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2013 Head-Fi Winter Gift Guide (Ultra-High-End Headphones (Summit-Fi))

Introduction
Over-Ear Headphones
In-Ear Headphones
Wireless Headphones
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Exercise Headphones
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Ultra-High-End Headphones (Summit-Fi)
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Head-Fi 2013 Winter Gift Guide
Ultra-High-End Headphones (Summit-Fi)
 

Most of my favorite headphones can benefit tremendously from dedicated headphone amplifiers. And the ones I've listed below--if you're not familiar with this class of headphones--will likely spoil you forever. These headphones have a way of challenging you to bring the best out of them, and that can get very expensive, very quickly. It's headphones like these that make Head-Fi's unofficial slogan:

 

"Welcome to Head-Fi. Sorry about your wallet."

 

You've been warned.


Fostex TH900

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Take many different types of sulfur-smoked silver foil pieces, and adhere them--in a manner similar to a torn-paper collage--to a black lacquered base over a precisely shaped Japanese cherry birch wood form. Finish it with an overcoat of rich Bordeaux-wine-colored paint, until the finish looks deep, glossy, liquid. Finally, using platinum leaf, meticulously apply the emblem of the manufacturer of this exquisite thing. Am I describing the creation of something destined for the display cabinets of the Imperial House of Japan? Maybe if the Emperor of Japan is a headphone audio enthusiast. No, what I'm describing is how the traditional, painstaking art of Japanese urushi lacquer is used in the adornment of an earcup of a flagship headphone.

 

When Fostex decided to craft a new flagship high-end headphone, they wanted it to be impeccable in every way, offering high-end sound quality (of course), and to do so with extraordinary beauty and comfort. Their TH900 headphone was the result, and it is indeed a stunner. Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the high-end connoisseurs of Head-Fi were abuzz about it, and deservedly so.

 

The TH900 is one of the easiest headphones to fall in love with. Of course, there's that love-at-first-sight thing. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the TH900 is, in my opinion, the most beautiful headphone ever created. I've not seen a photo yet that fully conveys the deep beauty of the TH900's urushi-lacquered earcups (nor have I been able to capture it with my own photos, but not for lack of trying).

 

Then there's the love-at-first-wear thing. The TH900 is extremely comfortable--there are few headphones I'd be willing to wear for longer durations than I do the TH900. A closed headphone, the TH900's earpads are made of an advanced synthetic leather derived from eggshell membrane. The result is a material that has the suppleness of the softest leather.

 

Fostex wouldn't do all of this without first having sonic performance worthy of it. And in this, its sound, the TH900 is just as accomplished as it is with its style and comfort. Very revealing, relatively neutral, never fatiguing. The TH900 sounds velvety and organic, without ever sounding overly smoothed. I have headphones that are more technically capable in one aspect or another, some that are more neutral, and some that are ultimately more revealing, but few headphones can convey as much as the TH900 does without tiring me at all. It is an eminently easy, yet involving, headphone to listen to.

 

After having spent over a year with the Fostex TH900 now, it has become perhaps my favorite headphone overall, plying its brilliance not with just one or two rigs precisely crafted for it, but in so many good systems you plug it into. In every way, the Fostex TH900 is simply beautiful, and a wonderfully executed flagship by Fostex.

 

"Nevertheless, the TH900 is able to convey music in a fairly lifelike and convincing manner, drawing the listener in with its immersive presentation and sound that pulsates with vital energy. As I've mentioned previously, music just seems to have an organic quality when played through the TH900; it sounds as though it were alive, as though it were natural."

-MuppetFace
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear headphones
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MSRP: $1,499

Sennheiser HD 800

TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear, ring-radiator driver headphones
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MSRP: $1,500

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

The Sennheiser HD 800 is one of the most significant headphones of the last decade. It elevated the state of the art in dynamic headphones, by a wide margin, when it was first announced at the beginning of 2009; and it encouraged others in the industry to also push the envelope.

 

Handcrafted in Germany, the HD 800 was the first (and still is the only) headphone to use low-mass, low-distortion ring-radiator drivers. These ultra-fast drivers, coupled with the HD 800's extremely non-reverberant chassis, result in a ruthlessly revealing headphone.

 

To wring the best sound out of it, the HD 800 absolutely needs to be matched well with a good headphone amplifier (with this headphone, I've personally had my best results with tube amps). Match it up poorly, and it can be overly bright. Drive it well, and it'll reward you with what will probably be the best sound quality you've ever heard from headphones. Yes, the HD 800 is picky, but, in my opinion, it's worth the effort once you get it right.

 

The HD 800 is also thought by many (myself included) to be among the most comfortable full-sized headphones ever made. The HD 800's headband radius and flexibility (its headband being as close to perfect as I've worn), softly-sprung pivots, large-footprint earpads, and luxurious pad materials make the HD 800 feel feather-light on the head.

 

In addition to its technical merits, the Sennheiser HD 800 also had epochal industry impact in another way: It began a strong upward shift in flagship dynamic headphone pricing, arriving with a firmly-enforced minimum price that was around three times the price of Sennheiser's previous dynamic flagship (the HD 650).

 

Because this price increase was met with what most considered a commensurate performance elevation, demand for the HD 800 was extremely strong at its launch, and remains so. In my opinion, this encouraged other companies to similarly go all-out, developing high-performance headphones with greater attention to pushing the performance envelope, in the wake of a market that revealed itself more than willing to pay a high premium for ultra-high-performance headphones.

 

For all of the above things, the HD 800 is a fantastic, important headphone, and one of my all-time favorites.

 

"There is also no doubt in my mind that the HD800 are the imaging champs of the dynamic headphone world. I have owned or heard almost every significant dynamic headphone there is - Sony R10, At W5000 and L3000, Senn HD650/600, Grado RS1 and GS1000, all the ones I currently own, and many, many more I have owned and sold. And I have never heard a headphone image like the HD800"

-SkyLab
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer


Audeze LCD-X and LCD-XC
TYPE: Full-size, circumaural (around-the-ear), planar magnetic headphones (the LCD-X is open, the LCD-XC is closed) 
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PRICE: $1,699 and $1,799, respectively
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URL: www.audeze.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Immensely popular in the high-end of the Head-Fi community already, it seems this year that Audeze is gaining still more strength with the release of two new headphones that are Summit-Fi all the way. The new open-back Audeze LCD-X and closed-back Audeze LCD-XC use Audeze's new Fazor Technology, the very visible Fazor elements helping to guide and manage the flow of sound in the headphones, which Audeze claims helps improve phase response, frequency extension, and imaging.

 

The two newest Audezes are also quite a bit more efficient than the LCD-2 (90 dB/1 mW), LCD-3 (91 dB/1 mW), with the LCD-X able to crank out 96 dB/1 mW, and the LCD-XC 95 dB /1 mW. Both of the newer Audezes also have low 22Ω nominal impedance, which, combined with their high efficiency, make for headphones that I'll occasionally plug directly into my iPhone and iPods and get surprisingly good results from.

 

So far, my time with the LCD-XC (the closed one) has been limited to a pre-production version that I believe was close to production voicing, but not quite there yet. Because of that, I'll be brief with my comments about LCD-XC today, and will update my comments here once I've heard a production version (which is arriving in the next couple of days). I can say, though, that if the model I heard was short of the production voicing, then I'm dying to hear the final cut. The pre-production model I heard had very well controlled bass, and was closer to neutral than I expected an Audeze closed headphone to be. Voicing seemed closer to the LCD-X (the production version of which I do have, and which I cover below) than to the LCD-3. Soundstaging was spacious for a closed headphone. And that's all I'll say about the LCD-XC until I've spent some time with a production unit.

 

For now, then, the gem--not just of the two new Fazor-equipped models, but the entire Audeze line--is the open-back Audeze LCD-X. As I hear it, the Audeze LCD-X is like a potent combination of many of the best aspects of every other Audeze headphone. Its tonal balance is also most even-handed of the bunch to me, and what I'd expect from Audeze if they were developing a studio monitor--regardless of whether or not that's what they set out to do, I have a feeling the LCD-X is going to find itself in the employ of many in the pro audio world.

 

One thing that neither of the new Audezes have improved upon is weight--both are heavier (the LCD-XC at 650 grams being the heaviest) than the two more senior models. Both the LCD-X and LCD-XC also have aluminum housings versus the older Audezes' wood housings, which opinions seem split on--I prefer the aluminum myself (especially the gunmetal color). (The LCD-XC does have wood outer cups.)

 

As for things to grouse about, my key criticism of both the Audeze LCD-XC and LCD-X is their pricing, which puts them awfully close to Audeze's flagship LCD-3, which I think may make the higher-end Audeze selection process a bit daunting.

 

For me personally, the answer is simple: X marks the spot. Though the LCD-3 is ranked above it in price and line position, the LCD-X is, in my opinion, the best Audeze headphone yet, and one of the finest headphones on the market right now, regardless of price.

 


beyerdynamic T1

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Not long after Sennheiser announced the HD 800, beyerdynamic started firing gargantuan salvos of high-end goodness of its own, beginning with the Tesla T1.

 

The beyerdynamic T1 approaches neutrality with a slightly more forgiving nature than Sennheiser's HD 800. I also find it easier to find a good amp match-up for the T 1 than the HD 800.

 

If the Sennheiser HD 800 is on the cooler side of your tonal preferences--but you enjoy its detail and transparency--give serious consideration to the T1. Like few other headphones, beyerdynamic's flagship somehow balances ultra-revealing with sense of ease. Though it's deserving of outstanding amplification, I've not found it a hard headphone to coax greatness out of.

I've always enjoyed some of beyerdynamic's headphones, but the Tesla T1 (as well as the portable Tesla DT 1350) made me a beyerdynamic enthusiast.

 

"The T1 has an absolutely unique ability to make music sound natural, in my experience. Music simply flows from the T1 in a way that makes it unbelievably enjoyable to listen to, but without requiring any kind of noticeable coloration to get that job done. In my experience, it is that combination of neutrality, accuracy, and musicality that makes the T1, for me, the king of the dynamic headphones."

-SkyLab
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Semi-open, full-size, around-the-ear headphones
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MSRP: $1,300

 


Abyss Headphones AB-1266

 

TYPE: Open, around-the-ear, planar magnetic headphones
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PRICE: $5,495.00
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URL: www.abyss-headphones.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

One look at the Abyss AB-1266 tells you it's an unusual headphone. "Elegant" isn't what immediately comes to mind when first laying eyes on it. Actually, it's kind of medieval looking--as in something-you'd-find-in-the-basement-of-the-Tower-of-London-to-torture-with medieval.

 

It's bulky. It's heavy. It's overbuilt, with the use of a lot of metal--a lot of metal. See that foam just inside each earcup? That's foam all right--foamed aluminum! The round chassis that forms the main structure of each of those earpieces is made of billet aluminum, and looks tough enough to be a suspension component from an unlimited-class off-road truck. Instead of using several bar magnets, each earpiece contains a single whopping magnet, slotted and cut to shape. I was told one of the goals of the AB-1266 design was an inert chassis--mission very much accomplished.

 

Yet somehow, some way, Joe Skubinski (also of JPS Labs) has managed to massage this beast of a headphone into something that is unexpectedly comfortable--and unexpectedly (to me anyway) one of the best sounding headphones currently made. Last year, Abyss brought a prototype to CanJam @ RMAF, and it was good, but it didn't give a clear indication (to me anyway) that the final version was going to sound like this.

 

The Abyss AB-1266 is a world-class headphone, capable of revealing everything, from the most abyssal bass (c'mon, I had to) to the highest highs. The thing is that you have to really play with the fit--adjust the headband, rotate the pads--until you get the sound you want. For example, for me, a complete earpad seal results in rather subdued bass, and a touch of treble brightness. Rotate the pads a bit to break the seal a touch, and the bass fills in, and the Abyss AB-1266's tonal balance balances out, and, then...wow.

 

Characterizing the Abyss headphone's sound signature is challenging, given its ability to be seasoned to taste. One thing it always is, though, is astonishingly revealing. Does the Abyss compete with other world class headphones?? To my ears, absolutely. Is it worth the price of nearly three Audeze LCD-3's or more than four HiFiMAN HE-6's? That's a tough call, but I know there's a hungry market for the best, even at this price.

 

Keep in mind that the Abyss AB-1266 is a power-hungry headphone. I've had excellent results at low listening levels with a wide variety of amps, but the HiFiMAN EF-6 and Schiit Audio Mjolnir--both Class A beasts--really open up the dynamism of the Abyss AB-1266. I've been told Cavalli's amps are also amazing pairings with the Abyss, so check out Cavalli's amps in the Desktop Amps & DACs section.

 

Simply put, the AB-1266 is an amazing first headphone from Abyss Headphones, and, to my ears, one of the best sounding headphones currently made.


Apex HiFi Audio Teton

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

This is an evolved version of the Wheatfield HA-2? That classic Wheatfield amp (from around 15 years ago), also designed by Pete Millett, was good--sometimes it was a lot more than good. But this amp--the Apex High Fi Audio Teton--is simply one of the best amps I've heard with the Sennheiser HD 800 (a headphone that didn't yet exist when I had the Wheatfield HA-2 here so many years ago). The one headphone I did have then that I still use now is the Sennheiser HD 600, and I don't remember the Wheatfield doing things with the HD 600 quite like this.

 

With the Teton, the Sennheiser HD 800 takes on a fuller body, which is something I look for with amps to pair with the flagship Sennheiser. And when it can be done without any sense of losing all of the amazing resolving abilities that help make the HD 800 what it is...well, then, that's a magical pairing, and we have that with this particular union.

 

I've also had wonderful, long Teton listening sessions with the Audeze LCD-X and HiFiMAN HE-500, and, again, that fleshy (but not bloated) tube-imparted body finds its way into these headphones, too. And for my tastes, again, we have beautiful pairings with these two headphones, too.

 

On other thing I love about the Teton is how quiet it is. Whereas the old HA-2 had a noise floor that even mildly sensitive headphones could get into, the Teton is dead quiet, the latter having one of the lowest noise floors I've experienced with a tube amp. Plugging several IEMs into the Teton using its "IEM" output setting still yielded silence. Very impressive. Of course, IEMs aren't in the Teton's wheelhouse. Yes, it can drive them in a pinch, but it's when you plug headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800 and HD 600 into it that the Teton absolutely shines.

 

The Teton's tube compliment: input tube is 6SN7.  Output tube is 6080 standard (or optionally 6AS7, 7236, 5998, or 6528). Rectifier is 5U4GB standard (with many options possible, including GZ34/5AR4, GZ37, etc.). If you're a tube roller, you'll be in for fun times with the Teton.

 

$5000 is a heckuva lot for a headphone amp. But you're in the Summit-Fi section, baby, and when it comes to sound quality, the Teton is definitely Summit-Fi.

 

 

 

TYPE: Single-ended output-transformer-less (OTL) vacuum tube preamplifier and headphone amp
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PRICE: $5,000
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URL: www.ttvjaudio.com

HiFiMAN HE-6 and HiFiMAN EF-6

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

The last few years has seen the fierce reemergence of planar magnetic driver technology. And one of the two companies currently pushing the envelope in planar magnetic driver design is HiFiMAN. Last year, the HiFiMAN HE-6 almost didn't make it into this guide, not because it isn't one of the best headphones in the world (to my ears, it certainly is), but because it can be so difficult to drive well. The problem is that not just any headphone amplifier will do--the HE-6 needs power, and lots of it. Last year, I recommended its use with the Ray Samuels Audio DarkStar (around $3500), a pairing I still highly recommend if you have the budget for it. Even if you do have the scratch, though, make sure to also give serious consideration to the new HiFiMAN EF-6 Class A headphone amp and preamp, which is less than half the price of the DarkStar.

The EF-6 was built and voiced with the HE-6 in mind, and, like the DarkStar, the EF-6 drives the HE-6 so adeptly that the HE-6 loses none of the detail (especially in the treble) that makes it so special, but also gains body noticeably everywhere else. When the HE-6 is driven well, it is an absolute force of nature, ultra-detailed yet smooth--utterly world class. I've also used the EF-6 to drive many other headphones, including ones by Sennheiser, Audeze, beyerdynamic, Denon and Fostex, and it has done wonderfully with all of those.

I haven't yet had the chance to compare the DarkStar and EF-6 side by side, but will do so when I can. Even so, I can say with complete confidence that the HE-6/EF-6 combo is a staggeringly good combo at the combined price of around $2900--one of the best headphone/amp combos I've ever heard.

 

"...the HE-6 have been really impressive. With the right amp, they have are highly transparent, have great dynamic capability, and a very wideband neutrality. I can tell they will be a staple of my collection for a long time to come."

-SkyLab
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

 

"All in all, I thought the EF-6 the perfect compliment to the HE-6 headphone, and I would imagine it would work equally well with any number of other notoriously power hungry headphones on the market. The amplifier is very transparent and refined, and powerful, qualities which should bode well with almost any headphone requiring this amount of power"

-drez
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Open, around-the-ear, planar magnetic headphones (HE-6) and Class A headphone amplifier and preamplifier (EF-6)
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PRICE: Around $1,299.00 and $1,599.00, respectively

Audeze LCD-2
TYPE: Open, around-the-ear, planar magnetic headphones
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PRICE: $1,145.00
 

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Why is the Audeze LCD-2 the most discussed $500+ headphone in Head-Fi.org's history? Simply because it puts an 'X' in so many of the dream headphone checkboxes. Extremely good detail retrieval across the frequency spectrum? Check. Outstanding, visceral bass? Check. Easy to listen to, and non-fatiguing? Check, and check. Scales well, from portable systems to world-class desktop rigs? Check. Relatively easy to drive? More so than any other non-Audeze planar magnetic headphone, so check that box, too. You get the point.

The Audeze LCD-2 has become my quickest go-to recommendation when asked about high-end headphones. Why? Because it's not a bear to find a good rig match for, it can perform well in a great variety of rigs. Also, I've found most people prefer strong, impactful bass, and the Audeze shines there, without giving up anything in the way of low frequency detail. The LCD-2 is extremely easy to recommend, because just about every Head-Fi'er can find a place for it--which is why it's the most discussed $500+ headphone in Head-Fi'dom.

 

"Oh, the soundstage. So deep, so wide, and so well defined – and not only between the ears, but out in front of the head. No question the best of any of the headphones I have... But the imaging qualities of the LCD-2 are terrific. For someone who really values a holographic soundstage highly, the LCD-2 are sure to please."

-SkyLab
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer


HiFiMAN HE-500

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

The HiFiMAN HE-500 is the everyman's HiFiMAN world-class planar magnetic headphone. I actually prefer the HE-500 to the HE-6 (or any other planar magnetic HiFiMAN has released) in all but a few setups. Far more efficient than the HE-6, the HE-500 can pair with a great many more amps (if you've got a headphone amp, it can probably drive the HE-500 just fine); and its performance, when driven well, reminds me of the HE-6 at its tonal best (even if the HE-500 never does quite catch the HE-6 in terms of detail retrieval). If you've listened to the Audeze LCD-2 and found it a touch too bassy for your preferences, then the HE-500 should be auditioned.

 

Now, just because the HE-500 is easier to drive than the HE-6 does not necessarily mean it's easy to drive. That said, I've found that most good desktop headphone amplifiers (and some of the stronger portable amplifiers) can drive the HE-500 well; just don't expect your iPhone's built-in headphone output to massage high performance from it.

 

"I find the HiFiMAN HE-500 to be an excellent quality headphone, slightly reminiscent of the Sennheiser HD 600; its neutral and slightly warm yet forward sound make recordings come alive in a revealing way that is very enjoyable. Well done, Fang, and all else at HiFiMAN."

-Windsor
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

 

TYPE: Open, around-the-ear, planar magnetic headphones
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PRICE: Around $699.00
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URL: www.head-direct.com

Audeze LCD-3

TYPE: Open, around-the-ear, planar magnetic headphones
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MSRP: $1,945.00
 

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Take everything about the Audeze LCD-2 (sonically), improve on all of it, and what do you get? You get one of the very best headphones I've ever heard, the Audeze LCD-3.

 

It looks a lot like the LCD-2, yes. But it's equipped with an entirely new driver that sports a new magnet structure and a much lighter diaphragm. There are other differences, too (like softer, more supple pads, a new earpiece cable entry design, and fancier wood), but it isn't until you listen to the LCD-3 that you grasp that this is not the same headphone (as the LCD-2).

 

The LCD-3 has all the impact and boldness of the LCD-2, but with a noticeable bump up in delicacy and finesse. While this improvement spans the audioband, it's most noticeable in the lower registers, where its combination of bass impact and bass detail is, to me, unrivaled by any other headphone.

 

Outside of the the Stax SR-009 or Sennheiser HE 90 (Orpheus), the Audeze LCD-3 is simply one of the best headphones I've ever heard. So, even at nearly $2000.00, that makes the LCD-3 a solid value, in my opinion.

 

"The combination of a very neutral frequency response and an almost startling transparency are its hallmarks. The vast majority of the time I enjoyed listening to music through the LCD-3 more than I ever have with headphones."

-SkyLab
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer


Luxman DA-06 and Luxman PU-700

Coming soon...

TYPE: XXXXXX
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PRICE: $4,990.00 and $6,000.00, respectively
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URL: www.luxman.com

Koss ESP950

TYPE: Electrostatic headphones (with included Koss E90 electrostatic energizer/amp)
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MSRP: $999.99
 

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

There many Head-Fi'ers who don't realize that Koss' flagship headphone is actually an electrostat that's been around since the 1990's. Electrostatic headphone aficionados all know of the Koss ESP950, where it remains almost an insiders' topic. It's a headphone that most of those familiar with it seem to hold in high regard, but that few go out of their way to promote. I'd known about the ESP950 for many years, but, until recently, never really spent much time with it. When I finally did, I felt like I'd cheated myself of one of the best bargains in high-end headphone audio for way too long.

 

The Koss ESP950 comes with its own energizer/amp called the Koss E90 that some seasoned electrostatic headphone enthusiasts consider a virtual write-off--something that should be immediately cast aside to make way for an amp upgrade. Then there are some who appreciate the ESP950, even with the stock E90, as a crazy bargain package, and one of the best sounding headphones a thousand bucks can buy. (If you shop around, you can occasionally find it for substantially less than its $999.99 MSRP.) I'm one of the latter.

 

Yes, I understand that I can squeeze more performance out of it with mods and amp upgrades. But I'm perfectly happy with the ESP950/E90 system's performance, even at its MSRP, and find it a world-class headphone, and a world-class bargain. The ESP950/E90 combo also comes with a Koss carrying case that allows the system (which is very lightweight) to travel very easily. I'll probably keep the stock pairing together for the foreseeable future.

 

The ESP950 is perhaps the best way to introduce someone to the enchanting world of electrostatic headphones, as its sound signature is so friendly, so easy to listen to--and yet still very resolving. Bass response, to my ears, is very good, but may come off as a bit light to some (especially those used to bassier headphones). The Koss ESP950's midrange is beautiful, forward, detailed, liquid. The treble isn't quite as impressive as the mids, but still extended and detailed enough to keep me drawn in. The airy nature of the ESP950 is unmistakably electrostat. Its generally neutral bent--but with more forward than neutral mids--is very easy to listen to, very inviting. Like I said, this little system is a great welcome to the world of electrostats.

 

I do have some issues with the system, though: Though I haven't had any problems at all with my ESP950, I do feel that the headphone's build feels a bit too light, almost flimsy. But perhaps the headphone's light weight is a key reason why I can wear the ESP950 for hours on end--it's super comfortable. Another issue I have is that the E90's RCA jacks are recessed into holes so narrow that the only RCA cables I've got that can fit into them are the ones that came packaged with the ESP950/E90. My biggest gripe is with the concentric volume knob on the E90, the center of it turning independent of an outer ring, each of those controlling one of the two stereo channels--it's pain to turn them both in perfect unison.

 

Given the ESP950's performance, though, those are minor nits to pick. Again, the Koss ESP950 is, in my opinion, absolutely one of the best sounding headphones at a thousand bucks, and a wonderful entry that gets you well into Summit-Fi.


Stax SR-009

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Sennheiser's now-discontinued, limited edition electrostatic HE-90 Orpheus had been my personal choice for best sounding headphone for so long that I assumed it would remain in that spot permanently. However, Stax's flagship now wears my personal best-ever crown. In Episode 008 of Head-Fi TV, I called the Stax SR-009 my choice for best sounding headphone I've yet heard, and nothing has changed my mind about that since.

 

The Stax SR-009 is the most revealing, most captivating, most neutral, most outstanding transducer of any type I've yet heard. With this headphone, you really will hear things, textures, air, details you hadn't previously heard in many of your favorite recordings. The SR-009 is simply sublime. A masterpiece.

 

Here's the rub, though: If you want to extract the very best from this headphone, plan on spending approximately $5000 to $6000 more for a top-flight electrostatic headphone amplifier, like the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE, Woo Audio WES or Ray Samuels Audio A-10.

 

Could it really be worth all that? This is Head-Fi. So, yes, for some people, it's absolutely worth all that.

 

(We discussed the Stax SR-009 in Episode 008 of Head-Fi TV.)

 

"With these earspeakers, as Stax terms them, it is as if everything is simply on another level compared to dynamic headphones. Only the more recent high-end orthos, such as the LCD-3s and Hifiman series and maybe the HD-800s, Sony R10s and my Symphones Magnums come anywhere close. Now the SR-009 takes all this to yet another level."

-Currawong
Head-Fi Adminstrator/Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Open, around-the-ear, electrostatic headphones
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MSRP: $5,200.00
 

 


Fostex TH600
TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear headphones
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MSRP: $999.00
 

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Fostex's flagship TH900 is, without a doubt, one of my favorite headphones of all time. I'm certainly far from alone in expressing unbridled adulation for the TH900, and there are many who've heard it who want one but find the two-kilobuck price of entry too much of a budgetary stretch. Fostex took notice, and the TH600 is their answer.

 

No, the TH600 doesn't have the stunning urushi lacquer over birch wood earcups. It does, however, have more understated matte black die-cast magnesium earcups that are still gorgeous, and might actually be preferred by those who are partial to a more subdued aesthetic. Its driver's magnet is not quite as powerful as the TH900's (1.0 tesla versus 1.5 tesla), so the TH600 has slightly lower sensitivity, but is still quite easy to drive. None of these differences keep the TH600 from offering up most of what so many people love about the flagship TH900, and it does it at a substantially lower price ($999.00 versus $1999.00).

 

No, the TH600 doesn't sound exactly like the TH900; but, sonically, the key differences between the two are, for me, only readily apparent when the TH600 and TH900 are right next to each other, and I go back and forth between the two. The TH900 is more transparent, with more treble presence--more shimmer--and with more controlled bass. I don't keep them side by side, though, so, for me, the TH600 is essentially everything I say the TH900 is. And, like the TH900, the TH600 can scale to world-class performance, and fit in wonderfully in the very best rigs.

 

If you listened to and loved the Fostex TH900, but just can't stretch your budget to get to it, the TH600 is raising its hand wildly, and you'd do well to call on it.

 

"I think for those who are curious about the Fostex TH-series house sound, the TH-600 will please. It actually performs well for a headphone of it's price range. I actually can't think of another closed back of that price that would sound nice and articulate."

-AnakChan
Head-Fi Moderator/Member/Reviewer

 

 

 

Comments (12)

KILLER write-up on the LCD-X and XC (and everything else of course).
SOLID reporting as always!!
5000 dollars headphones? LOLLLLL 
Thank you very nice summary! Hope I can try most of them soon.... 
Glad that the HE-500 is back in the Summit-Fi section (I heard it was banned from there? I have no clue). It truly is a world-class headphone and can compete with the big boys, even after listening and comparing all of them. Actually, it is a big boy. ;)
@Austin Morrow, I don't think the HE-500 has ever left this section. Where'd you hear it was banned from here?
@jude I heard it a couple times in the HE-500 impressions thread. Apparently the HE-500 had been removed along with the LCD-2 due to the LCD-3 and the HE-6. But, I like many people, prefer the HE-500 to the HE-6 (same goes for some people with the LCD-2 to LCD-3), and while the HE-6 is a wee bit more technically capable, I still think both the HE-500 and the LCD-2 are Summit-Fi headphones, always intrigued me why the HE-500 thread wasn't in that section, ahaha.
Now this was definitely worth reading!  Thanks guys.  Happy holidays to all!
Now to choose if i should go Th-600 at income tax and get a subwoofer for my speakers or just say screw it and go 900 lol.  I really want to hear that LCD-X though too :(
Not sure if it's the new official MSRP, but I've seen the TH-600 retailing for US$799 at many online merchants - TTVJ, MoonAudio, even Amazon - so you might want to check with Fostex and revise the price if required. I'm also curious as to why the Apex Teton is featured here and not the Desktop Amps section. Oversight or intentional?
Great read, thanks, happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2014 to all Head-Fi'ers :-)
 
Here's hoping Santa brings me a pair of AB-1266's this year :-)
Great write up! Tyvm.
Hmm, which one should I get as I can only afford one.......not taking Stax 009 or the Abyss into account...........
The flagships look amazing. Hoping to try one of these.
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