Review: Fostex TH610 + HP-A4BL

Firstly I would like to thank SCV Distribution for the loan of these products, I always try to write honest reviews. The units both received over 50hrs of burn-in, with no real differences noted.

Gear Used: HP Pavillion Laptop > HP-A4BL > TH-610 (Balanced Cable)



Tech Specs:


Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality:
The TH-610 come in quite a large box, with a picture of the headphones on the outside, on the back is information about the headphones. The headphones are held in a matte black card box inside, with the accessories in a back along with the cable. The box is on the larger size, but looks great and is very sturdy and would work well for storing the headphones in as well as protecting them well during shipping.
The HP-A4BL comes in a slimmer box with a picture of the device on the front again, and info on the back. The HP-A4BL is held within a foam insert, with accessories to the side. Again all very well packaged and neat, as well as protecting the unit from shipping damage.

Accessory wise, with the headphones you get a soft carry bag and that is it, but to be honest they don’t need any other accessories. With the HP-A4BL you get 4 adhesive rubber feet, a USB cable and the power supply, again the minimum required to get it up and running, and again nothing else is needed. No issues here.



The TH-610 are a beautifully made headphone, the walnut cups are perfectly finished and look fantastic, the headband could do with a bit more padding but they are still not uncomfortable, the slider mechanism is sturdy. The earpads are the perfect depth and shape, for my ears anyway, the cable is sheathed in fabric and is detachable. Overall these headphones are well built, but also look incredible.
The HP-A4BL is a very understated looking device, you have the inputs on the back, along with the optical and RCA outputs. On the front you have the headphone outputs, a number of buttons and the volume control. The device is all black and well finished with a glossy front, brushed metal sides and a matte black top. Small but sturdy in my opinion.

Features of the HP-A4BL:
The HP-A4BL only has digital inputs (Optical and USB), output wise it will convert USB to Optical or use the Optical out as a through if you are using it with Optical in. It also has a pair of RCA outputs for hooking up to an external amp.
You have a a 4-pin balanced XLR output along with a 6.3mm headphone output, on the front the volume knob acts as the power switch and there are a few buttons:
Input select: Optical or USB
Filter: 1 or 2
Gain: Lo and Hi
Output Select: Headphone or RCA

Along the top of the front panel are LED indicators, which indicate the power is on, and also the bit rate of the music playing.



Comfort, Isolation and Cable Noise:
The TH-610 are very comfortable, the headband does not have the most padding, but distributes the pressure evenly. They are not too heavy and the pads are plush and overall I find them comfortable for sessions of a couple of hours without a break.

Isolation is good but these are not built for portable use, the closed back does help block out noise though and also prevent leakage, so these would be good for late night listening or situations where you don’t want to disturb people nearby.

Cable noise is present, but not bad.  But as these are mainly a home listening headphone, I doubt this would ever be an issue.

Sound:

TH-610:
Lows: The lows on these are full but not as full as some reviews will make you believe. I think they have excellent body and really come out when asked for but for the most part they are well controlled and never overwhelming playing with most genres well, with only a slight hint of sluggishness during the fastest of rock. The sub-bass comes out on tracks by Massive Attack but doesn’t drown out the rest of the spectrum, just keeps the bass line in focus.

Mids: The mids show real insight in to the track, track dependent they can be up front with excellent detail retrieval. Ed Sheeran’s vocals on his album X sound very natural and airy with excellent articulation, there is a slight hint of warmth which works really well on these without taking away any detail. The slight hint of warmth in the mids makes these very easy to listen to, there is no sibilance to be detected.  I find them to work best with well recorded softer folk/acoustic music where the layering really excels.

Highs: The highs are well placed and these headphones are far from being bright. They are also not dull, with the highs having just the right amount of impact, extension and presence. Where they really do well is in the placement of the highs, the spaciousness is incredible for a closed headphone. I find the highs to be very detailed, with every cymbal tap being easily distinguished and also the precision of the placement means you can hear exactly where the instrument was placed.

Soundstage: The soundstage is huge, on par with many open back headphones. The layering and width is really impressive and these never sound congested.

HP-A4BL:
The HP-A4BL fits seamlessly into most USB based systems, I have been using it as a pure DAC feeding my desktop speakers and it is a lively and well balanced DAC, with plenty of detail and a very clear and balanced sound.
Using it as a DAC/Amp is retains the up front and balanced sound and is relatively neutral in sound signature and works well with a lot of headphones. I did find the pairing of the TH-610 with balanced cable and the HP-A4BL to be perfect, whereas the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home sounded a little cold and clinical with the HP-A4BL.
Sound is about synergy and the TH-610 and HP-A4BL are the perfect pairing for a non fatiguing, enjoyable listening system.


Comparison VS Beyerdynamic Amiron Home: Well it’s all about synergy, out of the HP-A4BL I much prefer the TH-610, out of my Feliks Audio Espressivo I prefer the Amiron Home. The Amiron can be a little bright out of a neutral solid state amp, but still retains some warmth, I find them to sound thinner overall but with better detail. Out of the tube amp they have a more laid back sound and also sound fuller.
The TH-610 are more direct and fun to listen to, they are more engaging and up front. So it really depends on the system you have.

Conclusion: The TH-610 are well worth considering if you like a wide soundstage and a balanced but fun sounding headphone. They really work well with most genres, and the extra warmth makes them a pleasure to listen to for prolonged sessions.
The HP-A4BL is a cracking little device, it is fairly flat sounding, but can feed an external amp along with having a balanced output. If you are looking for an all in one desktop DAC/Amp that plays well with most headphones, look here.
As an all in one system, I highly recommend this setup, its fun but without compromising detail, musical yet with good tonality.

Sound Perfection Rating for the TH-610 – 8/10
Sound Perfection Rating for the HP-A4BL – 8/10
Sound Perfection Rating for the combo – 9/10


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