Cascadia Audio sent me their Fostex T50RP Mk III modification: the Talos. As comfortable as pillows sitting around your ears, I think the sound matches their comfort, or close.
Fit and Form
I'm a big fan of the design of these headphones. They come across as palatable to a general consumer, while still standing out from the see of black closed-backs enough to be unique. This is in part the result of Fostex's own design choices, but the orange vinyl covering on the earcups and the logos placed in a few places around the headphone are certainly nice accents.
While on the topic of the earcups, I'd like to discuss the headphone-end connection. Many have disparaged Fostex for the locking connector that they use. I, personally, have no issue with it. Those that do are generally of the mindset that if the cable is yanked, it should release from the headphones so to not pull them enough, subjecting them to a fall to ground level. I have found that I'm careful (or maybe just sedentary) enough to not have this issue, so I can't fault either Fostex or Cascadia Audio for this connection (as I know that some modifications of this headphone have moved and changed the connector).
Two cables are included in the package. One is approximately 3 meter, terminating in a 1/4" TRS auxiliary connector, the other a 1 meter orange cable, with both ends terminating in an 1/8" TRS auxiliary connector with the locking connector at both ends. I question the inclusion of the latter cable (although this inclusion is on the part of Fostex, not Cascadia Audio), as these headphones have a fairly low, uniform impedance, but are very inefficient. Although I could get them to a listening level when powered from my phone, it was low, and at full tilt. However, to give credit to this cable, from my AK Junior, I got to a very comfortable level without switching to line-out.
Finally, the actual headphone. Speaking only to the modifications that Cascadia Audio has made, I'm very much a fan. The orange doesn't scream at you, but it is an emphasis that I am a fan of. The addition of a suspension band greatly improves comfort from just the spring-steel-wrapped-in-faux-leather. I had to streth them out a little bit to achieve a comfortable clamp, but once I did, I had no issue wearing them for hours at a time. In fact, it was a pleasure. The upgrade Brainwavz HM5 hybrid pads are, to me, ideal. The velour on the head, in conjunction with the leather body is comfortable and durable. They are the right softness to not simply disappear once on the head, but are not so stiff as to ruin a good hair day around the ears. The cups themselves have just the right amount of cam and tilt to accommodate, I'd imagine, any head-size and -shape. The adjustment mechanism for sliding had the right amount of hold so as to not slide around randomly, but doesn't require much effort to move once off the head.
I'd really like to give massive props to Blaine and the whole crew at Cascadia Audio for making this headphone not only a pleasure to listen to, but also a pleasure to just wear.
Now, the meat and potatoes of the headphone. Beyond just the comfort, Cascadia Audio has made modifications that, to my ear, take a sub-bass light and unrefined sound signature and reign it in to what is a very musical, and relatively technically competent headphone. I oftentimes found myself enjoying music that I was trying to analyze, more frequently than with many other headphones that I've heard and reviewed. I had to jump myself out of that mode, in order to, well, do my job.
The headphones have a slight V-shaped character to their sound signature, but not so much that the mids recess to the point of seeming distant, thankfully. There were occasional tracks where I felt that the vocals, particularly male, were slightly too far back in the mix, but those were significantly rarer than the reverse. The bass isn't necessary overpowering or over-present, but it is fulfilling, and has good slam and extension. The treble is surprisingly airy for a mainly closed design, although not fully. Again, it has good extension, and was very, very rarely sibilant, although there were one or two particularly treble-heavy and badly mastered tracks where I caught a hiss.
Although these do require significant amplification to reach their full potential, once they're there, they perform very well. The soundstage isn't particularly impressive, although they do have satisfactory depth and width, especially for their design. Imaging and separation are good, the headphones having deft ability to place instruments in more dense tracks and albums.
Songs used: XYZ by Tennyson, Hey Kids (Bumaye) by Run the Jewels, and America (feat. Black Thought, Chuck D, Big Lenbo, & No I.D.) by Logic
The bass from these headphones is emphasized, but not overly so. It has very good texture as a result of its planar drivers, but as a result of its semi-closed design, it isn't extremely precise. This isn't to say that its sloppy or flabby by any means, but it could benefit from a little bit of precision, with some faster passages getting smoothed over. Although technically, this is a detriment, I found that it contributed to the warm, musical sound that I believe Cascadia Audio was looking for, and it does help in that regard.
Key descriptors: fulfilling, rounded, and textured
Songs used: 1-800-273-8255 (feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid) by Logic, We Know the Way by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Seeds by palmlines
Interestingly, though slightly recessed, I feel that the mids are a high point for this headphone. Although they are slightly down in the mix, they retain all of the texture, detail, and lushness that I look for in a headphone, regardless of sound signature. While male vocals can sometimes fall back slightly, instruments retain their vividness and realness, which, accompanied by the imaging, makes for a very exciting listen. I am not a particularly heavy listener of math rock categorically, but these do a tremendous job rendering the complex and shifting rhythms present in the genre. I'd go so far as to say that they helped me appreciate the genre as a whole just a little bit more than I did already, as a drummer. Snares have great snap, toms carry weight, and guitars have just the right sparkle and punctuality to evoke a sense of life from the ones and zeroes that are sent through my USB cable.
Key descriptors: lush, detailed, and textured
Songs used: 22 (OVER S∞∞N) by Bon Iver, Ageispolis by Aphex Twin, and Gay Bar by Electric Six
The treble is airy and punctual. It doesn't scream at the listener, thankfully, and is very rarely sibilant. There is, however, a bit of noticeable grain in more electronic music, but not so much so that it loses a sense of realism or faithfulness to the recording. In instrumental recordings, however, I found that the headphone has little issue realistically rendering the higher frequencies, and for a semi-closed design, I appreciated the detail and airiness that they achieved while mainly avoiding sibilance.
Key descriptors: detailed, extended, and light
Minutia and Miscellaneous
This review was fairly easy for me to write, as I found myself left with very few significant qualms. I would like to reiterate that, for those who find themselves frequently tearing headphones off of their heads, the connector used on these headphones may be an issue. However, this isn't the fault of Cascadia Audio as, at this price point, I would find it unrealistic to replace and move the connector/s.
As I hope was communicated through this review, I am a big fan of these headphones. Although I do find myself looking for something more analytical on occasion, as a strictly musical pair of headphones, these do a tremendous and very competent job, especially at this price point. Although an amplifier is a de facto necessity, when paired with a powerful, low distortion, solid-state amp, these perform well above their price point, with their comfort being a magnitudinal bonus.
These headphones were provided to me for review by Cascadia Audio. I am not being paid by anyone to write this review, to endorse the product reviewed, or for the content that I put in the review.
These headphones were powered by an Astell&Kern AK Junior, a Google Pixel, a Neurochrome HP-1, an iFi Pro iCan, and by whatever soundcard is in the motherboard of my computer.
I have had these headphones for about a two and a half weeks, and I have put about 50 hours of analytical listening through them during that period.