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.
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.
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 …