First Listen: Abyss AB-1266 Planar Magnetic Headphones

Abyss Headphones AB-1266
First Listen: Abyss AB-1266 Planar Magnetic Headphones

Realizing the potential at hand, Joe Skubinski set an extraordinarily ambitious goal for himself and for Abyss; namely, to produce the highest performance headphones ever made. The AB-1266 is the result.

Even a cursory glance at the headphone shows it is very different from designs that have gone before. For starters, the AB-1266 positions its drivers in a rigid machined metal frame that offers no provisions for the driver housings either to swivel or to tilt to accommodate different sizes or shapes of listeners’ heads. In fact, the only adjustment the headphone frame, per se, provides is a locking mechanism that allows the total width of the headphone frame to expand or contract over a range of about 5/8ths of an inch (give or take a bit).

Further, in lieu of tilt or swivel adjustments as found on most headphones, the Abyss instead provides detachable lambskin-covered ear pads that are deliberately asymmetrical in shape. These attach via magnets, and can be rotated and then locked in place via a set of six locating pins arrayed around the rim of the driver housing. The notion is that, through trial and error, users will be able to find ear pad positions that give a good combination of comfort and a workable seal around the wearer’s ears. Vertical headphone positioning adjustments, in turn, are handled by a padded leather headband that attaches to the headphone frame via a pair of beefy, ‘O’ ring-like elastic bands, which serve as a suspension system for the entire headphone.

To be perfectly honest, the very first time I saw an AB-1266 prototype about a year ago, my first thought was that Mr. Skubinski had surely lost his mind. I mean, the blocky, square-ish shape of the Abyss’ rigid frame made even Jecklin Floats look anatomically correct. In fact, I thought it looked like something only Frankenstein’s monster could love. What is more, I assumed the AB-1266’s rigid (albeit width-adjustable) frame would be about as comfortable as having your head clamped in a vise (again, reminiscent of the Jecklin Float ‘head pinch’). Finally, since the early prototype did not yet have Skubinki’s clever, detachable, precisely position-able ear pads, I couldn’t for the life of me see how the ‘phones would ever be able to accommodate different head sizes and shapes.

But guess what? I was dead wrong on all counts, because the AB-1266 is in fact amazingly comfortable to wear. First, the rigid, width-adjustable frame really can and does accommodate a broad range of head sizes. Second, the rigid frame also means that you and you alone get to determine exactly how much or how little side-pressure the pads exert on your head. Third, the independently position-able, asymmetrical ear pads really do enable the fit of the Abyss to be fine-tuned for a wide range of head shapes (though it may take a bit of experimentation to find your ideal fit). Finally, despite the fact that the AB-1266 is pretty heavy, that elastically suspended headband pad works like a charm and carries most of the weight of the headphone with surprising grace.