Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2C vs. Focal Elegia - Music Analysis
Written by MRphotography (Marcello Rostagni)
All Photos © Marcello Rostagni 2020 All Rights Reserved
A little about me, first I am not a professional reviewer, I am an ordinary guy that fell in love with the world of headphones and headphone amplifiers/DACs after the birth of our first daughter. I have always been a music lover from an early age when I had my record player, tape deck, CD player and later moving into the high-resolution streaming space. My audio passion before I became more serious about headphone listening was around audio equipment in the big speaker, surround sound, and desktop near field speaker monitor world.
After the birth of our first daughter, I found I needed a solution to listen to music quietly to not disturb her while I worked in my office next door to her room. As a professional photographer, director, producer and visual artist when I am not in the field photographing still photography productions or producing/directing video projects I spend a lot of time in my home or studio office editing and running the day to day operations of my business. Before discovering my passion for headphones, I had always used near-field monitors for listening and honestly headphones/IEMs were just something I used for the gym or phone calls. Realizing I just couldn’t get a great quality listening experience from the cheaper IEM’s or headphones I currently owned I began my web search for something reasonably priced that had more of an open speaker like sound quality that I could enjoy while I worked at my desk.
Why Closed Back Headphones?
As I tried different headphones quickly, I realized that open-back headphones were my favorite type of headphones for their openness in sound and less fatiguing listen. However, open-back headphones do have an audible leak of music while listening which isn’t always appropriate depending on your location which led me down the path of finding a great closed-back headphone that could also be portable. The search first landed me on a reasonably priced active noise canceling headphone which was decent for listening and travel, but it just wasn’t doing it for me audibly and I started digging deeper. After lots of forum discussions and research, I landed on the Dan Clark AEON2C, which I purchased from Heaphones.com, then shortly after the Focal Elegia. I also was listening to a few other headphones at the time besides the 6XX, such as the Focal Elear, as well as the HifiMan Ananda.
My Music and Source Preferences
The types of music I listen to so you get a feel for me as a listener are for the most part almost every genre, Classical, Orchestral, Opera, Pop, Rock, R and B, Jazz, Classic Rock, Metal, EDM, Electronic, Trance, New Age, World, Movie Sound Tracks, some hip hop, with very little country music (Apologies to country music fans.). My listening is done via Qobuz, AmazonMusicHD, Spotify, XM Radio and Vinyl.
The gear I used to listen with and formulate my impressions of these two headphones are the Schiit LYR 3 amp, Bifrost 2 DAC, iFi IDSD Micro Black Label Amp/DAC, SMSL THX SP200 amp, SMSL SU-8V2 DAC, and Dragonfly Red. I used only the standard filters included and installed from Dan Clark Audio for this review and did not use any EQ or Tone Control to alter the sound of the headphones even though both headphones have the capability for that.
Why am I taking the time to write this?
The purpose of this review is to give back to the community at https://forum.headphones.com/. For anyone like me who is newer to the hobby and wants to get a feel for two awesome headphone offerings in the closed-back department, my hope is this review helps someone to check out one or both great headphones and enjoy them as much as I do. I have received no compensation for my impressions and all the impressions here are my own. You may have different impressions of either of these headphones than me and that’s cool, we all hear different. Once again I am not a professional reviewer so I based my impressions off of a list of songs/tracks I have either been listening to the majority of my life or that have been heavily in rotation and familiar to me as of this writing. I will link to the Qobuz, AmazonMusicHD, and Spotify Playlists I have created for this review so if you want to follow along with the listen you can.
Let me start by saying I enjoy both headphones equally for different reasons. So, if you are looking for which one is better between the two, I would say that comes down to the type of music you listen to and what you prefer from your audio listening experience. I tend to prefer a slightly warmer but detailed sound from my headphones. However honestly this can change based on my listening mood and type of music I am listening to. I also am a firm believer as of this writing that having a few headphone options for listening is better than just having one pair, as it is fun to change things up occasionally. So hopefully you are still with me let’s get started with our first track!
Listening via the Elegia the Grateful Dead “Friend of the Devil” the guitar strings sound awesome not missing any of the details, Jerry’s voice sounds clean and clear. Drums are a little softer than I would like but overall a great presentation of this song. The presentation on this song from the Elegia is wanting to show you every single string pluck, the speed of delivery is quite impressive, at the expense of a less relaxing listen from the AEON2C. The A2C has a more in your head sound stage, closer and slightly more intimate. Gerry’s voice sounds a little more authentic to me and the overall tone is more pleasing and warmer. Detail retrieval is just as good as the Elegia, no preference on this track both are beautifully done.
On the next track listening via the Elegia, Bob Marley’s three little birds the sound stage sounds more open than the AEON2C but not by much, however, there is less of a low end to the drums and beat than the AEON2C. Imaging is very well done from the Elegia, as well as detail you don’t miss a thing as if it is pushing you to hear every single note. Vocals sound a bit cleaner and forward from the Elegia on this track but not by too much. Once again, the overall tone of the music is a bit more pleasing to my ears from the A2C and I enjoy the way the vocals sound a bit more, specifically the way they decay from the A2C, just a more relaxing warmer listen.
Listening via the Elegia to Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” is a song that shows that despite what some others online have said about these headphones they can produce punch and render drums quite well and realistic. Again, the sound stage sounds airier and more open. Phil’s voice sounds crystal clear and the position of his voice is done well on the soundstage. This is another tough one, I value the open airy nature of the Elegia but I am wanting more warmth to Phil’s voice and bass when the drums kick. This will once again come down to your personal preference. For me, the warmer sounding voice of Phil Collins, listening via the A2C and the perceived power of the lower end when the drums come in just push me towards the A2C as the preferred listen. The AEON2C has me wanting to turn it up louder pulling me deeper into the song whereas on some points of the song with the Elegia I am feeling slightly the opposite. Nearly every time I listen to this song via the AEON2C I get tingles when the drums drop in. Emotionally this song is better rendered by the A2C IMO and slightly edges out the Elegia for my ears.
Much of my feelings from the previous track from Phil extend to the next track on my list from Peter Gabriel “In your eyes”. Once again if you value a more open airy soundstage from a closed-back with the vocals sounding a touch more forward the Elegia will win you over but if you value a warmer sound with a more intimate sound stage and a more perceived impactful low end the A2C will move you, really honestly beautifully done from both of these headphones on this track I could go either way.
From Focal’s Elegia Sam Smith’s “Burning” track sounds incredible from these headphones, the sound of his voice, and the way these headphones render the piano tones you can see them start to make some magic happen here. From the A2C this song is rendered beautifully as well. This one is a tossup for me. I am drawn to the soundstage of the Elegia on this track as well as the tone of most piano notes. From the A2C the lower piano notes are rendered richly but not quite as authentically from higher piano notes. The soundstage is tight, I feel like I am right next to Sam as he is singing this song, his position when the chorus comes in is clear to me dead center with the other singers coming in from the left and right via the A2C, interestingly the Elegia gives a bit more perceived power to the singers on the chorus from the left and right over shadowing Sam’s voice slightly to my ears. Toss up on this track both sound wonderful.
For the next track The Elegia seems to have a bit better placement of Jack’s voice on this song and sound terrific for “Better Together” from Jack Johnson. Intimate vocalists with an acoustic instrument or piano just sound well done on the Elegia. The A2C is no slouch however and this song sounds great as well, but the placement of his voice feels more in your head and left/right vs. forward and center stage from the Elegia. It could be a slight edge to the Elegia on this track, but honestly, I could go either way, and this again will depend on what you value in your headphone presentation.
Again, from the Elegia first, a terrific presentation of “Daughters” by John Mayer, the guitar with his vocals just sounds awesome re-affirming to me how well vocalists matched with acoustic guitar sound from the Elegia. The A2C on this track delivers a touch more warmth in the guitar as well as John’s voice, the vocals feel a little more intimate to me for this track which works well. Beautiful with both models with a slight edge to the A2C for my listening preferences.
For the next track “Dreams” from Fleetwood Mac the Elegia is very impressive, you can pick out the instruments, and vocals throughout the sound stage, not sure which headphone I prefer more here. The AEON2C or the Elegia. I had to A/B several times and still can’t decide. When the chorus comes in on the Elegia I am wanting a bit more power and emotion from the Elegia that the AEON2C delivers, but the clarity of the sexy-sounding Stevie Nicks from the Elegia is greatly appreciated on this track. When listening to this track from the AEON2C vs. the Elegia I am immediately struck by the power of the drums, and the decay of instruments and Stevie’s voice. The additional warmth helps on this track along with the additional lower end. Symbols, drums sound terrific adding to the A2C’s take on this song. Both sound beautiful no clear winner in my mind.
Listening via the Elegia first on the next track Nora Jones’s Voice on “Come away with me” sounds beautiful once again with the string instruments and piano these headphones sound terrific. Listening now via the AEON2C the delivery sounds a bit more intimate with additional warmth to the guitar and of course Nora’s voice. Both sound exceptional. The guitar, piano and Nora’s voice at times can sound a bit more energetic and say, “Hey listen to me!” vs. a more relaxed delivery from the A2C. No clear winner here, both beautiful.
Listening again first via the Elegia to one of my favorite female vocalists, Lana Del Ray’s voice sounds incredible along with the lower tones on this song show that these headphones when the recording utilizes the entire frequency range as Resolve stated in his review can produce some great low end along with beautiful vocals. The A2C puts Lana closer to me when listening to this song which doesn’t bother me one bit, and the bass and lower frequencies are perceived to be more prominent for this song, however, I am not 100% sure I like it as much, as it can take away from her voice some during certain parts of the track. If you like deeper perceived bass in your music the A2C may sound better but Lana’s voice sounds just a touch better along with the soundstage via the Elegia to my ears.
On the next track listening via the Elegia to Whitney Houston from the Bodyguard soundtrack her voice sounds incredible and once again the Elegia sounds a bit more open and airier than the A2C. One thing to note when Whitney is hitting some of the higher notes when listening via the Elegia they can come across a bit shouty to my ears at times compared to the smoother delivery from the AEON2C. This is another case of both the headphones sounding great with the smoother delivery via the A2C and the more energetic delivery via the Elegia.
Next up we have Adele from her 25 album “Hello”. Listening via the Elegia I experience some of the same issues from the last track with Whitney, Adele’s voice comes in a bit too bright and shouty for my tastes on the more powerful parts. I prefer the slightly more relaxed warmer delivery from the AEON2C on this track which allows me to more deeply enjoy it.
Next, we have FKA Twigs “Figure 8”, switching it up listening first via the A2C the speed of the planar shines keeping up with speed of this trippy track. Her voice sounds ethereal and sexy, with a nice amount of bass that is clean and impactful. The A2C resolves detail and makes this track sound awesome. Now listening via the Elegia, once again there is an openness to the sound that I enjoy on this track, clean, clear with a nice lower end impact. Not as much perceived low-end impact to my ears as there was from the A2C, but FKA Twigs vocals also feel a little more forward compared to the A2C which many will enjoy. Close on this track but still a slight edge to A2C.
Blinding Lights from The Weekend is one of my favorite new tracks from the recent movie “Uncut Gems”. Let’s see how the two headphones stack up on this track. First, via the Elegia, this track sounds thinner to me than the more perceived powerful delivery of AEON2C. From the Elegia the Weekend’s vocals sound thin, along with the beat, all of it just doesn’t do it for me on this track. I struggle to find one thing on this track I can enjoy from the Elegia which is strange. This song and possibly the Weekend’s music are not as well-paired to the tuning of the Elegia. The clear winner here, AEON2C powerfully delivers over the Elegia on this track.
Next up the one and only Prince “Let’s go crazy”. First, up the A2C, I am already loving the energetic beat and delivery of all the incredible instruments both electronic sounds and electric guitar! My head is bobbing, my foot is tapping, amazing detail, speed, the A2C’s are shinning again! Prince’s voice sounds terrific, a great presentation of this song from the A2C. Now for the Elegia, let’s see how they do! Once again while a bit better than the previous song they just don’t sound in the same class to my ears for this track. I am starting to see a bit of a trend here. While the rendition of the song is respectable, and we are not losing any detail here it just doesn’t move me and pull me into the song as I know I should be. Once again, the track comes off sounding a bit thin and shrill at some points from the Elegia’s compared to the AEON2C which just sounds better to me for this song.
Ok, I have a feeling the Elegia will do a bit better on this track from Daft Punk “Motherboard”. This song sounds much better already to me as we have more of the types of sounds and instruments on the track that plays well with the Elegia tuning. How appropriate as Focal is French after all. Detail retrieval and sound stage are terrific via this track from the Elegia. The perceived low end could be a bit better for the beat to my ears. Now let’s check out the A2C on this same track, immediately the A2C excels slightly with my perceived delivery of the beat, detail retrieval is just as good possibly even better than the Elegia here, delivery is smoother sounding while not leaving out any detail, acoustic strings sound a bit softer however than they did from the Elegia but still well done. Honestly, both headphones do a good job with this track however I would still give the slight edge to the A2C vs. the Focal Elegia.
Here we go the moment on my headphone playlist I have been waiting for, the one and only Hans Zimmer Live in Prague “Crimson Tide 160pm.” Starting first with the A2C…. man I love this track, you are going on a journey! This song is quite long, over 12 minutes, so I am going to give my overall impressions of both headphones from this modern-day orchestral masterpiece. The AEON2C delivery sounds powerful, precise, fast, detailed, the drums and electric guitar just shine in all the right ways to my ears. At around 8:33 in the song, you can tell what I am talking about with the drums and cymbals. Now my impressions of the Elegia from this track. Right away beautiful vocals from the choir, speed is there, the detail is there, can you guess what’s missing? The perceived impact from the drums just isn’t as present to my ears. The horns do sound more natural but just don’t have the perceived power that the AEON2C delivers. The electric guitar doesn’t sound as good as it does from the A2C as well. This track still sounds very good from the Elegia but just not as good to my ears as the AEON2C so far. At around the 4:39 mark, the Elegia begin to show their speed and skill! They are pulling me into the music more, although just not as much as Dan Clark’s A2C did. The vocals sound wonderful from the Elegia, but the perceived low end is just lacking a little too much for me on this track. Let’s see how they compare at around the 8:33 mark. Here we go, speed of the drums is excellent, tone of the drums is awesome, amazing detail retrieval, quite incredible really, but again the perceived impact from the lower tones is just lacking to my ears. While I think both headphones deliver a great sounding version of this track, I enjoy the A2C version better.
Now we move into some music I think the Elegia will shine on. Up next we have John Williams Jurassic Park theme from the London Symphony. Listening first via the Elegia, this orchestral piece is delivered beautifully with a clear separation between the instruments, the tone and majesty of the song come through extremely well on the Elegia with just enough on the low end to sound very good to my ears. Now listening via the A2C, immediately this track sounds less natural to me via the A2C and I am already wanting the Elegia’s back on my head for this song. All my initial impressions about the Elegia being a classical closed-back still stand strong. The string instruments from the A2C are just not rendered as well as the Elegia. The separation of the instruments is not quite as good to my ears as well. While the lower end sounds a bit more powerful it also sounds a little less precise from the A2C on this track, it’s not to say you wouldn’t enjoy this track with the A2C but when you compare to the Elegia there is a clear winner in my mind, Focal’s Elegia.
On the next track listening via the Elegia fist, the cello sounds magical from Yo-Yo Ma once again a classical string instrument. Focal Elegia excels again on this track however there is something quite nice about the additional warmth the AEON2C adds to the cello, but overall, the cleaner presentation of the Elegia sounds better to me.
Next up we have Lang Lang The Chopin Album with “Adante Spianato” the piano via the Elegia sounds beautiful with every keystroke sounding natural to my ear and true. Listening now via the A2C the lower-key tones sound nice however something sounds less natural when he plays some of the higher keys. Once again, I think the Elegia’s presentation of the song does it better.
Switching gears to Tycho “Stress” first up we have the A2C, rich, detailed, impactful, slightly warm are a few words to describe the way this song is being presented to me. Now for the Elegia’s presentation. Immediately an airier sound, cleaner and clearer with less perceived low end, but still very well done. Honestly, I could go either way on this track, maybe even a slight edge to the Elegia, even though it has less perceived lower end to my ears, the clarity and less in your head sound make me appreciate the Elegia just a bit more.
Now for two of my favorite tracks to listen to for test imaging, speed and detail retrieval. First “Bubbles” from Yosi Horikawa. All I can say is wow, both headphones image where sounds are coming from incredibly, both are amazingly fast, and I don’t feel like I am losing any details really between the two. Just a slightly different presentation with the Elegia giving a bit more space and air, and the A2C giving a bit more warmth and perceived impact. The Elegia’s detail retrieval and sound stage sound incredible from the Yosi Horikawa “Bubbles” the movement of the ping pong balls, marbles, and other sounds can be easily picked out and tracked Across the sound stage. It is easy to get lost on this next track “Wandering” as you feel all the sounds around you, engulfing you, while the lower end once again isn’t as full as the A2C the detail, clarity, imaging of the Elegia are very special for a closed-back headphone. To my ears however the A2C’s warmer and more impactful sound vs. the Elegia more open and airy sound is slightly better to me, especially with the “Wandering” track. IMO you should feel the low end on the wandering track, and to my ears, I just didn’t get enough of that from the Elegia for this song. Both headphones did excellent however and no clear winner from these two tracks.
For the next track one of my favorites Hans Zimmer from Interstellar soundtrack “Mountains”. Listening first via the Elegia, the speed, detail, clarity is all there, when the organ comes in it sounds powerful with great separation between instruments. Listening next via the A2C also very well presented slightly warmer again with a bit more perceived power, especially from the organ. This track could go either way depending on what someone prefers. If you have made it this far, you can tell by now I prefer a little more warmth on most tracks so a slight edge to the A2C.
So for the next 5 tracks it is clear to me that this is where the A2C shines, and I prefer the sound of electric guitars, drums, cymbals and the vocals from Pearl Jam “Black”, A/C “Thunderstruck”, Tool “Fear Inoculum”, Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody/Radio Ga Ga” Live aid Wembley stadium, and Pink Floyd “Shine on you crazy diamond” Live. The Elegia does have a beautiful rendition of the soundstage from Pearl Jam’s Black grabbing all the detail you could want however the tones of the guitar and vocals of Eddie Vedder leave me wanting a bit warmer less harsh sound at times, once again this could be personal preference to my ears but again the AEON2C renders this song more powerfully, dramatically and emotionally to my ears. AC/DC “Thunderstruck” one of my favorite songs since about 5th grade when our basketball coach would pack us up and take us to the game, blasting this song as we approached our game location. Similar impressions of the Elegia from the last song from Pearl Jam, when the lower tones and kick drum come in “Thunder!” I am left wanting more thunder, it just isn’t enough for me to feel the way I have always felt from this song. You guessed it AEON2C is the clear winner to my ears again. Once again this is personal and the detail, stage, speed is all there from the Elegia. From Tool’s album Fear Inoculum “Fear Inoculum” what can I say that I haven’t said from the last couple track impressions, the instrument placement, vocals, imaging, detail, and speed are all great from the Elegia, however, this again just shows the strength of the AEON2C to this type of music as being the outstanding performer for this genre.
Elegia to my ears has a less perceived low end but an airier soundstage.
Elegia delivers piano tones fast, precise, beautiful and more naturally.
When I listen to classical, string instruments, acoustic instruments the Elegia continues to be my go-to Closed Back Classical headphone.
Sound stage is very nice from both headphones for closed-back designs, however, the Elegia wins the soundstage battle sounding a bit more open to me than A2C. However, some may prefer the slightly more intimate sound stage of the AEON2C which for the most part sounds in your head for most tracks.
The Elegia and AEON2C’s detail retrieval and imaging are both excellent. The Elegia is exacting of details and is very clean, crisp and clear sounding if you will. As stated, before string instruments, acoustic instruments, classical, and vocals sound lovely. While the Aeon 2C sound just as detailed with a touch more warmth and perceived lower end impact lending themselves IMO better to my ears for electric guitar, drums, cymbals, pop, most electronic, EDM, rock, and hip hop as noted from the track comparison list.
Build quality of both headphones is amazing. The Elegia is beautifully done. I don’t think anyone can argue how well Focal headphones are made and look. The A2C is built just as well, lighter weight more compact, but just as elegant with their carbon fiber and speckled red piano type finish.
Comfort is great from both these headphones again, they feel lightweight on my ears don’t get very warm when listening for longer periods, I added a cloth protector to the headband of the Elegia to prevent the light grey underside of the headband from getting dirty over time. It might not be an issue for anyone but I like to baby my stuff and keep it looking brand new. The Aeon 2C is still the more comfortable headphone to me for longer listening. I prefer the ear cups, headband design and give them the advantage for overall comfort and longer listening sessions IMO.
Pads for both the Elegia and the Aeon2C are a bit critical with glasses being worn. To get the full low end from each of the headphones. Very thin-framed glasses should be worn or rest the earpieces on top of the pads to not lose some of the low-end sounds.
Stock cables from both are decent. I don’t mind either but they both are nothing stand out with a longer cable being provided with the A2C which is nice if you are trying to listen at a further distance from your amp. The Elegia cable length is pretty good for mobile use around the house or at the desktop. I could see how it might be a pain if you had a dap/phone in your pocket but honestly I have grown to like it so far and the way it can be bent to certain shapes based on how I am sitting. No issues for me so far.
Power requirements, the AEON2C needs more current to sound correct. So please don’t think using a Dragonfly Red, cell phone, or laptop is going to give these headphones what they need to sound good. Give them current and they will shine! The Elegia is very efficient and can be driven nicely from a Dragonfly Red, and sound even better as you scale up your amp.
Headphone portability is better with the AEON2C, the design is brilliant in that regard. However, the required additional power needed for them by using an amp/DAC such as the iFi IDSD Micro Black Label negates some of the portability bonus with the headphone design. Taking that into account and the fact you can drive the Elegia from a Dragonfly Red makes which headphone is most portable an interesting conversation.
Conclusion: Which Headphone is Right for You?
Well, that depends on what you like. For me, both. They both provide such a different sound signature that I enjoy both for different genres of music and at times both for the same genre. If you can only choose one, then I would analyze what type of music you listen to most. One last thing to add that I didn’t think would be a benefit to the Elegia initially is the fact they are great to monitor audio on location directly plugged into a cinema camera when I am working in the field directing and producing videos. The Elegia is tuned for the most part neutral sounding and very detailed so they would also lend themselves well to video editing purposes.
Thanks for taking the time to check out my impressions! I highly recommend you give both these headphones a listen.
All Photos © Marcello Rostagni 2020 All Rights Reserved
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