Fostex aim to tackle the top of the closed-back cans market, with this premium new design.
Headphone design attracts more than its fair share of marketing jargon, but Fostex have taken things to new levels with their luxury model. The TH600s, according to the product web page, feature “the reputed bio-dynamic 50mm diaphragm”, not to mention “earpads made of ‘Idemitsu Grancuir’ material realising comfortable texture by protein combination derived from egg”. Come again?
In the flesh, thankfully, the TH600s feel reassuringly conventional. The unusually deep earcups envelop the ear in velvety softness, offering supreme comfort without the least hint of egginess. They are mounted in a lightweight yet sturdy metal frame that permits them to rotate freely both up and down and sideways. The specs quote a sensitivity of 94dB/mW and an impedance figure of 25Ω, and I had no difficulty driving the TH600s loud from all the headphone amps I tried.
Many headphones in this price bracket have a single, detachable cable, which confers potential advantages in the arenas of maintenance and not breaking the headphones if you accidentally yank on it very hard. The TH600s, however, have separate, captive cables for each earcup, which meet in a ‘Y’ connector after about 50cm. Total distance from the headphones to the jack plug is three metres: there’s no option to substitute a curly cable for the straight one supplied, nor to use a mini-jack in place of the fixed quarter-inch plug. On the plus side, the cord itself has a fancy braided fabric cover after the manner of posh guitar cables, and the plug is gold-plated, all of which contribute to a general air of classiness.
Bio-dynamics is, according to the Internet, a form of organic farming which emphasises a “spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture”. Quite how this relates to the design of Fostex’s headphone drivers I’m unsure, but I suspect they probably aren’t harvested from crops planted in the first quarter of the moon and fertilised with yarrow blossom fermented in deer bladders. Whatever their origin, Fostex claim that said drivers offer “rich lows, natural mid-range and smooth highs”, and I won’t argue. I would, however, point out that they make the rich lows and smooth highs a touch more prominent than the natural mid-range. To my ears, in other words, the tonality has the same slightly ‘scooped’ quality that I also hear in high-end models from the likes of AKG and Audio-Technica.
There were occasions where I felt this tonality made things like sibilant vocals and splashy hi-hats more problematic than they really were, but it also makes the TH600s very good for picking out detail and detecting unwanted noises, and in any case it’s something to which the hearing soon adjusts. The bass, meanwhile, is prominent but never overbearing, and feels both even and articulate; and although the treble is crisp and bright, it does not become fatiguing even after a long listening session. The depth of the earpads means that the drivers are further from the ear than in many closed-back headphone designs, and this no doubt contributes to the sense that the TH600s offer very natural stereo imaging, and avoid the boxiness that usually plagues closed-back designs.
All in all, then, the TH600s’ elegant design and detailed sound puts them on a par with the best closed-back models from other manufacturers. However, they are not cheap. In fact, let’s face it, they are downright expensive. Much more expensive, for instance, than flagship closed-back designs from the likes of Sony, Focal, Sennheiser or AKG. Indeed, for the price of a single pair of TH600s, you could pick up a really good pair of open-back phones for mixing and a decent pair of closed-back phones for tracking. The TH600s won’t be first choice for the budget-conscious home studio, then — but they are definitely worth auditioning if open-back phones aren’t your thing and you have to have the best.