Cascadia Audio Talos
My very first review, in March of 2016, was of a Fostex T50RP mod – specifically the ZMF Vibro Mk. I. Any in-depth impressions I have of the prolifically modified T50RP were of ZMF Zach’s tuning of the Mark II driver. This was used in the ZMF Vibro and both ZMF Ori/Omnis that I have owned and reviewed in the past – but the Mark III Fostex driver was what Zach has switched to for the Vibro Mk. II. Confusing right?
In any case, it has been months since I sold my last planar magnetic headphone and chose to focus on the two dynamic options that I currently own. Approached by a fan nearby for my impressions of the Cascadia Audio Talos, I jumped at the chance. I knew of them, as I frequently peruse Reddit’s r/headphones subreddit where an announcement was made last year. The creator of the Talos is a fellow who goes by the moniker MadEconomist. I read some impressions back then about how it was slightly V-shaped, not a sound signature I prefer personally, and left it at that.
So, thanks to Armand for lending me his pair to find out more firsthand.
Specifications, Build Quality and Comfort
Maximum input power: 3000mW
Weight: 385g (without cable).
As with all T50RPs, the impedance is 50 ohms. Make no mistake however, they all require a good amount of power to come into their own – with the FAQ section on the site painting an ideal scenario of having an amplifier that can inject “3Vrms or more into 50 ohms.”
The headphones come in the original box for the Fostex T50RP, along with the original cable – a single-ended affair that plugs into the left cup. Given its $250 price, it makes absolute sense for MadEconomist to not push the envelope of remodeling the cups and wiring properties (as done by ZMF and previously MrSpeakers by changing the cable plugs).
What you’ll get is something that looks absolutely like the original Fostex headphone, with stickers on it. The stock cable is also provided, and it is not impressive at all. Armand provided his own V-Moda cable as an alternative he chooses, which I used instead and found preferable to the overly springy stock option. Both are terminated into 3.5mm jacks, so a converter was necessary to use it with my amplifier.
You have to understand just how naked the Talos feels in my hand compared to what I have experienced before – T50RPs tricked out with wooden cups with thick audio jacks that had room for mini-XLR terminated cables. However, it is because of the minimalist nature of the Talos’ modification that it is quite a bit lighter than both the Vibro and the Ori. Nevertheless, it is a solidly built headphone even in its stock form – with the plastic design not feeling overly flimsy and quite rugged. The metal sliders are intact and as I remember them, with no incremental adjustments but staying in place well.
Because of the relatively light weight, comfort is not an issue with the Talos. The choice of using HM5 Hybrid earpads is commendable, as they are not overly thick and make an effortless seal on my ears – while being very, very comfortable and plush. Extended listening sessions did not reveal any ear fatigue, but I could see them getting a tad hot in the summer – but that’s a concern that is unimaginably far right now as it’s a cold February in the UK.
I was pleasantly surprised that the Talos is not as deep of a V-shaped sound signature as I had anticipated. The overall presentation has somewhat of a clean characteristic to it while being elevated at the edges – bass and treble taking centre-stage. Jumping through my library, I immediately preferred the Talos with warmer rock music productions than I did the Vibro Mk. I for its ability to not feel too stuffy or congested.
The bass of the Talos is north of neutral, but not overly far reaching in the sub-bass region. However, it is punchy and not sluggish like the Fostex x Massdrop TH-X00 or even the earthier sounding Meze 99 Classic. It is not deeply textured, but it occupies a place that lends a “full” sound to the music – injecting a lot of body into each and every recording. I find this a tricky endeavour to implement because of the risk of midrange bleed (which did happen on the Vibro Mk. I), but the mids of the Talos bypass this issue – giving the lower midrange and bass space to come into their own quite well. Every bassline is heightened in presence in a pleasing manner, but do not expect the intense accuracy of the Sennheiser HD800 in this regard (and you really should not, apples and oranges).
Despite having its V-shaped characteristic, it was actually the midrange of the Talos that made it for me. I could not help but directly compare it to the TH-X00, which has sucked out mids and sharp treble – in my opinion. The Talos, however, has a manner of making the instrumentals of songs work well around its dip. While the soundstage is not, understandably, wide – the instrumentals of most genres fit as they should. The jangling guitar work of Spanish Bombs by The Clash sounds as it should, and well separated to boot. However, it is the vocals that take a backseat in the overall presentation of the midrange – with an upper mid dip especially hitting the female vocal range and making it sound distant. Male vocals are not hit nearly as hard, but it is still obvious that the instrumental will always be emphasized when using the Talos. It should be noted that you will not experience an especially detailed midrange from the Talos, as it is a bit hazy because of the dips.
That being said, the good aspects of the midrange far outweigh the negative. A quick listen to Dreams by Fleetwood Mac confirms this. The vocal layering is not absolutely drowned out by the instrumental, but the harmonies come through quite well in a manner that can be complimented. I prefer its presentation over the Vibro Mk. I for sure.
The treble is very comfortably extended, but not overly far reaching. It does not feel too stuffy, but it is certainly not very airy. I greatly appreciate the lack of peaks that I endured when I had a TH-X00 – as the Talos has a more linear approach to the treble. I also appreciate that it extends further than the Vibro Mk. I, which would get too stuffy (especially on older tracks like Led Zeppelin) – although this could be a characteristic of the T50RP Mk. III, something the Vibro Mk. II is built upon and supposedly has more treble extension than the Mk. I. (another confusing statement, I know) This means that the snare drums have a more impactful sound and cymbals are not completely drowned out in the mix.
One significant weakness that both headphones share is the slightly “scratchy” and unnatural nature of the T50RP treble in general. I had gotten used to it back in the day, but spending so much time with dynamic headphones has made it stick out just that much more.
I went hunting for sibilance in songs that make me grind my teeth on the HD800 (despite it being SuperDupont modded). One example is David Lee Roth’s vocal on Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher, which can give me a headache on some headphones. While it did run hot at certain vowels and on a ride cymbal, the Talos did a great job at giving the song a thick low-end with decently opened-up highs in a manner that didn’t irk me. This is a non-fatiguing headphone, plain and simple.
As an overall listen, I greatly prefer the Talos with energetic songs coupled with slick production. Its strengths are not very compatible with low-fi recordings, despite it being quite a forgiving listening experience.
It is not a true-to-life and “natural” sounding headphone that will give you an especially live sound, but it is a very pleasing “fun” tuned headphone that works well as an all-rounder among planar magnetics in its price range – and is an impressive first release by Cascadia Audio.
Bass Quantity: TH-X00 > Classic 99 > Talos > ZMF Omni = Elear > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > K7XX > HE-500 > HD600 > HD800
Mid Presence: HE-500 > HD800 > HD600 > ZMF Omni = Elear > Classic 99 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > K7XX > Talos > TH-X00 > DT990
Treble Quantity: DT990 > HD800 > HE400i > TH-X00 > Elear > K7XX > Talos > Classic 99 > HE-500 > HD600 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I
Soundstage: HD800 > K7XX > DT990 > HE-500 > ZMF Omni = Elear = HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > Talos > Classic 99 > TH-X00
Comfort: DT990 > HD800 > K7XX > TH-X00 > Elear > HE400i > HD600 > Talos > ZMF Omni > Classic 99 > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE-500
Aesthetics: Elear > HD800 > Classic 99 > TH-X00 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > K7XX > HE-500 > Talos > HD600
Lightness: HD800 > Classic 99 > K7XX > DT990 > TH-X00 > HD600 > HE400i > Talos > Elear > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > ZMF Omni > HE-500