A Dynamic Driver Fostex: Fostex TH-7B

fostex_th7b_06

The Fostex brand has always been known for their orthodynamic T20RP, T40RP, and T50RP headphones. But this time, Hiroaki at Fostex Japan sent me a dynamic driver headphone that is the successor of the dynamic driver Fostex T-7. Indeed much of the discussions on Fostex headphones have revolve around the modern T50RP, T20RP mkII, and some of its top end vintage models like the T50v0 that I covered briefly a while ago. Now that the TH-7B is released as a modern dynamic driver headphone from Fostex, we wonder how the sound will compare to the orthodynamic models.

I received the TH-7B together with the HP-P1 portable DAC/Amp, and when I paired the two together, I was floored to hear a crystal clear smooth sound with a very deep soundstage and three dimensionality that jumps at you. Obviously the HP-P1’s superior DAC contributed a lot to produce that sort of three dimensional sound, but as I switched to the Audio Technica M-50, I realized that the TH-7B is quite special in producing a three dimensional soundscape as the M-50 couldn’t quite imitate the presentation I heard earlier.

Among all the orthodynamic Fostex I’ve listened two, the modern flagship T50RP ortho certainly holds the best place in terms of technicalities, and yet it still can’t quite match the frequency extension, detail, or soundstage performance of the mid-fi dynamic monitoring headphones such as the Shure SRH-840 or the Audio Technica M-50. The T50RP, however, has a smooth, grainless, and effortless sound that makes it quite special in that aspect. None of the dynamic headphones were able to pull off that sort of smooth and effortless sound, even on the flagship dynamics including the Sennheiser HD800, Ultrasone Edition 10, or the Beyerdynamic T1.

Quite a fresh and creative packaging. The Illustration is done by the artist deeth.net

 

The dynamic driver measures 40mm in diameter.

The driver assembly. Time for damping mods?

The TH-7B is not just another closed headphone entry to the market, as it is the only dynamic driver model that offers the kind of smooth and effortless I am hearing from the T50RP Fostex. The tonality and the timbre is quite close, though not identical as the T50RP (the T50RP, for instance, has a more accurate, less plasticky timbre), making it sound like a close cousin of the T50RP. On the other hand, the TH-7B is also able to raise the technicalities to a higher level than the T50RP headphone. Most noticeable is the superb three dimensional soundstage, perhaps one of the best of its kind, as it clearly betters the Audio Technica M-50’s wider but flatter soundstage. Although the detail level is not incredibly high, the black background, superb separation, and lack of grain in the sound makes every instrument crystal clear to the ears. On top of all of these, the TH-7B also has a better treble and bass extension than what I remembered the T50RP to have (I didn’t do an A-B test on this one though).

Looking from the midrange section to the high frequencies, paired with the three dimensional sound, the TH-7B could’ve made it to be one of the biggest upset in headphone pricing. Overlooking the slightly innacurate timbre, I would’ve put it directly to compete with Sony’s flagship portable closed headphone, the Z1000. The treble is smooth, not as bright as the Sennheiser HD25-1, but not as dark as the Audio Technica M-50. The midrange reminds me of the smooth Fostex T50RP midrange, but with more forward vocal presence for a more engaging music presentation. The pace is moderate, not extremely energetic like the HD25-1, and also not as laid back as the M-50.

Down on the bass region, what I’m hearing is a hump on the upper-mid bass that doesn’t give the bass the same clarity I’m hearing with the mids and highs. The low bass regions are also noticeably attenuated or recessed, making the TH-7B lack a proper low end weight. Though the upper bass punch is quite good, it doesn’t have the snap and the attack that makes the Sennheiser HD25-1 king in that area. Although the overall presentation of the TH-7B is moderately forward (less forward than the HD25-1, but more than the ATH M-50), the lack of snap in the bass makes it a weak Rock headphone. In a way, I would even prefer the Marshall Major headphone for its superior PRaT when playing Rock recordings, as the TH-7B’s superior technicalities isn’t helping it much when it comes to genres like Rock or Rap.

Any dynamic drivers these days are quite good in reproducing medium to semi-low bass, including the PX100-II which has a more “complete” bass than the TH-7B. So I don’t think it’s driver issues, but rather, perhaps somehow in the driver or the damping, the low bass has been attenuated to extreme levels, perhaps to avoid a boomy bass. Then in another fault that may also be a mistake in damping, the upper bass is noticeably bumped.

Size comparison with the Audio Technica M-50. Purple band marks left side.

 

The TH-7 makes for a superb headphone for non bass heavy music like Josh Groban, Mumford and Sons, Pink Martini, or Norah Jones. It also makes a good classical headphones with its smooth tonality and excellent transparency (the TH-7 is very transparent of the source), but it’s only limited for chamber, cello, violin, stuff that doesn’t require bass impact. When paired with a good pop recording like the tracks from Norah Jones’ “…Featuring”, or Mumford and Sons’ “Sigh No More”, and with a relatively good source like the Audinst HUD-MX1, the sense of three dimensionality in the music is very good for a portable closed headphone, and easily the best I’ve heard from a headphone this size. The signature smooth and grainless sound have always been the main strengths of the Fostex T50RP ortho, but this time, I’m hearing a good three dimensional soundstage, as well as treble extension (and perhaps lows as well) that’s been quite common place in mid entry level dynamic headphones.

The TH-7B’s 70Ohms, 98dB impedance and sensitivity makes it an easy load on portable players. The pleather pads feel more synthetic than the Audio Technica’s M-50 pads, but the TH-7B’s lighter weight and lighter clamping force makes it a more comfortable headphone overall.

The TH-7B is one of the most promising headphones I’ve heard, and especially more in the sub $100-$200 price bracket that it’s supposed to sell for. It’s supposed to retail close to U$200 in Japan, but I found that this online store in UK has it for £49.00, roughly USD 80 on today’s exchange rate. For $80, the TH-7B indeed would be one of the $100 headphones to put in your shopping list. The ortho smooth sound, the world-class soundstage depth, and the smooth ortho-like midrange is a combination that I haven’t quite find anywhere else.



Gears used for review:
Headphones: Fostex TH-7B, Audio Technica M-50, Sennheiser HD25-1
Amplifiers/Source: Fostex HP-P1, Audinst HUD-MX1

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
  • Anon

    purple! ;p

    also mike, does the t50rp you tested on stock? since I found that stock T50rp already has forward midrange, and I cannot imagine how a more forward phone could be enjoyable.  

    lastly what’s the size of this driver and maybe you know what foster (i assume it’s foster) driver used in this?

    thanks :)

    • Anonymous

      Hi Anon,
      Yes, I’ve listened to both stock and modded T50RPs. I don’t remember the midrange to be forward on the stock models though. The TH-7B is not extremely forward. It’s still more moderate than the HD25-1.

      I am sending an email to Fostex to ask them about the driver size. I opened the pads and measured the driver it’s roughly 40mm.
       

      • Anon

        great, thanks for that mike. :D

        interesting they use 40mm driver like the one on D1001 (OEM’d by foster). though by the looks of it it doesn’t seem to be the same. :)

        • Anonymous

          Yea, there is a lot of 40mm drivers out there.

          Did you spend a long time with the T50RP? Because I didn’t but during
          the short time I listened to it, I didn’t find the mids to be forward.

          Anyway Fostex should be sending me the T40RP and T50RP, so I can do a
          review of both cans.

          • Anon

            well about several days I guess, since then I’ve modded and still find them lacking here and there, and back to the closet they are. :P

            maybe forward isn’t exactly right, dominating was how i found the mid was.

            • Anonymous

              Ah, I see. Well we can discuss that further when I receive the T50RP.

              My friend has been modding the T50RP as well but it hasn’t quite hit a
              sweet spot.

          • Anon

            lol yeah, let’s.

            i’m curious about this phone, but like most any other japanese phone here except ath, they’re hard to find on Indonesia! :( 

            • Anonymous

              Yep. Not the best country to be into this hobby, that’s for sure.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve added pictures of the driver.

  • Anonymous

    Juno Records has the TH-7B for less than $70.   http://bit.ly/mw7Vxo
    I’ve never bought from them though.

    • Eric_C

       Juno’s fine to order from. I got my HD 25-1 from them last year, no issues whatsoever.
      –Eric.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, Eric.

    • JL Woo

      Thanks Mike! I love reading comments and finding answers to my questions (;
      Do you have any other headphones that are great for classical and in extent, thematic music to recommend me? jl

  • http://twitter.com/JotaIGz JotaIGz

    It would have been nice if Fostex had made a planar magnetic portable.

    I am longing for planar magnetic technology to become portable.

    • Anonymous

      The issue with small planar headphones (I’ve tried some Yamaha vintage
      orthos, about the size of the HD25-1, and DIY headphones with the
      orthodynamic SFI driver), is that small drivers yield very weak bass
      punch. They have the clean separation and transients, but for mainstream
      music, the bass is just not happening. For instance the Audio Technica
      SJ55 that I reviewed recently trumps the bass on the small “portable”
      orthodynamics.

  • feyyaz Taş

    I love the way you keep this  site active. I find you’ re very successful in what you are doing. Very high quality stuff. Wish you the best sir. 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the kind words feyyaz. It’s very encouraging during the times that I struggle to maintain the website.

  • Malochantilly

     Hi Mike, 
    thanks for your impressions! Please would you like to tell me which between the fostex and the sennheiser 598 do you prefer?

    • Anonymous

      Different headphones for different uses? I really can’t say, but briefly
      comparing two:
      HD598 is more laid back (though forward vocals), warmer, more analog,
      more grainy, better timbre
      The TH-7B is overall more forward, cleaner sounding, grainless, clearer
      separation, blacker background

  • David

    Hi Mike, can you comment on isolation versus hd25?
    thanks
    david 

    • Anonymous

      David,
      Isolation is medium, less than the HD25-1 (brand new headbands and
      pads). The Fostex TH-7B’s isolation is slightly below the Audio Technica
      M-50.

      • magiken

        Which headphone HD598 or TH-7B sounds more natural and have better timbre for acoustic and vocal music?

        • Anonymous

          HD598 is more colored, but has a better timbre. The TH-7B is more
          neutral but the timbre is off, more plasticky. Does that make sense?

          • magiken

            Yeah… It would be perfect if they make TH-7B with a better timbre. What are some of the headphone do you recommend that has the most natural realistic sound for vocal and acoustic music? one for $200 – $500 and one for $500 and above.

            • Anonymous

              The HD600/650 definitely has one of the most, if not most accurate timbre for $300. Grados, especially the woody models are also good, perhaps second to the Senn. The ATH AD-2000 is also failry accurate.

              For above the $500 mark, you can try the higher end Grados, Senn HD800, and the Hifiman orthos.

  • http://www.facebook.com/negakinu Erik Wijnands

    I am really looking forward to checking these out. The packaging is nice too. Quirky! I dig it. Do you happen to know the difference between these and the TH-5B? Headfonia rules! Hope you keep at it for a long time to come. Best headphone blog on teh interwebs. 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Erik,
      The only difference I know is that the TH-5B uses 30mm drivers compared
      to the 40mm drivers on the TH-7B.

  • Morio11g

    I wonder if the pair of fostex be better in music like this
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNEKrQPLmzc
    more than hd25 i ii or athm50

    • Anonymous

      I played it just now and I actually prefer the M-50 over the TH-7B for
      that track.
      The TH-7B has a deeper soundstage but narrower width, and it didn’t have
      the proper low bass body so the sound was not as grand as when listening
      to the M-50.

      • Morio11g

        thank you very much
        what about m-50 vs hd25 i-ii to this kind of music?

        • Anonymous

          I think the M-50 is also better. The HD25-1 is too upfront and the
          soundstage too narrow and closed for this music.

  • Rhfactor

    Mike,
    If you have ever listened to the Denon D1100(D1000), or the Fischer Audio FA-004 could you give a breif comparison (preference). These two headphones represent my benchmark for headphones under $100 in portable headphones. Thanks for your help and keep up the great work.

    • Anonymous

      Hi,
      Sorry I have never listened to either headphones.

  • Angelosa

    So you cant call them balanced?  The levels of bass their a capable of are a below an average armature iem?
    You ever had the chance to compare them with the creative aurvana live! ? cause i am torn between these two.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry, what are we talking about here?

  • Choi

    Mike, between this and the marshall major, which one would you suggest? for a good all rounder? and i’m thinking of pairing either one with fiio e10

    • Anonymous

      Choi,
      The Fostex is a more sophisticated headphone. It’s more refined, more capable technically. The Marshall, however, is more fun, punchier bass.

  • Phil Reece

    Mike, great article.  I’m considering the TH-5 as I fear that the TH-7 may be too close to the specs and features of the T50RP that I already own.  Would you suspect the TH-5 has a similar soundstage to the one you described with the TH-7?

    Thanks as usual.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Phil,
      I actually think that the entire Fostex headphone line up would carry more or less the same signature. Try another brand, perhaps?

  • tuaho

    Hi Mike, have you heard the TH-5? How do they compare?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Nope, sorry.

  • Hoang Viet

    Hi Mike,
    I’ve been tempted all the time since I read this review, but the “incomplete bass” kind of hold me off. With something like the digiZoid Zo, do you think it’s possible to cure the bass? If yes, then I should give this one a try as I’m really want to experience what 3d soundstage is all about :D

    btw, you didn’t mention anything about the build quality or comfort. Your picture is beautiful and yet can be misleading, honestly :D I love the matte finish but do it look plasticky or cheap in any way?
    Thanks,

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hoang Viet, 
      The matte finish indeed is very smooth. It’s still plastic, but no way cheap. 

      As for the bass cure, the issue with the TH7B actually is more on the pads and the clamping not being strong enough to produce solid bass. I wouldn’t try to boost it with a Zo, as the result is not going to be pretty. You would get a very strong but boomy mid bass but still a weak low bass.

  • Cieran Brown

    Hi Mike,

    You mention in your review that they are closed yet according to Fostex they are semi-open. Judging by the pics it looks like there are small, thin openings on the back of the cans which presmuably allows sound to leak out.

    Can you confirm if they are open or closed?
    Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes for all practical purposes the TH7B is a closed design. It has tiny slots but I don’t think the effects are negligible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michal-Grác/100003318408864 Michal Grác

    Hey man. What about esw9 vs fostex th7????

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Michael, 
      The ESW9 is a warmer headphone and very musical. The TH7 is more like a monitoring headphone, clear sound with less coloration.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michal-Grác/100003318408864 Michal Grác

        ty mike. i think i dont need this cans:D esw9 are awesome.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          ;)

  • Cieran Brown

    Hi Mike, have you had a chance to listen to the Fostex TH-5’s yet? I don’t know whether to go for these or the Sony-MDR570LP’s.

    Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Cieran,
      I haven’t tried the TH-5s, sorry. The MDR570LPs have a warm and full midrange which makes it good on vocals. Based on how the TH-7B, I am guessing the Fostex will be more spacious but less warm and less full on the mids.

  • JL Woo

    Hey Mike! After going through a week of you articles, I have decided to look for good headphones specifically made for Classical Genre! Do you have any other cans to recommend?

  • JL Woo

    Actually right now Mike, on amazon the HD650’s are 500$ and the AD900 are 217$

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Ouch I keep on thinking the HD650s are still in the $400 range. Cross that out the list then. You can replace it with the HD600 which I think should be in the sub $400 range.

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

         Over here the HD650 is 290€, HD600 is 230€. New of course

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          $386 for the HD650 and $300 for the HD600. Nice.

          • http://twitter.com/SpencerMChan Spencer Chan

            I think I paid about that price with amazon in the US back in Dec 2011

        • Jeff Kong

          L, if you dont mind answering. Where is ‘here’? because that is a great price for the 650s

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            I believe L lives in Belgium.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rūdolfs-Putniņš/100001284307683 Rūdolfs Putniņš

          Yeah, Lieven! That price is none too shabby! Brace yourself for offers!

          • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

             It’s the official amazon price…

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rūdolfs-Putniņš/100001284307683 Rūdolfs Putniņš

            Too bad that frenchie amazon doesn’t ship to my country…

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rūdolfs-Putniņš/100001284307683 Rūdolfs Putniņš
        • Jeff Kong

          wow…that is interesting…..now i just have to sit and wait….
          never knew that such a site existed ><

  • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

    how is TH-7B compared to HD668B?
    -Eyal

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Eyal,
      The TH-7B is smoother, cleaner, and warmer, the HD668B more crisp, detailed, better top and down extension but for it’s more fatiguing to listen to mostly due to the treble.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

        seems like i am going to sell my HD668B then.. it really is fatiguing…
        Thanks Mike !!!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Lol so you already have the HD668B..

  • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

    OK, I absolutely love the TH-7B much better than the HD668B. so i’m selling the latter. i think their also more lush…

    how are the HTF600 (Panasonic) ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      So you’ve gotten your TH-7B? Nice.

      I don’t know how the HTF600 sounds..

  • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

    what about audio-technica AD400/500 ? (versus the TH-7B)
    i don’t like the 7B because it hurts my sensitive ears (it clamps hard..)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The AD audio technicas are grainy and not as clean sounding, but more spacious. But I’ve only heard the AD300 and AD700, not the AD400-500.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

        how’s the SQ of the AD300 vs TH7B ?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          As I’ve described earlier.

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Michael,
    The 7B won’t stand up to the likes of the K701, the HD650 and such. But if you’re looking for something sub $100, then it would be nice for those music.

    • Michael Psyrras

      Thank you for your answer!!!!!
      Yes I am looking for something in this price range and also something easier to carry around than the 271’s that I now use. Any other recommendations up to $150?? The ideal for me would be a can with the clarity and air of the 271’s with the body, bass and forwardness of the HD25 1-II…

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Hi Michael,
        Nothing I can think of at the moment..

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Yes the bass is a bit soft. I’m not saying it has to be a bass head cans but I think bass is mandatory for a lot of music these days.
    Jpop or Kpop… it would be pretty okay I guess.

    • Alvin Sii

      Thanks for replying :D
      I am actually thinking to get one but I live in Malaysia and I found it cost around USD 145 so it is too expensive compared to USD 80
      Do you any seller who got international shipping to Malaysia ?
      Thanks !!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/albertsubirats Albert Subirats

    Hi Mike! I play electronic drums and I was considering to buy the TH-7B, but I’m worried about the soft bass. Do you think those are suitable for drumming? I was also considering the Audio Technica M30 or the AKG 99.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Albert,
      I don’t play drums, but usually drummers like the Beyer DT770-80Ω or so I heard.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

        Thats what I use but I play acustic drums and like the isolation but they also have good bass and highs for when the drums are coming from the headphones. I think the ATH-M50’s would also be good

  • Michael

    I finally bought them and for 66€ I think that they are great… !!!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Congrats, Michael!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cw.yeo.7 Cw Yeo

    hi mike

    i have thoroughly enjoyed this fostex headphone. i like that it doesn’t have irritating highs and in your face mids. also, it is soooo smooth as you described.

    now that i have a bit more funds, i’m looking at something better. my criteria is the same, i hate v shape response. i hate exaggerated/tilted spectrum. i like things balanced, smooth and grain free. this fostex is almost like this except the bass part.

    i listen to all genres except hip hop and rap. i can drive with amps or straight off my mac.

    so do you have any to recommend? i don’t mind spending 2-3x the price of this fostex.

    thx!

    yeo
    ps : i’m based in malaysia and i buy from juno uk. their freight charge is very reasonable at only 10 pounds.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The higher Fostex flagship is actually mildly v-shaped. If you want something like the TH-7B try the Mad Dog headphones, they are modded T50RP headphones.

      • http://www.facebook.com/cw.yeo.7 Cw Yeo

        thanks mike, for the reply.

        how about other headphones?

        i’m open to other brands/models.

        thx!

        yeo

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Well I am not so sure since you seem to like the Fostex sound.

          I can’t think of anything else that will give you a similar sound.

          Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

  • Stefan

    Hi Mike,
    I would like to use them with Nord electro keyboard. I was considering to buy the Marshall Major. What do you think?