ETA Mini Semi-Closed Review - $500 Not So Mini - Honest Audiophile Impressions
Semi-Closed headphones are a rare breed. I find them to be intriguing and most of the time they are more similar to an open-back headphone than a closed-back. Maybe the $500 ETA Mini Semi-Closed will change that trend for me.
A BIG thanks to ETA Headphones for sending over the Mini Semi-Closed for review, much appreciated.
About ETA Headphones: https://etaheadphones.com/
Purchase the Mini Semi-Closed: https://etaheadphones.com/products/mini-semi-closed
Packaging & Included Accessories:
The ETA Mini Semi=Closed comes in a very small, minimal branded, black shoe box.
There is little, to no packing materials inside; the headphones sit on a bed of wadded up paper.
You get a small fabric bag for headphone storage and a smaller fabric bag for cable storage; neither add any drop protection for the headphones.
The cable is a simple fabric design that connects to the headphone with dual 3.5mm and terminates with a 3.5mm. ETA is kind enough to provide a 6.35mm to 3.5mm adapter as the only other accessory. Also included is a certificate of authenticity.
Design & Build Quality:
The Mini Semi-Closed is one of the most simplistic headphones I have held in my hands. You definitely get a hobbyist, home built vibe when holding the Semi-Closed. It feels like a hodgepodge of materials thrown together. To be honest, they look and feel like a $100 headphone.
The headband is a generic Sony MDR headband that is easily obtained off AlieExpress or eBay.
This is a time-tested, durable headband that is an obvious good choice for a headphone of this cheap feeling build quality. But it doesn't give a premium look or feel for the $500 asking price.
The cups are 3D printed and carbon infused for durability. The cups feel solid; they should last for a long time and take a beating just like the Sony MDR headband it is paired with.
But the cups look and feel unrefined; some rough edges are visible and easily felt when running your fingers over them. ETA should have spent longer smoothing and cleaning up the resin as the Mini Semi-Closed looks and feels like something a first time 3D print hobbyist produced.
Under the pads the choice to use blue craft felt as a damper seal looks cheap and tacky.
The lack of a groove for the pads to sit in is an odd design choice; the pads are just laying over the lip of the cup; that looks like lazy craftsmanship. This design does make for easy pad swapping.
The fenestrated pads that ETA has chosen to use are nice and comfortable.
The ETA Mini Semi-Closed is very comfortable. Super lightweight and the cups have just enough size to fit my average ears. Those with larger ears may have issues with the cups being on the smaller size. The sliders have enough extension to fit the largest of head sizes. The clamp force is very well controlled. I have no issues wearing the Mini Semi-Closed for hours of listening.
So the design and build aren't up to snuff with the asking price; how about the sonics?
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The ETA Mini Semi-Closed bass is quite good. I was pleased with the quality of tone and timbre that the bass has. The mid-bass is more prominent than the sub-bass. There is a significant roll-off in the sub-bass region. The mid-bass does the majority of the work . There is enough punch and slam to keep the bass energy level at adequate-almost moderate but don't expect a lot of deep, husky and visceral hits. The note weight is on the lighter side, lacking body and density. The Mini Semi-Closed focuses on the details, speed, tone and timbre rather than hard, slamming impacts. Overall, the Mini Semi-Closed bass is kinda boring in engagement but detailed and revealing in presentation.
The ETA Mini Semi-Closed mids are one of the stars for me. Tone, timbre and separation stand-out with the mids. Vocalists and instruments sound realistic and accurate in the reproduction. Notes are slightly on the lighter side but don't sound overly airy or fluffy. Acoustical, jazz, light rock and country genres are reproduced very well. Genres that have harder hitting bass and lower mids or have more complex mixes struggle to stay controlled, separated and can sound compressed. Energy level is still a bit lacking though and the Mini Semi-Closed can put me to sleep very easily. Overall, the less complex the track, the better the Mini Semi-Closed sounds.
Treble on the ETA Mini Semi-Closed is nothing special and holds the rest of the sound back. The treble isn't extended very far on the Mini Semi-Closed. Because they lack air and extension the Mini Semi-Closed has a laid-back and mellow presentation. The notes are on the lighter side, like the bass and mids, and notes lack some body and density. Also, there is a lack of crispness and bite at times; cymbals, high hats, upper reaches of brass and woodwind instruments can sound dull and bland. Overall, the treble doesn't add the needed sizzle, crispness, edge and bite to keep the tracks engaging.
The Mini Semi-Closed has an interesting soundstage presentation. The width is not much wider than an average closed-back headphone. Where the Mini Semi-Closed is good though is with depth and layering. You get a sense of the placement on the stage with the Mini Semi-Closed that a lot of closed-back headphones don't provide. You can easily dissect the stage arrangement and the separation of vocalists and instruments is well done. On overly complex and busy tracks the Mini Semi-Closed will get a bit muddled and confused but for the majority of tracks it is well layered and spaced. Imaging is another stand-out as it is specific and direct on placement and is very easy to follow movements around on the stage.
The ETA Mini Semi-Closed has very good tone and adequate timbre. I quite enjoy the tone as it sounds natural and accurate. The ability of the Mini Semi-Closed to reproduce acoustical instruments to sound like their life like selves is rather impressive. The timbre is pretty decent as well but it does struggle with the upper edges of brass, woodwinds and percussion.
The detail retrieval capabilities of the ETA Mini Semi-Closed is good. You won't miss out on anything in a track, they all will be presented for you without any hesitation. But the resolution of those details isn't that great. Resolution is one the most noticeable flaws of the Mini Semi-Closed. Often details will be rounded and smooth; they lack the edges, crispness and bites.
The HarmonicDyne Athena is available for $180. The Athena is superior in design and build quality. If you were to hand me both headphones and not tell me the price, I would say the Athena was the more expensive headphone. It looks and feels more premium, no doubt about it. Sonically, the Athena has a more full sound, more bass slam and punch, thicker note weight, more natural & accurate tone and timbre, similar detail retrieval, better resolution, wider stage, slightly deeper, similar layering and imaging. The Athena has natural, fun approach while the Mini Semi-Closed is a boring attempt at being natural and neutral. I pick the Athena over the Mini Semi-Closed.
The Ollo S5x is available for $536. When you look at the similarly priced headphones side by side it is obvious which one is better built and higher quality. The Ollo S5x has solid wood cups, metal grates, metal headband, leather strap and a beauty that oozes premium. Sonically, the Ollo S5x is far superior in all areas to the ETA Mini Semi-Closed. This isn't an instance of being over-matched, this is a beat-down! You would think you're listening to two headphones that are priced $500 apart and in my opinion you are. The Ollo S5x has more natural tone and timbre, significantly better detail retrieval and resolution, more impact in the bass, more note weight through out, more extension in both bass and treble,a wider, deeper, more layered stage, pin-point accurate imaging and more natural energy throughout the presentation. I obviously choose the Ollo S5x over the Mini Semi-Closed.
ETA Mini Semi-Closed is a cheaply built headphone that doesn't have enough sonic chops to warrant the price tag being asked. If the asking price was sub $200 then I could recommend it. But at the current price of $500, especially when the Athena and S5x are available, there is no way. The Mini Semi-Closed doesn't sound bad, has a few sonic hiccups, but overall is a solid listening experience, all be it a bit dull and boring. Nice effort ETA but the $500 price tag is too rich for my blood for what it offers sonically.
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I am not a professional sound engineer, producer, musician, or vocalist, etc. I have not done any scientific research, measurements, or in-depth testing of any kind; just my own listening, comparing and internet reading/research. I have limited, real-life experience with recording, mixing and mastering gear. I have been involved since my teenage years with various churches as an amateur sound booth technician.
Please take these thoughts, opinions and reasonings as just that, my honest audiophile thoughts, opinions and reasonings.
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