With the popularity of consumer headphones, getting the right set that is made for your type of use is key. Knowing what you need will make the search a lot simpler.
The TR Line
Fostex released the TR line of headphones at the NAM show in 2016. The line consists of three versions of the same headphones and each of the three models come in both 80 or 250 omhs versions. All are dynamic headphones and weigh around 300 grams. The TR-70 have an open back housing and the TR-80 are closed back. Lastly, the focus of this review, the TR-90 are what they are calling semi-open. All three are already shipping and cost $250.
OHMS 80 or 250?
Since all three options come in either 80 or 250 ohms, we feel it necessary to explain what ohm load means and how it will affect your purchasing decision. The best way to choose is based on your useage. If you plan on using the headphones with your smart phone and with your home stereo, then the 80 ohm version would be best. With lower impedance — 80 ohms — they are louder when used with low impedance devices. The vast majority of headphones on the market and devices you might chose to listen to them with have low impedance.
When best quality is required, choosing high-impedance headphones will give the sound a more transparent and clear quality, with better bass definition and a listening environment that feels more spacious. The drawback for high-impedance headphones is that they are quieter than most, so they usually require a preamp to reach the same volume. The combination of a headphone preamp and a high-impedance headphone will give the highest fidelity and transparency. Keep this in mind, as it is an added cost. Having a choice in ohm load is a nice feature that Fostex gives you as a buyer.
Housing Designs: Open, Semi-Open or Closed?
The next choice that Fostex gives you is in housing design. All three, the TR-70, 80 and 90 cost the same and have the same driver — they differ only in housing design.
Open headphones don’t encapsulate the driver to isolate it from the world, rather they are open-back drivers. With open headphones, the environment — your office, classroom, coffeeshop etc. — is audible, but they will give a more open feel to the listening experience. The drawback is found in their strength; you can now hear the environment, so it can be a distraction from listening if you’re in a noisy setting.
Closed headphones isolate the driver from the outside world, encasing your ears in a closed space. This will increase lower frequencies because they’re encapsulated. This can be good when you are in a noisy place and want isolation from it, but they won’t give as true a frequency response as an open back design would.
Fostex offers three options in a two-option category. The headphones are either isolated from the world, or they are not. That means they are either open or closed. The hybrid option Fostex offers with the semi-open, or sometimes called semi-closed, TR-90 is closer to the experience of open headphones than closed.
It’s all about your listening environment. If you’re in a quiet environment, like an editing suite, where isolation from the outside world isn’t needed, an open housing design might be for you. However if you’re using them for monitoring in the field, you should consider a closed housing design. Semi-closed isn’t always the best of both worlds, but it can be. In the semi-closed category, it’s best to test them for yourself to gather if they’ll fit your needs. Its an easier task to choose open over closed and visa versa than it is to choose semi-open from specs alone.
The size of the driver in your headphones matters. The larger the driver, the better ability it has to reproduce low-end frequencies. However the reverse is also true. Because of the larger size, a large driver has a harder time reproducing high frequencies.
The drivers in the TR-90 sound great; they’re 40mm and do a good job for both high and low frequencies. The specs tout a frequency response of 5Hz – 35kHz. Surely this was tested by a machine, because a typical human ear has a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz. We tested the frequency response subjectively — everyone's hearing ability is different depending on genetics and hearing damage — and we were able to affirm a frequency response of 20Hz to 18kHz. To put that in perspective, a pair of Apple iPhone ear buds performed 30Hz to 16kHz in the same test. That might not seem like much, but it makes a difference when wanting true reference.
What’s in the box?
Fostex tries to cover a range of customers with its accessories that come with each set of earphones. You get 2 choices of detachable cable, both straight and coiled. Because of this, the coiled cable is seemingly shorter, although their actual length of both cables is the same. They also come with two sets of ear pads with different thicknesses: regular — what you’d typically find on most headphones — and thick.
The thick pads are almost double the thickness of the regular pads. They aren’t difficult to change, but we suspect that too many exchanges and you will be adding unwanted wear to them. We prefered the thick pads. Because of this, we’ll put away the regular ones and wait for the thick ones to wear out, giving us more life to our set. We would also use this same tactic with the cord, as cords are also easily worn out as well.
Style and Fit
All three options in the TR line look great. We wouldn’t go as far as to say they’re fashionable, but we think that’s a positive, since production function should trump form. The earpieces don’t rotate, and the whole set doesn’t collapse to a smaller size — things to consider for comfort, transport and storage.
Adjustment for most head sizes easy and they look like they are built tough, so we assume they will last. However, we didn’t perform a break test. We suspect the TR-90 won’t fit every head; what headphones do? Depending on your anatomy, a full over ear seal might not be possible. As well, if you wear glasses, you could also experience a poor seal. Its best to try on a pair before buying, if you can.
Value in the Marketplace
The TR line fits well in its category and offerings in its price range. Another option to consider is the Beyerdynamic DT-250. They are closed back 250 ohm headphones, so they are better inline with the TR-80, but they are the same MSRP of $250. We would recommend that the best fit for production use would be a closed headphone design. For editing needs, an open design would better fit the use. In this case, it’s best to try them on before you buy, just in case fit isn’t ideal. Choosing headphones isn’t easy, but if you know how they’re going to be used, you’ll find the right fit. Overall, the Fostex TR-90’s aren’t cheap, but they are worth the cost.
- Large driver size
- Removable cable
- Comes with 2 sizes of ear pad
- Comes with 2 cords
- No two-axis rotation at headphone
- Not collapsable
We recommend the TR-90’s from Fostex. They sound great, are durably built and, when considering the whole TR line, there is a model for every use type.
Operation type: Semi-open
Impedance: 80 ohm / 250 ohm
Sensitivity: 90dB / 92dB (at 1kHz, 1mW)
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 35kHz
Maximum Input Power: 100mW
Weight: 302g / 308g
Cable: Detachable 1/4” Stereo Phone (3m) Straight & Coiledw
Ear Pads: Normal Type & Thick Type
Accessories: Carrying Bag, 1/4” to 3.5mm plug adapter
Chris Monlux has a beard for two reasons: 1) It covers up his face. 2) He doesn’t like to shave. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.