DCA Stealth Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Flagship presented by TSAV
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Today I am excited to share my impressions on the flagship DCA Stealth Planar Magnetic Closed-Back headphones sent over for me to review from Dan Clark Audio. This video will focus on the build quality, design, and initial sound impressions about the DCA Stealth.
Starting first with the build, the Stealth has my favorite visual design esthetics of any of Dan Clark Audio's current headphones. The headphones look sleek and aerodynamic like a luxury Ducati sports bike or European sports car, taking its visual inspiration from the Stealth aircraft. I like the balance and contrast of the carbon fiber cups with the aluminum protective framing that surround the cups.
Utilizing a nickel-titanium headband with a brand new self-adjusting headband system, the new headband system is a departure from the old headband system on other DCA headphones. I appreciate the concept behind this self-adjusting headband system and feel it is better executed than some other self-adjusting headbands I have tried from other manufacturers.
I did find for the medium size of my head that the headband tension and clamp force could have been a bit tighter; however, this is also a review unit that has seen some use, so keep that in mind. Based on my research, this self-adjusting band is quickly replaced, if need be, by contacting DCA, which is excellent for long-term headphone users.
The clamping force is comfortable, especially when compared to the tight clamp force of the LCD-5. Users with larger heads will likely feel very comfortable wearing these headphones. Sound isolation is very good for those of you that work in a shared office space, and the head strap does an excellent job of distributing the weight of the Stealth, weighing only around 415gm. The red stitching on the headband is a nice touch visually, adding some nice pop to the visual design.
One of my favorite design elements of the Stealth is the folding gimble system allowing for the headphone to easily be folded up and placed in their carrying case for transportation. The synthetic suede and protein leather pads feel good when wearing and are, according to DCA, of better quality than previous pads used by Dan Clark Audio.
One of the more exciting things about this design is the brand-new 4th generation 72mm by 50mm single-ended planar magnetic driver. The drivers are exceptionally matched for excellent audible performance. According to DCA, the drivers are matched to be within.25db, and the headphones have less than .03% THD.
The Stealth is 23ohms, and approximately 86-87db per m/w, which means a proper amplifier is something a user needs to consider. The Stealth is handmade in San Diego, California. It includes a carrying case, certificate of authenticity, and a high-quality VIVO cable with your choice of termination and length, depending on your preferences.
The cable that was included with the review unit was a single-ended ¼" cable. I also had a balanced XLR aftermarket cable on hand as well for my time with the Stealth, which I found to be important when using amplifiers that had higher current delivery from the balanced output, as the Stealth does require more current, in my opinion, than some other flagship headphones to fill out their sound.
According to Dan Clark Audio, a new Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System technology, or AMTS, is placed in between the driver and the ear to integrate waveguides, smooth the frequency response, and control diffusion. I will discuss this a bit more when I get to my sound impressions. Simply put, the new tuning system works excellently, and I prefer this new design over the old filter inserts used on the Aeon headphone line from DCA.
Ok, now that we talked about some of the critical design features and the quality of the build of the Stealth, let's talk about how they sound. I listened to DCA Stealth from a few different amplifiers and digital-analog sources such as the Chord TT2, Chord Hugo 2, ampsandsound Agartha, iFi Pro iCAN, the Pendant, the Matrix Element X and M, and the Yulong Audio DA1.
My subjective impressions of the Stealth will be based on those audio chain components listening to various recordings and music playlists through Roon via Tidal and Qobuz, which I will link in the video description below.
First, I would say the DCA Stealth holds its own with many other flagship headphones and ultimately elevates itself above other closed-back headphones I have heard when it comes to sound stage, imaging, image separation, and excellent overall comfort. This is a closed-back headphone with good isolation that sounds like an open-back headphone.
The DCA Stealth has a unique, honest quality to its sound that is so enjoyable to listen to with a suitable amplifier like the Chord TT2 or Hugo2/2go combo, This synergistic makes sense; based on my research as Dan Clark himself voiced the Stealth, and his desktop rig is a Chord TT2 with M-Scaler and his bedside rig is a Chord Hugo2/2go combo.
I would also say for my general preferences of a slightly warmer timbre from headphones; I preferred the Stealth with some tube amplification of some kind or a somewhat warmer, more dynamic-sounding solid-state amp. I will get into my favorite pairings and how they compared to a few other headphones in a bit.
Starting with the bass of the DCA Stealth, they present a neutral yet detailed quality of sound from the bass regions. There is decent sub-bass extension and good performance in the mid-bass characterizing this tuning, in my opinion, as more of a reference tuning versus a flavored or warm sound.
The quality of the bass can be significantly affected by both the seal of the ear pads and the positioning of the drivers over the ears. Listeners who wear glasses should not allow the pads to go over their glasses but instead rest them above the pads for optimal bass performance.
It took some time for me to get the proper positioning for the bass to sound its best. At first, listen, the bass sounded a bit light compared to some other flagship headphones I had on hand, however after making some adjustments to the fit and position of the drivers, the bass did improve, with the sub-bass region sounding more prominent when comparing to the mid-bass areas.
The Stealth tuning without tone control or EQ will not likely be what a bass head is looking for from their headphones but should please the audio enthusiast looking for a reference quality of sound in the bass regions.
The midrange has a sincere quality to its sound, again not placing too much additional warmth to my ears in the lower midrange or mid-range proper. Vocals have a natural quality, and the midrange doesn't sound congested, presenting excellent detail, separation, and information from well-recorded music.
Strings sound lively with good texture and tonality. Listening to "Friend of the Devil" from the Grateful dead and the strings on the song ask for more attention than Garcia's vocals. Garcia's vocals still sound good with just a touch of warmth, never sounding lifeless or thin.
Listening to Yo-Yo ma from Six Evolutions Bach Cello Suites album, and I am very impressed with the timbre and delivery of the Cello. Listeners like myself who would like a bit more warmth and weight can benefit from utilizing the warm filter from the Hugo2 or TT2 and or pair the Stealth with a Tube amplifier, giving a bit more richness to the Cello.
Listening to Lang Lang from his Chopin Album. I found I preferred the Stealth with the warm filter from the Chord devices or a warmer sounding headphone amplifier or tube amplifier to tone down the Presence of Piano keys a bit and give them a bit more weight and body. Again, this is my subjective preference for what I like to hear in the midrange. Your preferences may be different than mine.
Treble on the Stealth doesn't sound bright or fatiguing; however, it also doesn't sound dark or lifeless. Snare Drums have an appropriate presence and crispness to their sound. Cymbals have appropriate sparkle and definition that define them well on a track like Dreams from Fleetwood Mac.
Listening to The Black Panther soundtrack, "Wakanda” a track I use to listen to for brass and horns around the 1:25-1:50 second mark to ensure they don't have an overly piercing quality to their sound. The Stealth did a good job presenting a very realistic sound quality to these instruments without coming across as shrill or bright.
The Timbre of the Stealth has a very natural flavor for a planar magnetic headphone while still maintaining a Planar Magnetic sound signature. The timbre is balanced, again giving me the sense of a neutral, honest sound signature that closely follows the Harman curve. Users who prefer a warm sound signature need to look at a proper amp pairing, tone control, or EQ.
Detail presentation is excellent on the Stealth, allowing me to pick up even the most minor micro details and information on tracks like "Man in the Long Black Coat" from Bob Dylan. The sounds of the fingers moving across strings, Dylan's movements while performing on this track, and the trailing ends of his vocals are superbly represented.
I would also add, the Stealth delivers on detail and micro details on recordings without sounding artificial, as I have heard from some other planar magnetic headphones I have listened to in the past. The Stealth detail presentation delivers, as a flagship of this quality and price should.
Sound stage and imaging are one of the greatest strengths of the DCA Stealth, sounding better than many open-back headphones. I constantly forgot during my time with the Stealth that they are closed-back headphones. The Stealth has an open, accurate, well-defined sounding sound stage. Imaging instruments, vocals, and sounds again from tracks like "Man in the Long Black Coat" from Dylan exceptionally well.
"Private investigations" from Dire Straits sounds magnificent, open, and coherent from the Stealth, allowing me to easily place the guitar strings, keyboard, vocals, bass guitar, drums, and marimba from one of my favorite tracks to evaluate soundstage and imaging.
Pair the Stealth with a 300b tube amplifier such as the ampsandsound Agartha, and the Soundstage of the Stealth creates such a unique live-in-person listening experience. Sound stage lovers who need closed-back headphones, the DCA Stealth should be at the very top of your list to audition.
Dynamics from the DCA Stealth are a bit soft. There isn't as much punch or slam from the Stealth compared to other headphones in this price range. Listeners who prioritize dynamic slam from their headphones may want to consider a different sound signature as this just isn't one of Stealth's strongest points.
However, amplifiers that deliver ample current do help with the dynamics of the Stealth. I found that if the Stealth isn't adequately paired with an amplifier that provides its current requirements, the slam, punch, and overall dynamic sound of the Stealth suffers.
A couple of headphones I compared the Stealth to were the Audeze LCD-5 and the Focal Stellia. As with all headphone comparisons, this will come down to personal preferences, amplification, source components, and of course, the quality of the recordings you are listening to.
Comparing the soundstage of the two headphones and the Stealth does an incredible job holding its own as a closed-back headphone vs. Audeze's new open-back flagship. Both headphones are impressive, with the LCD-5 having more slam and mid bass to my ears. The Stealth's frequency response sounds more balanced and smoother than the mid-range emphasized and more dynamic sound of the LCD-5.
Both headphones are highly detailed, communicating ample information during my listening time with them. If you are in the greater Los Angeles region, I think this would be an interesting comparison to make at the Source Audio Video Design Group's headphone bar.
I enjoyed both headphones and could see owning both, as the signatures are very different. If you need a closed-back headphone, then the choice becomes much easier as the Stealth provides good isolation compared to the open-back LCD-5.
Comparing the DCA Stealth to the Focal Stellia, the first thing that stands out to me is how much more open-sounding the soundstage is of the Stealth. I know I sound like a broken record, but the soundstage of the Stealth is extraordinary for a closed-back headphone.
Both headphones have excellent detail presentation and imaging, with the Stellia having more significant punch, slam, and warmth in the mid-bass region. Vocals have a more intimate warmer sound to them as well from the Stellia. Again, I enjoy both headphones, and if a listener was in the market for a new closed-back headphone, these two headphones should be at the top of their list to compare.
My favorite amplifier pairings for the Stealth were the Chord Hugo TT2, Chord Hugo 2/2go combo, the ampsandsound Agartha, and the iFi Pro iCAN. These amplifiers, for my preferences, brought out the best quality of sound of the amps I had on hand from the Stealth.
I also prefer the Chord DAC's paired with the DCA Stealth versus the custom AKM DAC in the Yulong DA1 or Matrix Element series DACS. I feel the Chord house sound and how it envelops you in the music plays incredibly well with the DCA Stealth, especially on the warm filter setting for my personal preferences.
One amp I wish I had on hand was the ampsandsound Nautilus. I suspect its sound signature, along with the slam from its massive transformers and KT88 power tubes, would be a spectacular combination. I will have to ask Dan about that pairing when we live stream with him, as I caught him enjoying his Stealth with the Nautilus at Can-Jam!
I also talked a bit with Dan at Can Jam about the DCA Stealth, and I will let you listen in to some of his thoughts, here with you now.
Don't forget to subscribe to this YouTube channel today and ring the bell, as we will be doing a live stream with Dan discussing the Stealth and Dan Clark Audio very soon.
I hope you enjoyed this video presentation of my experiences with the DCA Stealth, and the information I shared helps you determine if they might be a good fit for you. Suppose you are in the greater Los Angeles region or just looking to make a trip to hear the Stealth or other flagship headphones. In that case, The Source Audio Video Design Group's showroom and headphone bar have one of the largest selections of audio enthusiast headphones to listen to in the country.
In the description below, I will link to The Source Audio Video Design Group's website, and more info on the DCA Stealth and other audio gear discussed during this video. Show your support today and smash the like button for us and consider subscribing for new upcoming content. Until next times friends, always remember, let the music be your guide!
YouTube Tags and Description:
DCA Stealth Headphones Presented by TSAV. Hi Friends, in this video we will discuss the flagship DCA Stealth Closed Back headphones and how they compare to the Flagship Audeze LCD 5, and Flagship Focal Stellia. We will also discuss some synergistic pairings for the Stealth, speak about the build quality, quality of sound as well as talk with Dan Clark, from Dan Clark Audio from a 2021 Can Jam interview.
Dan Clark Audio, DCA Stealth, Closed Back Headphones, Flagship Headphones, Planar magnetic headphones, DCA Stealth Review, Audeze LCD 5, Focal Stellia, Chord Hugo TT2, Chord Hugo 2,Chord 2go, MRHiFiReviews, TSAV, Audiophile, Headphone Reviews, Personal Audio