A Survey of Foster 443742 Variants - Subjective Listening Tests - Denon AH-D5000; Massdrop Fostex TH-X00; E-Mu Teak; and Fostex TH610 and TH900mk2

In this survey, I'll be walking you through my listening experience of these headphones and making comments with in the context of how these headphones compare with each other—I listened solely to them until I compared a few other headphones at the end of the test.

During a week of solid listening I must admit to becoming quite acclimated to their "V"-shaped character. At the end of testing when I wanted to switch back and forth between other headphones, I was quite surprised how strongly I heard smily-face tonality again. After playing around a bit, I figured out that I had been doing all my listening tests at a lower level than normal to compensate. When I played these Foster variants at the same level as other headphones, they all—some more, some less—seemed to loose composure by getting too loose in the bass and too bright up top, and some got quite hard sounding. I suggest this is a headphone for people who like to listen to headphones at a low level—like me, and I've come to like one or two of these headphones quite a bit.

Alrighty, let's get to it...

Denon AH-D5000 ($500; Discontinued)
Fostex_Variants_Disassembly_Photo_AHD5000_Full

When first released in 2007 the Denon AH-DX000 line was quite a revelation: A sealed headphone that sounded open. Well, it's not very sealed...probably better to call it a semi-sealed or semi-open headphone, but it sound pretty terrific given the context of the times. To my ears the D2000 was a bit too bright, the D7000 was a bit too sloppy in the bass, and the D5000 kind of split the difference. There remains a strong family resemblance among the three Denons, however.

Generally speaking, these headphones have a modest bass boost that that bleeds too far into the mid-range, and the bass can be a little too loose and lack punch. The mid-treble can be somewhat too hot and piercing; and the presence region below it a bit restrained delivering a slightly muffled and/or distant sound in that area.

To a greater or lesser degree, all the headphones in this survey have these characteristics. A somewhat "V" shaped response with emphasized bass and mid- to upper-treble. The withdrawn upper-midrange and lower treble coupled with the mid-treble emphasis can give these cans a lack of body and presence, and sometimes results in a breathy sounding response. Cymbals are too much shimmer and not enough "tang," vocals can sound distant and lack body.

Of the group surveyed on this page, the Denon AH-D5000 is among the worst in terms of these flaws. Percussive piano strikes are markedly less dynamic and punchy than the newer models. Excess mid-treble energy is ever present and eventually becomes fatiguing. Bass can be bloated and slow at times. The withdrawn upper-midrange and low-treble ends up leaving me disinterested.

Fostex TH610 ($599; link)
Fostex_Variants_Disassembly_Photo_TH610_Full

A clear step in the right direction, the Fostex TH610 is an improvement over the Denon AH-D5000. Bass is tighter and more controlled—maybe the best of the bunch here—though it still intrudes on the midrange some. Presence region is brought forward some, but not quite far enough to completely get rid of the slightly muffled character. Pianos now have significantly more impact and dynamism. The transition from upper-midrange to mid-treble is better and cymbals regain some of their solidity. I'd still call this a "V" shaped response, but it's less so than the D5000.

On the down side, the treble remains a bit uneven, and while the cymbals have more body now, they can still sound a bit unnatural and grainy. And while piano strikes have more dynamism, they can also sound a little hard...especially as the volume winds up. Basically, the TH610 has better tonality than the D5000, but it's somewhat uneven and lacks nuance.

Massdrop TH-X00 ($399; link)
Fostex_Variants_Disassembly_Photo_THX00_Full

Ahhhh. So nice and smooth after the TH610; the TH-X00 is clearly a more refined sound. At this point we're close enough to neutral that the "V" shaped character is less intrusive, but for a slightly hot top treble octave. Bass is somewhat emphasized, but bleeds into the midrange less than the other cans here. Unfortunately, it's gotten a little looser in this iteration giving it a more bloomy and undefined sound down low.

Vocals are refreshingly present and coherent; I get the impression here of the music as a whole more than the previous headphones. Dynamic punch—other than the bass—is also better controlled and feels much easier. It's significantly less hard sounding than the TH610, but I would call it just a bit dry.

Imaging seems to take a significant step up with the TH-X00. With the coherent whole of the music more apparent and a nicely balanced treble response, the TH-X00 does a really nice job of developing a coherent image with better than average width and depth. Yes, it does sound more like an open headphone than a sealed one. This is a darned good headphone at this price.

E-Mu Teak (~$700; $449 previously on Massdrop; link)
Fostex_Variants_Disassembly_Photo_EMuTeak_Full

And now we move to liquid goodness. The E-Mu Teak isn't readily available in the U.S. yet, but has made an appearance on Massdrop for around $450, which seems like a bargain to me. I did receive a number of cups for these cans which I measured and listened to long enough to decide I liked the Teak best. It seemed to have a warmer, mellower, and more liquid sound, while the other cups had the cans sounding dryer like the TH-X00.

The tonality of the E-Mu Teak is splendid. Only a hint of it's genesis remain. Bass has just a bit of bloom; upper-treble is ever so slightly hot, but not bothersome in the least; and vocals could stand to come forward slightly. But these are nit-picks, switching back to the original D5000 at this point is almost painful—vocals are hard and body-less; the unbalanced treble delivers cymbals that are harsh caricatures of their former self; and the image collapses into a confused mess in a line between the ears.

Putting the E-Mu Teaks back on (ahhhhh) the music pops back into proper perspective and can be taken in as a luscious whole. Maybe the most surprising thing to me is how nicely the entire treble range integrates. Though there's still a slight haze of high-treble energy around, cymbals have a natural balance now.

Imaging with the Teak is surprisingly wide and deep—they sound quite like open headphones—but not terribly precise. Like all these cans, things are a bit hazy up high, which tends to blur the image some. Other than the bass, where it's a bit better than average, the Teaks seem to be cleaner and more dynamically capable than the other cans in this survey. I can play them louder than the others without hearing them get hard sounding. I think this is the best sounding headphone of the bunch.

Just a little side-note on the wooden cups, and I suppose it holds true for all the cans on this page: Here in Montana we have very low humidity. Over the course of time I found that many of the cups for the E-Mu had shrunk considerably and no longer fit in the headphone. I had to store them in a plastic bag with wet paper towels inside to re-hydrate them, and I was able to get them to fit subsequently. My point here is that if you live in a very dry climate and are storing earcups for future fitment, you may need to moisten them up to swell before they'll fit on the headphones.

Fostex TH900mk2 ($1499, link)
Fostex_Variants_Disassembly_Photo_TH900mk2_Full

Ouch! Holy smoke, these are bright. What the heck is going on?

Measurements show this headphone, and the preceding TH900, to be substantially different than the other headphones in this survey, mainly in having a large, wide bass bump, and having extra energy in the 4-8kHz area. I found both the TH900 and TH900mk2 abrasive and hard to the point of aural discomfort. These suck.

It's surprises me because during the disassembly photo session I noticed these were the only headphones in the group that had damping material in the earcups. I also noticed they had earpads with circular holes rather than the ear-shaped holes of the other headphones. Pads can make quite a difference, so I swapped the TH610 pads and....

My goodness, what a difference! I really didn't expect that much change. Doesn't quite get the tonality as good as the TH-X00 or Teak, but they're much closer than with the stock pads. Also, I hear these headphones as fairly hard sounding. The measurements show quite a bit of distortion, but frankly those plots look a little weird to me...not sure if I trust them. None the less, the impression of having a hard sound persists as I listen to this headphone after the pad change.

If you're a TH900 or TH900mk2 owner, do your ears a favor and get some TH610 earpads. Couldn't find many places that have them; HeadRoom said they'd have some in stock very soon here.

Summary
In the end, the E-Mu Teak won me over, with the Massdrop TH-X00 following close behind. Both these cans have a somewhat "V" shaped character with emphasized bass and treble response. I found them particularly satisfying when listening to music at low volume levels. Given the historical Massdrop pricing I'd pay the extra $50 for the E-Mu Teak. I'm not sure what the normal price of these headphones will be once they're in regular distribution, but I'd say they're worth about a $200 premium over the TH-X00...but no more.

The TH610 sound okay, but the price kinda puts it out of the running for a recommendation. As for the rest, because of troubles in the trebles in a variety of ways, I really can't recommend any of them. However, if you're a TH900 or TH900mk2 owner I do recommend swapping in some TH610 earpads.

Video
Click here to view on YouTube.

Resources
Product pages for the: Massdrop TH-X00; E-Mu Teak; and Fostex TH610 and TH900mk2.
Measurements and pictures of the insides of these headphones.
Head-Fi.org reviews for: Denon AH-D5000; Massdrop TH-X00; E-Mu Teak; and Fostex TH610 and TH900mk2.
SBAF.org threads for: Massdrop TH-X00; E-Mu Teak; and Fostex TH610 and TH900mk2.

COMMENTS
--------------'s picture

It has almost been 2 months since you've made an article on contemporary headphones.

I'm sure a lot of people would appreciate measurements and impressions on the new AKG K52, K72 and K92, as well as the new Sennheiser lineup including HD 559, HD 569, HD 579 and HD 599.

Hifiman also recently released updated versions of the HE-1000 and Edition X.
Edition S has been out for a while now, and while it introduces an interesting concept of letting you choose between open and closed by adding and removing the "caps" on the ear cups, you have shown little to no interest in the headphones.
HE-350 is worth mentioning, too. Those were shipped from Massdrop in early August.

borrego's picture

The E-mu Teak would sound even better with the Audeze Vegan Pads! Making it sounds a bit less V shape and increase sound stage width, plus of course larger ear opening and comfort!

dpump's picture

I was a little confused by your written review of the E-MU Teak compared to the TH-X00 and then what you said in your video. You wrote that the TX-00 had some bass emphasis and that the E-MU Teak had just a bit of bloom in the bass. In the video you said the E-MU Teak had more bass than the TX-00.

I originally had the TX-00 and sold them because they had too much emphasis in the bass for me. I was fortunate to purchase a used pair of E-MU Teak from the May Massdrop. I agree with your comments about the sound of the E-MU Teak versus the other phones
except to my ears the bass is much tighter and less emphasized than the TH-X00. There is still a little bit of bass emphasis in the E-MU Teak but after some use it isn't very noticeable most of the time.

I'm finding I have become a big fan of the Fostex driver having two other phones with a similar type of driver. Looking forward to the new Denon D7200 which is supposed to be released this December to see if it can become the nearly ideal headphone to use a Fostex type of driver.

luvmusik's picture

Fantastic review !

Always respect Tyll's findings and he nailed it.

Have EMU-Rosewood and Massdrop/Fostex TH-X00 Mahagony & reached same listening conclusion, notably Ty's written review details for these two models.

Thank You Tyll.

OldRoadToad's picture

Classy looking headphones. Style never goes out of style but sometimes it does go out the window.

Not with these headphones. Classic good looks and performance. Thank you.

ORT

Jazz Casual's picture

I already knew that they weren't your thing. I don't share your opinion that they "suck" but I respect your right to express it. ;)

BenjaminBore's picture

Great summary. I have had the TH900 for over a year now and it is indeed surprising how used to the hotter than hot treble you can get. Having put some time in with the HD650, and the former with EQ I can't really go back. I didn't have the vocabulary to describe the character of the sound before but hard sounds about right, even with EQ. But man do I love that bass, I really need to try some planars.

Tyll, may I ask, pretty please, with sugar on top, for measurements with the TH610 pads. That would be immeasurably useful and extend the use of these cans tremendously. An especially important reference when I try to EQ.

Cheers, mate.

BenjaminBore's picture

I personally found that I would listen to the TH900 louder due to the U shaped signature, trying to hear the mids more clearly. Not the safest thing to do given the amount of treble energy.

Dreyka's picture

Can you measure some of the headphones such as the TH-X00/Emu Teak without the cups installed. I'd be interested to see how they change when they are open back.

The TH900 apparently gets much more bassy without the cups and I'd wondered how the THD would be affected.

Impulse's picture

I was about to post asking about their WoF worthy-ness until i saw the video. :P Nicely done review!

spyder1's picture

Thank you for doing this comprehensive listening comparison test!
The ear pad info on TH900 ear pad swaps with the TH610 is helpful. I will look for the TH610 replacement ear pads.

luvmusik's picture

@Tyll

Tyll, when your time allows, can you please do a complete review with measurements on the glorious & exquisite JVC Victor HP-DX1000 woody sealed headphone !?!

These DX1000 are my favourite woodies, along with the dc'd Smeggy Thunderpants (Madagasgar-Macassar Ebony); but the vintage Sony MDR-CD3000 (non-woody, sealed composite-vegan cup with better biocellulose) still are tops overall for me in every aspect for my sealed/closed models - the timbre and tonality reproduced is just so accurately stellar and a step above the rest. Notably though, the E-MU Rosewood has very deep subterranean sub-bass.

And also, if possible, please review the oem Foster #448498 Zelkova wood/biocellulose model...any ideas how to get a set of these ?

Thank you !

luvmusik's picture

For JVC Victor HP-DX1000, there is even a very simple mod (Head-Fi) many are doing which tightens the already excellent bass beautifully & pushes this model up into the tier of best woodies.

ednaz's picture

I've not gone for a set of wood headphones because of concerns about shrinkage. Lived in Singapore for a bit, bought some really lovely teak furniture there, and after being in the typical dry winter climate indoors in the US, they'd cracked apart from shrinkage. In the case of one carved coffee table (imagine a very large coffee table that's one huge dragon and phoenix fighting with each other... not surface carved but carved bottom and top) cracks as large as an inch opened up here and there. It became fatally unusable. A few pieces didn't crack as badly, or as fatally, and I'm not sure why as they were all finished in pretty much the same way.

Was the shrinkage such that it would cause contact issues with the electronics or diaphragm? My concern has been cracking, but it sounds like that's not what you experienced.

I've heard from some others with more experience in furniture imports that if you polyurethane coat the carved teak, and get perfect and thick coverage, you'll generally avoid the problem. (And it'll look awful... like plastic wood. Seen some of it.) Were the interiors of the cups unfinished? I'd think a really thick coat of poly would shift the sound quality away from that of wood.

luvmusik's picture

Hope Tyll can review the new ZMF Eikon and Atticus dynamic models.

Eikon is a linear biocellulose with detailed mids (not V-shaped FR), internal baffle tube model with cups recalling MDR-R10.

Atticus model uses TPE drivers (material in HD-800 drivers).

Beautiful ZMF wood cups, exciting stuff !

skris88's picture

Hi Tyll,

Re your comments on the Fostex TH900mk2, it's clear paying more does NOT guarantee a better sound, especially in Hi-Fi.

I listen to about 2 hours of music on my "cans" every day of all sorts of genre. Loud. No TV on or book being read. So I'm very much into the music, arrangement, every instrument, every detail. Sometimes I listen to the same track over and over again to pick these out.

I found an amazing sounding pair (for their money) of earphones that I cannot find a review of on this web site. The BOSE SoundTrue Ultra. They're relatively cheap @ $129.

With them it is important you get a good seal - and that causes a lot of stethoscope effect type issues. So these are NOT for running around in! I had to change from the default Mid size ear attachments to the Large ones (same included in the box).

People have "My other car is a Porche" bumper stickers. Well my other headphones ARE the venerable Sennheiser HD-650s. (I also have other headphones, none worthy of discussion in the Hi-Fi sense although a lot of money had been wasted on them.)

Both my HD-650s and these Ultras connect to a Yamaha AVR, using it's internal DAC, getting it's input from the raw digital output of a minimalist network device (a Raspberry Pi running RuneAudio) 16/44 WAV Rips on a 128GB USB stick.

The Ultras are the only pair in my collection that I can listen to without reaching for an EQ to tame bass, mid or treble misgivings.

Am I imagining tight and deep bass with smooth treble that is neither dull or harsh?

So, stethoscope negatives aside, I'd love to read YOUR thoughts on the Bose SoundTrue Ultra sound.

BTW keep those reviews coming, they're great!

Cheers,
skris88

drunksaru's picture

First post but I've been following you for a while and enjoying your input on all your reviews and you've definitely have helped me buy some products without having the need to test/hear them before hand since I got a pretty good idea of your taste.

I've been a big Fostex/Foster fan for a while, not only in the headphone dept but also used to do a lot of Fostex DIY speakers setups with my friends back in the days - importing a lot of stuff from Japan.

I haven't had any experience with the TH900 MKII yet so I wanted to ask you since I see in the photo that you have both. I've always loved the original TH-900 and though I would say they were also bright, I didn't feel that they were so bad that I wanted to take them off immediately as you stated. When I first got them, I did feel they were a bit bright for my taste too but my peers swore by them and I was immediately impressed with the imaging and sound stage these closed cans were able to produce. Over time (probably about 100-150 hours of breaking-in/aging) I noticed the brightness levels in the highs tamed down a bit, still bright but now acceptable and the lows became a bit more accurate while the mids have always seemed a bit recessed but that didn't seem to change with time. I did try swapping the pads as well and noticed even a slightly more decrease in the brightness and accentuated the bass more, but the sound stage had dramatically decreased at the same time so I kept the original pads on. One of the other things I noticed was that the TH-900 (as well as all the other TH series and Denon AH series) it did not do well at all with high powered amps so I usually avoided those. Most of the amps I use for my desktop which are USB powered and those do fine. Depending on the Amp, it also made it sound terrible at times.

So that said, I was wondering if you found any difference in sound over the original Th900 vs the 900 MK2? A couple of people I've spoken to have said yes but a couple have said no and none of them have both to compare side by side at the same time. If better, I was highly considering the MK2 because I've always wanted detachable cables.

Here is my history with Foster:
-AH-D2000 Owner - wire broke too many times and now not salvageable
-Bought the AH-D5000 and sold it for a AH-D7000 but I couldn't justify the price increase for the sound it offered so I sold the 7000 and got the 5000 again.
-T50RPMK2 - massively modded
-T50RPMK3 - No mod
-Had the TH600, was better but still too similar to D5000 so returned
-and got the TH900
-Also got the THX00 (my favorite for the price)
-Friend bought the E-mu and I listened to it but sounded a lot like my HD650 with more pronounced bass so I didn't care too much for it but I did like the idea of swapping the cups
-TH500RP sounded like crap to me, never bought, borrowed from my friend and listened to for a week.

I haven't heard the TH610 yet
I kinda want the TH900MK2 (if it's different enough - detachable cables!!)
and I'm looking to possibly get TR-80 or 90(250ohm)to replace my T50RP

Yes - I'm a bit of a Fostex Junkie.

Your insight on the 900mk2 vs 900 would be much appreciated. thank you

alonwa's picture

Can the E-Mu Teak be driven directly from my mobile (a Nexus 6p) or would it require an amp?

alonwa's picture

Can the E-Mu Teak be driven directly from my mobile (a Nexus 6p) or would it require an amp?

ScaryFatKidGT's picture

Funny I have never thought my D5000's are harsh or sibilant at all, I hear the sound you are talking about but it is so high up like around 10khz or higher it doesn't bother me. What really bothers me is IEM's, the 4-8khz region ALL IEM's lately I try make distorted guitars sound very harsh IMO and headphones do not seem to do this.

Baner's picture

Hi;
In your video review you said that you might put the E-MU Teak on the Wall of Fame, if so will they replace the Meze 99? How do the E-MU Teak compare to the Meze 99? You seem to really like both.
Thanks