A long time ago, in an audio design lab far, far away, Fostex had created and implemented the original and famous D2000, 5000 and 7000 headphones for Denon. Yes, those headphones were technically Fostex models under the guise of the Denon logo and branding. Soon after discontinuation of that original Denon D-series, demand and used prices skyrocketed. At that point in time I’d found myself pacing feverishly back and forth, furiously tapping the F5 key on my keyboard, hoping to refresh Head Fi’s for sale page to be first to respond a newly listed Denon D7000. I was more than willing to go to war for one of these bad boys, as it has always been one of my very favorite headphones in any price tier. When I had heard that Fostex had announced its own series of upcoming dynamic driver headphones, both of which were physically modelled after the original Denon D-series, I felt as giddy as a schoolgirl frolicking through the woods with infinite happiness.
Mark Lawton, ye’ diabolical Denon modifier extraordinaire, has long been offering custom modified Denon D-series headphones, custom cables, gorgeous custom wooden cups and very needed proper dampening of the inner acoustic chambers. Lawton now also performs surgical mods and upgrades for the Fostex TH600 and TH900. This guy does brilliant work and I think it very apparent that each time one of us looks upon one of his custom wooden cups for these headphones, we get an aching feeling deep within our gut as our eyes begin to water, drool persisting to drip off the corners of our mouths. Its okay, you are not alone if this is happening. I can recommend you an Audiophiles Anonymous Club meeting where users talk about these sorts of things…punch and pie served on Fridays. Most of us went through this and many of us have a weakness for woody headphones, so tempting and deliciously juicy on the eyes as well as the ears.
The Custom Wood and Dampening
The stock TH900 cups as designed by Fostex were made of Japanese cherry birch with Urushi lacquer. The manufacturing process on the cups alone is painfully slow, precise and given the utmost attention to detail. There was a great deal of love and care put into the physical process of producing stock cups for this headphone. Here is a neat video that details the Fostex stock cups production process. Note the coloration of the wooden cups prior to painting, they are beautiful, Fostex ruined the entire naturally gorgeous grain! Also, I personally think the super glossy black plain job looks better than the red paint job given to the final product. Man…they double ruined it! I am sorry, this is a purely subjective thing of course, but I think the stock red cups of the TH900 look like someone took a red sharpie marker to the wooden cups. They have a flaked, glittery look to it that I find unappealing. I would have preferred they just clear glaze the natural wood grain, or keep it that awesome shiny black pain job with a nice, bright silver logo. Ugh, missed opportunities. Fostex put a ton of real love into that cup production, but the end result isn’t as nice looking as Lawtons by a long shot.
Lawton offers many types of wood through various price ranges, too many to name. Each one is a beautiful masterpiece in its own right and capable of altering the sound signature in a noticeable manner. Mark was gracious enough to send me the uppermost echelon of customization options that included Old Growth Redwood Burl wood, an option that costs near $700 per set by themselves. I must say, this could be the most beautiful wood that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. I have a bit of a weakness for contrasting highlights and shadows inside woods such as this, and I also prefer this lighter appeal to the hue of the wood itself over some of the darker woods that are available. In natural sunlight, the grains appear bright and vivid, reflecting sunlight in knee wobblingly beauty, flagrant disregard for my audiophile sanity. Thanks Mark. You broke my brain.
Naturally, the combination of it all, at least in a physical sense of the word brings me a constant feeling of elation and also one that screams class and style. Most of my family is aware of what I do for a living, as people often come and go through my house, visiting for whatever reasons, most of them are very used to me brandishing some type of high-end headphones nearby. In this case, Lawton’s TH900 has gotten more attention than any other headphone I’ve ever owned and the majority of my family and friends want to use this above any other headphone that I’ve ever allowed them to experience.
Let me tell you something, when I wake up each morning and see this headphone on my desk as the golden sunlight shines into my window, basking the wood…I really feel like this headphone belongs right where it is. From an artistic sense of the word, only one other headphone has done that to me. I have a thing for artistic flair like this. Design in general is very important to me as I want it to both look and sound sexy. There’s just something about the way the naturally contrasting grain coloration, it really hits home and invokes a stronger sense of “Hifi” to me than common plastic exteriors on very expensive headphones.
Mark also uses a an undisclosed material that is not commercially available on the inside of the cups, which helps properly dampen the treble experiences…scratch that…the treble flaws the original stock D7000 and TH900 have. There is a fair quality improvement, at least in my opinion and as my ears experience it, in Lawton’s modifications than the original Denon or Fostex headphones. I have owned the stock Denon D7000 and installed a version of Lawton’s dampening via the DIY kit myself and for a number of people whom I recommended this headphone to in the past, as well as having owned the Fostex TH900 in its unmodified form for some time.
There is no doubt in my mind that this material enhances the quality of the hot treble of the Denon D7000, toning it down a fair degree and reducing brightness enough to experience a bit more detail. In the case of the TH900, I’ve always felt the treble to be a bit artificial and lacking in presence, even a bit reclusive. However, in Marks version of this headphone, the upper end experiences a bit more lively. Originally, when I had first purchased the stock TH900 for myself, I’d had a constant raised eyebrow over the quality of the treble experience. In Lawton’s upgraded version, I do not get the sense. With that in mind, I do feel there is a noticeable improvement in clarity across the board, the wooden chambers do make a difference in sound staging, positioning and tone…but more on this later in the sound quality area.