer states that the headphones are tuned to closely follow the HARMAN headphone preference target which was developed based on research conducted by Dr. Sean Olive and Todd Welti outlined here.

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones colors

Included with the headphones are 3 pairs of inserts/filters of different thicknesses and materials that can be used to additionally tune the headphones somewhat to personal taste. A filter is inserted in each earcup, and they are cut to fit precisely at the base of each opening.

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones aux cord

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones packaging

I find the included 2-meter-long cable interesting mainly because of the connectors used to attach to the headphones. It is my first experience with using Hirose-style connectors with headphones and I have to say that I am now a convert. The connection to the earcups seems robust, secure, and positive. I think they beat standard plugs hands-down. The cable is terminated at the source end with a standard 3.5mm mini-plug that accommodates a ¼ inch, screw-on phono plug adapter which is included. Dan Clark Audio offers optional balanced cable sets for the Aeon 2 Noire as an additional cost option. A compact hard-shell travel case is also included to round out the package.

Setup

I tested the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire in a variety of scenarios. For listening in my studio, the headphones were driven by a Topping DX7PRO headphone amplifier/DAC. The source was my Surface 3 PRO tablet running ROON, which was connected to the DX7PRO via USB. For tethered mobile listening, the headphones were connected to my Topping NX4 DSD portable headphone amp that was using the output of my Shanling M0 DAP or my Apple iPhone 12.

In Use

While there may be some dedicated headphone listeners out there who favor one driver technology over another or be more partial to open or closed headphone designs, I tend to pay less attention to that and focus more on the results of what I am hearing. How we get to the desired result is interesting, but I don’t concern myself so much with playing favorites as I have both open, closed, dynamic driver, planar driver, and electrostatic headphones that I own and enjoy. For a good while, my daily driver headphones were the OPPO PM-3 closed-back planar magnetic headphones because they both sounded very good for the time and were extremely comfortable. The Aeon 2 Noire is a far more advanced and innovative animal to be sure but like the OPPOs, they tick all the right boxes, along with drawing in some new ones, on the checklist to qualify as my new daily driver headphones. Did I give away the farm too soon? Probably, but having now spent a couple of months doing some serious listening, and traveling, with the AEON 2 Noire, I discovered how they acquit themselves almost perfectly to the way I enjoy my music for solitary consumption.

How do I describe the sound of the Aeon 2 Noire? Well, putting aside the claim that they track the HARMAN curve as I have no way to confirm that by measurements, they have an enviable sense of clarity to their presentation. I could hear exactly what was going on in both the midrange and upper frequencies with great detail, but it wasn’t abrasive or overly analytical. Let me qualify that for a second. As I mentioned earlier, the Aeon 2 Noire comes with three sets of tuning inserts to adjust the sound to taste. After the first week of listening to the Noire headphones without inserts, I experimented with the inserts and decided I liked the sound through the lightest black foam insert best. It tamed just a touch of brightness that I felt was bothering me after that first week. The other two filters attenuated or muffled the sound too much for my liking. All my observations are made with that black foam filter in use.

The manufacturer claims that due to the tuning, the midrange is a little “lighter sounding” and that contributes to a wider and deeper sense of space. I can confirm that, while not possessing the widest soundstage I’ve ever heard in closed-back headphones, they did have a natural dimensionality to their sound that I especially enjoyed. Other closed-back headphones like the HIFIMAN HE-R10P or the Beyerdynamic T5 Gen III, that I have in for review, have a more significant sense of depth/spaciousness. However, that can be a bit of a double-edged sword because while initially attention-getting, depending on the music, that extra spaciousness can become too much of an affectation and can sometimes obscure musical details and transients. And that applies not only in the midrange and treble areas where you’d most expect, but it can also result in sloppy sounding bass that lacks tightness. In that regard, the Aeon 2 Noire balanced on that fine line between detail and space just right for my liking.

In terms of usability, the Aeon 2 Noire is good at blocking out a significant amount of exterior noise once you put them on your head. Clamping force is moderate and quite acceptable and the earpad openings were generous enough to completely encircle my ears making a nice, comfortable seal. At 328 grams they are very light as far as modern high-performance headphones go and yet the novel design of the headband allowed the Noire headphones to stay put on my head with a minimal amount of shifting around. Honestly, once they were on, I barely had to adjust them at all.

While on the go, driving these headphones with just my iPhone left a little something to be desired concerning ultimate volume. The Aeon 2 Noire was much happier in all cases when driven with a quality headphone amplifier. My Topping NX4DSD portable DAC/Amp made for a perfect pairing with the AEON2 Noire, providing plenty of clean drive power even in its Low Gain mode. My little Shanling M0 DAP could drive these headphones to acceptable listening levels on its own but the volume had to be just about maxed out to do it. Care should be taken when mating a dongle DAC to these headphones as well, just to ensure that you obtain one with enough amplification resources. I tried a Periodic Audio Rhodium DAC along with my iPhone with these headphones and it did not provide enough output on its own without adding Periodic’s Nickel amplifier into the chain. But alternately, using just the Nickel amp with my Shanling M0 made for a great sounding and super-compact music player with enough drive to make the Noire headphones sing. Not quite as powerful and transparent as using the Topping DAC/AMP but an enjoyable combination, nonetheless.

Some of the music that I enjoyed with the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire was:

Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendez & Brasil ‘66

Sergio Mendez, Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendez & Brasil ‘66, A&M/Verve Records, (1966) 2006, 16/44.1 FLAC.
For such a vintage recording I was expecting it to sound flatter and leaner but listening to “Mas Que Nada” on the Aeon 2 Noire surprised me with a moderate, natural sense of spaciousness and great clarity and tonality. Lani Hall’s voice had that proper soft yet full sound to it that makes her singing so distinct and so fluid with the Portuguese lyrics. Mendez’s piano playing had that nice, clean ringing sound to the keys, and while there isn’t any real deep bass in this track, the Aeon 2’s tuning gave some nice presence to the kick drum as it coursed through the song. A nice sense of the recording space is relayed too.

Come On In

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado, Come On In, Ruff Records, 2020, 24/44.1 FLAC via Qobuz.
The opening drum beat to the title track “Come On In” sounds wonderfully solid and punchy on the Aeon 2 Noire as it leads us into Thorbjørn Risager’s lead vocals. Risager’s vocals are deep and resonant on this track with a little bit of a scratchy edge to them that’s clearly apparent. These headphones can simultaneously render the clarity and details in horns, guitars, organ, and vocals extremely well along with the satisfying rhythm and drive from the bass and drums. Neither overpowers the other and the result is like listening to a great pair of speakers in a properly set up room. Very enjoyable.

Raya Yarbrough

Raya Yarbrough, Raya Yarbrough, Telarc, 2008, 16/44.1 FLAC.
This is a favorite of mine because the music is very good, and the recording of Raya Yarbrough’s voice sounds very natural. “Dreamer’s Ball” features large stretches of just her voice with an acoustic guitar accompanying. And those vocals sound clear, detailed, and full with a nice sense of space around them. The main vocals aren’t quite as upfront as I’ve heard them in some other instances, but they aren’t overly recessed either. The acoustic guitar picking sounds crisp and detailed and the background acapella singers that occasionally pop in have a nice sense of spaciousness that wraps around Ms. Yarbrough’s voice.

The Music of Batman

City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, The Music of Batman, Silva Screen Records, 2009, 16/44.1 FLAC
The track “Aggressive Expansion” is an orchestral bass-fest with huge tympani strikes that happen throughout the piece along with some electronic bass effects added for good measure. It’s an overall dark and brooding piece that originated from the movie “The Dark Knight.” Sometimes with very spacious sounding headphones, those tympani hits sound bloated and the results bleed into the upper bass making it all sound mushy. The same happens with the electronic bass that is added to create foundational rumble at points. Those spacious headphones cause that electronic bass to overly bloom, and it obscures other detail in the accompanying cellos. The Dan Clark Aeon 2 Noire headphones keep every element sounding distinct and detailed with the big bass drum hits sounding properly impactful but very tight with no trace of bloat. But at the same time, these are not dry-sounding headphones either, the rest of the orchestra sounds lush and ominous as is the intention here.

Time Warp

Erich Kunzel / Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Time Warp, Telarc, 1984, 16/44.1 FLAC.
One of the first CDs that I ever owned with each track being an acoustic showpiece for Hi-Fi/Sci-Fi nerds (guilty as charged)! The “Battlestar Galactica Main Theme” should sound majestic and expansive with the bombastic horn section and massive bass drum hits at the introduction. Some headphones do not have the sub-bass capacity to really add the right foundation for this piece (and frankly several other tracks on this disk) and that results in an oftentimes flat and dry presentation, devoid of impact and grandeur. That is not the case with the Aeon 2 Noire. The bass drum impacts sound substantial and can be felt down low through these headphones without them tainting or obscuring the details of the string, woodwind, or horn sections of the orchestra. And while the horns do come on strong during certain passages, they never get to sounding abrasive or jarring with these headphones.

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Conclusions

Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire Headphones and skull

The DAN CLARK AUDIO AEON 2 NOIRE are some of the best headphones I have heard under $2000.00. If they are within your budget, I think they are a must-listen-to choice.

Likes
  • Ingenious collapsing design.
  • Tight powerful bass.
  • Natural imaging and detail.
  • Extremely comfortable for long stints.
Would Like To See
  • Nothing of significance.

The Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire, in my estimation, perfectly fits that one headphone category few people ever mention. That is the “If I can only have one pair of headphones to cover everything” category. In short, the all-rounder, the MVP. In the time that I have spent with them during this review, I found that the Aeon 2 Noire excelled in so many qualities that they became the first headphones I would grab when I didn’t need wireless or noise cancellation. For me, they had comfort in spades, a weight that made them easy to wear for long stretches, a clever design that made them so simple to compress for travel, along with understated good looks (to me the gloss black with carbon fiber baffles is the bee’s knees). Most important of all, they sound spectacular with a satisfying combination of low-end punch, transparency of detail, and just enough image depth to make it all sound natural and eminently enjoyable. I don’t know whether that is the magic of the HARMAN curve at work, but these headphones, with the lightest foam filter insert installed, could easily be my daily driver headphones. I would not want for much else in my day-to-day listening habits. For the $899.99 MSRP, I think you would have to spend significantly more money to get noticeably better sound quality. The Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 Noire is one of my new favorites and it has my highest recommendation.