I've gained so much from Head-Fi that I figure I'll give back a bit with a review.
About two months ago, I was in the Orient where I spent a few days at headphone pro shops testing out various headphones. It was very illuminating. On the upper end, I tested the top end of the likes of the Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic T1, Grado RS1 etc. In the end, my favorites were the HD800 and HD650 though both are a fair bit different. The HD800 had an incredible clarity and huge precise soundstage. The HD650 had a nice warm relaxed tone, and yet lots of detail though with a more intimate soundstage. I also liked the Philips X1 which was a fun bass oriented fast headphone and easy to drive. I did like the AKG Q701 for its large soundstage but the instrument placement is very indistinct. (Someone had likened it to having music in an airplane hanger.) It really is amazing how distinct the differences are from
When I returned, I ended up with a HD650 and a loaner Q701.
Noodling around the web, especially Head-Fi, I was intrigued by comments on the modified Fostex T50RP.
So I chat with a few T50RP modders who sells them online. In the end, after a fair bit of research, I went with a gentleman who posted some sets on Ebay by ZMF. Turns out these are also sold directly online. In truth, i really did not expect much given its base price. I am posting here because the results greatly exceeded my expectations and I figure others may be interested in my observations. Note that I am on the road but will take photos when I get back and post here.
Also note that in the end, I compared TWO versions of ZMF's modded T50RP as explained below.
Here are the details of my equipment:
Type of music: classical, orchestral, vocals, instrumentals, large scale movie themes, pop, jazz. No hard rock, metal or rap.
Music Format: FLAC via Foobar and Spotify 320 bit rate.
DAC - Easter Electric Minimax Dac Plus stock with tube pulled out run through USB out.
AMP - Firestone Bobby (solid state), which provides high and low impedance output along with balanced and unbalanced options.
Volume: I don't know the db but I listen to music at low to medium volume. I do not listen at high volumes as I often listen while working and also want to protect my hearing.
Headphones: HD650, AKG Q701, and Modified T50RP versions 1 and 2. Version 2 is bass enhanced.
I first received the version 1 that was advertised on Ebay.
Version 1 Comments
What I liked:
1. RESOLUTION & SPEED. This blew me away with heaps of resolution across the entire frequency range over the HD650 and Q701. But without any additional fatigue. I would say the high is very clear and sweet rather than sharp. Often, a lot of high-resolution headphones seem fatiguing to me as they accentuate the highs. But with this, I can simply hear a lot more detail. It also felt very fast compared to the other two. I think this contributes to the sense of resolution. I simply hear so much more detail! Without having the HD800 here, my first impression is 'Whoa! This sounds like the HD800 in clarity/detail/speed but without that huge soundstage and perhaps less bass." This thoroughly surprised me.
This difference is incredibly distinct when A/B between the T50RP and either the HD650 or Q701. Again, emotively it felt like the difference I felt between the HD650 and HD800 when swapping the two though the T50RP does not have the soundstage width of the HD800. For me, this is not faint praise.
2. Physical quality. These just feel SOLID. Feels a lot more than the $180 charged. It came with a padded leather headband that I see on Amazon.
3. Soundstage is narrower than the HD650, and certainly less than the Q701. These are semi-closed. However, it has more soundstage width than other closed headphones if my memory serves. This is fine for more intimate pieces.
Areas that I did not like as much.
1. By far, the top for me is the somewhat recessed bass. I have pieces that I know well and have heard through many systems. As mentioned, I listen at low to medium low levels to protect my ear so the perception of bass response is also reduced compared to someone who listen at higher volume. The HD650 and Q701 simply have more bass than the version 1 T50RP. The T50RP bass is there - just less.
But I really liked the speed and resolution of this modded T50RP so I did something that I normally do not do. In Spotify, I used EQUALIFY equalizer to boost the bass 3db at 60hz, 170hz and then slope down to zero at 1000hz while passing through 310 and 610 on the slope.
Wow! This made a world of difference! It was wonderful with the bass boost - no loss of clarity and speed. So for me, 3 db made a difference as I have this HD650 sound in my head.
My problem of course is that I really loathe to use EQ for my speakers and headphones. I have so many players (Ipad, laptop, home system etc) that I rather not hassle with EQs. So my headphones need to stand alone without EQ.
Because this unit feels so fast, the lack of bass is accentuated. With the HD650 which feels slower, there is a bit of a lingering of the bass which adds to the sense of a full bass.
2. The soundstage is just noticeably smaller than the Q701 and HD650. HD650 sounds about average in soundstage for open headphones. So for more intimate pieces, its OK. But for larger works, it fells cramped to me and artificial because of that. The open headphones simply feel more natural though the Q701 is too diffused, more like in a plane hanger - but for some large orchestral pieces, this actually works to its advantage.
#1 and #2 are the top reasons why I found it harder to loose myself in some music. #1 I can probably change but #2 is what it is.
I prefer open headphones because I want to hear the environment around me at home so that I am not isolated from my dear wife and children. But this is not a critique as closed and semi-closed headphones are a valid approach. This is simply my preference.
4. The stock cord's 1/4" plug was a bit wiggy. Occasionally, I would not have the left channel when plugged and I have to wiggle the plug a bit. But it is rare - just a few times during my testing out of dozens and dozens of switches. This has not happened to any of my other 1/4" plugs with three headphones so I think my amp output jack is fine.
DECISION: In the end, though it sounded fantastic with EQ, I told Zach (of ZMF) that I rather have headphones run flat without EQ. That's when ZMF mentioned that he has a version 2 that is bass boosted. He wondered if I would be interested in that instead. I said yes and shipped my first pair back.
Version 2 Comments
1. Clearly does have more bass. I did not feel the need to use EQ to boost the bass.
2. It also sounds much closer to the HD650 in tone, clarity, and speed. I did not have the sense of 'Wow- what an incredible difference!' though it was still clearer the HD650.
3. Zach used a modded recycled leather strap to provide a support similar to the AKG Q701. (Photo to follow.) I liked this more than version 1 because I have a bump on my head and this strap conforms better.
After some hours, felt that version two was in between version 1 and the HD650. Compared to version 1, it seemed to have more bass, has a thicker tone, slightly less clarity and speed. However, I do not trust my memory and wished that I had version 1 to compare as I did not trust my memory. So Zach shipped version 1 back to me. (Yes, I'm paying for shipping both ways.)
Version 1 and Version 2 Side by Side.
1. Version 1 has less bass, is definitely clearer, faster and leaner in the tone. It has better apparent resolution.
2. Version 2 has more bass and fatter in tone. However, though I observe it as slower and less definition than version 1, note that it easily matches the HD650 so it is not at all lacking. It is just that version 1 has gobs of clarity.
3. Interestingly, version 2 is louder than version 1. Perhaps it's just in the bass? My amp has a digital volume setting and when I turn up version 1 by 2db, the two sound about the same volume loudness. Zach confirmed that version 2 is indeed louder due to how he modifies them. Apparently version 2's drivers are less restricted.
4. KEY: I increased the bass by EQ on version 1 and expected it now to sound more like version 2 with lesser apparent resolution and less speed. However, this was not the case at all. The version 1 actually gained more bass punch BUT maintained the edge in clarity and speed. Wow - a surprise here. The bass notes have huge amount of definition and speed.
5. In conclusion, if version 1 and HD650 are opposite end of the poles, then version 2 is in the middle. The difference between HD650 and version 1 when swapped is very obvious. But HD650 and version 2 when swapped, is more similar.
6. Headband. When Zach reshipped the version 1, he upgraded the head padding to a very plush deluxe Pilot band that is wider, softer and much plusher than the original. Very nice. I took it off to find it very lightweight - almost feather weight at 1.4 oz. It really added a luxurious feel. Personally I am still going with the recyled leather band simply because it is thinner, smaller and I have that pesky bump on my skull….:)
1. If I wanted just one headphone and no EQ, I would pick version2.
2. If I wanted just one headphone but happy to add EQ, then it is a toss up between version 1 and version 2. Some would prefer the version 2's fatter tone.
3. If have other headphones such as the HD650 and wanted a bit more contrast, I would go with version 1.
In the end, I kept the version 1, changed my mind about EQ and used the EQ with these. They are good enough to persuade me to change my behavior. With EQ it still maintains that incredible resolution all the way to the lower bass. f
In short, these easily hold their own against the much more expensive Sennheiser HD650 and AKG Q701. (Note that I prefer the HD650 over the Q701.) Of all the headphones I tested on my trip, I believe that these modded T50RP are excellent bargains.
To find more info on these T50RP, you can simply google ZMF and FOSTEX.
One final note. In the past few days, as I reach out for a pair of headphones, I was genuinely surprised that I reached out to the Version 1 T50RP rather than the HD650. I'd like to see if I still do that a month from now. No question that these headphones really are superb and the relatively lost cost is a bonus. If these were at the pro shop, I may well have picked these modded T50RP instead of the HD650. As it is now, they do complement each other nicely, tough the price gap between the two is considerable.
Ps: I do wonder how these headphones would perform with angled pads - would the soundstage feel larger? Love to know if anyone has that information.
Also, any recommendation on a small portable DAC/AMP? I'd like to take these on the road with me to hook up to the laptop.
Edited by ULUL - 6/14/13 at 8:03am