Design, build, and comfort.
The TH909 ships in relatively austere black packaging, and arrives safely housed in a hard storage box within the retail cardboard packaging. Focal has certainly set a hard-to-match category standard for packaging and accessories – their Stellia and Clear has set very high benchmarks for me in terms of included accessories and excellent portable cases. Unfortunately, Fostex has gone for a pretty bare-bones affair here – there’s no portable case for the TH909, and only a single 3m single-ended cable with a 6.3mm termination. The inclusion of a balanced cable would have been nice at this price but there’s none to be found here. Fostex offers a compatible aftermarket XLR cable, but ticking that box at checkout would tip the asking price for a balanced TH909 comfortably over two grand.
One very pleasant surprise inside the packaging was a matching ‘Fostex’-branded headphone stand! It’s a pretty basic wooden stand but it’s a thoughtful inclusion and very much a necessity for a delicate pair of headphones like the TH909 – there’s no way I’d be subjecting their lovely Urushi finish to rest on top of a pile of books or draped over the top of a monitor.
The TH909 tips the scales at 390 grams – pretty standard for a full-sized pair of headphones, but over the course of my time with them, I never had reason to think about their heft. It’s a terrifically comfortable set of cans, which is helped by its evenly-distributed weight and wonderfully plush earpads which appear to be made from imitation leather. The pads are generously proportioned in terms of depth and width, and they make the TH909 a genuine ‘all day’ proposition compared to, say, the Focal Clear, which begins to feel uncomfortable on the top of your head after a couple of hours.
As ‘open’ headphones go, the TH909 isn’t the most open-sounding when perched on your head. Because those cheese-grater grilles have more metallic surface area than they have holes, there actually is a slight attenuation of outside noise. You definitely won’t be reaching for the TH909 to block-out the outside world, but it will quieten it down a fraction. I would put them on-par with the Dan Clark Audio (formerly MrSpeakers) Aeon Flow Open for semi-openness.
Speaking of the top of your head, I do have a couple of niggles with the TH909’s headband. While it’s adequately padded and perfectly comfortable, it feels a little flimsy for lack of a better word. If you’ve held a pair of cheaper Fostex headphones before, such as the Drop.com TH-X00, then you might know what I mean – the TH909 shares the same headband and gimbal assembly. The TH909 tends to ‘flop’ around and make a few clicky sounds when you hold it in your hands and move/articulate things, and overall this makes them slightly wobbly in the hand. The headband adjustment, while on the loose side, tends to work reasonably well but a bit of jaw-wiggling can cause them to loosen while on your noggin.
My single biggest concern with the TH909’s longevity is the gimbal that joins the earcups to the headband. It’s a single joint only, and while plenty of other headphones use a similar scheme, this one doesn’t inspire the most confidence that it’s made to last. If you look after your gear I’m sure most people will enjoy years of problem-free listening, but I have seen a few Fostex ‘fallen soldiers’ whose gimbals have snapped over the years.
The TH909’s cable is detachable (thankfully), but only one option is provided as mentioned above. The 6.3mm cable is 3 metres long – handy if you’re primarily doing stationary home HiFi listening, but a tad unwieldy for desktop usage and as for mobile usage, forget about it. The cable attaches the TH909’s earcups via a two-pin proprietary adapter system that looks remarkably similar to the Sennheiser HD600/650 system. Unfortunately, they’re not compatible, and therefore I was only able to listen to the TH909 in stock, single-ended mode. The supplied cable is sheathed in a woven fabric that can get a little microphonic when it rubs against your clothing, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the stock Focal cables shipped with the Stellia and Clear.
Here’s my take on the overall design: I think it’s a love it/hate it kinda vibe. Whereas the TH900 gloriously celebrates itself with those big red cups, the TH909 looks somewhat confused, and compromised. While it did grow on me during the time that I spent with it, I think the grilles don’t really reconcile with the Urushi outer cups. And with the big hole cut in the middle of the cups, you wonder if it was worth going to the trouble of getting that fancy laquer at all on the TH909. Still, when you hold them you do recognise that you’re holding something special. Quibbles with the headband aside, they very much fit the bill of ‘flagship’ not only in terms of the materials used but also the emotions they invoke – while I didn’t buy this pair (and I don’t get to keep them either), I reckon I’d feel pretty proud to have them taking pride of place on my desktop.
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