Modded Fostex: Mad Dog™ by Mr. Speakers

mrspeakers_maddog_03

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.

 

mrspeakers_maddog_03 mrspeakers_maddog_02 mrspeakers_maddog_01

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  • Jean-François Hren

    I wonder how it compares to the modded version of the Fostex T50rp by mayflowerelectronics which is more inexpensive. I own neither though.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Interesting, Jean. I haven’t heard the other version, but there are tons of different Fostex T50rp mods out there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Không-Có-Ai/100000095576176 Không Có Ai

    finally a trust worthy review. I read a lot about the mad dog as well as T50rp and people keep claiming it’s in the same level as LCD-2 or even better but with my experience, i have 2 pairs of T50rp and i put a lot of effort into modding it but the result is just a clearer, more extend headphone, it’s still far, far from the big one, i already lost the faith and tired of how people praise it.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Is that really? Same or better than the LCD-2? Surprising!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mohammaduf Mohammad Ashraf

    I heard that some folks loved using this with their O2! Have you tried it? But considering that you tried it with the soloist I doubt it will make any improvement on the bass.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Mohammad,
      No, not the O2. The amp is too perfect for mere mortals like me.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Mohammaduf Mohammad Ashraf

        lol, just close your eyes and pretend the mid-range is there, all good :P

      • http://www.facebook.com/donunus Don Vittorio Sierra

        lol
        back to the subject though, the modded fostexes intrigue me quite a bit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000090141477 Patrick Erickson

    Why the iPod?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry?

  • http://www.theideate.com/ Gorboman

    I was one of them (who liked the MD). To me the comfort beats the sound. Not to say that it sounded bad, but I like the sound only when paired with the National. Okay, I won’t like it without the National. LOL!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The comfort beats the sound? So you’re saying you don’t like the sound that much?

      • http://www.theideate.com/ Gorboman

        To be honest, yes. First impression for me came from the comfort. I think it’s the leather head band. Then came the vocal which reminded me of the HE-500. Then the relaxing highs. The bass? It’s the National really. Then it hit me, “what a nice pair of cans to relax with after a whole day at work”.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Nice. I like the last sentence especially. It has a nice relaxed atmosphere to it.. but not the cans that I would get for an adrenaline boost.

          • http://www.theideate.com/ Gorboman

            True. You need other cans for those adrenalin needs. :)

  • Fabio_Rocks

    I like those headphones! Can you compare a little with Hifiman he-400? Thanks.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Of course!

      The Hifiman HE-400 is more open, of course. Stronger bass, more forward, stronger PRaT, darker. The Mad Dog is more comfortable, mainly also because it’s more comfortable, and the headband doesn’t clamp as hard. The sound is more relaxed, easier to use for monitoring stuff.

  • I2ehan

    Please don’t mind me saying so, Mike, I mean absolutely no offense by it, but I feel as though your impressions seems to have been moderately influenced by expectation bias. As you mentioned: “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.” Were it not for the mere fact that these are a modded T50RP, I can’t help but think the very same sound, in a different exterior, would have left you with a much better impression. I could be wrong, of course. Just my 2 cents.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yea, maybe.. but on the other hand Moko was raving about it and I do listen to him as well.. so I did have a positive bias toward the product.
      In all, I think this article clearly displays that my opinion is just one man’s opinion, so take it easy. ;)

  • Trent_D

    I am kind of surprised you aren’t stocking any Sennheisers. The HD202, HD4xx and 5xx seem like they might worth while for the average joe looking for something decent. Of course, you have a headphones store and a website, so I suppose your judgement rules the day.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/william.lim.1656 William Lim

    LOL. I was just researching on HE-400 and Fostex T50RP this week. Anyway, I bought a Fostex T50RP modded(on its way..I can’t wait!) as it seems they are orthos and I just want to have a taste of the technology.

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    New pads announced:

    Introducing MrSpeakers’ Dog Pads
    When I started MrSpeakers, I selected the 840 ear pad by Shure because as it was well made, comfortable, available in volume, fit reasonably and sounded really nice. With it, I believe the Mad Dog was a great value.
    However, I felt the 840 had limits that held the design back. In particular, I could get ample and deep bass, but the bass wasn’t as quick, clear or balanced as the mids and highs. Good, but not excellent. In tests I got better bass from some pads, but they always had a fatal flaw.
    So in March I started developing my own ear pads. Little did I know how hard that would be! Gilligan comes to mind.
    Six months, a lot of prototypes, experiments and lost hair later, I’m pleased to introduce the MrSpeakers Dog Pad. The Dog Pad was designed for:

    Better bass: Faster transients with smoother response and better extension
    Greater comfort: Lamb leather, with a softer foam that doesn’t crush
    Presence and articulation: Smooth the lower mids and upper bass

    I will be demonstrating this pad at the LA headphone meet tomorrow, August 18th.
    Mad Dogs headphones with the new Dog Pads will be available in limited volume immediately, and full volume in September. Starting Saturday I will be taking pre-orders at a special introductory price of $299.95 for the headphone, leather ear pad and comfort strap (regular price will be $314).
    Best of all, the MrSpeakers’ Dog Pad works with existing Mad Dogs. There is a 5 minute “no tools” upgrade (details will be posted in September). Upgrade kits for existing owners are $50, shipping included (International shipping is included in this offer), so there is almost no incremental cost to anyone who wishes to upgrade vs purchasing new. At this time, the Dog Pad is not available to people who don’t have a Mad Dog.
    The Dog Pad is a very nice upgrade to the Mad Dog. If you love the mids and highs, wait until you see what happens when the bass comes alive. We’ll be building a lot of pads over the next month, but need a little patience as we ramp. Orders will be filled first come first serve.
    For those who chose this option, I hope you’ll enjoy it!
    MrSpeakers

    • I2ehan

      CORRECTION: “Upgrade kits for existing owners are $40 (no longer $50), shipping included (International shipping is included in this offer)”

    • http://www.theideate.com/ Gorboman

      Is AH gonna be carrying the MD with these new pads?

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Still not confirmed, but I think they are sending us a sample pad so we can have a listen first.

  • Marco

    Hi Mike, speaking of orthodynamic/ribbon headphones I’ve a question
    about a Yamaha YHD-1 I’ve saved in a drawer for several years and now
    I’ve resuscitated for new needs. Before thinking of using it again in my system I compared it with the DT-880 (250ohm) owned by a friend of mine
    using the Logitech Transporter + a Lehmann BCL clone (actually a Lovely
    Cube not marketed); frankly I didn’t hope in a similar result… with my
    big surprise my Yamaha surclassed the DT-880 in almost every aspects…
    actually I had not ever listened to the DT-880 so I dont know if the
    great result from my Yamaha was for the very poor performance of the
    DT-880. Anyway, I’ve decided to hold this Yamaha and now I’m looking for a decent set USB-DAC/AMP separate or integrated is not much relevant (although listening most of time via a netbook I should prefer the one unit solution).

    Now I ask you if you can suggest the name of some device from where to
    begin investigating. I listen mostly to prog-rock (Pink Floyd is my band
    2die4), rock-blues, rock in general, jazz but also renaissance/baroque
    music. I dont pretend to judge this tiny orthodynamic an actual
    all-round headphone but I think it’s a very good honest one and bear in
    mind that I could hold and use it for less impact genres of music like
    jazz-prog-rock and baroque and then in a second time buy another HP for
    genres less gentle.

    Thanks for answering and sorry for the post a little long.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Marco,
      We actually have a post on the Yamaha YHD-2 ;) http://www.headfonia.com/vintage-yamaha-orthos/

      I’m not too familiar with the power requirements of the YHD-1. As far as I remember, those vintage orthos have a relatively small driver (compared to the Hifimans, for instance), and I think the current needs are not that high, though still higher than a lot of common dynamic headphones. So… I wouldn’t recommend the Audinst models since they are not so good with power. You can look into the Fiio E17 which is quite powerful and sells for about $150, or the Matrix Mini Portable (review coming up) which sells for about $320 and I have tested with the LCD-2.

      • Marco

        Mike, thanks for the prompt reply.

        As far as I read on my Yamaha YHD-1 box most important tech specs are as follows:

        type orthodynamic / open air

        impedance 125 ohm

        efficency 100 dB/mW or 100 dB/V

        max input 1 W

        diaphragm/film 38 mm (1-1/2″) diam / 6 micron tick

        magnet 38 mm (1-1/2″) diam

        I’ve read good things in your review about HRT Headstreamer… what do u
        think about an eventual marriage with the YHD-1… I like the product
        apart the extreme essentiality, I’d like it had also a preamp line out.

        Its sound personality as far as I’ve understood should be more
        complementary (to my orthos) than the Fiio 17 should… I’ve great
        experience with orthos/ribbon speakers (owned several Infinitys and also
        one Apogee) and I found that dark (or too warm) amps are not an ideal
        choice for this type of transductors… more open and clearer ones
        usually give better results, just my found as I said.

        Would you recommend products like AUNE considering the pure chinese
        provenience ? I’ve seen one of their USB/DAC AMP called Mini DAC 24 bit
        192 X1 and it seems, at least on paper, a product to be considered…
        do you have some experience with any of their products ?

        Thanks again for answering.

        Marco

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Marco,
          Yes the specs seem okay. I *think* the Headstreamer should be able to drive it though I haven’t tried that personally. And yes I think the synergy will be good, as you said.

  • Damián Bonadonna

    Hi Mike,

    Compared with the HE-500?

    Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Damian,
      HE-500 is more spacious and more open. The Mad Dog is smoother, more laid back, darker tonality.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

    can you please do a comparison of the mad dog and the paradox? i have a stock t50rp waiting to get modded, im getting a fostex hpp1 to go with my ipod in christmas. after that i will have to decide which t50rp mod i want…

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Jonathan,
      The Paradox is the other Fostex Mod company right? Do you have a link for their website?

      • http://www.theideate.com/ Gorboman

        the paradox can be ordered via http://www.referencesounds.com, but they’re more expensive than the mad dog, but less expensive than smeggy’s thunderpants.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike
          • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

            please write a comparison between them if you end up getting the paradox as well, theres really not much comparison of them around.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Alright, Jonathan, will try to do that.

              • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

                thank you, thank you. and btw, if you are actually buying it and not getting a free sample. i think you should contact LFF on headfi, because he said the price for the “premium” models (vader and trooper) is 550 bucks if you send him the fostex t50rp and your choice of earpads (hifiman pleather pads or shure srh840 pads or fischer fa003/brainwavz hm5 pads). he recommended the fischer fa003/brainwavz hm5 pads over the others. so i think if you buy a stock fostex t50rp and the pads and send them to him, maybe its cheaper this way? the reason why im saying this is because earlier on the site, the prices were lower!!! so maybe directly dealing with the modder will be better?

                • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                  Thanks Jonathan, I just send him an email, waiting for his reply now.

                  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

                    thank you mike, cant wait for your comparison :)

          • http://www.theideate.com/ Gorboman

            What? You’re getting one? Let me listen too when (if) you got them, will you? :D

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  • John123John

    Hey Mike,
    Any word on getting the Mad Dogs 3.2 and Alpha Pads?

    Reviews tend to be mixed, either its really good or its just whatever, but with it leaning towards good. Some even consider it a little brother to the LCD. Not sure how that can be since it lacks impact but I havent heard the 3.2 and alpha pad version.

    If you were trying to sell the Mad Dogs, what would you say about it? Pitch me :)
    It new is $300, roughly the price of a used HD650 in the US.

    • http://www.alkopedia.net Biergourmet

      Yep, this review needs an update to the current version of these phones ;)

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

        Dave was supposed to do a new Mad Dog vs Alpha Dog, but he kind of quit :/
        I myself will be doing a the Prime Review over the next months

  • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

    BTW, Disqus is acting really weird. It defaults every comment and hi-five to ‘guest’, and it never completes a sign-in, but when I click the Disqus button here and wait for it to change to the Disqus tab, then click back to this tab, it now shows my name.

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

      Sometimes it doesn’t show my name but then it turns out to be correct whenever I come back. I figured it was a session/cookie related issue. No idea