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.
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.
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.