Pros: Transparent, Fast, Clarity, Deep and Exciting Bass, Solid Build, Comfortable once setup
Cons: Slightly Recess Mids, Silly Shape, Time Taken to Adjust, Weight
The Abyss AB 1266.
Some call it the Medieval Torture Device. I call it audio heaven.
I shall not mince my words: Abyss is butt ugly. On first impression, I doubt anyone will even figure how the heck to put it on to your head. Followed by its weight, its one of the heaviest in the 640g range. It is on first sight highly unadjustable and uncomfortable. How can something like this sound good? Add on the initial price tag of more then 5K, maybe JPS Labs went mad or something.
But the truth is actually far from it. Price has fallen to 4k + (Abyss Lite Edition. Same thing just less accessories). I got mine cheaper then a LCD4 in my area. Its actually highly adjustable, and quite comfortable once you are done with it. Infact due to its design, you wont be as affected by the ears and its surrounding area heating up like most other headphones. The sound can also be describe in one word: Sublime.
First lets look into the design. The Abyss is made of out of solid aluminium pieces bent and merge together. I have a feeling that if you throw it at someone, concussion ensures. Its probably the most solid built headphone I touched, even beating those of Beyerdynamics. The frame will probably last you a lifetime unless you get a car to run over it. The elastic bend is where the headphone rest on. The headphone was designed to actually rest on your head, with the ear cups lightly touching around your ears. This will put bulk of the weight on top and thus making it rather comfortable. And since there is little clamping force, its more comfortable then many headphones out there, lets not forget it also reduces the chance your ears heating up and sweating! The next question in most people mind now is how do you actually adjust it to there.
First we take a look at the top, the joint there can be extended by about an inch and slightly bent forward or back. So depending on your head size, just pull or bend accordingly. Next is the ear cups. Its of a asymmetric design. Attached with a magnet, it can rotated up to 18 positions. So just rotate them till you feel comfortable and the entire cup is resting on the side of your head. This adjustment takes around 20-30 min in my experience and its the most important phase of using this headphone. Infact, it will determine if you ever enjoy the headphone, both comfort and sonically.
The issue of this headphone and why many cant understand it when they do auditions is this: The adjustments of the entire headphone determines the sound. Clamp down too much and you lose bass impact and make the overall signature warm. Pull it too far apart and you will get a relatively bright signature. If the earpad fully sits on the side of your head, you get a full sound. But if you want alittle more dynamic with more bass rumble, leaving a gap in the seal will give you a better experience. The thing is this headphone is finicky until you get it right. Once you obtain the fitting and sound you want, its onward to audio bliss, SUBLIME!
The Abyss is quite the monster to drive. With 85db/mw, its just slightly better then HE6 which is 83. On the Hugo TT, that will equate to violet or light blue for volume and even white if your track is soft. Its power requirements are also quite high, many amps will not have the grunt to fully power it to its fullest. Best to get something that can do 1w on output. When I first audition it with the Hugo, its rather flat and boomy. The TT did a much much better job as it had the current to swing. For me I use the Cayin IHA6 pictured on top. The IHA6 amp outputs 7w per channel, its a monster in power in a relatively small package. The abyss never needed more then 12 position to be too loud for me.
Laptop -> Hugo TT -> Cayin IHA6 ->Abyss
Powder Snow by Suara (Female Vocals)
Musouka by Suara (Female Vocals)
Liberi Fatali by Distant Worlds(Orchestra/Chant)
Send my Love by Adele (Female Vocals)
This section is based on a properly fitted Abyss.
This headphone is fast. Faster then my HE500 and HD800S. This gives it a more dynamic feel with nicer blacks as instruments tend to not decay longer then they should. In Liberi Fatali, the bass and the treble will never mix. I can hear the xylophone in the background clearly even with all the other instruments and chants. In Hotel California, you can clearly hear the guitar pluckings as the bass pounds away. Instrument separation is just fantastic as everything could be easily identified and heard.
Soundstaging and placement is fantastic. Its soundstage is wide and huge, comparable to the HD800S in size. However its Z Axis doesnt feel as great the HD800S, I will say HD800S feels a little more holographic then the Abyss.This also lead to a slightly better separation in the HD800S. In Liberi Fatali, instruments could be heard clearly but on the Abyss, you cant exactly pin point its position all the time unlike the HD800S. There is also a slightly different feel to the soundstage. HD800S felt like a concert hall with mid row seat while the Abyss is a more closer to the front. This is very apparent in Hotel California, where everything felt closer with the sound radiating out far.
The Abyss is transparent and detailed. To me its more transparent then HD800S and the HE500. Other then my KSE1500 which sounds about the same in this field, everything else felt like there is a veil over them muddles things a little. In the tracks for the female vocals, the voice is just crystal clear with all the instrument sounding right. In Musouku, you can hear the little guitar plucks that is usually lost. It does mean that many modern recorded song for the masses will sound bad. You can probably pick up every crackle which can be downright irritating.
Vocals and mids are great, natural but a little recessed.The Abyss is just so much more relaxed and natural in the mids then the HD800S. In Send My Love, there are those claps. The Abyss just renders them like exactly how you would expect, a slap like impact followed by quick decay. The HD800S however sounded like just a mass of sound that feels like a clap. You cant tell the exact point of impact. The mids are slightly recessed on the mids for the Abyss. This gives them a feeling of being slightly further away. Due to the way the Abyss is voiced, it sounds perfectly fine, but put it next to the HD800S and it becomes apparent. In Powder Snow, Abyss felt like the vocals were aligned with the instruments while on the HD800S, the instruments played a more supporting role. That said, even though its slightly behind, the Abyss felt more natural. The HD800S vocals felt a little constricted when compared. However there is an issue at times. In Hotel California, the bass can at times feel like it overpowered the vocals due to the slight change in placement. Though if you are a basshead then this is totally up your alley.
Cause Abyss is King for bass. I tried many headphones before I purchased the Abyss. He1000, LCD4, HD800S, LCD3, TH900. When I tried the Abyss properly, I just could not forget how it sounded. I told a friend of mine who ran one of the shop that sells everything but the Abyss: "Sorry but I will probably purchase the Abyss. It is deep... deep like its name stake, The Abyss" The thing is the Abyss bass goes not only deep, it sounded like a sub woofer. It impacts the side of your head and ear. You can feel that rumbling vibration that was lost in almost all headphones. Most headphones just had a tight, deep and impactful bass. The Abyss had all that plus a bass that can be felt just like a Sub. Its controlled, you can pinpoint the point of impact, then its decay, rumble and vibration there after. That was not the only thing great, with all the rumble, definitely the mids will get affected, but it isnt. It really felt like a properly integrated sub woofer, clearly separated but part of the total audio landscape.
The last part is the treble. Here, I will say the HD800S had a more distinct treble that sparkles a little more but never confusing. It also means the Abyss due to its treble being a little more tamed to me, sounded much more pleasant with almost no sibilant. The treble also sounded more natural. The little bells in Powder Snow just felt like the small bells you would hear. It was reported in complex treble tracks, the Abyss may sound confusing in the treble region. I did not personally heard it in the tracks I used. Maybe it needs a full orchestra with lots of instrument in that region which I did not have access to.
There is something I love about Abyss's sound Realism and Atmosphere. The Abyss just sounded closer what the mind imagines as the live music then my other headphones. Infact swapping between it, HD800S, HE500, and KSE1500, the Abyss gave the best overall feel and atmosphere of closer to going live in a concert. The KSE1500 takes the cake for most realistic vocals, it was like a small room live recording. The other 2 felt like listening to really great headphones of the music replay, with the HE500 better for vocals and the HD800S for the huge spacious feel.
There is something I noted of the Abyss when I tried it out with my friend. I usually listen on the Hugo TT at around Dark Blue while he does it at Light Blue. This translates to around 85db peak at 90+ vs 97db peak at 100+. We noticed at my levels, everything is in control, but at his preferred level, the bass had this weird vibration which we believe is distortion. We therefore believe that at higher volumes, the Abyss may have big and powerful bass but it will distort and therefore if you are sensitive to such things, do audition it at those level before purchase.
The Abyss is a medieval torture device that sound as deep as the Abyss. As a TOTL, I believe it deserves its place in todays context. You will be called nuts 3 years ago at 5.5k when it first debutted but now with pricing reaching similar levels of LCD4 (and maybe even the Focus Utopia), it is definitely a must try if you are in that market. Especially if you like quality sound with bass sounding like a sub woofer that is clearly missed in almost all headphones. Lets not forget its one of kind look which is actually quite comfortable.