Being honest and upfront, out of the box, I did not like these MrSpeakers AEON Flow Closed headphones. It was completely different than my preferred sound signature (I tend to lean towards warm, fun signatures). I found them to be dull and not very engaging and lacking the detail that I thought I was going to be getting.
I ended up putting them aside for the Campfire Audio Cascade and they sat on the desk for a week untouched. But I was drawn back to them when Tyll Herstens (Inner Fidelity & Headroom) announced he was retiring. I knew that there had to be a reason that they were one of the few headphones he decided to keep with him. So I plugged them back in and spent another 100+ hours with them.
After spending more time with them, I'm ready to give you my thoughts.
In the box
They come with a nice black case that has a pouch on the inside for holding the cable. Its not made with the premium leather that AudioQuest and Campfire use with their cases and the texture isn't as nice to to touch but it is practical. Very minimalistic which fits in with Dan Clark’s personality from the times I have spoken to him. I do wish the case had a handle on it like the Focal Clear or AudioQuest NightHawk / NightOwl case as it is fairly big to carry around in your hands if you are doing some travelling.
Other than that they come with either the 4-pin XLR “Dummer Cable” or the 3.5mm with the 1/4" adapter “Dummer Cable”, 3 different tuning pads, a letter of authenticity and some instructions. The AEON flow cables use a 4-pin Hirose connector to connect to the headphones and if you aren't familiar with it, it can be a little tricky to get in the first couple of times. The cable is perfect for desktop application but a little too long if you are looking to use the AEON Flow Closed on the go.
Build Quality & Comfort
The build quality of the AEON Flow Closed is great. The teardrop shape of the ear cup provides a natural fit on most heads and is large enough to fit over even the largest of ears. The headphones are super comfortable and lightweight. They do have some clamping force but due to the lightweight carbon fibre build, the clamping is not noticeable after the first 10 minutes.
The headband is pretty slim, which usually results in more pressure on the head but not so with the AEON Flow Closed. I forgot it was even on my head after a while. The pads are soft, plush and supple.
I will mention that the gloss-like finish on the headphones is very prone to fingerprints and smudging so there is some wiping required after a couple of listening sessions.
Here's the part that you all really care about. And like I said above, on initial listening I didn't really like sound of the AEON Flow Closed but after spending 100+ hours with, my opinion has changed. They very different than most closed-back headphones that I have heard. They more natural sounding headphones that I’ve experienced but it’s bass response does leave something to be desired. I used the stock tuning pads that were already inside the ear cups when they were shipped as I found without the pads, the AFC went from natural sounding to venturing into bright territory.
The set-up I used was:
Macbook Pro --> Roon --> Tidal --> Dragonfly Black
Macbook Pro --> Roon --> Tidal --> Dragonfly Red
Mackbook Pro --> Roon --> Tidal --> SPL Director DAC --> SPL Phonitor X (w/o DAC add-on)
I found the Dragonfly Black had a hard time driving the AEON Flow Closed properly. Even the Dragonfly Red I was pushing close to 75-85% for volume. The SPL stack was definitely the best as the AFC are a very power-hungry headphone but I'm not going to recommend you drop 6 grand on a DAC/AMP combo to use them.
Fairly detailed. Without the tuning pad, it definitely came through with greater depth but it got to the point of being sibilant for me. I’m sure there are those who listen to the AFC without the tuning pads and love it but it definitely wasn’t for me. With the tuning pads though, I found it to be just about perfect. Comin’ Home(Live) by City and Colour (Live at the Orange Lounge) really dazzled with Dallas Green’s fingers moving up and down the guitar strings. Little Lion Man(Live) (The Road to Red Rocks) by Mumford and Sons is another track that stood out with the quick acoustic guitar strumming at the beginning of the song. It just sounded right. Adventure of a Lifetime by Coldplay was bliss.
Probably the stand-out of these headphones. Uncoloured and smooth with incredibly clear detail. Listening to live performances really shows just how good the mids really are( Glycerine by Bush at Woodstock '99 is simply phenomenal). Jay Malinowski’s raspy voice in Santa Monica is downright incredible while Jasmine Thompson’s piano cover of The Days absolutely shines. Switching over to Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up was a breathtaking experience. At the 3:23 mark when the choir kicks in, it really hit me why people like the AFC and why it made it to Tyll's Wall of Fame. The AFC mids are easily some of the best I’ve heard in a pair of closed-back headphones.
Definitely the weak-point of the headphones. If you enjoy boomy bass, these are definitely not the headphones for you. The bass is tight but it is certainly not punchy the AFC certainly isn't going to make your head shake. However, they do have decent bass extension and I find they reach deeper than the Oppo PM-3 or HifiMAN HE400i. Matoma’s Old Thing Back didn’t quite have the rumble I was looking over. Matt Lange’s Testarossa (while sounding great) just didn’t elicit the same visceral response that the Campfire Audio Cascade did. I would say the bass is refined but will disappoint those looking for some more impact.
Soundstage and imaging
The soundstage of the AFC is decent. I didn’t find it incredible but it certainly wasn’t bad. For a closed-back headphone, I would say its definitely in the above average category but nothing to write home about.
I found the imaging and separation to actually be quite good. Listening to The Unforgiven by Metallica was pretty fantastic.With lesser headphones Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield (Yes the theme from The Exorcist) is a track that will devolve into a tonal mess but the AFC managed to keep everything separate and produce a beautiful experience.
Passive Noise Isolation
Very good. Andrew tried yelling at me a couple of times while doing this write-up and I could not hear a thing. Due to their shape, if you wear glasses I could see some leakage happening but I had no issues. If you’ve used the AudioQuest NightOwl the noise isolation is on par if not a little better.
As you can see, my opinion on the AEON Flow Closed changed when I spent more time with them. Initially, my write-up was going to be more negative as I was going to write about my initial impressions. We had both the Campfire Audio Cascade, the Aeon Flow Closed and the Audeze LCD-3 in for a while and I found I never reached for the AFC. Simply because the other two were both more fun in my opinion. But after giving the AFC some proper time and attention, my opinion on them is different. While I still find the Cascade to be the more fun of the two, I actually find myself leaning towards the AEON Flow Closed if I was looking for a closed-back office headphone. The detail and clarity of the Aeon Flow Closed is much better than the the Cascade. The reason that I will probably go with the Cascade for portable end-game over the AEON Flow Closed is the AFC is so much harder to drive.
Overall I think the MrSpeakers AEON Flow Closed are one of the most detailed closed-backs I’ve heard. Music is natural through them and live music in particular really shines with the AFC. The AFC measures considerably close to the Harmon Target which would explain why they sound so natural. They are an excellent choice for desktop purposes if you want a closed-back headphone. Due to their power-hungry nature though, I couldn't recommend them for portable use or if you enjoy more impact in the low-end. If you a fan of booming bass or you are an electronic music listener, I would definitely look at the Campfire Audio Cascade instead.