Coming fresh off my review of the Stax SR-L700, I was surprised to find myself tasked with reviewing yet another electrostatic headphone so quickly. Yet here we are with the Dan Clark Audio Voce. Of course, Dan Clark Audio came into the game with planar magnetic headphones, and that’s still their bread and butter – the Aeon and Ether headphones are what they’re most known for. In 2018, though, they introduced the Voce, a $3,299 flagship electrostatic headphone.
The Voce is intended to compete with the very top offering from competing manufacturer Stax, the SR-009. What the Voce brings to the table is primarily an updated, Dan Clark-ified tuning. And those familiar with Dan Clark Audio will know what that means: these are laid-back, relaxing headphones, first and foremost.
In the Box
I do love the way Dan Clark Audio presents their headphones. As they do with many of their products, they’ve included the typical tuning inserts that can help calm down the treble for the particularly treble-allergic among us. This is always a much-appreciated addition.
The included display case is pretty nice – it’s made out of real wood, and it has a nice little chamber where you can store the coiled-up cable. (It also says MrSpeakers on it, because the unit I’m reviewing comes from before they transitioned to the new name, Dan Clark Audio.)
- Voce headphones
- pretty nice-looking display case
- the traditional Dan Clark Audio foam / felt inserts
Build, Comfort and Appearance
The Dan Clark Audio Voce is a wonder of weight reduction, sitting lightly and securely on the head despite a premium, all-metal build. Then again, that’s to be expected from Dan Clark Audio – they’ve always excelled in creating distinctive, comfortable, lightweight headphones. (The Aeon 2 still reigns supreme as the all-time most comfortable pair of headphones I’ve ever tried.)
The outside of the earcups present the onlooker with a captivating spiderweb-like design. They’re also all-metal – a feature that Stax naysayers will certainly appreciate, given Stax’s not wholly deserved reputation for shoddy construction. One could never call these poorly-built. They’re precise in their construction, with beautifully rounded edges and a memory-metal headband that distributes weight naturally and evenly. Even the net-like construction of the headband oozes attention to detail.
The earpads sit quite naturally on the head. They’re wide and deep – nobody’s going to find that their ears touch the driver. However, they’re a bit thin (see the picture below for more info), so I do find that they can exert a little bit of pressure against my head. Generally, I prefer earpads that spread the force more evenly against my skull.
A little note: if, in adjusting the headphones, you press them into your head, the resulting pressure can cause the electrostatic membrane to flex and hit the stators, resulting in a little pop. This is just something to be aware of – just try not to do it. The Voce is built well enough that this won’t break the headphones, but it’s important to have good habits.
Dan Clark Audio’s headphones tend to carry a relaxing, laid-back, easy-listening sound signature. That’s mostly a result of the fact that they damp their drivers significantly more than many other manufacturers. Many find that their headphones are “over-damped,” lacking in dynamic impact. Others enjoy the slightly lessened punch of Dan Clark’s products, finding them less fatiguing than their competition.
The Voce does have the Dan Clark sound, so they are somewhat over-damped, but not nearly as much as some of their earlier headphones. Overall, it has a slightly warm, slightly thin sound that trades just a bit of naturality for a feel that’s more relaxing and intimate than the comparable Stax models.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Voce is rather difficult to drive. While I find that the SR-009 scales well with more powerful amps, the Voce practically demands high power. Running the Voce off the Stax SRM-D50 was simply not quite good enough; I needed to step up to the SRM-700S to get the best sound possible out of these headphones.
Electrostatic headphones are generally known to have a bass response that is very clean but also somewhat rolled-off. Although Dan Clark Audio claims a flat, well-extended bass response, I hear the Voce as moderately rolled-off, especially below 40Hz. As some have pointed out, it offers more of a “thump” than a deep rumble.
Overall, I find the bass of the Voce to be very precise and detailed but a bit too “polite” to play within its league. It’s in good company – the same applies to many other electrostats – but it does fall slightly short of the SR-009S, which offers flatter bass with better impact.
Dan Clark Audio themselves describe the Voce’s sound as “neutral, but slightly mid-forward.” I agree with that description – for me, the Voce’s overall sound really rides on the midrange.
This is a slightly unusually-tuned headphone, for sure, with a sound that’s somewhat difficult to describe. If I had to characterize, I’d say it’s broadly neutral, with a bit of warmth in the lower mids and a bit of coldness in the upper mids – sort of like a less exaggerated Hifiman tuning. Running a sine sweep I can say is that the Voce is slightly recessed in the lower midrange, forward at 1kHz, laid-back at 2kHz, and somewhat more forward at 3-4kHz.
The benefit to the slight colorations in the midrange is that the Voce is supremely non-fatiguing. While other headphones like the Utopia will blast you with dynamic power and forwardness, the Voce is gentler and easier on the ear, even with the craziest tracks.
The downside (of course, because there is always a downside) is that the Voce is ever-so-slightly lacking in clarity and naturality. But for those who want a more forgiving electrostat, that’s a small price to pay.
Of course, the biggest advantage of an electrostatic driver is uncolored, natural, “grainless” treble. The Voce has that, as it ought to. The treble is audibly less forward than the SR-009, meaning that you don’t get quite as much of a “wide-open,” detail-oriented sound. But the detail is there regardless – it just doesn’t emerge quite much from the overall texture of the headphone.
I suspect the laid-back treble is what leads Dan Clark Audio to call these “mid-forward” headphones. And that’s certainly the impression I get – the treble simply integrates naturally into the midrange. There’s still some shimmer, but the treble really isn’t detached in any way from what’s going on in the rest of the frequency spectrum. To me, that’s a feature.
Headphones will never have the ability to perfectly replicate the expansive sound one gets from real-world experiences. We’ve gotten close, but I’m pretty confident that we’ll never quite get there – headphones will always sound like headphones. But that’s kind of the beauty of soundstage, to me – headphones create a private world that swirls around your head.
The Dan Clark Audio Voce throws a soundstage that’s wide, deep and realistic. As with most headphones, it’s a bit wider than it is deep. It could also stand to gain a little bit of a sense of height, perhaps. But overall, it’s the type of organic, uncanny soundstage that befits the Voce’s high price tag.
Pros and Cons
Pros: relaxed but balanced sound signature, good soundstage, very detailed sound, comfortable and well-built
Cons: slightly flabby bass, dynamics could be better
Dan Clark Audio has priced the Voce fairly aggressively at $3,299, indicating that they’re confident in the product they’re putting out. As an alternative to the Stax SR-009, the Voce is a moderate success, in my view.
Where the Voce falls slightly flat is in its bass response, which isn’t as tight or articulate as it could be. Its driver is also a bit over-damped, making it less dynamic than other similarly-priced electrostats.
On the other hand, its mid-forward tuning makes it unique among modern summit-fi electrostatic headphones. And, in my view, it boasts sufficient resolution and staging ability to demand a high price.
For those looking for a headphone that offers precise detail in tandem with a laid-back, relaxed, “easy” sound signature, the Voce should be on your radar.
|Specification||Dan Clark Audio Voce|
|Capacitance (with 2m cable)||135pF|
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