Fostex Company, originally founded in July 1973 by Foster Electric Co., Ltd., is a Japanese manufacturer of high performance speaker components, consumer and recording equipment. I ordered the Fostex T50RP studio headphone from B&H SuperStore, New York, US, early this year, when it was priced at USD 89 inclusive of free shipping to my Rockledge, US, address.
I wanted a full sized Over-Ear Headphone (OEH) and my preferences were narrowed down to affordability, comfort and the type of transducer (driver) used. I wanted an OEH that was in the range of USD 100, not heavier than 350g and possibly utilizing a Planar Magnetic Transducer (also known as Ribbon Driver). The Fostex T50RP fit the above requirements quiet well.
A quick search on-line revealed a couple of facts about the Fostex T50RP that was essential for me to know before I bought and settled down with it. Though Fostex T50RP is adored by some recording professionals it is also loathed by some hard-core audiophiles. The negatives include an extremely dark and dull presentation, mid-range focused sound, rolled off high frequencies, rolled off low frequencies, uncomfortable headband ... On the other hand, there is a large modding community that has gone to great lengths to mod the Fostex T50RP inside-out and claims to elevate it on par with some USD 1500 reference Planar Magnetic headphones. So it became evident that these headphones had great potential in the right hands and it is not for everyone.
Setup & Performance
After I received my Fostex T50RP studio headphone from B&H, I put it through its paces. I allowed it to burn-in for over 100 hours before using them for critical listening.
iPhone 3GS: I have an iPhone 3GS that is dedicated as a 16GB portable FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) player. In order to play FLACs on my iPhone I had to buy the FLAC Player from iTunes for USD 10. Listening to the Fostex T50RP through the iPhone 3GS at 80% volume gave me a detailed and textured midrange. The high frequencies lacked extension, they appeared to be congested and the low frequencies (bass) were weak and almost non-existent. This is not an OEH to be used with a low powered personal media player. A dedicated portable headphone amp is a must to drive these Fostex OEH.
Onkyo TX-SR604E AVR: I have an Onkyo AVR (A/V Receiver) for the last 06 years. It's a work horse with over 2000 hours of playing hours. It's tweaked with AMR Gold fuses, a pure copper NEMA plug connected to an 11 AWG (American Wire Gauge) power cord that is soldered to the internal circuit board of the AVR.
I connected the Fostex T50RP's ' inch TRS (Tip Ring Sleeve) phone jack to the Onkyo AVR's ' inch phone socket. I played a familiar track using the LaCie LaCinema Classic HD 1TB Media Player connected to the Onkyo AVR via a HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface). The increase in volume offered by the Onkyo AVR gave the Fostex OEH a nice improvement in dynamics. The midrange was still the focus of the presentation. The high frequencies were definitely not very detailed, the low frequencies (bass) were soft, lacking body and it did not really go down low enough for a good musical toe-tapping presentation. The overall impression was that of a dull, gloomy and dark presentation with the focus mostly on vocals. Maybe a dedicated headphone amp should do the trick.
Musical Fidelity V-Series II: My desktop consists of a Musical Fidelity (MF) V-DAC II, Musical Fidelity V-CAN II connected to the Musical Fidelity V-PSU II. The MF gear is tweaked with Audiopolitan power cords, AMR Gold fuse and 3M Bumpon feet under all three V-Series boxes. The MF gear is connected to my Dell Vostro CPU using a 1 meter long Pangea USB-AG Pure Silver USB cable. The music is, either in 16Bit/48kHz FLACs ripped from CDs (Compact Discs) or in 24Bit/96kHz bought and downloaded directly from Hi-Res (High Resolution) service providers, played through the foobar2000 media player.
I connected the Fostex T50RP's ' inch TRS phone jack to the Musical Fidelity V-CAN II's ' inch phone socket. The presentation was much better than what I heard through the Onkyo AVR. The volume knob on the MF V-CAN II barely touches 10 o'clock position and the Fostex OEH is loud enough for me. The background is blacker and the music heard is in complete contrast to the black background. The presentation through the MF gear is clearer and smoother than the Onkyo AVR. The midrange is more detailed and textured. However is still lacks fluid dynamics and stout bass response like what I've experienced with some other headphones paired with the same MF gear on my desktop.
Beresford Bushmaster DAC: My main 2 channel music playback system consists of a Beresford Bushmaster DAC that is powered by the original Musical Fidelity V-PSU using a 1.3mm to 2.1mm DC link cable. The source is the LaCie LaCinema Classic HD 1TB Media Player that is loaded with 16Bit/48kHz and 24Bit/96kHz FLACs. It is powered by DC-2, a Toroidal Transformer Power Supply designed and made by Sean Jacobs from Custom HiFi Cables Ltd., UK. The LaCie LaCinema Media Player is connected to the Bushmaster DAC using the LiFaTeC Silflex Glass Fiber Optic interconnect (TOSLINK). Both the above components are connected to a Weiduka AC8.8 Power Block that is fitted with a Furutech Flow-15 Power Line Filter. All equipment have HiFi-Tuning Supreme Pure silver fuses and Audiopolitan hand crafted interconnects and power cords. This forms a very carefully tweaked and tuned system that cost more than USD 2000 just for the components and equipment between the Power Line Filter to the DAC.
At this point, I do not really have much hopes from the Fostex T50RP as thus far it has sounded just like what is supposed to - a decent USD 100 headphone. If it does not shine through the well tweaked and tuned MF gear on my desktop then it is not going to have much of a difference from the Beresford Bushmaster DAC either. In fact, the Bushmaster DAC is actually priced cheaper than the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II. So one lazy Sunday afternoon, I just fortunately had nothing to do and I decided to spend my time by trying the Fostex OEH with the Bushmaster DAC.
I connected the Fostex T50RP's ' inch TRS phone jack to the Beresford Bushmaster DAC's ' inch phone socket. The volume knob on the Bushmaster DAC barely touches the 10 o'clock position and the Fostex OEH is loud enough for me. I played a familiar track and I'm immediately taken by surprise with what I heard. The background was the blackest that I had experienced thus far with the Fostex OEH. The music was in complete and effortless contrast to this black background, akin to a well-tuned Plasma HDTV that is still adored by hard-core videophiles.
The Fostex T50RP's pairing with the Bushmaster DAC resulted in good detail extraction from older recordings. The hall ambience and microphone feedback from older recordings is now much more audible in this setup. The high frequencies extended better with no apparent roll offs. When watching HDTV I'm always in the lookout for accurate skin tone and when listening to headphones or speakers I'm always in the lookout for accurate reproduction of vocals. The midrange through the Fostex T50RP has to be the most textured and detailed that I have ever heard from any OEH or IEM (In-Ear Monitor). The bass extension is stout and low enough to get my toes tapping.
Soundstage through the Fostex T50RP is wide enough for an OEH. It is not as wide as the soundstage put out by the Quad 11L Classic bookshelf speakers, placed on wall mounted stands, spaced 6 feet apart in my bedroom. No the soundstage is not that wide but the presentation is believable and right in front of my eyes. The presentation is not angled either like what I have experienced from the more expensive Panasonic RP-HC700 Noise Cancelling headphones that is priced at USD 200. For this reason I use them only for air travel and nothing else.
I'm a late entrant to Bollywood music. Mohammed Rafi's recordings were remastered and rereleased in India by Universal Studios. Listening to the song - `Mujhe Duniya Walo' gave me a glimpse of how a live venue, in India, must have been back in the 1970s. Rafi's mood, his vocals mimicking that of a drunkard, the crown cheering and the overall atmosphere of the venue just unfolds itself in front of me. I could even hear someone whistle from the last row of the hall. I have never heard this recording in so much detail and realism before. Half way through the song a trumpet plays on stage and I felt the trumpeter was standing towards my right hand side in my listening room. The trumpet sounded eerily real and holographic. I get goose bumps...
Listening to Nina Simone singing `Wild Is The wind', a 1966 recording, made me feel beauty and pain at the same time. The emotion of the song makes me feel sad... The more I listened to older recordings the more I appreciated what a Planar Magnetic Transducer had to offer. Percussion and wind instruments sounds very believable. The overall presentation had great speed, rhythm and dynamics. I found it hard to believe that the Fostex T50RP had scaled up to my well-tuned source and sounded every bit different from when it was paired with less than perfect sources mentioned above.
Accessories & Tweaks
Headband Comfort Cushion Pad in Leatherette with Snap Locks: The Fostex T50RP has a plain and flat headband that not only causes discomfort during long listening sessions, it also offers no grip and slips out easily when I move my head. The replacement headband added more comfort and much required grip to the Fostex OEH.
Shure HPAEC840 Replacement Ear Cushions: I replaced the stock ear cushions with great difficulty. The Shure replacement ear cushions are softer to the touch. They added a thin layer of translucent fabric over the Fotex T50RP's Planar Magnetic Transducers. The Shure ear cushions are also deeper by about 01cm when compared to the stock ear pads and this has led to an increased distance between the ears and the transducers.
The Shure ear cushions have added more comfort and most importantly it has a positive impact on sound quality. The bass response has improved and the overall presentation now appears to be more balanced, focused and cohesive.
AIAIAI TMA-1 Replacement Headphone Cord (Straight) with 3.5mm Phone Jack: The stock cable is really long and thick. I replaced it with the 1.2m long AIAIAI headphone cord with 3.5mm phone jack. I prefer using this than using the 6.3mm to 3.5mm headphone adaptor. I also have the AIAIAI TMA-1 that is 1.5m long coiled cable with 6.3mm phone jack for use with ' inch phone sockets. I find the AIAIAI headphone cords are of better quality than the stock 03m long detachable headphone cable.
Slappa Full Sized HardBody Pro Headphone Case: I started using the GoodCans protective headphone bag (large) but moved on to the Slappa HardBody headphone case. For a mere USD 07 more it is a better protective case. The Slappa headphone case looks like it was custom made for the Fostex T50RP. It can protect these Fostex OEH for a long time to come. With the right portable headphone amp and DAC it is now possible to transport them anywhere.
Conclusion & Rating
The more I listened, the more I appreciated what the Fostex T50RP had to offer. They played music with a tonal accuracy that actually makes them more suited for studio applications than for use for consumer audio applications. Most people have tuned their ears to enjoy and appreciate unrealistic bass response. Mass market brands often colour the sound just to cater to what the market wants and expects. Once you settle down with the Fostex T50RP's presentation then every other budget headphone will appear coloured and hard to live with. One man's good is surely another man's bad!
I'm really impressed with the capabilities of the Fostex T50RP studio headphone. Since it is a Planar Magnetic headphone, it demands a clean source and it is not really meant to be used with portable MP3 players, laptops or other budget sources. It deserves carefully matched equipment. Thus far in my hobby this is the best USD 90 I have ever spent. In the process of appreciating the Fostex T50RP, I also ended up appreciating the Beresford Bushmaster DAC. They are both tweakable, moddable and affordable. With a combined price of USD 350 it should be on top of the list of every budget audiophile. (Note: The Bushmaster DAC does not have an asynchronous USB input but the same can be achieved with the help of a USB to S/PDIF or TOSLINK converter.)
It sounds fantastic with the right source. Very good performance for the money. Planar Magnetic headphones at this price point is far and few. It's tweakable and moddable to suit one's taste.
Looks ugly. This ugly duckling however will not quack, it will instead sing like a nightingale!