One of the fun things in reviewing – is it really fun? – is trying to work out what the product-specific acronyms that so frequently pop up actually mean. But with the Final Audio D8000 AFDS Open Planar Magnetic Headphones, the “AFDS” is quite well explained by the company. (Once, that is, you get past the slightly awkward ESL phrasing of this Japanese company.)
So, what is “AFDS”? Does it make a difference? And, most importantly, is a set of headphones – AFDS-equipped or not – worth the better part of five thousand dollars? (Spoiler: I think in this case they may well be.)
- Over ear, open backed, planar magnetic headphones
- Driver size not stated, spiral conductive trace
- AFDS = “Air Film Damping System”
- Aluminium magnesium alloy housing
- Impedance: 60 ohms
- Sensitivity: 98dB for 1mW
- Aluminium headphone stand included
- Headphone cables terminated with 3.5mm mono plugs at headphone end. They employ locking lugs. The connections aren’t compatible with standard 3.5mm plugs
- One 1.5 metre cable provided, terminated with 3.5mm plug, and one 3 metre cable provided, terminated with 6.35mm plug
- Weight: 523 grams
- Easily the best headphones I’ve ever used
- Price: $6,499
- Available from fine high fidelity outlets, and direct from here.
More on the Final Audio D8000 AFDS Open Planar Magnetic Headphones
Let’s dig in a little more to that Air Film Damping System. Final Audio says that the bass is limited in planar magnetic headphone designs (see here for some discussion of the underlying technology) by the diaphragm hitting the magnets on either side of it. The AFDS is intended to avoid that, allowing deeper bass. So, what is AFDS?
As far as I can work out, it’s that while these headphones are indeed open-backed models, the open backs are achieved with plates featuring many tiny perforations. These add some loading to the movements of the diaphragms, rather than allowing them to move completely freely.
Good idea? Maybe. Closed-back headphones might achieve a similar result. And the truth is, it had never crossed my mind that diaphragm/magnet clashing might be a thing until I read about it on the Final Audio website. I’ve certainly never experienced it, and I confess to playing music through headphones rather more loudly for longer periods than the ear-health authorities would recommend.
With planar magnetic headphones, the magnetic field-producing conductor is usually arranged in either a spiral coil or a snake pattern. The Final Audio D8000 headphones seem to employ the former.
The housings of the headphones are an aluminium magnesium alloy. The earcups are foam, covered by a soft material that felt very comfortable to my ears. The earcups had plenty of room to accommodate my ears without scrunching them up.
The yoke looks like it’s aluminium, but it’s more likely a springy stainless teel. The headband section is covered in what looks like leather. I found wearing these headphones nicely comfortable. I could leave them on for hours on end with no discomfort.
Two headphone cables are provided. Both were largely similar in construction, with loosely twisted cables for left and right, employing oxygen free copper. Unlike Final Audio’s Flagship A8000 in-ear monitors, the copper isn’t silver coated. Or, at least, Final Audio doesn’t mention that. The shorter one – 1.5 metres – has a 3.5mm plug on the end, while the longer one – 3 metres – employs a 6.35mm plug. At the headphone end, the cables split into two, with 3.5mm plugs for left and right. These are not compatible with other 3.5mm mono plugs, because they have a longer sleeve with a lug. You orientate this the correct way, push it in, then twist to lock the plug in place. That’s good for security, but may limit options for third-party replacements.
That said, the cables are heavy and certainly look well made. I couldn’t see them failing for many, many years.
Listening with the Final Audio D8000 AFDS headphones
I confess to taking way too long in writing this review. The main reason was once the review is done it’s time to pack up the device under review and send it back to the office. And I didn’t really want to do that.
Now, why might that be? Because the Final Audio D8000 AFDS headphones are probably best described as headphones without a weakness.
Well, let’s start in an unusual place: the 1979 Telarc digital recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. I know that I recommended it a while back for checking out the bass performance of components, but I rarely take my own advice and consequently don’t much listen to it. But since Final Audio says that the AFDS system is designed to help bass performance, why not give it go? I’d already listened to a few tracks from The Police, and the bass delivery was simply perfect. Indeed, there was a remarkable level of detail. Usually I perceive the kicks as more or less interchangeable, and likewise for similar notes on the bass guitar. But this time, listening with the D8000 headphones, each seemed to have its own unique character. I was hearing detail I hadn’t previously experienced. That may have been in part due to me paying more attention this time around, but I think that there was something special there.
And I’d also checked out the opening bars of the Telarc recording of Bach’s Passacaglia, and established that the bottom C was delivered with a rare power and fullness.
But I spun up the 1812 to check out the orchestral bass drum, which Telarc was particularly good at capturing. Since the whole recording is at a rather low level on this CD – that’s to leave headroom for the cannon blasts at the end – I had it turned up rather high on the iFi ZEN CAN (the music was mostly streaming from my server via a computer and a Topping E30 DAC). And the headphones delivered it in full and with great power. Wow. There was no apparent constraint to the delivery of this bass.
I’d been typing away for a while on this review after that, and accordingly wasn’t quite prepared for the cannon when they did arrive. Should I have turned down the level? Too late.
The cannon on this recording are interesting. I’ve noted before that they are actually clipped in the analogue domain. But I don’t think there was any clipping – nor any other kind of limitation – in the delivery by these headphones. They thumped and smashed out the full range of frequencies you’d expect, but there was no over-excursion stop.
After the 1812, the next track on the CD is Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien. Towards the end the orchestral bass drum comes in big during the climax. Everything was going on, yet all the instruments remained smooth and clean, and the bass drum was wonderfully powerful. But what surprised me was the easily discernible rumble of drum’s room reverberation, throughout that almost overloaded orchestral work, adding an additional layer of drama.
I’ll finish off by noting that there was a certain distance – a good distance, as though the instrumental sounds weren’t being pumped directly into my ears but were out in the room where they belong – time and again on all manner of music, often in the seemingly must unlikely places. From example, the guitars a couple of minutes into “Anticipating” by The Motels from their self-titled debut floated out there, slightly to the left of centre. And throughout the opening track of Marillion’s Script for a Jester’s Tear, there was that lovely, slightly distant delivery of the music.
Tonally – on absolutely everything I played – the delivery was superbly balanced. You will not find a splashy treble with these headphones. At times they even seemed slightly mellow, but then I’d again hear that everything was there. What mostly gave that impression was the cleanliness of the sound, the lack of harmonic distortion.
One, ahem, final word. I am puzzled. I have previously reviewed two sets of ear gear from Final Audio, both in-ear monitors. Both the Final Audio A8000 IEMs and the lower cost Final Audio B3 IEMs had a family resemblance in sound to each other, and not much to the D8000 headphones. All three offer a penetrating listen to the music, revealing all that’s there. All delivered a tangible sense of all the elements of the music. But what differed was their tonal balance. The IEMs are both quite bright while the D8000 headphones are clearly aimed at a balanced, realistic high-end loudspeaker sound. Why the different choices?
Whatever, I know which I’d prefer.
Coming back to the Final Audio D8000 headphones
Time for a little story. Sometimes one of the more difficult parts of reviewing gear is working out how to pack it all back into the packaging in which it came. And the packaging for these headphones is quite the doozy. Especially since I’d unpacked them something like eight weeks earlier and had little recollection of how they ought to fit. But I persevered and managed to solve the origami problem satisfactorily after about twenty minutes. I finalised the success with a 50mm wide strip of tape, sealing the outer, outer carton (yes, there are three layers of boxing!)
A while later I started playing with a newly-arrived streaming DAC about which I will be writing soon. I was checking out basic functionality. Would DLNA streaming work? Yes. AirPlay? Yes. Spotify Connect? Yes. The music I dialled in on the Spotify app on an iPhone was Arcade Fire’s astonishing debut album, Funeral. This is not anyone’s idea of a high-fidelity demo disc. It’s rough; its attractiveness residing in its power.
So I had the new streaming DAC plugged into the same iFi ZEN CAN, and had a set of $2000+ dynamic headphones planted on my head. And I was soon reminded why I normally listen to this album with loudspeakers, not headphones. The rawness is just too much. The sound is there, but underneath layers of irritating distortion, or so it seemed. I persevered with this as well for a while, but a nagging thought came to mind. I tried my best to ignore it. Then I rejected it. And then, finally, I succumbed. Perhaps I should try the Final Audio D8000 headphones. Even though I’d been through a real struggle only a few hours earlier in packing them up.
All the while telling myself that this would be a futile waste of time – yes, there’d be subtle differences, but the problem was all in the recording. Still, I unpacked the headphones again out of their three layers of boxing and their inner origami organiser – brought them over and plugged them into the iFi ZEN CAN. I had to bump its gain control up to the next level to match the more sensitive headphones I’d been using. And then I discovered that you can indeed listen to Funeral without it being buried under a layer of messy, overdone harmonic hash. Oh, these headphones certainly did not turn this album into a demo-worth high-fidelity sound. But the improvement in clarity, in being able to hear what was going on, was frankly pretty amazing.
The impedance curve for these headphones was a little bumpier than usual for planar magnetic headphones. That said, when fed with a signal (the level was 100mV RMS for 1kHz full scale since wave) via a 466-ohm inline resistance, the bumps weren’t big:
In open air the highest peak in the signal delivered via that load was +2.75dB at 74 hertz. With 5 ohms resistance (and virtually all decent headphone amps offer that or lower inline resistance) that would be less than 0.03dB. Even that was damped when the headphones were loaded by the fake head I use for these measurements to +1.5dB. There was another bump at 460 hertz that was pretty much the same loaded and unloaded at +2dB.
I figure these have something to do with Final Audio’s damping system. In any case, I wouldn’t even hesitate to use these headphones with a high output impedance headphone driver. Indeed, I did a little bit of listening via my 466-ohm load box and if anything that slight boost at 74 hertz was nice, just adding a little heft, admittedly to a sound that didn’t really need any heft added. The drone-like bass guitar towards the end of “School” on Supertramp’s Crime of the Century was, via the load box, slightly higher in level than strictly necessary. Switching quickly to listening without the load, I also realised that the bass sound via the load box had lost some control. While a touch louder, it was also looser, not held together as tightly as it was with a low-impedance headphone amp.
I did find myself advancing the volume level considerably higher than usual in normal listening.
And what about an iPhone?
The claimed 98dB for 1mW of input sensitivity seemed to be overstating things a little to me. I found myself using the third highest gain – there are four settings – on my iFi CAN ZEN headphone amplifier to have the volume control in the vicinity of fifty per cent.
Since the headphones have a 3.5mm cable included, how about portable devices? I plugged an Apple analogue earphone adaptor into the Lightning port of my iPhone 8 (I use an Android phone in real life, but I use an iPhone at a relatively consistent test bed.) It turned out that a very satisfying – by which I mean loud – level was deliverable from the debut Rage Against the Machine album, provided by TIDAL. That was with the volume level set to maximum.
I’m always a little uncomfortable with volume set to 100%. What if I’d like to go up a notch? Not possible. But I don’t think I’d want to with these headphones. The volume was very loud.
And the sound was very clean. For whatever reason, the Apple adaptor didn’t seem in the slightest stressed by this level, with the headphone delivering clean, music at this level, with no hint of change in its character or levels of distortion.
It’s almost needless to say, but with the higher output available from the Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 DAP, there was significantly more headroom.
I could carry on for a while with a bunch of superlatives, but I think the above speaks for itself. I was already entirely sold on the Final Audio D8000 AFDS headphones … and then I dug them out again for the Arcade Fire and became, well, almost a fanatic.