From the country of endless kitsch comes a headphone that’s almost laughably stodgy. Its aniki, the TH900, dresses to the hilt in Harajuku-bright urushi blotches and swigs, glinting in even the dimmest listening room. Outwardly, the two could not be more incompatible. Despite bringing up the caboose in the foundling TH series of headphones, the Fostex TH600 plays things cool as 1980’s TV dramas. Think Night Rider without the Hasselhoff: KITT for a new, living-room bound age.
Type: closed-back dynamic
Driver: 50mm neodym magnet / biodynamic diaphragm
Frequency response: 5-45.000Hz
Maximum Input: 1.800mW
Weight: 370g (cable not measured)
Cable length: 3 metres (y split)
Plug: straight 6,3mm gold plated stereo plug
The TH600‘s cups are made of light-weight die-cast magnesium alloy. Almost any sized ear should comfortably be able to tuck itself inside - with very little hanky-panky. That said, the pads are low profile and the the mounting flanges sit flush with the inner protective mesh. If your ears are even slightly mousey, you’ll feel the inside of the cups, but nothing too adult. The pads are made of an interesting concoction of egg protein, padding, and a lot of marketing imagination. To the finger, they feel surprisingly like leather. To the ear, they're mostly bearable. Egg protein, like every dead animal skin wannabe, feels strange once your ears start to sweat. And sweat they will. Despite coming in lightweight magnesium, the TH600 is heavy. Plus, egg pleatherette has the habit of jettisoning your offerings of sweat and oil back at you. It’s a humid road thereon in.
However, let’s be honest, headphones have never been completely comfortable. Pain and pleasure are old bedmates. Fostex’ newest headphone may be half scrambled, but it lays a lighter yoke than many cans.
Here’s where my PC-ness hits the fan. Designed in Japan by a group of suave engineers with Japanese heads, the TH600 traces a thin line for narrow-noggined folks. Even with its headband compressed to its smallest size, the TH600 still sits heavy on my ears. It’s not meat-head-only Audio-Technica sloppy, nor is it as woefully oversized as Ultrasone headbands are; but in the end, the entire headphone sags past my ears' comfort zones. Suffice it to say, if you’ve got a mouse head, you may want to add a bit of sponge to the headband to keep the headphone from dripping to your shoulders.
Normal to wide-headed people will get along nicely with the TH600. We mousers envy you.
If the TH600 has any of this stuff, it’s buried beneath layers and layers of second-child psychosis. It’s freaking KITT for God’s sake without the Cylon eye thing, an ‘up yours’ to the gaudy TH900.
The cables are wrapped in nylon filaments and joined in a sturdy Fostex-branded y-split. There on down, the cable gets thick and reaches over 2,5 metres to a large, no-nonsense 6,3mm plug. Plug and phone-side stress relief is taken care of by thick rubber friction tubes. Overall, the cable is excellent. The TH600 is a big-arse black headphone and its cable a garrotte, but it rocks. No frills to attract the watchful eye of your spouse and thus, no sweaty ‘chats’ about price, yadda yadda.
The TH900 is pretty much the same thing but with urushi scaling, dabbing, and a shiny veneer over the top. Next to each other, the TH600’s colour scheme is Scandinavian in simplicity. The TH900 is Hawaiian-shirt-clad-Manitoban-evangelical-preacher in ostentation. (And as nice as that shirt may be, you have to be in to Hawaiian shirts to get it.)
Fostex, you’ve done your listeners (and believers) a service by offering something for Zeno as well as Zane. Thank you.
porridge: build quality
If you’re even slightly handy, you’ll enjoy the no-nonsense approach to construction Fostex have fostered into the TH600. If something breaks and you’ve got the parts, you can replace it. That’s good news, too, as the TH600 needs kiddy-glove treatment more than its direct competitors. Its weakest points are the mounting fulcrums on either side of the headband. Both the band and the yoke will develop wobble in Ikea time. This lax tolerance will cause the yokes to scrape the headband. That’s when the paint chips fall. Aside from that (and the egg padding), there’s little to complain about. But then again, for the price, we should be able to expect better.
Build niggles be damned, the TH600 walks away proud because, primarily, its sound has no real flaws.
Underlining every frequency is crisp timbre. The TH600 isn’t an analytical headphone, but it renders every frequency distinctly. At its heart are clear, unstrained vocals that take durst not encroach on their surrounds. Crisp is the name of the game. It makes sense. Japanese is a precise language full of sharp chirps and clacks with nary a vowel slide to offend the rhythm. You will encounter neither fleshy lisps, nor splashy ‘s’es anywhere in this headphone's repertoire of unoffending effects.
Conversely, the TH600’s penchant for full-spectrum crispness leaves lush female vocals to flounder among percussion, pianos and guitars. Beyer’s T1/5 series places vocals front and centre. If you don’t like them, be damned. The TH600‘s `What you get is a mastering mix rather than a whisky-and-crackling fire feel good listen.
While undeniably a closed-sounding headphone, the TH600 delivers sublimely wide instrument placement. Fostex’ approach to percussion is perfect: central placement with supporting instruments undulating in concentric circles around it. Vocals hover near the back of the ear, drifting near the black hole when needed. The magnesium cups are used to full effect, engaging the sense of space where there really is none. Where other closed headphones produce flat, regular spatial cues, the TH600 flourishes tangible rises and troughs that are great for music, and perfect for movies.
The TH600 derives is crisp, spacious sound from speed. Notes decay in no time, front edges of every instrument are tight and grindy. Not too tight, however. In no way does the TH600 approach AKG's K70x series levels of knife-edged austerity. This speed does wonders with cymbals, no matter what slays them. Sibilance: no; splotch: no again.
Bass vs. Mids
Were I pressed to choose a winner, I’d choose bass as sound pressure heavyweight. Both are clear, strong, and detailed. Bass throbs through with more pressure, though, but neither ever gets summery. The gotcha to this presentation of course, is that vocals never step too close to the mic. Trance fans may rejoice, but small ensemble jazz fans and live aficionados are bound to bemoan: 'oh the humility!' Get over it, I say. It’s just not your typical audiophile headphone; the TH600 feels more at home in a monitoring environment - (though again, not too at home).
Bass vs. Highs
Like its bass and midrange, the TH600’s highs are nimble and detailed. Sibilance-inducing tracks make off with nothing more than a weak shimmer. To be honest, this trance-head could do with slightly more aggressive highs. Bass and treble balance each other well. Too well, perhaps. With the slightly withdrawn vocal range working as a rudder, there’s almost too little accent, too little splash, too little ‘gotta have it’ in the TH600. But then again, that is probably the mark of a good headphone as opposed to an accented headphone.
Discerning listeners will detect a petite V sound curve that suits classical recordings and studio work well. Emotion is there when needed - but nothing's sappy, ever.
The TH600 is the mostly harmless, nerdy younger sister who writes people’s essays for fun. If she’d take off her glasses for a moment, you’d get to see her eyes (which are big); if she’d let down her hair for a moment...
(BTW, if you want to take her glasses off, wait a few hundred hours. I'm not talking burn in - I'm talking cracking the eggs. The protein pads are soft from the get go, but as they soften up, the bass really starts to come out... and it's glorious.)
Whatever. I’m a fan of the TH600's sound. It compliments my all-time favourite DT880 well. It never steps on any toes. It never plays favourites. For some, it will be boring. For treble or bass haters, it will be mildly V shaped. It’s... it’s... it’s that hard to find jack-of-all-trades headphone -the equivalent of a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, but without the requisite chest hair, cologne, and hanky panky of the same decade. And I’m down with that.