JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Planar Magnetic Headphones Page 2


Here you can see the gear in my listening tests...and my ever-growing bald spot. :(

Listening Test Equipment
At $5495, the Abyss AB-1266 clearly intends to play among the big boys. My initial listening tests did indicate these cans were indeed of this caliber, so I assembled what I thought would be a very tough group of systems for comparison.

The front-end feeding all the amp/headphone systems was a MacBook using Amarra software. The USB output was connected to an Ayre Acoustics QB9 DAC (I love this DAC!). Both balanced and unbalanced connections were used depending on the amps, interconnects used were Cardas Clear.

Sennheiser's HD 800 is a long-time favorite of mine, but finding an appropriate amp for it has always eluded me. After reading some very good impressions from people who's opinions I trust, I asked Doug Savitsky of ECP Audio for a loan of his L-2 amp. Holy guacamole! I've never heard my modified HD 800s sound better. Truly a fabulous pairing that retains all the speed of the HD 800 and significantly rids it of it's sterile edge. Nate Maher's InnerFidelity review of the L-2 is here. My review of the HD 800 is here, see this article for HD 800 modification instructions.

Another player in this category is the Audeze LCD-3 planar magnetic headphone, I chose to pair it with the HiFiMAN EF-6—a headphone amp designed with specifically with planar magnetic headphones in mind. Skylab's InnerFidelity review of this amp can be found here. My review of the LCD-3 is here.

No comparison of top-of-the-line headphones would be complete without including the Stax SR-009 paired with the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii electrostatic headphone amp. Big thanks to Justin Wilson at HeadAmp for shipping me his SR-009 for the tests; and to my buddy Stretch for the on-going loan of his Blue Hawaii. You can read more about my impressions of this pairing here and here.

Last, taking Joe Skubinsky's recommendation, I paired the Abyss AB-1266 with a Burson Conductor. This was a bit of a last-minute addition as I was going to use the EF-6 paired with the Abyss, but Joe preferred the Conductor. He called The Cable Company who sent their loaner amp over-night. Thank you so much, it's a lovely pairing. I encourage readers interested in sampling amps and headphones to participate in The Cable Company's Headphone Lending Library program.

Listening to the Abyss AB-1266
Man, these are the fastest sounding headphones I've heard. While nimble in the extreme, they also have a very good sense of dynamics, and solid bass punch. The music just bounces along; this is a fun, fun, fun headphone. Imaging was likewise pretty spectacular, bested only by the HD 800. In a number of instances when comparing it to the other headphones, I heard areas where the other headphone might be technically superior, but I often found greater pleasure in the sound of the AB-1266. This was particularly true of music which had relatively simple instrumentation that covered the entire audio spectrum and was dynamic. I suppose that may be the nature of world-class headphones: At some point the measurements and technicalities have to be thrown out the window; what really matters is the listening experience.

There were two areas where I felt the AB-1266 fell a little flat however. I heard a modest mid-range and low treble coloration, which wasn't very apparent listening to the headphone alone but was readily heard when switching between the AB-1266 and the HD 800 and SR-009. The other two had a more neutral response to my ears, and switching to the AB-1266, I found a mildy hollow sounding mid-range, and a somewhat recessed low treble. (~2-5kHz). This fault was quite modest in listening though, and I felt it integrated quite nicely with the overall sonic character of the headphones.

The second fault I found much more problematic. High frequency information was lightning quick and articulate, but was accompanied by a haze of low level, high frequency noise in the 10kHz area. Cymbals, brushes on snare, the breathiness of wind over a flute emboucher hole were markedly unnatural when compared with the three competitors. This character, coupled with the somewhat recessed lower treble tended to significantly raise the perceived pitch of some treble material. For example, brushes on a snare which sounded organic and mellow on the other cans, would sound more metallic on the Abyss AB-1266. One recording I use for evaluations is a slow shuffle where the drummer alternates brush strokes on the snare and high-hat closes, with the AB-1266 I simply couldn't tell them apart. On simple arrangements it did at times add a sense of sparkle to the treble that was pleasing, but once the treble became crowded with information it tended to create a blur of low-level white noise surrounding the details.

InnerFidelity readers are likely well aware that I hate harsh or overly bright headphones, but I have to say the treble problems with the Abyss AB-1266 did not overly damage my listening pleasure. Yes, I could always hear it if I chose to, but for the most part if I just relaxed and enjoyed the music it receded as a problem and tended to add some tinkly fun to the listening. Again, the exception was complex highs, I would not recommend these cans for crunchy electric guitars; big brass bands; or an accordion, banjo, bagpipe, kazoo ensemble.

Compared directly to the other cans, the SR-009 sounded a bit sterile and amazingly not as fast as the AB-1266. The bass on the Abyss was clearly more potent. The LCD-3 had slightly better bass response and neutrality than the AB-1266, but was somewhat muffled and withdrawn comparison. The HD 800 is the best imaging headphone I've heard, pin-point in it's precision. The Abyss had about the same sense of spaciousness, in fact, maybe more so given it's sparkly character, but it lacked the precise imaging of the HD 800. It fairly easily bested the HD 800 in bass response.

Despite it's odd looks and weight, I found the JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 a surprisingly comfortable headphone. The included accessories are generous and top-notch. The sound is spectacularly fast with very good bass heft and control, and a gentle U-shaped response from mid-bass to upper-mids makes it a wonderfully fun listen. It's a little laid back in the presence region, and does have some mid-to-upper treble low-level noise that interferes with music containing complex treble information.

I think these are marvelous cans for small ensemble acoustic chamber, jazz, and world music, and would recommend them to avid headphone audiophiles with very healthy wallets to round out a world-class collection of headphones with something quite unusual and fun. However, the very high price and problems with treble response will keep them off the Wall of Fame.

Lastly, as an aside, my appreciation of the Sennheiser HD 800 stepped up a significant notch when driven by the ECP Audio L-2 amplifier. I heartily recommend it to those who are struggling to to find listening joy with these sometimes too sterile cans.


JPS Labs home page and Abyss AB-1266 product page.
Head-Fi Threads here and here.

JPS Labs
7601 Seneca St.
East Aurora, NY 14052