Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 2.04, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming; Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20
DACs: COS Engineering D1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Vinnie Rossi Lio
Headphone amps: Bakoon AMP-12R, Eximus DP1, Stello HA100MkII, Aura Vita, Questyle CMA800R (x2), Vinnie Rossi Lio, Eversound Essence
Headphones: Forza Audio Works recabled Audeze LCD-2/LCD-XC, Sennheiser HD800, MrSpeakers™ Alpha Prime; ALO-Audio recabled Beyerdynamic T1/T5p; stock-cabled HifiMan HE1000, Aëdle VK1 and Focal Spirit One
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt double-header USB; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components
Review component retail: $1'190

Renderings lack the final logo embossing across the headband. Also, final production eliminated the red channel marker.

The Third Reich's infamous Enigma machine and its British code breakers of Bletchley Park are the stuff of legend; and many a popular movie adaptation. By contrast, anything hifi pales to frosty white and remains undecipherable to the vast majority. Just so, in the small realm that is upscale hifi, EnigmAcoustics have already made quite a name for themselves, first with their cunningly named Sopranino super tweeter, then with their Mythology M1 2-way monitor.

Rather than expand their one-model speaker range for the next stunt, our code breakers from California and Taiwan decided to breach the headfi kingdom instead. Their twin assault is a headphone and valve headfi amplifier. Those can be but needn't be used together. Today's review is about the former, the Dharma D1000. Having turned heads and pricked up ears with their electret-based (self-biased electrostatic AC-less) driver tech in the Sopranino, we aren't surprised that a sliver of this material would also turn up in the D1000. (The $1'500 Athena A1 triode amplifier at right very cleverly quotes Sopranino's tempered glass casing for its own enclosure.)

The standing charge which Enigma's proprietary coating on the membrane can hold as a bias voltage remains presently insufficient for a full-bandwidth or even wideband driver. Hence for now, that patented tech remains limited to super tweeter duties. Not a dual-concentric but separate diaphragm, here it hands over via a 1st-order filter at 10kHz to the below 52mm main driver made of Japanese Washi paper. The D1000 thus becomes a hybrid. That's hifi spook lingo for combining drive units of dissimilar tech: dynamic and electrostatic. Again, the trick about the ESL portion is that it requires no transformer, power supply or special amplifier. The music signal itself does it all. Hence the patent.

From a basic perspective of "what's it gonna take to lift this thing to proper volumes", 95dB sensitivity might even have low-rent portable devices do the job. That such team work purely by the numbers may not equal top sound or get the very best from the Enigma should be obvious. So should the fact that the quality spectrum of portables is wide, from the ubiq iPhone to the poshest Astell&Kern. Enigma simply made it so their headphone won't need a lot of power to take off. That expands its applications and lowers the barrier of entry.

Dharmic impedance of 26Ω lives in the same 'hood as many planarmagnetic competitors. Weight sans 3-metre cord is 450g, another nod at the general ortho gang. Also, the D1000 is open-backed. That, its around-the-ear size, weight and expense suggest against outdoor use; unless the wild outdoors were your porch, balcony or back yard. With a slice of Sopranino onboard, HF extension for the D1000 hits 40kHz. That's an octave past the outer limits of human hearing but promises lower phase shift in the audible band; and maximized airiness and ambient retrieval. The low freqs counter with 5Hz. This too vanishes well below the event horizon of our ear/brain. Yet military acoustic weapons show that our biology is certainly responsive to infrasonics. True subwoofers begin to demonstrate this, too. Perception no longer occurs with the ears but through our skin and organs. Whilst top headphones will play very low despite using tweeter-sized drivers, the tiny amount of air they shift inside our ear canals disqualifies for full-body bass massages. It will always be in-ear bass: extensive on possible reach but light on weight and impact compared to loudspeakers. That's Physics.

Which leaves economics. At $1'190 and as perhaps suggested by its D1000 suffix, the Dharma cracks the $1K barrier. Five years back, such behaviour would have put it at the very top and in the (gasp!) very thinnest of airs. In the intervening years, headphone statement efforts well above $5'000 have tried to reset our communal pain threshold. Another current '1000' model, HifiMan's HE1000, stops just shy of the $3'000 mark. If orange is the new black and 3K the new 1K, then our acoustic enigmatics counter 2015 trends just a bit. Whilst indisputably a lot of cash, for a headphone with statement ambitions, the Dharma's price positioning is unexpectedly upper midrange. It is not super treble. Forgive my crude conversion into bandwidth currency. But then, my rare 8-rotor Enigma print machine at left isn't exactly a modern cash register, is it?

In our 2-channel video system with Oppo BDP-105, Vinnie Rossi Lio, Goldmund/Job 225, EnigmAcoustics M1 with Sopranino, Dharma on Sopranino stand.