A high-end headphone from Japan wows the Audiophiliac

Final Audio Design's Pandora Hope VI is the rare full-size high-end headphone that really delivers the goods plugged into phones and portable music players!

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Final Audio Design's Pandora Hope VI headphones Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I've reviewed a number of high-end headphones on this blog, but the Final Audio Design Pandora Hope VI headphones looked, felt and sounded like nothing else. Most full-size, high-end headphones are more difficult to "drive" than your average Beats or Grado, so even with your phone's volume control maxed out high-end headphones may not play all that loud. Some barely eke out satisfying volume and don't really show their true potential until they're plugged into a home headphone amplifier.

The Pandora Hope VI headphones make no such demands, they can play loud with ease, and sounded phenomenal partnered with my iPod Classic. Resolution and clarity are tremendous, switching over to my Bowers & Wilkins P7 headphones was a bit of a letdown, the sound was closed-in and softer, and bass definition went south.

The Pandora Hope VI's stainless steel and ABS plastic ear cups house two drivers -- a 50mm dynamic driver, and a balanced armature tweeter -- like the type we see in some in-ear headphones. The Pandora is the first full-size, two-way headphone I've tested. Impedance is rated at just 8 ohms; most "low" impedance headphones are 32 ohm designs. Each Pandora Hope VI is hand-crafted in Japan.

Weighing 480 grams (16.3 ounces) it's a lot heavier than average; the Sennheiser HD 650 headphone weighs 260 grams (9.1 ounces). But unlike the HD 650 the Pandora Hope VI can sound amazing partnered with your phone or portable music player. It's a closed-back headphone and does a fair job isolating the wearer from external noise. Build quality is good, the Pandora Hope VI feels rugged enough to withstand a bit of rough handling. Then again, the headphone comes with a fur-lined storage box, so rough handling shouldn't be an issue! The fur feels downright luxurious, but don't worry, it's synthetic fur.

There's an intimacy to the sound that lets you hear the vocalists breathe, cymbal shimmer with greater fidelity, and deep bass never sounds thick or muddy. Soft-to-loud dynamic contrasts are viscerally felt, other headphones tap the energy levels down a few notches. Rosanne Cash's recent "The River & the Thread" album was positively vivid, the connection to the music feels stronger over the Pandora Hope VI headphones.

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The Pandora Hope VI headphones' cables have beautifully machined plugs Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I also trotted out a set of Philips Fidelio X1 headphones, they were more transparent than the P7s, but the Pandora Hope VI still outpaced the Fidelio X1 on clarity. As for comfort the Pandora Hope VI's considerable bulk was an issue for me, and the padded headband weighed heavily on my noggin. The Fidelio X1 was definitely the most comfortable of the three headphones. As always, comfort is highly subjective, so you might feel differently about the Pandora Hope VI's fit and feel.

As for sound quality on portable music players the Pandora Hope VI is awfully impressive. I was surprised that while it was brighter than the other headphones it never sounded harsh with reasonably well-recorded music. It's a closed-back design, but sounded spacious in ways that felt like an open-back headphone. The Kronos string quartet's recordings left no doubt that the Pandora Hope VI's high frequency detailing wasn't overdone or exaggerated, the strings' tonality was spot-on. Ty Segall's raucously fuzzed out "Twins" album was a blast, switching back to the mellower P7 sapped Segall's energy.

Just before I finished up I plugged the Pandora Hope VI into the Oppo HA-1 headphone amp, and heard a substantial gain in dynamic punch and transparency. So after investing in high-quality headphones you will occasionally use at home, consider adding a headphone amp, it will be worth it.

The Final Audio Design Pandora Hope VI sells for $699 in the US and £699 in the UK.

 

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