They’re pricey, but aimed at vinyl lovers. Andy Jones checks out Blue’s Ella headphones…
Blue’s Mo-fi and Lola headphones threw away the rule book when it came to headphone design, largely down to the way they encircled your head, almost clamping on with a neat, uncurling headband design that has six joints – resulting in a perfect fit. They were received very well by the hi-fi and studio press and now we have the Ellas, which feature the same headband design, but Blue say they have thrown that rule book away yet again…
There are two features that Blue is talking about here. The first is that they are Planar Magnetic headphones and have driver membranes less than 50 microns thick, driven by magnets to produce the sound. What this tech talk means – as well as sounding like an early Human League lyric – is that the resulting sound should be crystal clear and distortion-free. Yet Planar Magnetic types of ’phones are often best matched with amps, as they tend to deliver a lower sound – so a built-in amp is Blue’s second new feature. The company says that it’s a winning combination “whether you’re enjoying the Zeppelin reissue boxsets or Pink Floyd on 180-gram vinyl”. So, these are aimed at you…
First, let’s look at the design. The headband was apparently “inspired by the finely tuned suspension of a Formula 1 race car”, although to my sci-fi addled mind, they’re more like the bikes from Tron. The design allows them to extend from their ‘closed’ position around your head, rather like a face hugger from Alien – there I go again. The earpieces fit very snugly against your ears, and as these are closed-back ’phones, the outside world disappears, although isolation is not up there with others we’ve tested (such as last issue’s twice-as-pricey AKGs).
The Ellas are not light; consequently, you’ll need the top band touching your head, otherwise the ’phones will slip down – a tad annoying for some. Otherwise, they’re very comfortable. Having a mere cloth-based, albeit large, carry case seems a little mean at this price, although the cables feel properly ‘audiophile’ and are strikingly different, as you might expect from Blue. There are two cables included: a 1.2m one (not long enough) with built-in controls for iTunes and a 3m one.
The amp is switched on by rotating a dial at the connector. You don’t need to use the amp at all, but it does introduce a significant volume increase – so be careful. You’ll also need to charge the ’phones to use the amp – that will last for 12 hours of playing time. Handily, when the amp is engaged, the ’phones switch off when you close them to save charge. Finally, the amp also has an On+ setting for a subtle bass boost.
So, to the sound – and all of those claims are justified. The reproduction really is crystal clear, not in a flat, studio ’phone, harsh way, but in a gently coloured, vibey way. The soundstage is pristine right across the board, the bass is tight and defined – and I never felt the need to engage that extra On+ bass, no matter how subtle it is. Vocals and guitars sound as rich as you might hear sitting on the other side of the glass in a recording studio, and when you get dreamy, you’re right there in the zone, music washing over you. I tested them next to my current favourite ’phones, the similarly priced Beyerdynamic DT 1990s, and the sound is right up there.
With the built-in amp, Blue have clearly got mobile listeners in mind, as well as vinyl heads. While I’m not convinced the weight and high isolation make for a good mobile combo, for vinyl lovers or those enjoying the downloads that come with them, I can’t recommend these enough.