Over the years, I have reviewed over a hundred headphones. Most of them are on short term loan, a handful of them sponsored. I only have a pair of ears and I do not like to keep extra headphones if I don’t think I will use them very often because in Singapore, the product materials break down, especially silicone and synthetic leather. So once a while, I do a giveaway, and the most elaborate one is this year’s Christmas Giveaway, where I gave off over a dozen audio products. Occasionally, after I reviewed something that I really like, I would request to buy it from the brand. And I did just that after reviewing this Audeze Mobius headphones, retailing at S$629.
Runs on Bluetooth, USB and 3.5mm
The Audeze Mobius is versatile: you can listen via Bluetooth which supports AAC, SBC and LDAC (but no aptX), via USB and 3.5mm. It does not support passive audio, meaning you can only listen when there is power. There are numerous knobs and buttons on the headphones which feel somewhat overwhelming, but I should not have worried so much. There are no need for personalisation or calibration to get the 3D audio running, thankfully.
3D Surround Audio
Surround audio is not new. For decades, audio manufacturers often threw in virtual room effects like “concert hall”, “auditorium”, to give an element of immersiveness to the listener. Most of the times, it spoils the music quality. Early this year, Creative Labs announced their Super X-Fi Amp which aims to create a natural room audio effect where the sound staging appears to come from the front virtual speakers instead of inside the ears. This emulation of speaker positioning and room reverb is achieved through a tiny USB-powered portable stick which you can plug in to any headphones. The inconvenience to SXFI Amp is that the product requires calibration through capturing images of the wearer’s ears and head. The type of headphones also affect the quality, and all these factors result in many mixed reviews from the consumers and lacks the ease of mass adoption.
Audeze Mobius does not require any of the cumbersome calibration, although it does have an app to manually adjust some of the parameters like head circumference, inter-aural arc, room size. Even using the default mode, the 3D audio is already quite obvious. Suggestion: reduce the room ambience to eliminate extra echo which may already be present in the original mix.
Well, actually, not THAT obvious. Without comparison, initial listening impressions on the 3D-enabled audio converted from a 2-channel audio source just sounded like an expanded but cosy sound staging.
Until I start to turn my head, then I can hear the magic.
Sound Localisation, Integrated Head Tracking
As I turn my head, the source of the sound seems to remain in the exact spot. This is achieved through head tracking technology to detect tiny movements of the headphones to produce the effect. As I open the Audeze HQ Application software with the headphones plugged in via USB, I can see that the on-screen emulator calculating the pitch yaw and roll and moving real-time in tandem to my actual head movements.
The good thing is that the effect is not exactly exaggerated. The bad thing is that it is not exactly obvious to impress immediately, unlike Creative SXFI Amp where listeners experience some unusual room effect. The Mobius, on the contrary, has the sound stage positioned quite close in front of the head, about 80-degrees on both sides, and the advantage is that the instrumental nuances remain audible like what any headphone listener expects compared to listening over speakers. Depending on the file source, some instrument separation is more obvious. For instance, in Enya’s Orinoco Flow, her primary vocals appear closer at both sides while the backing vocals are further away positioned at both sides, and the main orchestration is further front towards the centre.
What draws me to the Mobius is the interaction I get with this 3D audio experience: I can turn my head left and right towards the direction of the instrumental positioning as recorded and the instrument becomes the centre of the sound staging, just like when I turn my head in a VR goggle. Or turn my head up and down and the source also shifts lower and higher.
The magic unfolds even further when listening to multi-channel audio.
Multi-Channel Audio Magic
3D surround audio technology is not new, and some privileged audiophiles may already have the means to access them and enjoy it. But with Audeze Mobius, any consumer can afford to experience it. Plug the Mobius via USB into the laptop or PC and the Windows will automatically install the audio driver which supports 8-channel audio. Play any multi-channel audio through supported media player and I could hear the multi-channel audio sources coming from all directions.
But that’s not all. When I move the head, the audio position shifts too. I turn my head to the left, and the left instrument becomes the centre of the audio position. I shift my head to face the back, and I come face-to-face with the audio source, while the original front channels appear to come from the rear of my head. This sound localisation occurs in real-time with no lag, and it’s – for the lack of a better word – mind-blowing.
To test whether the Mobius multi-channel emulation actually works, I ran those multi-channel speaker test tracks and can actually hear the various speakers playback at the respective positions around my head. And same thing: I can literally turn towards each speaker position and the test audio will appear in the front audio position.
Then I took out some of my existing multi-channel audio tracks and ran it through the Mobius. For the first time, I am experiencing the multi-position instrumentation that the sound engineers created. Before Mobius, the only way to experience this is to play the track over a physical multi-channel speaker set-up. Yes, I did play it over the Creative SXFI Amp, but the audio positioning is less specific due to the room effect which is designed to blend the sound.
There are two 3D modes: the manual mode fixes the sound localisation while the auto mode shifts the sound localisation together with your head so that the source auto-centers regularly. In this mode, there is a short lag, similar to how optical image stabiliser retards the jerky footage. Hence, I find the Mobius is more suited for home use and not while on-the-move.
The Audeze Mobius is designed for gamers, but does it work for audiophiles? The answer is in my action, which speaks louder than words: I bought it, and I am not a gamer. Mobius uses planar magnetic drivers, with the electro-magnetic coils spread across the entire 100mm diaphragm. These are expensive drivers and not often found in mass-market headphones. Planar magnetic drivers have the characteristic of delivering very clean, detailed and responsive frequencies, while their Achilles heel is the lower frequency. Indeed, the Mobius delivers brilliantly detailed highs without sounding too excessive, while the bass lacks the excitement and fullness, but sufficient enough to give some musical support.
Because of the close sound staging of the 3D audio, the musical intensity does not diminish. In fact, there is improved details compared to non-3D mode because the instruments are spread out and given sufficient room to be heard. And because of this spread-out effect, music is less crowded, more immersive, and I can turn up the volume higher. Another interesting aspect is that the audio source appears to come from an elevated angle instead of the same level as my head. I had to tilt my head up to “face the music”, as if in a live stage perspective.
Creative SXFI vs. Audeze Mobius
The SXFI Amp costs only S$219 while the Mobius retails at S$629, so the SXFI is cheaper to experience 3D audio. But the SXFI requires calibration and not all audio content works well. Mobius works better with audio sources and supports sound localisation, making music listening more fun and interactive. As a headphone, Mobius planar magnetic drivers sound transparent, delivers snappy tones.
The Audeze Mobius headphones offer me a unique listening experience unlike any other headphones. It introduces an element of interaction with a static audio source, allowing me to mingle with the music and appreciate the instrumental positioning. It is the equivalent of VR for audio. Thanks to planar magnetic drivers, the music quality is detailed with sufficient clarity to bring out all the instruments that are scattered all around me in the virtual sound stage.
If you have multi-channel content like movies and music albums, I highly recommend getting the Audeze Mobius to enjoy them in new perspectives. If you have mostly two-channel stereo audio, the Mobius naturally positions the audio in a more obvious sound stage while keeping the audio intimacy intact as what headphiles would like.
- Drivers: 100mm planar magnetic
- Frequency Response: 10 – 50,000 Hz
- Bluetooth: SBC, AAC, LDAC
- Connectivity: USB-C, 3.5mm analog audio, Bluetooth
- Battery: 10 hours
- Weight: 350g
Audeze Mobius is distributed by Eng Siang in Singapore and sold for S$629 at authorized retailers including AV One, Connect IT, Stereo Electronics and Treoo.com.