Dan Clark Audio E3 Headphones Review

Posted on 13th March, 2024

Dan Clark Audio E3 Headphones Review

Jay Garrett investigates this popular Californian brand's latest mid-price closed-back headphone…

Dan Clark Audio

E3 Closed-Back Headphones


Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

The Dan Clark Audio brand emerged at the end of 2019, having previously made a name in the head-fi world as MrSpeakers over the preceding seven years. The man himself got a BSc in Engineering and an MBA and then started work as a loudspeaker design consultant for several high-end audio companies. Spotting the boom in personal audio buoyed by the likes of the iPod and iPhone, Dan began modifying and improving headphones. The planar magnetic Ether was MrSpeakers' first such in-house design, and put the brand on the map. Since then, the company has made several notable models, the latest release being the E3.

This is the third generation of the Ether line and could be seen as a descendant of the Ether Flow C and the start of a new branch of the family tree. Where the latter was once the company's flagship closed-back design, that title now resides with the Stealth. The E3 sits between the Stealth and the Aeon 2 Noire, which have both impressed us. No pressure on the E3, then.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

It features Dan Clark Audio's fifth-generation V-Planar driver tech, measuring 72x45mm. This has an updated diaphragm material and an improved process for creating the company's knurled diaphragm. This is partnered with a patent-pending AMTS tuning system. Dan Clark is typically tight-lipped about revealing the E3's frequency response – “Yes, it has one” is the company line. The nominal impedance is, however, volunteered and said to be 27 ohms – which is pretty standard. Sensitivity is quoted as 90dB, a smidge on the low side.

The Acoustical Metamaterial Tuning System (AMTS) is a device between the transducer and ear that integrates waveguides, diffusion control, and resonators into one compact structure that eliminates standing waves while giving the designer complete control of the high-frequency response profile. In concert with the new drivers, the promised result is to deliver an open-back-like sound with musical accuracy in a closed-back design. We are told that the twin Dual-Mode Bass Ports on each earcup are there to fine-tune the E3's bass response.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

The now DCA signature metal headband is fitted with trick folding arm gimbals for compact packing and a self-adjusting suspension strap. The ear cups are aluminium, and the faceplates are Gorilla Glass 3. I love how this looks, and it also gives an aesthetic nod to the maker's open-back models through the pattern on the outside. The supplied cable is the same as the Stealth and Expanse, namely a VIVO Super Premium cable (silver-plated OFC copper wire) with Hirose connectors. No microphonics detected from this wonderfully pliant lead – a stock cable that doesn't feel like it needs upgrading, whatever next? The earpads feature an outer of sealed faux leather, the inner is perforated faux leather, and your lobes are treated to an Alcantara-like material.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

All of the above makes for a most comfortable headphone. The earpads are deep and spacious, and the self-adjusting headband strap is also excellent, making it very much fit-and-forget when wearing. Being closed-back, the E3 is cosier than open-back designs, but the earpads are designed to help keep heat build-up to a minimum. The Gorilla Glass 3 does add some weight, tipping the scales at 455g compared to the Stealth's 415g. Still, it never feels overly heavy in use thanks to the low-mass titanium, aluminium, and carbon construction, plus good weight distribution. I found the E3 extremely comfortable to wear during long listening sessions.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

The isolation offered by the closed-back design is naturally better than pure open-backed models, but in my opinion, the likes of Meze's Liric closed-back cans offer better separation from the outside world and are also a tad easier to drive thanks to their 100dB sensitivity. That said, leakage is minimal, and you'd have to push the dial to relatively naughty limits to annoy your fellow commuters or housemates.

For the purposes of this review, the E3 was partnered with Musical Fidelity's MX-HPA headphone amp, which, in turn, fed by an MX-DAC in my desktop system. I did give it a whirl with Chord Electronics' Hugo 2, but the extra oomph from the Musical Fidelity really brought this headphone to life.


The Dan Clark Audio E3 doesn't try to impress with a flurry of ping-boom, to use the technical term. Instead, it has a natural and unforced character that could initially be mistaken for bland and boring. This headphone might take a song or two to appreciate, but its even-handed approach to making music also lends itself to being non-fatiguing and perfect for an entire evening or more's enjoyment. A definite step up from the impressive Aeon 2 Noire, the E3 is thoroughly well-balanced and yet able to pick out a groove without upsetting the overall tonality of the tune.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

Treble from the E3 may be toned down from the Noire, but there is still enough presence to deliver a good splash, crash, and zing without drifting into a hissy mess. Rotten Apple by Alice In Chains is a typically nineties slice of emotive rock from the Seattle scene. The snappy snare is dressed in reverb whilst the closed hi-hats tick rhythmically. The centre stage is given to vocals and the guitar, whose warmth is a product of the mostly analogue recording session. The new DCAs dutifully delivered this.

Equally, the piano and voice on Carolin No's Crystal Ball benefit perfectly from this headphone's treble and midrange prowess, showcasing the E3's talent for not over-lighting these frequencies while still carrying the music's emotion and harmonics. The sparseness of this piece also highlights just how open the sound is. This is quite a thing, considering much of my desk time at home sees me strapped into DCA's Expanse open-backs. These new cans make my Ultrasone Edition 15 Veritas sound positively claustrophobic; it's an area that really highlights the E3's position above the Aeon Noire.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette shows the lack of top-end harshness and how this headphone deftly transitions from upper bass to lower midrange while vocals and guitars are well separated. This, alongside the excellent soundstage depth, results in superb clarity and the ability to fully explore the recorded acoustic.

Bass is fast, tight and well controlled, and therefore ideally suited to the slappy stylings of Mark King on the instrumental Mr Pink by Level 42 and Marcus Miller's Jean Pierre, for instance. However, the E3 is not here to artificially thicken the stew, so bass maintains a neutral colour and moderate presence in the mix where the low-end performs more of a supporting than a lead role. I prefer the more natural lows of this headphone with the sub-bass frequencies equally tempered. In fact, this is one area that keeps me coming back to DCA headphones.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

That said, the bassline in Interpol's Not Even Jail drives the track along with confidence. The tightly contained feel translates to a sense of urgency and energy, which is easily preferable to the flaccid, overhanging alternative offered by some cheaper, more bass-heavy models. Similarly, acoustic strings are presented with abundant texture and reveal timbral subtleties – as Bach's Allemande, performed by Ophélie Gaillard, demonstrated. This nuanced performance has the listener closing their eyes and getting lost in the moment when played on a great stereo system. The E3 did a great job transferring that overall experience to a more personal setting.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

Meanwhile, electronica is not overlooked, as a foot-tapping rendition of Alison Goldfrapp's Fever (The Real Thing) proved. Sequenced loops and dreamy vocals swirled around a spacious soundstage, with precise imaging letting you clearly place players within the acoustic. This headphone definitely sounds less 'in-the-cup' than the majority of closed-backs I have heard.

Dan Clark Audio E3 Review

This new DCA design also does a great line in dynamics, as George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Andre Previn at the helm ably revealed. While Previn's agility on the keys makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience, the change in pace and themes throughout this piece, which Leonard Bernstein, amongst others, cruelly remarked about at the time, gives the E3 ample fodder to show its ability to impart soft, intimate details and quickly move to full orchestral bombast without missing a step. While this pair of headphones won't flatter a poor recording or make excuses for underpowered or inadequate components, it delivers an even tonality, with plenty of space between layers and satisfying musicality.


The Dan Clark Audio E3 offers a noticeable upgrade to the Aeon Noire and what much of the top-flight Stealth has to offer, thanks to its linear and detailed sound signature. Although it won't delight bassheads, it demonstrates a spacious and engaging musicality with impressive dynamics and control when required. Factor in sure-footed timing, excellent resolution, and a generous soundstage, and it's a superb all-round design. If your budget allows and you have the power to make it shine, Dan Clark Audio's E3 is a must-audition design.

Visit Dan Clark Audio for more information


    Jay Garrett's avatar

    Jay Garrett

    StereoNET UK’s Editor, bass player, and resident rock star! Jay’s passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.

    Posted in:Headphones Applause Awards 2024 Headphones
    Tags: dan clark audio  electromod 


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