Massdrop x Fostex TH-X00 Mahogany

Massdrop x Fostex TH-X00 Mahogany

When the TH-X00 first appeared on my radar last year, I had only a little knowledge of who Fostex were and their wide reach in the audio game. I sawMassdrop advertise the headphones as $399, marked down from $1000, and wondered what the quality must be. At the time, I was switching between a Sennheiser HD600 and a Beyerdynamic DT990 600 Ohm as my daily drivers, with more emphasis on the former.

About a half-year later, I finally have a pair in my possession. By this time, Massdrop is on their third run of the mahogany version and have just completed a run of the $450 Purpleheart version of the TH-X00. I’ve watched thousands being sold and people waiting anxiously as they shared their enthusiasm and impatience with others online. I daresay that the TH-X00 and the AKG K7xx are the most successful Massdrop collaborations thus far.

Specifications, from Massdrop:

50 mm dynamic transducer
Magnesium alloy construction
Mahogany earcups, brilliant gloss finish
Leatherette earpads, matte black
Magnetic flux density: >1 tesla
Impedance: 25 ohms
Sensitivity: 94 dB/mW
Maximum input: 1,800 mW
Frequency response: 5–45,000 Hz
10 ft (3 m) thick, braided Y cable
1/4 in (6.3 mm) gold-coated stereo phone plug
Weight, without cable: 12.3 oz (350 g)
Weight, with cable: 17 oz (482 g)

 

Build:

The TH-X00 is an impressive looking pair of headphones. The cups are a glossy pair of mahogany craftsmanship of which no two are alike due to natural wood grain. It’s a bit difficult to describe, but I get an “old-meets-new” vibe from the design. The wooden cups add an old-fashioned beauty and class to it, but the rest of the design is very much modern. The headpad is cushioned just to the point of necessity, leading it to look lean and smart while providing ample comfort. There’s no room for excess in the overall design, which results in its astonishingly light weight. Maybe I’ve just been using aZMF Omni (in cherry too, one of the lightest) for too long, but the light weight, and therefore comfort, of these cans can itself be seen as a major selling point – especially given its sonic characteristics that I will discuss further on.

 

A major detraction comes in the form of an incredibly thick 10ft cable that isn’t detachable. I feel this design choice to be strange, given how much headphone-enthusiasts enjoy customizing their experiences with cables both standard and balanced. Due to how easy it is to drive, it would have been a comfortable and fun wear on trips and other situations that could call for portable use. This is all hampered by the cable. I’ve seen some modify theirs into a detachable version, but I feel Fostex should have themselves given this option given the TH-X00’s price tag. 

The cups themselves are well finished so that they gleam and look very inviting to onlookers, but aren't very rugged so care must be taken when handling these cans – which is a given to anyone who prizes their audio possessions but is still something worth mentioning. The lightness of the cups is very surprising as the other headphones I’ve used with wooden earcups (the ZMF Omni and Vibro Mk. I) have both been really heavy in comparison. On each cup there is a FOSTEX logo written in black, which is something I could have done without honestly. Unlike on the TH900, where the logo pops out on the silvered and candy-like red earcups, the logo on the TH-X00 looks dull by comparison.

The left side of the headphones has the Massdrop label printed on it while the right side has TH-X00 and the serial number of the pair written. The slide adjustment has two prongs and adjusts in small and satisfying increments – a far cry from the large bronze slider of the Fostex T50RP. The cups don’t rotate a large amount, but there is plenty of leeway for comfortable adjustment. These are meant to be closed cans, but the isolation isn’t the best. I would describe it as just adequate in that aspect. The clamp isn’t harsh at all so most of the seal comes from the rectangle/oval indents in the earpads. The earpads themselves are made from protein leather so vegans can rest easy purchasing these.

Overall, a very light and comfortable design that looks very premium and stylish. The only disadvantage being, to me, the logo on the outer cups and, to most, the non-detachable cable.

Sound:

“Fun” headphones and tuning is such a subjective term honestly. Some in the audio game scoff at those who have Beats by Dre, but then at times themselves derive less pleasure than those whom they poke fun at simply because they are so caught up in the technical aspects of their gear to just sit back, relax and listen to some good music. If you are a listener who likes to be incredibly discerning of their listening experience to the point where it intrudes on the enjoyment of it, then these are not the headphones for you. That being said, these are the headphones those who enjoy Beats should have instead and this is why.

The bass on these is simply incredible for cans in the mid-fi range. The bass extends lower than my ZMF Omni, which held the sub-bass crown before the TH-X00 showed up. How it did this while being a dynamic driver instead of planar magnetic is a mystery to a guy like me – but it’s extremely impressive. It comfortably emitted bass frequencies that many headphones would struggle with.

A good example of this is in the song “Rap God” by Eminem, which utilizes sub-bass frequencies in its beat that would disappear on many headphones – or be very light and unsatisfying. The TH-X00 tears into it just fine and does so with ease. For the bass characteristic alone, these headphones are incredible for rap and electronic genres of music and they effectively beat the ZMF Omni for the low-end championship in my collection. It’s also quite fast, only falling short in this price range to the HE400i, which is planar magnetic. The HE400i has nowhere near the level of sub and mid bass however, but it is punchier.

The bass frequencies are quite disciplined but some genres can definitely show signs of bleeding into the mids – leading to too much bloom/boominess in the overall sound reproduction. This is especially apparent in classic rock where production methods were not as slick and advanced as they are nowadays. Led Zeppelin especially loses out in this regard, with the rhythm section feeling bogged down.

The mids are recessed, but not quite as much as I anticipated. I had read about this being a W-shaped pair of headphones rather than V-shaped, and I can see and hear that being the case. The sound is quite warm which especially stood out to me as my other experience with V-shaped headphones was the very cold and bright DT990. The lower-mids, male vocals and rap, are incredible clear and full and the trouble really begins in theupper-mids, female vocals and the like losing their body. A song like “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” by the Backstreet Boys, which has many vocal layers stacking, has its overall impact lessened by the TH-X00. This is not unexpected however, given what the headphones try to achieve.

The highs can get a bit shrill at times, depending on what it is you are listening to genre-wise. Electropop with female vocals can especially be quite strident. Still, this aspect pales in comparison to the likes of the DT990 and makes for much more comfortable listening. The treble extends past the rolled-off nature of the ZMF Omni and HD600 with ease, which lends to a more impactful sound in snare-hits – giving the beat more “snap” to follow the intense kick that the bass reproduction provides. This further adds to the excellence of the TH-X00 for the likes of rap and electronic music.

Overall, the sound plays to the design that Fostex had in mind when it came to the TH-X00. They are simply the best I have heard to date when it comes to the genre-compatibility I praised above. They stumble at others but still sound quite good. There hasn’t been a point where I found anything problematic to the point that I would even characterize it as average.

Soundstage:

Are you seriously asking? Why even read this section, just move on. You insist on knowing? Very well.

The soundstage is intimate, to say the least, even for a closed pair of headphones. Listen to ASMR or “3D” directional audio and you’ll hear just how the simulated world you knew before just got smaller – you went from a concert hall (if you have the HD800 or DT990) to a small room. I would describe this as the narrowest soundstage I’ve heard in full-sized headphones that I’ve owned in the last couple of years. It is narrower than even the ZMF Vibro Mk. I, which is also closed.

This shouldn’t even really be a consideration if you are looking into the TH-X00 as there are other headphones that can provide this but lack what these do offer however.

 

Amping:

I have two amps at my disposal currently, the transparent Schiit Magni 2 and the slightly warm Cavalli Liquid Carbon. I found both, which are vastly different in price, to be more than sufficient in amping the TH-X00, which has an impedance of 25 ohms. You won’t be increasing the volume past a third of your amp’s capabilities and that will be louder than many can handle. Even my Galaxy S6 powered these adequately, which adds to the fact that the cables should have been removable so that a small and comfortable 3.5mm cable could have been used for portable devices.  

If you do manage to get a pair modified to do just that, a portable amp will do wonders for your sound. You won’t get good enough isolation to have a noise-free experience during a flight, but these sure as hell beat the standard headphones airlines offer.

Comparisons:

Bass: TH-X00 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > HD600

Mids: HD600 > ZMF Omni > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > TH-X00 > DT990

Treble Quantity: DT990 > HE400i > TH-X00 > HD600 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I

Soundstage: DT990 > ZMF Omni > HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > TH-X00

Comfort: DT990 > TH-X00 > HE400i > HD600 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I

Aesthetics: TH-X00 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > HD600

Lightness: DT990 > TH-X00 > HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > ZMF Omni

 

Ordering Process:

Obviously, as it’s a collaboration between Massdrop and Fostex, you can only buy these during one of the drops it’s placed on over at the website. As it so happens, at the time of writing this there are still 14 days remaining for the mahogany version. Sadly, the $399 does not get you a case. Only a dust-proof bag is provided in the box.

Conclusion:

When the smith-wizards over at Fostex made the prototype of the TH-X00, it asked what its purpose of existence was – sentient as all headphone prototypes are obviously. It was told that it was to entertain the masses, to whom bass quality resulted in increased enjoyment of modern music. That is, ultimately, what the TH-X00 was born to do. This is in no way the best mid-fi all-rounder, that crown still belongs to the Hifiman HE400i in my eyes, but it doesn’t offend while being stellar at its strengths. For $399, this is an easy purchase to make if you want an indulgent set of cans lying around for when you want a break from your high resolution and analytical system. It’s up to you if you want to wait several months for Massdrop to complete your order though.

 

Song Impressions:

Equipment used: Foobar200 WASAPI Event > Schiit Wyrd > Schiit Gungnir USB Ver. 2 > Cavalli Liquid Carbon.

All tracks in lossless FLAC in at least 16/44.1

 

Abba - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

A lot more intimate than I’m used to, but with a far more pleasing lower end – which is very enjoyable due to its synth and bass guitar driven beat. The TH-X00 does especially well with the breakdown section, every bass note and slap rings out in the mix effortlessly.

Aerosmith – Dream On (2012 Remaster)

The TH-X00 does well with Steven Tyler’s voice. The rhythm section in the second half of the song does get a tiny bit congested however. Again, much narrower in soundstage than I’m used to.

a-ha – Take On Me

Now we’re talking. I haven’t heard this song sound as nicely as right now. It is delectable synthpop and the backing vocals are well represented.

Alan Parson’s Project – Sirius/Eye In The Sky (2005 SACD)

The TH-X00 adds a substantial amount of kick to the low end of these tracks, which kind of upset the delicate (and very well produced) balance of the instruments that I’m used to. The rhythm section of Sirius especially muffles the synth melodies a bit.

ATB – Too Soon (Feat. JanSoon)

The TH-X00 was made for tracks like this. It simply bumps.

B.B. King – The Thrill Is Gone

This is an interesting one. There is more mid-bass bloom than I’m used to but it works well with the track as a whole, with the bass guitar being a lot more pronounced in this blues classic.

Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive

The TH-X00 actually adds to the disco attitude presented, although the vocal melodies don’t ring out as well as I know they can. Again, not an incredibly analytical pair of headphones but the tradeoff is that the beat has a lot more impact in both kick and snare.

Big Black – Kerosene

This song is pretty punk rock in production and attitude. Steve Albini’s voice transcends a noisy, jangly and treble-heavy wall of guitar sound in some of the most charismatic low-fi I’ve heard to date. What the TH-X00 brings to the experience is the more pronounced drum machine and drone bass, making it a fatter sounding song than it usually is.

Billy Idol – White Wedding

Just like a-ha, this song simply pops with the TH-X00. I think 80s synthpop/new wave production will generally sound really nice with these headphones. The production has more room in it for the low end to feel accentuated while not losing the detail.

Billy Idol – We Didn’t Start the Fire

This song is a lot catchier than I remember thanks to the TH-X00 with its driving beat. The higher vocal harmonies in the chorus feel subdued however.

Blink-182 – I Miss You

While the acoustic guitars don’t sound as lifelike as they do on my ZMF Omni, they do sound incredible and far closer to your ears than you previously knew. The mid-bass bloom doesn’t affect Tom’s verse so much due to his high pitched voice but does clash slightly with Mark’s lower register.

Blue Foundation – Eyes on Fire

I always liked the drums that come in later on in this track, and now I do so more. The impact and cinematic quality of them is breathtaking thanks to theFostex.

Childish Gambino – Heartbeat

I feel like I finally understand the point of that harsh saw-bass riff that this song has because the low end that accompanies it is far more pronounced on the TH-X00 than any other pair of headphones I’ve ever owned. Very impressive. It does drown out the vocal harmonies and the vocal-ah synthesizer in the chorus however, but I’ll let it slide due to how immense the low end sounds. The guitar work in the second verse is, surprisingly, a lot more pronounced than I remember too.

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game

This is one of those songs that ranks amongst my top songs of all time and thus one I return to every time I have a new piece of audio gear. It has such a delicate and charismatic sound to it and I’m glad to say the TH-X00 does it justice in all aspects – emphasizing the bass-work while maintaining the delicate guitars and exuberant vocals.

Chromeo – Night By Night

Songs like this are purely enhanced by the TH-X00 with no detraction whatsoever.

Clint Mansell – Lux Aeterna

This haunting and cinematic piece feels more congested than usual, but still a nice listen.

Coil – Going Up

Coil’s last song feels even more haunting due to the increased droning mid-bass frequencies and the one vocal line being unaffected by it due to its high pitch.

Coldplay – Clocks

The TH-X00 does really well with this track and its driving beat. There is increased impact in the piano riff and driving bass/drum work. Chris Martin’s vocals don’t feel hampered due to the mid-bass bump.

Daichi Miura – Unlock

While the driving low end sounds sublime, I’m surprised by how sibilant the guy’s vocals sound compared to every headphone I’ve listened to this song on before. The reverb effect on the vocals feels less impressive than I remember too.

Darude – Sandstorm

Song name? Anyways, this early 2000s club banger does immensely well with the TH-X00, as expected due the electronic genre.

Ellie Goulding – Lights

She already has a thin and rather nasal voice in the upper register, but this makes it have even less body. However, the rest of the song is on point. Not sibilant however, interestingly.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – From the Beginning

The acoustic guitar work feels a lot thinner than other headphones that I’ve owned, except the DT990. The body of the song comes from the low end again, but it isn’t how this track was originally structured to be. The bass guitar, as usual, is more audible however along with the synth solo that comes in later.

Eminem – Without Me

Another testament to just how incredible these headphones are with the genres they were meant for. The ebbing and throbbing bassline that makes the song sound so addictive has never sounded better to my ears. The treble extension makes the snare hit hard as well. A+ synergy.

Fleetwood Mac – Dreams

Songs like this struggle with the TH-X00 because of how the vocal and guitar centered they are. Even the bass guitar and instrumentation doesn’t sound as filling as it does on my ZMF Omni or the VE Monk Plus earbuds. A subpar match but still alright.

Kanye West – Jesus Walks

Very addictive bass thump but less controlled than on the HE400i. It feels looser.

Kavinsky – Nightcall

Enhances the song in every way except the female vocals, which sound a bit thinner and slightly sibilant. Sounds, overall, more brash and bombastic - as it should due to its cinematic nature.

KMFDM – Megalomaniac

Industrial music you can dance and headbang to. The bassline sounds a lot more club-like than what I heard previously. The guitars also sound filling, lending to the overall sound having more immediacy and impact.

Korn – Falling Away from Me

This is a song that I was absolutely sure would feel extremely stuffy with the TH-X00 due to how it is mixed, but the headphones surprised me with their perseverance…to an extent. Still really boomy but enjoyable.

Lana Del Ray – Summertime Sadness

This mournful ballad feels simultaneously more and less “cinematic” in presentation with the TH-X00, which add a drive to the slow and measured drum-beat but take away from the swirling string section that accompany Lana’s incredible studio voice – which itself is represented well in comparison to most female vocals. Overall, I don’t prefer it over other headphones I’ve heard but it’s still a good match.

Led Zeppelin – Achilles’ Last Stand

A bit of a mismatch here, with the TH-X00’s emphasis on the low end drowning out Page’s guitar work substantially – which is a no-go for Zeppelin listening. The drums and bass are a bit overpowering. Plant’s vocals survive however.

Linkin Park – Breaking the Habit

The clean and electronic-sounding production of this track are benefitted from the audition of the TH-X00 largely but there’s a sibilant nature to the processed vocals now.

Lorde – Royals

The bass and drums steps into Lorde’s main and backing vocals substantially, but the overall listen is still quite stellar.

Machine Head – Davidian

The strong yet undisciplined low-end power that the TH-X00 pulls out of this track is extremely impressive. The guitars sound as heavy and distorted as they should while the incredible drumwork gets its absolute due thanks to the sound signature.

M83 – Midnight City

This song mixes shoegazing elements with electronica/house. Interestingly, the TH-X00 gives it more structure due to the beat and bass being more pronounced, while some headphones loses this aspect to the huge wall-of-sound that the production has. Very enjoyable listen that handles the atmosphere well.

Martin Garrix – Animals

If you had to use just a single track to convince a basshead why they should buy the TH-X00, this is the track you would show them if you want the best result. The sub-bass in the rise and drop is just ruthlessly massive and breathtakingly deep. 

New Radicals – You Get What You Give

This song is a good representation of what I meant in my video regarding how the TH-X00 doesn’t sound as “natural” as some other headphones that I’ve owned. A large amount of the packed instrumentation that this 90s classic has is reduced by the Fostex to sound more linear and with more emphasis on the beat and vocals. The piano is quite lost in the mix.

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

I daresay that you’ve all heard this song before. The guitars sound a tad recessed but still very “dirty” and grungy (pun intended) while Dave Grohl’s drums take center-stage along with the simple driving bassline. Cobain’s tortured vocal maintains sufficient body to command the attention it deserves and has always deserved. The TH-X00 delivers.

Pendulum – Set Me on Fire

Just like the Martin Garrix song, the drop in this is exactly what the TH-X00 was designed for. The headphones do extremely well with the chaotic drop and dish out all the detail necessary for its enjoyment. The 90s-video-game-like synth that follows is also done justice as it isn’t muffled by the bass frequencies. Again, a song that I haven’t heard sound this good on other cans I’ve had.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

The ahead-of-its-time production really does well on the TH-X00. Even the famous bridge section with the stacked vocals falls right in the region that the headphones is rendered admirably. The closeness of the vocal layering provided a new experience to my ears over the other cans I’ve had. I heard more detail, ironically, due to how close it was. Overall a good match of song and headphone.

Queen – Another One Bites the Dust

Alright, this has to be heard to be believed. It hasn’t sounded punchier and more aggressive before, before. Extremely good synergy. All the instrumentation and vocals fall squarely in the regions that the Fostex excel in.

Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name of (2012 20th Anniversary Edition Remaster)

Another great pairing. The TH-X00 gladly joins in the attitude the band exhibits with Tom Morello’s guitar overdubs sounding just where they should on top of the driving low end.

Ramin Djawadi – Game of Thrones Theme Song

While the low end instruments sound satisfying, a lot of the upper-mid detail is quite recessed. The main melody feels drowned out by the thunderous percussion section. A lot of nuance is lost, but that was to be expected given what these headphones were designed to be.

Slipknot – Wait and Bleed

The warm and powerful sound signature lends greatly to this relentlessly aggressive track. A lot of the extra percussive elements (Slipknot has two percussionists along with their drummer) ring out in the mix. Some of the cymbal hits can be quite sibilant however.

The Glitch Mob – We Can Make the World Stop

Another good pairing, but don’t turn it up too much because a lot of percussion and “glitch-breaks” can be quite sibilant. The low end is simply stellar however.

The Weeknd – The Hills

Sub-bass galore. The snare is a little piercing but it’s easily forgiven for how much the TH-X00 brings out in this song. The sparse production prevents any drowning out of instrumentation too.

Zack Hemsey – Mind Heist

This low-end driven “epic” orchestral piece is served well the TH-X00 to add to its power. A lot of nuance in the percussion is reduced but the tradeoff is immense power when the song fully builds up.

Shozy Zero

Shozy Zero

Schiit Wyrd

Schiit Wyrd