Abyss AB-1266 planar magnetic headphones

Equipment report
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Headphones
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Abyss Headphones AB-1266
Abyss AB-1266 planar magnetic headphones

Unlike some top-tier ‘phones, which can require a good amount of run-in time before sounding their best, the AB-1266 sounded terrific straight out of the box (it might get even better over time, but it’s so good from the outset that I think most listeners will immediately be pleased and impressed). For my listening tests, I drove the AB-1266s primarily with two headphone amplifiers: the excellent AURALiC TAURUS MkII (reviewed in Hi-Fi Plus 105) and the spectacular new Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold (Hi-Fi Plus review pending). I used both my reference Rega Isis CD player/DAC and an AURALiC VEGA digital audio processor (DAC) as primary source components.

From the start it was apparent that the Abyss AB-1266, much like the Stax SR-009, is an exceedingly revealing transducer that is highly transparent to associated source components. However, unlike the Stax, which in my experience can be finicky about amplifier choices, the AB-1266 seems willing to make the most of whatever (high-quality) amplifier you have on hand. True, the AB-1266 will quickly show you why super headphone amps such as Cavalli’s Liquid Gold are worth the price of admission, but at the same time the AB-1266 will give a good account of itself when driven by lesser amps. I don’t mean to suggest the AB-1266 is in any way soft-sounding or ‘forgiving’ because, in truth, it’s not; it’s just that the Abyss appears to be a moderately low-sensitivity but otherwise straightforward (non-reactive) load to drive. This amp-friendly quality is one area where I think the AB-1266 is clearly superior to Stax’ SR-009

Can the AB-1266 equal or surpass the resolving power of the mighty SR-009? That question is almost too close to call and I must admit that when I first heard the Abyss my thought was that the Stax might still enjoy a very narrow edge in terms of absolute transparency. Over time, however, my opinion has shifted in that the Abyss effectively sheds light on what may be a very, very subtle colouration in the Stax (specifically, a tendency for the Stax to exhibit an extremely slight touch of midrange forwardness, roughly in the 4kHz region). While this characteristic makes the Stax sound consistently exciting and ‘transparent,’ it may nevertheless be a colouration (albeit a livable and potentially euphonic one). By contrast, the Abyss seems no less detailed than the Stax, yet it is arguably the more neutral and thus more chameleon-like performer. What is the ‘sound’ of the Abyss? Well, if you spend enough time listening through these ‘phones you may conclude that their sound is neither more nor less than an amazingly accurate mirror to the sound of the recordings in play. Put on a dark, powerful, brooding, metal-inflected rock recording (e.g., ‘Dogman’ from King’s X) and the Abyss will sound dark, powerful, and brooding—almost overpoweringly so. But play a delicate, subtle, sonorous, and polished string quartet (e.g., the Cypress Quartet’s recording of the late Beethoven String Quartets) and you’ll hear a performance that is as gracious, delicate, and elegantly refined as high tea served in the company of landed gentry. On and on this pattern goes, with the Abyss exploring in astonishing depth and detail the sound of each of the recordings with which it is fed.