Aiming to take both comfort and technical performance to the next level, Dan Clark Audio released their latest headphone: Stealth. Stealth’s sonic properties are tuned by Dan Clark’s proprietary Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System (AMTS) and combined with a comfortable lightweight design that disappears onto your head. Let’s see how all these pieces come together to create Dan Clark’s latest flagship.
Build and Design
Stealth’s black and red design, with heavy use of carbon fiber, uses cutting edge aviation – or perhaps top end exotic car – motifs for an edgy futuristic sort of look. The ear pads are a hybrid design, with a leather exterior and a smooth suede-like material for the actual head contact. They’re ridiculously soft, cushioning a somewhat firm clamp force and helping with Stealth’s disappearing act. The leather headband is somewhat stiffer than I anticipated, but the entire endeavor is really well balanced with just the right amount of firm, stiff, and soft coming from the right angles to create sublime comfort.
The package includes the headphones themselves, a top notch Dan Clark Audio VIVO cable, a travel case, and the requisite product information with a sticker. Stealth uses a similar folding mechanism to the Aeon series to easily fold for a small footprint. The case is solid, but while the headphones fit perfectly in the case, there’s no space for the cable, so that will need to travel separately.
While the design is closed-back, there is a slight venting which means that the level of isolation – both in and out – isn’t quite as high as most closed back headphones. Overall the build on the headphones is spectacular, and the portability and storage options afforded by the design and case are an added benefit. These are TOTL flagship headphones that can come with you almost anywhere, and are as comfortable on the go as they are at home.
Stealth’s AMTS helps craft a headphone with incredible detail and resolution, and highs that brilliantly balance definition and air without becoming harsh or sibilant. The tuning is accessible and easy to love, with deep bass extension, and a clear, transparent timbre. What makes Stealth most impressive isn’t the level of performance, it’s the way it blurs the line between closed-back and open-back performance, defying expectations about what closed-back headphones can and can’t sound like.
Now, I’m not going to say that this 100% sounds like an open-back headphone, but it seems like Dan Clark and team have solved a lot of the problems associated with closed back headphones through their use of a metamaterial (that is, a scientifically engineered material that has properties not found in nature) to reduce the reflections without destroying the resonance.
There are two ways in particular that Stealth defies closed-back expectations: the subbass and the soundstage. Higher end closed-back headphones are generally light on subbas due to the muddiness and congestion that can result from strong reflections and resonance from the subbass. Stealth has deep and thick subbass that can really deliver when you crank it up, but it maintains a tight midbass without adding any congestion to the mix. Likewise the AMTS enables tuning of the treble to increase the feeling of air and space in the soundstage, while filtering the standing waves which can cause feelings of harshness and fatigue in the treble.
In terms of the tuning, as I just mentioned, the subbass is definitely a highlight. However, the midbass isn’t quite as strong, which means you don’t get quite as much slam and physical impact out of Stealth. The detail and texture in the bass is excellent though, letting you clearly hear details like the difference in feeling between the bowing or plucking of a double bass in classical music and jazz.
The mids are somewhat pulled back, but not overshadowed in the mix. There’s a strong sense of separation which lets instruments and voices have some space to breathe. The instrument and vocal timbre is smooth and natural. The treble is another highlight, with very strong definition and good air, along with a really strong sense of resolution in the highs. I’ve seen some other reviews and impressions comparing the sound to an electrostatic headphone, and while I don’t think it’s quite that level of speed and resolution, it’s definitely close.
You may have a different – incorrect – opinion, but “Time/The Great Gig in the Sky” is Pink Floyd’s best work. Stealth helps demonstrate that by laying out each of the complex layers of the song, with each instrument revealed in stunning detail. Decent headphones will give you a good sense of the space and the keys and guitars bouncing from left to right during the verse, Stealth’s imaging lays the whole band out on a brilliantly sculpted soundstage. There’s a strong semi-spherical effect with a sense of depth and placement to each instrument, and the backing vocals feeling almost heavenly in their placement. I haven’t even gotten to the stunning detail in each instrument and the texture in Clare Torrey’s vocals in the second half – but let’s just say Stealth is one of the best ways to experience this 10 minutes of powerful, emotional progressive rock.
The opening moments of “I See You in My Dreams” from Han Zimmer’s Dune score might give you chills down your spine, with the ambient noise sounding almost too lifelike. As the choirs enter with a rich, emotional presence, you’re flanked by whispers, creating a haunting atmosphere. The piece is more of a soundscape with ethereal voices, and ambient effects slowly building into Zimmer’s signature blend of orchestral and electronic instruments. Stealth’s deep subbass gives you a visceral rumble as the synthesized bass ebbs and flows, and there’s a physical thump to the heartbeat like rhythm holding everything together. This is all happening against a large soundstage that aids in your visualization of the barren landscape of a distant desert planet.
On Jimmy Eat World’s “Sweetness” you can hear every catch and nuance in singer Jim Adkins’ voice, as it is presented with strong clarity and loads of nuance. There’s a palpable energy to the band, with Stealth delivering the performance with a strong sense of balance and coherence as well as good separation between the instruments. The clarity and coherence owes something to the speed and resolution which keep everything tight, with a fast attack and natural decay. All that to say, Stealth can absolutely rock when you need it to.
On the intro to “Who Will Save Your Soul,” there’s a strong percussive sense to the bass, with a soft thump to the bass drum with a touch of physical impact. The snare has a nice snap and the hi-hat’s staccato sizzle is crisp. Jewel’s voice is up front and personal. The vocals are incredibly detailed and textured, and there’s clear differences in dynamics and texture between the verse, chorus, and the vocalizations in between. The background guitar and piano have a delicate interplay. Whether it’s the high energy rock of “Sweetness” or the low key folk here, Stealth delivers just the right vibes.
While Stealth’s strong physical portability features – like its cool foldable design and compact case – might lead you to believe that it is also designed to work with a portable source, it actually needs quite a bit of power to perform at its best. Most of our listening was done with dedicated headphone amps like the SPL Phonitor SE or Burson Soloist 3X Performance. Outside of the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha or iFi Diablo, few portable devices were able to keep up with Stealth’s thirst for power. On lower power sources Stealth’s bass can become a little thin, so you’re going to want power in the 8-10V range as a starting point for getting the most out of Stealth.
Comparison: Focal Stellia
When it comes to closed-back headphones, Stellia has been one of the best in the world since release. The combination of Focal style and build quality with a sound signature that anyone could fall in love with has made it our go to reference for closed back headphones. Has it finally met its match in Stealth?
While you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, Stellia and Stealth tell a lot of their story in the way they look. Stellia gives off an air of classic, vintage fashion with the brown leather and brass accents. Stealth has an edgier, more modern look that is dressed in black with red accents and lots of carbon fiber. Stellia feels like the pinnacle of classic closed-back headphone design with a well-balanced, detailed sound and a tuning that virtually anyone can agree just sounds great. Stealth feels like – well, exactly what it is – a headphone with the latest and greatest tech that uses space age science and psychoacoustics to deliver next level performance.
Comparing the sound of the two, the first thing that stands out is the stronger, more physical bass response of Stellia. Stellia has a smooth, round bump in the midbass that gives it a good slam and just a touch of warmth in an otherwise neutral, balanced sound. While Stealth doesn’t have the same level of impact, it has a deeper subbass extension. The mids are fairly similar with Stellia having a little more body than Stealth. Stellia has strong treble performance, but it can become slightly fatiguing at times with certain higher range instruments. Stealth has similar qualities in general, but a stronger sense of resolution in the highs, and less of a tendency to get harsh or fatiguing with those same instruments.
Stealth’s performance does come at a cost, and, as we mentioned before, that cost is its power requirements. While the exterior headphone design is quite portable, to get good performance you need a level of power that exceeds what most portable options can give you. Stellia, on the other hand, was designed with portability in mind, and does well with just about anything, even sounding pretty good plugged into your phone.
These are both great headphones that are almost as different from each other sonically as they are visually. Stellia’s smooth, classic sound with its low end warmth is going to definitely have some fans, while Stealth’s incredible displays of technical prowess and performance will have its fans too. Whether you’re using them for desktop or mobile will probably be a big part of that decision as well, with the big difference in power requirements. Either way, you’re getting one of the best closed-back headphones in the world.
The Bottom Line
The Dan Clark Audio Stealth is a step forward for closed-back headphones, and points to a future where open-back vs. closed-back becomes more about preference and less about weighing the cost of sound isolation against performance benefits. Stealth earns its flagship status both with its technological innovations and by simply providing top of the line, endgame level sound quality and performance.