An Expensive Cheap Headphone : A Paradox

A 800 USD T50RP?

Okay, since this isn’t the first T50RP-based headphone reviewed on headfonia (see Mike’s excellent MrSpeakers Mad Dog review, the original T50RP review, and a brief article on the T50v0.), I’ll keep it short. A couple of years ago the DIY-community, mostly on head-fi, started collaborating on modding of the (at that time) 99 USD Fostex T50RP’s. This spawned a lot of different, some semi-commercial, variants. Mad Dog, Smeggy’s Thunderpants and lastly the former head-fi blogger, Luis Flores’s (LFF) Paradox. It gained some extra hype due to his profession as a mastering engineer, giving the mod some credits. It was further enforced with some really fantastic test results (initially) by  Tyll and (later) Marv. It became semi-commercial since LFF started modding customer-supplied ones, and later evolved t0 start selling the Paradox with various degrees of options, (more on that later). Threads arose and the main issue seemed to be whether it was a worthy competitor to more recent and costly planar magnetics such as Audez’e LCD-2 and HiFiMAN HE-500. Some owners praised the Paradox whilst others were more reserved and basically said it probably was the best T50RP available. The best T50RP available. Well what is that really? Is it modding a Honda Civic from 82 and claiming it to be the world best crappy car? Nonetheless, I was intrigued. This was sometime in October of 2012 and I was looking for a good headphone to purchase for my brother in law as a Christmas gift. In a semi-impulsive decision I ordered two pairs:

1) My “Trooper” Paradox (“Level 3”), with the following mods:

Paradox - Frontal White

  • Custom glossy white paint job
  • Matte black rods
  • Comfort strap & headband cover
  • Recessed “Audez’e” mini-XLR connectors
  • Fisher Audio ear pads

2) And the gift, a painted and recabled one (“Level 2”), with the following mods:

Paradox - Frontal

  • Custom glossy black paint job
  • Comfort strap & headband cover
  • Dual-entry sleeved Mogami-cable terminated in a 3,5 mm plug
  • Fisher Audio ear pads

The Paradox comes in three levels of modding. The basic “sound” modding (a well kept-secret) with either HiFiMAN or Fisher Audio ear pads is identical in them all (“Level 1”). It’s important to note and LFF is very clear about this. The other modding is purely for aesthetics. A “level 2” includes dual-entry Mogami cable, comfort strap and paint job. A “level 3” would be the Vader/Trooper Paradox where in addition to a headphone bag you also can get flush mounted mini-XLR sockets and detachable braided  cables due to customer demand. If you want the Paradox can cost up to 1145 USD. Heck, you can probably get him to cover it with Swarovski crystals and faerie dust. But let’s focus on the contents of the book and not it’s cover. Because this is a lot of headphone starting from 495 USD.

 

Build quality and ergonomics

First of all. For a custom headphone the build quality is very good. Don’t expect any parts falling off or glue loosening after a couple of weeks. These are solid. The pads are very soft, but a tiny bit too small for my humongous ears, but after a bit of squeezing/”folding” my ears, they fit perfectly inside. The headband however might need a tiny bit of bending to accommodate the width of one’s head. When that is done they grip well and are fixed to one’s head, thus offering good seal. I think the comfort strap helps with them being fixed to the hair/scalp… No movement of the headphones if you move back and forth or sideways, contrary to LCD-3 that jump around on the head quite easily. They feel quite similar to the Sennheiser HD6X0 but with a more close grip and extra friction. There is some leaking of sound to the environment (so don’t expect using them in a library), however outside noise is attenuated quite well. So using them on a bus or so, yeah no problem. But worth noting… We are talking about a closed planar. Not too many of those in current production. More on that later. If you choose the “Audez’e”-mini-XLR option, which I recommend highly, don’t worry. It’s done very professionally. Almost like it was the plan all along, straight from the Japanese factory. I can’t comment on their custom cables however, since I ordered mine without. But the fixed cable on the “simpler” black one looked like it belonged there. Maybe a bit too thick, but some of us love that garden hose-style. So why not.

Paradox  - Side Close-up

 

Sound and headphone comparisons

If you ask LFF how it sounds, he might say it will sound like nothing. Well, how does nothing sound. During a conversation with him I coined the phrase “It sounds like the music without any headphone-related artifacts”. In my opinion, a bit more classy, but hey, it’s my phrase… of course I like it. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty bold statement. Well, compared to other TOTL-phones, how does it stack up? (1) It doesn’t have the imaging/sound stage of the HD800 and (2) it doesn’t have the clarity in the ultra-low bass of the LCD-2/LCD-3. Just so we got that part covered. This is not the “perfect” headphone, meaning it has everything or does everything better than all the rest. Don’t wanna get misquoted about something like that.

But… The size of the sound stage is quite similar in height, width and depth to the LCD-3. And that’s an almost 2000 USD headphone. In general, the tuning of the sound is quite similar. As I said earlier, a bit lighter in the lowest octave but it’s still has the ortho-bass, it’s similar in the mids  (not as warm as the LCD-2 Rev 1, closer to the lighter more detailed LCD-3) and more emphasis in the treble. However, without any ringing or artifacts. Artifacts this and artifacts that. Am I making stuff up? “I haven’t heard any artifacts on my LCD-X.” The best way to explain it is with an example. For my part I usually sum it up as “Heavy Metal”.

During my youth I was a fanatic metalhead, and let’s face it, it’s s a quite complicated genre to listen to. The speed, tempo changes and the overdubbed instruments everywhere in the sound stage easily becomes quite squished into an awful mess. I’ve listened to several LCD-2 and LCD-3, some call these one of the best phones for hard rock/heavy metal. And yeah, the recessed treble helps, but in several of the them I’ve experienced some pretty nasty spikes in the upper mids/treble. What are spikes? Well it’s the thing that happens before you turn down the volume on your amp. 😉 That “this can’t be good for my ears”-sensation. One of the trickiest albums (imo) is Queensrÿche – Operation Mindcrime. I haven’t gotten it to sound good and loud on neither LCD-2’s, LCD-3’s or HD800 (well, that’s until I bought an Eddie Current Zana Deux and modded my Senn’s, but that’s another story) … Until I gave it a listen with the Paradox. The bass guitar and drums have weight, the guitars and vocals are very detailed and the treble yelds some very clean cymbals and screaming but not piercing solos. I heard some over-dubbed guitar harmonies I had never heard before. It was like listening to it for the first time agin. So is it more detailed than a LCD-2/LCD-3? Yeah, indeed that is my opinion. Not by a huge margin, but being accustomed to the LCD-3 having listened to it non-stop for 3 months, I must say that a tiny touch of extra detail did appear. Sweet.

Modern music in general sounds great. Both Rock, R’nB, Hip-Hop, Electro etc. etc. Yeah, as I said earlier, it doesn’t have the same quantity in the bass region like Audez’e’s but not far from it. And if you’d really miss that extra boost, there’s a remedy for that (but we’ll get to to it later). So in other words, it sound great with crappy music? Yup. It sounds great with audiophile music too, but that is seldom my cup of tea (and if I get those kind of urges, I turn to the HD800 + ZDSE). So… It’s similar to the Audez’e’s but a tiny bit lighter bass, similar mids but clearer, a small extra boost in the treble and sprinkled with a small amount of extra detail. The sound stage and imaging is similar. The ergonomics are better. And it’s closed.

Okay, what’s the catch? How much rebate did he give you on your Paradoxes? No catch, no rebate. It really sounds like that. Not bad, eh? But wait, if all of this is true, why do I see Paradoxes for sale in the forums? The “super headphone” and people are selling it. Now that’s a paradox. Well, as I said earlier, a lot of us like our sound signature colored. And there’s no fault in that. But I listen to a lot of different genres of music. I want my stuff to sound good with everything. Why some people sell their Paradoxes, remains a mystery to me. Maybe they were expecting something they aren’t. I don’t know. But if I were you and saw a used Paradox, I’d pick one up. Even if it’s just to prove me wrong. If I indeed am wrong, well, sell it at a minimal loss and call me a liar.

Paradox - Side
Next page: Amp pairings…

4/5 - (3 votes)
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Valentin is a mid-20’s multi-tasker. Played a lot of instruments from the age of 5-6 and onward. Grew his hair, experimented with 4x12” Mesa Boogies whilst growling in front of a mic. Cut his hair and DJ’d electro beats at clubs. Grew a moustache and people started calling him Dr. Hogea. Has ravaged through all genres you could imagine. A playlist with Warren Zevon, Dissection and Dead Prez is the daily diet. Preferably in a transportable manner. Life is too short for a desk.

65 Comments

  • Reply March 1, 2013

    L.

    I’m thinking: Page breaks 😉

    • Reply March 1, 2013

      Valentin

      It actually had 4 pages but something was really weird when I posted it..

      Page 1 was good
      Page 2 was emtpy and showed a total of 7 pages
      Page 3 jumped pass the whole contents of page 2, but otherwise good
      Page 4 was good

      When logical things aren’t logical… It’s annoying.

      • Reply March 1, 2013

        L.

        yeah the system likes to play tricks on you. A ctrl F5 normally solves that issue though 😉

        • Reply March 1, 2013

          Mike

          Done. We are so unprofessional.

          • Reply March 1, 2013

            L.

            A beer for Mike!

          • Reply March 1, 2013

            Valentin

            Maybe remove all comments so far? 😉

            Thx Mike!

  • Reply March 1, 2013

    Rūdolfs Putniņš

    Review of the year!

    Great job, Valentin! I might pick one up instead of the HE500.

    I just hope LFF is able to keep up with the orders!

    • Reply March 1, 2013

      L.

      Awesome review, maybe a bit early to give it the gold medal though. Last week I saw an article with the “Best headphones of 2013” which kind of is extremely funny as only 2 months had passed and lots of new headphones will be released over the next 10 months 🙂

      • Reply March 1, 2013

        Rūdolfs Putniņš

        Bah! The headphone of the year is HD650, everyone knows that! And if anyone thinks differently they are just not properly amping it!

        But really, I very much enjoyed this review! Especially the intro.

        • Reply March 2, 2013

          Trent_D

          FINALLY! A man talking sense!

        • Reply March 2, 2013

          Valentin

          I’m glad that several found the intro interesting. I was a bit uncertain to how it would be interpreted.

          My goal was to share it from “my own eyes” not that many years ago…

          • Reply March 2, 2013

            Trent_D

            I think a personal touch is always welcomed in a review.

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Valentin

      Thx!

      Last I had contact with LFF, he has upgraded the work shop with some pretty high-tech stuff for a “modder”. Ventilated paint booths etc. etc.

      Let’s hope Fostex keeps the T50RP at 199 USD. The jump from 99 about 6 months ago was enough. 😉

      • Reply March 2, 2013

        dalethorn

        Glad to see he’s not breathing any paint fumes. Could make the job more fun, though.

  • Reply March 1, 2013

    Trent_D

    Another excellent review Valentin! I hope no other guest reviews get posted soon, as they might pale in comparison.

    • Reply March 1, 2013

      L.

      Actually, there are and good ones too!

      • Reply March 1, 2013

        Trent_D

        Obviously (to you anyway), I am self-deprecating, but I really do like the way Valentin writes.

        • Reply March 2, 2013

          Spencer Chan

          Me to. I like the no nonsense tone.

          • Reply March 2, 2013

            Valentin

            Thx guys. I try to be as objective as possible. And give a good background and that those that read feel that it has been compared in a as non-biased way possible.

        • Reply March 2, 2013

          Mike

          Me too, I really like how Valentin writes.

  • Reply March 1, 2013

    dalethorn

    Very clear review of the headphone, and good to have that background to put everything into perspective.

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Valentin

      Glad that you found it imformative.

      As I have said earlier. I would never dare review something if I didn’t feel I had a pretty good hum of the competition. Alas, there will never be a NAD M51 review by me, since it’s impossible for me to compare it to the DACs it should be compared to. 🙂

  • Reply March 2, 2013

    NHong

    Great review. Also, not really headphone related, but where did you get those stands from? They’re gorgeous.

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Valentin

      Great that you liked it!

      Regarding the stands. A close friend made a small batch of stands. All sold out. 🙁

      /V

      • Reply March 2, 2013

        L.

        I got 6. Should have gotten more

  • Reply March 2, 2013

    shipsupt

    What did your brother think of his gift? (You generous guy!) I’m wondering what a non-audiophile type thinks of the Paradox?

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Mike

      That’s a good question. Val?

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Valentin

      Hi Chris!

      Brother-in-law! 😉 Anyway… At first he thought the bass was too thin. This was moving up from some really poor 20-30 USD USD IEMs.

      I told him too give them a couple of days and if he still thought the bass was too thin I would lend him an amp with EQ.

      After a couple of days he thought they were more than perfect.

      The reference-talk I had in the beginning. To him they were bass-thin compared to his reference.

      I on the other hand I would definitely not describe them as bass-thin. More on the bass-heavy side of headphones (in general).

      /V

  • Reply March 2, 2013

    Carl

    Nice piece of writing! Just got home after midnight and really enjoyed reading it; intro was interesting and even entertaining. I really enjoy the mix of writing styles on headfonia, all generally have a balanced, interesting and ‘generous’ feel. That also includes the help given in the comments too; they often feel almost like mini-mini-reviews!
    I also really liked the photos, especially the close-up of the black pair on the stand at the bottom of page 2; the photo-aesthetic that Headfonia has is just fabulous and sets the site apart from others from the get-go.

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Mike

      Thanks, Carl. I enjoy Valentin’s writing style very much too.

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Valentin

      Thanks Carl! I guess that I will keep writing then! 😉

  • Reply March 2, 2013

    Sasmit

    nice review! Though perhaps the first page rant could be shortened ……so since HP100 also had the same neutral description, have you had the chance to compare them?

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Valentin

      The rant.. Well, some like it some dont. It might depend on how much one has read or thought about the headphone business in general.

      The HP100… I will try to get them for some listening impressions.

      However, bear in mind that Lieven is comparing them to 300-400 USD-headphones and that I’m comparing the Paradox to 1500-1950 USD headphones. My guess is that they are similar, but in different price brackets.

      /V

      • Reply March 2, 2013

        Sasmit

        I did enjoy the research aspects and thanks valentin

      • Reply March 2, 2013

        L.

        i’ll try to send them to you this week

  • Reply March 3, 2013

    Sasmit

    Hi Valentin, I was wondering have you had a chance to compare it to the new mad dogs with alpha pads?

    • Reply March 3, 2013

      Valentin

      Hi, No unfortunately not. Although this is a question I’ve asked myself too. Is the Paradox worth the extra $ compared to Mag Dog. I can’t answer on that point. However, the objective measurements I’ve seen comparing Mad Dogs and Paradox are in the latters favour.

      • Reply March 4, 2013

        Sasmit

        Thanks Valentin…..

  • Reply March 4, 2013

    Jonathan Yeung

    valentin, first of all, really great read! second, i thought the more expensive models are balanced with custom cables while the basic mod doesnt mess with the cable part so its still single entry? third, have you heard of the mad dog? can you make a comparison to that? thanks

    • Reply March 4, 2013

      Valentin

      Hi Jonathan,
      Great. Thanks!

      —–
      Level 1 is just sound modding and new earpads.

      Level 2 includes paint job, comfort strap and double-entry recable. That can be terminated to your choice. A tip would be to have it balanced with a SE-adapter.

      Level 3 can have detachable cable if one wants.


      Regarding the new Mad Dogs. I’ve contaced MrSpeakers to try to obtain a review sample of the new updated one. So we’ll see what the future holds.

      All the best,
      V

      • Reply March 5, 2013

        Jonathan Yeung

        thanks for the info, and im looking forward to see the comparison with the mad dog alpha pad mod, i have neither, i have the stock fostex t50rp though and i dont like it that much

      • Reply May 1, 2013

        Jonathan Yeung

        hey valentin, one more question, if i dont like the stock fostex t50rp, is that kinda an indicator that i wont like the paradox?

        • Reply May 1, 2013

          Valentin

          Hi Jonathan,
          Not necessarily. They are very-very different.
          If you don’t like a BMW 320d doesn’t mean that you won’t like a BMW M3. 😉

  • Reply March 5, 2013

    Sam Pascoe

    You post was an entertaining rant. The only thing I would add, being someone in the music industry, I have been in many studios with treated rooms. I have seen mastering engineers use anything from ath-m30’s to hd6x0’s. True neutrality is overrated, even when doing mastering, the engineer will use other songs in the same genre as a template or benchmark to match. So unless you were there for the recording, for which I have done a several, after all of the mixing is done, what you hear is nothing like the original. Just find something that allows you to get lost in the music and forget about the equipment, that is the key to finding the best setup

    • Reply March 5, 2013

      dalethorn

      New technology can be a blessing and a curse. It allows you more flexibility making the music, but it’s hard to wear three different headphones for different genres when you’re riding the bus or a plane.

  • Reply March 5, 2013

    Carl

    Just out of sheer curiosity(as I’m not likely to hear either anytime soon!), I wonder how this would stand up to a listening comparison with the TH-900.
    You have been comparing it very favourably to other high-end ‘phones, so why not it own exceedingly big brother?!

    • Reply March 6, 2013

      Mike

      I have the TH900 and TH600 here, listening out of the HP-A8 but too bad I don’t have the Paradox around.
      They are two high end dynamic headphones though, very different than planers.
      Would I say that they are better than a vanilla Fostex T50RP or a Mad Dog headphone? Definitely as these should be compared to the other $1K+ dynamic headphones or at least the high end orthos.

    • Reply March 6, 2013

      Valentin

      I have not had access to a TH900 to be able to give a honest comparision.

      However, paying 1800€ in EU for a headphone that is 1250€ in Japan… Something is very-very fishy in the distribution chain I must say. The same for HP-A8. Close to 1750€ in EU, 840€ in Japan.

      In short. Until Fostex sort out their distribution. I’m not interested. 😉

      It didn’t answer your question. But I hope you understand my viewpoint.

      /V

  • Reply March 7, 2013

    DaveWave

    Nicely done. Your intro is one of the most intelligent pieces on headphones that I have read. I especially like your reduction of the LCD-2 vs HE-500 vs HD800 debates to three basic generalizations–stereotypes, if you will, in a no pejorative sense of the term.

    You should have published it separately, as your review of the LFF Paradox did not match the clarity of your intro, unfortunately.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Reply March 13, 2013

    Sam

    I’m confused. How are these 199 USD?

    • Reply March 13, 2013

      L.

      The stock fostex?

      • Reply March 13, 2013

        Sam

        The stock T50RP were selling for $75 and now are around $100.

        • Reply March 13, 2013

          Valentin

          MRSP for T50RP is 199 USD.
          Just as the MRSP for Sennheiser HD800 is 1499 USD.

          If you can find them cheaper than the MRSP, well that’s something completely different. 😉

  • Reply March 13, 2013

    Papoom Vibhatasilpin

    Great article. Love it.

  • Reply March 14, 2013

    Portal

    “A LCD-2/LCD-3 driven well is very close to a well-driven HD-800”

    All credibility lost. Stopped reading there.

    • Reply March 25, 2013

      Valentin

      Haters wanna hate, lovers wanna love.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    jtr3

    Thank you for your review of the Paradox. I’ve been interested in a more thorough write-up. Overall, well done, although a little editing would’ve given it a more professional polish. One question: you mentioned the HE-500 in the intro but is there reason no direct sound comparison was made with HiFiMAN?

  • Reply May 31, 2013

    Rūdolfs Putniņš

    A Paradox is coming my way. Let’s see if I did right by selling the HD650.

    • Reply May 31, 2013

      L.

      Do keep us posted R!

      • Reply June 6, 2013

        Rūdolfs Putniņš

        I fully concur with everything Valentin said. Mind. Blown.

        • Reply June 6, 2013

          L.

          Glad to hear that!

        • Reply June 6, 2013

          Dave Ulrich

          Where did you get it, Mr. R?

          • Reply June 6, 2013

            Rūdolfs Putniņš

            A guy in UK was selling the basic version. Took it off of him for like 240GBP.

  • Reply August 30, 2014

    Andrew Muse

    Might want to edit in a bit about the new Paradox Slants (with a bit emphasized bass and larger soundstage from what I hear), and the upcoming Enigma.

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