All in the family
Martin Pipe tries Fostex TH-610 headphones for size.
Fostex has launched the TH-610, a more affordable version of its flagship TH-900 Mk2. It is a full-sized circumaural design, for maximum rejection of ambient noise, and costs £569.
It still has 50mm drive units, although the flux density of each driver’s neodymium magnet is lower and it’s not quite as sensitive at 98dB/mW. Fostex’s ‘bio-dyna’ diaphragm still features, fashioned from bio-cellulose fibre, the properties of which include low density and a high Young’s modulus. Fostex claims it's better than the plastic film typically used in headphone drive units, offering “high-resolution reproduction”.
The 375-gram TH-900 Mk2’s ‘protein leather’ earcups have given way to a “low-repulsion cushion material in quality artificial leather for comfortable fitting”. Gone too are the exotic Urushi-lacquered Japanese cherry-birch housings. TH-610 owners must instead make do with wood-grained housings fashioned from matte-finished black walnut. But fear not; they still look gorgeous. Another benefit is that the beautifully-made ‘Hi-FC’ cables are detachable, courtesy of robust proprietary plugs.
Supplied is a generous 3m-metre cable, terminated in a chunky 6.3mm plug. Fine for home gear, but difficult if you want to play your personal through the TH-610s. I did try a 6.3mm-to-3.5mm adaptor with a Sony Walkman Professional and a Cowon D20, but although it worked I was less than happy with the structural integrity of this arrangement. A ‘trailing’ adaptor would be a better bet. On the ‘plus’ side Fostex offers a balanced upgrade, with a 4-pin XLR plug. Intended for use with the TH-900 Mk2, it’s rather expensive at £250. Thankfully, distributor SCV offers a ‘trade-in’ service for £50; send in the standard cable, and you’ll get a balanced one in return.
It may be significantly cheaper than the TH-900 Mk2 but £569 is still a lot of wedge for a pair of headphones. Let’s start with the practicalities. They’re comfortable to wear and can be adjusted for a good fit, certainly if you’re sitting upright rather than lying down. And a good fit is essential if you’re to get the best bass response the TH-610s can offer. In this state, isolation is excellent and so there’s less to get between the music and you. Furthermore, I didn’t have any problems wearing them over long periods of time.
Initially, I tried the TH-610s with a Fostex HP-A4BL DAC/headphone amplifier. This was driven optically by a Cambridge CXN streamer, playing lossless CD rips. The HP-A4BL supports balanced ‘phones, and courtesy of the necessary cable I was able to try both forms of connectivity. There’s certainly more drive available in balanced mode; I found myself having to turn down the volume. I then switched to the more familiar Chord Hugo TT, which only caters for regular (i.e. ‘unbalanced’) headphones.
Soundwise, the TH-610s have much to recommend them. Presentation nudges towards the treble rather than the bass; the low-end offered is certainly articulate and can plunge satisfyingly deep. Presentation is spacious, crisp and detailed, enabling me to get to the heart of a sophisticated recording like Al Stewart’s 1973 exquisitely-crafted 'Past, Present and Future'. Electronic percussion, like that prominent throughout Kraftwerk’s 'Tour de France Soundtracks' is finely-etched and evenly-paced. That moderately-forward treble can on occasions lead to a trace of sibilance, as some of the choral contributions to Previn’s recording of Carl Orff’s 'Carmina Burana' demonstrated. The TH-610s fared well with other manifestations of the human voice; speech material like Radio 4 broadcasts has a commendably-natural balance with no untoward ‘plumminess’.
The best I can say about these headphones is that I found myself engrossed in the music for hours at a time, listening fatigue never rearing its ugly head.
Definitely worth a listen.
Fostex TH-610 £569
OUTSTANDING - amongst the best.
Comfortable to wear, distinctive in appearance and oozing class these headphones deliver an involving and intricate sound. They can be upgraded to balanced operation.
- crisp and detailed
presentation with effortless
- balanced upgrade and
- superb build quality
- slight treble emphasis
- 3.5mm connections ignored
+44 (0)3301 222500