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Taron & Andrew Lissimore
‘The Excellently Affordable Fostex TH-610’
Fostex made some quick inroads into high-end sealed headphones when they released the expensive TH-900 model a few years back - now dubbed the TH-900 Mk II - which is still one of the best closed dynamic headphones for serious audiophiles. Not that Fostex are any 'johnny come latelys' to the category - they've been making amazing headphones under their own and other brand names for decades. Their Fostex T50RP headphone is not only a pro recording studio staple, but probably the most beloved can by modification enthusiasts attracted by the T50RP’s great potential for aftermarket upgrades.
For the biggest plus mark on the chalkboard, Fostex has blessedly lowered the cost of their TH-610 model down to a reasonably affordable price. Looks like your music just got superb sounding without a home refinance required.
The new Fostex TH-610 circumaural headphone has about the same overall dimensions and is the fortunate beneficiary of many of the same audio advancements offered in the flagship four-figure Fostex TH-900 MkII headphone. Although it’s not quite up to the performance level of that superlative headphone, it shares a lot of similar sonic characteristics and comes within a hair’s breath in many facets of fit as well as sound quality.
Despite its friendly affordability, the Fostex TH-610 has an upscale look that showcases the black walnut wood grain earcup housings without too much glossy makeup or shiny parts. It’s a subdued-looking but still stylish headphone that gratefully doesn't degenerate into a bling show. The synthetic protein leather black earpads are plush and the headband comfort is excellent as usual from Fostex, with the sole caveat being that small-headed listeners may find the fit a bit too loose at times. The wearing weight is very evenly distributed across the head so there’s basically little to no noticeable clamping force on the head or earlobes. The pleasant light-on-the-head feeling is largely due to Fostex’s proprietary magnesium alloy frame which is strong, lightweight and durably built for a long use life. The Fostex TH-610 certainly rates in the top echelon of comfortable long-session headphones and is basically identical to the fabulous fit ergonomics of the supa-glossy Fostex TH-900 Mk II.
With that in mind, we hear the major audio differences between the TH-610 and the TH-900 Mk II to be one of degrees with the TH-900 delivering more interior access and vivid nuance along with more emphasis on the lows and highs at the extreme edges of the frequency range. The TH-900 also offers an improved midrange presentation with voices possessing more breathy detail and naturalness against the well-meshed but less distinct vocal presence of the TH-610. The TH-900 essentially takes you inside the booth with the singer as it dissects the vocal take, which can be as exciting as it is disorienting when voices are not well-produced to seamlessly work with the backing track - which can result in a hollowness or an audible seam noted in the mids.
The Fostex TH-610 seems more forgiving in that regard and it’s plainly less hyped, more ‘flat’ tonality still sounds very accurate and faithful to the recording. For listeners using less than perfect ‘lossless-quality’ music files, the TH-610 likely offers a smoother, more accessible sound signature versus the relentlessly forward, highly energetic approach of the TH-900 Mk II.
‘Fostex TH-610 Versus Massdrop Fostex TH-0XX’
Compared against the nearly identically sized Fostex TH-X00 headphone from Massdrop outfitted with mahogany gloss-lacquered earcups, the sound between the Fostex TH-610 and the TH-X00 is very nearly the same in the mids/highs. However, the Massdrop TH-X00 offers a much bigger low-end kick that adds a lot of slam to the bass response, but which can also be a bit over-exaggerated and almost verging on the boomy at times. Big bassheads may gravitate toward the TH-X00 but we feel the Fostex TH-610 is likely the better balanced, more evenly toned headphone. Ergonomically both are quite similar with the cosmetic look preference coming down to a personal choice between the high-gloss mahogany earcups of the TH-X00 or the understated matte-finish black walnut wood grain earcups of the TH-610. Both look pretty sweet to us! The Massdrop version also does not offer the detachable cord found on the Fostex TH-610 model.
Fostex TH-610 Versus Oppo PM-3
Even more obvious cosmetic and audio differences are found comparing between the Oppo PM-3 and the Fostex TH-610 where each headphone offers a distinctly unique musical impression and a vastly different design approach.
The Oppo PM-3 is a tad smaller than the full-size/circumaural Fostex TH-610 and tends to sit more on the outer part of the earlobes. The headphone fit of the Oppo has a snug fit that’s well engineered for heads of varying sizes including smaller folks or women. Especially for a planar magnetic headphone, it’s very comfortable to wear due to its miraculously light weight -- only 10 oz -- and deep earpads that softly conform to the ear to provide a solid seal against ambient noise. The Oppo shape is generally more stable on the noggin than the looser Fostex fit style and thus better suited for mobile or portable listening, but the clamping force is certainly more noticeable on the head than the footloose Fostex design.
Internally, both headphones are also quite differently engineered with the Oppo using a planar magnetic driver versus the dynamic driver diaphragm transducer employed by the Fostex. Acoustically, the ridiculously affordable $400 Oppo PM-3 holds it own against the Fostex TH-610 and offers arguably equal levels of definition and detail. However, the Fostex blows away the Oppo in soundstage depth and sense of airy space and it sounds much more open and fluid versus the tightly stacked, almost congested musical formation of the Oppo. The Oppo does have a slightly warmer, punchy delivery against the significantly more expressive and robust tone of the Fostex TH-610. Interestingly, the Fostex TH-610 is a more efficient headphone than the Oppo PM-3 so portable listeners using the mobile-oriented PM-3 with smartphones or tablets will likely get significant audio benefits with a headphone amp along for the ride. But given our druthers, we’d take the Fostex TH-610 over the Oppo PM-3 in overall sound quality performance.
Throwing the identically priced ($599) Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro headphone into the comparison, the Fostex TH-610 has much warmer, fuller tone in the lows but the Beyer gave the TH-610 a real run for its money in the openness and extension of the mids/highs. The DT 1770 Pro plainly outshined the clarity and detail of the TH 610 up top and offered a more pristinely layered soundstage image as well. Depending on individual music tastes, some listeners may think the DT 1770 Pro a bit forward or even too bright at times, but the brilliant resolution and squeaky-clean presentation is excellent for audio professionals and studio producers intent on hearing every subtle recording nuance hidden deep in the recesses of the music.
We also decided to get the long-discontinued DENON AH-D7000 into the mix given as it was a Fostex headphone design that was simply re-branded for DENON. Comparing the Fostex TH-610 against the DENON D7000 was a bit of an exercise in throwback nostalgia, but it revealed precisely how competitive the TH-610 is against the topmost echelon of headphones from just a few years ago.
The Fostex TH-610 indeed sounds very close to the tonal presentation of the old D7000 with the DENON only possessing a tad more hair in the lowest bass octave. However, the Fostex TH-610 offered plainly improved mids/treble clarity and better soundstage depth and space versus the old Fostex/DENON AH-D7000. Otherwise, both headphones offer superb detail, accurate definition and impressive coherence with that classic Fostex sound that allows the music to freely breathe and organically spread out before your ears in a multi-hued sonic tapestry. The fact that the Fostex comes in at around half the cost of the original price of the AH-D7000 is just further proof of the high performance and truly terrific bang-for-the-buck value of the excellent Fostex TH-610 headphone.
Buy Fostex TH-610 Headphone