Fostex TH-X00 Massdrop exclusive

General Information

Exclusive project by Fostex, commissioned by (and available exclusively from) Massdrop

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Pros: •wood, aesthetics
•fun sound signature
•deep extending bass with sub- and midbass emphasis
•good bass control with a strong impact and bass pressure
•soft ear pads
•nice soundstage - three-dimensional, open sounding
Cons: •non-detachable cable
•cable coated with woven material below AND above the y-split
•bad exterior noise isolation
Introduction:

Well, well, well – the Fostex TH-X00 Mahogany has been talked about countless times and was reviewed almost just as often. Why add another review to it? Welp, why not, that’s why. I won’t bother you with lame and boring company etc. info since a) you likely know them anyway, and b) if you’re really interested in this headphone, then you have likely done your own research.

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I bought my TH-X00 Mahogany new (I never buy used headphone-related gear because I find that disgusting) in 201x (don’t remember – might have been 2015) on Massdrop with my own money and paid just a tad less than €500 including import fees (in total, it was €498.xx if my memory serves me right). I reviewed the woody some time later – in a different language. Now I have translated large chunks of that very review into English and yeah, here it is.
If some sentences appear weird to you, then it’s likely either because I’m not a native English speaker, or because parts of the review and some sentences were machine-translated (even though I re-read every translated sentence and corrected a lot).


Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

Great looks and build. Light weight thanks to magnesium. Nice wood grain and varnish. Slight visual minus: wooden “gap” between magnesium frame and cups not varnished.

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Permanently attached cables – would have wished for replaceable ones at the price point and no cloth/suede/nylon/whatever-it-is coating above the y-split, but whatever.


Comfort, Isolation:

I have large ears. Nonetheless I am surprised to say that I can the soft ear pads to seal well and achieve a comfortable fit.

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Clamping force is rather moderate, nonetheless the headphone doesn’t really move unintentionally.

Those who intend to use the Fostex outside should reject this idea directly, because even if the TH-X00 is a closed headphone at first and second glance, it has a surrounding ventilation slot on the magnesium ring. Correspondingly, it only isolates very moderately - a laptop's fan noise is slightly attenuated, but even a relaxed use in the garden on a sunny summer's day is impossible if you want to isolate yourself from the environment.


Sound:

Tonality:

The Fostex is clearly a fun headphone with a present, impactful low-frequency accentuation, especially in the mid- and sub-bass, combined with an accentuated upper treble. If you are looking for a linear or mostly modest tonal tuning, the TH-X00 is clearly the wrong choice.
Nevertheless, it does not exaggerate excessively with the tuning otherwise, even if it is still a good deal away from a natural tuning (natural in the sense of "not too far away from neutral sound" in this context).

At about 500 Hz, the accentuation of the low-frequency, which from then on rises steadily downwards to 60 Hz, where the climax is located, starts. It is remarkable that the level underneath can still be kept constant and the TH-X00 Mahogany doesn't roll down below 40 Hz, but can keep the level almost constant down to 20 Hz. That's pretty great.
Due to the fact that the accentuation of the bass range increases steadily and gradually, the sub- and midbass have more level than the upper bass and fundamental, which is why voices are not unnecessarily thickened or overshadowed. The upper and upper midbass still have a bit more volume to speak of a "pure"/exclusive sub-bass boost, although the Fostex is probably one of the few headphones, if not the only one, that comes closest to it (a pure sub-bass only elevation).
At least this gradually increasing accentuation works very well with a steadily increasing bass pressure (even if for my personal taste the upper bass and lower fundamental range could sometimes be calmly dialled back by about 3 dB, to bring out the sub- and midbass even more).

Anyway – compared to a really neutral and flat tuned listening tool, the Fostex has an accentuation in the sub- and midbass, which is about 8 dB in quantity, if you achieve a good seal, which at first glance may not even seem all that much, but actually expresses itself more strongly, because the Fostex can build up quite a lot of bass pressure (possibly also by the large drivers and the closed cabinet, but mainly since its bass elevation isn’t exclusive to the sub-bass but also features a powerful, strong midbass).

At 1 kHz there is a rather flat bump, only really noticeable with sinus sweeps, which I already know from my Fostex T50RP Mk3, followed by a small dip at 4 kHz, a small hump at 5 kHz, another small dip between 7 and 8 kHz and finally a stronger broadband emphasis between about 10 and 14 kHz.


Not all that much surprisingly due to its fun smiley-face v-shape tonality, voices appear to be rather somewhat in the background in the mix without showing any real unnatural timbre or coloration from the treble or low frequencies since the elevations are set very high respectively quite low.

Despite the emphasis, the treble is generally perceived as rather inoffensive, which is due to the fact that the boost is located very high with the placement in the starting super treble, thus bypassing typical sharpness-causing frequencies between 7 and 9 kHz.
Nevertheless, the TH-X00 Mahogany doesn't necessarily have the perfectly natural upper treble and some percussion elements sound a little thinned out, but without getting sharp at all.

- - -

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Yes, the TH-X00 is clearly a “fun” tuned earphone that is especially enjoyable for listen to electronic music, hip hop/rap, better-mastered rock and pop and drum & bass, while more intimate or voice-heavy recordings with a high focus on the linguistic content (or "typical audiophile test tootling"...) seem less suitable, while there are of course no limits to personal tuning preferences.

If you are looking for a headphone with a strong, deep reaching bass in combination with a bright, but not sharp or unpleasant starting super treble and a midrange with an overall pretty correct timbre with voices appearing overall more in the background in the mix, chances are high that you will enjoy the Fostex x Massdrop TH-X00 Mahogany (very) much! I pretty much knew what I was getting before I bought my TH-X00 Mahogany, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Resolution:

The Fostex does justice to the price in terms of resolution and delivers the performance that one would expect to find for the price.

While it doesn't quite make it into the class of a Sennheiser HD 800 (the Fostex lacks a little bit of separation in the highs and the last bit of tightness in the bass compared to Sennheiser's open-bacl dynamic driver headphone flagship), it surpasses popular ‘phones such as the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro (250 Ohm) or Meze 99 Classics in terms of overall resolution.

All in all, I see the TH-X00 Mahogany more or less slightly above the level of my HiFiMan HE-400 in terms of resolution, whereas that one is still somewhat tighter and faster in the bass than the Fostex, nonetheless the TH-X00 delivers more sub-bass presence for sub-bass enthusiasts due to the gradually increasing accentuation in its lows (although sub-bass enthusiasts should also enjoy the HE-400 because just like my Audeze LCD-X, it manages to extend its bass linearly into the sub-bass without rolling off) and it isn’t soft in the bass at all but rather tight for a dynamic driver model, and especially very well controlled.

The bass of the TH-X00 remains well controlled and nimble despite the powerful boost, even with faster and more demanding recordings. The headphone with dynamic drivers even belongs to the faster and tighter models and only appears a little soft in comparison to the tight dynamic bass of the Sennheiser HD 800 or tight bass of the orthodynamic HiFiMan HE-400.

The midrange resolves well and only appears a little “dry”/matte due to the v-shaped tuning - on the other hand, there is absolutely no lack of details in the mids, and speech intelligibility or the resolution of smaller linguistic and vocal details don’t leave anything to desire.

The treble of the headphone that emerged from a collaboration between Fostex and Massdrop, does not lag behind the midrange and bass in terms of details either and does not seem strident or sibilant due to the skilfully done placement of the accentuations as well as due to the good level of details. One could perhaps only criticize the fact that high treble notes appear to fade away a little too quickly and that separation up top, if you are used to in-ears with Balanced Armature drivers, does not have the same precision.


The Fostex still “wants” to be fed with rather well recorded and produced music material, since it doesn’t “harmonise” all that well with badly or flat mastered and overdriven recordings, because it doesn't exactly cover them up very well (in the presence range and middle highs, there is no smooth and “romantic” recession, making the Fostex point out flaws rather directly unlike for example the LCD-X where bad-ish recordings are still listenable thanks to where its recessions and dips placed in the presence range/upper midrange and treble).

Soundstage:

For a closed headphone the TH-X00 Mahogany has, at least for my ears, a very well-done and open soundstage presentation.

In comparison with some popular open headphones up to about 400€ (for example Sennheiser HD 600, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT880 Edition (600 Ohm)) the spatial reproduction of the Fostex does not appear quite as open, but rather average, but on its own it has a (very) good spatial reproduction for a closed-back-ish headphones, which is bigger and more open than with many closed headphones. Therefore, it also breaks the imaginary border within my head and extends outside.

The stage of the TH-X00 Mahogany has a very well-balanced ratio between depth and width and is by no means flat. Partly the tonal tuning contributes to this, but even with "neutralised" with the help of some EQing, the convincing impression remains and the Fostex keeps most of its spatial depth.
It's nice to note that there are no audible signs of undesired reverberation reflections at all, as some closed headphones can appear to have to a lesser or greater extent.

The stage of the Fostex also convinces me in regards to instrument separation, control of densely populated, fast and complex recordings, accuracy of layering as well as the reproduction of emptiness between individual instruments. Yeah, its soundstage is one of the Fostex’s strengths.


Conclusion:

The Fostex x Massdrop TH-X00 (Mahogany) is a very good looking and feeling headphone that is tuned for fun and brings a powerful, deep set and well controlled (especially sub-) bass which is balanced by a high, bright but not sibilant accentuation of the beginning super treble range.

Coupled with the open and precise three-dimensional reproduction, especially noteworthy for a closed-back-ish headphone, this model, which is exclusively available from Massdrop, is a great recommendation for a fun headphone for those moments when neutrality and a modest, flat tuning are not desired.

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By the way, fans of the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro are also likely to like the Fostex very much, because in my opinion it represents a direct upgrade to that very German headphone (while having a stronger emphasis on the true sub-bass, a less unnatural/metallic high frequency range, audibly higher resolution and a more precise, more open stage).

The only things left to be desired would be replaceable cables and better isolation of exterior noise – but it seems that Fostex has taken care of the first issue with the introduction of the TH-610.
Pros: Good deep bass quantity, good build quality, great looks, comfortable.
Cons: Long non-detachable cord, sound leakage, bass can become muddy, treble can become shrill or sibilant, midrange recessed.
Massdrop Fostex TH-x00 Mahogany



I will start this review by stating I have always been on the search for a sub-$1000 pair of headphones (used or new) that have all of the things  I believe the holy grail of headphones should have: crisp detailed highs, well defined and accurate mids, and enough bass to give a solid foundation with an accurate and detailed soundstage (for headphones). In search of this I've owned a lot of high-end headphones, and speakers, over the years including:

  1. Audez'e LCD-2
  2. Audio Technica ATH-AD2000
  3. Audio Technica ATH-M50
  4. Beyerdynamic Tesla T1
  5. Denon AH-D2000
  6. Denon AH-D7000
  7. Fostex TH-600
  8. Grado HF-2
  9. HiFiMan HE-500
  10. Sennheiser HD650
  11. Sennheiser HD800
That being said, I've never been able to find that elusive all-in-one holy grail headphone. While the planar magnetics came close in the sound department the weight and overall comfort was lacking for long listening sessions. One could also argue that the HiFiMan cable system was also very troublesome. Connectors were problematic, wires would get twisted easily, and so on. My Tesla T1, HD800, and AD2000 fared much better in comfort easily being the most comfortable headphones I've ever owned and all of these also had superb soundstaging thanks to their open back designs. However, The overall lack of range, especially low end, and sibility of the treble on these 3 headphones proved to be areas for improvement in my mind. When I heard that Massdrop and Fostex were coming together to provide the TH-x00 headphones I was intrigued, but wondered what $400 (retail mind you) headphones could get me. As this review is evidence of is the fact that I decided to put the Fostex TH-x00 through my intense level of scrutiny. So anyways, without further ado, on to the review:

Specifications, from Massdrop:
 
50 mm dynamic transducer
Magnesium alloy construction
Mahogany earcups, brilliant gloss finish
Leatherette earpads, matte black
Magnetic flux density: >1 tesla
Impedance: 25 ohms
Sensitivity: 94 dB/mW
Maximum input: 1,800 mW
Frequency response: 5–45,000 Hz
10 ft (3 m) thick, braided Y cable
1/4 in (6.3 mm) gold-coated stereo phone plug
Weight, without cable: 12.3 oz (350 g)
Weight, with cable: 17 oz (482 g)

 

Physical Build Quality


 
 
The Massdrop Fostex TH-x00 headphones are an impressive looking set of headphones. The build quality of the Massdrop Fostex TH-x00 is fantastic for the price, very good and solid. Most of the structure of the headphones is magnesium alloy. The headphones are easily adjustable and have notches in the metal supports at each location so that the headphones can lock in place at each location. The one ding I will give on the frame, the same problem which has plagued similar Fostex and Denon headphones, is the single pivot pin between the yoke and the headband. The pivot pin feels inherently weak as it has in previous designs. That's not to say that it is weak, but just that it feels like the headphones could break at the junction much more easily than in other locations. The headband has a minimal amount of padding and is covered in what appears to be synthetic leather or pleather. The earpads are made from the same material as the headband, the padding in the earpads is adequate. The earpads have a slight front to back wedge to them, placing the drivers at a slightly forward facing angle when on your head. I will state that the inner cut out shape of each earpad is not circular but more "O" shaped in nature and offset towards the front of each side. While this was not an issue for me, someone who has relatively small ears, this may be a problem for someone with larger ears. The cord....oh the cord...well first it's not detachable and second it's way too long. At 10 feet, I can't see anyone ever being able to use these as anything other than for home or studio use, and even then the cord still seems too long. I could literally get up from my desk and walk from one wall of the room to the other and have no issues with the cord being too short, it's that long. I will also say that while the main thicker cable doesn't suffer from microphonics, after the break into the two smaller cords up to the drivers, these wires have worse microphonics than I would like from a set of headphones costing $400. Rubbing against your shirt or touching it during normal use will lead to an annoying rustling sound. That all being said the pieces de resistance of these headphones are definitely the beautiful high-gloss mahogany earcups. These things are absolutely gorgeous and, to me, look much better than what was depicted on the Massdrop page. While no two will be alike, given that the mahogany is a natural and unique material, I can't imagine these looking bad. 

Overall, I would give these headphones an 8/10 for build quality.

Things to improve would be the pleather covering on the headband, and earpads. and the rotational pin at the yoke that seems weak. The cord length also needs to be adjusted and detachability is also lacking.

Comfort

These headphones are very comfortable for their size. They definitely are not lightweight, but I wouldn't call them heavyweights either. They are somewhere in between. In comparison to headphones like the Audez'e LCD-2 or HiFiMan HE-500, with their much heavier drivers, these headphones are much lighter. At first, I was concerned with the small amount of padding on the headband when I originally received these, but overall the headband is comfortable and the weight does not seem too much for the thin padding. How this wears over time will be interesting to see as the upper part of the headband feels like a solid band of either metal or plastic that could potentially wear through the pleather coating over time. The clamping pressure on these headphones is reasonable, if not fairly light given the weight. The stock earpads are relatively comfortable, but I could see them becoming sweaty in hotter summer weather as I have a feeling that the synthetic leather probably will not breath that well, but that is an assumption at this point. Ultimately, while I wouldn't put them on par with what I consider some of the most comfortable pair of headphones I've ever worn, the Beyerdynamic Tesla T1 or the Audio Technica ATH-AD2000, I would put them several notches above something such as the Audio Technica ATH-M50 which have much stiffer stock earpads and put more clamping force on the sides of your head. As stated above, I would also put them leaps and bounds ahead of Audez'e or HiFiMan planar magnetic headphones, which weigh substantially more and will put more weight on the top of your head through the headband, which can be too much for some people.
 
I give these headphones an 8/10 for comfort.
 

Sound Quality

So let me get this out of the way first: The straight out of the box sound quality on these without any Amp/DAC is not good for their price. If you plan to use these without an Amp/DAC on computer, on a portable listening device, or other piece of audio equipment that does allow for additional power to be supplied to these headphones, you will disappointed. When trying this on several devices including straight from my computer, on my portable audio device, and from my phone left me asking what was to like about these headphones? The treble, compared to even my ATH-M50, was severely lacking in many instances, which left me feeling like I was missing parts of the recording. Mids and bass seemed muddy albeit very forward. But why should we expect a $400 pair of headphones geared towards audiophiles to perform well in these conditions? Frankly, we shouldn't. If you're going to spend this kind of money on headphones, they certainly deserve to be driven by an appropriate source with good audio quality. Given how ridiculously long the cord is, and the highly polished ear cups, I wouldn't see why someone would want to travel with these anyways. Therefore, the rest of this review, in regards to sound, will be on my current home rig.
 
Testing rig:

  1. Schiit Jotunheim w/ built-in DAC connected to computer through USB set to High Gain, volume at approximately 12 o clock.
  2. Music files are all lossless, FLAC, or at the very least 320kbps files 
  3. Sound comparisons will be made to some of my current headphones


 

Overall, when plugged into the Jotunheim, treble becomes more present. On songs such as Peter Gabriel - Apres Moi, which has strings, brass, and the lovely vocals of Peter Gabriel. The high end becomes more pronounced and defined. Mids slightly more recessed and bass less muddy than without proper sourcing and amp. Overall, I would say these have a "U" or "V" shaped sound profile, but would argue that the bass is more present than the treble. Even with a proper amp, I feel like some sibilant highs in sounds, such as from Melancholia from the Sicario soundtrack, are lost. That all being said, let's break this into categories so that my own review doesn't get too muddy itself.

Bass Quality/Quantity

First and foremost, you may be asking yourself: "these are Fostex, how is the bass?" To answer that I will say that, for the price these are at, the bass quantity is very good. That being said, if you are a basshead I still think these headphones will keep you longing for more. These reach very deep into the bass spectrum, but cuts short of similar headphones such as the Fostex TH-600 or TH-900. 
 
In regards to quality, in my opinion the bass can become muddy and less defined or punchy than I would like on certain tracks. Furthering that, even on tracks where the bass is deliberately more punchy such as on EDM tracks, I would continue by saying the bass is less well defined than my ears would prefer. Tracks like Miike Snow - Genghis Khan make this very noticeable. While the snare and bass drum kicks seem relatively well defined, the background bass seems to reverberate much longer and wider than I have heard on other headphones. Headphones that have arguably less bass quantity such as the Audio Technica ATH-M50 performed much better on these types of tracks when it comes to accuracy, albeit with less quantity and low end. On tracks such as Kings of Leon - Waste A Moment, where there is a lot of high end guitar action, drums, and heavy bass guitar further this point leading to an extremely muddy performance that lacks definition and precision and often seems to get interfered with when a lot of action is happening in the mids and highs.
 
Overall, I would give these:
 
5/10 for bass quality, mainly due to the inherent muddiness or bloated nature on many tracks.
8/10 for bass quantity, not as good as some closed backs, but good given the price range
6.5/10 for bass overall, grading quality and quantity evenly
 

Mids/Treble

As eluded to earlier, the mids are definitely recessed due to the "U" or "V" like sound signature of these cans. That being said the mids are still pronounced enough to be likeable in a lot of situations. Normal male vocals such as Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty on If You're Gone sound good and are relatively forward. However, when you start venture upwards to someone like Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins on Disarm, or to even higher heights such as Bon Iver or female vocalists, the mids begin to lose body and substance and the recessed nature becomes much more prevalent.

In regards to the treble, I believe the bass is definitely more pronounced than the treble leading to my statement about the V shape not having the same legs on both sides. I've had mixed reviews in regards to treble with these cans depending on the track. In some instances even with proper source and amping, I have felt parts of songs sound different mainly due to the treble being more recessed than what I am used to. However, in some instances, the treble has seemed extremely sibilant and shrill, almost to levels that are unpleasant. Albeit, not as bad as the TH-600 before it. An example of this is in Puscifer - The Remedy, at around 1 minute there is an accompanying keyboard in the background that on my Audio Technica, Beyerdynamic T1, and even planar magnetics is extremely well defined and forward to a point of almost sibilance. These headphones leave me searching for that same sound, it's there but definitely much more recessed than on other cans.

Overall I would give the Mids a 5/10 as they just are not as forward across the spectrum as I would like. In tracks where both female and male vocals were present such as on the aforementioned Puscifer - The Remedy the vocals smear and the female vocals become more recessed than Maynard's male vocals. To me this leads to a lack of mid range detail which I do not prefer.

In regards to the treble, it depends on what your tolerance level is in terms of sibilant highs. While I think overall the highs are presented nicely, I also believe that it is track dependent, and when they really shine through they can become too sibilant and therefore too much for my ears.

I would give the Treble a rating of 6/10 based on the idea that you like to hearing the highs in songs and are willing to put up with sibilance in some tracks. Should you be sensitive to treble, this would receive a much lower rating.

Sound-stage

The sound stage on these cans is not great. Given that they are "closed back" headphones, albeit these particular headphones leak a lot of sound, I don't think we should expect an immense sound stage. In regards to closed back variants, I would put Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog/Alpha Prime as some of the best in this category, but those headphones also have a very unique internal structure inside of them to do so. The level of airiness is lacking, and the sound stage overall feels very forward. I would say that the sound stage is center of your head in regards to how confined it feels. Separation of instruments on orchestral tracks, or tracks where a lot of vocals and different instruments are present is lacking. In certain instances it almost feels like all of the instruments are stacked on each other playing towards you from the same location and distance leading to an overall lack of width in the sound and also a lack of precise placement.

Sound stage gets 5/10 considering comparable closed-back headphones listed above.

Final Thoughts

I've read many reviewers say that these are "end-game" headphones. These are by no means "end-game" headphones.  The mid range will be too recessed and lacking detail for most. Furthermore, depending on the track the bass and treble seem to have varied issues (bass in muddiness and definement, treble in lack of clarity or too much shrill sibilance.) Furthermore, details such as the ridiculously long thick cord and amount of sound leakage these have, make these headphones virtually unusable for anything other than home use. While that is not a deal breaker for me in particular, I can guess than many head-fi'ers would find this one. While overall I am not disappointed at all for $400, given the gorgeous craftmanship, and overall comfort of these headphones, when it comes down to the nitty gritty of sound performance, these headphones have many areas for improvement. Even in my list above, I have found better headphones overall when compared to the Fostex TH-x00. Given that you can find LCD-2, Tesla T1, ZMF's, or Alpha Dogs used for only slightly more than what these sell for, and can obtain used HiFiMan HE-500 or new HE-400i's at a comparable price point, I would recommend looking elsewhere.



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Shini44
Shini44
Thanks for being honest in your review, nothing beat that.
Soundsgoodtome
Soundsgoodtome
How long have you had these prior to writing your review? Did you put hours into the headphone? Also something about these being used with the Jot in high gain seems off..
ajheyl
ajheyl
great review. My only question: is there such thing as an end game ANYTHING in this hobby? :)
Pros: GOOD bass. Great cable. well made.
Cons: Treble gets a bit hot sometimes. Earpads were too small for my jumbo ears
Another wonderful Massdrop exclusive. This headphones sound great amped (Schitt Stack and Grace Design M9xx)
 
The bass in this headphones is just.... a beautiful thing, not over the top but man... so... thick.
 
Treble and mids are good, thought the highs got a little hot at times.
 
The earpads were a bit too small for me, so a change to the ZMF omni sheepskin fixed that right up.
 
Comfort is great, the NON-removable cable is also really high quality.

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