When you get too a certain price range with headphones, your picking your partner, something that your going to love and does everything right for your specific needs and tastes. I say this in the case that there is not one pair of headphones that I think 10 out of 10 people would take other anything else, everyone will be breaking down the options due too different ideas of the way their audio should be delivered and that’s why it is never easy too pick an endgame pair. The Fostex TH900 are actually one of the more unique takes in the £1000+ market considering they are a closed back design although they are not in any way designed too be portable and the light seal they have leaves them feeling semi-open. The mother brand of Fostex is Foster, the OEM Company that was responsible for the hugely popular Denon DX000 line that is now discontinued. When it was discontinued there was a lot of upset but Fostex decided they would not waste the technology they have and instead build on it and release their own models. This was the driving force behind the TH900. The TH900 has dynamic drivers, with a high magnetic flux density of 1.5 Tesla, in other words they are very strong magnets, and they have a price tag of £1200 (originally £1500).
Why You Should Buy:
Isolation and Leaking – This is a big deal and in my mind is something I can see people buying these solely on. For some people isolation will of course pose no troubles but at times I have too say it does for me and this has be a similar case for others. When my family are being generally noisy or my sister is being stubborn and refusing to wear headphones to watch some pointless YouTube video on the computer next too me, it can take away the music pleasure and while the TH900s are not going to isolate like a pair of custom IEMs or a more portable minded headphones with more clamping, it does keep the outside world at bay a lot more efficiently and I can enjoy my music whatever. Leaking is a benefit for the people around you and my mum has decided that she hates my Sennheiser HD800s because they leak so much that she cant properly concentrate when she doing her work near me. The Fostex are once again a lot better in this regard, not perfect but they are not going to be anywhere near as annoying as the fully open backed competitors.
Comfort – Regardless of how these look I can assure you that they are very comfortable. They are somehow really light and feel feather like coming off of something like my HiFiMAN HE-500. The earpads are no longer angled like the Denon series were but they are thick and soft and they give your ears plenty of space inside and they are very loose on your ear with very little pressure and the headband is also light and easy on your head.
Genre Versatility – Due to these headphones having a rather coloured sound signature with a pleasant warm bass and a smooth treble, these are generally very musical headphones. They have music at the heart and while they are never going to be a clinical reference grade headphone in my books, they go well with any genre I have thrown at them, the bass impact allows for a great time with pop and hip hop tracks, the slight warmth really helps out with jazz and the surprisingly large soundstage is great with classical and that’s just a few examples, these really are a do it all headphone in this regard. They also get along well with some not so well mastered recordings as well as they have a fairly thick sound that is not the most transparent and they still managed to sound and smooth and dynamic with some of the tracks the likes of my HD800s are really quite nasty too. The general sound signature of these is slightly warm with a dip in the midrange and then a smooth but exceptionally extended treble. Everything is dynamic and powerful and timbre is rich and decay seems to be right on the ball and natural and this sound combination just works for most stuff.
Bass – The bass is without doubt the main driving force behind these headphones, it is the most presence frequency range and it oozes breath taking quality. If you like bass then this could well be some of the best quantity/quality pairings you’re going to find. I personally do not at all but I understand why some people find the bass of the HD800, HiFiMAN HE-6 and Beyerdynamic T1 lacking and if that’s the case then you will probably love what’s going on here. Because of the bass quality it does leave these as a headphone that is not even similar sounding to the likes of those I have just mentioned and a comparison would be wasted time to write about, as they are just different directions. The bass is hard not too enjoy though, it starts off with some incredible depth, I am talking bass that rumbles and shakes and leaves you with a sensation in the pit of your stomach. The mid-bass is very well bodied, it has a real punch and is never boomy or uncontrolled although it does sit ahead of the midrange leaving it felt a little distant. The sound is very organic with natural warmth and the rhythm it has just gets your toes tapping. It is bass done very well, in fact its bass done phenomenally and although not everyone will love the little bump it has, if you are someone who strives for some extra bass then you wont be disappointed, in fact I can’t think of a better option.
Soundstage – Surprisingly! Even though it’s an expensive headphone, you still don’t come to expect such a spread out and accurately imaged soundstage from a closed headphone. The Fostex is wide and deep and very precise in what it does with the soundstage, it has real open headphone elements too it and actually does a good job of keeping up with the likes of the HE-500 and Auedeze LCD-2 which are not the most spacious open headphones. It might not be as wide as the also closed Beyerdynamic T5p but it has a depth and fullness in the sound the T5p doesn’t have and it really does come together with the frequency response to deliver and bodied, textured sound that you can really sink your teeth into.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy:
Hardwired Cables – This is something that I can’t quite grasp, it just doesn’t make sense. It just leaves them lacking in a number of areas and also generally would leave me not feeling as secure. The first problem and one I see, as perhaps the biggest issue is the inability to run them balanced out of the box, when other headphones at similar prices such as the Audeze LCD-3 actually come with both a balanced and single ended cable so you can get going straight away and even headphones that don’t can do quite easily if they have removable cables with a quick purchase of one, some of which are really quite cheap (circa £50), even if they aren’t great quality. I know you can of course send them off to be hardwired with a new cable but not only does that run a risk of your headphones being opened, it also tends too be more expensive, it limits the ability to mess around with cables to find one with the perfect synergy and worst of all, no one wants too send off their brand new headphones right away for a good month. The other thing is if something was too go wrong with the cable, once again you have too send them off in the hope they will get repaired instead of just simply grabbing a new cable. That’s not me saying that cable is bad or anything, it is chunky and well protected and uses a OFC Copper cable and a duralumin ¼ inch jack and is lengthy for use with home gear. That being said even though the review unit I have has apparently done the rounds, one of the strain reliefs has fallen off and just slides up and down the cable and that’s not the sort of quality I enjoy on a £1200 headphones cable.
Midrange – Unfortunately, the midrange is the weakest area, it just seems to lack a little bit of oomph and feels just a bit away with the fairies next too the powerful bass. Its not terrible by any means, it still clear and very detailed and has a nice dry timbre but it compared to some of the other cans it lack transparency and any level of intimacy. As I said about the bass, it is once again what your after, if you want true neutrality or forward and lush vocals or simply listen to the majority of vocal music, you may find these a little lack luster but if your into your dance, EDM and produced music then the midrange of these suits that very well. The midrange is generally smooth and just takes a little hit in the higher midrange, before 3khz that takes a little out of the clarity but it still holds its tone well. The midrange even if it isn’t the most up close and personal, does still have a general thickness too it and doesn’t feel frail in the slightest. This is one of the key areas where taste will come into play, I will be honest and say that personally, a/bing these with the HD800, which are really quite different headphones, leaves me a bit disappointed with the TH900s mids but you can’t fault there musicality in comparison.
Transparency – They are coloured headphones, its as simple as that really and they are going to put their flavour into the mix with whatever gear you take them for a spin on. Yes they still have a lot better synergy with something and are awful with others but I do not think I could ever use them as a reference tool. You also have to take into account that you can get higher levels of transparency at a cheaper price, if the ultimate clean portal into your music is a high priority.
Modified Fostex T50RPs – The modified T50RPs such as ZMF Headphones offerings and Mr. Speaker’s works is just an example of the ever-improving selection of closed headphones at a much cheaper price. I say the T50RPs because, so far they have been the headphones to impress me the most and my ZMF Headphones not only have a similar sound signature too the TH900 but they are not far off on an all out technical level, lacking only just a tad of finesse and spaciousness. Throw that in with the fact they are actually portable headphones as well and it just has to beg the question, is the extra money warranted with the TH900s, when, there is a high chance you will be almost as satisfied with the likes of the ZMFs at such a fraction of the price. If money is an issue though then I think a cheaper option is a no brainer because you can then spend the remaining money on making sure your driving them properly because although getting the TH900s loud and perhaps 75% is not the hardest, that last 25% is worthwhile and I recommend getting some nice gear to compliment your TH900. If your going cost no object though the TH900s are both a better start and can be pushed a bit further as well but it is worth watching out having the young guns nipping at your tail.
I’m Not Quite Sure On:
Build Quality – These are a magnificent pair of headphones with some beautiful wooden cups that are absolutely stunning. They use a Japanese Cherry Birch but have a finish that completely transforms the wood; the finish is apparently a 100 year old lacquer that is titled “Urushi” and the logos on the cups are a platinum foil! I have no problem with the cup at all, in fact I love them, they look great and cause me no concerns but the headband does not seem any different too the one that I had on my £200 Denon AH-D2000 that worried me even on them. It feels flimsy and weak and I even worry a little when handling it and I don’t think I would have to strain very hard if I was too try and break it (don’t worry I treat my headphones with respect). The yokes and headband sliders are better and feel more secure and for the most part its fine but the headband does leave with a little bit of worry.
Low Impedance – This is not a huge problem in any way but at the same time I generally don’t get it. They have 25 ohms impedance, which means anything under the sun, can get then loud enough comfortably but the way they upscale with stuff like my Questyle CMA800R shows me that you should give them some good driving force nonetheless. It would have been a huge negative if the impedance had made something without variable gain like my CMA800R hiss with them but fortunately we don’t have that problem, I just don’t really understand it, its not a portable headphone or ever going to be one and its terminated with ¼ inch jack to show its made for using with full sized amp so is the 32 ohms needed, not at all. I guess you could say I’m whining but the reason it annoys me just a little is because it doesn’t allow for the best fine tuning of volume and some of my more powerful amps and I cant get more than a quarter of the way round without going too far.
Treble – I was toying around with what I wanted to do with the treble, is it worth buying these for and in the end I decided that its good, but not a factor that I would say pushes me too buying them. The treble is good because it’s harmless, I don’t find it too is faulty, fatiguing or generally any bother. It has an uncanny extension providing some nice air and it has clear transients with a creamy tone. It does have a good snap too it but I think it completes the headphone more than making it. It also has been a little amp dependent for me, with my Questyle it has been crystal clear, fast and has a bit of shimmer but with something like Yulong A28 it feels more withdrawn and lacks a bit of character, more in line with the midrange. The bass seems to be amazing with whatever I throw it on but the treble takes a bit more work too be great, I guess that’s a fair reason for me too not be quite sure on it but do take my word when I say it great quality treble, I mean it rare you find a headphones that has a detailed treble that has finesse and composure and never sounds sharp or becomes a bit hard work over time.
I was never here to dispute the quality of these headphones, they are one of best models on the market without a bit of doubt I my mind. At first I thought it would make sense for me too do the usual comparisons with the other headphones I have but it was actually when I was doing some listening with my dad I decided to rethink it. He listens to music with me but he isn’t the most crazed headphone addict, its something that’s been thrown on him by me and he gets involved because of me as well. When the TH900s arrived I got him too have a listen and we done some a/bing between them and my HD800s and I asked him what he preferred. He looks at me and says, “they’re not comparable, I enjoy them both but they are not similar in the slightest, it seems like a pointless comparison”. I agreed, they aren’t similar headphones, they both have their areas of strengths and I can walk you through the differences of the headphones but I don’t think anyone is going to sit there and really struggle to find which of the two they prefer, this is why I decided to write it like this, if the things in the too buy section or at the top of your priorities then these are likely “THE” headphones for you. The frequency response is a little warm and the bass is powerful but take this as me saying that whole spectrum is not clear and detailed because that is not the case, in reality they are pretty balanced, in a non clinical and graphically neutral sense and as I said, they really do make music get your head bobbing and a smile on your face and the fact that Fostex managed such a feat on a closed headphone is something that is even more impressive.