Hands-On Review: Audeze EL-8 Open, EL-8 Closed, and Deckard DAC/AMP


Over the past few weeks, I have enjoyed the opportunity to audition two new pairs of headphones from Audeze (AW-deh-zee), the California-based creators of the famed LCD-3, LCD-2, LCD-X, and LCD-XC models of magnetic planar headphones. If this is your first time ever hearing about magnetic planar speaker driver technology, you are in for a treat.

I remember very clearly the moment I first heard about magnetic planar speakers while reading an end-user's online review for the RD75 driver—a 75" tall magnetic planar speaker designed and manufactured by the Nevada-based partnership of Tom Bohlender and David Graebener, of B&G Radia. A single driver, by itself, cost close to a thousand dollars—not a finished speaker, not a speaker system with a source of amplification, a crossover network, or cabinetry of any kind. That was the cost of a single driver by itself.

In the review, the writer told an anecdote about the first time he heard a demo of the RD75. After the demo was over, he promptly sold all his existing DJ and PA equipment to buy a pair of RD75s. The difference in the sound quality was that appreciable—you could liken the progression in speaker-driver design to that of upgrading from flying in a propeller-powered airplane to a an airplane powered by a jet propulsion engine. It was true a paradigm shift in driver technology.   

A few years ago, I did the exact same thing as the reviewer, except I didn’t have a chance to demo the driver. Nevertheless, I saved up my money and bought a pair of RD75s. Even though I had never heard them before, I remember feeling so compelled by the reviewer’s story and his apparent appreciation for good sound that I decided to take the plunge and follow course.

When the drivers arrived, I built some simple baffles and with some basic rigging sourced from the local hardware store, suspended them from the 15-foot ceiling of an artist loft where I was living, in Brooklyn, NY.

When I turned them on for the first time, I was stunned by what I heard. It was as if the speakers weren’t there at all, just music—clear, emotive, encompassing music. This was my first experience hearing a magnetic planar driver, and the experience changed my life.

Over the course of that year, I built a two-way sound system around the RD75s with 4 x 18" Jamaican-style scoops (for low mids and bass up to 225 Hz), QSC Class AB and H amplification, dBX PA+ processing, and a couple of kilowatts worth of low-frequency transducers embedded in a vibrating dance floor. My friends and I threw more than 100 parties with that system, for all variety of celebration. It was Hi-Fi for everyone. It made a lot of people happy.

Fast forward to four years later, and I am sitting in a Brooklyn coffee shop on the boundary between Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. I’m catching up with a close friend who I haven’t seen in more than a year, and she turns to me and says with a smile, “I have some special music to show you.” I smile back, because I have something special, as well, to share with her—one pair of Audeze  EL-8 Open and one pair of Audeze  EL-8 Closed-Back magnetic planar headphones. I pull out both pairs from my bag for her to try. 

It’s fun to watch a person’s first impression of a new pair of headphones. With an industrial design by BMW Designworks USA, the build quality of both the open-back and closed-back versions of the  EL-8 headphones is spectacular. With rich black brushed-aluminum ear cups and an inlaid wood veneer that resonates with the legacy of vintage Hi-Fi stereo equipment, the headphones are beautiful to behold.

The frame is built around a thin, expertly machined curved piece of metal with plush leather headband and ear pads that compress gently around the listener’s head. They come with an 1/8" to 1/4" adapter, as well as a proprietary magnetic dual-sided headphone cable that can be likened to the power supply plug on a more recent MacBook pro.

At first, I found the headphone cable a bit unusual; after a few days of use I grew to appreciate the fact that the magnets hold the cable in place, but if suddenly the cable were to be yanked or get caught in something, it would pull out without damaging the headphones or getting the listener tangled up. 

The overall design is simple—elegant, modern, and cool. 

So, my friend tries on the closed-back version and laughs aloud, commenting on the size. In fact, she looks quite stylish, as the  EL-8s have a slimmer, more contoured profile, making them appropriate for wearing on the train, a plane, or while out in public than perhaps their bigger brethren LCD-3, LCD-2, LCD-X, and LCD-XC models (really big headphones). For a more in-depth look at the LCD-X and to learn more about magnetic planar technology, check out the Audeze brand overview here.

By comparison to the LCD line, the  EL-8s are much closer in size to other high-end consumer and professional headphones from various manufacturers.

They feel good, too. Both the open and closed versions are incredibly comfortable to wear. In some ways, how a pair of headphones sounds might be the second most important selection criterion, compared to how they feel. How a pair of headphones feels will play a major role in how long you will want to wear them and, subsequently, how much music you are able to listen to in a given session.

I found this out the hard way when I bought a pair of custom acrylic in-ear monitors (cast from impressions made by an audiologist). It took three attempts of sending the in-ears back to the lab to be shaved and trimmed before they were comfortable enough to use during an extended period of recording or mixing.

Audeze has created among the most—if not the most—comfortable pair of headphones I’ve ever worn. My friend agrees.

When listening with over-the-ear style headphones, I find I encounter two types of fatigue. The first is physical: a combination of the clamping pressure that the the headband and ear cup assembly exert on my ears, the weight of the headphones on my neck, and sometimes the buildup of heat and sweat around one’s ears if the ear pads are heavily insulated. Fortunately, Audeze has taken great care to address all of these potential concerns and has created among the most—if not the most—comfortable pair of headphones I’ve ever worn. My friend agrees, as well.

The fact that such care and consideration was given to the physical aesthetic of the headphones makes sense when you consider the technology contained within. Audeze made a number of major advancements in terms of magnetic planar R&D, high-volume manufacturing, and some innovative features of its own to make a headphone that is truly unique.

For the  EL-8s, Audeze developed a new patent-pending, single-sided fluxor magnet structure to reduce the weight (compared to the LCD line) while still generating sufficient magnetic flux to achieve that distinctive planar sound stage with a frequency response of 10 to 50,000 Hz.

They also feature a new patent-pending Uniforce diaphragm that effectively minimizes the breakup modes that occur with more traditional dynamic driver headphones. The difference is clearly audible.

So, how do they sound?   

The EL-8s incorporate a number of design innovations that enable delivery of a sound signature that is close to the LCD line, but with streamlined manufacturing costs to make a pair of headphones with a more approachable price point that can then be shared and enjoyed by a much larger group of people.  

For my audition, I tried using both the open-back and closed-back version of the  EL-8s with a wide variety of sources: I tried using an iPhone 5s, the headphone output of a MacBook pro, the cue mix out of a Rane Sixty Four digital mixer, an Apogee Duet analog-to-digital converter/audio interface, a Roland Mobile UA DSD portable DAC/Amp, a Tascam field recorder, and Audeze’s own Deckard DAC and Class A headphone amplifier.

In all my tests, I found the  EL-8s performed above the majority of other headphones I have tested, in terms of feel, frequency response, sensitivity, clarity, and isolation. I auditioned a wide variety of sound sources including spoken word, singing (studio and stage), movies, podcasts, and TV shows.

I especially appreciated the way the  EL-8 closed-back version rendered dialog while catching up on a few seasons of Game of Thrones. Compared to my other headphones, the magnetic planers have a smoother, warmer, more human timbre.

Deckard Amp

As if it weren’t enough that Audeze would bring out two new more cost-approachable models—the company has also released an accompanying Digital-to-Analog Converter and headphone amplifier called “The Deckard.” Weighing nearly 7.5 pounds, and more than a foot long, the amp is really meant for your office or home listening rig, and not so much to be transported back and forth.

Though less efficient than Class D and Class AB operational designs, old-school Class A amplifiers are still considered by many Hi-Fi enthusiasts to be the best form of amplification for critical listening. The reason is that a Class A amplifier conducts electricity throughout a complete sinusoidal cycle of the input signal, making it the most linear and accurate way to amplify the original source. This comes at the cost of efficiency, averaging only about 20%, with the rest of the energy being lost to heat.

For the single-ended Class-A Deckard, this isn’t really a problem, as the device is designed to output a maximum of 795 mW at 33 ohms, but can also drive headphones with an impedance as high as 600 ohms over a frequency response of 20 to 20,000 Hz with an incredible total harmonic distortion rating (THD+N) of just 0.00045% @ 1 kHz 2 VRMS A-weighted.

The USB DAC/AMP is compatible with both Mac and Windows computers with 16 or 32-bit resolution at sample rates from 44.1 kHz to 352.8 kHz on a Windows computer and up to 384 kHz on a Mac. A front panel input switch allows you to switch between the rear panel digital USB type-B input and a pair of RCA inputs. The front panel also features a +0, +10, and +20 dB gain switch, as well as a rotary volume knob. It can even be used as a line-level preamp for use with your home Hi-Fi system.

There are certainly smaller, more portable digital audio players, digital-to-analog converters, and headphone amplifiers on the market, but these often employ more efficient class AB or class D designs so to be powered by a battery. It’s nice to see a headphone manufacturer also develop an amplifier that is designed specifically to work with their line of LCD and EL-8 headphones.       


Overall, it was real a joy to audition the EL-8 Open and  EL-8 Closed headphones. They demark an exciting time in consumer electronics where innovative manufacturers such as Audeze are making high-end hi-fi technology more accessible to the masses. I listen to headphones a great deal—at work, on the subway, while traveling, and in the studio, so I feel a good pair of headphones is worth the investment. The EL-8s are a great pair of headphones.

Whether to go for the EL-8 open-back or EL-8 closed-back version is as much a question of application as sound signature. If you intend to use the headphones while riding on a noisy morning commute or while working in a crowded office environment where fellow coworkers might easily be disturbed, than you should probably opt for the closed-back version. Even though they are closed back, I think Audeze was successful in preserving much of what makes the magnetic planar sound so special.

If, on the other hand, you intend to use the headphones at home, for mixing in the studio, or if you enjoy a degree of privacy in your work environment such as you have your own office, then the more spacious air sound stage of the EL-8 open-back version would be good choice.

As for me, the excitement I felt from listening to each pair has drawn me back to the initial thrill I felt when I auditioned the larger, more powerful Audeze LCD-X magnetic planar headphones. I will probably go for a pair of EL-8 open or LCD-X as I prefer the larger soundstage, and primarily want to use them for studio production.

In all cases, we are living in exciting times for the advancement of technology and I’m glad companies like Audeze continue to innovate upon and refine their successes. I even heard the company will soon release a line of super-large (i.e. 100mm diameter) magnetic planar microphones in mono, stereo, and tetrahedral arrangements for recording virtual reality sound in the Ambisonics B format, but I’ll leave that for a future article.    


Great story by including reaction of a friend. However I am curious to how the friend reacted to the sounds, it would have been nice to include that as at the end of the review I was stil asking myself so what dit the friend think of the headphones. However keep writing....

This is a great review.  Wish I had some extra scratch...I'd buy the open ear model, the head amp, and the bearded guy a nice cold craft beer on tap.  Excelsior!

Evidently the bearded dude is high and revelling in a fixation of ambient road noise saturating "CCR's "Commotion"while trying to look like a zombie from a pro-audio convention. 

Come on... a guy with open-air flagship planar magnetic headphones walking in a city, outside, with open-air headphones of this level and the source equipment nearly to match, again, walking outside in a city. This is absolutely hilarious and completely backwards to the concept of hifi and what these devices are even sought after for.

It would be far more appropriate to see a guy in a quiet room with a fancy arm chair.

These kinds of headphones are not fashion items for the street. I would be pretty annoyed to be marketed this way if I were advertising flagship level $1k+ Hifi headphones and saw them being worn in the street open to the air where you cannot even begin to appreciate what's playing in them, at all!

I have never responded to a comment before via the internet.  I own the open EL-8's, and read your comment because I ordered the closed back, but the seller got it wrong and sent the Open's.  So I wanted information, and I can say that I have never, never read so many words that say so little in all my life.  Such is generation X I suppose.  You really need to say something if you are going to comment.