There's a reason that there is this overarching mythos that surrounds electrostatic headphones. Incredible clarity, unrivaled transient response, with absurdly low distortion and tremendous dynamic sensitivity. That's a whole lot of buzz words, and I recognize that; they were chosen very purposefully. These headphones live up to that hype, and surpass it in many ways, some that I didn't expect.
Having read much media about electrostatic headphones in general, and some about these in particular, I came in with some expectations that were met and some that were surpassed. I expected all of the above buzzwords - how could I not? Those are what reviewers tend to offer as the defining characteristics of this section of the market. However, there were other things that I expected. I expected thin, anemic bass, without much ability to satisfy my occasional bass-head cravings. I was wrong there. I expected a cloistered, congested soundstage, with great imaging and separation, but not much more than that. Wrong there too.
These are the things I want to get through over the course of this review, because I feel that these offer an extremely good bridge between the benefits of dynamic and planar drivers, and electrostatic drivers.
So let's get to it then. Sub-bass takes a hit in a big way, losing a lot of impact, but still maintaining some good rumble. I was surprised as the amount and quality of mid-bass, with there being good potential for some punchiness and great texture where called upon. The mids are absolutely the high point. Natural and detailed, with just the right sense for lushness without airing on the side of inaccuracy or soupiness. The highs reach very high, creating a tremendous sense of airiness and space in the sound signature.
The soundstage isn't massive, I'll admit that, but it isn't the two-dimensional stereo image that I expected when I walked into these headphones. Imaging and separation are as great as I would expect them to be, with each instrument and vocal line coming through as exactly distinct, while somehow simultaneously creating a cohesive, ensconcing mix of sound that just embodies musicality.
Songs used: Three Ralphs by DJ Shadow, Black Eunuch by Algiers, and Feels feat. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, & Big Sean by Calvin Harris
Here was the first surprise I encountered with these headphones. Sure, sub-bass is massively reduced, but mid-bass has pretty good presence. More than just presence, the texture and detail, beyond just impact, was impressive, and very amicable. Bass guitars, with any combination of pedals, come through with great fidelity, straight down to the sound of the pick striking the metal string. Electronic synthesizers fare exactly as well, with a very tactile and realistic feel, almost as if you could reach out and grab the instrumentalist by the hand. All this isn't to say that these are bass kings or that this range is the emphasis, as it certainly lies below the mids, but it is much more present than I expected it to be, and in much better quality. They do not compare to a great pair of dynamics, per se, but I just wanted to emphasize that the sound signature isn't empty or hollow, by any means. They lose a little bit of weight behind some impacts, but beyond that, they are very competent performers.
Key descriptors: recessed, detailed, and tactile
Songs used: Scarlet Town by Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, Cajon by Daniel Waples & Friends, and Mama's Gun by Glass Animals
The mids are the high point of this set of headphones, without a single doubt in my mind. The incredibly fast response of the electrostatic driver allows a tremendous sense of realism to this frequency range. I wouldn't go so far as to call it lush, per se, but it leans to that side, compared to thin, edgy, or anemic. Vocals particularly, of both genders, come through as though the singer is right in the room with you. The delicacy and caution that the speed of these drivers allow means that every single breath, every intake of air between notes is caught and conveyed nigh-perfectly. The same is true of instruments, with the strokes of guitars and mandolins being so realistic that when I close my eyes, I swear I could see Chris Thile plucking away. There is, to my ears, a slight peak in the upper mids that can make the upper-end of the piano's spectrum a little bit sharp, but with some tasteful volume control, I avoided that issue pretty easily. To give a more specific note to the detail that I found in these headphones, I actually noticed what I believe to be a production quirk in the track "Mama's Gun" from Glass Animal's sophomore album, How to Be a Human Being. Right in the beginning, in the right channel, there is a slight crinkling that was reproducible consistently enough for me to be sure that it is not just the headphones diaphragm responding oddly. It's extremely low in volume, but I had never heard it before, and appreciated that these were revealing more of a track to me than I had heard before.
Key descriptors: detailed, articulate, and realistic
Songs used: Down the Road by C2C, Ageispolis by Aphex Twin, and Goodnight Kiss by Ibrahim Maalouf
The treble is another high point of these headphones, and it supports the mids in much the same way that the treble in Venture Electronic's Monk+ earbuds did. It adds a great sense of air and space to all the music that I put through these. It extends very high without much apparent effort, and I didn't notice much peakiness to speak of. I encountered no sibilance whatsoever in my use, thankfully, and didn't come across any other unpleasantness of which to speak here. Overtones are presented with the right emphasis, such that timbres of individual instruments are not bastardized, which similarly helps the realism and naturalness that I referenced earlier. I oftentimes find myself, as a drummer, harping on the presentation of cymbals by many lower-end headphones, as they blur the attack and decay too much to seem truly realistic, but these did a great job there too.
Key descriptors: extended, airy, and detailed
Minutia and Miscellaneous
The leather on the ear-pads does seem like a longevity issue to me. I am aware that I got a used pair, so I do not fault King Sound directly for this, but the leather on my ear-pads was noticeably flaking, which could either be from lack of proper care on the original owner's part, or from overuse over time. Just something to note, though that should be taken with a grain of salt, as I can't account for where the theoretical fault lies. However, they are user replaceable, so at the very least, it is not a permanent issue.