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Loaner Program : Smeggy made Fostex T50RP woodies aka "Thunderpants"

post #1 of 196
Thread Starter 

I have finally decided to let my main orthodynamic headphones go on the road on a loaner program.

Figured I might as well get the ball rolling on this.

The headphones were crafted by Smeggy and damped by dBel84.

Quoting myself from the ortho thread.

The last few days I have started to listen again to my original Smeggy made thunderpants, i was quite sure that it was "inferior" to my main Fostex woodies but man was I wrong.

I didn't think I would want to have two different sounding thunderpants, but the originals are genuine rock headphones They are darker than my main phones but they are a welcome change. I am indeed fortunate to own two beautiful custom headphones made by our very own ortho master.
I have really come to the end of the road in terms of my search for headphone nirvana. I find myself spending more time actually listening to music and exploring my music library (which by the way has grown to over 1TB of FLAC, wav, AAC and MP3).

I am considering sending one of my thunderpants on the road as a loaner pair for you ortho peeps in the US, assuming there is interest. These deserve to be heard.


Participant List and their Reviews

1> rhythmdevils ( Review )
2> FrankCooter (
3> wualta (
4> scompton (

5> LFF (Review)

6> n3rdling (Pending Review)


Here is how this will work.

Priority goes to established orthoheads (includes current HE-5 owners) in CONUS.

1>I will ship the headphones out via priority insured mail to the first participant.

2>From there on each participant gets to have the headphones for a week after which he/she will ship it on to the following participant using some form of insured mail which is track-able.

3>I reserve the right to decide who gets to be on the loaner program for obvious reasons.

4>After each participant has had it for a week I would want them to post a brief review of the headphones truthfully.

5> the final participant will ship the headphones back to me naturally.

Note : I request that the participants have a "good" amplifier to drive these to do them justice.

Those interested to get on the loaner program please PM me.


Edited by sachu - 6/22/10 at 7:33pm
post #2 of 196
Well, naturally, I want to be in on this. All I have in the way of an amp is a HotAudio DAC and Fiio E5....but I'd be a good one to give perspective on what a nice ortho can sound like from low-end equipment

I currently have the Fostex T20v2's, fully damped, of course, and am playing around with pad options, but I'd love to hear what they sound like. I do live in the US. Florida, specifically.
post #3 of 196
Can I be in it pweeeeze

post #4 of 196
Thread Starter 
was wondering how long it would take for you to post here

Participant list for this round...

1> rhythmdevils
2> wualta
3> momomo6789
4> n3rdling
5> FrankCooter
6> scompton
post #5 of 196
oh so tempted, wish I was a good reviewer and ortho saavy. thanks for doing this loaner program, I look forward to reading more reviews and impressions of these.
post #6 of 196
pm'd, i am definately interested
post #7 of 196
interesting, I too have found my end-game headphones and have a 1TB music collection of FLAC, mp3s

Put me on the list too please
I will need to find a bit of an ortho amp, maybe diy a Stacker 2? Is it even possible to find boards?
post #8 of 196


I'm using a Sony portable CD player optically feeding the Panasonic SA-XR55 which is driving the headphones from its speaker outputs through a Pioneer JB-21 resistive coupler. The Equibit amp inside the XR55 is basically a power DAC. This doesn't mean it's perfect, just that the signal stays digital all the way to the speaker terminals, or so they claim. Cuts down on the variables for doing tests and reviews.


As for the TP, if I were to be a swine nitpicking killjoy ingrate, I'd say the bass needs to be tightened up and/or extended downward, and there's a peak in the tizz region around 6--8 kHz that makes female sibilants stand out. And the rest of the spectrum is handled without harshness or brightness or anything other than just-rightness, which makes the two problems I mentioned stand out all the more. 


But one of the payoffs is a wonderfully tight mono image, which means the TP has an ultraclean stereo image. Stuff that in a normal 'phone would get sprayed randomly all over the headstage stays locked in place on the TP, so all the little details come out. This gives the TP its ability to take apart a stereo mix and makes the headstage seem wider. The treble just seems to go on forever, too-- it doesn't die after the peak. The YH-100 plays lower and tighter, but it sounds rather dry and HD-414ey on the top end compared to the TP (one of those tradeoffs we keep hearing about) and the mono image isn't nearly so good. Fostex has made great strides in driver matching, it appears, and Smeggy's handling of cup reflections has maintained that matching.


Random hint for the next auditioner: don't let the earpads cover the little brass vents in the bottom of each cup.


Smeggy has worked an amazing acoustic tranformation on the stock T50RP, to say nothing of the sheer craftsmanship involved. I'm grateful for the mere opportunity to sample his cooking.

Edited by wualta - 5/12/10 at 2:48am
post #9 of 196
Six months ago, I barely knew what an orthodynamic headphone was. There was this giant thread in the headphones forum, but I didn’t read it. Why would people get so worked up over some 1970s Japanese mid-fi phones?

I have been around Head-Fi for about 3 years, gradually working my way through various dynamic and electrostatic headphones with tube amps of my own construction. It’s a fun journey, but to date none of the systems I’ve tried has given me the level of satisfaction of the vinyl, DHT, horn speaker system I built in the 90s. Dynamics were slow, dull and flat compared to my Altec horns. Electrostatics had similar speed and detail, but the midrange was thin, cool, and uninvolving. I’ve been drifting towards a high-end Stax system, but really I wanted something that combined the best of both worlds.

Based on the enthusiastic endorsement of Immtbkr, I bought a pair of the HiFi Man HE-5 orthodynamics. We share similar tastes in music and I respect his experience and judgment regarding equipment. In his words, “the HE-5 brings a keg to the party.” Despite all its well reported weaknesses and production problems, I am an enthusiastic fan of the headphone. I am also now a convert to orthodynamic technology in general. This is a major step towards the presentation I had been seeking. I now hope to see the day when ultra-high-end orthos set the standard for all headphones.

I first stumbled across the “Thunderpants” by accident in the For Sale section. Of course, I had no idea how these sounded, but “smeggy’s” cosmetics and obvious craftsmanship blew me away. As a DIY amp builder, former professional cabinet maker and audio
experimenter, I immediately connected.

Music: Mostly classic rock, blues and folk. Occasionally, a little classical. I prefer live recordings:

Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall
Lorena McKennitt – Live in Paris and Toronto
Supertramp – Live in Paris
Eagles – Hell Freezes Over
Vivaldi – Four Seasons (Connecticut Early Music Ensemble)
Elmer Bernstein – the Magnificent Seven (movie soundtrack) Phoenix Symphony

Studio albums:

John Lee Hooker “Chill Out”
Peter Gabriel “So”
Cowboy Junkies “Studio”
Patricia Barber “Modern Cool”
Joan Baez “Diamonds and Rust”


Audio Alchemy DDS Pro Transport, Audio Note Dac 1 (NOS with tube output), DIY SET amp with transformer output-based ___ on the directly-heated GM-70 Russian transmitting triode. This amp was originally designed for the K-1000 and is essentially half way between a headphone amp and a speaker amp. It is a very “warm” amp that was an attempt to balance the somewhat edgy and digital sounding upper registers of the K-1000. It works best on very aggressive, forward-sounding headphones with upward-tilted treble. Definitely talking the HE-5 here. But on something like the Sennheiser 600 series, it will put you to sleep. My equipment preference is an analog-like presentation with a slightly warm and full midrange emphasis. In contrast, I usually prefer aggressive headphones to mate with my warm, tube-based electronics.

Out of the Box Impressions:

Stunning craftsmanship and build quality. A very classical, very high-end aesthetic with excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail. Just picking them up and examining them is a great pleasure. The kingwood cups are mirror imaged grain matched, finished in lacquer, giving the impression more of a musical instrument than of audio equipment. The original Fostex headband has an additional flexible strap where it meets the head that looks totally factory original. The cup attachment parts are now made of kingwood that perfectly matches the cups. A nice professional Mogami cable now does connection duties. The ear pads are lamb skin Stax O2 models. It is a very comfortable headphone. It is hard to believe that the Thunderpants started life as $75.00 Fostex Studio monitors.

On first listen, it is immediately apparent that these are very near top-tier headphones. They are clearly better in tone, resolution, speed, detail and across-the-board smooth frequency response than the HD-600 or RS-1, both of which I own. The “ortho” hallmarks of rich, full midrange, combined with near-electrostatic speed and detail are immediately recognizable. Female vocals are full and fleshed—my hallmark of a good midrange. Same with acoustic and electric guitar. You get plenty of the instrument’s wood tones, and the strings have a three-dimensional roundness to them. Bass is tight and articulate, no boominess or echo here. Treble is detailed and extended and never harsh. Soundstage is better than average for a closed headphone, particularly in width and separation of instruments.

A couple of other factors immediately jump out. First, these headphones have almost zero sound leakage. Isolation is as good as it gets. The second factor is that they are much less demanding of power than the HE-5 orthos. The amp is 3 notches down on the attenuator for the same volume. This means that many more amplifiers will be suitable for the Thunderpants than the HE-5.

Compared to the HE-5, the first thing that strikes me about the Thunderpants is their smooth, even presentation. In contrast, the HE-5 is a rollercoaster ride. Obviously, a lot of time and effort has been put into the tuning and damping process. The HE-5 could have benefited greatly from a little more attention in this area. Grossly generalizing, the HE-5 is the Grado of the ortho world and the Thunderpants is the Sennheiser. Both are legitimate presentations. It boils down to personal preference and system synergy.

I don’t know what type of signal chain was used in the tuning process for these headphones, but chances are it was a more neutral, technically accurate system than I possess. I would definitely be interested in hearing these with more modern electronics. Even with my retro electronics, the Thunderpants are superior in resolution and tonal accuracy to the HD-600 and RS-1s. They are the full equal of the HE-5 in tonal accuracy, superior in smoothness, but a hair behind in resolution and detail. Perhaps it is just because I prefer the more forward, aggressive presentation of the HE-5. Many, perhaps most, would prefer a more neutral presentation. Same is true when the Thunderpants are compared to the K1000 and Koss electrostatic ESP950. In any case, the fact that Smeggy has elevated a $75 studio monitor to a legitimate contender on this level is a stunning achievement. The fact that these are closed rather than open headphones make this even more remarkable. They are, in fact, the best closed headphones I have ever heard. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have heard them.
post #10 of 196
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by FrankCooter View Post
Looks like you've got your 5, but if you need one more, I'm definitely interested.
Done sir.

For others who expressed interest, first off, appreciate the enthusiasm. I will hold another round once this is complete and successful. Paul, I will try doing an international loaner program down the road, for now I want this to be CONUS only.

The headphones will ship out tomorrow to Whitney (rythmdevils).
post #11 of 196
I look forward to hearing this creation
post #12 of 196
Thread Starter 
I hope it won't be a let down..i think I have hyped these up quite enough. Some serious competition lay in wait the next few weeks.

Further note - Please don't open the headphones up to see what kind of damping scheme is being used. Not cause I want it to be a secret but because I don't want the threading in the wood cups to wear out.
post #13 of 196
I would love to be apart of this program. Will be getting and reviewing the HE5-LEs very soon. I have an EF1 with some sweet tubes and the HM801 as source.

Hope I am deemed worthy!
post #14 of 196
Reserved for review
post #15 of 196
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