TOTL Headphones
Mike Piskor 2014

The TOTL Guide – 12 Flagship Headphones Compared

Beyerdynamic T1 – The Detail Master

There isn’t much to lament over except the ultra-high 600ohm impedance…this headphone eats amplifiers for breakfast and spits out the bones without thinking twice. The beauteous luster this headphone offers on the treble and the upper midrange is simply stunning…and highly addictive.

I find this headphone to be one of the most useful and enjoyable headphones in this report due to the fact that it is virtually faultless with genre selection.

Summary

The headphone is supremely light and comfortable and when coupled with Beyer’s fantastic velour pads, the physical comfort of this headphone knows no equal in the Summit level headphone world.

Bass

One thing that bugs me is the overall tone and house sound of most Beyer headphones, it just isn’t my thing and I find it immensely boring on the low end, offering a very dry and anticlimactic experience that isn’t very clean or precise, potentially even blurry on the edge work. It is almost as if the T1 doesn’t know what type of bass experience it really wanted to be and is in a constant state of flux and panic, undecided on whether it should be more reserved or more engaging.

I find it severely out of place with the midrange and treble experience, both of which are on the brighter side ( a’la DT880 ) and offer excellent engaging qualities without being too harsh or too boring. Where the upper end excels, the lower end feels a bit fluttery with hazards and potential for warping slightly and losing control where you want it most.

The bass allotment is on the very lowest end of moderate, not lacking or thin but just barely out of reach of what it needs to be to fill in the lopsided feel to the entire spectrum. With the midrange and treble abundant, vibrant, and highly engaging, the low end leaves the presentation a bit too lacking and unbalanced for me.

Unfortunately, the T1 does not respond very well to the bass enhancement and loses control very quickly.

Detail

On a technical level, this headphone offers some of the best micro detailing out there. I tend to find myself getting totally lost in translation somewhere in the void of space and time, floating freely in the equidistant space of the musical void.

Looming and rooted somewhere between nirvana and reality, it isn’t until a track I dislike or exterior forces interrupt me that I ever desire to discontinue using the T1. This is a powerful statement for me, considering the overall clarity on the T1 is a step behind most of the others in this report. Despite lacking width and height, the stereo imaging quality and overall size and shape of the T1 presentation are beyond exceptionally well-formed.

The T1 retains excellent intimacy without feeling overly stretched, however, the physical locale of the sound signature is one of being slightly recessed and closer to the Hifiman HE560 in the physical setup.

Genre Flexible

It doesn’t matter what you do with the T1, it will perform admirably in almost any venue from musical instrument monitoring, to gaming, classical to rock and roll. It would be great to see Beyerdynamic revise this model with more efficiency, detachable cables, and more solidity to the low end of the spectrum.

As it stands right now, the recent storm of Planar headphones from Hifiman, Oppo, and Audeze have really taken over the headphone world and positively flooded the old school titans like the T1 and similar headphones of yesteryear.

Exceptional comfort with a well-rounded flare to the sound signature makes for one of the best all-around headphones on the market. Due to recent price drops on this headphone, it no longer qualifies as a Summit headphone, yet despite that, it still retains the shockingly gorgeous tone and detail and deserves inclusion with the rest of the popular Summit level models.

Gaming

It also happens to be the most accurate headphone on earth for pinpointing sounds and accuracy in the placement of instruments in the stereo void, which is something FPS gamers and musical recording studios should be paying attention to.

Nothing on this list is physically accurate to the physical layout of a track recording…and I mean nothing. Not even the HD800 compares to the placement of sounds, which is a very upsetting event for me due to the lack of sound stage vastness in the T1. While the stage is relatively small and circular, what appears inside the void reigns supreme as the most physically accurate, most adept in the ability to place sounds according to their actual location in the stereo void, a fact absolutely proven in online gaming environments.

First Person Shooter gamers should not ever touch any other headphone in this report if they are buying and shopping strictly for Pinpoint Accuracy: The T1 slaughters all 11 other headphones in this report in that area.

Beyer-T1

The Most Interesting Comparisons

T1 vs Hifiman HE560

I do not believe the T1 can compete with the level of clarity of the AKG K812, nor the HD800 and the Audeze’s in this report. However, I do find it to be more akin to the Hifiman HE560. Both seem to offer the same general set up: plentiful bass, softer than usual impact in the midrange, and a bright flare to the treble.

Both headphones also share a similar physical presentation, one of a relaxed and gently pushed back experience lacking stage width and separation qualities from left to right. I would rate these headphones equals, all be it with minor differences between them.

As of this report (2014), the price of the T1 has dropped down to $650 commonly in used areas of the Internet electronics forums and even eBay. This is a hard deal to pass up.

T1 vs Oppo PM-1

The PM-1 retains a much darker backdrop, that jet black curtain all things in the void lay upon allows the instruments and vocals to pop more than the T1, in turn allowing for a much more yummy and intimate experience.

The T1 is much softer in the midrange snappiness factor, the PM-1 is noticeably more impacting and more harshly presented. Despite the PM-1 offering more clarity all around, the T1 remains the better headphone to relax and enjoy everything with due to that softer approach in the mids and bass experience, as well as the mildly relaxed presentation.

Unquestionably, the T1 bulls over the PM-1 with sound staging qualities and utterly destroys the PM-1 with a depth of field and that realism factor.

T1 vs Alpha Dog

The most immediately noticeable difference here would be the overall coloration and tone differences between these two headphones: The Alpha Dog is sadistically, perfectly colored and musical in the midrange and bass, the T1 is more brightly colored all around the spectrum.

Both headphones are power-hungry and demand at least 2watts of driving force on high gain, however, the Alpha dog seems much needier with power needs on the low end. Most likely due to the Planar tech and how voltage affects bass with these headphones.

The more voltage fed into the Alpha, the better the bass sounds, however, the T1 doesn’t really benefit much from excessive driving power. The Alpha Dog has a stronger sense of width and separation, the T1 a more intimate and relaxed presentation with more treble presence. It came to a shocking surprise to me that the Alpha Dog bested the T1 in all departments except comfort…an absolutely unfair battle from start to finish.

Rig Recommendations

The T1 does not mix well with forward-signature amplifiers, so try to pick an amp that is known for a more relaxed presentation with a great deal of output driving power. This headphone should be right at home with the likes of the Oppo HA-1, Burson series, or even the older Apex Butte and similar amplifiers of that style.

If you wish to retain the brighter and softer sound signature the T1 naturally presents, aim for amplifiers with a neutral sound signature. Neutral amplifiers seem to keep the T1’s general sound signature in check, warm or overly bright sounding sources and amplifiers seem detrimental.

However, if you do prefer a warmer low end, I would certainly opt for a warm source Dac and the warmest bass in an amplifier that is available. It is going to take a lot of coloration to alter the sound signature of the T1 to something I would consider highly musical.

Lawton Fostex TH900 – The Natural

Originally Fostex had created and designed Denon’s D2000, 5000, and 7000 signature model closed-back headphones for Denon. Recently, Fostex decided to bank on their own design and kick Denon to the curb, revamping the Denon D-series design into their own branded headphones that offer some nice upgraded sound quality: The Fostex TH600 and TH900.

Summary

With a heavy sigh, I was unable to solicit a stock Fostex TH900, although I have owned it in the past…I resold to afford a nicer amplifier at the time. I recall the stock TH900 sounding more recessed and painful with treble, one of the reasons why I had no quarrels about reselling it.

However, Lawton has done a beautiful job with their modifications. The allure of owning an LA-D7000 is far too intense for most of us to begin to handle, as Mark Lawton pioneered the modded Denon headphones with Dynamat and custom wooden chambers. The result is very nice on the Fostex TH900.

Fostex-TH900

Bass

Bass on this headphone reaches very deep and feels like a blend of power typical of Planars, combined with extremely natural and voided texture. If you enjoy neutral bass, this should be on your list to experience. Weighted, clean and as fast as lightning the TH900 low end really can dish out some excellent quantity.

Some people may find the tone very boring and lackluster, I certainly do. However, I can’t honestly say anything negative about it. Having this much quantity with a drier and immensely natural flavor to the bass experience is very strange and unlike any headphones I’ve ever heard before. I do not know of any other headphone that meshes these two qualities together in such a way, it certainly takes some getting used to.

Vocals

The vocal experience and general sound staging qualities found in this Lawton TH900 are superb beyond reason. Coupled with the headphone’s natural tone, midrange vocals appear to have excellent definition and placement.

While I find the midrange recessed, similar to the Denon D7000, the TH900 still retains excellent vocal presence for a dynamic headphone. True, the stage feels aired out by comparison to most other closed headphones, I don’t feel it to have the spaciousness in the depth of field of the Audeze XC nor the Alpha Dog.

The midrange feels exactly the same as the Hifiman HE-6 in terms of how vocals are defined, physical substance and body are similar on these two headphones.

Treble

Treble on the stock TH900 was a problem, however, it is not a problem after Lawton’s upgrades. While still fairly muted, it is similar to the muted flavor of the Alpha Dog. While not at all bright nor annoying, there simply is not enough of it to satisfy me.

Despite being an improvement over the stock and unmodded TH900, Lawton’s TH900 is certainly superior and classifies as a headphone I do not want to be without. In terms of portable applications, this headphone may be one of the most well suited for me.

A grand and spacious stage, extreme comfort, reclusive treble, prominent bass and mids combined with a natural tone all make for one of the most enjoyable on the go experiences out there. I would very much like to have this headphone modified with a portable length cable, something I can tote with me when I travel or take walks.

As one of the very few extremely comfortable and sexy headphones on this list, I must say that the TH900 is not vastly technically superior to its little brother: The TH600…a headphone that costs significantly less money by the way.

Fostex put immense effort, love, and care into the manufacturing of their stock wooden cups, far less into the actual headphone itself. I really am not fond of the red stock TH900 cups, despite being expertly and lovingly crafted, they look like someone colored over a piece of wood with a vibrant red highlighter marker. Lawton’s cups are not only tonally superior but visually as well.

The Most Interesting Comparisons

TH900 vs Audeze XC

No doubt the XC offers a higher fidelity across the board, however, the Fostex is infinitely more comfortable to me. The XC treble is lively, fun and brighter with far better presence, the TH900 is muted and relatively boring without any positive appeal to it in the Lawton version…far worse in the stock version.

The XC is more forward sounding, more engaging with superior texture in the vocal range, as well as the tone of the entire frequency as a whole. The TH900 sounds incredibly dry, in fact, it is the driest sound out of all 12 headphones in this report.

The TH900 is much faster than the XC with near-instant decay on the bass, where the XC is more thick, broad, and more balanced sounding by comparison to the rest of the qualities found in the headphone.

TH900 vs Alpha Dog

As much as I enjoy the Fostex TH900 as modified by Lawton, I enjoy the Alpha Dog much more sonically. No doubt in my mind I’d rather have the TH900 on my head due to significant comfort superiority, but I think the Alpha Dog is a bit more clear sounding across the board, as well as almost equal in sound staging vastness.

The Alpha Dog can’t quite extend as low as the TH900 on the bass, but it offers more quantity and with a vastly superior texture that I find wildly interesting. The TH900 bass is just too boring and fast, the Alpha’s bass is purer and gently colored, not quite as fast, thus becoming more enjoyable.

Both headphones have a muted treble response that I am not exactly fond of. Where the Alpha is more yummy and musical, the TH900 is more colorless and neutral, especially so on the low end. The TH900 also has a noticeably more relaxed sound signature with a recessed vocal experience, the Alpha is tonally more forward and thick sounding.

Rig Recommendations: The TH900 is fairly efficient and does not benefit much from added voltage, so most portable amps and USB Dac’s will power it sufficiently.

Look for sources that are dead neutral in tone and that offer exceptional bass deepness. Avoid recessed midrange and look for amplifiers that push vocals more than any other quality, this will help lessen the reclusive midrange of the TH900 and help to boost the vocal experience to a more forward and lively locale. Seek also exceptional staging qualities as found in Burson, the RSA F-35 or the Apex Glacier will suit this headphone very well.

Burn-In & AKG K812
Audeze LCD3 & LCD-XC
Beyerdynamic T1 & Fostex TH600/900
Hifiman HE-560 & HE-6
Jhaudio JH16 Pro & MrSpeakers Alpha Dog
Oppo PM1 & Sennheiser HD800
Stax 007 & Our Verdict

Click on the next page below for the Hifiman HE-560 and HE6

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