ESX900 Impressions: Slamhead’s Delight

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by tommytakis, Aug 18, 2020.

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  1. tommytakis

    tommytakis Gear Cycler SoCal Edition

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    [​IMG]

    • After my journey of gear cycling, I’ve basically accepted that no open back headphone fits me better than my trusty JAR650. However, as much as I love my 650s, sometimes I crave for that subbass and monster slam to blast me off into another dimension. Previously owning the Borealis gave me a taste of what good slam can sound like, but I wanted more.. This is where Evan’s ESX900 comes in.
    • I’m not sure how useful my impressions will be since mine is slightly tuned differently with a one-off monkeypod wood cups that are slightly deeper than the typical Fostex cups, but I imagine most of its inherent technicalities will be similar to Evan’s original and upcoming pairs for the loaner tour.
    • OK so how do they sound?
    Main Rig: Pi2AES > Sonic Frontiers SFD2 Mk.2 > DNA Starlett | BHA-1 > ESX900 | HD800 (SDR+SBAF Rugliner + Cork)
    portable/ other rigs: Macbook pro > ESX900, ES100 mk.2 > ESX900, iPhone 7? > apple dongle > ESX900

    • Tonally, it has some resemblance to Verite Closed, no joke, @ChaChaRealSmooth heard these briefly before me and we had similar thoughts regarding the tonality. Evan’s pair has a different set of pads than mine for a slightly more downsloping, smoother FR while my pair has the “pancake pads” that are flat, but very soft and pillowy.
    [​IMG]
    • This is the measurement that Evan sent me as he was working on the mods. When I first got them from him, it sounded mostly fine, but it had a bit too much air for my taste and heard some sharpness in the vocals which kind of irked me. Evan then suggested that I put a strip of micropore tape across which surprisingly fixed the issue for me. I swear this dude is a wizard… wtf lol After the mods, I would say more or less that graph, but treble seemed a bit more in line and cohesive. I don’t have a VC on me, but I think a direct comparison between the two headphones would be a very interesting experiment.
    • The shining quality of this headphone is the insane macrodynamics/slam. The bass impact is just so satisfying to “feel” especially after being accustomed to 650’s one note, wimpy bass. ESX900 has great macro contrast between the highs and lows, and I would describe them as authoritative, clean, grippy, and lively. I’m willing to bet that this might take the cake for best slam in dynamic driver headphones. I was a bit worried that the bass would be overwhelming and would make the rest of the FR feel disjointed, but it didn’t feel that way during my time with this. Evan’s able to tweak your pair to better match your preferences so if you find the original mod slightly bassy, maybe try it with the flat pads like my pair.
    • TH900 drivers are surprisingly resolving once you fix the atrocious tuning of the stock headphones, that can portray nuance and microdetails well. Despite being extremely easy to drive, they do scale with better gear. I thought I would enjoy this more with BHA-1, but Starlett seemed to synergize better for some reason.
    • Another cool aspect of this headphone is that it can be driven off of most portable sources, but can scale further if you choose to use it in your main rig. I tried it with both my main rig (SFD2 + Starlett) and some portable DAC/Amp (ES100 mk.2) and sources (macbook pro and apple dongle)
    • Like the Auteur, I love the timbre of biocellulose drivers, I much prefer it to the faster, maybe more technically efficient beryllium/beryllium-coated drivers in the likes of Utopia and Verite. Instrument pitch and tonal characteristics sound righteous and natural with little coloration.
    • Clarity is quite good, but it’s not the best I’ve heard compared to something like Utopia, SR1a, or HD800. Maybe it’s the upper mid depression/lacking a bit of presence that you see in the graph, or maybe my ears are just used to the 6x0 signature, who knows?
    • speed/ transients is pretty good, but tbh I don’t own any “fast” headphones like Verite, Utopia, or Borealis anymore so it’s hard to say how it stacks up against the big boy cans that are known for speed. Maybe someone from the loaner tour can further explore this aspect.
    • Imaging is good (for a closedback), but not great compared to my modded HD800 and same goes for the staging. This actually has really good stage width for a closedback, but doesn’t have the crazy depth that lets me pinpoint and dissect my music like a good openback headphones.

    Reasons why you should avoid this headphone:
    • If you absolutely only care about “reference tuning” and anything deviating from that sound is considered garbage, then you should steer clear of this headphone.
    • If you hate bass and think “REAL audiophile music doesn’t have bass™,” then you should stay the fk away from this.
    • If you hate closedbacks, this won’t change your opinion about them, so press the back button NOW
    • If you listen to your music at low db. These headphones kind of encourage you to crank them up so you can get enveloped in the music. I usually listen at around 70-75db, but when I use these, I go up to 80-85db because it reminds me of my carefree years in college going to concerts and festivals with my friends. The great thing about it is that even when I crank them up, the music doesn’t fall apart like HE1000, and it’s not fatiguing at all even after long periods of listening. I’m not sure how healthy this is for your hearing so use caution when listening please!

    All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with the mods, but only time will tell if it will pass my sporadic gear-cycling tendencies. Therefore I’ll refrain from saying stuff like oh-mer-gawd this is the NEXT BEST THING! However, I think there’s some merit to it when it keeps me up late at night (check my recent status) and helped me take a trip down memory lane to my college years going to concerts and music festivals. I got goosebumps rediscovering old playlists and it was such a pleasant experience despite losing many hours of sleep over it. The slam is so addictive and really made me feel like I was at a live concert. Great job @E_Schaaf and I hope to see more impressions from other friends soon!
     
  2. M3NTAL

    M3NTAL Friend

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    Can you tell us more about who/what/where the ESX900 is? Sounds like a modified TH900, but how do you acquire one?
     
  3. tommytakis

    tommytakis Gear Cycler SoCal Edition

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    @E_Schaaf specifically requested that I don't mention Fostex and title it ESX900. It's basically a heavily modded TH900. If you are interested, PM Evan and work out the details.

    Here's my recommendation for folks who want to try this. Right now, TH900 prices are ridiculous and I would not shell out that much for them, even used. Look for a used TH600,610, X00, or other Foster variant, and order the TH900 drivers separately from Full Compass. I don't want to go too much into details, but that should save you quite a bit of money.
     
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  4. M3NTAL

    M3NTAL Friend

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    Thank you - that's all I was curious about. Usually most things are on my radar and this one caught me off guard. Enjoy!
     
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  5. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: Upscale Audio; recovering HFM addict

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    I'm just going to go ahead and drop some notes from a PM conversation I'm currently having with @DEATHxMACHINE . He's sending me a stock 900 to mod and it'll be sent on a loaner tour. It may or may not have the stock red cups, that's up to him. I do have a supplier for alternative woods, but they're built to the same spec dimensions-wise as the stock cups so they should sound mostly the same. I am working on a potential tweak to lift the 3k recession a bit, but honestly my motivation to do so is simply to please some of my potential clients. Personally I like the dip.

    Most of my mods are detailed in this thread - https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...od-extravaganza-stream-of-consciousness.9452/ though there are always ongoing changes and some amount of variation depending on the sound profile I'm going for.

    Anyway, here's the note -

    "I should probably mention a few things about what to expect from these modded headphones. They will sound absolutely nothing like stock. It's important to note that they are absolutely not 'neutral' in the tonal sense, and most of my modding choices here were made to satisfy my own personal tastes. Kind of like the idea behind the LFF Enigmas or ZMF Verite (though these headphones sound quite different from those) - built to sound fun and tasteful, 'accuracy' be damned. These would not be a good choice as ones only headphone, though they should compliment most open headphones nicely.

    Regarding my tuning choices -

    I am very sensitive both to peaks in the treble and general treble quantity, so the response in the top end will never exceed the level at 1khz and is generally very smooth and peakless. It's a perpetually downsloping headphone (though I can tip the balance to be more flat by request like I did for Tommy). By some definitions this is a 'dark' sounding tonal response. I listen to quite a bit of modern and commercial music (often mixed with super hot upper mids), so there's also a dip around the 3k area that 'simplifies' midrange texture just a little bit, though the ear can definitely acclimate to hearing this as more 'normal' with some brain burn-in. If you listen to a lot of flute music or solo piano melodies with lower harmonics in the 3k region, these headphones may disappoint. Everything else I've tried sounds great.

    Despite the conventionally dark tone, I've done modifications to improve airflow on the rear of the driver, with less damping immediately behind the primary venting than stock, and either zero or partial front damping depending on your preferences for the top-end. The effect of these changes is that you get an extremely open sense of dynamics, with tactility in the bottom end that I can almost guarantee bests any other headphone on the market. These things will put out 10hz with the right amp effortlessly.

    The dynamic slam and speed these drivers have make these headphones approach or achieve (I'll leave that up to you) a near-impossible proposition - a headphone that's somewhat tonally dark and thick, but also very fast and lively at the same time. It's a heavy, visceral, tactile sound, with a response that lets you turn up most music a bit more than some other headphones without fatigue.

    Staging and imaging aren't necessarily strengths with these given their closed nature, but they do scale quite a bit in these traits with a good front-end.

    Another interesting trait about these is that they're extremely sensitive and easy to drive - they give satisfactory performance by my standards even with something like Shanling M0 or ZX2. You could use them portably if you wanted. I have a sense that the venting tweaks may even lower impedance below the stock 25 ohms. I'm sure someone can take these measurements to see.

    Anyway, I just wanted to preface these things so you have an idea of what to expect. I can do a few tuning tweaks for your preferences and of course I'll send measurements and pictures during the modding process. In fact before the tour starts up I'll probably copy some of these notes to the thread."
     
  6. perogie

    perogie Acquaintance

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    Nice Review

    Interesting that you preferred it with your Starlett. When I started reading I assumed the BHA was going to be amp in the chain. The Starlet isnt known as a "slamming" amp so it says a lot about the nature of the drivers I guess.
     
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  7. tommytakis

    tommytakis Gear Cycler SoCal Edition

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    Yeah, I was surprised myself as well! I think because my Sonic Frontiers DAC is pretty damn slammy and ESX900 basically sounds ultra-dynamic on any source I throw at, so extra spaciousness, resolve, and a hint of wetness/reverb from the Starlett resulted in a unique experience that I quite like.
     
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  8. perogie

    perogie Acquaintance

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    Im glad you found a can to match the little bit of tube rolling you did!
     
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  9. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Oh trust me, give it another month or two and this fool will be cycling gear again.

    I did hear these briefly. They do kind of sound like a Verite Closed without the "ZMF-ness" of the Verite Closed. Aka these don't belt out cup reverb, don't have the Verite timbre, etc. I liked them quite a bit and wouldn't have changed a thing.
     
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  10. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: Upscale Audio; recovering HFM addict

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    To add to my comments above, I guess I should be even a bit more direct about why I like this kind of sound: in many ways these sound a lot like my speakers.

    My JBL L55's run a 14" woofer full range (they have a fairly smooth roll-off) with a simple cap coupled tweeter crossed at about 3khz (I run it on low 99% of the time). Paper woofers, paper tweeters. And I have dual 15" paper-driver subs crossed at 80hz with a slow rolloff. It stands to reason that there's probably a dip in my 2-channel system around where the tweeter kicks in, so my ears have become accustomed to hearing a small recession here as 'normal'. I don't hear any hollowness or poor transition between the mids and treble on my own pair, which has an even deeper 3k dip than Tommy's. The similarity of timbre and tone between these headphones and my speakers is uncanny.

    Oddly enough I kind of think of these as 'the BWC of headphones' as they share a lot of the same strengths - high sensitivity, excellent extension, immediate dynamic swings, and a sound that you can 'feel' as much as you can hear. Opening up the venting was a big part of getting that 'wide open' sound, but requires some creative cup stuffing and they become extremely picky about pad pairings. I've always been one to actually prefer the general experience and flexibility of headphone listening, so to me this project satisfied a need and desire to enjoy similar sound quality I have at home with some closed-back privacy and portable flexbility.

    To be quite honest I get more stupid grins on my face listening to them through the Super 7 than I do from my speaker setup half the time. Others may not like this sound, but I do. And I know I'm not the only closeted basshead around these parts.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2020
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  11. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Get out of the closet.

    I'm standing here on top of a mountain like Michael Bolton with my Universe Leather VC with the loki's bass shelf 30 degrees over.

    Wind in my chest hair through the suggestively opened top buttons on my shirt.

    It is glorious.
     
  12. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: Upscale Audio; recovering HFM addict

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    @Taverius hopefully the upcoming US tour will yield some comparative impressions vs Verite C. If there's ever a tour round Europe I would absolutely LOVE your impressions. I do have a few tweaks up my sleeve (for the diehard bassheads out there) that can yield up to +15dB at 30hz over the level at 1khz. With the latest tweaks my own pair are at about +6 to +10dB depending on pads. The great thing is that the bass boost isn't localized, so there's no real sense of bloat. On my more standard mod, it's just a perpetual downward slope from the sub all the way thru to about 500hz where it flattens out (you can see measures over in my mod thread / changelog).

    Tommy requested a slightly flatter response, though I am sending him some pads in the mail that will probably add about 3dB.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2020
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  13. tommytakis

    tommytakis Gear Cycler SoCal Edition

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    I was thinking of commissioning someone to do a detachable cable mod on my pair because I wanted to use lighter and shorter cables for portable use. I ended up just doing it myself, because I didn't want to part with them and would rather not risk shipping back and forth for such a one of a kind headphone.

    This was my first time doing this type of mod. I used 3.5mm connectors for versatility since a lot of headphones use this type of connectors. I had to drill with a bit that was slightly wider than the original hole for the 3.5mm to fit (maybe 1-2mm wider?) The tricky part is you need to disassemble basically everything, which was a major PITA, but I got through it somehow lol
    [​IMG]
    The part you need to watch out for is that once you drill the hole, you'll have to pierce through some of the holes with paper dampening on it. This actually changes the sound quite a bit. I first covered the area with micropore tape since it had similar acoustic properties, but holy shit this made the can bright and lean, I PANICKED. (Sorry @E_Schaaf for the late text LOL)

    Then took off the tape and stuffed this charcoal foam used for the rear damping for JAR650 around the connector andddd whew, crisis averted!, back to slammy whammy headphone.
    [​IMG]
    Looks pretty clean once I assembled everything together. I feel like doing the mod changed the sound a bit, but I'll live with it for a bit before I say anything more concrete.

    In hindsight, I wish I paid a bit extra for a version with detachable cable.

    The moral of the story is... spend a little extra for the detachable cable version so you don't end up going through the same troubles as me LOL Welp, there goes 4 hours of studying :/
     
  14. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    Liked, but but not enough gory OR pics. Or was this a conscious decision to preserve the internal IP?

    And which female 3.5mm connectors did you use? I'm planning on doing the same mod to my currently hard-wired HD800s.
     
  15. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Dibs on Tommy’s when he cycles through to the next thing!

    Coming out of the closet as an official bass head here.
     
  16. tommytakis

    tommytakis Gear Cycler SoCal Edition

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    haha sorry I definitely rushed the modding process because of time constraints. I can send you more pics in PM, but I rather keep this thread mainly for impressions

    Just some connectors with good reviews on Amazon:
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01CVGD4UI/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    @E_Schaaf actually has dibs if I ever list it but I'll put you on the waitlist!
     
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  17. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: Upscale Audio; recovering HFM addict

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    Whoever is interested - if you find a good deal on used D2000/D5000/D7000 TH610/TH600/THX00 or EMU Teak, I can make it happen and it probably won't be as expensive as you think. I do like the all-black build (aside from whatever cups) of the TH's though.

    Speaking of all black (high-gloss ebony):
    [​IMG]

    @gixxerwimp if you mean the internal mods, this thread should give you a general idea - https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...od-extravaganza-stream-of-consciousness.9452/
    Tommys has some different tweaks from the original mod thread (venting, materials, pads) simply because he wanted a different voicing than my own pair (and the deeper cups required some changes to get near the target I was aiming for). We exchanged dozens of messages and it took me two or three weeks of daily tweaks to get it up to my standards with a voicing he found agreeable. I am always exploring new materials and already some of the things I'd consider 'standard' have diverged from what's in the thread. But those general concepts should be more than enough to get started if you DIY.

    There's not really any 'secret IP' or anything like that - you could definitely do this yourself. The mods in the thread take about 4 hours of labor if you cut and place everything perfectly the first time. It's simply that even minor changes in some of the materials independently or together can cumulatively yield a very different result, so you may or may not hit a target like the one I'm aiming for. I've run through hundreds of materials configurations, cuts, etc. I've stripped every single screwhole on my TH900s just from opening and closing them countless times (sometimes this happens on custom jobs too, thankfully I have a slightly stepped-up screw that fits snugly and prevents stripping and leakage that I swap in once the mods are completed).

    By sending your headphones my way, you're just assured to get my recipe and my materials (and whatever labor is involved in any custom tuning requests which can mean re-opening them dozens of times, a bunch of measurements with every tweak, some hard-to-find pads, alternative wood cups if that's your thing). I'm a completely unapologetic perfectionist with these things - I will not be returning any headphones that come my way until they meet or exceed the performance of my own pair.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2020
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  18. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Doing some quick searches, not finding a ton of deals on any of those headphones currently. Sad.
     
  19. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: Upscale Audio; recovering HFM addict

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  20. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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