Disclaimer: The unit used for this review belongs to my partner Moko. There is a strong possibility that Analog Head, my headphone store, will be carrying the Fostex Mad Dog headphone for sale to the local Indonesian crowd.
My main role in the Analog Head store is to be some sort of a curator for the products that we decide to carry on the store. This curating job requires me to consider a few factors, some obvious ones being “Will the crowd like it?” and/or “Can we sell it, considering the price that the manufacturer asks for it?”. Of course, if it was up to my personal preference, I would get the store to stock a lot of Sennheiser HD650s (which the local Jaben also happens to sell a lot, by the way). But it just doesn’t work that way, and so far our store doesn’t even stock any Sennheisers.
A few weeks back Moko who is my partner for Analog Head bought a Mad Dog headphone while he was in the US. He seems to like it very much, and he asked me to take it home to listen to since he wanted to know my thoughts on it. The Mad Dog headphone is basically a modded Fostex T50RP. I happen to have a lot of experience with Fostex headphones, starting from the vintage T50v0, T50v1, to the currently still in production T50RP which I reviewed along with the T40. Lots of local enthusiasts also taken the T50RP and mod it to whichever tonal balance they want to suit their music. I’ve heard a lot of these mods, and in my opinion no matter what improvements they bring to the sound, they still can’t bypass the limitation of the relatively primitive Fostex T50RP driver, and in modding the sound there is always a pro and cons situation. So, when I heard the Mad Dog, I honestly wasn’t impressed. It was improved from the stock T50RP in that it has a more open and spacious sound, and it was also less dark and less muffled. What I missed from the T50RP however is that the treble region sounded more dry than what I hear on the stock T50RP, and that the mids, while being more clear, was also less full and less smooth. The biggest fault, in my opinion, is that being based on the T50RP driver, it still lacks a lot of bass impact which is one of the primary thing I look for in a headphone. It was still a good headphone, but I told Moko that I wouldn’t recommend selling this headphone on our store.
The next few days after that, we were at the store which at that point were still being renovated. We had some recording guys stopping by since we shared the building with a recording, mixing and mastering facility called Brotherland Studio. Moko asked some of these recording guys to try the Mad Dog, and to my surprise, they all seem to like it very much. When we told them the $279 MSRP for the Mad Dog, they said it was a good headphone for the price and that they would definitely get the Mad Dog for the price. The main thing that made them like the Mad Dog is that it offered good clarity and separation (which is a virtue of the orthodynamic driver’s black background), and yet a non fatiguing sound (it was still a relatively dark headphone, though less dark than the original Fostex T50RP). We also let them listened to the original Fostex T50RP, and they were unanimous in saying that the Mad Dog is better in that it was more clear sounding (and it really was). I began to see what these guys were looking for in a headphone, and a few days after that I happened to receive an email from a Headfonia reader from Florida looking for a “non-fatiguing” yet clear sounding headphone for his monitoring needs, and I told him to look into the Mad Dog headphones.
At that point me and Moko began to consider the possibility of importing these headphones so we can sell them to the studio crowd. The Audio Technica M50 headphone is very popular on the local studio crowd because one of the local “gurus” endorsed it, so we have the M50 ready, but for those who wants something better than the M50, we can offer them the Mad Dog at the $200 price bracket.
There is something about the way the Fostex planar driver with its fast transients that gives an impression of unforced clarity, especially in the bass section. Lower end orthodynamic drivers tend to be weak on three dimensionality and indeed the Mad Dog is also not free from that. I still think that for music listening, I’d rather spend a little more money for the bigger, smoother and cleaner sound of the AKG K550, but if you want fast bass control and a linear tonal balance, then the Mad Dog is indeed the better headphone. In all, perhaps the laid back and unoffensive nature of the the Mad Dog that I find to be flat and boring is also the same factor that makes it so special on the ears of the studio guys. To me, the clarity that results from the fast transients, and the laid back nature makes it almost like a mini LCD-2.
During Analog Head’s store opening day, we had a lot of people from the local headphone forum visiting, and these guys were mainly enthusiasts and audiophile guys. We then discovered that a lot of them actually found the Mad Dog to be very likable. When I asked them about the lack of bass impact, they said that while it’s true, it didn’t stop them from enjoying the headphone, and that adding a good headphone amp seems to help with that. Well, I can’t argue with people’s consensus, and I’m glad that people are finding a new headphone that they can enjoy, at a relatively low price level. It was also relatively easy to drive compared to the typical Hifiman Orthodynamics, though you still need to max out the volume on your Ipod to get a decent volume (and still you won’t get a good impact), but it was something that people can live with.
Not only that, but they have already started to experiment with different cables for the Mad Dog. One cable that they seem to like is the Homegrown Silver cable (though a DIY build, but it uses the Homegrown wire), and it seems to add even more space to the sound of the Mad Dog.
Of course these are all out of my expectations. Given the positive response from the crowd, I would probably be a fool not to be selling these on the store. I still find the Mad Dog to lack bass impact even with the punchy Burson Soloist amp, but they were driving it out of tiny JDSLabs C421 and ALO National amps and were happy with the sound. So, hey, my predictions are off this time. I’m pretty sure that we’ll be carrying the Mad Dog headphones on the store, so I don’t want to be pushing recommendations for it, simply due to the conflict of interest. However, if you happen to be looking for a new headphone and is comfortable with the $279 price-tag, do check this headphone out. Dan, who designs the Mad Dog told me that he’s working on a new leather pads that will take the bass even further, and I am looking forward to hearing the Mad Dog with that new pads.
Gear Used For Review:
Burson Soloist, RSA Dark Star, ALO National, CypherLabs AlgoRhythm Solo, Ipod Classic.