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DCA Expanse Flagship Headphones First Look: The greatest Dan Clark Headphone ever made?

Today, we will look at the brand-new Flagship Open-back Expanse Headphones from Dan Clark Audio.  This article will discuss some design features, build quality, and some of my initial sound impressions.

I usually don’t go as deep into sound impressions for a first-look article. Still, ever since bringing the Expanse home from CanJam, I have been listening to them, and I couldn’t help but share some of my notes from one of the many listening sessions I have had since coming home with them.  

Design and Build Quality

First, let's briefly discuss some design, tech specs, build quality, and comfort of the Expanse; then, we can get into my sound impressions! The Expanse uses DCA’s new 4th generation planar-magnetic driver, and their incredible Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System found in the DCA Stealth I reviewed on this channel shortly after they were released last year.

The Expanse uses DCA’s V-planar driver processing, which helps to improve bass response and lower distortion, along with TrueFlow V2, which helps to increase Resolution and improve dynamics. 

The Drivers are the largest to date from DCA 76mm x 51 mm single-ended planar magnetic, with each driver matching .25db weighted 20-10,000Hz and less than .03% THD 20-20KHz for extremely accurate distortion-free sound.

Made from Titanium, Aluminum, and Carbon, the Expanse weighs less than 420 grams and packs small with Dan Clark’s excellent folding gimble design.  Weighing in at 418 grams, the Expanse is one of the lightest flagship headphones today and arguably the most portable full-size flagship headphones.

The Expanse uses a self-adjusting suspension system, a beautifully stitched premium leather pre-formed ergonomic strap, with a Nickle-Titanium headband making for an excellent headband design. 

The stitching isn’t just for the style; it also helps to dissipate heat build-up when worn on the head for long periods. The tensioning also feels even better on the self-adjusting headband than I remember the Stealth did when I reviewed them last year.

The Expanse uses synthetic suede and protein-leather pads with very little clamp force. This low clamping force, the excellent headband system, and the lightweight design of the Expanse create one of the most comfortable headphones in the world.

Dan and I talked a bit about the philosophy of building comfortable headphones at CanJam on our live stream, and he said all his headphones must pass an 8-hour listening test to be considered comfortable; I love this about Dan’s headphones as many other manufacturers put comfort secondary taking away from the listening experience.  

Based on mathematical functions derived from generative design principles, the Grills of the Expanse reduce weight while also looking unique and aesthetically pleasing.   

The Expanse includes a Carrying Case, Vivo cable termination of your choice, Certificate of authenticity, and Manual. 

Sound Impressions

Ok, let’s get into my sound impressions!  Listening to Nils Frahm’s All Melody and #2 off his Sunson album with the Expanse is mesmerizing.  The class-leading pin-drop black soundstage with incredible width, depth, and imaging allowed me to localize every sound cohesively on these two tracks while not forcing me to over-analyze the music as other flagship headphones have done in the past.  

Add the fact of how comfortable the Expanse headphones are, weighing under 420 grams with amazingly comfortable pads and headband system; I forgot I was listening to music on headphones at all and went into a trance leaning back in my Stressless chair and melting away into the music with what seemed like one oxytocin hit after another flowing from the music throughout my body.

This is Dan Clark at his finest.  When the song Momentum began, and the vocals on the track emerged, I fell deeper into the expanse.  When the next song, Fundamental Values, started, and Richard Koch’s Trumpet began to play, I was so deep in the expanse at this point that I realized I was no longer reviewing these headphones, but I was becoming one with the music, which is what I am searching for when listening to headphones, an experience all too often that is more challenging to achieve with headphones vs. my Olympica Nova V tower speakers.

Every key strike from Nils could be heard precisely, not just the strike but the weight of his fingers on the keys.  When Kaleidoscope began, the synths and deep bass at the beginning of the track released another dose of oxytocin; I started to wonder could this listening experience get any better.    

It’s as if the Expanse headphones and Nils Frahm’s Sunson album were made for each other, fed by my Chord TT2 on Rob Watts's favorite filter #2. I didn’t want to stop listening or change the album or genre, and I didn’t want to evaluate any further I just wanted to fall deeper into the expanse. Vocals surround me, imaging stage right, left, and center with the synthesizer floating above, totally immersed in the Expanse’s soundstage.

Knowing that you guys will want to know how other genres of music sound with the Expanse, I decided to cued up Bob Moses to make my transition from Nils.  The track “Nothing at All” is cued up from the Days Gone By album on Roon, and an impactful deep bass line meets me with no bleed from the bass into the Mids. The vocals sound superb, perfectly imaged center stage, with all the electronic production clearly defined and perfectly placed.

The depth of the stage and the accuracy of the sounds as they appear on the stage continue to impress me as I listen. The bass is beautifully done, which on some headphones can take away from the soundstage but not with the Expanse.

I fired up “Desire” next from Bob Moses and Zhu and was rewarded with another instant oxytocin hit on the song's opening!  This is what I am talking about; this is why I love what I do so much!  The vocals on the track float in the air, with the synths sounding spectacular as the bass line hits.  There is a healthy amount of bass, making this song an absolute joy to enjoy on the Expanse!  

The piano key hits are powerful and impactful with excellent energy! The sense of punch and dynamics is more significant from the Expanse than any other DCA headphones I have ever heard.  Love brand new came on next; the deep bass line, electric guitar, and vocals sound spectacular across this banger of a track!

Next, I cued up the Weekend’s Dawn FM to hear how deep the Expanse could reach into the sub-bass regions and how they would present The Weekend’s vocals.  As Gasoline began to play, I was nodding and vibing to the music again to a superbly balanced signature between the synths, bass line, and the Weekend’s vocals with what is one of my favorite soundstages of any headphones I have heard.

Next, I cued up Mombasa off inception from the one and only Hans Z baby! I wanted to hear how the Expanse presented dynamics punch and the speed of this fast-moving track.  I was not disappointed! The speed of the expanse driven by the TT2 was fast and dynamic, creating a good sense of punch when called for on this track, especially in the song's opening.

Next, I cued up Mj’s Wanna Be Startin' Somethin’, and I am jamming again!  I struggle to find anything I dislike about Expanse’s sound or build quality.  I liked the Stealth with some genres of music, but it was not my preferred sound signature for all the music I listen to.  For me, the Expanse is the best DCA headphone ever made and is tuned in a way I can truly appreciate all the music I enjoy!

Next, I cued up Jimi Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower; the drums, guitar, and Jimi’s vocals sound exceptionally balanced, with Jimi’s vocals floating slightly above my head.  The guitar has an incredible tone and electricity to its sound without sounding harsh or shrill.  The cymbals splash like a world-class high diver into the crisp blue Mediterranean Sea! The music sounds so lifelike and natural.

So, knowing Dan and I both love Dire Straits, I had to cue up Money for Nothing to hear how he voiced the Expanse’d sound.  Yeah, Buddy! I am hooked when the guitar comes in on the song's opening!  My compliments to the Chef! Dan, you have a legendary set of headphones on your hands!

Lastly, I put on AC/DC Thunderstruck, my 5th-6th grade basketball team's song; our coach would fire up on the bus before every game!  The electric guitar and cymbals sound exceptional, super defined, and clean right out the gate.  

The chorus drops in, and here we go again; the oxytocin is starting. No headphones have been able to do this for me in a long time!  OOOOo weee when that kick drum drops in, though, that slam and bass sound exhilarating.  Angus’s vocals and the electric guitars have just enough energy to make them shine, straddling up to the line but without crossing it for my preferences on this track, not sounding fatiguing or harsh.

Listen, I could go on and on, and I will compare the Expanse to a few other headphones at this price point that I have in-house, as well as give you more impressions from more genres of music, as you guys always request that, and it’s a big part of the hobby.

But I will leave that for the next article in this series because right now, I want to listen to these headphones and the passion, precision, engineering, and love Dan and his crew have put into the Expanse, the best DCA headphones ever made.

At the time of writing this article, I have absolutely no complaints about the Expanse, and if you watch my videos from my personal YouTube channel in the past or all the videos I have created on our TSAV channel over the last year, I always discuss some positives, as well as a few things I would like or wish, were a bit better about every product.

Is there a headphone that maybe does just one thing better but falls behind in many other areas?  Maybe, but when I am listening to music, I want to hear a complete product that gets everything or almost everything right for it to be considered the best of the best, and that is what I have heard from the Expanse so far. 

Final Thoughts

I would be crazy not to recommend you give them a listen asap if you are in the market for flagship headphones as they are easily one of the best headphones I have ever heard for my preferences putting them in the Holy Grail Headphone class for me.

The upper mid-range has enough energy to give all the definition I want but without coming across too forward, giving me listening fatigue; the bass sounds deep, rich, and impactful, and the treble has enough energy to provide superb air and sparkle without sounding artificial or overdone.  The punch and slam are the best I have heard from any DCA headphones, which should help quiet some of us who wanted a bit more punch or slam from DCA headphones, including myself.

The timbre and tone of the expanse aren’t overly analytical but still fall into a reference class of Planar magnetic headphones displaying ultra-accuracy, truckloads of detail, and realism rarely heard from headphones at this level without sounding artificially overdone.  The soundstage is intoxicating and makes a soundstage lover like myself so happy and fully engulfed in music when listening.

Paired with high quality and high current amplification, both tube and solid-state, I am confident the Expanse is a legend in the making that will be a flagship headphone that many will love. 

Stay tuned for the next article in this series! If you want to learn more about the DCA Expanse with free overnight shipping, no tax, and pick up a pair for yourself, check our website or come check out our in store stock

We hope you enjoyed this first-look article of my experiences with the DCA Expanse. Remember, let the music be your guide!

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