Published on December 7th, 2014 | by Greg0
Fostex TH500RP: Affordable Planar Headphones
In the world of audiophile headphones, over-ear cans are the gold standard: the bigger and heftier, the better. Most of our audio devices, from earbuds to speakers, utilize dynamic electromagnetic drivers, which has a coil and cone that vibrate based on your signal and create sound. But other methods exist, including the fairly rare electrostatic system, and another technology called “planar magnetic”, also referred to variously by manufacturers as orthodynamic or isodynamic.
Audio geeks know brands like Magnepan and Audeze for this style of headphone, which has a few advantages but tend to cost quite a bit more. One of the original companies in the market was Fostex and while we’ve recently taken a look at some of their other gear, from bookshelf speakers to iPhone accessories, this is the most exciting offering yet: the Fostex TH500RP. Available now at a lower price point than most competitors, they nonetheless are audiophile gear and you should have an amplifier and/or DAC already in order to take full advantage of them (and one that accepts the 1/4″ plug used on these). We tested them out with several from our collection, and made sure to burn them in first for a couple of dozen hours.
One of the things we always focus on is how a set work at very low volumes and very high volumes with the same sound source and settings. You’re listening for any noise, fuzz, or especially hiss, and the TH500RPs were crystal clear with no real distortion. The next indication of quality is with sharp instrumentals and tracks with deep bass, as usually one or the other will result in some unwanted resonance or unfortunate piercing tones. Throw on hip-hop classics like Outkast’s Stankonia, and lesser headphones will cave in, with audible artifacts overwhelming the clean production. The TH500RPs offer amazing transparency, likely thanks to the planar technology (they call it Regular Phase). A frequency curve on your normal sets, even those above $500, will show a bunch of rises and canyons, especially in the mid-bass. But these guys are flat, balanced, neutral and thus ideal for monitoring where you’re trying to mix and require audio that isn’t shifted. Detailed, crisp, and truly rich, these sound worth every penny.
Weighing in at a bit over 13 ounces, they aren’t a set we’d take out around town, but aren’t heavy enough to cramp your longer listening sessions at home or in the studio. The earcups are real leather, with plenty of cushioning, and all of our writers reported they were comfortable and adjustable. Aluminum and magnesium make for a highly durable build, and a frequency response of 20 – 30kHz is pretty broad. You’ll want to pair with an amp capable of handling the 48 ohm impedance rating, the better to appreciate the sparkle. Granted, they aren’t as spacious as some, and aren’t made for those who want deep bass. But for anyone who can appreciate cutting edge audio, the Fostex TH500RPs are the best planar magnetic pair we’ve tested, and will impress even the most skeptical listener. Available online and in stores for around $699.99.