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Final Audio D8000 - Open Back, Planar Magnetic, Headphone - Review

Review written by Andrew Park (@Resolve)

Introduction

I was able to try out the Final Audio D8000 in the Fall of 2018 for about an hour or so at my local shop, and while I wasn’t able to give it a proper critical evaluation, it did make the list as one of my favorite headphones of the year. Fast forward six months and the awesome folks over at headphones.com were able to lend me a pair to evaluate and measure over the weekend. Needless to say, huge shout out to them for allowing me to do this.

The D8000 is a planar magnetic open-back flagship headphone that costs $3799, right up there with some of the other top of the line cans from Focal, HiFiMAN, and Audeze. Other planar headphones have unique features such as proprietary waveguide systems like the ‘Flow’ mechanism of Mrspeakers, or the ‘Fazor’ array in recent Audeze cans. The D8000 uses what Final Audio call an Air Film Damping System for their drivers, and while this isn’t explicitly doing the same thing as the waveguides in other headphones, it does make this a driver system unlike the rest. Final claims that the air film damping helps prevent the diaphragm from contacting the magnets, which should improve low frequency response quality. This is achieved by adding perforated metal sheets on either side of the diaphragm between it and the magnet, essentially allowing the movement of air to prevent contact with the magnets. At the moment it’s unclear to me how much of a difference this makes in practice, however the D8000 certainly has some of the best bass response I’ve heard. But before getting ahead of myself, let’s take a look at the spec sheet.

Specs

From the D8000 product page:

Housing - Aluminum magnesium alloy
Driver - Air Film Damping System (AFDS) Planer Magnetic
Sensitivity - 98dB/mW
Impedance - 60Ω
Weight - 523g

Source

iFi iDSD Micro Black Label -> Cayin IHA-6 SE out (10 ohm) -> D8000

Design & Comfort

The build quality on the D8000 is nothing short of exceptional with its machined aluminum magnesium alloy housing and yoke structures. The headband feels like high quality leather, certainly an improvement over the rest of the Final lineup. The cups have the same free-floating swivel and tilt mechanism as their other cans that allows for a full range of motion for each cup to get the perfect fit. I love this design choice in all headphones when I come across it, and I wish other companies would take notes from this style. This is not a suspension headband system unfortunately however, which I feel would have really benefited the D8000, given that it’s a bit heavy at over 500 grams. With that said, it’s reasonably comfortable with soft pads. After a few hours the weight does start to show, but it’s not as bad as the Audeze LCD-4. Coming from the HiFiMAN HE-500, the D8000 also feels much better. The one complaint I have apart from the overall weight is that the cable is a bit heavy as well. It’s not a bad cable by any means, and it’s thankfully tangle-free, however it is quite thick and adds a bit of weight to the experience. I’d recommend getting a cable upgrade and running the D8000 balanced, however finding that cable upgrade might be challenging since the 3.5mm connectors have a unique locking system that has the connectors themselves set a bit further into the cup, which means it’s not possible to use any 3.5mm connector cable.

Performance

Resolution & Detail Retrieval

This is very close to the Focal Utopia when it comes to detail retrieval, and that’s saying a lot. The Audeze LCD-4 is also a close competitor in that regard, although it’s been some time since I’ve listened to one. The D8000 sits a class above everything else on my desk at the moment when it comes to resolution and detail, and that includes a number of ‘kilo-buck’ cans. But I have to stress that at this level of quality, resolution stops being the most important thing when evaluating a headphone. Some will take a ZMF Auteur over a Utopia for example, even though the latter wins out on resolution and detail capabilities. The D8000 sits firmly between the two, but not at the cost of timbre or stage.

Speed

Conveniently, the D8000 hits a home run on the other key performant aspect when it comes to enjoyment and musical engagement. This is right up there with the Mrspeakers planars for speed, and it’s exceptionally noticeable in the midrange or during busy passages with lots of percussive instruments and layering. There’s something unique about the planar sound that undeniably characterizes the D8000, and it’s immediately recognizable for its leading edge transients and fast decay.

Timbre

If the Utopia sounds a bit clinical or artificial, the D8000 is the exact opposite when it comes to timbre and musicality. Make no mistake this is a lush, rich, and thick sound. There is a slight edge to the highs, which adds a bit of excitement, but can occasionally intrude on the ‘natural’ sound this headphone otherwise retains, but it’s generally not a problem on most recordings. Think of this as a Sony Z1R on speed. All of this comes together as an experience of sound representation that more closely resembles reality than some of the more clinical flagships, but doesn’t skimp on the details either.

Soundstage & Imaging

Unsurprisingly the D8000 doesn’t throw as far as the Sennheiser HD800. Instead it straddles a fine balance between spacious and intimate. One of the things I love about the Mrspeakers line of open-back planars is that they’re able to navigate staging distances without ever sounding unnatural - neither claustrophobic nor distant, and the D8000 achieves precisely the same thing. The best way I can describe the stage is ‘big’, and it puts the listener front and center. The stage is also helped by excellent imaging. Not only does the D8000 place images with positional accuracy, the images themselves are quite large, with incredible structural distinction. There’s absolutely no problem isolating instruments or lines in the mix, and while this can’t match the separation of the HD800, it’s perfectly in line with the rest of the competition here.

Tonality

Here is the raw data as measured from the E.A.R.S rig. Note that these are not objective nor industry standard measurements and can only be compared with other measurements from the same MiniDSP rig.

Bass

The D8000 bass is simply incredible. While there is a slight roll-off starting at around 40hz, the frequency ranges that contribute more to tonal characteristics are slightly elevated through towards the midrange. I’m no basshead, but I do often find myself occasionally adding a bit of energy to the bass on my more ‘neutral’ headphones, just for a bit of fun. The bass on the D8000 fits that niche perfectly, and it’s what I would probably tune it to otherwise. Bass quality is also exceptional, with sine wave sweeps revealing tonal integrity extending far below what I’m used to. Some of my other planars that have linear bass all the way down start to lose a bit of the tonal consistency when they reach for the sub-bass, and the D8000 doesn’t have that problem. Whether this is due to the AFDS driver implementation or not is unclear, but the result is very good. It should also be mentioned that the pads are designed in such a way that allows the bass response to extend even without a perfect seal, so if you’re wearing glasses it’s not a problem like it can be on other headphones. Measurements reveal a very slight rise in the upper bass towards the midrange, but it doesn’t bleed over or intrude in any way that detracts from the music. Overall this is some of the best bass quality I’ve ever heard. It reaches low, hits hard when called upon, and has all the texture you could want.

Mids

The mids are also quite good. They stay relatively neutral up until about 500hz, with a slight dip down, but then come right back up to 1khz. There’s nothing to complain about here, especially considering how well the planar driver handles texture and layering. Vocals sit slightly back in the mix but it’s hardly noticeable unless you’re coming from a crazy mid focused headphone like the Focal Elegia.

Treble

This is where things get a bit weird, and it seems that this weirdness is a common theme for a lot of headphones I’ve been evaluating lately. There’s a dip in the lower treble just between 2k-4khz, followed by a sudden rise. This eventually turns into a relatively appropriate response for the rest of the treble with a slight peak at 9khz, however that dip at 3khz has a more notable effect. Supposedly 3-4khz is right where the human ear has a particular sensitivity, with the shape of the ear canal causing resonances and even amplifying the sound. I’ve reviewed headphones in the past that have had a peak in that region, and I can confirm that this is indeed a potential problem area. This likely explains the reasoning behind the dip for the D8000, as well as other more ‘laid back’ and non-fatiguing headphones. Given that this is the case, I still find I somewhat prefer a more neutral response in that area, and to my ear the dip goes a few db too far. Despite this, the D8000 still sounds great even with the dip. This might be the best example of a headphone that achieves an alternative response curve that sounds almost as good as the more traditional one, perhaps better depending on the listener of course. The last thing I’ll note about the treble is that there is a very slight edge or grain to it, which in this case is very tastefully done and certainly more to my preference than what they did with the Final Audio Sonorous IV. This is likely in part due to the extra resolution capabilities of the driver. The edge is there but never masks the detail, it just adds a bit of sparkle and structure to the sound. Perhaps this is intended to counteract the more laid back character of the D8000’s tuning with that 3khz dip.

EQ

Here is the compensated graph showing deviation from MiniDSP’s ‘HEQ’ target, or in other words what MiniDSP recommends as a compensation target for headphones. Supposedly this was based on the target developed by Olive and Welti, and while it’s not perfect, there’s nothing wrong with seeing how the D8000’s frequency response compares to an established target.

The D8000 provides a very pleasant alternative to neutral. With that said, when doing my EQ I found that the only real change I ended up with was a boost to 2.8k-4khz by about 4db, and a slight reduction to 9khz by 1.5db because I’m generally a bit treble sensitive. It’s interesting to see that they went with the 3khz dip, and it is enough to be considered a deviation from neutral. But surprisingly, when going back and forth with my EQ on and off, I couldn’t always decide which one I preferred. I can very easily see this as a headphone that’s enjoyable without any EQ, and it reminds me of a more refined, and perhaps slightly colored HiFiMAN HE-500 combined with the Z1R.

Comparisons

The real competitor to the D8000 should be the Audeze LCD-4, however it’s been too long since I’ve heard one to be able to provide an accurate comparison. Prospective buyers should try to compare the two, however I can say that the weight of the LCD-4 bothered me more than that of the D8000. While neither aim for strict neutrality, the LCD-4 deviates slightly less from the desired target.

HE-500 - The D8000 is similar in performance, speed, and edge, with a more colored frequency response. I love the HE-500, but the D8000 feels a bit more refined and more resolving especially down low.

LCD2 Classic - The D8000 is a bit brighter, with better resolution and speed. They both have a similar slight grain to them that provide a bit of structure to the images.

Aeon Flow Open - The D8000 is very similar in terms of speed but with better resolution. They both have a more ‘laid back’ presentation with a bit of sparkle up top, but overall the D8000 has superior clarity throughout the frequency response causing an AFO without EQ to sound muffled by comparison.

Utopia - The Utopia has better resolution and detail retrieval, hits a more neutral frequency response, but loses out on timbre and space. The D8000 has a bigger, more rich tonality, especially in the bass and midrange. The Utopia is also more forward and analytic sounding throughout the range, and the D8000 is more laid back.

Ananda - The D8000 is faster than the Ananda and has a warmer tone with much better (and bigger) bass response, however the Ananda has exceptional treble that in my opinion is superior to the D8000.

Conclusion

This is easily one of the best headphones available at the moment. Unfortunately it costs a small fortune. It seems that headphones are going in the direction of other audio equipment in that they are starting to cost multiple thousands of dollars for incremental improvements to the sound. Would I personally spend close to $4000 on headphones? Looking at the gear on my desk and around me answers that question with an emphatic ‘yes’, however I have a hard time recommending that to most people. If the prospect of doing so doesn’t immediately scare you off, however, then this is not a bad place to look. The D8000’s performance is right up there with other top of the line equipment, and if you’re looking for that non-fatiguing and laid back sound without compromising on detail, resolution and speed, this might be the perfect choice.

You can check out the video review here.

-Andrew Park (@Resolve)

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