A couple of months ago I was impressed by the entry-level headphones from US firm Blue Microphones, the Blue Lola. Continuing the name theme, but at the top of its range, are the Blue Ella headphones.
What are they?
Since the “low end” Blue Lola headphones (our review here) cost nearly $500, you won’t be surprised to read that the Blue Ella headphones are straying into high-end prices. Indeed, they sell in Australia for $1,299. In some ways, they are very similar to the Blue Lola models. In others, very different indeed.
How are they similar? They look quite similar with large, bulky earpieces that fully encompassed my ears without squashing them into unfortunate shapes. They have the same “Formula One race car inspired” mechanical arrangement for adjusting the height of the earpieces. I’m neither here nor there about that. It’s one of many effective solutions. But I would note that my wife does not approve of the styling.
Where they differ is primarily in the working parts. First, rather than dynamic drivers, they use planar magnetic drivers. Dynamic drivers are like regular loudspeakers. They use a cone, or something similar, with a cylindrical cylinder at the back. Around the cylinder is a coil, and surrounding the cylinder is a magnet. As the musical signal goes through the coil, it creates a magnetic field which works against the magnets, moving the coil. That, in turn, moves the cone backwards and forwards.
Planer magnetic headphones use a thin membrane with a conductor attached to its surface. The magnets are on both sides of the membrane. The conductor covers pretty much the whole membrane, so it moves evenly.
The drivers of the Blue Elle headphones are 50mm by 500 and are only 50 microns thick. That’s 0.05 millimetres or around half the thickness of a piece of standard 80gsm paper. Thin membranes are light in weight, which means excellent responsiveness.
The planar magnetic drivers are mounted in large sealed enclosures. Blue says that the Ella headphones are “handmade in small quantities by expert craftsmen”.
Another way in which they differ from the Blue Lola headphones is that they have an internal amplifier. Blue rates this at 250 milliwatts of output.
The amplifier is in turn powered by a 1,000mAh battery, which you charge via a Micro-B USB socket on the left earcup, next to the audio connection. It takes several hours to charge. I seemed to get something around the claimed 12 hours of playback time. Should the battery run flat you can still use the headphones in passive mode.
There is no volume control on the headphones. You use the volume control on the source device. There’s a three-position switch around the input socket. One position is “off”, one is “on”, and the third is “on” with bass boost. The regular “on” position doesn’t seem to apply any EQ to the sound.
The headphones detect how widely they are stretched. When resting with the earcups together, they switch off. The come on again when you open them up to put on your head. Power status can be seen from the gentle glow at the back of each earcup. This cannot be switched off.
Cables and controls
The audio input is analogue only and uses a 3.5mm stereo socket. But you won’t be able to use most third-party cables because the actual connection is sunk quite a long way into the body. The plug on the supplied cable has a very thin shaft which allows it to reach.
There are two cables provided, both with wound-cloth insulation. One is 1.2 metres long, and is fitted with iOS-compatible remote controls: volume up and down and play/pause. The other is 3 metres long and not so adorned. Also included is a 3.5mm to 6.5mm plug adaptor.
Now, you might be thinking: headphones, built-in amplifier, so Bluetooth, right?
Wrong. These are purely analogue headphones. The amplifier is there to power the drivers as part of the total audio design package. It isn’t there so that they can work wirelessly.