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Final Audio D8000 Pro Edition - Planar Headphone - Review

Review written by Andrew Park (@Resolve)

Introduction

Final Audio’s D8000 1 line marks their flagship entries in the planar magnetic arena currently dominated by the likes of Audeze and HiFiMAN. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with the original D8000, and while it wasn’t quite the perfect tonality for me, the technical ability of that headphone made it a lot of fun to listen to. Final Audio have recently returned to planar technology and released the D8000 Pro Edition, which includes tweaks to the transducer and a change of pads. Supposedly Final Audio have taken aim at more ‘compressed’ music this time, namely pop and rock, which is often recorded to take advantage of a wider variety of equipment. There may also be a technical reason for this revision that has to do with driver limitations of the original D8000 at loud volumes for those genres. This review is an attempt to answer the question of what’s different between the two versions, and how the new ‘Pro Edition’ improves upon its predecessor (if at all). It should also be noted that the review unit is the black version, but it’s also possible to get this headphone in a silver-white color.

This review unit was provided by the headphones.com community preview program.

Specs

  • Housing - Aluminum magnesium alloy
  • Driver - AFDS Planer Magnetic
  • Sensitivity - 98dB/mW
  • Impedance - 60Ω
  • Weight - 523g
  • Price - Approximately $4000

Source

FLAC Library, TIDAL (HiFi and Master) - iFi iDSD Micro Black Label -> Cayin IHA-6 1 SE out (10 ohm) -> D8000 Pro Edition

Music

For the D8000 Pro Edition (D8K Pro) I started with my usual jazz tracks and sibilance tests from Patricia Barber and Renee Olstead, and then tried some classical with Yo-yo Ma plays Ennio Morricone. I also used it with some pop and rock from an up-and-coming artist Anna Moon, but then went into my heavier material from Periphery, Opeth and Tool to see how the Pro Edition handles less optimally recorded material. I also tried the headphone with some EDM, I’m generally not into EDM at all but I felt that it’s worth putting it through the paces.

Build, Design & Comfort

The D8K Pro has the same design as the original D8K, meaning it uses the same ‘Air Film Damping System’ (AFDS) to create space between the magnet and the diaphragm. Interestingly both models use a circular planar design rather than the usual rectangular shapes you find in most other planar transducers. It’s an effective technology, however some have reported that with the original D8K, when driven at loud volumes (with certain genres), the driver would clip. I personally never experienced this when I reviewed it, and I really have to wonder if listeners are observing safe listening levels to be able to produce this. Nonetheless, the new D8K Pro is intended to fix that issue for pop and rock genres.

Build & Design - 8.5/10

For comfort, the D8K Pro feels identical to the original D8K, with the only real exception being that the pads on the newer version are a notable improvement. They’re much softer feeling than the “rough socks” type of material that was used on the non-pro model. Unfortunately the weight is also the same, and it is still a bit much for me at just over 500g and the pads are still round rather than oval or ear-shaped, however it’s certainly much more comfortable than many of its competitors.

Comfort - 7/10

Performance

In my review of the original D8K I was impressed with the headphone’s technical ability, however I did find that there was just a touch of harshness in the treble that I had to overcome. While not unpleasant, it wasn’t as smooth as I prefer overall. I’m happy to report that the D8K Pro sounds smoother overall to my ear (at least from memory).

Detail Retrieval - 9.8/10

The D8K Pro performs spectacularly well for detail retrieval. When headphones do well in this category, you can really hear textural nuances in the music that lesser headphones are unable to reproduce. This is especially noticeable when analyzing individual instrument lines. For example, string instruments like cellos and violas aren’t merely represented as tones with the given timbre of the instrument, but also with the textural qualities of the bow on the string that produces the sound. This is also aided by quite good instrument separation, and what people describe as “blackness of background”, where specific lines emerge out of absolutely nowhere - and with well-defined structural integrity for the images. In some ways I find that planar tech in headphones does a better job at this quality than dynamics do, and the D8K Pro reminds me of what’s possible for detail retrieval in headphones at the top end. If there’s any drawback to be had here it’s only that it doesn’t quite match the performance of some of its competitors at this price tag, but on the whole it’s very close.

Speed & Dynamics - 8.5/10

I’m finding speed and dynamics more and more difficult to describe, especially when you have some headphones that sound ‘fast’ due to the immediacy of their leading edge transient, but then also other headphones that sound ‘fast’ due to the immediacy of their decay - and the way in which these qualities redound a headphone sounding ‘fast’ result in a different effect. Moreover, it gets even more complicated when you introduce the notion of dynamic ‘slam’. But the bottom line for the D8K Pro is that it does well in just about all of these areas. It’s not quite as intense as some of the best Audeze planars for kick drums, and doesn’t quite exhibit the same control of decay the way that certain Beryllium driver headphones can, but it still scores quite well across these categories - to the point where it falls right in line with where I’d expect a flagship planar to perform in terms of being fun to listen to.

Stage & Imaging - 8.5/10

While the stage is a bit more forward when compared with the original D8K, the imaging remains top notch, and instrument separation is also superb. I attach this quality a bit more to detail capability, and while it’s not on the same level as something like the HiFiMAN HE1000se, it’s easy enough to isolate instrument lines and pick apart harmonies should the listener desire to do so. Or to put it another way, I had no problem distinguishing instruments even in busy passages or complex mixes.

Timbre - 8/10

I find the D8K Pro to be slightly on the dry side, but also not particularly ‘planar’ sounding, but I get the feeling this has more to do with tonality than anything else. The bass thankfully doesn’t have the “dry thud” quality I’ve associated with some older planars - ones that despite being able to extend all the way into the sub-bass fail to reproduce those tones in a lifelike manner. In fact, the only way I’d be able to blindly distinguish the D8K Pro as a planar is from its other technical abilities, and so that may be welcome news to some.

Tonality & Frequency Response

D8K (blue) vs D8K Pro (green) with the HEQ Compensation (closer to Harman). Measurements taken on the MiniDSP EARS rig, which is not to be considered as or compared with industry standard.

The D8K Pro goes after a more diffuse field target - and no I don’t mean the one developed by Møller, but rather a more popular kind of tuning that something like a Sennheiser HD800 goes after - or perhaps better known as a “diffuse field loudness equalized” tuning. If the more ‘correct’ DF target gets us something that sounds like flat-measuring speakers in a good room, let’s imagine that the room is ever so slightly worse, meaning we get a presentation that sounds closer to what we’re used to hearing normally (unless of course you live in a house with impeccable acoustics).

 

I find that the D8K Pro actually has better bass extension than the original, but at the same time sits ever so slightly lower than the midrange, and then there’s also a bit more energy in the upper midrange on this new model as well. Overall the D8K Pro is a bit more counterclockwise tilted, but surprisingly I don’t find this to be sibilant in the consonant range at 8.5khz where we see the strongest elevation relative to the HEQ compensation, and it’s dramatically brighter sounding than the original D8K. I also get the sense that tweaks to the transducer may have resulted in overall better treble performance, because the D8K pro sounds surprisingly smoother in the treble than I remember the original D8K sounding, despite the fact that it has a stronger elevation throughout that range. I have to imagine that this is entirely plausible if in fact the transducers excursive characteristics were tightened up in the Pro Edition.

D8K Pro on HPN compensation (closer to DF)

It’s interesting that Final Audio claim that the D8K Pro was designed to sound better for more compressed music such as pop and rock - or music that’s intended to sound good on a wide variety of systems - because I generally find that the type of tuning they ended up with for the D8K Pro does better with more classical, jazz, and acoustic music. Again, think of the HD800 line. These are incredibly popular for those genres specifically, and can sometimes sound a bit shrill for more modern pop and rock genres. But interestingly I found that the D8K Pro just simply sounds great regardless of the genre, even if I’m more immediately drawn to the more typical ‘audiophile’ types of music.

In fact, despite Final Audio’s intelligent choice to deliver two versions of the same headphone (just aimed at different genres), this is in my opinion one of the better all-rounder headphones, because it’s able to resolve acoustic instruments with incredible clarity, while at the same time being fun and punchy for less optimally recorded music, and even great for electronic music. It’s entirely possible that this headphone’s target of being well-suited to more ‘compressed’ music like pop and rock has more to do with the excursive and restorative properties of the transducer and the loudness that these genres are often preferred at. While I don’t advocate turning up the volume to unsafe levels, it may be the case that the D8K Pro has an easier time with this from an engineering perspective, and that this fits more with Final Audio’s goals for this headphone than the tuning they ultimately ended up with. Nonetheless, it’s a fantastic achievement, and I find this tuning to be more to my taste over the original D8K.

Tonality score - 9.9/10

Comparisons

Audeze LCD4

They cost about the same, but the LCD4 does edge out the D8K Pro as far as strict detail retrieval goes for individual instrument lines. The LCD4 does also sound a bit faster, with more intense bass impact and articulation. But the D8K Pro has a much better and more ‘normal’ tonality, while the LCD4 is considerably dipped in the upper midrange and treble transition. I’ve always been impressed by the LCD4, but its default tonality causes the tonal focus of certain instruments to be withdrawn in favor of splash and sizzle. The D8K Pro is a flagship that resists the temptation to crank the treble extension to unnatural levels, and retains tonal balance and focus for how instruments sound in real life. It’s also much more comfortable, coming in approximately 200g less than the LCD4, so if I had to choose between the two, without EQ my preference would be for the D8K Pro. With EQ, or Audeze’s ‘Reveal’ tuning it’s a more difficult choice.

Rosson Audio RAD-0

In my opinion this is the primary competition for the D8K Pro, at least as far as technical ability goes. The RAD-0 in my opinion is also a little bit faster, perhaps due to its high grade neodymium N52 magnets - and it’s inherited much of Audeze’s performant characteristics. I find the tonality for the D8K Pro to be a bit more neutral and forward, while the RAD-0 is a bit warmer and a bit more laid back. The D8K is also considerably more comfortable with a less aggressive clamp force, and overall less weight. Of course, the RAD-0 is nearly half the price, so if you can handle the weight/comfort, you’ll likely find it to be better value.

Sennheiser HD800s

The D8K Pro is quite a bit better for a wider variety of music than the HD800s, but it’s worth comparing the two because I find them to have a similar counter-clockwise tilt to their tonality. With that said, the lower treble dip of the D8K Pro helps with the transition between the midrange and treble so that it doesn’t suffer the shrillness that the HD800s has a tendency to exhibit for certain genres. Overall the detail retrieval for individual instrument lines is better on the D8K Pro, however instrument separation and distinction is considerably better on the HD800s due to its massive stage.

Focal Utopia

The Utopia is one of the most resolving dynamic driver headphones, if not the most resolving headphone both due to impeccable detail capability and excellent tonality. The D8K Pro is a bit more fun in the bass, where the Utopia rolls off slightly below 50hz (at least on sub 10ohm output impedance sources), but beyond that these two are actually a good comparison for tonality. The D8K Pro has a bit more sparkle and energy up top throughout the consonant range, but I occasionally feel like it’s just a shade too much, where as the Utopia has better tonal balance for that range. Both are very smooth throughout the consonant range, and neither exhibit etch or grain up top, but I may have to give a slight edge to the Utopia for overall detail and clarity. In my opinion if you’re more drawn to extremely linear and clean bass response, the D8K Pro may be the better choice, but I’m drawn to the comfort and slightly better tonal balance of the Utopia.

 

Conclusion

The Final Audio D8K Pro is unreasonably expensive, and it really shouldn’t be when you consider other headphones with similar performance like the RAD-0 come in at a much lower price. But thankfully the D8K Pro is also a fantastic experience. It’s doesn’t quite match its competition when it comes to technical performance, but it’s very close - and it does many other equally important aspects of what makes a great headphone, such as tonality, comfort, and build quality quite a bit better than its peers. The D8K Pro improves on its predecessor as far as sound quality goes, and if you’re looking for a “spare no expense” flagship headphone that you don’t want to EQ or tinker with, and you just want that flagship experience that has exceptional tonality right out of the box (as they all should have), the D8K Pro is very likely to provide that experience.

Overall Score - 8.6

You can check out the video review here:

Andrew Park (@Resolve)

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