Pros: Transparent, neutral, detailed, nuanced, visceral bass, impressive soundstage and headroom
Every now and then, comes a headphone which defies conventional wisdom and challenges the way we look at headphones. The JPS Abyss AB-1266 is one such headphone. Whether it is by its distinctive looks, its industrial strength construction and its sonic signature, it is something which will figure strongly in our collective consciousness for a while to come.
The build quality of the Abyss is first class. The frame is solid aluminum; two sides joined together via a rivet which allows the two sides to be pulled together as adjustment as well as the angle of the cups for a different listening experience with each angle. The earpads are also unusual: they can be adjusted around as it attaches to the frame magnetically, allowing the user to decide if he wishes to have more bass or treble. The Abyss is hefty. It is solidly built. The rigidity of the frame ensures that there are no vibrations or distortions which is important given the hefty bass kick the planar magnetic drivers will emit when called upon. The Abyss is adjustable in various ways for the user for a different listening experience. This pair of cans are well conceived and designed.
Finally, the Abyss comes with JPS own cables. Of course JPS is well known for their audiophile grade cables and power cords. So, the stock cables are one of the best you will see as stock. The cables are also removable thereby allowing users to switch cables to their personal preference and tastes.
Comfort and Isolation
The Abyss may look terribly uncomfortable with a look that may make you look like Frankenstein when you put it on and its solid heft will cause some concern. What I can say is that the design of the suspended headband actually works very well to spread out the weight of the Abyss such that when I first received the Abyss, I actually had it on every day for about a week and I did not end up in a neck brace nor develop neck muscles the Incredible Hulk would be envious of.
The Abyss is not to worn like any other headphone: it is not meant to clamp on your head like a conventional headphone. You have to adjust the headphone so that it sits on your head and with the cups touching but not clamping on your ears. It is worth noting that the Abyss are open cans and so there is some inevitable leakage.
I am known to be fairly open-minded in my music tastes. As long as it is good music I will listen. I currently have more than 12 TB of music. in my music collection: all the way from medieval choral music to modern pop music to classical music and everything in between.
Make no mistake: the Abyss is a paragon of neutrality and clarity. Hence, I can listen to any sort of music on the Abyss and it sounds right. The Abyss sounds good with vocals running the gamut of acoustic to rock. Considering how everyone talks about its explosive and visceral bass power, the Abyss can be very nuanced and gentle: it all depends on the music that is being played. No colour. That being said, the bass line when called upon in crescendos can sweep you away or have you toe tapping when listening to EDM. Did I mention that it is versatile? Whether it is the emotional cello of Yo Yo Ma in the OST of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or a full orchestra, it conveys the right emotion, timbre of the strings or soundstage of the full orchestra.
The Abyss is very neutral and flat. No part of the sonic spectrum is emphasized or hampered. It is all about the music. Whatever is called for, the Abyss will produce. There is great details and clarity. At the same time, the timbre on the strings are outstanding. Emotional inflections and nuances of the vocalists are also clearly conveyed across. Soundstage and imaging is first class. The soundstage here is true soundstage - there is width as well as depth. No congestion in the music flowing from this headphone. Headroom is also outstanding. And, of course, there is the visceral bass - no other headphone comes close. The bass is taut as well - no bleeding or unnaturally long decay to cause any muddiness. The Abyss is, in the ultimate analysis, a very immersive experience - it is closer to speakers than headphones.
There are some criticism of the Abyss not being emotional or being a bit recessed. For the latter, I suspect the critics come from the school of forward mids and so anything which is natural will sound recessed. As for lack of emotions, I defy anyone to have a listen to Fly Away from Corrine May's eponymous debut album: this song is semi-autobiographical about how difficult it was for her to leave her grandmother, whom she was very close to since childhood, And the emotions of her flying away to a faraway land to seek her musical dreams. In the song, her grandmother fell terminally ill when she was away and she flew back to see her on her death bed. The simple instrumental accompaniment of piano to Corrine's distinctive and nuanced vocals is something that never fails to pull at my heartstrings every time I hear it on the Abyss.
I am known for my admiration for the work of Tibetan singer Alan Dawa Dolma: the songs she does as part of the OST of the Red Cliff (Parts 1 & 2) is particularly impressive on the Abyss because of the grand soundstage that the songs demand and the additional headroom that the Abyss is able to afford. The two songs are cinematic and panoramic: between the demonstration of impressive vocal range by Alan, her soaring vocals and her emotional repertoire and the lush and layered instrumentation and the visceral and realistic bass, they are great showcases or the stunning ability of the Abyss.
There will always be those who prefer their TOTL cans to be tilted towards the treble end of the sonic spectrum: that gives a perception of soundstage and details. They will need to look elsewhere. The Abyss is stunning. It is wide open and neutral. It is detailed and conveys great instrumental separation and layering. It is also emotional and nuanced when the music calls for it. You feel the quake from the visceral bass. It is full range from treble all the way down to the quick and deep bass. If that is what you desire from a headphone, look no further.
One caution about the Abyss is that it needs driving power to reap the full benefit of the impressive drivers. If there is not sufficient power, the Abyss will not sound the spectacular pair of cans it is.
As noted above, the cables can be switched. I currently alternate a few pairs of dual balanced cables with the Abyss: the Tralucent Uber, the Toxic Cables Copper Venom and Toxic Cables Silver Venom. Each cable brings with it a different sonic signature. And as I said, the Abyss is transparent and so the sonic characteristics of each cable will be discernible.
My home desktop rig comprises an Auralic Aries (with external linear PSU), connected via a Audiquest Diamond USB 3 cable to a Bricasti M1 DAC and then JPS Superconductor V RCA to the Cavalli Liquid Gold. Power cord for the DAC is a Tralucent Uber power cord, and power cord for the Liquid Gold is a JPS Kaptovator power cord. Power to the components of the desktop rig and sources is fed through an Isotek Aquarus and all the power cords use US plugs. My Synology DS 414 and a Seagate Backup Plus HDD (connected directly via USB to the Aries) are powered by the new Plixir Elite BDC Power Supply kindly customized for me by James Soh of Sound Affairs in Singapore.
As I had cautioned above, the Abyss challenges our preconceptions of how a pair of headphone should sound. It is transparent, neutral and flat. It is detailed and nuanced. Yet, it packs a body blow of a bass when bass is called for. If you are looking for pair of headphones that seem to be more like ear speakers with impressive soundstage and headroom, and all these qualities, this is the headphone for you!