Fostex TH610 headphones and HPA4BL DAC/Headphone amplifier

Headphone amps and amp/DACs
Fostex HPA4BL,
Fostex TH610
Fostex TH610 headphones and HPA4BL DAC/Headphone amplifier

Fostex is a name which conjures up professional audio, and, in my particular audio experience, Reel-to-Reel machines! In fact, Fostex was formed as an offshoot of the Foster Electric company in 1973, the parent company having been founded in 1949, specialising in OEM and speaker transducer products.

Distributed by SCV in the UK, Fostex has a domestic offering that has been growing recently. There has historically been a split between domestic and professional audio, as arguably domestic audio seeks to provide the best in audio enjoyment, whereas Pro Audio seeks to be as neutral and revealing as possible – a bit like the old ‘monitor versus speaker’ debate. Two different functions for two different markets. For Fostex today, though, domestic dominates. 

These days, that distinction is becoming more blurred –Apogee, ATC, JBL, and PMC all have feet in both camps, for example. When domestic sales prove to be a large multiple of the Pro sector, you can see why there is temptation is to score in both sections of the market.

The Fostex TH610 headphones more domestic than pro, thanks to an organic, almost retro look and feel, with walnut cheeks, and artificial leather cups. They sit comfortably on my head without undue pressure, and make for fatigue-free listening. The headband, a synthetic leather padded affair, houses the metallic rails that click reassuringly to adjust the headband size. The cable can be removed revealing the similar (but not the same!) type of pins that Sennheiser use in the HD650’s: gold plated with a rhodium coating. At the other end is a 1/4 inch aluminium-barrelled, gold-plated jack.

The drivers are 50mm units with neodymium magnets, sporting a field strength of one Tesla. The ‘bio-dyna’ diaphragms contain bio-cellulose fibres, which are said to respond faster than conventional plastic drivers.

Splaying the headphone on my chest, there is precious little sound leakage when the cups are fully engaged, which may make them suitable for plane and train journeys.

Listening to the Raymond Leppard recording of Bach’s 4th Brandenburg Concerto [Philips], using an Astell & Kern AK300, I’m struck by just how good this combination sounds. The thing that these headphones are doing well is tracking and exposing the bass line, tightly and with great coherence. In fact, it’s in this area that the headphones really excel; many other favourites of mine at this price range can do other things well, but have difficulty putting together this tightness of bass. The soundstage created by the headphones is reasonable, although the image is a little near-field and lacks the ultimate openness and airiness that, say, a good pair of Stax’s Electrostatics Headphones can create, but this is no show-stopper. 

Moving to Ray Gelato’s Full Flavour [Linn], and in particular ‘Basin Street Blues’, the instrumental solos show up some interesting results. The trumpet solo lacks a bit of top sparkle; it sounds less ‘brassy’ than I’d like. Ray Gelato’s voice doesn’t quite seem as credible as I’ve head before, and the headphones aren’t disappearing, meaning that I’m not being transported to a smoky jazz club. It’s as if there is a barrier in the way, so that his voice seems a little shut-in, and some of the exuberance is missing. It’s perfectly decent, but lacks the magic dust that helps me to suspend disbelief that I’m there!

Turning to Shostakovich’s The Jazz Album [Decca], Chailly and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, (Suite no 1), there is a brilliance missing to the violin solo; it sounds a bit rolled off at the top, and this is costing the overall feeling of ‘rightness’ that is missing. The instruments also seem too tightly packed in the soundstage, albeit compared to more expensive headphones. There is also a sense that each of the principal soloists have their own area on the stage. This is sounding too spatially compressed for my taste. 

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