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April 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Fostex TH500RP Headphone Review
They could have made the best headphone on the market... so close.
Review By Rick LaFaver

 

Fostex TH500RP Headphone Review

 I, like many white collar Americans, work a desk job to pay the bills. As much as I wish I could write reviews and afford the kit that I want on such a salary, unfortunately that is not a current fact of my life. Fortunately, I am able to enjoy my hobby at my desk while also making the money to pay for said hobby. My typical day to day involves 8 to 10 hours of reviewing reports, responding to emails, attending meetings and the like and fortunately I am able to listen to my music collection for a few of those hours. I have run through many high quality headphones while either at my desk, or working from my home office so as not to wake the baby, my ole trusty Sennheiser 595s, Beyerdynamic 990s, Koss KSC75 (for my jogs), and yes the good ole reliable Fostex T50-RPs have all served me well. It is a modest stable to some, but I consider myself an enthusiast and when the time came around to review Fostex's latest iteration of a planar headphone the TH500RP, I jumped at the chance.

Fostex's planar drivers or Regular Phase (RP) drivers as Fostex refers to them are really some of the most reliable, and versatile, orthodynamic drivers being used in a headphone today. They deliver a smooth neutral sound in the T50-RPs but without the refinement of an enthusiast headphone; they don't have the comfort, styling, high quality materials and cables of a higher end headphone. They do however deliver value and performance in droves, which is why they are so popular in the DIY/modder community. The drivers alone are worth more than the $150 cost of entry. With TH500-RP, Fostex has gone the extra mile retuning the RP driver, adding a great milled aluminum full open back cup, leather ear pads, a very comfortable headband, and a high quality HiFC cable. All of which were complaints with the T50-RPs when used in a critical listening environment. Clearly Fostex learned a lot with their venture into the world of Head-Fi with the TH-900s.

 

First Impressions
The TH500-RP comes phenomenally well packed in an enormous box with a nice faux leather carrying case and three meter cable. This phone is certainly more targeted to the audiophile market than the T50-RP, the headphone features an aluminum cup and fabric wrapped HiFC cord with a high quality milled headphone connection and luxuriously comfortable leather wrapped pads and headband (The most comfortable I have worn.) The system does not come with the detachable headphone cord or 1/4" to 1/8" adapter that it predecessor did but I would imagine that most people are going to be using these with a reasonable quality amplifier so an adapter should not be necessary. It would be nice however to have a user upgradeable/replaceable cord.

The clamping force of the phone, on my quite large hear (men's 7.75) is perfect, enough to get a good seal but not so much as to put significant pressure on your face or ears when moving the phones stay put and adjusting the fit by pressing or pulling off the phones gently does not deliver any noticeable benefit to sound quality. The headband gives you a lot more versatility than the slide bars on the T50-RP headphones. There are several notches of adjustment on the headband and seemed to get a good seal and comfort even for my tiny little wife. The leather on the ear pads is perfect; it breathes and doesn't make your ears or face sweat even during extended listening sessions. The headband features the same leather wrapping and enough padding to make the feeling on your head almost imperceptible, overall very good fit and comfort. The build quality feels sturdy and resilient; my only concern would be the cord which has very stiff cable inside. I would imagine from moving around over the course of few years this may become snagged or crimped, another challenge with a non-user-upgradeable-replaceable cable. The cable however experiences zero microphonics, bumping it tapping it or moving it is imperceptible to the sound even without music playing, and it is very high quality to start with.

 

Sound Characteristics
I listened to the TH500RP extensively, both amplified and unamplified through an old Yamaha receiver that I have enjoyed as a headphone amplifier for many years, my FiiO E10k desk system and directly out of my Samsung Galaxy S4 and laptop. These are a great full range headphone digging deep into the low bass range. Over all they are fairly balanced with maybe a slight recess in the lower mid-range when not amplified which is typically an indicator of a headphone that needs some amplification, if not just a higher gain headphone output. This suck out in the mid-range becomes less perceptible at higher volumes when not amplified and completely goes away with minimal amplification. I would imagine even something as simple as the FiiO F5 would eliminate this imbalance. The presentation is very musical, with great head-stage centered vocals and spacious with acoustic instruments, basically if the recording has it these will let it shine. As comfortable as they are you can sometimes even forget you are wearing a headphone even as big as the cans are.

The headphones deliver exactly what you would expect from a high quality planar headphone; laser fast, neutral, balanced, and open. The attack and decay on the treble and mid-range is better than anything I have heard shy of some of the top end of Audeze's lineup, but comparing them would be splitting hairs. The sound profile is very un-like that of my day to day headphone the Beyerdynamics 990s, the 990s are about bass and a fun profile, the TH500-RPs are more like my Sennheisers with a neutral but by no means analytical profile, the bass is present but not over powering and the treble and mids are in perfect harmony. They are capable of reproducing drum and bass and dubstep, but not as fun as the 990s. For Symphonic, Acoustic, or non-synthesized music the 500s are in a league of their own. I have never said this about a headphone, but the sound has some of the scale that you get from the best speakers where a recording can sound big where appropriate like in an orchestral crescendo.

Fostex TH500RP Headphone Review

Listening Material and Impressions
The Black Keys Thickfreakness
The Black Keys ThickfreaknessThis is the kind of album you really want to listen to on a set of headphones off an old turntable in the living room tapping your toe to the beat, with the volume cranked. Such a mesmerizing band with a great 70s Led Zepplin feel, it is hardly your usual audiophile fair. With theTH-500RP this album is as good as it's going to get with great distorted electric guitar and a real tactile feel to the pick scratching on the strings during the riffs. With Dan Auerbach's pained throw back voice, again let me say I can't say enough about this type of music coming back (see also: Jack White and The Alabama Shakes) the title track and the whole CD really shows why the Black Keys enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top, from a cult indie following to playing sold out venues. I just wish I could have caught them when they were still playing lounges. I will try to catch them at a decent venue sometime if I can even get tickets. Either way, the TH-500RP does nothing but shine with this Album. It really showcases the low end dig of these headphones and the ability to reproduce any type of content.

 

Erykah Badu New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of Ankh)
Erykah Badu New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of Ankh)Truly one of the most talented vocalists and creative individuals currently on the R&B scene Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part Two walks a line between gospel and R&B. It has a very comfortable and relaxing lounge feel with a few borderline electronic and jazz tracks laced in. This album is one of my favorites of hers. It takes you all over the place musically and is thus a great album to put a piece of audio equipment through its paces. From the funky disco bass lines in tracks like "Agitation" (probably my favorite track on the album) to delicate vocals on "Fall in Love", this album takes you on a musical journey. The TH-500 does exactly what it is supposed to and gets out of the way and just lets the music shine though. While trying to really dig deep into the tracks, I found myself just sitting back and grooving with the music, fighting back a few dance moves (of which I have none.) It is a very strong album, and I would love to hear more of Badu at trade shows, it is always nice to hear such a good recording out of a different genre.

 

Conclusions
The TH500RP is a phenomenal headphone that takes Fostex's planar magnetic driver up to the pedigree that it deserves. It is what the popular Thunderpants mod could have been if given better R&D and a production line. I always thought there was more to squeeze out of the RP orthodynamic driver, and surely there was. The TH500RP is one of the best sounding at its price point, best built, and most comfortable headphone I have heard or worn. The only problem with it is, I wish they would have squeezed even more out of it, the RP driver definitely has more to give. The open back design does not seem to be particularly engineered with the drivers; I would imagine tweaking the amount of openness with Blue Tac or otherwise as people did with the T50RP, would deliver significant benefits. These headphones are still phenomenal, and among the best in their price range, I just think an entirely open can has much to gain when compared to something like the Sennheiser HD-700 and HD-800 with their exquisitely engineered semi-open headphones that deliver arguably the best headphone sound on the market. I feel that if Fostex went just a little bit further, they could have made the best headphone on the market... So close.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Open, Over the Ear Regular Phase Orthodynamic Headphone
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 30 kHz
Sensitivity: 93 dB/1mw
Impedance: 48 Ohms
Maximum Input Power: 3000 mW
Connector Type: 1/4" plug gold plated, 1/8" adapter included
Cable Length: 3M HiFC cord
Weight: 380 grams
Price: $699 (street price)

 

Company Information
Fostex International
Website: www.FostexInternational.com

 

United States Distributor
American Music & Sound
925 Broadbeck Dr. #220
Newbury Park, CA 91320

Voice: (800) 431-2609
E-mail: info@AmericanMusicAndSound.com 
Website: www.AmericanMusicAndSound.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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