Pros: Great Detail, Epic Bass, Not Harsh, Pretty Neutral, Very Exciting
Cons: Non-removeable cable, a bit expensive.... that's about it
Disclaimer: A big thank you to SCV London for loaning me the TH600 for this review.
When I reviewed the high-end Fostex TH-900 last December I compared it to the discontinued Denon flagship because it came from the same 'Foster Electronics' design (despite being about half the price). The TH600 also borrows the same design, but brings a sleek and modern looking matte black metal look to the cups. This matches the rest of the frame nicely and this new model is priced much more closely to the old Denon Flagship (which had a £900 RRP).
The box of the TH-600 is almost identical to that of the TH-900, although the former doesn't include a cheap wire stand (sorry Fostex, but that was lame). Like it's flagship sibling they're marketed as 'Premium Reference Headphones' as well. I had expected Fostex to better differentiate between these two models here, but it's still a fair statement. Just a few seconds with the TH-600 shows the family resemblance. The big question here will be: Just how close do they sound to the TH-900 and indeed to the Denon AH-D7000?
Although it's rather difficult to compare them from memory, the biggest difference between this new model and the TH900 (that I can remember) was that the latter felt more smooth. If I'm remembering correctly, perhaps some of that came from the wood housing. There is a similar difference between this and the Denon AH-D7000 too, which I still have to compare directly with the TH600.
Apart from a lack of wooden cups the TH-600 appears to be a spiritual replacement for the Denon AH-D7000. Since manufacturing of the Denon stopped over a year ago it's getting very hard to find now. In price and on paper they are remarkably similar, in fact all accept one specification is identical between the two. The sensitivity has dropped to 94dB / mW, compared to 108dB / mW on the D7000 (although the impedance is still the same lowly 25 Ohms). That's quite a difference, but I can confirm that they sound almost identical in volume. So can anyone who says sensitivity is more meaningful than impedance explain this? The marketing for the TH-600 boasts a 1 tesla power magnet (the TH-900 is 1.5 tesla). This makes me wonder what the power of the Denon's magnets are, but that information doesn't seem to be listed anywhere. Then again, other than Beyerdynamic and Fostex, no other headphone manufacturer states their headphone's magnetic power and even these only list it on their high end models.
OK, enough babble - on to the review...
The first thing to hit me with these headphones was an almost surreal sense of space. This was also true of the Denon AH-D7000 and the flagship Fostex TH-900. Actually it's one feature that remains pretty similar throughout this design and I can't really choose which is better in this regard, although it's worth noting that I haven't tried the lower end Denon AH-D2000. It's also nice to hear that it doesn't get lost with the lack of wood on the TH-600. To go into a little more detail - the soundstage is impressively vast and the instrument separation is utterly superb! It's something that is noticeable even with poor quality sources and amplification, but the better amplification you can throw at them the more the excitement grows.
The next thing to appreciate here is the bass. Like the other models that share this design, that famous & potent sub-bass like depth and kick is still present in the TH-600. It's perhaps a little more edgy and less smooth, but it's not a huge difference. The edgy sensation extends throughout the ranges and adds a noticeable amount of detail compared to the Denon. It makes instruments with potent high frequencies feel better defined and with more realistic character.
Both of the TH-600 and TH-900 have been describes as 'Premium Reference' models, which usually requires a pretty flat response and often this equates to a relatively dry performance (at least to some people). Now there's no way you can call either of these models dry or boring, quite the opposite really. I have mentioned the bass body is pretty potent and the highs are very exciting too, but I really wouldn't call this a typical 'V shaped' response. I do think that 'Flat' or 'Reference' is more fair here. The key being that the mid-range is not recessed to the bass and treble. It too is noticeably exciting and here is the thing - these different aspects are exciting and very well defined, but they don't feel pushed. This headphone may not be everything to everyone, but it's certainly pretty close to perfection for me. It's not be the fastest, most analytical presentation the world has seen, but it can certainly hold it's own. It sounds really cheesy that I could sum up this headphone by using it's own tag-line, but yeah I would.
I've been very spoiled with amplification this time around. I was lucky enough to receive the Benchmark DAC2 HGC at the same time as the Fostex TH-600 so of course I connected them up. This is an extremely pricey machine and I find myself blown away by it, but perhaps not for the reasons you might assume. Yes it's a very capable sounding machine, but I'm increasingly drawn to it because it's just so neat! Considering how many digital inputs, analogue outputs and high-end components it has I am shocked by just how small it is. It betters the M-DAC in almost every way and yet it's smaller in every dimension and even though it has an internal power supply it's lighter too. Like most other headphones the TH-600 sounds great using the DAC2 HGC. There is a great sense of smoothness, scale and authority.
As you can see from the above photo the DAC2 was capable of running both the TH-600 and the Denon AH-D7000 from this high quality DAC and headphone amplifier at the same time. This allowed me to test the volume output more reliably and compare these headphone's sound quality with ease.
The Audiolab M-DAC usually plays the part of a benchmark DAC/amp during these reviews. Although I have a machine that more that fills it's shoes (not only in name), I still gave the TH-600s a thorough play using the M-DAC. I do like this combo, the TH-600 may not quite have the warmth of the Denon AH-D7000, but it still has that bass and the M-DAC pushes that in an enjoyable direction. It adds a little 'V shaped' response, which might be better for bass-heads and I like it for Electronic music, but I general prefer a more balanced presentation.
I'm kind of going backwards here, but I also enjoyed the TH-600s with my portable setup with highly enjoyable results. This involved the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone running lossless files through the 'Power Amp' app. This output digital through a USB OTG cable to an Epiphany Acoustics E-DAC. The ESS-9024 powered mini DAC requires so little power that it runs off the smartphone without issue. The E-DAC then output analogue to a brand new Shonyun AH-306A battery powered amplifier.
This amplification is a little bright and unrefined compared to the other machines that I've been testing the TH-600s on, but it was still a highly enjoyable presentation. A huge improvement over the phone's normal headphone output and was closer to the bigger expensive amps than it looked capable of. OK it's not exactly pocketable, but it's at least easily transportable.
Denon AH-D7000: It's hard not to draw comparisons between these two headphones. I've mentioned the Denon lots already, but here's a little more about why: They're the mad by the same company (Foster Electronics), which is why they share the same basic design. They have the same weight, the same maximum power, the same impedance and their RRPs are very close. I've owned the D7000 for a while now and I'm one of many who really like its sound. The fact that this Denon range was discontinued over a year ago makes me pretty sad. This new Fostex model be just what the headphone community needs to replace the D7000 and maybe we will get something to replace the D2000 & D5000 from Fostex one day too. So for anyone who missed out on getting the D7000 before it sold out - this is for you...
Despite the less form-fitting ear-cushioning shape of the TH600 (which the TH900 also shares) they actually feel very forgiving with fit and almost as comfortable in general use. Both designs have enough space and depth inside the ear-cushioning to accommodate quite large ears without touching any part of them. The headband adjustment and weight are absolutely identical between the two models, it's a great design with little flaws. The synthetic egg-shell leather can lead to your ears warming up a bit during hot weather, but they're by no means the worst headphones for heat, perhaps due to the large internal space and lack of isolation.
So how do they sound by comparison? Well, first let me say that I really didn't want this Fostex to sound better than the D7000. I bought the Denon, it was a lot of money for me to spend on headphones and it was also the subject of my first review. Since getting rare part of me hoped they would stay unique and special. In general they are, but when you have these high-end Fostex models using the same design things get a little less special. The TH600 is mostly a nicer sounding headphone than the Denon. That said it's important to emphasize that these two models actually share even more in the sound quality / tonality departments than they do with exterior design. Their sonic characteristics are about 95-98% the same, so when I talk about the differences they are there, but they're certainly not big. If you had concerns that the the lack of wood cups would affect the sound quality of the Fostex in a particularly negative way I can assure you that it doesn't. The TH600's smoothness and warmth lags behind the Denon a little and although this could be related to the wood, it seems like too small of a difference for that. The TH600 still has that epic sub-bass like body to the low-frequencies, but it's a little tighter / more edgy and this is largely for the better. Despite all this low frequency greatness the mids are still very present, clear and balanced, without being muddied. The biggest difference between the two is in the detail of the upper mid-range / treble however. The TH-600 feels more crisp and better defined than the D7000, which makes several instruments sound more lively and real.
As I mentioned before, the soundstage and instrument separation is superb with both, but they pay for this by leaking sound a lot for a closed-back design. If you like the idea of a headphone that has amazing soundstage and isolation, either for noisy environments, or just so people can't hear what you're listening to, think again. This has always been and will always be a trade-off and is not something you can have the best of both worlds with, even if you throw money at it.
Fostex TH900: The original and big brother to the TH600, also shares the same design and like the Denon AH-D7000 uses exotic wood for it's resonance chamber. The exterior of the TH900 almost hides it's wood with a considerably more flashy finish. It has most of the good qualities from both the TH-600 and D7000. It's the most detailed, the most refined treble, most smooth. The only possible down side is that it doesn't have as much bass body and it's not quite as warm as the Denon. These could be considered down sides unless you like your upper bass with a bit more body. I'm right on the fence with this one and I don't think it's because I own one of them. I am taking the price difference into account a little here. If you can find the D7000 for £500 somewhere, then it's the bargain of the century, but as time goes by that's becoming less and less likely.
Here are some individual music tracks and how I felt the TH-600 made them sound. Most tracks were listened to in CD format with lossless compression. All tracks are also available on Spotify, which (on the 'premium' service) are maximum quality MP3s and I find these highly acceptable.
- Megadeath: "Train of Consequences" - Good old Metal, which now seems like soft rock - perhaps this choice makes me seem older than I am. There's just something about these mildly aggressive vocals infused into fast drums and guitars that I really like. It's also a great test of headphone clarity, quality and speed. The TH600 is very good with most music, they even make the Denon AH-D7000 look a bit picky, but I can't help like feeling that this music would be a little better off on something a bit faster. Something more analytical like the Sennheiser HD800 or perhaps a very high-end planar magnetic.
- Gorillaz: "Kids With Guns" - I love the deep sounds mixing with the vocals of this grungy Pop-ish music. It's hard to find a presentation that doesn't show this excess of upper bass body, so when you get one that is very impressive and well controlled it's a great thing. What I love about the TH600s is how they manage to surgically remove the vocals (and many other elements), it spreads them out them out almost to the point of surrealism a times, but it does wonders to tracks that can sound muddled elsewhere.
- Rita Ora: "How We Do It (Party)" - Pop music is not my favourite genre by any stretch, but the quality of this presentation makes me appreciate it so much more than I usually would. I really can't imagine most lovers of this genre ever listening to it through this kind of equipment, but there is something disturbingly fun about this lively Pop music here.
- Hans Zimmer: "What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World" - I'd just like to apologize for the ridiculously long track title, they should be banned! Since I'm a big soundtrack nut let me explain that Hans Zimmer is more like a producer than a composer in the traditional sense, he probably didn't write this track exactly. If you didn't already know, this is how a majority of big names work in the soundtrack industry and Hans Zimmer's studio is way more transparent about this than most, but the labels don't like this and that's why you often just get one big name on a CD. Now that I'm off on a random babble-fest I will also mention that I saw this movie last night and I very much agree with the 'Half In The Bag' review. This track really sums up the tone of the whole soundtrack for me and the movie too. It's much darker than the original John Williams score and obviously drags it closer to Dark Knight style. As much as a I didn't want that from the movie it's a powerful theme and it's presented really well here, as I'd imagine most classical music would be equally impressive sounding here.
- Noisia: "Barbas Theme" - This track might start off a bit wet with a homage to the original 'Devil May Cry' games, but it quickly morphs into an awe inspiring & dynamic Dubstep rooted Electronic piece. There may not be quite the liquid smoothness of the TH-900 here, but the TH-600 is still able to wow on this kind of music and in a huge way!
- Stevie Ray Vaughan: "Little Wing" - My first choice of guitar music impressed me a lot on these headphones. The instrument separation and the great air to the sound, the subtlety of high and low frequencies while keeping the excitement levels high is just wonderful. The clarity and rendering of the guitar is just sublime! It's just a shame about many of these recording's excessive background noise.
- Rodrigo Y Gabriela: "Oogie Boogie's Song" - This is a very different style of guitar to Stevie Ray (or pretty much anything else), but it's a great test of bass body and dynamics. I often use Rodrigo Y Gabriela music to test equipment and the TH600s certainly don't disappoint here. With the great soundstage and separation there really sounds like more than just two performers here - extremely impressive!
The finish may not be quite up there with the flagship TH-900's vibrant red Uruchi Laqure, but the majority of the other build quality aspects are and that's a great selling point. There's very little plastic here and mix of mostly matte black with a touch of chrome is kinda beautiful in it's own way. The aluminium cups suffer a bit form greasy finger print staining (as shows up in some of the photos a little). Saying that, my hands are very sweaty, so I prefer the shiny coated wood finish of then Denon purely because I can wipe it clean. Getting finger prints out of the TH600 is not as easy.
The cable is almost identical to that of the Denon AH-D7000. Although the one I had looked a little messy that could be because it's a loaner. Anyway, the termination is the larger 6.35mm type, which makes good sense at this end of the market (it looks identical to that of the TH900 too). The cable itself is 3 meters long and braded cable with a 'Y' split about 40cm before attaching to each ear-cup. Just like the TH900 and D7000 I seriously hate the large plastic cover of the 'Y' split because if you're sat at a desk it continuously catches under it as you move your head. Perhaps the worst thing of the whole TH600 package though is that the cable is not removable. For the price and market trend this is actually quite unusual, but it's not exactly the end of the world.
The comfort of the TH-600 is fantastic. Being nearly the exact same design as the TH-900 and Denon there is little to complain about here. This is very nearly the most comfortable headphone I've ever used. There are only two aspects that I find better on other models and both items concern the ear-pads. For one thing pleather (fake leather) means your head will get warmer than necessary in hot weather, although a more felt-like material could improve this issue it could also negatively affect acoustics so I won't be too hard on Fostex here. The other very small issue is related to the shape of the pads, they're the same thickness all the way around, which causes the cups to sit at a slightly awkward angle. Many headphones that use
For it's sheer sound quality and comfort the TH-600 is a compelling headphone with an appropriately epic price tag. It gets pretty damn close to the quality of the TH-900, but for nearly £700 less and that's pretty amazing! That said - if you're not scared by the TH-600's price you could probably stretch to the flagship and considering the quality finish, extra smoothness and exclusivity that it provides I would still recommend either.
Let me put it this way - If you have no other equipment and want to dive into the world of high-end headphones with a strict £1500 (for example) then I would recommend getting the TH-600 and spending the rest on a good quality DAC and headphone amplifier. That will yield better results than getting the TH-900 and plugging into your smartphone. Although technically it would work OK volume wise, it certainly wouldn't sound as impressive.
Desktop PC, Dell Vosto Laptop, iPhone4, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Asus Nexus 7, Arcam rBlink, Audiolab M-DAC, Schiit Modi / Magni, Benchmark DAC2 HGC, SoundMAGIC HP200, Sennheiser HD650, Denon AH-D7000, Mad Dog (Fostex T50rp mod), Hifiman HE400,