Leave it to Massdrop to solicit a positive design alteration from Fostex that is both superior and cheaper than the original model it was based on.
Back when the X00 had first been announced, I’d thought it was going to be an entirely new product, or maybe a rehash of a previous model with shiny wooden cups. Thankfully, we all received a little of both.
I rated the Lawton Fostex TH600 very highly in 2015 and never really expected to revisit basically the same headphone again so soon. Alas, the life of a reviewer…
The Massdrop Fostex TH-X00: The New Tuning
Side by side with the stock Fostex TH600, Massdrop’s new Fostex TH-X00 is noticeably less recessed and more upfront in the midrange by a small degree. However, it is still a recessive experience to say the very least. Undoubtedly, it is improved and more enjoyable for sure and with extra midrange liveliness, but also still within the world of what most of us consider a V shape type of a sound signature. They’ve also dropped the bass quantity and extension potential to a level that I find unsatisfying as bass enthusiast, but also one that vocalists and treble heads would appreciate more. The amount of deepness and rumble factor has been cut out a bit and replaced with a more tolerant and mature low end. Truthfully, the bass enthusiast inside me hasn’t stopped whining about it ever since the first time I’d heard this headphone and the TH600 is still the superior headphone on the low end, which seems to showcase audibly more quantity at nearly all times.
Why Massdrop was the required ingredient needed to force someone at Fostex to put extra love and care into a proper retune of a TH600 driver is just beyond my level of comprehension. I can’t say that the TH-X00 is absolutely and unequivocally a TH600 driver with some modifications, but I can say that the TH600 and the TH-X00 sound nearly identical in quality across the board. My gut instinct makes me feel that the X00 is just a TH600 with some tweaks here and there that alter the physical presentation of the headphone, but were simply all tweaks that left the yummy tonality, impact, and overall feel of the TH600.
If that is the case, why the hell did Fostex not do this originally in the TH600? Why allow the TH600 and the TH900 to become what the audio world considered the pinnacle of quality in a V-shaped headphone for a few years and totally ignore everyone who said they hated the recessed nature of the headphone, but when Massdrop comes along…Fostex is happy to shell out an improved version? This makes me want to go cry in the corner somewhere, as anyone who purchases the TH600 in recent times and doesn’t know about the TH-X00 is getting a not-so-nice deal…me being one of them. They had the ability to do this at the start but chose not to.
As mentioned, the TH-X00’s bass quantity is dropped off a fair amount over the TH600, although it is still just within the realm of a bassheads delight in that regard. You’ve still plenty of bass to work with and there is no audible difference in raw quality between the older TH600 and this X00. At this point, I have to dispel the myth that the X00 and the TH900 share the same quality top to bottom…it just isn’t true. The TH900 remains superior to the TH600 and the TH-X00 by an audible degree in every facet of the word, or ear for that matter.
The TH900 offers noticeably more purity and cleanliness in the bass regions, as well as hefty, deeper reaching extension with gut-wrenchingly bottomless bass tracks from TEB. Sadly, the TH-X00 can’t really reach that low and cuts off short of the mark by comparison to the TH600, let alone the TH900 that is even deeper reaching than the TH600! That rumble factor can drive so low on the TH900, that it makes me stand by my original statement I made years ago about it: it is the deepest reaching dynamic driver, closed-back headphone available.
The TH-X00 headphone is still fast for a dynamic driver and can hit/slam with a vivid appeal, so those interested in a relaxing and soft sound signature should not purchase this headphone or any of the TH series models from Fostex. However, if you want a solid and engaging low end in terms of literal and physical impact level, consider selling a kidney and purchase the TH900. Better to go big or go home, right? If you want the more-consumer-oriented version of the TH900 and TH600, then of course drop $399 on the TH-X00 and enjoy. It does a fine job with bass and remains one of the best mid-tier headphones ever designed and oriented for a bass enthusiast. Just go into the purchase knowing full well that the TH600 and TH900 are superior in how deep of a dive the bass experience can actually reach.
The low-end sound quality of the TH-X00 is sublime for the price. What Fostex and Massdrop have done here is develop a better-looking and tweaked TH600 for $399, but is now a few hundred dollars cheaper than the stock TH600 with magnesium alloy earcups and problematic treble. Clearly, something that most consider good to begin with that is now being sold for cheaper, yet with some improvements and alterations, is only going to drive the price to performance ratio into an even better positive light. They’ve done just that with the X00.
In terms of bass quality, the TH-X00 is still excellent and unaltered by comparison to the TH600, besting even the Nighthawk from AudioQuest and even my beloved Audio Technica ESW10JPN. Although and to my bass enthusiast ears, too much quantity was lost. Now, I require a +5dB boost on the low end at all times on the X00 and I think most bassheads would agree that the stock bass quantity just isn’t quite enough for us. Still plentiful, but right on the border of what I consider basshead quantity levels…and being a sick son of a gun like me when it comes to bass…+5dB boosting on the bass is right where I feel cozy to bring the TH-X00 back to the TH600 quantity level below the belt.
I hate V shape! So, let’s just get that out of the way before continuing. I can deal with the mediocre sound quality from other brands and in other headphones out yonder, maybe even some harshness up top…but I cannot handle recessed midrange. Thank the audio gods that Massdrop coaxed Fostex into fixing the overly relaxed vocal experience in the TH600 with this new TH-X00. Yes, it was improved, but it is still too recessed for me.
Despite that, the headphone remains an immensely solid feeling for a Dynamic headphone, and that substance/physicality factor is off the charts good. Not quite on the level of a lower-end Planar, but still damned good for a Dynamic. That heft quality is one of the few that my ears desire and require first and foremost, so I am happy to hear the TH-X00 has not been altered enough to negatively affect the overall weighted appeal of the sound signature of the TH600. Fostex does sound thickness and substance right, always has and hopefully always will in their future Dynamic headphones.
The headphone is still just a tad sibilant, but it is not at all a problem anymore. Massdrop’s Fostex TH-X00 is significantly toned down up in the treble region and by comparison to the TH600 and TH900. Swapping pads from stock to the MrSpeakers pads results in a muted sound signature up top that loses all the nice improvements the TH-X00 made over the TH600, so I don’t recommend you do that unless you want added comfort.
Nasalness was a problem in the upper midrange of other past models, but this is also no longer a thing here in the TH-X00. Testing the same track from Jamie Foxx called Vegas Confessions, you can instantly spot the differences between the TH-X00 and the older TH600 with regard to vocals: the TH-X00 simply sounds more polite and less sharpened, less prone to wince not only in the higher vocal tendencies, as well as the high hat strikes on the digital cymbals that appear mid-track. The TH600 and TH900 are harsh on the treble, wince-worthy, and a bit too bright for my tastes and it seems like most of the community agrees with me on that notion.
The sound stage is relatively untouched in actuality, but there seems like a downgrade in airiness inside the TH-X00 compared to the TH600. It is very clear that this is due to the toned-down treble of the X00 versus the overly plentiful and bright treble of the TH600. With some proper EQ, you’ll never tell the imaging differences between the sets if someone placed them on your head without you looking at them prior. There really isn’t much else to say here beyond the fact that the X00 retains all the wonderful traits of stereo imaging that the TH600 offered in the past. It is very large sounding, plenty spacious in height and depth of field, but lacks a nice sense of width by comparison to all the other staging elements available in the X00. It is not at all something anyone should ever gripe over, as the headphone is absolutely among the vastest sounding and aired-out feeling closed-back headphones out there.
The Woody Test
Somehow, Massdrop got Fostex to take a page from those custom woody cup shops and dropped in a lovely-looking Mahogany woody of their own. What bugs me about this is that the wood feels very low end, thin, and very lightweight by comparison to my Lawton cups. There is a blatant and obvious quality difference between them, but I can’t really use that as a legitimate gripe either to lower the end result score here. If you aren’t planning to swap cups, you’ll never notice this even exists as a potential annoyance. My Lawton cups are $600 per set and some of Lawton’s models are double the price of the entire TH-X00headphone. Massdrop’s TH-X00 clearly uses a lower-end and faster production method for their wooden cups, which is easily detected upon handling both of them side by side. They are still beautiful though, but the lacquer finish on the X00 cups can’t touch the Lawton’s.
Beyond exterior traits, I’d detected a solidity factor difference in the treble when comparing the Lawton cups installed on the TH-X00 versus the stock cups of the X00. Like a spotlight shining in my face, it was beyond obvious that Lawton’s dampening materials toned down treble significantly and in a more positive manner than what the stock X00’s wood cups without any dampening inside accomplished. The sound of the Lawton cups on the TH-X00 is superior to the stock Mahogany cups and they are also denser feeling and just right up top for me. The Stock X00 woodies feel a bit splashier by comparison.
Truth be told, the TH-X00 is just a retuned and newly adjusted woodified TH600 to my ears. I cannot stress how upset I am at Fostex for not doing a great job with proper tuning on the TH600 and TH900 when they were first released. Instead, Fostex blurted out a great-looking headphone in both models, but both had an absurdly recessive midrange that broke the entire experience of the headphone. I rarely used my TH600 after the review because of this and it just sat on my shelf and stand looking gorgeous with that woody from Lawton that I installed. I just can’t handle V-shaped sound signature as well as others.
Now though, I have a fantastic excuse to actually use nicer woodies with the TH-X00. Looking back on it and revisiting both the Fostex TH600 and TH900 sets again, I don’t feel any different than I’d originally had when I reviewed them: They are both the poster children of recessed driver sound signature for a closed-back design. My question is why on Earth did Fostex require Massdrop to come into partnership with them just to create what the TH600 should have sounded like all along? Why didn’t Fostex listen to anyone previously who complained about it and why did this TH-X00 have to exist through Massdrop…and not as a new Fostex product on its very own? They should have done this originally with the TH600!
Of course, I am very happy someone told Fostex they should improve on the design and tune things properly. If not for Massdrop here, I’d likely never get to talk about the TH600 or TH900 again. Despite the TH600 being highly rated, it had too much of a recessed midrange for me to fully enjoy and no amount of incredible pieces of Art from Lawton or Martin Customs would fix that for anyone. As for the TH-X00, I can’t see anyone calling this anything but a fantastic deal! I’ve found the price to performance to exceed the original TH600 by a small factor due to the price drop and the addition of the nice wooden cups. Massdrop did a nice thing here and I hope other companies follow suit in the near future. For now, the TH-X00 will likely retain the title of the best mid-tier priced headphone deal available for the foreseeable future. $399 for a better-looking TH600 with wooden cups and slightly improved treble? I’d pay that all day long and then some without thinking twice.