Pros: Clarity, looks, natural sound
Cons: Potential comfort issues, flat sound might turn some off, no 1/4'' to 1/8'' adaptor, needs amping
MacBook Pro->FiiO E7->Fostex T50RP
Much thanks to Fostex for the review pair.
No frills here. The T50RP come packaged in a cardboard box in-which the style seems a bit dated. There's nothing to catch the eye really. The color scheme I'm not a fan of, the red background displaying the black T50RP just doesn't appeal to me. T50RP is in big white letters on the front and below that is a quick blurb about the RP (regulated phase) technology which is patented by Fostex. I'll get more into that later though. On either side of the box it simply says "Fostex Professional Headphones." On the back some product information is given. Inside the T50RP are wrapped in plastic with a piece of paper which has some product information.
As I said these are no frills. This doesn't bother me though as what really matters is the sound primarily. I do take points away from Fostex though for not including a Stereo to 1/8'' adaptor.
Design and Build Quality
Right away these things impressed me for build quality. They made my Superlux HD668b look like plastic toys and they feel more solid than my Audio Technica Ad900. I am very impressed. The cups are made of durable feeling plastic, the pads are soft pleather which are easily removed. The pads are much better quality than the 668b, not only are they more comfortable, but they look better built and stitched. Connected to the cups are bronze colored metal guides that allow the headphones to be adjusted up and down. Connecting both cups together is flat metal with a rubber Fostex imprinted headband around it. On the left cup there is a high quality looking and feeling locking removable 3.5''mm plug. The cable feels solid, not stiff at all and terminates to a thick professional feeling 1/4'' stereo plug.
These definitely feel solidly built in every way. They have a nice heft to them that adds to the durable feeling. No creaks anywhere.
When worn they feel nice on the ears. I found the 668b to clamp far too much, and the Ad900 to feel a bit loose. The T50RP feel perfect clamp wise and the pads are soft to keep comfy. The headband is my gripe though. These are heavy headphones and the rubber doesn't do a great job keeping the top of my head from feeling the metal bar it's surrounding. This causes discomfort on the top of my head for long listening sessions unfortunately. This can be easily modded though, which many users have been doing with much success.
Overall these feel professional. The look, build quality and features are fantastic. The comfort is the only thing I can gripe about, thankfully it's an easy fix.
These have been left burning in for at least 50 hours, more likely closer to 100 hours with music I personally listen to playing through them while at work and sleeping to give maximum amount of burn-in time.
There's been a lot of hype about orthodynamic drivers lately, I'm personally not knowledgable enough on the subject to know what makes these different than dynamic drivers unfortunately, but these do present music differently than even the 668b, despite them both being studio monitors. Before I go further into the sound though I did mention Fostex's RP (regulated phase) technology, I'm also not highly knowledgable on what this means, but on the Fostex website they have this to say,
UNIQUE FOSTEX RP TECHNOLOGY
Key to the transparent sound reproduction is Fostex’s Regulated Phase Technology, a proprietory transducer and diaphragm design that has earned Fostex more than twenty international patents and has been successfully applied to microphones, headphones and loudspeakers used and relied upon in professional and commercial sound installations worldwide.
This technology has been enhanced still further in a new RP Diaphragm (now standard across the range), which uses copper foil etched polyimide film to provide excellent resistance to high level input peaks of up to 3000mW (T50RP), ensuring an accurate sound regardless of the volume.
I'm still not sure exactly what it is, but I will say these have the clearest background I've ever heard. I read in another review on these about the "black background" and wasn't really sure what the reviewer meant by that until I had put these on. There is basically no grain, the background simply doesn't exist, all your hearing is the music. I love that. It allows me to hear everything with the maximum clarity these drivers are able to provide, and I must say it makes a difference.
Now onto the sound. Overall the sound won't appeal to everyone, these are after all studio monitors. That doesn't mean these aren't fun to listen to, but they certainly won't appeal to all. I do find myself reaching for these very often though despite owning my Ad900, while these have made my 668b obsolete. The sound is natural, fast, balanced, and spacious. There's not a huge soundstage, but the headphones have good instrument separation. As for speed, this is one of the key reasons many Ortho fans like their headphones, for the speed in which the drivers are able to present music in. I must say, I'm impressed. From fast paced drum and bass, to alternative rock, to metal, these things have kept up in every department. From 140bpm+ double bass in metal to guitar shredding, to fast triplets on the hi-hat I never feel behind.
Since these are studio monitors, the goal is to, ideally, have a flat sound. I must say that these do a good job being balanced, though I feel that the mids are slightly above the rest. The highs do sound slightly rolled off, though I feel they're accurately presented. The lows are good, they have good impact and the extension is decent. I don't particularly feel the sub-bass, but I can hear it. The mid bass though has nice impact. The sound signature really works with any genre, but it doesn't stand out with any genre either. It's an inoffensive sound, but it doesn't overly impress either to my ears. Let's try it with some songs though!
Rubblebucket - Came Out Of A Lady
I chose this song because it absolutely gives any headphone a work out. From the funky bass line to the wonderful horn section, intimate vocals and huge energy, it makes a great song to test overall. First there's a lot going on here, no less than 4 different horns, a Roland Juno 60 synth, percussion, drums, bass, guitar and vocals. Never once did this song feel congested, I was able to pick out every instrument with clarity. The vocals are wonderfully intimate sounding, I've seen Rubblebucket live no less than 3 times and it sounds just as good through these headphones. The horns come through with excellent authority and clarity. The percussion and rhythm guitar are easily discerned despite being a little lower in the mix than the horns, I'm easily able to figure out what's being played and play it along with them. The synth has a nice warm fuzzy analog sound the Roland Juno is known for. The drums have a nice sound as well, the kick drum sounds wonderfully fantastic.
Overall every instrument is very accurately represented. The song feels and sounds energetic and honestly it's hard to write this as I want to shake my rump along with the kicking melodies. For a song with a lot going on, which is rather fast paced, these headphones handle it with ease. Compared to my Ad900 the T50RP feels less energetic, but mores accurately represents the sound as the Ad900 lack some bass and are a bit brighter, which causes a focus more on the horns. Both headphones play these back fantastic though.
Amon Tobin - The Lighthouse
I chose this song because of the creepy atmosphere and chaotic sound it has. Those who've played Splinter Cell Chaos Theory have heard this soundtrack. The scratchy bassline is haunting. The various sound effects in the background and foreground are causing shivers. Everything sounds wonderful and clear so far, much better than I thought on my Ad900, which aren't particularly known for being the most clear headphone. The jagged cut up beats are hectic and the T50RP keeps up with ease while allowing the other sounds to be heard, rather than drowning them out like the Ad900 slightly do. Both headphones are equally as fast though, but it comes down to a more accurate sound in the T50RP vs a more energetic sound of the Ad900 again.
James Blake - Limit To Your Love
If you've read my past reviews you know I love this song to test for bass response because of the deep, fast, bass. James Blake's soulful vocals sound beautiful, the piano has a nice acoustic sound to it, both linger beautifully. When the bass comes in, the vocals and minimal drum line are actually slightly higher in the mix than the bass. It feels like the vocals and bass melody are sitting on top of the bass line actually. As if I were looking at an aquarium and the bass line were the hectic water and the vocals and bass are sitting on top of it. Now this is how I've always perceived this, but there seems to be clear separation here as if the bass wasn't strong enough to bleed into the vocals.
On my Ad900 imagine the same perception, but the bass line splashing up into the vocals and drums getting them wet, slightly drowning them out. Yes, weird right? The Ad900 is actually more bass heavy than these for this track. The bass on both of these headphones is fast, the T50RP extends well and keeps up with the over 200BPM fluctuations in the bass, as fast as the Ad900, but the T50RP just doesn't have the authority unfortunately for me to feel it. The mid bass of the kick drum has more authority than on my Ad900 though. The Ad900 though actually rattle my ears on this, believe it or not.
Though the T50RP portrays this song beautifully I feel that the bass is supposed to leak more into the vocals and absolutely rattle everything for symbolism purposes. For this song I actually prefer the Ad900, and for bass response at that.
Feist - The Water
I chose this as a sibilance test and to see how intimate the vocals would sound. Good news, no sibilance at all and holy cow, Feist's voice is giving me shivers. They sound absolutely beautifully smooth, as if I were in a small acoustically tuned room and Feist were singing in 20 feet in front of me. The stand up bass and piano sound beautifully haunting, but Feist's voice steals the show, especially as she belts out her notes. The Ad900 present Fest's voice a bit too shrill for me, so the T50RP wins here.
Radiohead - Jigsaw Falling Into Place
I chose this for some alternative rock. Great energy, great balance, the vocals sound intimate and smooth, the instruments have great separation and balance. I prefer my Ad900 because of the more energetic sound, the guitars sound more lively, but I'm definitely digging the T50RP on this song.
Bob Marley & The Wailers - Is This Love
Bob Marley had some amazing production value and the version I have is the Barry Diament re-master from 1990, arguably the best version of this and boy does it sound good. There's a decent amount of instruments and vocals in this, and everything sound beautifully mixed. Bass is hugely important for Reggae and unfortunately it sounds a bit flat here, the Ad900 had more authority actually. Overall though this song sounds great, very clear, I feel as if I'm in the studio with them.
For the price these headphones are absolutely wonderful, especially if you consider modding them in-which there's a huge community for it. These cans stock have a fantastic accurate sound to them and I feel they should be in everyone's collection as a pair of flat headphones. My biggest complaint with these is the lack of authority in the sub-bass, I just couldn't feel it, but thankfully you can mod these to fix that if you're handy. These are quick headphones able to keep up with any music, seriously, try it. The "black background" is something I never would have understood until I heard these, but boy it makes my Ad900 sound grainy.
Compared to the 668b, well there's no real comparison. Spend the extra money to buy the Fostex T50RP. You're getting better build quality, a bigger community and a slightly more detailed and clear sound. Compared to the Ad900 it's tough. Stock the T50RP just don't have the energy compared to the Ad900 and surprisingly the Ad900 has more sub-bass. Both are fast though. I'm sure I'll find myself reaching for both for different occasions though.
Pick these up if you have the money and can find them, I don't think you'll be disappointed. One drawback though is that I do recommend an amp for it, my E7 can power them just fine though. I only consider this a drawback though because it's my belief that no sub $100 headphone should require an amp. Great offering Fostex, what an excellent intro to orthodynamics!