Abyss AB-1266 planar magnetic headphones

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

Apart from its intrinsic worth, the ability of the Abyss to retrieve very low-level details pays substantial dividends in terms of 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 between. 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 with the utmost precision. 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) your favourite recordings in full detail and with tonal colours 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 those musical truths that typically lie buried within our favourite recordings—truths that fall just 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 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 loudspeaker 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 at full song (as on Marcus Miller’s ‘M2’), or to a pipe organ (as in the ‘Pie Jesu’ section of the Rutter Requiem), or to powerful tympani and concert bass drums (as in the Hohvaness Mount St. Helens Symphony), 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 generate low frequency content that’s not actually present on the record (as some headphones frankly do).

In terms of dynamics, as with textures and timbres, the Abyss simply reflects what’s present in the recording, which can at times prove eye opening. As I listened to some tracks that I would have thought were a bit compressed or congested, the Abyss quickly showed me that the 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’, which presents a series of passages each more expansive (and at times more explosive) than the last. Where the Stax SR-009 does a very fine job with this track, the Abyss really sets it free and unleashes its full dynamic power, outperforming the excellent Stax in the process.

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