Pros - Transparent, Fast, Clarity, Deep and Exciting Bass, Solid Build, Comfortable once setup
Cons - Slightly Recess Mids, Silly Shape, Time Taken to Adjust, Weight
The Abyss AB 1266.
Some call it the Medieval Torture Device. I call it audio heaven.
I shall not mince my words: Abyss is butt ugly. On first impression, I doubt anyone will even figure how the heck to put it on to your head. Followed by its weight, its one of the heaviest in the 640g range. It is on first sight highly unadjustable and uncomfortable. How can something like this sound good? Add on the initial price tag of more then 5K, maybe JPS Labs went mad or something.
But the truth is actually far from it. Price has fallen to 4k + (Abyss Lite Edition. Same thing just less accessories). I got mine cheaper then a LCD4 in my area. Its actually highly adjustable, and quite comfortable once you are done with it. Infact due to its design, you wont be as affected by the ears and its surrounding area heating up like most other headphones. The sound can also be describe in one word: Sublime.
First lets look into the design. The Abyss is made of out of solid aluminium pieces bent and merge together. I have a feeling that if you throw it at someone, concussion ensures. Its probably the most solid built headphone I touched, even beating those of Beyerdynamics. The frame will probably last you a lifetime unless you get a car to run over it. The elastic bend is where the headphone rest on. The headphone was designed to actually rest on your head, with the ear cups lightly touching around your ears. This will put bulk of the weight on top and thus making it rather comfortable. And since there is little clamping force, its more comfortable then many headphones out there, lets not forget it also reduces the chance your ears heating up and sweating! The next question in most people mind now is how do you actually adjust it to there.
First we take a look at the top, the joint there can be extended by about an inch and slightly bent forward or back. So depending on your head size, just pull or bend accordingly. Next is the ear cups. Its of a asymmetric design. Attached with a magnet, it can rotated up to 18 positions. So just rotate them till you feel comfortable and the entire cup is resting on the side of your head. This adjustment takes around 20-30 min in my experience and its the most important phase of using this headphone. Infact, it will determine if you ever enjoy the headphone, both comfort and sonically.
The issue of this headphone and why many cant understand it when they do auditions is this: The adjustments of the entire headphone determines the sound. Clamp down too much and you lose bass impact and make the overall signature warm. Pull it too far apart and you will get a relatively bright signature. If the earpad fully sits on the side of your head, you get a full sound. But if you want alittle more dynamic with more bass rumble, leaving a gap in the seal will give you a better experience. The thing is this headphone is finicky until you get it right. Once you obtain the fitting and sound you want, its onward to audio bliss, SUBLIME!
The Abyss is quite the monster to drive. With 85db/mw, its just slightly better then HE6 which is 83. On the Hugo TT, that will equate to violet or light blue for volume and even white if your track is soft. Its power requirements are also quite high, many amps will not have the grunt to fully power it to its fullest. Best to get something that can do 1w on output. When I first audition it with the Hugo, its rather flat and boomy. The TT did a much much better job as it had the current to swing. For me I use the Cayin IHA6 pictured on top. The IHA6 amp outputs 7w per channel, its a monster in power in a relatively small package. The abyss never needed more then 12 position to be too loud for me.
Powder Snow by Suara (Female Vocals)
Musouka by Suara (Female Vocals)
Liberi Fatali by Distant Worlds(Orchestra/Chant)
Send my Love by Adele (Female Vocals)
This section is based on a properly fitted Abyss.
This headphone is fast. Faster then my HE500 and HD800S. This gives it a more dynamic feel with nicer blacks as instruments tend to not decay longer then they should. In Liberi Fatali, the bass and the treble will never mix. I can hear the xylophone in the background clearly even with all the other instruments and chants. In Hotel California, you can clearly hear the guitar pluckings as the bass pounds away. Instrument separation is just fantastic as everything could be easily identified and heard.
Soundstaging and placement is fantastic. Its soundstage is wide and huge, comparable to the HD800S in size. However its Z Axis doesnt feel as great the HD800S, I will say HD800S feels a little more holographic then the Abyss.This also lead to a slightly better separation in the HD800S. In Liberi Fatali, instruments could be heard clearly but on the Abyss, you cant exactly pin point its position all the time unlike the HD800S. There is also a slightly different feel to the soundstage. HD800S felt like a concert hall with mid row seat while the Abyss is a more closer to the front. This is very apparent in Hotel California, where everything felt closer with the sound radiating out far.
The Abyss is transparent and detailed. To me its more transparent then HD800S and the HE500. Other then my KSE1500 which sounds about the same in this field, everything else felt like there is a veil over them muddles things a little. In the tracks for the female vocals, the voice is just crystal clear with all the instrument sounding right. In Musouku, you can hear the little guitar plucks that is usually lost. It does mean that many modern recorded song for the masses will sound bad. You can probably pick up every crackle which can be downright irritating.
Vocals and mids are great, natural but a little recessed.The Abyss is just so much more relaxed and natural in the mids then the HD800S. In Send My Love, there are those claps. The Abyss just renders them like exactly how you would expect, a slap like impact followed by quick decay. The HD800S however sounded like just a mass of sound that feels like a clap. You cant tell the exact point of impact. The mids are slightly recessed on the mids for the Abyss. This gives them a feeling of being slightly further away. Due to the way the Abyss is voiced, it sounds perfectly fine, but put it next to the HD800S and it becomes apparent. In Powder Snow, Abyss felt like the vocals were aligned with the instruments while on the HD800S, the instruments played a more supporting role. That said, even though its slightly behind, the Abyss felt more natural. The HD800S vocals felt a little constricted when compared. However there is an issue at times. In Hotel California, the bass can at times feel like it overpowered the vocals due to the slight change in placement. Though if you are a basshead then this is totally up your alley.
Cause Abyss is King for bass. I tried many headphones before I purchased the Abyss. He1000, LCD4, HD800S, LCD3, TH900. When I tried the Abyss properly, I just could not forget how it sounded. I told a friend of mine who ran one of the shop that sells everything but the Abyss: "Sorry but I will probably purchase the Abyss. It is deep... deep like its name stake, The Abyss" The thing is the Abyss bass goes not only deep, it sounded like a sub woofer. It impacts the side of your head and ear. You can feel that rumbling vibration that was lost in almost all headphones. Most headphones just had a tight, deep and impactful bass. The Abyss had all that plus a bass that can be felt just like a Sub. Its controlled, you can pinpoint the point of impact, then its decay, rumble and vibration there after. That was not the only thing great, with all the rumble, definitely the mids will get affected, but it isnt. It really felt like a properly integrated sub woofer, clearly separated but part of the total audio landscape.
The last part is the treble. Here, I will say the HD800S had a more distinct treble that sparkles a little more but never confusing. It also means the Abyss due to its treble being a little more tamed to me, sounded much more pleasant with almost no sibilant. The treble also sounded more natural. The little bells in Powder Snow just felt like the small bells you would hear. It was reported in complex treble tracks, the Abyss may sound confusing in the treble region. I did not personally heard it in the tracks I used. Maybe it needs a full orchestra with lots of instrument in that region which I did not have access to.
There is something I love about Abyss's sound Realism and Atmosphere. The Abyss just sounded closer what the mind imagines as the live music then my other headphones. Infact swapping between it, HD800S, HE500, and KSE1500, the Abyss gave the best overall feel and atmosphere of closer to going live in a concert. The KSE1500 takes the cake for most realistic vocals, it was like a small room live recording. The other 2 felt like listening to really great headphones of the music replay, with the HE500 better for vocals and the HD800S for the huge spacious feel.
There is something I noted of the Abyss when I tried it out with my friend. I usually listen on the Hugo TT at around Dark Blue while he does it at Light Blue. This translates to around 85db peak at 90+ vs 97db peak at 100+. We noticed at my levels, everything is in control, but at his preferred level, the bass had this weird vibration which we believe is distortion. We therefore believe that at higher volumes, the Abyss may have big and powerful bass but it will distort and therefore if you are sensitive to such things, do audition it at those level before purchase.
The Abyss is a medieval torture device that sound as deep as the Abyss. As a TOTL, I believe it deserves its place in todays context. You will be called nuts 3 years ago at 5.5k when it first debutted but now with pricing reaching similar levels of LCD4 (and maybe even the Focus Utopia), it is definitely a must try if you are in that market. Especially if you like quality sound with bass sounding like a sub woofer that is clearly missed in almost all headphones. Lets not forget its one of kind look which is actually quite comfortable.
Every now and then, comes a headphone which defies conventional wisdom and challenges the way we look at headphones. The JPS Abyss AB-1266 is one such headphone. Whether it is by its distinctive looks, its industrial strength construction and its sonic signature, it is something which will figure strongly in our collective consciousness for a while to come. I am blessed to own one such specimen. It sits nicely in the top tier, if not at the apex, of my little collection of headphones comprising most of the Grados, the LCD 2 & 3, HD700 & 800, Beyerdynamic T1, Hifiman HE-6, HE-5LE, He-560, HE-500, HE 1000, Fostex TH900, AKG K702 & K812, Stax SR007 MK1 & MK2.5, SR 009, L700 and the Final Sonorous X.
Build Quality The build quality of the Abyss is first class. The frame is solid aluminum; two sides joined together via a rivet which allows the two sides to be pulled together as adjustment as well as the angle of the cups for a different listening experience with each angle. The earpads are also unusual: they can be adjusted around as it attaches to the frame magnetically, allowing the user to decide if he wishes to have more bass or treble. The Abyss is hefty. It is solidly built. The rigidity of the frame ensures that there are no vibrations or distortions which is important given the hefty bass kick the planar magnetic drivers will emit when called upon. The Abyss is adjustable in various ways for the user for a different listening experience. This pair of cans are well conceived and designed. Finally, the Abyss comes with JPS own cables. Of course JPS is well known for their audiophile grade cables and power cords. So, the stock cables are one of the best you will see as stock. The cables are also removable thereby allowing users to switch cables to their personal preference and tastes. Comfort and Isolation The Abyss may look terribly uncomfortable with a look that may make you look like Frankenstein when you put it on and its solid heft will cause some concern. What I can say is that the design of the suspended headband actually works very well to spread out the weight of the Abyss such that when I first received the Abyss, I actually had it on every day for about a week and I did not end up in a neck brace nor develop neck muscles the Incredible Hulk would be envious of. The Abyss is not to worn like any other headphone: it is not meant to clamp on your head like a conventional headphone. You have to adjust the headphone so that it sits on your head and with the cups touching but not clamping on your ears. It is worth noting that the Abyss are open cans and so there is some inevitable leakage. Music Genres I am known to be fairly open-minded in my music tastes. As long as it is good music I will listen. I currently have more than 12 TB of music. in my music collection: all the way from medieval choral music to modern pop music to classical music and everything in between. Make no mistake: the Abyss is a paragon of neutrality and clarity. Hence, I can listen to any sort of music on the Abyss and it sounds right. The Abyss sounds good with vocals running the gamut of acoustic to rock. Considering how everyone talks about its explosive and visceral bass power, the Abyss can be very nuanced and gentle: it all depends on the music that is being played. No colour. That being said, the bass line when called upon in crescendos can sweep you away or have you toe tapping when listening to EDM. Did I mention that it is versatile? Whether it is the emotional cello of Yo Yo Ma in the OST of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or a full orchestra, it conveys the right emotion, timbre of the strings or soundstage of the full orchestra. Sound Quality The Abyss is very neutral and flat. No part of the sonic spectrum is emphasized or hampered. It is all about the music. Whatever is called for, the Abyss will produce. There is great details and clarity. At the same time, the timbre on the strings are outstanding. Emotional inflections and nuances of the vocalists are also clearly conveyed across. Soundstage and imaging is first class. The soundstage here is true soundstage - there is width as well as depth. No congestion in the music flowing from this headphone. Headroom is also outstanding. And, of course, there is the visceral bass - no other headphone comes close. The bass is taut as well - no bleeding or unnaturally long decay to cause any muddiness. The Abyss is, in the ultimate analysis, a very immersive experience - it is closer to speakers than headphones. There are some criticism of the Abyss not being emotional or being a bit recessed. For the latter, I suspect the critics come from the school of forward mids and so anything which is natural will sound recessed. As for lack of emotions, I defy anyone to have a listen to Fly Away from Corrine May's eponymous debut album: this song is semi-autobiographical about how difficult it was for her to leave her grandmother, whom she was very close to since childhood, And the emotions of her flying away to a faraway land to seek her musical dreams. In the song, her grandmother fell terminally ill when she was away and she flew back to see her on her death bed. The simple instrumental accompaniment of piano to Corrine's distinctive and nuanced vocals is something that never fails to pull at my heartstrings every time I hear it on the Abyss. I am known for my admiration for the work of Tibetan singer Alan Dawa Dolma: the songs she does as part of the OST of the Red Cliff (Parts 1 & 2) is particularly impressive on the Abyss because of the grand soundstage that the songs demand and the additional headroom that the Abyss is able to afford. The two songs are cinematic and panoramic: between the demonstration of impressive vocal range by Alan, her soaring vocals and her emotional repertoire and the lush and layered instrumentation and the visceral and realistic bass, they are great showcases or the stunning ability of the Abyss. There will always be those who prefer their TOTL cans to be tilted towards the treble end of the sonic spectrum: that gives a perception of soundstage and details. They will need to look elsewhere. The Abyss is stunning. It is wide open and neutral. It is detailed and conveys great instrumental separation and layering. It is also emotional and nuanced when the music calls for it. You feel the quake from the visceral bass. It is full range from treble all the way down to the quick and deep bass. If that is what you desire from a headphone, look no further. Pairing One caution about the Abyss is that it needs driving power to reap the full benefit of the impressive drivers. If there is not sufficient power, the Abyss will not sound the spectacular pair of cans it is. As noted above, the cables can be switched. I currently alternate a few pairs of dual balanced cables with the Abyss: the Tralucent Uber, the Toxic Cables Copper Venom and Toxic Cables Silver Venom. Each cable brings with it a different sonic signature. And as I said, the Abyss is transparent and so the sonic characteristics of each cable will be discernible. My home desktop rig comprises an Auralic Aries (with external linear PSU), connected via a Audiquest Diamond USB 3 cable to a Bricasti M1 DAC and then JPS Superconductor V RCA to the Cavalli Liquid Gold. Power cord for the DAC is a Tralucent Uber power cord, and power cord for the Liquid Gold is a JPS Kaptovator power cord. Power to the components of the desktop rig and sources is fed through an Isotek Aquarus and all the power cords use US plugs. My Synology DS 414 and a Seagate Backup Plus HDD (connected directly via USB to the Aries) are powered by the new Plixir Elite BDC Power Supply kindly customized for me by James Soh of Sound Affairs in Singapore. Conclusion As I had cautioned above, the Abyss challenges our preconceptions of how a pair of headphone should sound. It is transparent, neutral and flat. It is detailed and nuanced. Yet, it packs a body blow of a bass when bass is called for. If you are looking for pair of headphones that seem to be more like ear speakers with impressive soundstage and headroom, and all these qualities, this is the headphone for you!
Pros - Bass, clarity, soundstage, separation, tonality. Scalability. Fine-tuning. Did I say bass?
Cons - Expensive
I'll keep this short. These are simply amazing.
Yes they're expensive, but the amount of enjoyment I get from them well surpasses that initial outlay. I consider them an investment in sound quality.
Paired with the Burson Conductor they were fantastic. Paired with the Moon 430 HAD they are mind blowing. I hear they're even better on the VIVA Egoista 845 amp, so I'll be demoing that quite soon with the Numerico and/or TotalDAC (didn't think much of the Yggdrasil).
I was originally intending to buy LCD-3Fs, so I bought a pair along with the LCD-X for an extended home audition. I managed to get a home demo of the Abyss, thinking at the very least it would be fun to hear what £4250 (!) headphones sound like. No comparison. Listening to the LCDs after the Abyss was a muted, flat experience.
Yes the 3Fs have delicious mids, but when I paired the Abyss with the Moon 430 (with the internal DAC), the mids started to shine again. The 430HAD has a very coherent, smooth (yet revealing) analogue sound. Moon work wonders with the Sabre chip. Forget the notion that Sabre is always digital sounding. It isn't.
The bass. The BASS. It's not bloomy or overpowering, it's simply sublime. It reaches so, so low and has such tight control and depth. As many have mentioned, due to the design of the Abyss, the bass has a percussive effect on the ears, something no other headphone offers. It really is something to behold. Music isn't focused inside your ears, it surrounds them.
The clarity and separation/placement of voices, instruments (and effects in the electronic genre) is wonderful. Complex electronic music (such as Shpongle) is handled with ease. It made the LCDs seem muddy in comparison.
I don't happen to think they are ugly. They're built to perform, not look pretty, and I see beauty in that. In the audio world (or any for that matter), give me function over form any day. I do not find them heavy either, I wear them for hours at a time. And since the ear pads only touch the skin lightly, they're cooler than all of my other cans. You can also customise the sound to quite a large degree; the rotation, angle and distance of the ear cups (which are magnetic) offer different sound signatures (treble and bass especially). At first I found this quite a challenge, but after a relatively short while I learnt how to tweak the positioning (finely) to suit different genres. I've now settled on one particular position that is fantastic all round.
Note: I see people have brief auditions of these cans (especially at shows) and they have them set up *entirely* wrong. The affect this has on the sound cannot be underestimated, so please take the time to set them up properly if you do audition them.
I often find myself thinking: "I wonder how this track sounds on the Abyss". They're that good. And yes, they are very speaker like. And yes, they offer sounds equivalent to a very good speaker setup. Just ask some of the guys in the Abyss thread who own both :¬)
Forget the DAC quest. Get these instead with a decent DAC. The benefit will be much bigger than an expensive DAC with lesser headphones.
Music tastes: electronic, ambient, folk, rock, neo classical (i.e. film scores), meditative, easy listening, blues.
Edit: The ratings above are being shown incorrectly, I've actually rated: