General Information

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  • Equipped with in-house crafted driver units from the TH900 series.
    The proprietary in-house driver unit, crafted from technologies honed over numerous years, blends bio-cellulose fiber with various other materials on the diaphragm.
  • This meticulous combination, under optimal conditions, results in a diaphragm with low specific gravity, high Young's modulus, and superior internal loss
  • Utilizing a repulsive magnetic circuit with neodymium magnets, the 1.5 Tesla ultra-strong magnetic circuit delivers exceptional responsiveness and an expansive dynamic range across all frequencies.
  • This design enables the reproduction of exquisite mid-high frequencies with detailed resolution, while also faithfully capturing the rich low mid-range with significant amplitude.
  • Ingenious open housings made of solid black walnut and aluminum
    The housings, crafted from premium solid black walnut, showcases a distinctive design. Its open aperture, coupled with a dual arrangement of etched aluminum components,
    offers varying impressions depending on the light and viewing angle.
  • The carefully calibrated aperture ratio and precise fine-tuning of each internal component, en-hanced by the resonance of the solid black walnut wood,
    result in a natural sound field that offers a comfortable and fatigue-free listening experience.
  • TH808 original high-purity OFC unbalanced cable included
    It comes with TH808's exclusive high-purity OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) unbalanced cable, free from impurities, ensuring optimal transmission performance.
  • Detachable connector port and 7N grade cable for internal wiring
    The removable connector on the headphone body, as well as the detachable connector terminal, are both rhodium-plated terminals.
    Rhodium plating is renowned for its durability, resistance to wear, and ability to protect against corrosion.
  • Achieving a balanced connection is possible with the use of an XLR-terminal cable (ET-H3.0N7BL), which is available for separate purchase.
  • Ear pads with low-resilience cushions
    The detachable headphone connection terminals are rhodium-plated to enhance hardness, abrasion resistance, and corrosion resistance, ultimately boosting their reliability.
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Latest reviews

GREQ

Headphoneus Supremus
Kind of slightly brutal
Pros: Excellent separation
Sub-bass has both slam and texture
Great extension on both ends of the spectrum
Roughly follows Harman tuning
Cons: Can be fatiguing (midbass and low treble)
I had comfort problems
Very aggressive sound
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Disclaimer

Before I begin I’d like to thank the good folks at MegaAudio.de

They are Germany’s exclusive distributor for many high end audio brands including Fostex with a focus on the pro audio segment and they were kind enough to loan me this headphone for the purpose of this review.

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TLDR






Introduction

At around 1500 EUR the Fostex TH808 is not aimed at the average consumer.
Utilizing one of their classic 50mm dynamic biocellulose diaphragm transducers, they’ve skipped the urushi lacquer and tuned these for open back, wooden cups.

Having previously auditioned this headphone at High End Munich, and then looking at the marketing for this headphone on the Fostex website I felt a bit lost.
Part of me was expecting a more grandiose performance like that of the TH900mk2, while another was almost hoping for a technical masterpiece.

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Initially I felt like I got neither of those things.

At a certain price point a headphone must stand out in more than one way to justify it’s own existence and market value, so this is one of the few times in my life I’ve had to listen to a headphone for over 2 weeks to form some solid opinions that I can stand by.

So, let’s get into it.



Build, Design & Ergonomics

Since almost everything about the build and design is fabulous I’ll just focus on some outlying points.

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For a proprietary 2-pin system, the cable plugs and headphone sockets are labelled, so when you can see both Ls or Rs, you know they are in the correct orientation before inserting, although as usual I would have preferred to see a more common connector type used.

❗ Sennheiser cables do not work with this headphone. ❗
(Left Fostex / Right Sennheiser)

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I really dig the small details like the glossy logo and Left and Right indicators on the mostly matt finished headband piece.

While the cable is actually moderately tolerable despite being on the thicker side with a fabric sheath it is just too long.
I think it wouldn’t hurt to include different cables at this price point.

The extra large plug housing is a rare but welcome feature that all but eliminates the chance of pulling the plug out by the cable.

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Overall it looks like every part of the headphone is manufactured and finished as good as you could reasonably expect given the materials used, but the inner headband appears to be made of a flexible plastic and has almost no padding. I’m not saying they’re uncomfortable, but I did get a small hot spot at the very top of the headband after an hour or two so while comfort is just as subjective as the sound, take that with some caution.

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The ear pads are fair. They’re not exactly cavernous, but should be suitable for most ears. The protein leather appears to be high quality and I think there is memory foam inside them, but somehow they trapped more moisture than I am used to and needed more hygiene maintenance than other headphones.

The ear pads are easy to remove or replace with these handy twist lock rings.
This reveals a large piece of foam around the driver which covers most of the baffle vents and does a significant amount of heavy lifting for the bass tuning.

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Removing these foams clearly shows their purpose in the graphs.

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The Sound

Even after a couple of weeks I’m still a bit conflicted.
On one hand, the technical prowess of these Fostex biocellulose drivers cannot be ignored.

The combination of the extremely capable separation presented in combination with a ballpark Harman-tuning is quite a rare treat.
On the other hand the soundstage is actually quite small and the tuning is obviously coloured.

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I think it’s easy to get caught up in the quest for a headphone with bigger soundstage, deeper bass, more linear tunings, airier treble and so on and then forget about what the intention behind this headphone might have been and what it might do differently or even uniquely.

This is definitely one such case, and required some deeper reflection and insight.
To be as fair and rational as possible, I only compared it directly against some open back headphones.

First the Sennheiser HD650.
(Brown = TH808 / Grey = HD650)
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Immediately you notice the TH808 sounds more impactful and everything sounds sharper, clearer and cleaner.

The HD650 by contrast sounds somewhat thin, midrange focused, light and slightly diffused.
They’re almost polar opposites.

The HD650 being polite and gentle, and the TH808 being unsympathetic and aggressive.

Next the Hifiman HE-500.
(Brown = TH808 / Cyan = HE-500)

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My copy is a little modified but not too far from the original.

Going from the TH808 to the HE-500, you immediately get hit by the sense of scale and depth that was missing in the performance.

While the overall objective gap was clear with HE-500 being the more neutral, the TH808 edged out in it’s presentation of tactile sub-bass.
The HE-500’s bass was actually deeper and equally textured, but didn’t slam with toe-tapping over-saturation that is much needed with some heavy metal recordings.

Finally I want to compare it with something a bit unusual.
The Altiat Cal.1H.
(Brown = TH808 / Emerald =Cal.1H)

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As you can see, these two headphones measure very similarly but they still sound quite different.

This comparison especially helped me isolate some finer characteristics of the TH808 that I was only aware of by ear.
Firstly the TH808 bass feels more impactful and I think the extra energy between 60 and 200hz is responsible for this.

With some recordings this can edge quickly into fatigue territory.

Also remember the TH808 ear pads are non porous protein leather, while the Altiat’s pads are velour fabric.
The difference in bass impact and fatigue was significant for me.

Overall the slight difference in midrange tuning didn’t make much difference to me.
If anything, the TH808 might have sounded slightly more saturated here, while the Altiat sounded more distant and laid back.
The Fostex is objectively more accurate here and it sounds like it too for the most part, but every now and then with some recordings I get a hint of over-saturation.

The treble is where things get spicy.
The peak at 7 and 8KHz gets a bit exhausting after a while.

It most noticeably gives a slightly artificial sheen that makes cymbals sound more splashy instead of sparkly.
On some recordings with weaker treble it’s actually fine for the most part, even though it’s objectively not accurate.

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Conclusions

The last time I slated a headphone for having a tiny soundstage, namely the Audeze Maxwell, some people were really not happy with my assessment.
So I’ll try to tone it down this time.
The soundstage on these is kind of pathetic.
This is the kind of staging I know from average sized closed-back headphones.

With that out of the way, I think I’ve got a decent idea of the philosophy behind this headphone.
Tuned close to Harman, I don’t think this was an attempt to make the usual fodder – there are simply too many headphones already doing this.
The TH808 instead goes on a full rampage of over-saturation.
I think any attempt to increase the staging with this transducer would have in turn reduced it’s ability to slam this hard, and force detail down your ear throat.

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It is clearly not the final word in dynamic driver resolution, but it is also far from a slouch, with spectacular extension at both extremes of it’s frequency response.
I think this headphone would be a useful tool for studios to test their recordings on headphones near the limits of acceptable colouration.

It performs with such aggression and clarity while remaining insightful.

I also believe Audeze Maxwell lovers might be particularly interested in giving this headphone an audition.
If however you’re looking for something more relaxing or of purer fidelity then perhaps it’s not for you.

Ultimately, I found this headphone too aggressive, fatiguing and the sound was too localized in my head, but I also know there are people who do enjoy this type of presentation, so I can’t discredit it based only on my subjective preferences – I can only remain consistent in the hope that subjective patterns emerge and my reviews do not become contradictory, thereby remaining informative.

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Comments

ST33L

100+ Head-Fier
Good review! Wonder how they compare to the TH909? While I never had any issues w/build, I think it’s about time for a redesign, or at least some tweaking.
 
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