Today, I managed to hear the new Abyss planar magnetic headphones and boy was I excited.
The salesperson assured me that they were the first distributor worldwide to get the Abyss which is nice.
Given the asking price of more than $5000 (that's Stax SR-009 level) and as a direct competitor to the LCD 3s, I couldn't tell if I was more excited by the potential for brilliant SQ or just the novelty of such a pair of cans.
For a long time, Audeze and Hifiman have been the go to headphone company amongst head-fiers when seeking a new pair of planar magnetic headphones. That is no longer the case. I believe that we have a new and true contender in the class.
What's in the box?
For $5000, the package comes with a lot more than just a pair of cans. Inside the box, one will find a wooden box for storage, a leather carry case, a headphone stand, and balanced cables, with a converter to a 1/4 inch plug. I should note that the cables are of extremely good quality. Given that JPS labs makes cables, you'd expect nothing less. According to the salesman, the cables themselves are worth about a fifth to a quarter of the asking price ($1000-$1250).
The headphones themselves come with detachable earpads which adhere magnetically. You can twist them clockwise or anticlockwise (as if turning a doorknob) and alter the angle of the earpads yourself.
There's no point discussing how it looks. You be the judge.
All I can say however is that they are almost completely metal (aluminium I believe) and what appears to be foam on the outer side of the drivers is actually metal that has the same porous look of foam. The leather earpads are supple and soft.
However, these cans were incredibly heavy (more than the LCDs) and not really that comfortable. There's no clamping force at all (unless you unscrew the top and push the sides together) so most of the weight sits on top of your head via the leather head band.
How it sounds
Firstly, I should say the source was as follows: NAD M51 Direct Digital DAC>Burson Soloist/Woo WA22/Woo WA5>Abyss.
I should say, because I am most familiar with the HD 800, I will do most of comparison with the HD 800.
The first thing I noticed was soundstage. It was TREMENDOUS. It was bordering on HD 800 levels of width and depth with the Burson and even surpassed the HD 800 with the WA5 (just). Instrument separation was good with a nice level of airiness that was close to the HD 800. The attack was nice and fast but I felt the decay was a little robotic and whilst it was very good, didn't offer the same amount of smooth liquid decay that I've grown accustomed to. Imaging however was good but never quite matched the HD 800.
Interestingly, I felt that it sounded quite neutral in comparison to most of the other planar headphones I've heard (although nowhere near HD 800 levels). I felt there was a slight U shaped sound signature although barely. Treble was clear with good extension but not as far reaching as the HD 800. Mids were slightly recessed but detailed and the bass had very good extension with a fair amount of slam. It never reaches the same dark and luscious bass of the LCD 3s. It's more of a technical bass that offers more slam than normal.
Having said that, it fixes almost all of the problems of the LCDs but in turn, loses the qualities that we've come to love from the LCDs. The soundstage that was never there is now present. The sensual tone of the LCD is now replaced with a cleaner more technical tone. I wouldn't go as far as to say that is devoid of euphony, but in truth, it sounded quite plain to me.
As a technical achievement, I'd place it way above the LCD 3. Although, I'd say it was about on par with the HD 800 (with the HD 800 edging forward if sourced well since they scale so incredibly well). However in terms of listening enjoyment, hand me the LCD 3 (or even 2.2) any day.
One thing to note however, was that the Abyss is one power hungry headphone. On the Soloist, it was barely reaching full potential and volume had to cranked way up even on high gain. The WA5 served it a bit more justice but I'd hazard to say it could still improve if powered better. Therefore, there is no point considering using this with a portable setup (unless your idea of a portable setup is a HeadAmp GS-X/Cavalli Amp in a suitcase + a car battery).
Edit: Somebody pointed out that since the Abyss is a direct competitor with the LCD 3, it may be more important to include some more detailed comparison between the Abyss and LCD 3 (which I agree). However, bear in mind that I personally use the HD 800 and I believe the comparison with the HD 800 will be more accurate. But here are my two cents on the Abyss vs. the LCD 3 anyway.
Disregarding personal sound preferences, the Abyss is easily better than LCD 3, but doesn't quite match the HD 800. For $5000 it's not worth the asking price. Instead, consider buying a Stax SR-009 or a really good setup with the HD 800.
My personal opinion is that is they sold it for $2000 - $2500 (as a basic headphones + cable + storage case) package, they'd sell a lot more units given that they'd become be very competitive with the LCD 3s. By all means, they can still sell the complete package for more, but the ridiculous asking price of an extra $2500 for a stand and a leather satchel is just not justified.
UPDATE (25/06/2013): I have since reauditioned the Abyss on the Cavalli Liquid Glass, and I must say that there's been a big improvement. Soundstage again wider. Instrument depth and separation is surreal. Every positive I mentioned about the Abyss has improved. It's truly amazing and given this, has surpassed the LCD 3s in every way technically (although of course you may still prefer the sound of the LCD 3s).
Edited by scolaiw - 1/23/15 at 6:07am