It’s a cold day in Hell’s Kitchen and Fostex has finally released the open-back TH909. Surplanting the TH900 MK2 as the manufacturer’s flagship headphone, the TH909 retails for a solid $1799. But at this price, can the Fostex sound keep up with the competition? And is it worth that price tag?
Arriving in a large, ostentatious box, the Fostex TH909 comes with a removable headphone cable and a stylish headphone stand.
Using the same eye-catching red lacquer as the TH900 Mk2, the TH909 also sports a double-layered metal grill. Beneath that grill, a 50 mm Tesla driver delivers considerable displacement for a powerful but natural sound.
The large earcups and headband feature the same luxurious padding found on the older TH900 Mk2, while the nylon 10 ft (3 m) removable cable features the same connection as well.
Feel and fit remain nearly identical as well. But for those who aren’t familiar with this open-back headphones’ progenitor, the TH909 is solid if a little heavy for longer listening sessions. While not has neck-breaking as a pair of Audeze headphones, this Fostex may be a bit much for folks who want a light headphone. Personally, I find the weight acceptable, but I also admire the confidence the TH909 instills when I hold it in my hands.
Frequency Range: 5-45,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 25 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 100 dB
A quick glance at the spec sheet for the TH909 reveals a headphone with a fairly wide frequency range that shouldn’t skimp on detail. The low nominal impedance of 25 ohms should also work just fine without amplification. Lastly, in terms of sound pressure, the Fostex delivers a more-than-robust 100 db, so achieving good volume shouldn’t be an issue.
During my listening sessions, I actually paired this headphone with my FiiO Q5 DAC/amp. While the FiiO is by no means a powerful piece of equipment, it did prove capable enough when powering the TH909. And while the necessity of using an amp with these cans might be arguable, I highly recommend a decent DAC for getting the cleanest sound possible, as well as for taking advantage of the TH909’s rich sound.
The Fostex TH909 offers an intense, driving low end replete with detail and good fidelity. Clean with no bleed, the TH909 remains as well-controlled as any other flagship headphone. Complimenting these detailed, clean lows is an emotive, throbbing bass that drills into your brain (in a good way). In all, this part of the frequency range waxes somewhat intense, but never sacrifices detail to achieve its end goal: pure, powerful lows.
In the mids, the TH909 appears forward-leaning, but just enough to receive equal emphasis alongside the lows. As a result, the sound here appears well-crafted with a clean, clear profile that offers strong detail while not taking any attention away from the rest of the frequency range.
When it comes to the high end, the TH909 never sounds too bright. There’s a very impressive amount of detail, with tons of nuance. However, the sound can seem a bit thin at times – the full lows and mids giving the impression that the high end might be somewhat lacking in comparison. However, critical listening reveals plenty of accuracy to the point where I can hear subtleties I never knew existed in a given track.
The impression of soundstage is a huge improvement over the TH909’s closed-back forerunner, the TH900 Mk2. With a spacious depth and laser-focused sense of placement, it’s all too easy to get lost in the immersive headroom. Every instrument seems to occupy its on inviolable area, with no bleed or confusion to interrupt the transcendental listening experience.
As the new Fostex flagship, the TH909 constitutes one finely-crafted headphone. But as an open-back successor to the TH900 Mk2, it represents an even greater accomplishment. The sound, while more open and spacious in accordance with the open-back design, also enhances the natural, dynamic sound that originally marked the TH900 Mk2.
And despite this improved sound quality, the TH909 remains easy to drive with that 25 ohm impedance. The fact that you can push this headphone with a lower-power device like a phone or a computer sans amplification is impressive.
The only real downside (if you even wish to call it that) is the TH909’s tendency to reveal almost too much detail at times. On sub-par recordings, or older recordings, this headphone can uncover limitations of the original recording. Or, in the case of some of my favorite hip-hop test tracks, analog static and pops from producers’ samples.
For a open-back alternative to the Fostex TH900 Mk2, the TH909 obviously brooks no opposition from any other model out there. But what about in comparison to other, already-established flagships from other manufacturers?
Thanks to its low impedance, the clearest competitor to the TH909 might come in the form of the Grado PS1000e ($1695) or the new Grado GS3000e ($1795). In both cases, the TH909 offers more low end, while the Grados might offer a greater sense of soundstage and separation.
Compared to the venerable Sennheiser HD 800S ($1699), the TH909 seems to offer a similar overall sound signature with a dynamic nature split between the high and low end. However, the emphasis on these individual areas of the frequency range may be opposed to one another. While the Fostex TH909 offers a deep low end with fine detail in the highs, the HD 800S might offer less bass and more treble in a side-by-side listening test.
The Fostex TH909 presents a surprisingly refreshing sound over the older TH900 Mk2, with the rich, dynamic nature of its predecessor benefiting enormously from a wider sense of soundstage. Add to this the low impedance and you have a fairly versatile open-back headphone that works well for many applications. And, while the $1799 price tag may turn off some budget-minded audiophiles, it still seems like a fair price of admission for such an impressive headphone.
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