Final Audio Design Pandora Hope VI Headphones (closed back)
|Final Audio Design Pandora Hope VI Headphones|
Final Audio Design Pandora Hope VI Headphones
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"Very, very nice headphones; my favorite cans in the 500 to 1500 USD range"
Pros - Exceptional vocal clarity, ethereal open-back soundstage PLUS critically damped closed-back bass Very comfy
Cons - Not a perfect fit for my friends with small heads, Rising HF response does not play well with some (inferior) recordings
Very, very nice headphones; my favorite cans in the 500 to 1500 USD range.
- Owned for 6 months, would buy again immediately if I lost them
- I design 100k+ speaker systems for a living, and my ears work good
- Best sound I have enjoyed from headphones PERIOD
Exceptional Vocal Clarity
Ethereal Open-Back Soundstage (from a proprietary balanced armature) with Critically Damped Closed-Back Bass
Very comfortable with B-type cushions
Not a perfect fit for my friends with small heads
Rising HF response does not play well with some (inferior) recordings
I ordered these directly from Michael Brown of US FAD operations, because I wanted the old "Pandora Hope VI" logo and name. I had heard good things from a friend, and I needed a pair of over-ear cans. My previous go-to headphones were the JH Audio Layla headphones. Unfortunately, the CIEMs caused me to get a severe fungal/bacterial infection that ended up rupturing my eardrums and developing a mild brain infection. So the in-ears had to go. To make this transition, I considered the best from Sennheiser, Grado, Sony, Hifiman, the LCD 3s, etc. I wasn't interested in spending an inordinate amount of money on Stax headphones or something that required special amplification beyond what my AK380 can provide. Because I design speakers for a living, I figured I would just design my own headphones before going down too long a rabbit trail. Out of all I had tried, the HD800s had the most realistic reproduction of music in the air around my head, which might even overcome my dislike of openback headphones' characteristic environmental noise bleed. None of the planar headphones I had tried carried the bass properly without bloating around 150-200hz or fizzling below 100hz. All of the closed back designs I had tried left me with something very different than a soundstage... more like a sensation that I had not done the toe-in properly for a set of floorstanding speakers.
Unfortunately, to my ears the HD800 has an unreal amount of painfully audible distortion from 5-9kHz that bleeds into the upper transients. In my experience, this is usually due to asymmetrical voice coil loading (the HD800s have a tonality that is so eerily reminiscent of an overdriven BMR from cotswold sound systems). This issue is exacerbated, I believe, by the fact that the HD800s are completely open back. THAT BEING SAID, I know plenty of people who love the sound of the HD800s, and would never part with theirs... but I am a purist, and I want soundstage without cannibalizing the nonlinear characteristics of the headphones. I know from my experience building speakers that odd order harmonics in the fraunhofer region collect to form gradient side nodes that dramatically increase the sensation of a soundstage. This is because sounds which are panned farther to the right or left actually get a small volume boost, while at the same time their origin moves from the farthest edge of the speaker to some place between the edge of the speaker and the gradient side nodes. I would imagine that this same principle dictates that transients in the HF range would receive the most distortion that are panned the most. Since non-linear distortions of compression drivers increase exponentially with respect to the input voltage, the HD800s are able to spread out the sound better across the listening field. If only such a soundstage could be achieved by some mechanism besides distortion...
I ordered from Michael, and he said if I wasn't thrilled, I could return them, and that suited me just fine. He did instruct me that his headphones only migrate a maximum of 3% during breaking in for 48 hours, and then less that 1% over the next 3000 hours. From this, I expected the headphones to perform perfectly out of the box. When the arrived, I immediately put on some of my favorite Dream Theater songs... as I was listening, I really got lost in the sound. Immersed that way I have only really experienced with sound systems over 50 grand (on the exceptional low end). When I hit the song "Regression", the headphones just blew me away; I actually took them off to make sure I wasn't hearing in-room reflections. The portrayal of the music was clinical, but not harsh, aggressive, but not unbalanced. After burn-in, I had no complaints, but even before then, the headphones were keepers. For a two-way headphone, FAD sure did their work right. After some listening, I called up Michael and told him what I thought. He answered some of my questions, and was a generally awesome guy. If I have any issues with my headphones, I am confident he will be on my side.
Burn-in is a must. After 2 days of burn-in, the headphones sounded much better. While the headphones were wonderful out of the box, they were a major step down from my JH Laylas, maybe even my JH Roxxanes. The soundstage and LF reach did not change over the break-in period, but the speed of the impulse response in the bass end benefited greatly from the . The high-frequencies got much more aligned to the total tonal character of the headphones. I don't know if there is a simple crossover in the headphones, but I would not be surprised - the headphones reacted to burn in the same way floorstanding speakers do. As we all know, the majority of burn-in has to do with the crossover, whether in the integration of a new driver or cables with their new damping factors. For headphones, balanced armatures do need mechanical burn-in to bring the compliance of the mechanics to an ideal level that matches sensitivity parameters used to model the crossover networks. I am not sure whether the quoted 3% value refers to drivers that FAD has already mounted or whether that includes the crossover network. Burn-in is a measurable necessity. Skip only if you enjoy experiencing the shift in headphone characteristics in person.
The ear-pieces swivel a bit, and since the balanced armature is mounted on the inside front of the cup, ear-piece positioning has a significant impact on the perception of the soundstage width, height, and depth. I typically hear headphones as if the frequencies panned the right and left are both lower (vertically) than those panned to the middle. However, if I swivel both cups so that the headphone cable connections are pointing farther forward, the soundstage takes an equal vertical position through the whole listening width. In this orientation, full-orchestrata recordings typically create the illusion of depth away from me as equally moving downwards vertically.
Final Audio Design (FAD in this review), based in Tokyo, Japan, makes some of the most exotic earphones and headphones available in the last few years. The company's story starts in 1974 but its 1[sup]st[/sup] pair of earphones was released only in 2009. In late 2013 they've released their 1[sup]st[/sup] pair of headphones, the Pandora Hope VI, which I'm going to look at today. FAD being FAD chose a surprising and extremely unique driver configuration, which includes not only a traditional 50mm dynamic driver, but also a Balanced Armature driver too; yes, you're not mistaken, that is the type of tiny drivers that a lot of earphones (but not headphones) utilize.
Having reviewed FAD's Heaven VI earphones a few years ago and liking them a lot had me very excited about the Pandora Hope VI headphones, and as you'll see later on in this review, their special driver configuration proves itself quite well and provides the listener with a great sound.
I cannot comment on the packaging as my unit has arrived without the original one, so we'll start with the accessories. Actually, you only get a single accessory, which is the headphones' cable, which is great ( more on that when I'll talk about the building quality), but it would have surely been nice to get also a nice case to store the headphones inside when not using them.
These headphones weight almost 500 grams, which is quite a bit more than I am used to have on my head. It took me a little time, but now their weight doesn't really bother me anymore, though I would not suggest using them as portable headphones due to it. Another possible problem that we have here is the earpads' depth, which isn't deep enough. Luckily, my ears are quite small, so I haven't experienced this, but some might find their ears touching the drivers quite often, a thing which can surely be bothersome and annoying. On the other hand, the headphones do not put a lot of pressure on your head, and the headband is soft and well padded. In addition, the cups can be slightly rotated in different angles, making them fit nicely and more comfortably. Overall, I have tried more comfortable headphones in the past, but these are not that bad either, I actually quite like these comfort-wise after using them for a while. I would suggest you to try them on before purchasing them because of their weight and earpads depth.
These headphones do not offer anything special in this department. Their level of isolation is about average for full-sized closed headphones. They would be fine for home use, but I do not think that it would be enough for using them outside.
Building Quality & Design
These headphones, like most of FAD's products, are very well designed, they are truly gorgeous, and they are surely one of the best looking headphones out there. Everything in their design screams luxury; these are some real high-fashion headphones. Their ear-cups are made of a combination of shiny stainless-steel and tough and texturized plastic. Finger-prints show quite easily on the headphones' metal parts, so you might need to occasionally use a smooth cleaning cloth in order to remove them. They are also quite scratches-prone unfortunately, my pair already has a few even though I tried to protect them as much as possible. The yokes, which the ear-cups are held on, are made of the same shiny metal as the ear-cups, but with a slightly brushed look. The headband-padding and ear-pads are stitched nicely, and their padding seems to be of a high quality, like all of this headphones' parts.
The Pandora Hope VI utilizes a removable cable, like most (if not all) of the headphones in its price-range; The dual-sided cable connects into sockets in the bottom of the ear-cups. It also has a nice locking mechanism (similar to the SoundMagic HP-100's one) which ensures with a simple twist of the connector that the cable will stay in its place as long as you don't remove it yourself. Unfortunately, you won't be able to use any cable other than the stock one because the cable connectors have a plastic part on them to enable the locking into the sockets. The cable itself is great: it is thick enough, but also flexible and soft. Its three jacks and Y-split are all housed in solid and shiny metal housings, being in line with the design of the headphones. The cable ends with a 3.5mm gold-plated jack, which might look a bit large, but fits well inside any mobile device.
I have given the Final Audio Pandora Hope VI over 50 hours of burn-in, and there were some slight changes in the overall balance of the sound. Overall, nothing too major.
For this review I've used my 4[sup]th[/sup] Generation iPod Touch and my Lotoo PAW Gold. The iPod was loaded with mostly iTunes Store files while the PAW Gold was loaded with 96/24 & 192/24 FLAC files.
The Pandora Hope VI headphones are quite easy to drive due to their very low impedance, which is rated at only 8Ω. This is nice since it can virtually be used with any device that you would like to use it with; I promise you, volume won't ever be a problem with these headphones. On the other hand, the low impedance causes it to hiss with many of these devices. The PAW Gold proved to be a great digital audio player to use them with since it provided a clean from hiss sound.
I would describe the Pandora Hope VI's sound signature as balanced with a bit of added warmth, resulting a laid-back and natural sounding pair of headphones, but also a bit different than FAD's previous efforts. It still has a touch of the famous FAD mid-range, but it is definitely less prominent here. We'll now move on to a more detailed description of all of the sound's different parts:
Lows- the most noticeable quality here is the lows' ability to become whatever the certain track currently played calls for – they can be quite big (but not to a level that will satisfy bass-heads) and impactful but they can also be small and tight. One thing that can always be said about them is that they are quite deep and well controlled. Detailing here is great, as is the instrument separation. On the other hand, these do not have the fastest bass out there.
Midrange- the midrange's placement in the Pandora's sound is a bit behind the bass, and it isn't as forward as in the other FAD models that I've tried in the past. We still get here some of FAD's signature mids, but with less prominence than usually: they're airy and open-feeling with a black background, and they also have a slight feeling of darkness in their upper frequencies. In addition, vocals are lush & beautifully rendered plus they're also clear, clean and very well detailed, with not even a tiny vocal detail getting lost in transition.
Treble- the Pandora's treble is more laid-back in comparison to the rest of the sound, resulting a quite smooth, non-fatiguing and non-sibilant treble. On the other hand, I've heard better headphones in terms of treble extension; don't get me wrong, there's still a nice extension, but it doesn't reach that far as more treble-oriented cans. Detailing in the high frequencies is as impressive as the midrange's detailing, and so are their clarity and cleanness.
Sound-Stage- usually open-headphones offer bigger and better sound-staging than closed headphones and the case isn't different here – most of the open headphones would offer sound-staging than the Pandora. On the other hand, these are better than most other closed headphones out there in this area and in bringing a 3D-feeling to the listener.
The Pandora VI is a very nice effort from Final Audio Design for their 1[sup]st[/sup] retail full-sized headphones. They have a bit of similarity to some of the company's previous efforts, but it also stands on its own as a special and unique pair of headphones, both sound-wise and design-wise. They've provided me with some of the more relaxing listening-sessions that I've ever had, and it's very nice to have such a laid-back and relaxing headphone in my collection. In addition, they also do an amazing job with vocals, which are presented beautifully. The design is beautiful and very special, and these are some of the best looking headphones in the market in my opinion. The comfort is also good in my opinion, with the headbands and ear-pads being soft and of high quality. However, there are two potential problems in this area – the earpads depth and the headphones' weight, which both didn't bother me, but might possibly bother other users.
Overall, I had a very positive experience with the Final Audio Design Pandora VI headphones and I'm looking forward to see what comes in the future in terms of full sized headphones from FAD.
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