Fostex TH-900 headphones

Fostex TH-900
Fostex TH-900 headphones

We have completely the wrong view of Fostex. When called on to discuss the brand, most of us think of those funky cassette PortaStudios of the 1980s and 1990s that saw many a muso make a mint. As a consequence, we are lodged in this mindset that Fostex=high value, low cost pro gear. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that mindset (Fostex does make high value, low cost pro gear), except that it’s wrong. The TH-900s scream exactly how wrong it is.

These are the high-end headphones that people in the headphone industry dream of owning. When I told a few people in the business I had a pair of Fostex TH-900 on loan, the response was split between ‘huh?’ and ‘you lucky, lucky bastard!’. Remember that the headphone enthusiast market is fast, furious and not afraid of spending substantial amounts of money on quality headphones and headphone accessories. These were people who owned – or at least knew their way around – top Stax, Audeze, HiFiMAN or Sennheiser headphones. They knew the map, knew the market and know what’s good… and even they were a little bit in awe.

Not really surprising, given the headphones. Forget the rich Urushi finish for a moment and concentrate on what lies beneath; a set of 50mm dynamic drivers with neodymium magnets with a monstrous 1.5 tesla of magnetic flux. That’s just about the biggest set of magnets you can put next to your ears this side of an MRI scanner. Although this – coupled with a 100dB/mW sensitivity and a 25 ohm impedance – means notionally at least the TH-900 are an easy load, they demand both quality and quantity amplification. Fostex has a perfect partner in its 32bit DAC/headphone amplifier (which we will be covering in an upcoming issue of the magazine), but it’s not really iPod-chummy material. Not that many people would be comfy wearing rich ‘steal me!’ red £1,500 headphones out in public.

The headphones are surprisingly comfortable, given thick wood earcups spells a 400g weight. The rich leather ear-pads are uniform in size (unlike thicker at the back pads, as used by Audeze) and the cups are adjustable, but I found they fitted perfectly.

However, whether it’s the ear pad forming a loose seal around the listener’s ears or the interface between cup and wood, but for a closed back headphone, it isn’t very ‘closed’. You can hear the outside world at play (attenuated yes, but not to the level normally associated with closed cans) and the world at play can hear what you are playing (again with some quite serious attenuation). As if the Urushi lacquer wasn’t enough, this is Fostex telling us these are Not For Studio Use. I think that unless you were recording a singer close-mic’d, the amount of leakage wouldn’t be too profound to cause problems, and in the home it’s fine… unless your headphone use is to turn your back on prime-time TV.

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