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The JPS Labs: Abyss AB-1266 Impressions Thread

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by scolaiw, Jun 5, 2013.
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  1. scolaiw
    Welcome to the official JPS Labs: Abyss AB-1266 Appreciation & Impressions Thread! In here you will find all things Abyss. Feel free to post your own impressions of the Abyss as well as discuss anything you like (as long as it is at least slightly related to the Abyss). To begin with, my very own impressions of the Abyss after the first few times I heard them...


    Today, I managed to hear the new Abyss planar magnetic headphones and boy was I excited.

    The salesperson assured me that they were the first distributor worldwide to get the Abyss which is nice. 

    Given the asking price of more than $5000 (that's Stax SR-009 level) and as a direct competitor to the LCD 3s, I couldn't tell if I was more excited by the potential for brilliant SQ or just the novelty of such a pair of cans.

    For a long time, Audeze and Hifiman have been the go to headphone company amongst head-fiers when seeking a new pair of planar magnetic headphones. That is no longer the case. I believe that we have a new and true contender in the class.

    What's in the box?

    For $5000, the package comes with a lot more than just a pair of cans. Inside the box, one will find a wooden box for storage, a leather carry case, a headphone stand, and balanced cables, with a converter to a 1/4 inch plug. I should note that the cables are of extremely good quality. Given that JPS labs makes cables, you'd expect nothing less. According to the salesman, the cables themselves are worth about a fifth to a quarter of the asking price ($1000-$1250).

    The headphones themselves come with detachable earpads which adhere magnetically. You can twist them clockwise or anticlockwise (as if turning a doorknob) and alter the angle of the earpads yourself.


    The look and feel


    There's no point discussing how it looks. You be the judge. 

    All I can say however is that they are almost completely metal (aluminium I believe) and what appears to be foam on the outer side of the drivers is actually metal that has the same porous look of foam. The leather earpads are supple and soft.

    However, these cans were incredibly heavy (more than the LCDs) and not really that comfortable. There's no clamping force at all (unless you unscrew the top and push the sides together) so most of the weight sits on top of your head via the leather head band.

    How it sounds

    Firstly, I should say the source was as follows: NAD M51 Direct Digital DAC>Burson Soloist/Woo WA22/Woo WA5>Abyss.

    I should say, because I am most familiar with the HD 800, I will do most of comparison with the HD 800. 

    The first thing I noticed was soundstage. It was TREMENDOUS. It was bordering on HD 800 levels of width and depth with the Burson and even surpassed the HD 800 with the WA5 (just). Instrument separation was good with a nice level of airiness that was close to the HD 800. The attack was nice and fast but I felt the decay was a little robotic and whilst it was very good, didn't offer the same amount of smooth liquid decay that I've grown accustomed to. Imaging however was good but never quite matched the HD 800.

    Interestingly, I felt that it sounded quite neutral in comparison to most of the other planar headphones I've heard (although nowhere near HD 800 levels). I felt there was a slight U shaped sound signature although barely. Treble was clear with good extension but not as far reaching as the HD 800. Mids were slightly recessed but detailed and the bass had very good extension with a fair amount of slam. It never reaches the same dark and luscious bass of the LCD 3s. It's more of a technical bass that offers more slam than normal.

    Having said that, it fixes almost all of the problems of the LCDs but in turn, loses the qualities that we've come to love from the LCDs. The soundstage that was never there is now present. The sensual tone of the LCD is now replaced with a cleaner more technical tone. I wouldn't go as far as to say that is devoid of euphony, but in truth, it sounded quite plain to me. 

    As a technical achievement, I'd place it way above the LCD 3. Although, I'd say it was about on par with the HD 800 (with the HD 800 edging forward if sourced well since they scale so incredibly well). However in terms of listening enjoyment, hand me the LCD 3 (or even 2.2) any day.

    One thing to note however, was that the Abyss is one power hungry headphone. On the Soloist, it was barely reaching full potential and volume had to cranked way up even on high gain. The WA5 served it a bit more justice but I'd hazard to say it could still improve if powered better. Therefore, there is no point considering using this with a portable setup (unless your idea of a portable setup is a HeadAmp GS-X/Cavalli Amp in a suitcase + a car battery). 

    Edit: Somebody pointed out that since the Abyss is a direct competitor with the LCD 3, it may be more important to include some more detailed comparison between the Abyss and LCD 3 (which I agree). However, bear in mind that I personally use the HD 800 and I believe the comparison with the HD 800 will be more accurate. But here are my two cents on the Abyss vs. the LCD 3 anyway.

    Soundstage, airiness, instrument separation, speed of attack and imaging were all a pretty big improvement upon the LCD 3s.
    Tone was more clinical and less euphonic than the LCD 3 but is by no means sterile.
    Treble extension was better, more detailed and clearer.
    Mids more recessed than LCD 3s and less lush/smooth sounding.
    Bass had good slam and extension but ultimately loses to the LCD 3s. 

    Conclusion (tl;dr)

    Disregarding personal sound preferences, the Abyss is easily better than LCD 3, but doesn't quite match the HD 800. For $5000 it's not worth the asking price. Instead, consider buying a Stax SR-009 or a really good setup with the HD 800. 

    My personal opinion is that is they sold it for $2000 - $2500 (as a basic headphones + cable + storage case) package, they'd sell a lot more units given that they'd become be very competitive with the LCD 3s. By all means, they can still sell the complete package for more, but the ridiculous asking price of an extra $2500 for a stand and a leather satchel is just not justified. 

    UPDATE (25/06/2013): I have since reauditioned the Abyss on the Cavalli Liquid Glass, and I must say that there's been a big improvement. Soundstage again wider. Instrument depth and separation is surreal. Every positive I mentioned about the Abyss has improved. It's truly amazing and given this, has surpassed the LCD 3s in every way technically (although of course you may still prefer the sound of the LCD 3s).
    I believe what we have here is the best planar magnetic headphone in existence at the time of writing. Just as I can say the HD 800 is the best dynamic headphone in existence and the SR-009 is the best electrostatic headphone in existence. 
    However, an end-game SR-009 setup is still (in my opinion) easily better than an end-game Abyss/HD 800 setup but in terms of the latter two, they are easily on par with one another. Each with their own areas where they excel. For example, I still feel that imaging, detail retrieval, clarity and overall transparency is better with the HD 800 but properly amped, the Abyss is a close contender in those aspects and excels in terms of soundstage, instrument separation and decay.  
    Bear in mind that what constitutes as "easily better" for a head-fier is quite minimal difference for everybody else and this here is an obvious case of chase that last 1%.
    This means that a choice between a setup with the Abyss or the HD 800 is purely down to preferences of sound signature/presentation and price. At $4000 more for equivalent performance, you better really love the sound of the Abyss over the HD 800. 

    MCOlsen and MensWearhouse like this.
  2. preproman
    Really good looking pictures..[​IMG]
  3. scolaiw
    Haha, cheers. I didn't actually take them. The salespeople did. [​IMG]
  4. DefQon
    Very nice and thanks for doing the job for me. I was going to give George a call and see when the Abyss will be in with exams for these few weeks I ain't got the time. 
    Btw how come you didn't audition the 009's at the same time?
    I have immense interest in the pads being used on the Abyss as mentioned in my other Abyss thread as pads can make a night and day difference to sound depending on the seal and isolation and positioning.
    Will edit this post later on.....got few more things to post/ask to skimmed the the impression review.
    .....bit busy atm.
  5. [H]ardwareNick
    +1 for Addicted to Audio (where you tried these in Melbourne), Guillaume/Rendra/George are awesome. 
    It's good to hear that they aren't a total flop in their own right (cable company makes first pair of headphones ever and they're planar magnetic and cost $5k whuttt) :)
  6. scolaiw

    George doesn't have the 009s for audition simply because they're too much of an investment. So they're a special order item at the moment. He was just telling me today how it's a bit of a catch 22, he might make more sales if he makes it available for audition, but then again if he doesn't, he doesn't lose $5000 out of pocket. The problem is because they're not the official Australian STAX distributor, but a reseller instead (or something like that). 

    In regards to the pads, you can position them quite a few ways. As I said already, the pads can be turned (as if you were twisting a doorknob). Furthermore, you can alter the frame with the big screw on top to slightly change the angle of the drivers and the amount of clamp to better suit your listening preferences.

    My exam's coming up in exactly a week haha. Which uni are you at?

    Hahaha, yes indeed. I didn't want it to sound like an advertisement for A2A (so I was careful not to mention where I tried them out) because the purposes of this was for the Abyss, but props to the guys over at A2A. They're pretty awesome. :D
  7. DefQon

    Cool cool, yeah, my first,exam is in 2 days goes through to the 21st. Swinburne audiophile here.
  8. alvin sawdust
    Many thanks for the impressions and great pics. Wonder how many from this forum will buy a pair of these. Makes you wonder whether they will benefit most by being driven off the taps of a good speaker amp.
  9. WNBC
    Thank you, while out of my price range I still enjoyed reading about this new headphone.
    Do you feel your opinion might change if you were driving them with a little more power?  I've had this experience with orthos.  With too little power they are polite but with sufficient power it's a different experience, more enjoyable.  What amps were the dealing recommend to try these puppies well?
    EDIT:  Alvin beat me to it [​IMG]
  10. scolaiw
    Yes, I do think so. Even the jump from the Burson to the WA22 was noticeable, and the WA5 managed to do it even more justice. I believe from what I heard, I hadn't unlocked the full potential yet. The dealers definitely recommended a top of the line amp like a HeadAmp GS-X or a Cavalli. To be honest, the Woo WA5 was pretty awesome but I think it was still just a tad under. Having said that, I know JPS Labs is actually marketing it as being "portable" hence the leather satchel. This I find ridiculous, because I doubt any portable setup could even come close to unlocking the full potential of the Abyss. 

    The take home message with this is very much the same with say a pair of Stax SR-009s. If you are willing to spend $5k on a pair of headphones, you better at least be ready to spend another $5k on an amp and you better have on hell of a source. Having said that, from my first impressions, I don't believe an end of the line setup with the Abyss could compete with an end of the line setup with the HD 800, let alone the SR-009s.
  11. K_19
    I have to say it's a pretty cool design choice to have the width of the headband adjustable, thus the clamp. Don't know of any other headphones that allows for adjustable clamping (not counting manually bending the headband like AT's, Senns, etc) except for Portapros (which does it through squeezing the earpads).  Really important from a comfort perspective because lot of people can be super sensitive to clamping. 
    I suppose the cups on these don't swivel in any direction at all? Looks like they took on the SR-007 style of pad adjustment instead.
  12. conquerator2
    I guess its speaker amp time... Sounds like the case of underpowering to me (ala underpowered HE-6) [​IMG]
  13. DefQon
    I'm still sticking with what I said this will not compare against the SR009 at the disgraceful price these are at. But I do feel that these are a good contender against the HE-6 and that they need power to somewhat sound decent.
  14. grokit
    Did you use the TRS or the XLR port of the WA5? Big difference in power.
  15. Audio Addict Contributor
    I recently learned that a pair of the Abyss may be paired with one of the new Cavalli Audio amps at the upcoming Chicago Head-Fi meet so if you are in the Chicago area you may want to stop by. The event is listed in the meet thread.
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