Sound Quality

There is no doubt in my devious brain that the TH900 houses one of the most engaging, vividly punchy and deep reaching bass experiences available. Truly, not many other headphones can compare to the bass might this headphone offers. To my ears, it is easily the most lightning fast low end I’ve heard, hardly any decay in the sub frequencies at all. Pacing and PRAT on the low end of the TH900 was always jaw dropping: this is not a purist’s headphone in terms of quantity. If you want a linear and balanced sound, you are in the wrong place my friends. The TH900 has powerful bass, similar to the Denon D7000 but also offering a noticeably more clear and focused response.

Recently, I’d written a guide on some of the top of the line headphones out there: the likes of the Sennheiser HD800, Audeze LCD3, XC and a few others were included. I’d found that Lawton’s TH900 trumped everything in the bass deepness department, reaching lower and offering that Quicksilver-like response in terms of decay some bass heads yearn for. Some enjoy a slower, more weighted and lingering bass response where the low end seems to almost cradle your ears, allowing time to soak in and enjoy bass in general. Others may enjoy the faster, quick responsiveness with no decay and lingering time on the low end. If that is your bag, then the TH900 is for you. Its bass is fast, damned fast.

Bass

Overall clarity on the bass is not quite up to par with the likes of the Audeze LCD3 or the LCD-XC, both of which are headphones I consider to offer some of the best bass quality available. There is a bit of looseness in the experience all around, something very apparently different from the Audezes for example in terms of the way the low end is portrayed and offered up. Control factor is good, but not great on the TH900 and I don’t think the custom cups do much in forcing the experience to feel less prone to loss of control when pushing the headphones bass with some EQ. I think the stock version and the custom versions sound virtually the same with that, although again the tone is certainly different.

Compared with my MrSpeakers Alpha Dog, a headphone I felt to offer the most physical change with incremental levels of low end boosting of the headphones I actually own, the Lawton TH900 doesn’t alter as much in quantity as I had hoped for. This has nothing to do with quality, this is more of a “ dude, this headphone already starts out powerful on the low end, so naturally EQ boosting on the bass isn’t going to do much for it.” It is very apparent that some software enhancements do not do much for the low end, for example raising the EQ on the bass up +1-5dB in Foobar2000s ‘realbassexciter’ DSP, the TH900 hardly responds or alters in physical quantity. A number of other headphones do react audibly to smaller boosts and it isn’t until you get beyond +5dB that the TH900 will thump harder, all be it at a bit of a quality loss. Summed up, don’t bass boost an already powerful bassy headphone.

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As for the midrange and in Lawton’s version, there is an alteration of the general response itself over the stock TH900. The original TH900 sounds a little more recessed and distant, more V shaped. However, the Lawton version feels a bit more forward by comparison, not much, but just enough to notice. I think the wooden cups shape helped the sound staging properties out a bit as well, making the physical locale of the sonic experience one of a slightly less recessed value. The stock TH900 cups aren’t as wide in girth, these Lawton custom cups are a bit larger and protrude outward more, which in turn allows more space for the sound to roll around inside the now larger chamber.

Clarity


With regard to overall clarity, I found the experience notably better than the Denon D7000 for example, but still not as good as something like the HD800 of course. I do not think the TH900 is as clean and clear as the LCD3 either, it is a fair ways away from its biggest closed back rival, the Audeze LCD-XC, which is also a closed back woody headphone. I do feel that the TH900 in general sounds great across the board, but not jaw dropping or life changing. It is what I would consider the first step into Summit level Hifi audio clarity and sound, a great stepping stone to one of the better open backs from Sennheiser or Audeze. I cannot recommend this headphone for vocalist lovers due to the entire presentation being a bit more relaxed.

Compared to the LCDXC for example the TH900 sounds a bit flat and lacking envelopment and immersion. Much like the HD800, the TH900 offers a similar appeal to the overall airiness and stage width, something very well formed and void of lacking any negative qualities in a physical sense. Good height, good width, good sense of air and space…when compared to ANY type of headphone. For a closed back headphone, the TH900 offers one of the largest and most spacious sound stages available. Vocals lack that forward engagement I crave, but there are certainly hundreds of audiophiles who appreciate the more flat sound approach this headphone offers.

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Treble

The treble on the Lawton TH900 is enhanced a bit over the stock version, which again to my ears had a more reclusive and snappy response to it, now altered to something more enjoyable and less punchy. Dynamating tends to do that, so expect good treble all around but falling very short of the likes of the HD800 and Hifiman HE-6 for example. That slightly icy and bluish tint to some of the best treble headphones out there is absent in both the stock and Lawton TH900. I think the treble experience was always the TH900’s weakest link, offering neither great nor bad treble, but still treble I found to be too reserved and lacking. My ears simply crave more quantity.

There is definitely a large improvement over the Denon D7000, which had painful and unclear treble response by comparison. I found this very interesting that the overall staging properties were still excellent despite the more toned back treble response; usually a good treble experience leads to a more airy feeling to the soundstage. In this case even the Lawton TH900, which is improved over the stock TH900, still offers supreme staging quality.

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I don’t really think there are many other closed headphones that can achieve this type of width and overall sense of air as the TH900 can. Also, I don’t think the Lawton upgrades did anything for the size of the stage, if there is any change I cannot spot them. With regard to width, the experience is top tier for a closed back, besting the Audeze XC and Alpha Dog at least in the sense of spaciousness, but bigger doesn’t always mean better. Immersion quality is relatively average on this headphone, due again to the lack of forwardness and envelopment factor, something extremely abundant in the Alpha Dog and the XC. That speaks totally to preferences. It is very obvious that the TH900 lacks the sense of depth and stage forwardness, I would attribute the placement of the Lawton TH900 a row or two in front of the original stock TH900 sound presentation, but both are still a few rows back from the stage. The Alpha Dog and the XC are more like sitting very close to the Orchestra members, the sense of wrapping around at the 9 and 3 o’clock positioning is lacking on the Fostex, abundant on the other two mentioned headphone models.

Separation and airiness for a closed back is pretty much unrivalled, only made more awesome by the fast pacing of the headphone and the lack of background coloration, one that leans more to natural sound and not a black, nor bright coloration with this wood option. Stage Depth is also very good for a closed back, but still not as good as the HD800 or some other titans of staging out there. Veterans of Hifi headphones should immediately understand and appreciate the value of the TH900 upon first listen, especially so if you have an HD800 on hand to compare and contrast to. Once the A/B comparisons take place, you should note that the TH900 is pretty much the undisputed all around staging king in the closed headphone world, impressive near instantly upon first time usage to damned near everyone I know who has heard or owned it.

The Old Growth Redwood Burl custom cups offer a more natural background coloration, or lack thereof, over the slightly brighter background of the stock cups. Again, there are multiple wood types for the TH900 that are available from Lawton’s website, below is a cool Tone Wheel chart showing what types of tonal balance and coloration possibilities some of the woods offer.

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Type 1 woods offer a “Rocking out, Jamming, Head Banging “experience suited for Rock, Pop, RnB and Metal. With a warm, rich, lush tone that is forward and fun.

Type 2 woods offer a “Warm, Mellow, Natural” experience suited for Classic Rock, Jazz, Soul or Reggae.

Type 3 woods offer a Neutral experience that is “Natural, Moderate, Mild” in tone with a balanced sound signature. Generally, the most well rounded for genre selection.

Type 4 woods offer a “Clear, Crisp, Resolving” experience that is more suited for Snappy or vivid music in Dance, Electronic or Pop genres.

Type 5 woods offer a “Dry, Clean, Focused” experience that is deeply relaxing, suited for Classical, acoustic and female voice tracks.

Music Study

Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back – The Imperial Audiophile Edition
Track – End Titles
Burson Conductor SL1793/9018

Quite amazing how well the TH900 pairs with the Burson Conductor SL1973, the extra warmth suits my preferences well, although a terrible idea to use with this type of Old Growth Redwood Burl wood, which offers a natural tone. Using the Conductor 9018 Dac, the experience is wildly spacious and sometimes I forget I am wearing a closed back headphone (technically). Nothing short of amazing as the track begins with a slower pacing, natural background tone mixed with fantastic orchestral prowess equates to one of the best dynamic closed back headphone experiences available. Truly awesome and addictive with regards to air and separation quality.

Oppo HA-1

Similar to the Burson 1793, the HA-1 portrays an amazing sense of bass, which seems a bit out of control when using this headphone on high gain mode, although the headphone is being used via the ¼ output through an XLR to ¼ adapter provided by Lawton, the bass response is still incredibly fast and snappy. Without portraying a sense of harshness or strong slam effect, the low end still seems to extend and respond as if it were a balanced rig.

Gary Clark Jr – The Bright Lights LP
When My Train Pulls In
RSA F-35 Lightning / ALO International+

A live recording by Gary on his electric guitar, immediately noticeable is on a balanced rig via the International+ in Dac mode, outed to the F-35 and used with an RSA to dual XLR interconnect, the bass response clarity differences is apparent over the non-balanced rig setup via either of these amplifiers. Each low end strum reverberates and decays near instantly ( this is actually scary good ) and very realistically portrayed to an actual electric guitar ( I know because I actually play guitar ). In balanced mode, the TH900 responds even better to quantity and weight, yet retains that nice mix of proper slam and cohesion that isn’t painful, yet still vividly engaging.

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5 Responses

  1. s. zorin

    Well, this is about the best evaluation of TH900 I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of them. The reviewer, Michael Piskor, is spot on describing shortcomings of these headphones. They are good for certain types of music but not so good for some other ones. What made me turn away from them was a defective treble and a volume dip centered on 550 Hz which makes human voices sound fainter. I listen mainly to vocal oriented music and having vocals in line with bass and treble is a most critical consideration for me. I chose W3000ANV instead and these headphones are perfect in this regard. For heavy beat and bass types of music TH900 would be the first choice.
    Reading this review I say that W3000ANV would be a perfect fit for Michael.

    Reply
  2. 24bit

    Just needed to update readers. The Fostex mods use a “specially selected, purpose made industrial dampening materials” and not Dynamat. The Old Grown cups also cost $679 as Mr. Lawton has just informed me.

    Reply

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