Stereocheck Reviews:

Fostex T50RP MK3: Classic headphones that still deliver

Fostex, established in 1948 in Japan, is renowned for its expertise in manufacturing high-quality headphones, microphones, and speakers. Initially, the company’s ambitions were modest, with a...

Fostex T50RPMK3
Fostex T50RPMK3
Fostex T50RPMK3
8.5

Fostex, established in 1948 in Japan, is renowned for its expertise in manufacturing high-quality headphones, microphones, and speakers. Initially, the company’s ambitions were modest, with a focus strictly on catering to the domestic market; international expansion was not part of their early strategy. However, the exceptional quality and growing demand for Fostex products eventually propelled the company onto the global stage, where it has since secured a commendable position. Fostex’s success is a testament to its commitment to crafting superior audio equipment that embodies the company’s vision of excellence in sound.

In this review, I’ll be taking a closer look at the professional headphones from the RP series, a line that Fostex has been refining and perfecting over more than three decades. The focus of our review is the third-generation model, the Fostex T50RP mk3.

These headphones utilize a planar magnetic driver technology, positioning them as a noteworthy option within the market, particularly when you consider their competitive pricing. Our exploration of these headphones begins, as it often does, with an examination of their packaging, setting the stage for a detailed review of what sets the Fostex T50RP mk3 apart.

Unpacking and packaging

The packaging of the Fostex T50RP mk3 headphones is eye-catching in its simplicity, crafted from standard cardboard without any pretense of luxury. The box’s design features a clean, white and gray color scheme, prominently displaying an image of the headphones themselves. Emblazoned across the top is the Fostex brand name, signaling the quality and heritage behind the product. On one side, there’s a note highlighting the headphones’ semi-open nature and their sound signature, described as “flat & clear” for an even and pristine audio experience. The impedance, marked at 50 Ohms, is also noted, underscoring the technical specifications that audiophiles might look for. The model name is clearly indicated below, marking this product as the third iteration in the lineage of these headphones, hinting at a history of gradual improvements and refinements.

Delivery set:

  • the Fostex T50RP mk3 headphones themselves
  • 1.2 m cable is symmetrical, i.e. on both sides 3.5 mm Jack, can be connected to headphones from either side
  • cable 3 m, 6.3 mm – 3.5 mm
  • instruction manual and warranty card

 

Design and features

The design of the Fostex T50RP mk3 headphones strikes a harmonious balance with its semi-open architecture, adeptly combining the best elements of both closed and open designs. This hybrid approach yields several benefits: the headphones manage to limit sound leakage more effectively than their fully open counterparts, while still offering a semblance of the expansive soundstage that open-back designs are celebrated for. From the closed design, these headphones inherit a density and focus in sound waves, particularly noticeable in the lower frequency (LF) range, providing a more concentrated listening experience.

However, this design comes with its own set of trade-offs. The soundstage, while impressive, doesn’t quite reach the expansiveness found in fully open models. Additionally, external sounds can still permeate the listening space, suggesting that these headphones might not be the best choice for activities requiring complete acoustic isolation, such as vocal recording sessions.

When it comes to the construction and materials of the headphones, the design objectives were clear: to create a lightweight structure conducive to prolonged periods of music enjoyment, without compromising on durability or comfort. This is especially important considering the headphones’ intended use in both studio and home settings. To achieve this, the primary material used for the headphone chassis is plastic, including the cups and the bracket fasteners. The size adjustment mechanism operates via aluminum guide rails, allowing the ear cups to slide for a custom fit. Although this adjustment mechanism does not click into fixed positions, it is designed to be sufficiently tight, minimizing the risk of unintended changes in fit during movement or use.

The Fostex T50RP mk3 headphones feature distinctive bright orange, cloth-wrapped cables that extend from the headphones to connect the drivers. Users should handle these cables with care to avoid any potential damage. This design choice is reminiscent of Bayerdynamic headphones, which utilize a similar approach. Despite the uniqueness of this design, it appears that most users do not encounter issues with the cable system.

On the lower part of each ear cup, ventilation holes are strategically placed to allow for air passage, enhancing the acoustic performance without compromising the semi-open design’s benefits. These holes are thoughtfully concealed to maintain the headphones’ sleek appearance. Additionally, each cup is marked with “L” and “R” indicators at the bottom, making it straightforward to ensure proper orientation when putting on the headphones.

A particularly innovative feature is the placement of the 3.5 mm cable connector on the left earpiece. Unconventionally positioned on the front side of the cup, this design choice is both unique and functional. The headphone employs a proprietary angled connector with a locking mechanism for secure attachment. To connect, the plug is inserted sideways, aligning with the grooves, and then slid downwards to lock into place. This ensures that the cable is oriented correctly to the right, minimizing the risk of improper connection or interference with the user’s movement.

The comfort and material quality of the Fostex T50RP mk3 headphones are noteworthy, featuring ear cushions and a headband crafted from eco-leather, with a soft, foam-like substance inside for added comfort. While the headband does not exert pressure on the top of the head, some users might find the ear cushions applying pressure at the sides. Should this occur, a simple adjustment of lowering the ear cups can help, slightly widening their placement to alleviate the pressure.

The depth and size of the ear pads cater to individual preferences; in my experience, they didn’t offer the depth some might expect, sitting almost on-ear rather than enclosing the ear entirely. Despite this, they did not cause discomfort during use. However, it’s important to note that because the ear cups press against the head with dense, non-perforated eco-leather, they may cause the ears to sweat over time. The fabric covering the ear cushions is dense, yet at certain angles, it’s possible to glimpse the driver beneath, though this does not seem to impact sound quality, maintaining the headphones’ open sound characteristic.

The quality of the cables supplied with the headphones also deserves attention. The included orange cable, measuring 1.2 meters, is symmetrically designed with 3.5 mm connectors at both ends, each equipped with its own locking mechanism for secure connection to the left ear cup. This cable is tactilely pleasing and flexible, making it suitable for use with portable devices. Additionally, there’s a 3-meter cable provided, transitioning from a 6.3 mm to a 3.5 mm connector, intended for stationary setups or studio use where extra length is essential. Although this longer cable feels simpler in terms of touch and appearance, it serves its purpose well, ensuring reliable connectivity for a variety of audio environments.

Sound

The Fostex T50RP mk3 headphones deliver a warmly tuned monitor performance, characterized by their smooth response without significant peaks and troughs. Upon wearing these headphones, one is pleasantly immersed in the music, drawn so deeply into the sonic landscape that it becomes hard to part with them. This level of engagement and enjoyment is notably impressive for headphones within this budget category, making them a standout choice for those seeking quality audio experiences without breaking the bank.

Though these headphones are marketed primarily as studio monitors, they are equally adept at delivering a highly enjoyable music listening experience. The bass frequencies are gently emphasized, providing a satisfying punch even when paired with brighter audio sources. The midrange is warm and expansive, although they might lack the absolute transparency found in open-back designs. Nevertheless, the instrument separation is commendable, and the audio feels rich and detailed. High frequencies are treated with care; they are pronounced yet remain smooth and detailed, bringing out the nuances in recordings without harshness, thanks to their well-managed linear irregularities.

Before diving deeper into the sound characteristics of the T50RP mk3 across various genres and settings, it’s important to highlight a potential consideration for some users. The headphones’ low sensitivity (92 dB) combined with an impedance of 50 Ohms means they require a significant amount of amplification to truly shine. With adequate power, the headphones’ performance scales impressively; the soundstage broadens, details become more pronounced, the mids more vibrant, and the bass gains depth and impact. However, not all portable devices may be capable of unlocking the full potential of these headphones, necessitating careful pairing with appropriate amplification to experience their full capabilities.

Pairing the Fostex T50RP mk3 headphones with the Shanling H5 amplifier demonstrates the importance of adequate power to unlock the headphones’ full sonic capabilities. Given the headphones’ need for substantial amplification, due to their low sensitivity and higher impedance, I found myself listening at a volume level of 70-75% to fully appreciate their detailed soundstage. This suggests that for optimal audio experience, one should consider using a robust portable amplifier like the Shanling H5 or, ideally, a dedicated stationary amplifier, especially since the headphones are designed to handle power inputs of up to 3000 mW.

The synergy between the Shanling H5 and the T50RP mk3 shifts the headphones’ sound signature towards a more V-shaped auditory experience. This pairing enhances the bass response, making it more pronounced and impactful, a delight for listeners who favor dynamic and driving low-end frequencies. However, this enhancement in the bass and treble regions can lead to a slight recession in the midrange, causing vocals and certain instruments to sound a bit recessed or “shouty.” Additionally, the treble can become somewhat overpowering on certain tracks, indicating that while the overall presentation is musically bright and leans towards warmth, the increase in V-shaped tuning might not suit every genre or listener’s preference. Adjusting the volume and possibly tweaking the equalizer settings, if available, could help balance the sound to one’s liking.

Frequencies:

Low Frequencies: The bass is robust and impactful, offering a comprehensive coverage of the low-frequency range. This full-bodied bass maintains its power and softness, making for an engaging listen without veering into bass-head territory. The delivery here is all about depth and impact, providing a solid foundation that adds drama and emotion to music.

Mid Frequencies: The midrange performance shows some variability, particularly with female vocals, which is where some issues may arise. While male vocals are rendered with clarity and warmth, female vocals can occasionally sound a bit strained or “shouty,” especially on tracks with higher pitches. This effect is not universally present but can be more pronounced on certain recordings. Instrument separation remains impressive, contributing to a broad soundstage. However, the precision in instrument positioning is somewhat less accurate compared to other aspects of its performance.

High Frequencies: The treble region is bright and lively, offering less definition compared to some competitors, like the FiiO K5 Pro ESS, yet still achieves excellent micro-contrast. At times, the highs can be overly abundant, but they contribute to the overall detail and texture of the music.

Overall, the combination of a punchy bass, slightly recessed female vocals, and detailed highs creates a sound signature that is surprisingly cohesive and enjoyable. Despite some of the challenges in the midrange, the overall listening experience remains very positive, making this pairing a solid choice for a wide variety of music genres. The Fostex T50RP mk3, with the right amplification, offers an engaging and pleasurable listening experience that many will find more than satisfactory.

Conclusion

At first glance, the Fostex T50RP mk3 headphones might not captivate with their aesthetic, build quality, or price point, subtly hinting that their audio capabilities might be just as unremarkable. However, the moment these headphones grace your ears, any initial skepticism is instantly dispelled. The audio quality leaps to the forefront, stirring emotions and captivating the listener to the point where taking them off becomes a reluctance. Though they are marketed primarily for studio use, I can assert with certainty that they are equally adept for music enjoyment, catering to a broad audience with their versatile sound profile.

The inclusion of two different cables within the package significantly enhances their utility, accommodating seamless integration with both portable and stationary audio setups, including studio environments equipped with sound cards. However, as previously noted, achieving the optimal audio experience from these headphones demands substantial amplification. Should you find the headphones exerting undue pressure, a simple adjustment to lower the ear cups via the headband may offer a more comfortable fit, ensuring nothing detracts from the immersive sound that the Fostex T50RP mk3 delivers.

Specifications

Acoustic parameters:

  • driver type: magnetoplanar (orthodynamic)
  • impedance: 50 ohms
  • sensitivity: 92 dB (at 1 kHz, 1 mW)
  • frequency range: 15 Hz – 35 kHz

Features:

  • replaceable cable, 2 cables included (1.2 meters and 3 meters)
  • Weight: 315 grams

 

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Fostex T50RPMK3
Fostex T50RP MK3
8.5