Fostex: TH900 and TH600

fostex_th600_th900_09


Disclaimer: The TH600 is a loaner from Fostex Japan, the TH900 a loaner that belongs to a local enthusiast.

This review started life as a TH600 which I received from Hiroaki Kawahata at Fostex Japan. Previously I’ve auditioned the TH900 at the local Jaben store and remembered it as a very refined, clean sounding, slightly v-shaped, Japanese closed back headphone. When the TH600 arrived, I very much welcome its less v-shaped tonality, likewise the matt black finish which I thought oozes both class combined with a sharp modern design. I noticed that it wasn’t as spacious as the TH900, but I was liking it better due to the less v-shaped sound. This was early when I just received the TH600.

What happened next was I received the TH900 loaner from my friend Leo, and the TH900 killed any romance I had going on with the TH600. Both good headphones, but despite the more v-shaped tonality that I’m usually not a big fan of, the TH900 was simply the headphone to love. Up to that point the idea was still to do a review on the TH600 and to have the TH900 around simply for comparison. Yet the more I listen to the two, the more I leaned toward the 900 and finally I had the brilliant idea: “Why don’t I make this into a TH900 and TH600 review?” Yes, quite brilliant indeed, Mike.

Anyway, these are nothing like the previous Fostex headphones I’ve reviewed. Finally we’re entering an era of modern flagship Fostex, and especially with the TH900, the Japanese company has shown that they can kick everybody else’s ass when it comes to making headphones.

 

fostex_th600_th900_01

CONTEXT

Let me start out by saying that the two headphones are like the Sennheiser HD800 in the sense that aside from the stunning finish on the TH900′s wood, the two only shows themselves as polite and proper headphones with the average sub $1,000 gear. Mind you, I was using some of the best gear from ALO (International, PanAm) and Burson (Soloist SL), but still the Fostex TH headphones were nothing more than polite and proper sounding headphones. Nothing mind blowing, definitely not for me. Proper tonality, no obvious flaws that I can hear, but pretty flat and uninviting overall. Even out of the Fostex HP-A8 unit, which was the reason I got uninterested in reviewing the Fostex TH900. It was clean, it was spacious, it was polite, but for $2,000, I expected more from it.

The highlight moment came when I was working on the Bakoon HDA-5210mk3 review. You can read about the Bakoon and Fostex pairing on the review, but this was the amplifier that displayed what the two Fostexes were capable of. And on this amplifier, it is beyond doubt that the TH900 would be the headphone to get for me, if I have some $5,000 laying around for the TH900-Bakoon combo. Bye bye, Sennheiser HD800.

I also had the chance to try it with the Burson Soloist/Conductor and the RSA Dark Star, and the two happened to be an average pairing for the TH900/600. The Dark Star was better, but in this case they didn’t quite best the Bakoon HDA-5210mk3. I have a good feeling about pairing these Fostexes with something like the WooAudio WA5 or ALO’s Studio Six, but maybe in the future as I didn’t get a chance for this review.

These are expensive headphones, with the smaller brother being priced at the same range as the top cans from Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Hifiman, Audez’e, Audio Technica, while the TH900 is an easy double the price tag from all those flagships. Lately there is a tendency to price headphones more and more expensively, and while I don’t really enjoy that trend, I think the question that we all want an answer to is: “Can the performance of the TH900 justify its price tag?”

I will try to answer all those questions near the end of this review, but for now I’d like to start by talking about the actual sound of the 900.

 

fostex_th600_th900_07

THE TH900: BASS

I think it is the bass impact that cemented my love relationship to the TH900. I went back to the HD650 (which by the way out of the Bakoon sounds absolutely non veiled), and was surprised to find that the king has been dethroned. I’m not saying that the TH900 is a bass monster. But the overall impact and slam, though a little loose in control sometimes, hits harder than the HD650. Sub lows were a knockout winner on the TH900. Closed back, after all, should have an easy advantage in bass (though Audio Technica’s W-series tend to be more polite), and the TH900 simply outclassed the HD650 in this area. Yes, with the closed back TH900, you do get reverbs on the bass frequencies, something that almost never happens with the HD650. But give me the lower lows and I would gladly forget about the reverbs as long as it doesn’t approach Beyer’s Custom One Pro level.

More quantity, more slam, more emotions from the bass, AND add to those the fact that you get far more improved bass detail and layering from the TH900. There is no competition here. All you HD650 fans: weep (unfortunately the TH900 will soon go back to its owner and I would be forced to return to the HD650).

Still talking about Bass (who doesn’t love bass?), I’ve always preferred the way dynamic headphones do bass. So, having said that, while I agree that the LCD-2 has good bass, the way the planars cut the delay short and the lack of bloom in the bass to me is less preferable than the TH900′s. Other than that, the LCD-2 controls bass better, but the impact is slightly stronger on the TH900.

 

Next page: TH900′s midrange and more …

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Suffice to say that the TH900′s bass have turned my heart away from the Dark Senn.

    • Rémi

      For a high fidelity guy, you do not seem very “fidele” to your old classic ;) (had to bring that french reference one day or another).

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Okay I really don’t know what that french word means.

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

          Fidélité = loyalty ;)

        • Vladimir WOZNY

          And speaking of french things, could you test the micromega myzic?
          No test on the internet and I am very curious to know if it is as good as the mydac!

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            Sorry Vladimir, I can’t find any Micro mega units locally.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

      I can’t say I am going to weep though. The $500 dollar headphone got beat by the $3000 headphone. My life isn’t quite ruined by that.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        That’s the beauty of having a cheaper headphone. You can always say, “well yours are quadruple the price and yet it’s not quadruple as good.”

        • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

          Part of me still can’t believe that I have entered a world where the $500 is the cheaper headphone…

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            Lol

            I think the trick is always to focus on the music. That’s why the HD202 is such a big success.

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

            Wait till you get used to +1K amps! :D

            • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

              I think I will be sticking to “budget” gear, thanks!

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

              Damn. I’m already starting to move past that… Headamp GS–X mk2 and an LCD3 have been ordered!

              • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                Lol your post makes me laugh.

                You’re so screwed, Spencer.

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

                  Yea, the wife was not very happy. But I told her it was my 30th birthday present to myself…

                  …I wonder what I’m gonna get for 31…. =p

              • http://www.facebook.com/Meoow.TheCat Minh Duc Nguyen

                haha…wait until your room turns into a showroom of headphones…yep, I already got up to that point. At 21 year of age, all of that seems too excessive as parents told me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/HD800 Ahmad Ar

    Ahh, Nice review Mike . Seem interesting about the Bass on TH900

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes, I hope I don’t give the wrong impression. Again it’s not a bassy headphone but the bass is very addictive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/songmic Song Kyung-han

    So you finally decided to review the TH900! I told you it was an incredible set of headphones, perhaps the single best closed-back cans available in the market today. Paired with the Zana Deux SE on low setting, you’ll never want to stop listening to music. The synergy between the two is so God-almighty heavenly that I’m actually considering a system review for both of them.

    Aesthetics-wise, it is one of if not the most gorgeous looking headphones I’ve seen. Dat Bordeaux urushi lacquer on each wooden cup with the Fostex logo engraved in platinum is indeed something to marvel at. Not to mention that it’s very comfortable around your head, unlike those orthos from Audez’e or Hifiman. Fostex really hit the spot with this one.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yeah and good thing I was able to get a local loaner for that one!

      It’s pretty amazing what Fostex does with this one, I don’t think I’ve ever been in love with a Japanese closed back until now.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Oh yeah and the Zana is really awesome too. The Bakoon is really special too, though. I wouldn’t have strong feelings for the Fostex had it not for the Bakoon.

  • Tom

    Great review, very enjoyable read. However just want to say a word of caution with the RSA Dark Star paired with low independence headphones like the TH600 or TH900 will kill them, It’s just to darn powerful, I love the RSA Dark Star just not with low independence headphones

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Tom. You blew something with the Dark Star before?

      • Tom

        Fortunately no but at a meet I wanted to tryout the TH900s on the dark star and the owner advised not to do so and proceeded telling about his burnt out D7000s

        • http://twitter.com/AdmiralWiem Admiral Wiem

          My god, burnt out D7000s? That’s……bad… :(

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  • http://twitter.com/V___K V Man

    How would you compare the bass on the TH900s to the HE4/500s?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      With the he500, definitely there is more bass on the TH900.

      On the he400, I think again there is more bass on the TH900, but the two shouldn’t be compared as they are very different in character. The he400 has a faster pace bass with fast transients, the TH900 slower but more bass down to the sub lows.

      • http://twitter.com/V___K V Man

        Thanks for that, I own the HE400s and am very impressed with there peformance, so you can imagine I’m quite desperate to try the TH900s now!
        How do you think they will pair with a Matrix M-Stage?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You’re welcome.

          I think the TH900 needs a high quality amp to shine and the most stage unfortunately, I don’t think will cut it.

  • Pokijn

    Don’t “bye bye” your HD800. I use TH900 95% of the time and have more love to it. But HD800 will give you a nice hug too.
    Our country indeed has that demographic. :D

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The HD800, I’ve been listening to it more than any other headphone in the market. As nice as it is, I think people gets bored and right now I’m digging dark sound and bass, both of which the HD800 is not quite strong at.

      Indeed, the demographics.

      So are you getting the TH600?

  • http://www.facebook.com/dr.hilerio D.r. Hilerio

    Would you recommend the TH900 for classical music, especially symphonies? Or would you still recommend the HD650?

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  • John V. Le

    I have been thinking about Audio Technica and Fostex headphones since I read your review on the TH600 and TH900 headphones. I listen to mostly J-pop and J-rock music on FLAC. So what do you recommend for headphones, amp, and DAC on $3.5k budget?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Well the TH900 for sure. But that alone takes a big chunk of the budget. Maybe this is where the TH600 comes in.

      As for the amp and the DAC, the Bakoon is extremely nice but also very expensive and doesn’t come with a DAC. You can get the Burson Soloist and together with the TH600 should fit the budget nicely.

      • John V. Le

        Someone on another forum recommended the Burson Soloist as the headphone amp. Still need to look into a DAC. Is the Musical Paradise MP-D1 or Resonessence Labs Concero good DACs to use with the TH600 or TH900 headphones?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          The Burson Soloist is good. As for those DACs you mentioned, I have no idea if they’ll be any good. Sorry.

      • dalethorn

        Anybody try the Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies?

  • ryan

    I have listened to the TH900 a few days ago. It didn’t make me want to own one. Probably not now. It sounded like closed back T1. How would you compared it to the T5p?

  • ryan

    Previously you were saying, you weren’t blown away by the TH900. But now you like it so much???

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Have you read the Bakoon review?

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

    Even with my LCDs and all the other cans, I still plan on being buried with my HD650s…

  • Laurencewayne

    Mike, another great review-really well thought out. Since I “bye byed” the HD800′s and now own the TH900′s I thought you wouldn’t mind a couple of ancillary comments. The HD800 do have that marvelous sound staging but so fatiguing…even tried them with various amps, RSA, etc. and even did Tyll’s DIY MOD. I finally gave up and purchased Fostex TH900′s from Todd at TTVJ. I noted his combo of Apex Glacier & Cypher Labs Algorhythm Solo db for us iPod classic users (lossless of course). And it meets your +$1000 criteria ;-). This is a wow! pairing for the TH 900. The only thing to add to your observations of the sound re “great bass impact but not as relaxed a treble” was that at about 60 hours of burn in, it kicked in and I got velvet violins. Mike, is that finishing touch possible or is it just me “in love”?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Wow, another enthusiastic TH900 owner! Well that treble, I think may be your ears, your set up, or yes you’re a biased new owner ;)

      • Laurencewayne

        Ah Mike, do I presume no such thing as “burn in”?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          The loaner that I got supposedly was quite new, and during the period of the review I didn’t notice any changes from more running time.

          • Laurencewayne

            I’m just wondering how many hours you put on them. I was concerned till I hit 60-70 hours, at that point I thought the change was not subtle, in fact significant. And btw, I did so want to love the Senn HD800, ’cause I knew I was supposed to ;-))

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Not sure I didn’t count. If the sound doesn’t change in the first 24 hours, it almost never magically change in the xxx hours.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dr.hilerio D.r. Hilerio

    Well, I got a hold of the TH900. It’s a step up in refinement over my D7000 in terms of clarity, top-to-bottom detail, soundstage. But frankly I find the D7000 more musical, especially for modern music. I enjoy the warmth of the D7000 more, mid-range is less recessed and top end less fatiguing. For modern music, sometimes less is more. On audiophile music, like classical and jazz, I prefer open-backs (HE500, HD800 and, yes, HD650), although the TH900 handles those genres very well. I guess that’s the TH900′s strong point. A closed-back that does many genres well – a competent, premium-end all-rounder.

    Though I still think it’s a $1200-1500 headphone.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I agree, yes the D7100, or even the D600 in this case would be better for mainstream music.

  • Tech Blog Pool

    Hi there Mike. Amazing review! I got in touch with foster, the parent company of fostex and they confirmed that both Denon D7000 and Fostex TH900 contain the same top-of-their-line driver. I can only assume that TH600 has the same one or a very similar one. Another assumption is that the difference in sound is indeed caused by the different material used for the enclosure. The setup you have used for the review looks pretty awesome! Could you by any chance compare the D7000 with the TH900/600 on this very same setup? That would be much appreciated!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Well just like in a speaker set up the speaker box and the room acoustics affect the results a great deal more than just the drivers. In a headphone set up the housing and the pads make up that box&room factor and use a big factor to the sound.

      If you read at my HD558 & HD598 review, I wrote there that the two headphones use identical drivers, and the only thing different about the two is the pattern on the open back grille. The sound is extremely different than I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t proof it for myself that they share the same driver.

      Between the TH900 and the D7100, not even close. The D7100 has very little room for scalability, the TH900 scales up extremely well.

      • Tech Blog Pool

        Thanks for the reply. I meant D7000, the older model. I believe Denon canceled the deal with Foster and the new headphones are no longer produced by Foster.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Ah the D7000 if only I have one around to compare..

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I talked to Fostex during the Japan Headphone Festival and they said the TH900 driver is more refined than the one in D7000.

  • rich

    Hi Mike. As usual a very written review.

    Despite as an Indonesian who uses bahasa Melayu, your written reviews in English are superbly written besting many western magazine writers.

    I read and re-read your reviews several times as I am very keen to buy the TH900.

    You seems to imply that the TH900 is optimal if driven by the Bakoon amplifier especially for the bass.

    If driven by other amp, the presentation seems “polite”.

    The typical headfi enthusiast already has in his possessions other amps. This can only mean one thing – a polite presentation. The TH900 is amplifier dependent for good quality bass only if used with the Bakoon is the impression I have after reading your article.

    By the way, there are 2 camps- golden ears and frequency responses curves methods to decide whether the headphones are good or badly designed,

    One is represented by Grado and the other is represented by Sennheiser, LCD’s and the Stax which has ruler flat frequency response.

    I find euphoric headphones appear not to your list of most wanted headphones. But the reality is headphones don’t have the presentations of real component stereo with speakers in front of you. The sound stage is in front and not between one’s ears. Also there is the ghost of Munson and Fetcher where sound is perceived by the human ear as thin when music is played in low volumes.

    Grado up the ante by having a boosted mid low and mid high. So even internet radios which are often poor quality sounds very good. Same for all music played at low volumes.

    What are your thoughts here ? I like to tap into your wide expertise and passion in this area.

    Thank you.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Rich, thanks for the compliments.

      I don’t think the amp choice should be limited to only the Bakoon. There are a lot of good amps out there but I just happened to not have access to them when I did this review.
      I don’t understand the second question that well. You have to consider another factor that is the resolution of the headphone. Bad recordings and bad source would show up as bad on headphones with good resolution. It’s like looking at a off-focused photograph through a good quality monitor, you should be able to see that the photograph is off-focused.

      • rich

        Thanks Mike for the reply.
        other
        What I meant in the second question are your thoughts on”euphoric” or a far more negative terminology -” coloured” headphones like some of the woodies by Denon, some of the Audio Technicas like the ATH 5000 and ATH1000x and especially the Grado’s in the likes of the GS1000 and the PS1000. The Grados are designed by hearing of Mr. John Grado. These headphones cause divergent and controversial views by some head filers who deem neutrality is better approach in the design of headphones.

        These “euphoric” headphones are designed by hearing- the “golden ear” approach vs the other headphones designed by the frequency response curves method, used by other manufacturers, which are ruler flat when measured.

        Tyll measured the Grados and found that these have a spike in the mid bass and in the lower mids. An attempt to negate the Munson Fletcher effect when listen to music at low volumes. In the good ole days, amplifiers had a switch known as the loudness compensation. Music is thin when listen to at low volumes. It is best played loud to get full impact of the music and that is the reason people like to listen to their headphones at very high volumes.

        Western magazine writers like Tyll said he is not a fan of the Grados because of the coloured sound.

        What is your take on this controversy ? You are the foremost expert (sincere compliment) in these areas and after reading almost all your reviews, I have great respect for your opinions. Please tell us more.

        Thank you.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          When recording engineers do their mix and mastering process, do they go by measurements or by their ears?

          • rich

            A great question. Engineers do add in vibes & echoes into the recording editing process. These are done by ears of course. Also that quality of microphones with different pickup sound signatures as well as their placement and configurations in the recording studio or music hall affect the sound too.The original microphone feeds are “polluted” after that by numerous processes – A to D convertors, the making of the masters and the mass production of the cd or vinyl LP. It is definitely not the proverbial ideal straight line. The more you have in the recording chain, the more the sound is degraded

            After the recording process/chain, there is of the reproduction chain. The DAC, the Amp- tubes or transistors, class A or class AB or D, the interconnects- copper or silver, balance or single ended RCA, the power supply conditioners to purify the dirty electric supply, the power cables, the solid anti vibration base, 101 tweaks etc will affect the sound and then finally that pair of speakers or headphones all with its different sound signatures that vibrate the air with sound that finally hits the tympani of our ear drums.

            Sounds very complicated. That was my journey of discovery 30 years as an audiophile of main steam component stereo and speakers. Now in my more sober mid 50′s, I am now a headphone enthusiast

            What is your answer to your question?

            Thank you.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Exactly. So ignoring the other variables you mentioned, the mixing and mastering is done by ears to follow a certain set of criterias the main one being: “to make the music sound good” not “ruler flat”, why do we have to follow a ruler on the reproduction end?

              • rich

                Hi Mike,
                I understand and get your point. A great analytical mind. There is clarity in your thinking. No small wonder that your website is world renowned.

                • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                  Thanks, rich. Soli Deo Gloria.

        • dalethorn

          I know that there is a Fletcher-Munson effect, but I don’t see a need to compensate for it, because it works the same way with live music or recorded music.

        • dalethorn

          I suspect that people who “need” a Fletcher-Munson boost are not listening closely to the music, rather they are doing something else and the music is just background.

  • Eu Jin

    Hey Mike. Just need some help on deciding between the TH600′s and the TH900′s. I’ve recently listened to the TH600 and immediately fell in love with it. To me it sounded like a more fun version of the T1′s but have the advantages of being a pair of closed headphones. How does the TH600 differ to the TH900 as an all-rounder if I do think that the TH600 (for me) is one. Just for argument’s sake I would take the TH600 over T1 (using the DACmini CX, which I have and love) more often than not (though I wouldn’t complain if I can afford all 3).

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Well, I’m not a Beyer fan and I’m a huge fan of the TH900 but to me the TH600 is a bit too flat and boring. Just to throw around some comparison: The JVC DX1000 is far more fun.
      The Beyer T5P is much better technically.
      The Denon D7000 is more refined.

      So I think the TH600 is facing some tough competition there at the ~$1K mark.
      I think the TH600 is more neutral and less coloured than the TH900 but that doesn’t come out as a strength, in my opinion, rather as something that’s too safe and too flat for a lot of things. Maybe if you have an extremely superb DAC at the front end that can help but otherwise I would go with something else.
      Of course I didn’t have the Dacmini when I did the TH600 review and so maybe that particular combo just happens to be the right thing.

  • Guest

    Hi Mike, the new king is the Abyss. Reviews by magazine writers poured praises for this approx. US$5000/- ortho headphones. I hope you can have a review on this. I like to know your views.

  • rich

    Hi Mike,

    The new king is the Abyss AB-1266 US$5,499. Magazine writers poured lavish praises for this HP. They claimed it betters the HiFiman 6, the LCD 3 and even the Stax 009 in mid and lower bass. They hyped praises on the bass slam which they claimed betters the LCD 2 or LCD 3 and the Fostex TH900.

    I look forward with high anticipation towards a review by you in the near future.

    Thanks.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yeah, I’ve heard of the Abyss. Sounds pretty bad ass indeed.

  • netmask254

    Hi, Mike, I’m looking for a top tier headphone to pair with HP-A8 (without using external amp), narrowed down to HD800 and TH-900. Which one will be the better choice in your opinion? Assuming based on your personal preference.

    Originally I tend to HD800, however I found my HD650 doesn’t sound very well on HP-A8, which indicates its internal amplifier may have difficulty to drive some challenging gears.

    Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The HD650 is very easy to drive likewise the HD800. A cmoy would drive both of them fine so it’s not really a problem of power as the HP-A8 can drive the HE-6.
      Between HD800 and the Fostex, with the HP-A8, go wight he Fostex. The HD800 needs expensive tube amps to shine.

      • netmask254

        Mike, after reading your review once more, it sounds like TH900 is not quite impressive with A8′s internal Amp, is this true?

        If to add an independent Amp, can Bottlehead crack make HD800 shine? even not really shine :-) I’m considering to build one (at least it’s supposed improve my HD650′s sound.

        Another choice is Lehmann BCL which is locally available but I think it may not make big improvement over the internal Amp of A8.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yeah I thought the A8 internal amp is just okay with the TH900.

          The Bottlehead Crack is AWESOME with the HD800 at least until you go up to the $2K amps.
          The BCL amp is good and definitely better than the A8 (though I’m not sure it can drive a HE-6 the way the A8 amp can), but what I mean here is amp quality. It is however very clean and extremely neutral, perhaps the most neutral there are along with the SPL Auditor/Phonitor.

          • netmask254

            Got it, thank you so much!