The Fostex TH909 is an open-back dynamic driver flagship headphone derived from the original TH900MK2 sound signature. It is priced at $1799.

Disclaimer: The Fostex TH909 sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank Fostex for this opportunity. 

To read more Fostex products reviewed on Headfonics you can click here.

Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.

Fostex and I have a long history together. Often, at audio gatherings, Fostex booth operators shout to me “Hey Mike!”, so I fully admit to being a solid fanboy of Fostex.

After all, I enjoy the Drop versions of the TH-series, I’ve owned the TH900 and the TH600 throughout that entire romp of new versions from that 3rd party website and I’ve enjoyed all the iterations of the T50RP. Fostex to me represents spaciousness and adaptability.

As a fan of the TH900, it was an absolute pleasure to see the TH909 open back arrive at my door, at long last. Let’s see how it fairs against the competition!

Fostex TH909

The Box and Accessories

The TH909 comes in a standard cardboard box exterior, of which inside resides a harder box to contain this gorgeous piece of hardware. I am so happy to see hard cases like this included, but I would very much prefer the carrying type of case included, something with soft foam inserts that is portable and shockproof.

This is an investment and I need to take care of it. Especially so when I tote it to audio meets, or when company execs stop by to demo my gear in my home or when they invite me over.

The presentation factor of bringing out “the case” is important to me. It is almost like a presentation: gently setting the case down in front of them and opening it like I am with the CIA or Secret Service opening a briefcase.

All in all, it’s fine. The hard portable cases on Amazon are $30USD or so, I just paid $1799 for this, I’ll pay a tiny bit more for amazing protection if I have to. No accessories are included beyond the headphone stand, which is lovely and the stock cable, which has a detachable option, thank god. I am certainly going to invest in a shorter, portable length replacement sometime in the future. Yum.

Fostex TH909

Urushi Lacquer

Not long ago, I posted an article on the Audio Technica ESW series headphones and how I worked under a master Japanese Urushi artisan. He taught me the basics and let me practice for months before I started working on restoring my ES10JPN headphones.

It is more than reasonable to say to Fostex directly that I know how much care must have gone into these headphones, specifically the TH900 and TH909. Urushi lacquer is immensely fragile to work with and the amount of attention required into making it proper, as well as applying it properly, is extreme.

If anyone from Fostex is reading this, please extend my thanks to the Sa-kamoto Urushi Factory. The absurd level of craftsmanship that went into this headphone is beyond respected and admired by me.

I’ve done this work in the past and know exactly what it means to use this Urushi lacquer. It was one of the most painstaking events of artistry I’ve ever attempted, but the end result was that I came away with the most beautifully restored Urushi lacquer on my headphone from Audio Technica.

Fostex TH909

Liquid Art

This is liquid art. I don’t think anyone can debate this further with me. From an atheistic standpoint, this is probably one of the most beautifully designed headphones I’ve ever reviewed. It has a classic, old school woodie vibe, as well as a modern twist.

The exterior areas of the earcup are wood and stunningly finished. But, the interior section is a metallic dampener that has an interesting and high-art visual appeal to it. Well, at least, in my opinion.

Expensive headphones like this usually tend to offer some attempt at being vividly artistic in overall flare and I find that immensely appealing. I love woodies. Everyone who reads my articles knows this of me. I have a weakness for them. When the light from the sun hits this headphone on my desk, in just the right way, it almost glows in the reflection of the light rays around it.

I find the experience not only engaging but also calming when I am doing my work. Having it just rest nearby and in sight, slightly glowing and basking in the light sources around me, is a soothing experience.

I understand why people invest a lot of money into art pieces and sculptures, or paintings. I feel like I am part of this higher-end art community now, especially so in the last few years and headphone designs become more beautiful over time.

Fostex TH909

Sound Impressions

Bass

Surprisingly, this TH909 is not reflective of the TH900 or the TH600 at all down yonder. And that is a good thing if you enjoy the midrange. Side by side, there is no question that the TH909 sounds cleaner, purer and more crystalline in nature and set up than the TH900. It feels a little different in texture, even more pure, and less thumpy, more relaxed on impact. I enjoy it very much.

If you are looking for serious bass quantity, this isn’t the headphone for you. If you want very good amounts of bass and immense purity though, this is definitely a great option. This is how pure headphones are supposed to sound. Not thin on the low end.

They need to be responsive to EQ and adding in more bass if you want. I am never going to pay $1500+ for a headphone that sounds thin on the bass end and claims to be accurate. We’ve evolved. The hobby has evolved.

These types of designs and lacking features are no longer tolerated by the majority, we rightly deserve better and more in the experience. We’ve received it with the TH909. Finally, a bassy headphone that is pure and deep-reaching which responds nicely to EQ.

Bass Response

Fostex’s TH series is all about bass and spaciousness, we get that in droves here in the new model. Subjectively, as a musical enthusiast, there is more than enough here to make me extremely happy. I am able to drop in an extra +9dB (insane….just insane) and not have it sound even slightly muddy.

This is a huge victory for responsiveness. I have just one other headphone that does this and it is from Swanaudio. No other flagship has ever hit +9dB of added bass EQ and retained this level of pristine control. We are in the era of exceptional new technology and I cannot be happier as an audiophile.

Fostex has really done something magnificent here with regard to customization potential. Prior, only CIEM’s were able to obtain this level of customization via some toggling here and there of bass amounts. Now, I have two new headphones that have achieved it and both of them arrived on the same day to me.

The only headphone I’ve ever used that achieved the same absurd +9dB of bass, as this TH909 has, was this also very new Swan Audio open back. These headphones could not sound more different though.

Midrange

Shockingly, as incredibly unexpected as this was for me upon first listen, the TH909 is mid-forward. This headphone doesn’t sound like the TH900 or the TH600 variants at all. The closest I was able to get to a midrange like this with one of those variants was with a very expensive custom wood cup replacement for the TH-600. And even then, it wasn’t as forward as this TH909.

This is, for lack of a better word, a beautiful vocalist enthusiast headphone. True and then some on that front. The recessive midrange of the past models are no longer available, retconned out in this new model. I could not be happier.

Mid Tone

This headphone is not lush sounding, or thickly appealing in tone and texture. It is very pure and lightning-fast. In fact, I think this headphone is one of the fastest sounding headphones I’ve ever reviewed.

If you are into the hyperpure feel and tonality of clinical sounding and accurate tone-headphone experiences, this is the top of the mountain. So far as I am aware, your next step would be expensive Electrostatic headphones after this.

In regard to Dynamic Headphone design, I place this TH909 at the top of the most useful clinical Flagship Headphones out there.

Treble

Thankfully, the entire top end is toned back and tame compared to the TH900. The physical impact and strike factor are far less, at least, in my opinion. That shoulder shrug wince factor and dynamic kick factor is enjoyable on this. I consider it highly engaging and only a bit fatiguing with hours upon hours of usage.

I’ve enjoyed cinema with this headphone, 2 to 3 films in a row and without needing a break on the ear fatigue, so at least for me, it takes a while to feel it. I doubt most listeners are going to use the headphone for more than 6 hours at a time, but we audio reviewers are supposed to.

So, for casual and normal usage? I think the headphone is just fine on dynamic kicks, it stays interesting and fun, but without going overboard on icy appeal. I do consider the top end bright, but not annoyingly so. If you want a reserved treble response, this probably isn’t going to appeal to you.

But, I tend to be sensitive to very icy headphones and I simply don’t have an issue here on the TH909. I often listen to harsh and older recordings, old vinyl and not so well recorded albums that have yet to be remastered. I feel no problem listening to hours.

Fostex TH909

Treble Amp Requirements

Similarly to the HD800 from Sennheiser, this TH909 really needs some juice behind it so sound truly spectacular. Otherwise, underpowered, it sounds just okay to me.

An example being my newer Xduoo XD05 Plus: on high gain, the TH909 sounds so yummy. On low gain, volume corrected as best as I can, it feels immensely underpowered. My home rig is composed of the Burson Conductor 3, so I have a ton of power behind it at all times.

While used on my Monoprice THX portable amp/DAC, I feel the experience to also be underpowered compared to the more powerful XD05 Plus, so power does become a thing that is needed here.

If you have a great portable amp, use it. The experience on the top end goes from just good to excellent. There is a stunning shimmer sometimes up there that is actually highly musical, which is an aftereffect of excellent and accurate recordings used with hyper-accurate headphones.

Properly recorded audio tends to be beautiful sounding. The gorgeous tizz of cymbals and piano strikes is sublime on this model. That is something I’ve longed for years to have in a clinical sounding headphone.

Treble doesn’t need to always be painful. Rig pairing is sadly a requirement for clinical headphones with a lot of treble, some do it justice, some do not. Enjoy the hunt in finding the proper rig for yourself, it is worth the journey.

Imaging

Well, this is a TH series headphone from Fostex. What else do I need to say? Expect some of the best imaging in the entire headphone world.

The image is tall and moderately wide, with a stark contrast of excellent depth and airiness. This headphone’s soundstage is tremendously spacious. If you are into imaging and want a very good stage, look no further.

There are only a few models out there that sound better or even comparable. The depth of field is a hard feat to accomplish in the audio world, while width and height are fairly easy to achieve. This headphone can be improved even further with different pads, but I find all of them to make the headphone feel clunky on my head and also ruin the gorgeous forward mids.

I suggest you avoid any other pads but the stock ones with this model. Fostex has done a great thing here with that midrange and I prefer not to destroy them with larger pads that only extend the imaging prowess of the headphone.

Separation

Stage width and separation of instruments is absurdly good. Having that sense of space, but also having a firm sense of bass is nearly unheard of in the TOTL side of this hobby.

As mentioned…there is only one other model that I received the same day as this TH909, that I have ever heard, that can retain a massive stage while supplying a great sense of bass. There is usually a trade-off, more treble for more staging while sacrificing the low end.

This TH909 makes no compromise. You get excellent bass and also a very, very spacious feel. Bravo Fostex. As you know, I love my bass and staging. You’ve made me very happy. We need more top of the line headphones like this in the near future.

Fostex TH909

Comfort

I left comfort for the ‘endish’ area here because I wanted to make a point first that the headphone does not get fatiguing as fast as I might have originally assumed, as well as that the pads affect the experience heavily.

The warmth factor of the pads is a non-issue. It doesn’t get warm for me due to being open back. It breathes just fine and there is plenty of air moving with that powerful bass to keep a fresh intake coming in and out at all times.

The headphone also isn’t heavy and the headphone is perfect. The excellent headband design is something I enjoy and need more of in my reviewership. Too many sets are plagued with obtuse angles used in their design of the headband. Does anyone remember my thoughts on the Shure 840? Oh my…

Thankfully, the TH909 remains immensely comfy for hours and hours. Truly, a blessing in the heavy Planar age of design. I have not a single gripe on comfort except that the long cable sometimes tugs down and forces the cups to yank a little on my ears. It is a small problem, but a shorter and portable length cable would be nice. Something exactly like the Drop.com version of the Sennheiser HD6xx stock cable would be lovely.

Our Verdict

Oh goodness me. I have got a new favorite clinical and accurate headphone. This is beyond my expectations and then some. I truly didn’t expect a vocalist’s dream of a headphone here and thought, for sure, that this would be a slightly tweaked TH900.

I cannot say that I am happier to be so wrong on that! I absolutely love this headphone. It reaches deep when called for and also sounds very spacious. More so of importance, it is very comfortable and absurdly sexy. Come on now, how can you ask for more?

The visual appeal is beyond fantastic, the bass is still very Fostex TH series, but even more clean and pure, yet also, with a pension for an excellent bass response when you add more in via EQ.

If I had one gripe, it is only that the headphone, being so clinical and neutral, doesn’t mesh very well with warm amps and sources. But, we all know that isn’t how clinical products work to begin with, so in my book that is okay.

This headphone is a keeper for me. It is what I’ve always dreamed of with regard to a lightning-fast, razor-sharp clinical sounding headphone. See!? Good bass response is possible in a very clinical sounding headphone!

TH909 Specifications

  • Driver: Dynamic, 50mm
  • Operation Type: Open back
  • Impedance: 25 ohm
  • Sensitivity: 100dB/mW (at 1kHz, 1mW)
  • Freq. response: 5Hz – 45kHz
  • Max Input Power: 1,800mW
  • Weight: 390g (excluding the cable)
  • Cable: Detachable 3m 1/4” unbalanced stereo phone (model ET-H3.0N7UB)
  • Accessories: Headphone Stand (model ST300), Carrying Bag
Sound Quality
9
Design
9
Comfort & Isolation
9
Synergy
8
Slide here to add your score on the gear!45 Votes
8.5
8.8
Editorial Score
$1799
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7 Responses

  1. S.G

    Thank you so much for the quick response. I had a listen of the Fostex TH900 and I much prefer the Ultrasone Edition 11 with eq. I’ve made the lower mids come up a bit so mids now have more presence. I would be extremely curious to hear the Fostex TH909 one day. What struct me most about the Edition 11 is how intimate it can be yet feel spacious and have great depth to the music. I remember listening to the Focal Clear and feeling they sounded more open and wide but once I spent more time with the Edition 11 it was the imaging, it made things feel more precise and intimate, then out of no where, a sound felt like it was coming from far away and that’s what made me choose the Edition 11 over the Focal Clear and TH900. It has a very big soundstage but tricks you into making it feel intimate. It could be the S Logic because I felt the same when I tried the Edition 15.

    Reply
    • Michael

      That is a very accurate telling of how Slogic functions and why I enjoy it a lot. If you like the 11, stick with it, because this TH909 is an upgrade to the TH900 in fidelity, but tones down the harshness and physical strike impact. But, I still consider it slamming, while I consider the 11 much more soft.

      Musical 11 vs Dry tonality TH909. The choice is easy if you are a musicality buff like me. I wouldn’t worry about the upgrade, you’d be shifting into a tonality that is very different from the Edition 11.

      Reply
      • S.G

        Thank you very much for the info. Would you say the TH909 retrieves more detail overall than the Edition 11 or is the Edition 11 close? :)

  2. S.G

    Awesome review. I am extremely curious to know how the Ultrasone Edition 11 compares to the Fostex TH909. I have been using the Edition 11 for a bit now and have used EQ to bring the lower mids up a bit, I reduced mid bass slightly and brough up the sub bass. It is a complete beastsl of a headphone 😁

    Reply
    • Michael

      Thank you!

      Lucky for you, I got to listen to the Edition 11 recently and had a non-review based comparison due to bringing my TH909 with me at the time.

      The Edition 11 has a more natural sounding low end, requiring more boosting to get it to sound bassy. Whereas the 909 starts out with more quantity in the bass experience.

      The 909 is moderately forward and I feel like the Edition 11 wasn’t that far off in placement. However, there is noticeable flatness in the Edition 11 vs the TH909’s more vivid feel.

      Imaging on the TH909 is better in terms of realism, however the headphone is more fatiguing than the Edition 11 in my short time with it. I would want you to take this with a pillar sized grain of salt and not even listen to me on this though, because my time with the Edition 11 was short.

      IMO, Slogic is more user friendly to the ear and helps with width and height factor, however against the TH series? That imaging experience is more naturally extensive and realistic, it is easy to pick the TH909 for most genre applications. It responds very well to EQ as well.

      IMO the Edition 11 isn’t far off though. Clamp factor was so strong on the edition 11, while the TH909 is super comfy and has very light caliper pressure!

      I owned the TH900 for a long time, moved to the TH909 when I got to review this as I felt it was a better headphone overall. I would place the Edition 11 more along the TH900 line, than the TH909 which I feel to be a superior model.

      Biggest difference is the bass experience, IMO. The TH909 is lightning fast with super fast decay, it doesn’t linger. It’s raw and pure in presentation and just ends abruptly, same with the treble. Its pristine. The Edition 11 was noticeably more warm and vivid, more thickened feeling.

      IMO, I liked the Edition 11 bass experience more, despite being a bit less quality overall. I don’t care for quality over musicality, I find the Edition 11 more musical and “fun”. And the TH909 the more pure and natural feeling.

      TH909 is not the headphone you want if you want to “relax” and enjoy a soft and vivid appeal in presentation. Despite the tonality being natural feeling, it is much more fatiguing and impacting than the Edition 11 was when I got to A/B them both.

      Reply
  3. Brian

    The Sennheiser cables are compatible with this model? Previously, the polarity was reversed, even though they were plug-compatible.

    I enjoyed this review. These are arty, summit-fi stunners.

    Reply
    • michael

      I have not tested stock Sennheiser cables with the TH909, I was told the Stock Drop.com HD6xx and Hd58x cable works and it does. I think the Drop.com stock HD6xx cable is a bit different, although I’ll need to try to confirm this, which will be exhausting…Fits perfectly though, looks great, and sounds the same as the stock TH909 cable. Is there a polarity issue? Maybe! I don’t hear anything at all wrong with it and cannot detect audible polarity issues. I don’t have any way to electrically test. Swapping from the TH909 stock cable to the HD6xx cable results in failed blind testing ability to spot which is which.

      I was not able to find any information from Drop on the cable for the HD6xx and Fostex would have to be sent a cable to test and see if it has a polarity reversal. But even though things “could be” out of phase, I don’t hear it in the slightest. I banked on trusting someone who told me the 6XX cable worked on the TH909 and thought nothing of it ever since. I use it every day.

      If it is out of phase and there are oddities or issues, they are not audible to me at all. I’ll ask around on both sides and see what they say, and will let you know.

      Reply

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