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:
- 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:
- 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.
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.
Next page: Amp pairings…