TH900: THE MIDRANGE AND THE OTHERS
The lower midrange feels recessed, and in contrast to the powerful bass and sparkly highs, do make for an overall v-shaped sound. However vocals which lies in the higher mid frequencies are nice and present. Unlike the sometimes over-polished, over-smoothed vocals on japanese headphones like the Audio Technica W5000 and the older vintage W-series, vocals on the TH900 are crisp and clean without too much smoothing effect. The v-shaped tonality is always present, even with thick sounding amps like the Burson Soloist and Bakoon’s SCA-7511MK3 Power Amp (different than the Bakoon HDA-5210). Surprisingly at the end of the day it doesn’t keep me from loving the headphone, even when paired with the Bakoon HDA-5210 which is also a v-shaped amp.
The treble is not as relaxed as I’d liked it to be. It’s not harsh, just a bit more present than I usually like (remember I treat the HD650 as the right headphone, it doesn’t sound dark at all to me). The good news is that the treble is smooth, clean, and free from any nastiness. Something I can definitely live with.
Soundstage is extremely spacious and with a good depth. Layering is very strong too and can be compared to the Beyerdynamic T1, and definitely better than the orthodynamics, though not as good as the HD800.
The Sennheiser actually still has the ultimate edge in technicalities. After all it would be hard, I imagine, to rival an open back headphone with a closed back, when it comes to technicalities. But the HD800 doesn’t have the bass, nor the black background of the TH900, nor the clean grain free sound of the TH900. The TH900’s background is extremely black and clean, something which I think is not rivaled by any headphone I’ve heard. It’s not even a close comparison to the HD800’s grainy sound. I think at the end of the day it’s the HD800’s grain that after two plus years, finally convinced me enough to get rid of it. I want something grain free, as it just sounds more relaxing to the ears. Like watching TV, I guess. I want my pictures clean and free of noise.
The Audez’e LCD-2 has a black background and a clean sound, likewise the Stax SR-007, but nothing like the TH900’s. Perhaps the SR-009 would come close, but black background was definitely not on the 009’s feature list when I auditioned it with the BHSE and WooAudio WA5 (+WEE). So this is definitely the TH900’s strong point.
Overall, Fostex’s top end headphone kicks any Audio Technica W-series’ butt any days of the week. Bass, technicalities, timbre, tonal. What is there left for Audio Technica to brag about? Likewise can be said about the Denon D7100 and the D600. But of course, you’re all shouting “Obviously the Fostex costs twice those headphones you just mentioned!”. Hence, the real comparison is on the TH600.
Like the TH900, I didn’t begin to really appreciate the TH600 until I begin using high end equipment with it. Hence the unboxing experience for the TH600 was pretty flat for me, other than moments of admiring the build and the matte black finish which in my opinion is a tough pick from the exquisite wood finish of the TH900.
The TH600 is a good headphone and would probably be told in a more positive tone had I not have the TH900 around. It’s like owning a Porsche 911: you’re cool until someone drives up with a Lamborghini Aventador. The presence of the Aventador doesn’t really make the 911 a slower car than it was, but you know what I’m saying here.
In all fairness, I should not be comparing the two, given the huge $1,000 gap in pricing. Still, some people (yes that includes you!) would ask the question, so here goes: The TH600 is less v-shaped, less spacious, less lower hitting bass, less powerful bass impact, less resolution and scalability. For instance, though the Bakoon amp provides a good amplification support for the TH600, I feel that the 600 is incapable in displaying all the good stuff the Bakoon has the offer.
Viewed in its own light, against similarly priced closed back rivals, the TH600 fares very well and may be my favorite Japanese high end closed back at ~$1000. It definitely is a win over Audio Technica’s W5000. More correct tonality and timbre, and a more linear bass extension than the W5000. It’s sort of a pro-and-cons situation with the W3000ANV, where the 3000 sounds more luxurious and is richer, but is plagued with issues like bass extension and a midrange dip. Not an easy one to decide, between the TH600 and the W3000ANV but I’m leaning toward the Fostex. Compared to the Denon D7100, overall the 7100 has a more lively tonality with a stronger bass impact, and a more sparkly treble. I think the D7100 is the more musical headphone compared to the flatter sounding TH600, but the timbre sounds more plasticky in the D7100 and likewise the build is far from being worthy of the price tag. What can I say, it’s a tougher battle field down in the $1,000 price range especially between the W3000ANV, D71000 and the TH600. At the moment I’m leaning toward the TH600, but that may just be new toy syndrome.
I really think that it’s difficult to isolate the TH600 from the stellar performance of the 900. I know that the local enthusiasts are mainly divided into two large groups: the budget minded and the high end minded. The budget minded would probably stop at $300-$400, maybe $500 for the HD650. The high end minded, I don’t think a TH600 is going to be in their radar since the TH900 is “only” roughly $1,000 more. Yes, Indonesia has a lot of natural resources and all that big money means that $1,000 is the amount of money you may spend for a nice bottle of wine. I don’t know about the demographics in your country, but I can be sure that local buyers will go for the TH900 almost every single time. Unless they happen to strike a special synergy between their music and the TH600.
In this case, I thought that Sennheiser is doing it better with how they are differentiating the HD700 and the HD800. Aside from pricing and technical superiority, there are reasons to why I would go for the HD700. It’s a different headphone than the HD800 and can sound just as good, if not, better for certain music. Likewise Beyer with the T1 and the T5p, and Hifiman with the HE-6, HE-500, and HE-400. In the case of the Fostex, however, I would go for the TH900 every single time, provided I have the money.
Gear Used: Fostex HP-A8, Bakoon HDA-5210mk3, Bakoon SCA-511mk3, RSA Dark Star, Burson Soloist.