In the middle of 2012, Final Audio Design, a company that had always specialised in a variety of IEMs, announced their first full sized headphone, the Muramasa VIII. It caused an instant buzz due to its very boutique, stand out design and its ginormous $8000 price tag, making it the most expensive headphone other than the now discontinued Sennheiser Orpheus. In the end though, it never saw a true release with only a few personally tuned units ending up in circulation and while feedback did say they sounded rather magical, apparently they were so heavy and uncomfortable, they actually caused pain to wear! Skip forward a year and FAD have announced a brand new headphone line that looks a lot more promising than the Muramasa. This would not just be a one off headphone, but a whole line like FAD has with the Adagio, Heaven and Piano Forte series. Right now we have the IV, VIII and the X to look forward too but the VI is on the market right now and that is what I have here. Not only is this the first true headphone to be released to everyone who may want it but the pricing is much better at £699 and FAD are clearly making a better effort at worldwide marketing with a lot of countries having dedicated distributors now and their partnership with the ever successful Astell & Kern (iRiver) only adds to the brand awareness. As for the headphone it also can do enough to raise ones eyebrow with it to be the first headphone to feature a balanced armature driver. The Pandora not only has a 50mm dynamic driver, like most over headphones but also is incorporating a microscopic balanced armature driver so that we have a hybrid set up, much like what is becoming ever popular in IEMs. The design of these is typical FAD, it looks very similar to what the Muramasa was with a little toning down and a bit of plastic instead of some metal (likely just to reduce the weight) but it is still a headphone that looks good enough to prompt my mum to ask me if they are made by that expensive Pandora Jewellery company.
So when I received them I first find a brown cardboard box with the name of the headphones on and I start to think, well this is a bit dull for FAD. Opening that up then reveals a big hexagonal box, which is kept plain bar some silver marking for the name of the headphone. Then you take a trip into the bizarre and wonderful of the inside of the box. A thick coating of synthetic fur lines the inside to protect, the instruction manual and of course the headphones. Taking the headphones out I then stumble upon the realization that this box has a support for the headband meaning that this box also doubles up as a headphone stand. FAD really have just outdone themselves, how to start an experience with a product on a positive note hey!
The headphones are typical FAD looking; they are fancy and ooze class. There is plenty of metal and these headphones certainly do shine. The only little niggle I have with the design is that the black plastic on these is not just a smooth matte but it has like a textured pattern to it and when it catches the light it can look like they are bit messy but maybe that’s just me. Regardless of that, I love the look, I like how they do not even come close to any other headphone design I have seen and that they do not come close to being ordinary, they truly do sum up FAD. The build quality on these actually is something to smile about. For a start the cable on these is great and I do not think I have ever said that about a FAD product until now. The cables are thick, soft and flexible and both the y-split and jack are solid and chunky. The jack is also recessed and even managed to fit into my Dad’s mammoth Otterbox iPhone case. The cable is also removable but will not be coming out easily as it intelligently locks into place in the sockets on the bottom of the headphone cups. The headphones them selves are very competent with metal placed anywhere that could be flimsy and then a very firm plastic on the rest. The cups them selves rotate what seems to be just the right amount to help with the fit and they also slide very easily on the yokes. All is good.
These headphones are quite heavy but that is probably the biggest concern I have with these in terms of comfort. They fit very accurately due to the way the cups adjust and rotate and once your ears are positioned inside the pads I have no problems for the duration of the listen an I have put some serious hours on these at a time with only hourly breaks for a bit of a breather. Now while your ears do sit very snugly inside the pads and they are also come in very close proximity to the driver (my ears touch it) these do not have that much clamping so they are only resting on your ears and not causing any pressure. It did take my ears a few hours to get used to them but once my ears had adjusted I have found myself to have no problems. Now I will not say that these are headphones that your going to wear and say oh wow, these are just sooo comfortable like people have when trying the likes of my HD580 but they certainly do not cause my ears any offense when wearing them and this is at up too 3 hours at a time. Now the way these headphones fit is quite bulky and as they also sit quite loosely, I do not find these as the most optimal headphone for portable use even though they are closed back and think these are much more suited for home use. With these being closed back the isolation is not bad, much better then any open back you will come across although they are not up to the level of something like the Beyerdynamic DT1350, but if open backed headphones are no good because roommates are family prove too noisy, these will be able to block them out for sure. That being said, if you were to use them out of the house when your not doing any thing to crazy like sitting in the car then they are feasible to be used like this as well.
Now if you have looked at a specification sheet for this headphone you may have clocked that these have a very low impedance of 8 ohms and the sensitivity while not particularly high at 105db combines with the impedance to make these very easy to drive. Now the thing is they do perhaps borderline too easy to drive with anything that has any sort of gain to the output or just generally a not very nice output end up causing a small to audible hiss. Now it does seem that although the main design seems to be very much for home use, the rest of them is made to be used with phones (due to the recessed jack) and portable gear, which is apparent with its impedance and the use of the 3.5mm jack. Now it for sure is not a problem that they are easy to drive as that just open up options and if you do have an amp with variable gain then your in for a treat but if your desktop amp does not have variable gain like my Questyle CMA800R, hiss is going to be noticeable. I have found that these are going to easiest to use off a dedicated DAP on their own or with a portable that is made for sensitive IEMs or off a mobile phone or table with a decent headphone out (which quite a few do these days) such as a Samsung Galaxy, iPhone/iPad or Nexus 7.
Every time I review something from FAD I notice that tuning seems to become just a bit more balanced and it is clear that they are trying to not just make a boutique product but one that really will impress some of the most discerning audiophiles. I am getting this impression once again with Pandora VI and these have a balanced sound signature with a touch of warmth. It certainly is not neutral and if it was to be graphed I think we would start with a flat bass, take the slightest down hill slope towards the midrange then flatten out and then the tiniest dip in the treble that then has a solid extension. The boost in the bass is a far from overdone one and the same applies to the dip in the treble, they are noticeable yet very polite and this makes one very balanced and good sounding headphone. The bass of the Pandora has certainly been surprising me with its ability to just snap into live and deliver a deep rumble and very textured sound. When “Sounds of Life” by Pendulum started playing the sub-bass was explosive and deep and really gave you the whole package in terms of reproduction of the song. Moving onto a song where the sub-bass is not so dominant and the Pandora caters for it, you still can feel the extension but it is controlled. The mid-bass is pretty flat from the transition off of the sub-bass and it brings that taint of warmth to the headphones. The mid-bass has just a little bit of extra decay about and is not exactly the last say in speed and this helps for nice bouncy mid-bass. As I have said do not get in the false thinking that these are a headphone that have a tonne of bass because they really do not, it is a more honest offering of bass that sits just ever so slightly ahead of the midrange. And then the midrange, well your getting a little bit of the classic FAD magic and a lot of detail. The range has a great balance in the mix, right were you want it to be and the balanced from the lower mids to the extraordinary higher mids is fantastic. The higher mids have a perfect presence, they are not drawn out so there is an absence of the nasally effect and they are not over emphasized so we do not get a very “girly” midrange. The hit the nail on the head in regards to the higher midrange and it really makes the midrange a very full ordeal. The texture is great, the vocals are lush and instruments are warm with some strong impact. Detailing is very impressive, I mean they are throwing heaps of it at you and all you can do is drop your jaw in awe. The treble is a bit more relaxed than the rest of it but they still have a wonderful airy extension, are crystal clear and you get a scoop of sparkle with them. I just think the slight dip into them allows them to never be sibilant of fatiguing. The overall tonal balance of these is very pleasing, it will take most genres in its stride and the overall speed of the headphones helps this as well.
Closed headphones and me are normally not friends, mainly because of their soundstage is put to shame by open backed headphone and even some IEMs in my collection. For me to like a headphone it is almost like criteria that it is not at all happening in a very small space in your head. The Pandora is not extraordinary in terms of soundstage but luckily I feel it is good enough. I mean it is clearly getting out of your head and the height of it was one of the first positive thoughts I had about this headphone. The width does a good job of getting from left to right and also working the depth and does become a three dimensional package, just not on the scale of other headphones, which is strange because this is normally one of the fortes of FAD.
In terms of closed headphones up until now there are only two that I think are amazing and they are the Beyerdynamic T5p and Fostex TH900. Now I do not have a TH900 on hand so I cannot offer that comparison and to be fair it is almost double the price so a bit irrelevant but I did do some comparing with my T5p. I was instantly surprised at the differences I encountered and the most glaring one had to be how much more soundstage the T5p offered in all respects, you could fool someone that you was going from closed to open. As for tonal balance I feel like you could say that bass and treble was flipped between the two. The Pandora has the more bass for sure and it also uses it too much better purpose. Listening to some James Blake, I was surprised with how little the T5p gives me in terms of deep bass rumble; it was like a completely different experience. The T5p is faster in the bass but I think it could do with some of the deep power. The midrange is spectacular on both, for straight up details and pace the T5p does seem to be the better headphone but does seem very thin in comparison to the Pandora that is textured a lot better and that bit of extra warmth it has could certainly sway you the other way. The T5p does have a helping more of treble but can be a bit fatiguing and a bit much in terms of quantity in comparison. The Pandora really does excel itself to show that it can go toe to toe with a proven giant and one that is also more expensive.
I think FAD deserve an applause for this as I think it is there best offering yet. The sound is really good, it leaves niche behind and will make a real statement that these are a headphone to impress. It is not quite a perfect product as I would like to see a bit more space inside the ear cups in the future, a little less sensitive and if they could expand that soundstage I would be even happier but for what is truly there first release of a headphone, they have done a marvelous job. If this were a completely portable headphone it would be one of easiest recommendations I could make at this price but even with them being more limited to home use I think they are a great buy. The sound is respectable at any price but as with most things FAD, you still are paying a premium for branding and shiny looks. honestly, better value can certainly be found elsewhere if pure sound quality is your goal.