Fostex TH 900

Scott Branham

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Sub bass with passion, transparent and airy, decent isolation for semi open, EASY driven
Cons: None really
The TH900 is magical. It's the hot rod of flagship, makes no apologies, and takes no prisoners IF, you wanna take it that far. This phone just begs to be driven, and it just keeps producing. I find it very polished, yet presents with a bold presence. Perfect for rock, metal, EDM, acoustic, just throw something at it and it will send it back to you will all you want with more to spare. Bass and sub bass is best in the business. I find the mids just right, and vocals and guitars are so on point. Out of the box, the treble can be a little spicy on some material, but give it a few hours, I found it to tame. Couldn't be happier with the Fostex. 
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i have a new pair arriving in a few days so i appreciate hearing that about the treble calming down. i love the th900's but the pair i passed to my stepson did not have many hours on them (i'd gotten them that way and didn't have them long enough myself to hear any break in.) still as they were, i loved em, and could live with their few faults to enjoy their many pleasurable aspects. what a headphone! 


New Head-Fier
Pros: Nice Bass and Great highs with big soundstage, great imaging and great Comfort
Cons: may run into some problems with amps that require higher impedance
Best looking closed headphone on the market that acts just like a open headphone but brings the advantages of a closed headphone such as detail and imaging...
It is combining both worlds and packs it in this beautiful cup.
In my opinion the mids are not recessed or the highs to peaky.
With a warm sounding amp such as Wa7 or marantz dac1 or the bakoon amps this sounds balanced out and very lively ...
You get a stand which is nice but a hard carrying case would have been really nice like the audeze ones instead of a soft pouch 
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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Musical & Enjoyable; Lovely to hold and behold
Cons: Construction seems to have weaknesses; Expensive for some
I have always enjoyed Denon headphones. They were one of the first I came across when I started listening to full-sized cans. They were lovely and had a very pleasing sonic signature. Then, one day, we all heard that the current beloved Denon series would be discontinued and replaced. That was the first time I heard that Denon did not produce their own headphones but that they were done for them by Fostex.
Then news slowly emerged that Fostex was producing a much better version of the previous top of the line Denon D7000. When photos first came across, we were all stunned by how stunning the new Fostex TH900 looked: the lovely urushi poison ivy lacquer. Everyone in Singapore was eagerly awaiting for the first units to arrive at Jaben, Singapore. I must confess that at point in time, I was not one of them. I was still at the beginning of my audio journey and at that point in time, I will confess that something looked that beautiful and cost that much rightly intimidated me.
When I was eventually persuaded by Claire of Jaben Singapore to try it, it was almost like attending an elaborate tea ceremony. I recall that she had to first roll out some soft felt or microfiber cloth on the counter before taking out the TH900 of the storage case. All this time Claire was wearing white gloves. I was not allowed to touch the TH900: Claire would careful slip it on my head and adjust the ear cups for me. You can imagine how nervous it made me feel. The comic moment came halfway the demo session when my son (when he was young enough to still think it was cool to hang out with his old man at a headphone store) yelled: “Daddy, M is calling!” A moment of panic seized me but fortunately, Claire with admirable speed and calm grace slipped the white gloves back on and glided over effortlessly and removed the headphones from my head. She patiently waited for the phone call to end before smiling and slipping the headphones back on. To cut a long story short, though I loved how full it made the music sound and yet retain delicacy of female vocals, I resisted the TH900 for a few more months before I finally succumbed.
Although I don’t listen to the TH900 as much as I would like, it still has a special place in my little collection of full sized headphones comprising most of the top tier Grados, the LCD 2 & 3, HD700 & 800, Beyerdynamic T1, Hifiman HE-6, HE-5LE, HE-560, HE-500, HE-1000, AKG K702 & K812, Stax SR007 MK1 & MK2.5, SR 009, SR L700, the Final Sonorous X and the Abyss. 
Home Desktop Headphone Set Up
To give a bit of context on my observations of my listening impressions of the TH900, my chain 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. Mains power is fed to the Isotek Aquarius via a Tralucent Uber power cord.
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. James had also helpfully suggested that I run a separate switch for the audio components away from the wifi access point. The switch is also powered by the Plixir Elite BDC Power Supply that James customized for me. The Aries and the Synology DS414 NAS are connected via the dedicated switch by a pair of Ranko Acoustics OCC audio LAN cables.
Build Quality
The build quality of the TH900 is good as one would expect from a Japanese company. The lovely red urushi lacquered ear cups are just stunning. Although the original version of the TH900 does not come with detachable cables, the cables were made of OFC 7N grade was nice and hefty.  It came standard with a ¼ inch plug.
As noted, the cables are not detachable. Firstly, there would be no possibility of cable rolling and, a fortiori, there would be no chance then of running the TH900 balanced without modification.  The other situation which I had once was that the ear pad, which is made from artificial leather made from egg shell membrane and therefore very comfortable, suffered deterioration because I had kept the TH900 in a case and there was likely some damp trapped and the leather looked like it had been eaten up by some vermin when I next took it out some time later. Fortunately, the ear pads are easily replaceable. A final issue has been that the way the headband is constructed, there is a stress point where the cups swivel on a joint which has been known in some cases to break.
Comfort and Isolation
As I had indicated above, the TH900 ear pads are very comfortable. And the weight of the headphone is really negligible compared to other TOTL headphones. The clamp force of the headphone was also pretty gentle.
While the TH900 is a closed can, the isolation is not the best. And that is an understatement, in case you missed that…
Music Genres
I do enjoy my music and so I do have around 12 TB of music (I do lose count). The music collection runs the full gamut of genres from medieval church music to Ella Fitzgerald & Frank Sinatra to Diana Krall & Michael Buble, to classic music to contemporary pop.
What I will say is that the TH900 is versatile:  it is at least competent with all genres. I derive particular joy from listening to jazz vocals and acoustic vocals on it, especially female vocals. It is really very good with songs like Blame by Calvin Harris featuring John Newsman. 
Frankly, it is one of those headphones I will just put on, and hit the play button on the remote of the Aries and just chill out. Easy path to enjoyment.
Sound Quality
The TH900 is nicely balanced for most parts: the trebles are extended and sweet, the mids are rich and engaging, the bass is fairly deep yet tight and layered. Do not get me wrong – this is close to but not a reference headphone. There is some coloration: the trebles are noticeably smooth, while vocals seem to be a little enhanced. However, the coloration is slight and only enhances the sonic experience.
Frankly, at the end of the day, despite its impactful bass and sweet trebles, for me the TH900 excels in vocal centric music, particular female vocals. It has a wonderful way of conveying the delicate and nuanced vocals of female singers like Stacey Kent and Alison Krauss. The other thing to note is that while there is quality bass on display with the TH900, it is not a warm headphone.
I currently run my TH900 with the Cavalli Liquid Gold. I find that the oft-repeated accusation that the TH900 is mids-recessed is not borne out. Of course, it could either be that the TH900 opens up more with added driving power, or I am quite accustomed to the sound from balanced headphones and therefore do not expect the TH900 to have forward mids.
Regardless of the then shocking release price of the TH900, it is a lovely pair of headphones, both in terms of looks and sonic signature. It is thoroughly enjoyable and musical.


Pros: Dimensionality, Detail, Openness, Decay, Seductiveness, Urushi-e Coating
Cons: Really, really Recessed mids. This is a V-Shaped frequency.
Mids are recessed with this one, oh boy they are. Where the Fostex convinced me was musicality, drive/spirit, and fine detail as well as a nice dimensionality. But - the mids were underemphasized in addition to the overblown bass response, a pity, because the TH900 could have been great.
YMMV, but to my ears, the Fostex felt rather helpless with music were mids are important. That is a lot of music.
Comparison with Beyerdynamic T51i
I A/Bed them with my 200 USD Beyers T51i on-ears and the Beyers shone with Jazz and Classic. Mind you, the T51i is a entry level, ultra-portable headphone from their life-style /studio line. With the Beyers Voices, Guitars, Violins, Brass, everything was just more prominent. Admittedly, the tiny Beyers weren't nearly as detailed or stageous as the Fostex, and I would still prefer the Fostex over the Beyers, but for long-time listening, both were equally nice or equally fatiguing. Price difference to Fostex: $1.2K cheaper.
Comparison to LCD-2
Compared to the LCD-2: The Audeze's warmth and physically in the mids is well known and to no surprised played the Fostex against the wall. Agreed, the Audeze's resolution leaves a lot to be desired, especially the excellent detail retrieval of the Fostex, yet with Audeze C to C'' notes on the Piano just sounded like they meant to be - putting you directly in front of the piano.
For orchestral work the picture was similar. While the Fostex sounded great on very low volumes, fine in timbre and detail, - however - to enjoy the mids with the Fostex, I had to crank them up to unbearable levels.
With EDM and music that is meant to be played loud like Rock the LCD-2s showed the Fostex another - in my opinion - a better defintion of "Fun Sound". After some consideration it would give the Fostex the edge here, but both are extremely musical phones and the LCD-2 has thick mids that the Fostex can only dream of. Price difference to Fostex: $500 cheaper.
Comparison to Ether C
Now the Ether retails at the same price as the Fostex does, street prices may vary, yet they are advertised at nearly the same price. The Ether C sounds like the Fostex older, more mature brother. With ease he plays darker bass, more precise bass, more pleasant highs (moddable with supplied tuning kit by default!).. and you guessed it, way more potent mids. I mean just throw "Beyonce - Partition starRo Remix" at both headphones and the Fostex will blush, because it just got beaten in its own game, where it used to be the king - sounding fun with EDM. The new Ethers are also a newer development and they use planar magnetics, but - believe me - if you thought the Fostex were a great headphone that lacked something - give the new Ethers a try and you are in for a treat and a huge step towards Summit-Fi. Ethers just sound "Holographic" - nough said.
As Amplifier I used a € 3.000,-- Stack by Violectric, almost the best what Violectric has to offer (Coax out from Asus STX via Bit-Wise Linux fed into V800/V200). Cabling was provided by Sommer Cable for no less than € 200,-.
Music Used
Classical Music (orchestral)
SACD 24bit Sony Redbook Remastered Günther Wand + Berlin playing Sinfony 9 by Bruckner on Deutsche Grammophon
Modernism (acoustic piano)
CD Scandale Alice Sara Ott and Franceso Tristano own compositions and interpreting Ravel on Deutsche Grammophon
Jazz (e-bass)
FLAC 24bit Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman playing Pets you can keep in the fridge on BandCamp
Jazz (acoustic jazz band)
FLAC 24bit Hiromi - Alive
Arranged Jazz
FLAC 24bit Mythical and Angry Murphy McCaleb and Andy Edwards
Paragraph President - Blazing Arrow - Blackalicious (last part from min 3:30)
Beyonce - Partition starRo Remix
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I've had the exact opposite experience with the TH-900s with some caveats.  I have a few different amps and sources that I've used with the TH-900s.  Of my amps the Woo WA5 LE doesn't exhibit the recessed mids and spiky treble.  It makes them into one awesome pair of closed headphones.  The best closed headphone I've heard.  In fact, when I received my TH-900s, it was the first time in a long time that I really was impressed with a pair of headphones. 
The caveat is that certain amps do make the TH-900 V shaped.  Is that a problem?  I don't think so.  The V shape is a really good V shape, if you know what I mean.
Here is another reviewer that echos my findings:
I think the TH-900 is the best closed headphone out there with the right amplification.
But you not mentioned the dap you used, that headphones don't need a ''  ultra high power amp '' only good dap and fixed.
After some time with the Ether-Cs, I must say I miss the sound of the TH-900. It was different. Not in terms of better or worse. Just really delicate and open, "wooden" (in a good way) owed to its cherry wood cups. Also the bass had more layers, despite it having too much of it. I revise my rating +1 star. 


Member of the Trade: Portable Modder
Pros: Details, details everywhere! Excellent for portables
Cons: Picky at sources, no detachable cables.
Since some people don't think ZX2 can drive the full-sized headphones ? I am on another hand that is keep on seeking out good headphones for Zx2, and ofcourse keeping it under a rule of thumb, low impedance, and higher Db/mw. I have found MDR-z7, MDR-sa3000/5000....and lately, please welcome my gentle eyes candy Fostex TH-900. Today I would like to give some of my own impressions and share to you all.

Conclusion: superb and accurately bass tonality and presentations, source picky can sound fairly flat with powerful and low impedance out on portable gears, can be bass weak , harsher trebles, and low volume on weak portable gears such as iPad iPhone....yeah, eventhough it was very sensitive, but don't you dare buying such high-end headphones for your (j/k). I don't recommend it, but you do whatever you want.

First of all functionality, despite it specs being very sensitive and can be used for portable gears and sound quiet good out of even iPhone and however neither has 3.5mm jack nor detachable cables to go balanced mod, even for it price ? Yeah, very strange, but as far as my experiences go, I think they don't want detachable cables because extra terminal joins will degrade sound quality. We will get back on it.

Now, appearances, I am not a fan of red color, and especially shinny glimmer red...and th900 look much better in real life than it is in picture. Very sweet, deep and watery/glossy finish which is so smooth to the touch.

Sound quality ? It is very clean, and silent, only enough amount of recorded reverb, and effects from the tracks. I do think this is beautiful as when compare to Z7, the reverb and echo or Hall effects in the recorded track is quiet loud, and I find myself to appreciate the th900 more. The most important aspect is "transient details, and transparency", wow....if I compared Z7 to a still fluid clear water pond, the th900 is like a clear blue sky with excellent sun-shine as I can imagine myself floating in this blue sky without a hint of wind-blow or cloud. Then every transient micro-dynamic impacts and waves will be presented to me like a gift from the Angels above !

Bass: wow! It is wooly and super fast exactly the strong point for fan that love porous and bio-cell diaphragm. Also don't worry about it being plant cellulose, it is a hybrid between microbial and plant and synthetic fibers. Bass can be weak out of weak sources such as weak smartphones and tables, but can be very impactful and of great resolution on Zx2. Now, especially when going balanced with upgraded solid-silver cables **with silver plated copper Z7 stock cables and standard TRS 3.5mm output on ZX2, the lower-midbass can be boomy and the top-end of bass is a little slower and lacked a bit of energy to call "eargasm bass". With balanced TRRS out and solid silver on zx2, the bass becomes such superbly accurate and of great tonality***. It bass get so accurate controlled and tight that I can clearly tell the synthetic bass from authentic and organic drums, rumbles hard when needed, and stop or controlled where intended. The level of accuracy has no matches in my collection. Simply superb. Bass here can be called "superbly controlled and superbly detailed+impactful". Now, it doesn't have that bass which would rumbles my head, and or make me jump out of my chair as much as my recabled Z7. But it is in it own league and I appreciate both. Th900 is more authentic and superbly accurate for classical and organic instruments, where as Z7 is more enjoyable, satisfying slams for synthetic bass and huge plastic kick drums. If I am allowed, I would call th90- bass to be "airy" just because there is so much speed, so much layer, so much texture and details within it tone and impacts, where as Z7 bass is "mesmerizing" just because it is a bit slower, plasticy, but not lacking details or layering.


Mid: ah, this is the tricky part as it is also very picky on sources, on my large system rxv477 it is recessed quiet a bit and I think it can easily be not satisfying, and the same can be said for smartphones and tablet. However on the ZX2, it appears more forward and is only a little very slightly bit further than Z7 or MDR-sa5000...I consider sa5000 a bit forward mid, z7 is at an excellent range of distant, and th900 is too good like listening to the singer on the stage and being in middle chair in the first row :D. Due to emphasis on mid-trebles energy and details, some of the "not so well recorded tracks" trebles and vocal extensions can appear ears piercing and spikes of harshness that I see many people mentioned about. It is absolutely not forgiving (premium grade referenced) yeah, what else do you expect ? Musical ? Nah, that is Z7. For all that said, the th900 vocals is superbly accurate for "mastering a track, or hearing flaws or editing details, filter out vocal extensions sibilants, uses". Allow me to state that, just because I am not a sound engineer or recording artist, but I swear that I can observe the vocal extended sibilant on the same singer but different track+artist

Trebles: ah, this is also a tricky part as it is picky...ok let's get to zx2 as a source. When listening to superbly mastered, and recorded tracks, the trebles and it details is actually just represent one word "beautiful". The first time that I felt the "impacts" of a double tap on hit-hat or cymbal attacks, the rhythm behind the hand shake devices...etc. like stated above in the mid sections, the mid-trebles body on not so well mastered track can be very harsh. But it is time I myself to ignore those tracks, and save those for more forgiving or musical headphones such as Z7. Trebles extensions, details, resolutions, and textures are just all too good here, and I actually appreciate and love the mid-trebles body emphasis this way as it makes little and distant instruments which lay within high frequency to show more tonality and emotions. Yeah, the first time I have heard emotional trebles regions, only on well masterful Tracks. Again, absolutely "premium reference headphones grade". Th900 straight out is the king here when out against Z7. The Z7 trebles extensions can be somewhat lacking until modded it would show more but still vieled and make it more forgiving + musical.

Soundstage: Very wide, and especially the cup chambers of not much depth and volumetric inside. It appears more open than one would think, and it is absolutely not closed back style. I think it is more of a semi open headphones as it would leak sounds both way quiet a bit more than Z7. Soundstage accuracy of presentation is actually good, and satisfying. However, I do think my recabled Z7 has better depth and spherical soundstage. I can hear more sounds coming from around behind me on the z7.

Soundscape: th900 represent a more of upfront and center stage focused scape where the Z7 would be a surround spherical staging. Both are equally appreciated. But Z7 would make me jump and gives me the creep in the movies where explosive actions or creepy things approaching from behind, where as th900 would give the feeling of explosive and or something approaching from far left or right toward the front.


My conclusion is that TH900 is very Transparent, details, high-definition and excellent micro dynamic impacts+detail retrieval, excellent reference grade which is also easy to drive and need no sophisticated "rigs or stack of money". Simply recabled and straight out from zx2 TRRS is too good alreaday

I love both Z7 and th900 as one can be used for references, and another one Z7, can be used for high-end musical enjoyment.


Will replace the pictures to better one when I have time :) thanks for your time. I hope I helped
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Wow, so you got it. X00 and 900, would you listening to e.g. Studio Ghibli songs with X00? Does the mids in X00 sound impactful?
I actually don't have x00. But the th900 mid isn't all that recessed as some people said, and it is very picky, on not so well synced source, it would sound very recessed.
Does the th900 benefit from an amp?


500+ Head-Fier
Pros: U-shaped signature is good for techno, mids are great, comfort, and plenty of reasonably tight bass, soundstage width is tremendous
Cons: Price, really hard to pair properly, the closed-back design holds them back, imaging is only okay, the far ends of the soudnstage are a bit distorted
First, the normal boilerplate stuff -
Audio setup -
    FLAC files in Media Monkey -> Amazon Basics TOSLINK cable -> Schiit Bifrost w/Uber upgrade -> Knukoncept Shielded RCAs -> Project Ember with  new Tesla ECC802S
Music -
    Nabucco, Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, 1965
    Why So Serious, Hans Zimmer, the Dark Knight OST
First, let me preface my review with a couple of facts. First of all, I got these at about 40% under MSRP, and at 20% under the best sales prices that are floating around right now, but they are really quite expensive normally. I kept that in mind while reviewing them. I am also the first owner, and I don't actually know if they are fully broken in yet, I haven't been keeping good track of how long I've used them. Finally, TOTL reviews suck. Expectations really skew my perception, and that's annoying to work around instead of giving an abysmal rating on a product that is really quite good, just not perfect.
Sonically speaking these are good cans, but they really do have a U-shaped signature. That actually posed a big problem for me, since I don't have a tube on hand to clip both the lows and highs at the same time, so I just used my trusty Tesla to tame the highs. I penalized the cans for this, since a flat frequency response is an essential for TOTL headphones. That being said, the bass is tight and fast, and is just a decibel or two elevated above what it should be, so ot's not overwhelming (Fostex appears to have learned a few lessons from the Dennon X000 series, which they helped design). Why So Serious was listenable, unlike with my old DT 990's, but the bass had a lot of presence and power. The mids are truly impressive, with very natural presentation rivaling my GS1000s. After I tamed the highs, I was very impressed with how they perform, since they were also very neutral, not cold and analytical. These headphones also give you a very intimate presentation, like your in the first three rows at the opera. This actually helps the soundstage, since all the sounds I hear are clearly in front of me, displayed on an actually stage with true depth to it, unlike my GS1000 review. The only real flaw with the soundstage is that at the far ends of it things are less smooth. It's a bit hard to describe what I'm hearing but it's like things off o the ends don't move nearly as much, and then they reach a point where they just start to smoothly slide across. IF you have a pair of these, listen to the funeral march from Nabucco, you'll hear what I'm trying to express at the beginning and end of the track. Finally, in terms of the clarity of the imaging, when you put all the pieces together the result is merely good.It's had to pick out individual instruments, you can't hear the subtle variations of the harps, the strings are too homogenous. This is actually the biggest thing I hold against these cans, since that's something that a TOTL headphone really needs to nail down.
In terms of build quality and comfort, these cans are some of the best. The hardwood cusp with a very scratch-resistant lacquer look stunning, and a majority of the hardware is a nice matte black-painted metal that makes the cans feel like a TOTL product. The cable, so often a shortcoming, is actually really nice, dual-entry, fully sleeved, though the cheap splitter detracts from the images a bit. The headband and pads are both made with the eggshell protein faux leather, which is super comfortable, and just amazingly soft The pads are also angled, which probably helps for the very accurate and expansive soundstage of the headphones.The only complaint is that the inner structure of the headband feels a bit flimsy and cheap, but that's not a huge issue and I'm not going to knock them down for that. finally, the 1/4" TRS plug is very nice, but I would personally prefer a 4-pin XLR. Whatever, that's not a big deal either.
The final word on these is that they are probably the prettiest of all TOTL headphones, but their sonic qualities fall short. You really need to do some research about finding a combination that will tame them, unless you just want to listen to Techno or House music.
Edits (20/10/2014) - Grammar, spelling, changed a few errata, general clean-up.
good concise review, maybe including some pics would have been nice.
Yeah, the only camera I own is a nexus4 rear camera, which is really, really bad. If I get a camera, I can certainly upload some pictures, but at the best case that's 4-6 weeks in the future.
I do have to agree that its difficult to pair these. Still serching for the right amp/dac combo.


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Great sound quality, easy to drive than many other flagships, extremely well glare surface with unique painting and not easy to get scratch.
Cons: Mid tend to be a little bit recessed due to its U shape signature. It needs suitable amps to control and bring up its beautiful mid.
I have owned this headphone for 2 years and it never disappointed me. The sound quality is no need to discuss as its sound signature has been discussed multiple times in TH900 thread. 
This beauty is really a beast, use proper amps with good ability to control (bass and mid), the TH900 truly sings. The first time I received it I can feel the sounds were great enough (I was using V200 or C4 to drive it). However, the bass was too strong and the treble was tend to be fatiguing. after 2 months break-in, the TH900 sounds more charming and the fatiguing treble got improved. But the bass still too strong to my taste and mid are a bit recessed.
I figured out it was my amp's problem and I changed my amp to the Luxman P1-u. Improvement? I will say it's HUGE. The bass got nicely controled and the Luxman bring up the mid nicely without losing speed, resolution. The treble sounds glorious, I would definetly recommend P1u as the right amp for TH900. But the Luxman only good in driving low impedance headphones, not big ponds like the HD800. (The Zana Deux - TH900 combo are also paires great to my taste.)
I'm not so good in describing sound but base on my personal experience, the TH900 is an extremely good headphone. I sure I will keep it as one my collection. 
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Sigh. i wish i could afford an amp like that. 3k usd. 
IMO, 3k is over priced for the Luxman, I got it from an Australian dealer for 2300AUD, which is close to original price from Japan. :)
Try not use any power conditionor to translate the voltage, as that will bring negative impact to SQ. My friend bought his P1u from Japan which is 100v and use it in HK (220v), the sound just not as satisfied.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Comfortable to wear, very open-sounding for a closed headphone, bass!
Cons: Lack of neutrality & extreme dynamic range; unfocused-sounding
Review: Fostex TH900
originally published on November 25, 2013
revised & re-published on December 29, 2013
- download a printable 10-page PDF version of this review (target goes to a location on my Dropbox)

(click for larger photo)

I first heard the Fostex TH900 at CanJam@RMAF 2012 in October, which was a costly mistake. 
It was one of the most promising headphone auditions that I've ever had at an audio show, enough that I was persuaded to impulse-buy my own pair on Black Friday 2012 when they were being discounted by Moon Audio. I no longer own the TH900 though and sold them earlier this year in August for personal reasons, but I couldn't let my experience go without writing something about them, so here we are with my completed full review.
Apologies for the length of this review (at 10 pages printed) to those who find it too long, but there was so much that I wanted to share and not much that I wanted to delete. And given the high price of the headphones, I felt that such a long review was merited.
Equipment Setup
- Source component: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (Signal Cable Silver Reference power cord, directly into wall)
- Analog interconnects: Emotiva X-Series RCA on GS-X MK2, X-Series XLR on BHSE
- Headphone amplifiers: Burson Audio Soloist, HeadAmp GS-X MK2 and Blue Hawaii SE
- Headphones: Audio-Technica AD2000, HiFiMan HE-400, MrSpeakers Mad Dog 3.2, Stax OII MKI
Evaluation Music
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane
- Carlos Kleiber & VPO - Beethoven 5 & 7
- Erin Boheme - What Love Is
- Goldfrapp - Black Cherry
- Helloween - 7 Sinners
- In Flames - The Jester Race
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos
- Kamelot - Poetry for the Poisoned
- Lee Morgan - Tom Cat [AudioWave/Blue Note XRCD]
- Massive Attack - Mezzanine
- Nicola Benedetti - Fantasie
- Ruth Moody - The Garden
- Steve Kuhn - Mostly Coltrane
- The Crystal Method - Tweekend
- The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land
- Trifonic - Emergence
This review contains my usual “lexicon” of audio descriptors that I'm well aware may not be easily understood by all readers. Some words may be confusing, others will lack apparent explanation and/or context, and most of it will just likely be foreign to those who haven't heard a variety of headphones and won't understand what I'm trying to convey. Nothing in this review is purposely meant to confuse or obfuscate though, and I'll just say this: all lexicon used is my best attempt to try to explain the “sound” of audio using the written word, which is extremely difficult to do, if not impossible. Much in the same way as the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true, so too “a sound is worth a thousand words” as well, and there are no words period that can accurately convey everything that I perceived from the Fostex TH900. My standard recommendation for all readers is this: try to find an opportunity to hear the headphones for yourself, or just buy them (new or used)—at worst you can easily re-sell them on Head-Fi if you don't like them.
Since the words “natural” and “neutral” are used throughout my review, I'll define them upfront:
- “Natural”: Meant primarily as the opposite to “unnatural” or “fake”, because of the headphones that have sounded unnatural to me for one reason or another. Unnatural-sounding headphones to me include: most Audio-Technica headphones (due to weird tonalities), most Grado headphones (due to sucked-out mid-range bands), AKG K70x (due to weird spikes in treble & mid-range), and the HiFiMan HE-400 & Sennheiser HD800 (both due to an emphasized treble & thin mid-range). Headphones that have sounded “natural” to me include: Stax OII MKI, Grado HP1000, Sennheiser HD600, Audeze LCD-2/LCD-3, and Beyerdynamic T1. For me “natural” means a tonality & timbre that makes most acoustic instruments sound reasonably close to that of real-life counterparts, instead of making them sound “fake”. Additional info should be provided here as well: I've been a violinist since age 6 and know the sound of a violin intimately (I'm 32 as of this writing), along with that of the piano and several other orchestral instruments. So when I listen to music, I seek headphones that can hence reproduce “non-fake” instrument tonalities.
- “Neutral”: Technically, “neutral” should mean “flat”, or a flat frequency balance across the board from bass to treble, but few headphones actually execute that. So I've since discarded that idea in favor of baselining headphones that actually sound neutral to my ears, and to me these headphones do: Stax OII MKI, Grado HP1000, JH Audio JH13 (IEMs). All other headphones that I've heard are non-neutral to me, though some have gotten surprisingly close, specifically the latest models of the Audeze LCD-2 r2. I'll repeat: all other headphones are non-neutral to me. A full list of headphones that I've heard is in my Head-Fi profile.
Please do not send me any PMs in regards to this review, as I won't respond to any unsolicited PMs for personal reasons (this is repeated in my sig & profile).
Sonic Summary
I'll say it upfront to get it over with: the TH900 was easily hands-down one of the best dynamic headphones that I've heard to date, closed or open. It was superbly natural-sounding (note: not necessarily neutral-sounding, because it wasn't), but what spooked me most about it was how close it got to the level of the Stax OII MKI. I thought it was by far the closest-sounding pair of dynamic headphones to the electrostatic Stax OII MKI, indeed so close that when I sold the OII/BHSE (for reasons unrelated to the TH900), I didn't miss the electrostatic system that much.
I'd sum up the TH900 as an open-sounding mid-range-oriented headphone (not that “mid-range-oriented” should mean “warm” though, at least as “warm” is typically used by other reviewers), with a deceptively surprising bass attack. I'd further describe it with the following list of qualities:
  1. Uncharacteristically open-sounding for a closed headphone, similar to the Audio-Technica W5000 in solely that aspect. Very diffuse-sounding with a lot of openness/airiness throughout, preventing anything from sounding close-up and presenting a large hall- or stage-like sound—not overly spacious, but not compacted either. Somewhere in-between those, skewed slightly more towards spacious.
  1. Low-hitting, powerful, & driller-like bass. Light on overall quantity to really fill out the 30-80Hz area, and even less in the 80-200Hz mid-bass area, but with the hitting force of a jackhammer for that 30-80Hz area. In short, the TH900 had a sneakily forceful low-bass kick that dominated over the general mid-bass “impact” zone (i.e., contrasting from something like the Audeze LCD-3, which has high mid-bass impact).
  1. Well-balanced sonically with a very natural tonality throughout—appropriately natural-sounding enough to make most acoustic instruments sound reasonably close to realistic, from string to jazz instruments.
  1. An overall U-shaped, scooped-out mid-range despite the natural tonality—i.e., the mid-range lacked body & fullness to an extent, primarily in the lower mid-range and mid-bass area. This negatively affected especially male vocals and instruments like bass guitars, so the TH900 wasn't ideal with music that used one or both of those components (in my case that was metal, but it could also apply to heavy, hard, and progressive rock).
  1. Mid-range with a bold, vivid, rich character, not too far-off from certain discontinued Audio-Technica wood-lacquered headphones that I've heard in the past like the W5000 and W2002. Very “expressive”-sounding too, with a distinct inflection that especially added to plaintive-sounding music & instrument techniques (like long violin bowstrokes). This also contributed to making certain female vocalists sound somewhat lascivious, depending on the vocalist's style/range—it was more noticeable on female jazz vocalists in particular (Erin Boheme being a good example of it from my own CD collection).
The summary above provides a big-picture context of the TH900 for this review, but of course there were further aspects of the headphone that both positively added to it and negatively subtracted from it. I'll start with the positives:
+ Light weight and comfort: Headphones have to be comfortable in addition to subjectively sounding good, and fortunately the TH900 was very comfortable to wear. They were nicely light-weight and the headband was curved just right to distribute the weight evenly across my head instead of creating any singular pressure points, unlike the HE-400 and bumped-headband versions of the AKG K70x which were very uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. The earcups were fully circumaural as well and didn't exert much clamping pressure.
+ Low leakage & low isolation: Leakage & isolation are tricky to balance on any headphone—they're not necessarily advantages to everyone in all situations. For example, someone looking for closed headphones might want as much isolation as possible to block out the environment, or as little isolation as possible so that they can listen to music while not being completely unaware of their environment. I thought the TH900 struck a decent balance between leakage versus isolation. At low to moderate volumes it didn't noticeably leak much sound, though if your intended purpose is to use them nearby other people within ~10 feet or less, I'd advise not cranking up the volume, because high-volume sound can easily leak out and be audible within a short distance range due to the relatively light clamp. It was two-way as well, so the isolation level was also low—i.e., it was relatively easy to hear background noise from a TV in another room with the headphones on, for example. Those who want more isolation should consider another pair of headphones or IEMs.
+ Mid-range-oriented sound: This has already been pointed out but it bears repeating. The TH900 wasn't exactly subtle about adding various inflections and sonic “colors”—in fact, it was probably one of the more sonically-colorful headphones that I've heard. It added extra character to vocals and a sort of “glare” quality to brass instruments that enhanced reediness and bronzy characteristics, but just a little. Nothing that was too much, but it certainly made genres like jazz sound more colorful & flashy. Perhaps a negative aspect but I personally enjoyed the inflection, as it seemed to enhance certain kinds of music.
+ Open, spread-out sound and large soundstaging: The TH900's open sound can't be overstated either, it was just remarkably open/diffuse/airy for a closed headphone, with a width & depth surpassed only by the even more open- & diffuse-sounding Sennheiser HD800. The TH900’s soundstage was a bit smaller-scale than the HD800 though, which I considered a good thing, as I view the HD800's soundstage to be too over-the-top large. In terms of only the soundstaging, I might liken the TH900 more to the AKG K70x—wide & deep, but not overly so. However, lest that provide the wrong idea, unlike the AKG K70x, the TH900 positioned everything in the mix distinctly out & away and very nicely spread-out, for a good illusion of music playing in a wide, airy space.
And now for the negatives:
- Lack of sonic agility: The TH900 wasn't a very agile-sounding headphone and was downright clunky-sounding on fast music, especially in the bass/mid-bass area. It didn't “spring” from one note to the next and seemed to overhang a bit, which made it sound like it was dragging weight. It was borderline ponderous-sounding, which made no sense given its electrical characteristics (25 Ohms and 100 db/mW). I thought it should have been a lot more agile-sounding given its low-impedance spec.
- Short decay: This wasn't unexpected for a closed headphone, as every closed headphone I've heard has a short decay, it just goes with the territory. This affected mostly my enjoyment of ambient electronica, which relies on properly long decay to deliver the effect—i.e., sonically-disappearing layers should slowly fade away back into the background and shouldn't be cut off at the end. The TH900 cut off these “exit trails” as I call them, which made it sound sort of flat.
- Lack of focus & insistency: The TH900 was also “unfocused” to me, as if it lacked a sense of forward-moving drive. This was most noticeable on fast music, or fast note sequences. There was no “insistence” or “momentum” to its sound and in some cases it sounded as if it were bored & listless, almost inert, and it wasn't motivated to metaphorically start running. It was a stark contrast to my Audio-Technica AD2000, which has the opposite characteristic and always sounds like it wants to immediately tear down the nearest racetrack at breakneck speed.
- Lack of dynamic range at the extremes: The TH900 had a decently wide musical dynamic range, more than some of its competitors like the Audeze LCD-2/LCD-3 and Sennheiser HD800, but not as much as the even-more-dynamic Stax OII MKI. I've previously likened the Audeze models to have a musical dynamic range that goes from mezzo-piano to mezzo-forte, and using the same scale I'd say the TH900's dynamic range went from pianissimo to fortissimo (pp to ff), but not pianissimo possibile to fortissimo possibile (ppp to fff). The only headphones I've heard that have the ppp to fff dynamic range are the Stax OII MKI when amped by the HeadAmp BHSE. Granted, the TH900 had good dynamics on its own, but it just wasn't as wide-ranging as the Stax OII MKI's and lacked proper handling for both quiet and intensely loud volumes—i.e., quiet parts lacked a certain subtlety, and extremely loud parts lacked sheer tear-off-the-ceiling intensity. It simply didn't handle low volumes that well and typically sounded better moderate to loud.
- Lack of soundstage depth: As mentioned above in the positives under “Wide, open sound and large soundstaging”, the TH900 set up a clear stage-like presentation, but it set up everything on that stage at the same apparent depth position. Not with multiple depth planes to provide the illusion that certain instruments were behind (or in front of) others, like the Stax OII MKI was able to do. Admittedly sort of a nitpick, as most dynamic headphones lack this ability too, but it was still noticeable on very critical listening sessions.
- Lack of neutrality: The TH900 wasn't neutral compared to the OII MKI (which many do consider neutral, me included), and as already mentioned, it had a scooped-out mid-range leading to a sort of U-shaped frequency response. Although the mid-range was only minorly scooped-out, it was still enough to me to detract from my enjoyment of some genres like metal, which often relies on male vocals to sound heavy and/or aggressive, and the TH900 was never able to convey that.
- Limited multi-genre applicability: Already implied above, but for most people the TH900 may not be ideal for all genres due to its sonic signature. While some may find it perfectly acceptable for classical, like I did, some others might not. Still others might find it acceptable for rock & metal, or electronic music, but I thought the TH900 didn't do quite as well in those genres. Either way, even for me the TH900 wasn't the master of every genre and only handled a few really well (classical, jazz, acoustic in general), so I'd imagine that others would find the same results.
Informal Comparisons: Audeze LCD-2 & LCD-3, Sennheiser HD800, Fostex TH600
Unfortunately I didn't own the TH900 alongside the HD800 and Audeze headphones simultaneously, so I can't provide a direct comparison. I can only provide an “informal” comparison that loosely relates the TH900 to each headphone based on my previous experiences, going off memory. First, it should be noted that I heard the HD800, LCD-2, and LCD-3 on various amps, not only in my home but also at various Head-Fi meets and shows (like CanJam@RMAF). Second, not all of these headphones have the same amping requirements, and an amp electrically optimal for the HD800 isn't necessarily also optimal for the Audeze headphones, and certainly not optimal for the TH900 too. That doesn't even consider the sonic characteristics of such an amp, which can further skew the results. That said, here are the informal comparisons:
Audeze LCD-2/LCD-3: The Audeze LCD-2 & LCD-3 have a basic tonal similarity to the TH900 (i.e., they all have a “natural-sounding” mid-range) but are fundamentally different, and neither of them are necessarily “better”. I consider the LCD-2 and LCD-3 to sound a lot alike, so I'll lump them together and simply say that they both have suffocating soundstages in contrast to the open-sounding TH900—that is, their soundstage has always sounded overly compacted regardless of the amp, and despite being open headphones, they both almost sound like closed headphones with everything placed too close-up and not having enough breathing room in the virtual space. The Audezes both also have substantially more relative bass & mid-range than the TH900, particularly the LCD-3, which I consider especially bassy & full-sounding. But to get the big-picture view, to me both of the Audezes have a fantastically physically tactile and assertive sound, very American-style in their assertiveness, and with quite an upfront quality about them. Compared to them, the TH900 is a lot less physical-sounding, with a more general passive and distant sound, but on the flipside provides bigger spatials and more clarity.
HD800: I consider the TH900 and HD800 to be more different from each other than similar, though both have large-ish soundstages. I think they're sonically complementary and fill in for each other's weaknesses to an extent. The HD800 has always lacked mid-range to me regardless of the supporting gear, and even on the best amps that I've heard it on, which include the Luxman P-1u (at home) and Apex Teton (at RMAF), it's still always lacked a perfect treble-mids-bass balance to me. For me the HD800's best qualities are its treble (even though it's a little too emphasized relative to the mid-range) and its high level of clarity. Although some view the HD800's open & large soundstaging to be one of its highlights, I'm not one of those people, as I think that aspect of it is a little too over-the-top and it's an unnatural effect on most genres of music. So for me, the TH900's smaller-scale soundstaging and higher mid-range quantity, along with its more-powerful bass, make it more musically versatile, as I was able to enjoy more genres on it, especially bass-oriented electronica which I could never listen to with the HD800. The HD800 was always genre-limited for me and the only types of music that I could tolerate it with were ambient electronica, bluegrass/folk, and generally female vocal-based acoustic music (blues, jazz). With the TH900, I could tolerate all of those genres plus more, namely instrumental & period jazz which was another intolerable genre for me on the HD800 due to its thin mid-range.
TH600: My report on the TH900 versus TH600 is linked below under “Related Reading”, as I got the chance to have them in-house together earlier this year thanks to the HeadAmp Demo Program.
Even-More-Informal Comparisons: Audeze LCD-XC, MrSpeakers Alpha Dog
It's perfectly ok if most people completely discount my informal comparisons to these two headphones, as I wasn't even sure about adding them myself for the simple reason that I only briefly heard the LCD-XC and Alpha Dog at this year's CanJam@RMAF. But I ended up deciding that it's probably worth giving these new-release headphones a short comparative mention. So I also have to add the usual caveat: my experience with the LCD-XC and Alpha Dog so far has been solely in a show environment with uncontrolled variables and less than ideal conditions.
First, as stated before, there are very few amps that will functionally drive the LCD-XC, Alpha Dog, and TH900 equally well, and that's not even considering the sonics of such an amp. With the sonics factored in, there are definitely no amps that will drive all 3 headphones perfectly. So with that said, here are the informal (and speculatory!) comparisons. Take them with extra grains of salt!
LCD-XC: The physical aspects should be factored in first, because Audeze headphones in general have been big & heavy with a lot of clamping force, and it seemed that the LCD-XC was especially bulky & heavy. Sonically I might consider the LCD-XC to be darker than the TH900 with less of its finesse and subtlety and more of that classic Audeze sound—more physically tactile and even more forward & assertive than the existing Audeze models, almost borderline aggressive. The LCD-XC also seemed to be quite closed-in-sounding, with even more of a compacted soundstage. It had more mid-bass quantity too—probably just the right amount for most bassheads, I'd imagine. So I don't view it as being very similar to the TH900 and more like a contrast as something different. The LCD-XC is probably a better headphone for those who like electronic, pop/rock, and/or metal—or just generally “American Top 40” types of music, because it is an American-made headphone, after all. I even saw Alex Rosson (the president of Audeze) DJ-ing at RMAF 2013 using the LCD-XC. :wink:
Alpha Dog: I think the TH900 is probably a natural upgrade from the Alpha Dog due to sounding more open & diffuse (separated), with more clarity as well. The Alpha Dog is more neutral though, since I found its tonality to be surprisingly close to the Audeze LCD-2 r2 when I directly compared them at RMAF on the same amp (I consider the LCD-2 to be relatively close to neutral). For those who might already be stretching to afford the Alpha Dog and are wondering if the TH900 is worth stretching further for, I say just buy the Alpha Dog. It's an incredible value at its price and the TH900 isn't a huge landslide improvement over it, plus the Alpha Dog is closer to neutral which makes it more musically versatile. But for “cost no object” buyers, I think the sonic advantages of the TH900 relative to the Alpha Dog make it worth the purchase for its more-open soundstage (with more air & diffusion throughout), tonal richness, and overall finesse at handling various musical subtleties, especially those in classical music. Moreover, those who want a “large-scale” soundstage for classical music would probably do well to skip straight to the TH900. Finally let's not forget, the Alpha Dog is planar magnetic and the TH900 is a low-impedance sensitive dynamic, which means that they have very different amplification requirements. A good high-voltage amp needs to be factored in for the Alpha Dog while the TH900 can be easily driven by anything with a headphone jack (though it benefits from proper high-current amplification).
Direct Comparison: vs MrSpeakers Mad Dog 3.2
The only reason for this comparison was because the Mad Dog and TH900 are both closed, even if the two headphones are different types (the Mad Dog being planar magnetic, and the TH900 dynamic) and vary wildly in price. That said, the Mad Dog is a great budget closed headphone that's not really comparable to any other closed headphones up to $300, unless we count the KEF M500 which goes in another sonic direction completely. Perhaps I should just say that the Mad Dog and M500 are two different sides of a coin and are both highly recommended for those on a budget. That is to say, if you buy one and don't like it, then the other would probably sound better to you since they're close to polar opposites.
The TH900 was closer-sounding to the Mad Dog than the M500 overall, but it took the Mad Dog formula and improved on it significantly. For one, it was way more efficient, obviating the need for a high-voltage amp (but a high-current amp would naturally be useful). The TH900 was basically like a much more open-sounding Mad Dog with a more relaxed, laid-back sound, slightly thinner bass (but no reduction in low-level depth & force), and more refined treble. That covers the “basics” but there was also much more subtlety to the TH900 that can't be succinctly put into words. Suffice it to say that I thought the TH900 was a definite upgrade over the Mad Dog.
Direct Comparison: vs Stax SR-007/BHSE
The TH900 got awfully close to the OII MKI, much closer than any other headphones that I've heard. What made it so close to the OII was its combo of an essentially open, clear sound and a natural, rich tonality that added quite a bit of color & expressiveness to its sound. Though the OII wasn't colorful or expressive on its own, that added quality of the TH900 helped it to get closer to the OII's level of performance on my system. Without it, the TH900 would've had quite a bit less going for it. That said, I almost could've considered the TH900 (along with the GS-X MK2) as a dynamic replacement for the electrostatic system completely and not have missed much other than some really subtle musical details that the OII MKI brought to the table. It's only for that proverbial last 1% that the OII MKI eclipsed the TH900. The electrostatic setup simply transcended typical headphone limitations to provide something unbelievably surreal-sounding.
There was the TH900's non-neutral mid-range too, contrasting from the perfect neutral balance of the OII MKI. It also had less treble extension than the OII MKI and sounded less precise. However, one of the most noticeable contrasts came about from the fundamental difference between closed versus open headphones—the TH900 didn't really have a black, silent background and its note decays were consistently cut-off, as previously mentioned above. With that exception, the TH900 had more genre versatility than the OII, mostly thanks to its added bass (because that's sort of a lacking aspect of the OII MKI). It was more adept at electronica & metal than the OII MKI, while still being great for classical. It could have been even better for classical though if its dynamic range was wider, closer to the level of the OII MKI's, but it was still very acceptable, if not completely ideal for very quiet or very loud music.
For those interested in the minutiae, I've included detailed info on how the TH900 compared to the OII MKI in the Notes section below.
I was able to test the TH900 on only two amps, the Burson Soloist and HeadAmp GS-X MK2, so I can't really speak for how it might sound with any others. But I can say that the TH900 requires a proper high-current amp to sound its best given its electrical characteristics, and it sounded very good on the Soloist, and great on the GS-X MK2. I recommend trying other amps though, as I'd expect that there are probably plenty of others that would pair even better with it.
If there's one thing that I want readers to take away from this review, it's that the TH900 was awesome-sounding but not perfect either. No headphone ever is, and even the Stax OII MKI had its flaws to me, though admittedly the OII MKI had the fewest number of flaws that I've ever found with a headphone. But for me, the Stax OII MKI was the closest that I ever got to sonic perfection—it was positively amazing and life-changing, and reaffirmed to me the potential of high-end headphone audio.
That's not to say that I can't say the same about the TH900 though, because it too was amazing. Even with all of the other headphones that I've heard, I consider it one of the top dynamic flagships currently in production! The mere fact that I could compare it to the Stax OII MKI for this review (and that it came away with its dignity intact) is high praise for it, especially when I haven't found any other dynamic or planar magnetic headphones that can remotely compare to the OII MKI's level.
I say buy it if you can afford it and then be happy, because this hobby is full of endless pursuits and for most people it won't be worth it to keep going further for a high-end electrostatic system. For those who honestly want the truly best-sounding, cost-no-object headphones, go ahead and skip straight to a Stax OII MKI w/ BHSE. But for those who value their time & money (and their energy bill, because the electrostatic system soaks up tons of wall power), go for the Fostex TH900 instead. It simply offers high-quality sound and is worthy of being one of the “final” set of headphones for anyone.
Related Reading
Audeze LCD-3 mini-review:
Fostex TH600 micro-review:
Addendum – Review Notes
My review notes are included here in their own section for convenience. These provide specific detailed info not included in the review. Not all listening data was documented either, this is only a fraction of the total listening that was done (much more listening was done than the notes might indicate). Lastly, the review was not written directly from solely these notes, this is only provided as a supplement. Notes start below the asterisks.
TH900 vs OII MKI
Massive Attack - Mezzanine, Goldfrapp - Black Cherry, Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane, Ruth Moody - The Garden, Helloween - 7 Sinners
  1. OII's imaging has more center-fill and sounds more “continuous” and “integrated”, TH900 more divergent to left and right. TH900 lacks OII's “swift lightness” and sounds heavier/clunkier, very obvious on percussion (i.e., belly drums on “Inertia Creeps”). TH900 also partially blurry in mid-bass/mid-range. OII's lightness/”spring” works for it a lot more, while TH900's clunk works against it. TH900 lacks blinding-speed percussive impact of OII and AD2K—lacks that hard- & fast-hitting aspect. TH900 is “hard” but not completely “fast”. Recovery specifically is slow; lingers too long. Very slightly “plodgy” or “rounded-off”.
  1. TH900 sort of like a darker OII—less treble quantity, more mids, deeper & heavier bass. Also slightly smaller-scaled in the soundstage. OII soundstage more “organized”. OII still has more clarity and cleaner treble as well—actually substantially more clarity. Even if mids make OII sound “thinner” than TH900, OII's clarity provides more “detail” on timbre & tone. TH900 has a slight tendency towards a “congealed thickness” and congestion, while OII does not.
  1. Bass: deep/full on TH900, satisfactory impact with moderate thickness as well. Very clear on OII, not as heavy/deep. Bass seems “faster” on OII than TH900. More “powerful” on OII though, as well as lower extension on it. OII more capable of producing low-extending, hard-driving bass when amped by BHSE. TH900 lacks extension and an aggressively “hard” drive into its bass range—i.e., TH900's bass notably heavy & deep but not particularly focused. Lacks the parallel focus/drive of OII.
  1. More air/spatials/separation/dimension on OII—more sense of soundstage depth & width. Can make OII sound “bigger” than TH900. TH900 more “intimate” than OII, vocals are pushed forward more (more in-your-face) and have less depth to them.
  1. OII has excellent low-volume integrity; TH900 not as adept. OII sounds just as good extremely quiet as it does loud, TH900 sounds better moderate to loud.
  1. TH900 otherwise very close to OII—probably closest-sounding dynamic headphone to OII, nearly an equivalent. There are no real dynamic equivalents to the OII—but the TH900 gets awfully & scarily close nonetheless.
Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos: OII sets up more realistic soundstaging—not too close, not too far, just the right width span. Just the right spatials & separation too—excellent sense of the acoustic space, the sound waves reverberating throughout. TH900 lacks that aspect of the acoustics. TH900 also lacks the “radiating” sound of the OII and the pure/clean sound of Fischer's violin. TH900 a little bit “masked”, OII simply has purity of sound and maintains a beautiful purity to Fischer's violin. Specifically, TH900 masks Fischer's violin-bowing technique a little—volume modulation, string-crossing, etc. TH900 seems to have excessively “warm”-sounding violins, not an unpleasant addition though. Violin “wood” tone also spot-lighted on TH900, so they sound extra “woody”. TH900 also lacks fast, light Baroque touch that OII has.
Carlos Kleiber & VPO - Beethoven 5 & 7: Unconvincing wall of sound via TH900—lacks coherency. Though OII has more “separation”, it's the TH900 that has a disjointed-sounding orchestra, with way too much space/distance between violin & cello sections. Depth planes not apparent on TH900 either—everything seems at same depth plane. TH900 doesn't project outwards very well and lacks the “air” that would make the orchestra sound larger. TH900 also has blobby-sounding violins—sort of a mess. Sections too “unified”, individual violins not distinct enough. OII has more volume intensity than TH900—TH900 seems louder because of more mid-range, but lacks sheer intensity that makes horns in particular scary-sounding. OII has more “projection” on the horns too so they seem more powerful.
Nicola Benedetti - Fantasie - “Zigeunerweisen Op.20”, “Spiegel Im Spiegel”: TH900 lacks “subtlety” of OII—specifically in low-volume parts. TH900 has more of a bold, rich, vivid character while OII is capable of more of a subdued character, not quite as bold/vivid. TH900 makes Benedetti's long, wide bow strokes very expressive-sounding.
Steve Kuhn - Mostly Coltrane - “Song of Praise”: Very full-sounding sax on TH900. Everything close/converged & full on TH900; OII divergent & thinner. TH900 has more of a “throw you in with the jazz group” effect, like Grado HP1000.
Lee Morgan - Tom Cat [AudioWave XRCD] - “Twice Around”: fuller-, closer-sounding instruments on TH900 that add to more “presence” factor, like Grado HP1000. Guessing, TH900 not far from HP1000 in terms of texture? TH900 seems like a crossover of both HP1000 and OII—soundstage & texture of HP1000, clarity & tonality of OII.
TH900 vs AD2K
The Crystal Method - Tweekend - “Murder”, “Over the Line”, “Blowout”: TH900 sort of like the sonic inverse of AD2K—U-shaped mid-range sinkhole contrasts to AD2K's bowed-out C-curve (more mid-range, less lower bass). Bass phase/pass stronger on TH900. In general TH900 has more sub-80Hz quantity than AD2K that contributes to it sounding bassier down low; however it also sounds thinner & more recessed than AD2K in upper mid-bass & lower mid-range.
In Flames - The Jester Race - “Moonshield”, “Artifacts of the Black Rain”: Lack of mids on TH900 bothersome on these tracks; the guitars are highlighted too much in the treble and don't have enough mid-range thrash to counterbalance. Fuller sound of AD2K better for these tracks. Vocals also shoved too much to background on TH900, but not an issue on AD2K.
Kamelot - Poetry for the Poisoned - “The Great Pandemonium”: Track distinctly boring on TH900 due to lack of mids and overall aggression. Much more “alive” on AD2K. Percussive hits shoved to background on TH900, very forward on AD2K.
TH900 lacks that “x-factor” that would make it truly awesome for hard-driving industrial/electronic/rock/metal. Lacks a “growl” or mean streak. However, definitely complementary to AD2K; opposite styles. AD2K is aggressive/forward, TH900 is passive/laid-back.
good read, thanks for the review
Hi i just want to ask who has more treble: HD800 or th900? Also do you think that a treble sensitive person might have a problem listening on th900? thanks :)
superb review! first I was not sure whether to buy this TH900 because there are many negative side you provided. But I kept reading it til the conclusion and then found myself smiling with that
"go for the Fostex TH900 instead (of OII MKI). It simply offers high-quality sound and is worthy of being one of the “final” set of headphones for anyone."
so thank you Asr! great review for me to make a decision. :)


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Bass, Comfort, Looks, Bass
Cons: Price,
Let me start off by saying that I purchased my TH-900s from an authorized dealer for $1,300 brand new (which I still feel is a bit above their true value) about one month ago.  I have owned (and sold) several pairs of D7000s already, so after reading many reviews claiming the TH900 to be an upgrade over the D7Ks in pretty much every way I decided to buy a pair.  My first impression was that they sounded very similar, but there are actually some serious differences.  It's worth noting that I went into this situation with a bit of bias.  I really, really expected to love the Th-900s.
These are without a doubt the nicest looking pair of headphones (well, in my opinion) that I have EVER seen.  The cups are just absolutely beautiful.  The pads are a total improvement over the old D7K pads (softer, deeper, they even look a bit nicer).  The cable I consider to be a bit of an issue (just like the D7Ks).  It's non-detachable and 10ft long, terminated in a 1/4" plug.  The wooden stand they ship with these is a nice thought, but kind of a waste if you ask me.  It looks and feels cheap, I would have rather had a nice storage box (the one included with the Th-900s isn't quite as nice as the one that came with the old Denon line).
Bass:  Bass on the TH-900s is a bit more extended than the D7Ks, but lacks the overall impact of the D7Ks due to it's lack of overall weight.  Bass is clean, crisp and well defined with the Th-900s, however it's only a slight improvement on the Denons.  Some people may prefer the overall weight/impact of the D7Ks bass to the Th-900s slightly better defined bass.
Treble:  I have occasionally been bothered by the agressive treble presentation of the D7Ks.  I sometimes find it a bit too harsh or sharp sounding to my ears, not always but occasionally it bothers me.  The Th-900s improve upon the D7K's treble presentation in every single way.  It is detailed, crisp and possibly the best I have heard from any headphone to date.
Mids:  This is where the Th-900s lost me, and where the D7Ks proved to be my preference.  The mids on the D7Ks are slightly recessed.  I was expecting somewhat of an improvement on the TH-900s.  Well, it turns out that it's quite the opposite.  The TH-900s have an even more recessed midrange than the D7Ks do, vocals can sound a bit distant, muffled and just bad overall (well, at least for a headphone in this price range).  This makes the TH-900s sound a bit strange to me, their overall presentation just doesn't sound natural in any way.  The D7Ks do have a typical V-shaped sound signature, but it works well for them as they are still decently balanced overall.  I feel like every aspect of the sound compliments another and they sound truly euphonic.  The Th-900s do make some improvements on the D7Ks, but aren't as enjoyable of a listen overall. 
The pricing concerns me a bit too. I feel like these would be an appropriate follow up to the D7Ks at a similar price (<$1000) but are outdone by quite a few options well below their current asking price.  I purchased mine at $1,300 (USD) and I don't feel like they're worth that.  If I were a buyer who purchased a pair at the original price of $2,000 I would feel a bit betrayed or misled after seeing the recent price drop.
Overall these are a pretty good sounding pair of headphones but not worth their asking price in my opinion, especially considering all of the other options.
Thoughtful review. It is unfortunate that the TH-900 was a bit "overrated" for you. Personally, I have to agree with LFC that your upstream gear is really effecting what you are hearing. It might also be preference as well. I might be in the minority on this one but I never really liked the D7K. I tried them multiple times but the treble was way to strident and the bass was bloated. Personally the TH-900 is a huge step up with my gear (GS-X MK II / PWD MKII). Maybe give it sometime to burn in, but I would seriously consider demoing the TH-900 with some higher scale gear. Even if it is just a Schiit Bifrost / Asgard, that should really allow the TH-900 to open up. I appreciate the review and the honesty. Thanks for the review.
I actually had the chance to try the TH-900s out of several amps/sources. My profile is as it is because I am currently upgrading/looking for something new. I actually had a Bifrost/Lyr combo for quite some time but have never heard the Asgard (actually I've owned the Lyr on two occasions now, but that's another story). Anyway... I know it was not just an issue of synergy as I have had much more pleasing results with other headphones I've recently tried recently such as the HD800s I recently reviewed. I also bought a pair of PS1000s based on the review in the TH-900 appreciation thread so I will be posting my opinions on them soon as well. I do understand that everyone has their preferences and I can certainly understand if you enjoy them more than I do. Thanks for the comments!
Absolutely fine. From memory of numerous demo opportunities, for my personal tastes the bass quantity on D5k and D7k was too intrusive. Never pushed me to buying. Everything else about it seemed fine. Equally I get why others would like that quality in the Denon's as your comments seem to indicate.
(Benefit of hindsight and that, would have picked up a pair if I had known they were going to get discontinued ha! :p)


500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Excellent allrounder with no glaring weakness
Cons: Wish the cable was detachable
Just a overview of my observations:
Absolutely my favorite headphone so far:
Eu-phonic headphone - music is so enjoyable - beautiful is the word that often comes to mind
Great quality and quantity of bass
Very nice extended treble - no sibilance problems
Enjoyable mids I have enjoyed the overall presentation so far
Nice sound stage - for a closed headphone
Beautiful build - design
high quality cable
Price I paid in Australian dollars above for the incredible workmanship that went into making this headphone
Very scalable - sounds great amazingly from a 200.00 sound card
Mids - can seem a little recessed on some amps and with some sources
No detachable cable
Sound Isolation is not very good for closed headphone my Edition 8 is far better.
Some headfiers have reported build quality issues with the screws securing the headband
Some people are paying 800.00 more than what I paid - seems less value at that price
You will hear much much better sound from any external DAC
Hi huberd can you elaborate what you mean? As you can apply that statement to just about any headphone that has a dedicated DAC & a dedicated headphone amplifier.
I used to have a internal PCI sound card because I thought it would be better than a USB DAC. I was completely blown away how much better a USB external sound card can sound. I have several freinds who experianced the same. 


Pros: Amazing frequency balance, Supreme bass body without being bloated, Looks pretty as hell!
Cons: Expensive!... Awkwardly placed Y splitter on the cable
Here are my thoughts on the TH900, posted on my blog
[size=medium] Disclaimer: A big thank you to SCV London for loaning me the TH900 for this review! [/size]
This flagship model is the first high-end headphone from Fostex and retails for £1499. The first thing to wow you about this headphone is the pretty pretty red paint job. This is Urushi lacquer and this photo simply doesn't do it justice! Finishing off the bold looks is the Fostex logo - in platinum. This sample has a few marks, but even the wear looks sexy on these things - like a used leather jacket. Underneath all this the cups are made from a special hard-wood to help acoustic performance (more on that in a minute). On the inside is a unique neodymium driver with 1.5 tesla of magnetic power! Eat your heart out Beyerdynamic.
To address a potential elephant in the room and clear up some facts - I will mention the Denon AH-D7000. Both it and the TH900 look strikingly similar and this is because both are made by Foster Electronics (which Fostex is a part of). Their sound has a similar signature, but it's here that they start to separate. The D7000 is the first headphone I ever reviewed and I still own it, so I will offer some insights into key differences between the two later but for now, let's focus on the TH900...
[size=medium]     SOUND[/size]
[size=medium] The TH900 is going to be a headphone that's loved by anyone partial to a prominent and healthy bass body. The bass depth is pretty great but it's the power and kick throughout the bass frequencies that's rather epic! What shocked me more than the punch was the breathtaking speed of it's decay, it's both tight and powerful, detail with massive presence. Yes this is a warm sound, but despite that great clarity comes through, and that's a rare treat indeed! If this is the Japanese hard wood at work, even partially, then I'm impressed. I take my hat off to you, Fostex, you clearly know what you're doing. [/size]
Perhaps you might be a little shocked to see the TH900's being described as 'reference', this something usually associated with the rather bass dry headphones like the Sennheiser HD800's or AKG K/Q701's. So is it really fair to call these headphones reference? Yes I really think it is. There is plenty of detail throughout all the ranges here and little bleed, the bass is powerful, but it doesn't overpower the music. I defy anyone to listen to the TH900, then switch to the HD800 and tell me they think the bass sounds 'realistic' on the latter. I'm not saying that either of those headphones don't have their strengths - and that would be speed, but the TH900 doesn't exactly disappoint here either. It actually displays decent to very good speed, especially if amplified well. For good amplification I refer back to my review of the Fostex HP-A8, where I said the A8 and the TH900 were clearly built to go with each other - well this is one of the reasons why. I would actually argue that the other two reference headphones have too much speed for most musical enjoyment and sound almost artificial or unrealistic.
[size=medium]  [/size]
[size=medium] The soundstage of the TH900 is the most dynamic and natural that I have heard, especially when paired with an amplifier like the one in the Fostex HP-A8. This is the kind three-dimensionality that you might expect on an open back headphone and a very good one. The down side is probably obvious - a really rather poor amount of isolation, sound leaking (out) isn't too bad as long as you don't push the volume too crazy levels. Honestly the 'semi-open' Fostex T50rp is superior in both isolation and leakage, which seems like a joke. I can't really call this much of a criticism however, just something to be aware of, please just make sure that you don't buy these headphones for this feature. Apparently closed does not equal isolation.[/size]
[size=medium]     AMPLIFICATION[/size]
[size=medium] The TH900s might sound like a ridiculously easy headphone to drive on paper, but don't be fooled. They will drive to reasonable volumes on portable players or phones, but certainly won't give respectable value sound. USB powered DAC & headphone amplifiers are a perfectly reasonable option however. Just be careful about pairing them with something warm sounding if you're sensitive to overly warm presentations as there's plenty here anyway[/size]
Quality amplification is important to really do the TH900s justice and make them shine. The upper mid-range / treble frequencies really flourish with a speedy amp like the HP-A8, but it also enjoys the smooth there too. Low frequencies get further tightened up, adding a simultaneous detail and power to the presentation that is extremely addictive, classical music especially. The Fostex amp also controls the mid-range so effortlessly making the TH900 wonderfully forward with vocals, but also smooth enough to not sound fatiguing. I'm sure this isn't the only amp worthy of these headphones, but it's the only one I had handy to do them justice and there is no denying the tonal balance this pair exhibit. Perhaps something like the 'Burson Soloist' or 'Graham Slee Solo Ultra-Linear' could also be very enjoyable, but I found the Audiolab M-DAC not really balanced enough. It was a little treble happy, not terrible, just not a worthy pairing as cheaper amps brought the TH900s out better.
[size=medium] Denon AH-D7000The Denon's wood cups were more of a feature of it's design although the coating made them look more like plastic than mahogany. Despite covering them up on the Fostex they are still there. Under all that Urushi Lacquer the cups are made from Japanese Cherry Birch, the Denon's are mahogany. Apart from being more textured the Fostex metal seems a little tougher and the edges are sharper. The leather ear-cups are more even on the TH900, not thicker at the back like the D7000 (a la Audeze). Because of this the Fostex cups don't need to rotate for fine-tuning the comfort. The TH900 is a bit heavier (400g vs 370g), perhaps you can tell but the comfort is about equal between the two - both excellent.[/size]
[size=medium] The D7000 was discontinued just prior to it's replacement being introduced (the very different D7100). Even second hand examples of the D7000 are now pretty sparse  It's price fell quite considerably towards the end of it's life, making it a bit of a bargain. Comparing two headphones at these wildly different costs is unfair, but it's something that some of you will be curious about.[/size]
[size=medium] My initial impression was that the TH900 seemed to have a little less presence in the bass arena but I think this has more to do with improved decay than the kick being any less potent. The mid-range is more prominent and the treble extends further, in general the highs sound  more crisp and far better defined. A smoother amp to keep these frequencies under control is nice to have but still the TH900 sounds better on any amplification by comparison. [/size]
[size=medium] The D7000 is still one of my favourite headphones, but compare them to the TH900 side-by-side and it makes them sound pretty unrefined, even down-right poor. Now there's no denying that for around £500 the D7000 is a compelling headphone. If you manage to find one just do yourself a favour and never pick up the TH900![/size]
Grado PS1000: Now this headphone is the only one that I have heard that's anything like the TH900 and I don't say that because it's the only mainstream one I can think of that's anywhere near this cost. Unfortunately I don't have the Grados here to test them side by side with the TH900 so I really can't say which is ultimately better at what, but what I can say is that the PS1000 has a similar level of bass body, detail, clarity and smoothness that also made me weak at the knees. If you've heard some of Grado's 'SR' or 'RS' models and are thinking: "what the hell is he talking about?! All Grados have a typical sound that's not what he just described", you're mostly right, but the 'GS' and 'PS' models are very different! I mostly mention the PS1000 here because if you're able to put down this amount of cash you owe it to yourself to at least try this one as well and see which one suits you best. Something else that I can say for sure is - the PS1000 is nowhere near as comfortable as the TH900. They're 25% heavier and my ears have never been a fan of the hard ear pads, despite being bigger than the SR/RS Grado models.
[size=medium] Here are some individual music tracks and how I felt the TH-900 coped with them. Most are lossless, some are 320kbps compressed (Spotify). I have cut this section down to a more 'bullet point' like presentation, so as not to cover the same ground too much.[/size]
[size=medium]  [/size]
  1. Skunk Anansie: "Hedonism" - great subtle vocals, extremely clear and spacial. 
  2. Noisia (Split The Atom - Special Edition): "Split The Atom" - crisp, fast, bass monster, extremely dynamic.
  3. The Prodigy (Music For The Jilted Generation):  "Poison" - Impressive, punchy weight to this good old of non-aggressive bass with the volume up and very enjoyable when you do. Great clarity and layering.
  4. Mr. Scruff (Electo Swing): "Get A Move On" - Real foot-tapping presentation. Drums are very clear, fast and forward - wow! 
  5. The Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness): "1979" - Smooth, great soundstage. great instrument separation, guitars especially great.
  6. Marilyn Manson: "beautiful People" - Fast, deep energetic guitars. Instrument separation and vocals are superb! Good three-dimensionality.
[/size] [size=medium]
[size=medium]     BUILD[/size]
[size=medium] The box exterior is very nice and inside it's rather basic. Personally I have no problem with this, but some might expect a bigger sense of luxury given the price. There is a headphone stand included, but it's also on the basic side (see end). I don't know quite how to feel about this one. On one hand I wonder why they bothered, but on the other, it is nice that you have somewhere to store these precious headphones straight out of the box. I would like to see Fostex sell a special stand for the TH900 that matches the style a bit better, perhaps something with a bit of Japanese Cherry Birch on it, since we don't get to see any on the headphone itself. [/size]
The construction of the headphone itself seems pretty flawless. It feels very tough for indoor use, I can't imagine anyone wanting to wear this outside... actually I can but they would be wrong. Everything that moves here feels engineered to last. The accenting of the chrome joints and extension rods against the hard-edged black metal is beautiful, then there's the red Urushi lacquering and platinum logo - just wow! Everything about this headphone screams quality! The only a slight disappointment is that you can't see any of that Japanese Cherry Birch. It's almost as much a piece of artwork as it is a solidly build piece of audio equipment.
[size=medium]  [/size]
[size=medium]     COMFORT
Like most high-end headphones the TH900s are pretty large and easy on the ears, but even in this range I find the comfort great. They can be worn for hours without any discomfort, a really great option to sit and relax to music with after a tough day. The headband distributes pressure surprising well for it's looks. It extends with reassuringly tight clicks, doesn't slip and has enough adjustment for any head size. Space inside the pads is generous (in width and depth). The material for the headband and pads is said to be a protein leather made from eggshell membrane, it feels very smooth and soft yet feels pretty hard wearing. Your ears could get a bit too warm with hot weather, but no more so than any other leather (type) ear pads.
The cable looks and feels exactly the same as the one on the Denon AH-D7000. Generally this is a lovely cable, it's 3m of 7n copper and doesn't tangle easily with it's smooth braided coating, but... that humongous and poorly positioned Y-splitter made me less happy! Maybe this is a niche problem, maybe not. It's all to do with using these headphones while sat at a desk, which I do - a lot. Unfortunately the big plastic splitter is at just the right height for me to catch under the lip of my desk and it yanks on the headphones. This horridly jarring sensation is caused by almost any movement and it happens to me all the time. Now maybe this wouldn't happen to a shorter, taller, thinner person or just someone who sits/moves differently, but oh wow is it infuriating!
OK let's end on a better, although equally trivial note - If you read my previous review (Fostex HP-A8) you'll know that I had a rather amazing encounter with some connections on that beast of a machine. Everything is made with such precision on these high-end Fostex products! Well, here (below) is the other half of the best fitting connection that I have ever experienced. I don't know if this photo shows just how well it's made - but it is spectacular!
[size=medium]     FINAL THOUGHTS[/size]
[size=medium] The TH900 is a visual and sonic masterpiece for someone who likes their presentations bold. Sonically this is a balanced performance and worthy of the 'reference' moniker in my opinion. There's power in the low end, but it's under tremendous control and this is equally true of the rest of the frequencies too. Comfort and build are top notch as long as you keep them at home, which you should. [/size]
I had a couple of small niggles with the TH900, apart from the astronomical price, but certainly not with it's sound. It's clear that this is a close cousin of the Denon AH-D7000, which was available for much less before it disappeared. The Denon did warmth well, but the TH900 takes everything it did well and refines it to a point of near perfection. Unless you feel that bass body just shouldn't have been invented you will love this sound. It does however deserve to be driven to it's full potential using high quality amplification and I can't help but point in the direction of Fostex's own HP-A8. These two flagships perform well on their own, but they were made to joined together and it shows.
[size=medium]  [/size]
[size=medium] [size=x-small]    EQUIPMENT USED[/size][/size]
[size=medium] [size=x-small]Desktop PC, Dell Vosto Laptop, Fostex TH900, Denon AH-D7000, Fostex HP-A3, HP-A8, Audiolab M-DAC, Yulong D100 mkII, Samsung Galaxy Note II[/size][/size]
good advice...dun touch this if u already have the d7k. Unless there is a lightningblue Urushi variant...:p
Love the sound signature of my D2000's, so these look like the will fit the bill...great review, sir!
Thank you all for the kind comments people! Sorry I didn't see them sooner. I love these headphones and will be lusting after them for a long time I think...