The Audeze EL-8 is the latest pair of headphones from the American company that’s quickly building a reputation for making gorgeous, high-end headphones. Like the Audeze LCD-X (£1,400) we reviewed back in December, they don’t come cheap, but at just shy of £600, they’re the company's most affordable yet.
Available in open-back and closed-back models – we've reviewed the latter – both use the same planar magnetic technology as the LCD-X. You can expect the same luxurious materials, a slightly more portable design and sound quality to make audiophiles purr.
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So what does £600 get you? A beautifully constructed pair of headphones better suited to using at home than taking on your commute. They’re bold, but a bit too big to walk around with. For a design that uses metal and wood, Audeze gets the balance and treads that fine line between something that's garish and stylish.
At 480g, they’re heavier than your typical big headphones, although nowhere near as bulky as the LCD-X. It’s the kind of weight you’ll notice if you're wearing them all day. It’s the huge hulking ear cups, though, which mean they’re going to stand out. A long-haul flight is a more fitting scenario than a train journey to work.
Plugging them into a phone or a tablet would do them a great disservice as well. These are clearly designed for being plugged into a high-end setup or getting hold of a headphone amp to get the very best out of them.
The overall weight is less noticeable lying on your bed or on the sofa and they’re comfortable thanks to the soft padding underneath the top of the headband, protecting the part of the head most susceptible to head fatigue.
The adjustable headband is made from metal trailing down to a ball socket that lets you twist the cups inwards and outwards. Next is the oval-shaped metal ear plates with spun-metal finish. In between the plates and the soft leather-covered ear cushions lies the strip of wooden veneer. It’s the flat surfaces, the minimalist approach and the clearly robust build in the design that you can really appreciate here.
Inside the box, you’ll find a long 2-metre headphone cable with a 3.5mm jack and a ¼-inch adapter for when you need to plug into your expensive sound system. At the other end of the cable you’ll find two gold-plated plugs that look a lot like Apple’s Lightning connectors. They easily clip into the ports underneath each ear cup and will both need to be plugged in if you don’t want to split the sound. These are proprietary cables, so we imagine they won’t be cheap to replace if damaged. But at least they can be replaced.
Like the LCD-X, there’s a lot of Audeze tech to talk about here. The most important is the driver design, which goes some way to explaining the size of the EL-8. Audeze uses planar magnetic drivers rather than the dynamic kind you find on most headphones. What that means is that they use larger, flatter drivers and magnetic fields in a bid to deliver wider frequency response, low distortion and overall better sound quality. Audeze has also introduced new Fazor technology placed around the magnetic structures to retain the audio detail for a cleaner, more detailed sound.
Bottom line, these sound fantastic and are an absolute joy to listen to music with. If you want that natural sound with a grand soundstage, you got it. Want that fantastic top-end, and tricky-to-master smooth midrange? That’s in abundance too. These cover the full sound spectrum with consummate ease. Moving from the bassy kick in up-tempo music, to the instrument and vocal separation in live performances, the EL-8 adapt almost seamlessly.
You’ll appreciate the true qualities from hooking it up to a headphone amp or a DAC listening to Hi-Res Audio or a CD-quality streaming service like Tidal. Even without those, you’ll still blush at the sound that resonates from these headphones. From a MacBook Air, the LG G3 and the Galaxy S6 with the right audio quality, you’ll lose a little of the finesse, but not enough to hamper what is overall such a pleasurable experience.
External noise blocking is also excellent thanks to the closed-back design. We’ve drowned out many an environment testing them, but for some reason, despite those closed backs, they also leak quite heavily. That's another reason you’d probably not want to take them on the train or sit in a quiet office with the volume cranked up even moderately high. We dread to think how leaky the EL-8 Open-Back must be.
If you’ve got £600 to spend on a pair of headphones, then you’ll love the EL-8.
The question to ask is if you can get the same sound quality for even less. Compared to something like the £200 Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7, which we also used during testing, the EL-8 delivers a more natural sound in comparison to what's still an excellent pair of commuter-friendly headphones.
Compared to the £350 Oppo PM-3 we recently reviewed and gave a full 10 out 10, then there might be an argument to say you can get it for less. Oppo uses the same planar magnetic driver tech and delivers similarly natural sound quality all in a smart design.
If you’re planning to use the EL-8 predominantly in the comfort of your own home, then you won’t be disappointed with what they can offer. For something a little more useful when you’re away from the expensively assembled sound system, then the Oppo PM-3 could be the high-end headphones to spend your money on instead.
For £600, you get what you pay for. Fantastic sound quality packed into a beautifully crafted design.