The ability of the Abyss to retrieve very low-level details also pays substantial dividends in the reproduction of spatial cues in the music. Unlike the left-blob-of-sound vs. right-blob-of sound presentation of some headphones, the Abyss allows soundfields to unfold on an extremely broad continuum stretching from the far left of the listener to the far right and hitting every point in be- tween. As a result, AB-1266 listeners can “read” the placement of musicians and instruments within the soundstage almost as if they had a floorplan of the recording venue detailed down to fractions of an inch. While no headphone, the Abyss included, can match the soundstaging characteristics of fine loudspeakers, the AB-1266 offers—in its headphonic way—a very satisfying alternative.
The Abyss is all about discovering (or rediscovering) favorite recordings in full detail and with tonal colors and dynamics rendered to near perfection. Over time, I found myself thinking, “I won’t really know how a recording sounds until I hear what the AB-1266 will do with it.” When listening to recordings made ten, twenty, or more years ago, for example, it occurred to me that in the Abyss I had a transducer far more accurate and revealing than any that would have been available to the producers or musicians when those records were first made. Part of why one might considering owning the Abyss headphones, then, would be to seek out musical truths that typically lie buried just beneath the surfaces of recordings—truths that fall outside the reach of most transducers, but that the AB-1266s can access with the greatest of ease.
Two other areas where, in my view, the AB-1266 unequivocally surpasses the Stax SR-009 (and all other top-tier headphones I have heard) would include bass performance, which is simply stupendous, and dynamics, which are incredibly expressive and have—for all practical purposes—virtually unlimited headroom. I have rarely if ever heard any transducer (whether a loud- speaker or a headphone) that could match the Abyss’ combination of low-frequency weight, power, extension, transient speed, and control. Whether you are listening to a Fender bass guitar in full song (as on Marcus Miller’s M2 [Telarc]), or to a pipe organ (as in the Pie Jesu section of the Rutter Requiem [Reference Recordings]), or to powerful tympani and concert bass drums (as in the Hohvaness Mount St. Helens Symphony [Telarc]), the low-end of the Abyss is powerful yet never overblown or overstated, controlled yet not overly tightly wound, and articulate without any loss of weight or warmth. In simple terms, it’s hard to imagine a better bass transducer, although “bass heads” should be aware that this headphone will never supply low-frequency content that’s not actually present on the record (no artificial bass lift, here).
In dynamics, as with textures and timbres, the Abyss simply reflects what’s present in the recording, which can prove eye-opening. As I listened to tracks that I might previously have thought were a bit compressed, the Abyss quickly showed me that sonic problems I encountered in the past were not the fault of the recordings (as I had supposed), but rather were limitations of the transducers I had been using. Through the Abyss there is the sense that the headphone has “taken the lid off” the music, allowing it to breathe and flow freely. A great example would be the Chicago Symphony Brass recording of Revueltas’ Sensemayá [CSO/Resound], which presents a series of passages each more expansive (and at times more explosive) than the last. Where the Stax SR-009 does a fine job with this track, the Abyss truly sets it free, unleashing its full dynamic power in the process.
Is the Abyss AB-1266 the finest headphone in the world? The Abyss is without a doubt the finest headphone I’ve yet heard—one that sets a standard against which fine top-tier headphones from the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific Rim must inevitably be judged. The AB-1266 is a stunning achievement—one made all the more impressive by the fact that it represents Abyss’ first-ever effort in the category. If you wish to hear what one of the greatest world- class headphones ever produced can do for you and your music, do give the remarkable AB-1266 a careful listen.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Circumaural planarmagnetic headphone
Frequency response: 5Hz–28kHz
Impedance: 46 ohms nominal (non-reactive)
Distortion: Less than 1%; less than 0.2% through the ears’ most sensitive range
Weight: 660 grams (without signal cables)
JPS Lab LLC/Abyss Headphones
7601 Seneca St.
East Aurora, NY 14052 USA