Those familiar with Fostex will know of their pedigree in the recording equipment market, but it is their TH range of headphones that have been making the biggest waves for them in the recent years but how good are they really, when compared to the likes of Grado and Stax?
The TH600s that I am reviewing are the baby brothers of the reference TH900 cans. Both headphones have an almost identical design, just with different finishes. I actually prefer the look of the TH600, they have a very cool matte black coating, not too dissimilar from the uber-trendy AIAIAI DJ headphones. These are large closed back cans with a quarter-inch jack, so really they are designed for home listening. Priced at £840.00, they may be the little brother but they are still a very high end model.
On the fairly luxurious gold embossed shoe-box sized packaging the TH600s come in, Fostex claim that these are ‘Premium Reference Headphones’. From feel alone, I would definitely agree with this. They are some of the most premium feeling headphones I have tried. Though they are light, they feel extremely durable and well-made, they are finished tremendously with metallic hinges, highly rigid magnesium die-cast housings and pads made from ‘Idemitsu Grancuir’ which is a material derived from combining protein and egg (it feels like leather but is 60% lighter).
I put them on and realised they don’t just feel good in the hands but good on the noggin too. The ear pads are easily large enough to cover my ears and the headband is comfortable and easily adjusted also.
The TH600s have a very long cable, it is well protected with a braded coating, however at three metres in length some might find it a little excessive and annoying. The cable is also non-detachable, which some modders might be disappointed with.
Time to plug them in and have a listen.
There are two big factors to the sound that you notice almost straight away. Firstly the separation of the instruments is incredible, you can pick everything out (even the little intricacies that so often get lost with lesser headphones) and the second thing that you can not help but notice is the bass. The TH600 have absolutely brilliant bass it is prominent but managed and integrated very well, it adds a great depth to tracks and helps you get lost in the headphones; this is helped by the closed back nature of the headphones which blocks out the external noise too.
The bass is great but so are the highs, they are very crisp and bright. To be honest the mid-range is full and varied too. Generally, each individual piece of the headphone puzzle is very good. I think my issue with the TH600, which stops them from being up these with STAX and Grado is that the sound is unnatural. The sound they give is very exciting and fun, but my particular taste leans more towards the natural airy sound. Having said that, I am sure there are many people who would much prefer the sound of the TH600s to the more natural sounding cans, for instance listen to an electronic number like ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ by Atoms For Peace and the separation and bass really add a new dimension to the song but listen to ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ by Bob Dylan and a little bit of the magic is lost.
Where the Fostex’s will be favoured above Grado or Stax headphones is in busy/noisy environments (say in a group office), though open-backs sound amazing in many situations they are just not very suitable. The TH600s closed back design is great for blocking out unwanted noise and also keeping the sound of your music from leaking out and annoying those near you. They would also work well for DJs who need to listen carefully in extremely loud situations.
In summary, if you like electronic, dance or rap the TH600 are amazing headphones and you will be very happy, but if you mainly listen to folk, jazz or blues I’d go for something like the B&W P7s or a pair of open-backs.
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