Edit - oh you posted while I was writing this post a few pieces at a time. Now this is all moot lol but I might as well leave it up. Congrats on the deal though, looking forward to your impressions!
Oh your budget opens a different can o worms!
I looked up the Aeon Flow specs: 13ohm but only 95 dB/mW, so my guess is a phone would struggle. A laptop may be borderline. I happen to have a similarly spec’d planar so when I get a chance, I’ll try it unamped on my laptop & my hubby’s phone for curiosity. What state are you in? There might be a hifi shop within semi-reasonable distance where you can demo the AF and others. It’s always nice when you can try a pair before handing someone your whole wallet.
I haven’t followed closed-backs in that price tier as much, but from memory here are a few others to consider.
The Drop/THX Panda is a 100 dB/mW planar for $400 and I heard lots of good things about it (but I don’t remember what ppl said about its soundstage). IIRC it’s a tweaked remake of the beloved Oppo PM3. You can listen wired or wireless and the FR is very similar either way, meaning the SQ doesn’t suffer from being wireless! It has a built-in amp you can turn on if your volume on the phone is lacking.¹
The Ora GrapheneQ is another drivable wired/wireless pair, featuring a state-of-the-art (as of late 2019) dynamic graphene driver advertised to have certain advantages, not that I care about such marketing. Headphone nuts were super excited about this one, but when the preorders were finally shipped, huge disappointment followed in the early reviews. However, this may have been the initial shock of the unique sound signature, plus people of certain head sizes complained of fit issues that could have greatly affected the sound for them. Eventually some favorable reviews trickled in, and though I haven’t followed the threads in a while, I get the sense that the OGQ ended up being a success. There’s no guarantee that you’ll like its FR (see graph), whereas the Panda has a more universally appealing sound sig. Searching the big head-fi thread for “soundstage”, I just found this post:
- How does the sound quality compare to Focal Clear or HD-600?
I don’t have the clear but I have the elear with original and the Utopia pads and Ora has much better sound. With the stock ora pads I say it was close with ORAs being better overall but now that I changed the pads on the ORAs to senitek pads I havnt been even tempted to put on my elears. For me the seal is good with the stock pads but better with the fabric ones with or without glasses. I’m not good with describing sound but the bass is deeper, tighter and overall much better on the ORAs. Mids are about even and highs are much more natural with the oras. The main difference is the soundstage is better in every way. Accuracy as well as width height and depth. The ORAs since I’ve changed the pads just feel alive and not like I’m listening to real music and not headphones. This however wasn’t until I changed pads.
The Elear they’re comparing it to is a good open-back headphone with, afaik, a good open-back soundstage (even if not for its retail price of $1k, since the hd800s is the king of soundstage). It’s the predecessor to the Clear, which is a damn good pair that I’ve had a chance to demo. (A much cheaper pair that I already owned actually tied/beat it in an A/B test, but that’s because said cheaper pair was way underpriced, not the other way around.² This is how one can strike gold with obscure pairs.)
At the moment I can’t seem to find where one buys the GrapheneQ besides ebay. Since the preorders shipped a year ago, I would have thought they had retail units by now, but maybe not. I think it will cost something like $700. Looks like you can get it new on ebay for $650 since you might be the only bidder. But this is of course a gamble without getting to hear it first, nor return it, and probably not resell it for a while either.
Thirdly, I’ll mention another dynamic, obscure garage-fi pair (that looks the part) called the Aurorus Australis. Here are two reviews and there may be some more in the same thread.
From the first:
Australis – This is a closed back headphone?
Sound stage is quite good for a closed headphone, I would say about the size of HD650. What Australis gets right is the placement of the sound stage. It’s not 3 blob or a line through your head. Sound emanates a little in front of my head similar to Auteur or Verite and the sound stage does seem to change with recordings, which is ideal, contrary to HD800 that always sounds slightly too diffuse and wide.
The other review slightly contradicts that, but is still a solid endorsement of the soundstage:
The Australis is the closed model and I’m not going to spew bullshit like, “Wow these sound like open headphones,” because while they are airier and are markedly less congested than most closed headphones I’ve heard, they still are closed. But I am surprised at how…normal these sound.
I happen to have demoed the open model (Borealis) while in the DC area. I must say, I loved the seatbelt headband lol. I found it very comfy with its large surface area distributing the weight. The Borealis graph is pretty standard, and is about what I would have guessed after hearing it. I don’t have a graph for the Australis but it’s probably similar, ie something a 6xx fan can get down with. I AB’d the Borealis against the same pair that tied the mighty Clear, and it was a close contest, which means the Borealis gets high marks from me. I wouldn’t recommend spending $900 on it, but that’s because it’s an open-back and the open-back arena is filled with tough competition. By contrast, $900 might be reasonable for a closed-back with that sound and a soundstage those reviewers describe. (Of course this doesn’t fit my definition of “affordable”, but neither does the Aeon Flow. At least you can try before buying, unlike the OGQ.)
Those Aurorus pairs reveal the amount of markup in this industry. The driver in them is also used in a pair that costs 2k or something. The part itself only costs $10. So the Australis must cost what, $50 to make? $100 tops? But you’re obviously not paying for the parts, but the R&D - the tuning of the driver, the choice and quantity of damping, the pads with the right synergy, etc.
Man, TIL all someone has to do is cough the word “headphones” and I vomit out an essay!
¹ I only use an amp when volume is otherwise lacking. After objective testing, I found that if you have enough volume without turning your volume dial too close to max, then there is no difference in sound between unamped, amped, and expensively amped if it’s not an amp that colors the sound (ie a tube amp). When someone on a hifi forum talks about how amping their 32 ohm, 120 dB/mW pair with a $500 solid-state transforms it from night to day, frankly they’re delusional. (However, their impressions of the headphone may still be informative if you can figure out whether their unamped or amped impression is the one to believe. IME their amped impression is the truer one.)
² That pair is the Onkyo A800, a discontinued and hard-to-find open back. I’ll talk about my gear some time in another, shorter post.