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Abyss Headphones AB-1266


Pros: Transparent, neutral, detailed, nuanced, visceral bass, impressive soundstage and headroom

Cons: Cost

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.


I am blessed to own one such specimen. It sits nicely in the top tier, if not at the apex, of my little collection of headphones comprising most of the Grados, the LCD 2 & 3, HD700 & 800, Beyerdynamic T1, Hifiman HE-6, HE-5LE, He-560, HE-500, HE 1000, Fostex TH900, AKG K702 & K812, Stax SR007 MK1 & MK2.5, SR 009, L700 and the Final Sonorous X. 



Build Quality


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.  



Music Genres


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. 



Sound Quality


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!


Pros: Bass, clarity, soundstage, separation, tonality. Scalability. Fine-tuning. Did I say bass?

Cons: Expensive

I'll keep this short. These are simply amazing.


Yes they're expensive, but the amount of enjoyment I get from them well surpasses that initial outlay. I consider them an investment in sound quality.


Paired with the Burson Conductor they were fantastic. Paired with the Moon 430 HAD they are mind blowing. I hear they're even better on the VIVA Egoista 845 amp, so I'll be demoing that quite soon with the Numerico and/or TotalDAC (didn't think much of the Yggdrasil).


I was originally intending to buy LCD-3Fs, so I bought a pair along with the LCD-X for an extended home audition. I managed to get a home demo of the Abyss, thinking at the very least it would be fun to hear what £4250 (!) headphones sound like. No comparison. Listening to the LCDs after the Abyss was a muted, flat experience.


Yes the 3Fs have delicious mids, but when I paired the Abyss with the Moon 430 (with the internal DAC), the mids started to shine again. The 430HAD has a very coherent, smooth (yet revealing) analogue sound. Moon work wonders with the Sabre chip. Forget the notion that Sabre is always digital sounding. It isn't.


The bass. The BASS. It's not bloomy or overpowering, it's simply sublime. It reaches so, so low and has such tight control and depth. As many have mentioned, due to the design of the Abyss, the bass has a percussive effect on the ears, something no other headphone offers. It really is something to behold. Music isn't focused inside your ears, it surrounds them.


The clarity and separation/placement of voices, instruments (and effects in the electronic genre) is wonderful. Complex electronic music (such as Shpongle) is handled with ease. It made the LCDs seem muddy in comparison.


I don't happen to think they are ugly. They're built to perform, not look pretty, and I see beauty in that. In the audio world (or any for that matter), give me function over form any day. I do not find them heavy either, I wear them for hours at a time. And since the ear pads only touch the skin lightly, they're cooler than all of my other cans. You can also customise the sound to quite a large degree; the rotation, angle and distance of the ear cups (which are magnetic) offer different sound signatures (treble and bass especially). At first I found this quite a challenge, but after a relatively short while I learnt how to tweak the positioning (finely) to suit different genres. I've now settled on one particular position that is fantastic all round.


Note: I see people have brief auditions of these cans (especially at shows) and they have them set up *entirely* wrong. The affect this has on the sound cannot be underestimated, so please take the time to set them up properly if you do audition them.


I often find myself thinking: "I wonder how this track sounds on the Abyss". They're that good. And yes, they are very speaker like. And yes, they offer sounds equivalent to a very good speaker setup. Just ask some of the guys in the Abyss thread who own both :¬)


Forget the DAC quest. Get these instead with a decent DAC. The benefit will be much bigger than an expensive DAC with lesser headphones.


Music tastes: electronic, ambient, folk, rock, neo classical (i.e. film scores), meditative, easy listening, blues.


Edit: The ratings above are being shown incorrectly, I've actually rated:

Audio: 10/10
Comfort: 8/10
Design: 10/10

Value: 9/10


Pros: Bass frequencies perfectly balanced without being exaggerate, stunning mids and perfect trebles.

Cons: Too heavy, not really cheap.

I'll state that I didn't buy them, I've just tried them in a store for about an hour.. and believe me when I say that I couldn't tear myself away from them, like I said before.. bass frequencies perfectly balanced without being exaggerate, perfect trebles and stunning mids.. especially in the songs characterized by women voices, drums and acoustic guitars. I would have tried them for much more time than just an hour, but the seller after all that time started looking at me really bad.

However, it will be nice to compare them with a pair of Audeze LCD2, because I THINK (I'm not sure, so don't kill me) that the sound quality could be really similar. The only weaknesses and defects that I could find are the noticeable weight, and the rude design (really, they're probably the ugliest pair of headphones in commerce), and the worse defect possible.. the outstanding price of over 5000$.



MIDS: 9/10


DESIGN: 6/10


Abyss Headphones AB-1266

Open, around-the-ear, planar magnetic headphone

Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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