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Blue Ella review: planar magnetic headphones

It’s not hard to guess that Blue Microphones made their name from their superb professional and consumer microphones — including the podcaster’s and streamer’s favourite Yeti, which we reviewed earlier this year. However, the American company also makes a line of audiophile-grade headphones, including the subject of today’s review: the £700 Blue Ella.

These headphones come with planar magnetic drivers for unparalleled sound, and exist at a mid-range price point that promises better audio and build quality than entry-level planar headphones, without the price rising to stratospheric levels. We’ve got them in to review, so let’s see how they are!

 

Features

  • Planar magnetic technology for uncompromising clarity and detail
  • Built-in audiophile amplifier for true high-fidelity sound
  • Custom double-sided 50mm x 50mm drivers deliver incredible sound
  • Revolutionary personalized fit for superior comfort
  • Closed-back design for truest sound reproduction
  • Racecar-inspired multi-jointed headband design keeps earcups parallel at all times for superior comfort and sound
  • Powers on and off automatically when headphones are opened and closed
  • Rechargeable battery provides up to 12 hours of playtime; Ella continues to play music even when battery has no charge
 

Specifications

Driver Specs

  • Type: Planar magnetic driver
  • Impedance: 50 ohms Passive, 10 ohms Active
  • Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Enclosure details: Sealed enclosure with tuned damping materials

Amplifier Specs

  • Output power: 250mW
  • THD+N: < 1% (94 dB SPL, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz)
  • Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • SNR: >101 dB
  • Noise: < 20 uV
  • Battery capacity: 1000mAh

Headphone Specs

  • Weight: 481 g (16.97 oz)
  • Outer dimensions (closed): 21cm x 14cm x 12cm; 8.27” x 5.51” x 4.72
  • Outer dimensions (open): 18cm x 29cm x 12cm; 7.09” x 11.42” x 4.72”

Included accessories

  • Soft carry case
  • 1.2-meter audio cable with Apple iPhone/iPad controls and microphone
  • 3 meter audio cable
  • 3.5mm to 1/4” adaptor
 

Design

The Blue Ella definitely don’t look like your standard pair of headphones, thanks to their unique hinge. Rather than bending somewhere along the headband, the Ella has a hinge that extends out past your ears and behind your head, becoming taller or shorter to suit your skull.

Similarly, the headband expands horizontally, widening to fit you. These two mechanisms work in concert automatically; you just pull the headphones apart and put the cans on your ears, and everything just fits with no adjustment necessary.

Best of all, the headphones automatically turn on when they are expanded to fit on your head, and turn off again when they return to their compact form.

Like other planar magnetic headphones, the Blue Ella aren’t light. They weigh around half a kilogram, and after an hour or two you’ll definitely remember that you’re wearing them despite their comfortable initial fit.

As these are closed back headphones, you don’t get as wide a sound stage as you would expect from open back headphones, but it’s still reasonable enough to be enjoyable. Of course, the advantage to closed back is that you also don’t disturb people nearby whenever you hit ‘play’. There’s a bit of sound leakage here, but you have to be listening at pretty high volumes for it to become a problem.

The headphones come with a built in “audiophile” amplifier, which can be activated by twisting a textured knob where the cable joins the headphones. There are three options to choose from here: off, on and on+, each of which provides a slightly different sound. In general, bass increases as you step through the modes, becoming its most prominent during the on+ setting.

Apart from the unique design, you’ll be struck by the evident quality of each element that makes up the Ella. The metal hinge feels impressively sturdy, despite its slim build, while the headband and earcups sport a soft leather that provides instant comfort.

The Ella comes with the headphones themselves, a soft bag and three cables: a Micro USB cable for charging the built-in amplifier, a short 1.2 metre cable for use with smartphones and a longer 3 metre cable that suits home, office or studio setups.

Each cable is covered in durable brown fabric, again providing that necessary element of luxury. Finally, a 3.5 millimetre to 1/4 inch adapter is provided for use with larger or older audio equipment.

The Blue Yeti certainly look the business, but how do they perform? Let’s cover that now.

 

Testing

We tested the Blue Ella using a Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS amplifier, with a combination of 320kb/s MP3s played locally or streamed over Google Music and lossless FLACs played locally.

In simple compositions, like A Perfect Circle’s a capella tune Fiddle and the Drum, I was impressed with the Ella’s clear and detailed reproduction which made it possible to pick out each voice in the harmony, to listen to the subtle intake of breath before each line is delivered. These cans are relatively accurate without being cold or clinical; you get a nice sense of warmth without the sound ever becoming too harsh.

In more complex electronic compositions, such as Stuart Brown’s Triskaidekaphobia off the Polybius: The Video Game That Doesn’t Exist soundtrack, you get impressively punchy bass. There’s even an ‘On+’ mode for the built amp, available by twisting around the 3.5mm jack, which boosts the bass to new heights. Despite the mode, you never get a sonic concussion; bass is enhanced without being overblown.

You’ll run out of amplifier power after about twelve hours of play time, at which point the headphones will still work but you’ll experience a slightly flatter and quieter sound. Depending on your acoustic preferences (and your choice of listening device), this is either a minor annoyance or a non-issue. Personally, I’m more in the latter camp, particularly given that the automatic shutoff of the headphones will ensure none of your battery life is wasted when the headphones are off your ears.

Despite the strength of these headphones, they also possess a few weaknesses or drawbacks. Firstly, their weight and heft make them a relatively poor choice for portable use. You could use these on a train or plane without issue, but I’d be loath to go on public transport or walk around with them on.

Their closed back design emphasises sound reproduction, minimising the intrusion of outside sounds while ensuring your own music doesn’t leak out and disturb others, but I would prefer the option to have a wider sound stage for use in quiet homes or studios.

Finally, the Ella are not cheap at £700. This price is twice that of some competing planar magnetic headphones, although few of these examples can boast comparable sound quality, built-in amplifiers or a unique design. Thankfully, the Ella is available as a 30-day trial, both from Blue Microphones themselves and potentially from retailers like Amazon as well. I would encourage you to try these headphones to see what they’re like, and return them if you find they don’t eclipse your experiences with cheaper headphones.

 

Wrapping up

The Blue Ella make for extraordinarily good listening, and they serve as a good introduction to the benefits of planar magnetic headphones. While these are far from the cheapest planar option on the market, there are plenty of elements that justify the added expense — the uniquely comfortable design, the impressive build quality, the built-in amplifier and Blue’s own sterling reputation. Try them for yourself, and let me know what you think!

 

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Pros

☆ Extraordinary sound quality with warmth and detail
☆ Uniquely eye-catching design
☆ Amplifier works wonders
☆ Excellent build quality

Cons

☆ Not the widest sound stage or most accurate reproduction
☆ Weight brings mild discomfort in long sessions
☆ Relatively expensive

Our Rating
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Design
10
Features
9.0
Performance
10
Value
7.0
The bottom line

While the Blue Ella aren't entirely free from limitations, their warm and detailed sound is a joy to experience. These headphones make a good case for planar magnetic headphones in general, and do enough to justify their higher price over entry-range models.

9.0
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About The Author
William Judd
Editor-in-Chief for XSReviews. Find me @wsjudd or on G+.