Pros: Midrange, Comfort, Depth of Stage
Cons: Stereo Imaging Width, Separation Qualities
Copied from my original review on Headfonics. If you would be kind enough to post a comment after reading my review, I would greatly appreciate it.
Every once and a while, the Audiophile universe manifests something that is truly worthy of praise in the highest regard. Something to be revered and able to strike with sufficient power far beyond it’s own weight class. I believe that the Mad Dog by Mr.Speakers happens to be one of those rare gems. I don’t want to bore you with information in the beginning of this review, so I will start off with the Conclusion first. You can read the details afterward. That is just how I roll…#likeaboss
There have been many attempted revisions, remastering’s and modifications of the Fostex T50RP over the years. Some have succeeded in the endless pursuit to squeeze the life out of the T50RP for all its worth, others have ended in absolute disaster after being strapped to a rocket ship and blasted off into space, never to be heard by human ears again. My heart goes out to any aliens who might stumble across them floating somewhere out there in the void, tumbling forever in the vast emptiness that eventually coalesced with other rejected T50RP mods, creating an autonomous-sentient life form hell bent on the destruction of all things. Thankfully, MrSpeakers has spawned an incredible modified T50RP in their Mad Dog. With great pleasure, I would like to say this headphone has made it into my top 5 favorite headphones of all time. Dare I even say it is one of the best closed back headphones ever produced. It is highly engaging, mid forward and boasting incredible value in terms of well-roundedness. From multimedia usage with movies and gaming, to classical and back again . The Mad Dog is one of very few headphones out of dozens I’ve played with over the past few years alone that I wish to keep for myself…and that is really saying something considering the recent wave of Planar Magnetic Masterpieces that were released in recent times. This headphone is not a specialist, it does everything well. In terms of overall price to performance, it is one of the highest ranking headphones ever produced in my humbled opinion.
MrSpeakers Mad Dog ( A Fostex T50RP Modification )
Hifiman HE-500 / Audeze LCD-3 / JH16
ALO International / Burson HA160 / Schiit Lyr
iBasso DX50 / Cowon J3 / Hisoundaudio Studio V
Cables by Moon Audio
Planar Magnetic driver designs typically output a more solid wall of bass with a liquid like texture. The stock, unmodified T50RP was lean on the low end bass experience and did not respond very well to Equalization. The Mad Dog responds very nicely to low end EQ via Foobar2K’s Real Bass Exciter DSP ( which is a simple, free downloadable add on for the Foobar software that offers a much greater bass output than the stock EQ function ). With this, you can really test what is possible with the low end of your headphone or speakers. Shockingly, with light toggling of the bass output switch you can alter the Mad Dog from a generally intermediate low end quantity headphone into a bass-heads delight. The bass is capable of becoming very tenacious, very solid and weighty with proper amplification and a bassy source. This headphone is more dependent on source low end quantity than high voltage output, but still remains a fairly inefficient set of headphones that require a high gain voltage. Via just my ALO International and iBasso DX50 combination for example, the low end experience is heavily lacking but still well within the realm of being lean even on high gain. Due to the exceptional bass output potential, I’d suggest a Cowon product to better achieve a sturdy low end. In Dac mode, the International really doesn’t have the low end to even remotely begin to do the Mad Dog bass quantity justice, so that is where the Real Bass Exciter DSP becomes a high value component to the setup. With just a minor increase in bass output, you get enveloped in a yummy but firm low end experience. Truly remarkable in terms of the way the bass is portrayed and exuded, so very solid, smooth and powerful without being overly baring or snappy. Gotta’ love that Planar Magnetic Bass. So tasty!
pounding bass and a beautifully scenic vocal experience. Definitely something you’d want to check out if you are
into the Dubstep scene. Tracks like Take My Breath Away, for example, really make this headphone shine and
reveal it’s true nature: something geared for a highly musical, fun and addictive experience. So satisfying and
never upsetting on the low end.
I am impressed by how realistic and well defined the mids and vocals are in this Mad Dog. Well defined in regards of body, weight and overall presence. Most other headphones in this price tier will bow before it’s vocal experience, I can’t name a single headphone in the sub $500 world that can touch it in terms of both clarity and how well the vocals are physically reproduced inside the stereo image. Exceptional definition and forwardness. This is not a relaxed, laid back headphone. Instead, the forward presence of the mid range excels in overall engaging qualities. Due to excellent stereo image height this headphone offers, vocal experiences within the Mad Dog are extremely intimate, more like sitting near the artist instead of a front row experience in headphones known for a wider sound stage. Stereo-image height is very important to the mid range experience, in my opinion. Of course, the mid range is not as clear as something like my Audeze LCD-3 for example, nor are the mids as physically definable in the void of the stereo image, but they are sure good enough to cause the overall value of the LCD-3 and Hifiman Planar Magnetic’s to drastically depreciate in value.
Cynthia Harrel’s Snake Eater ( Camouflage Version ) is an exceptionally forward and spacious track off the Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater OST and happens to be one of my favorite songs. The experience via the Mad Dog is visceral, highly dynamic and eerily spacious in stage-depth. The entire album is jam packed with excellent recordings and highly dynamic vocal experiences that really make the Mad Dog Shine. Also Check out the Essential Michael Jackson Collection if you are into Pop Vocals. This collection is composed of restored hits from the King of Pop that sound beautiful in comparison to their original CD releases, shining brightly via the Mad Dog’s phenomenal mid range.
Bonus: Borderlands 2 is rare in the video game industry and highly regarded for its phenomenal
sound production. This game caters to Audiophiles and whoever lead the sound design team needs to be praised and given an award of some type. ( Perhaps a free high end headphone for their excellent work, but not my headphones. I’m super stingy and will defend my audio gear to the death! ) This game is heavily dependent on sound-scape and staging qualities but is also highly centralized on character voices and interactions. The overall quality is unprecedented and something to not be missed if you are an Audiophile Gamer. With the Mad Dog, the entire Borderlands 2 pilgrimage is simply gorgeous. Truly, this game is an Audiophiles Playland. From Bullets to character interactions, the experience is heavily reliant on stereo image and sonic depth of field. Summed up, The Mad Dog is one of the best multimedia and gaming experiences in it’s price tier.
The Ups and Downs
If this headphone has one flaw, it would be the upper region. While not particularly amazing, it certainly isn’t lacking either. I consider it to be a tad out of place with the rest of the headphone in terms. For my tastes, its a bit bright and snappy with cymbal high hats and fast piano key strikes. Treble heads look elsewhere if that is your thing, but know that the Mad Dog’s upper regions are still highly engaging and fun. I find them to provide a smooth experience so long as the track isn’t fast paced. Cymbals and piano keys in a faster genre seem to bleed and fuse together a bit too much for my tastes. I consider this to be a small gripe due to the original unmodded T50RP upper region boasting a noticeably inferior upper area experience. Mr.Speakers properly dampened the drivers, something that was sorely lacking on the original Fostex T50RP.
Takehito Yamada’s Kingdom Hearts Piano Collection is by far my favorite instrumental album along with the Final Fantasy X Piano Collection. Both are absolutely stellar, but one of my favorite tracks off either album would beDearly Beloved. A highly vibrant but slow, emotional track. It breaks my heart that this track is only just over two minutes in length due to showcasing the type of upper regions the Mad Dog works best with. Slow paced piano key strikes have an excellent and realistic sonic decay rate, in turn providing a deep, fatigue free experience. The Upper region of this headphone is indeed a bit bright as I’ve mentioned, which seems to get a bit smeared during a fast paced jazz piano track for example. However, slow to moderately paced listening tracks in the classical or jazz genres will suit this headphone nicely. Screaming guitars also are highly engaging, as are violins and flutes. Once again, the Mad Dog is showcasing it’s well roundedness by handling most genres nicely.
Sound staging and Comfort
Combined with a spacious amplifier like my Burson HA-160, the Mad Dog performs on a grand scale with regard to the stereo imaging depth. That reach out and touch the artist value is high on this headphone and to my surprise ended up testing extremely well with online gaming and FPS shooters. Borderlands and Battlefield are video games that are extremely immersing and engaging in the sound staging departments. Bullets whizzing by, characters speaking from a distance, sneaking enemies just around the corner are easily placed and spotted, even if they are not visible and happened to be hiding, unseen behind a wall hoping to take you out by surprise. No need to worry about those sneak attacks of your best friend trying to stab you in the back, the Mad Dog has excellent spacial placement of sounds. You will hear them coming. I believe this headphone to have one of the best, if not the best sound stage depth in its class, excellent height and average width. The experience seems set up for those who enjoy intimacy in their presentation qualities.
The Alpha pads are very plush and comfortable, offering a great deal of physical give and an excellent feeling of your ears sinking into the lambskin pads themselves. Comfy and cozy. The Mad Dog provides a very good airiness to the presentation with decent instrument separation. Scalability is phenomenal. Going from my International in Dac mode to something like my Burson HA-160 is quite a step up in dynamics, adding a fantastic and very needed warmth to the low end over the closer to sterilized feel of the low end via the International alone.
Is this the end, or just the beginning? MrSpeakers has a new model coming out very soon called the Alpha Dog. Promises of a superior product over the Mad Dog seems absolutely insane and excites me greatly that there is even more potential goodness to squeeze out of the T50RP drivers. If MrSpeakers says they can do it or have already done it, I have no trouble blindly trusting them and placing my pre-order immediately if that option were available. I’ve not been this impressed with a headphone in a very long time and I can’t find any problems with it. The headphone is great to lounge around the house with and enjoy movies and gaming, as well as high quality music of almost any genre. Not many headphones out there can boast such qualities, yet one that costs only $299? My goodness, no question about it. The Mad Dog is my favorite mid tier closed back headphone of all time. Highly musical, highly engaging, highly responsive and useful in multiple media applications. Coming in a variety of cable options, the Mad Dogs scores a rare 9/10 Value.
Thanks for reading.