Abyss Diana, an extreme performance headphone for extreme audiophiles

Abyss set a high standard with its first headphone, the AB-1266. Now with Diana, the company offers its first "lifestyle" headphone.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
4 min read

The Abyss Diana headphone is a radical performer, but given the company's history that was to be expected. The original Abyss, the AB-1266, hit me like a ton of bricks when I first heard it in 2013, and it remains the best-sounding headphone I've heard. It delivers the biggest, out-of-my-head soundstage, the deepest, best defined bass, and hyper transparency. When you consider that Abyss was a brand-new headphone company in 2013 and its first headphone was right up with the likes of AKG, Audeze, Beyerdynamic, Grado, Hifiman and Sennheiser , Abyss' accomplishment was that much more impressive.


The Abyss Diana headphone. 


Diana is now the company's second headphone. It sounds incredible, but it's a very different, more practical, much smaller, lighter, easier-to-drive headphone. It is the product of years of research and of building countless prototypes. Diana is designed, machined, finished and hand-assembled in Abyss' Lancaster, New York factory. Uber-performance and hand-crafted build quality never comes cheap, though, and Diana can be yours for $2,995, £3,450 or AU$4,299.

It's remarkably compact for a full-size planar magnetic design, and weighing 11.6 ounces (330 grams), it's lighter than most uber 'phones. Since the ear pads rest partially on, not completely over my ears, I haven't found Diana all that comfy over long listening sessions. Please don't get the wrong idea, I'd still rate comfort as average, but headphone comfort always varies. After all, men's and women's head sizes and shapes vary tremendously, so it's next to impossible to make a headphone that fits every head equally well.

Diana is a semi-open-back design so it doesn't hush external noise. It features 63 millimeter planar magnetic drivers, and impedance is rated at 40 ohms. Its very flexible cable is 5 feet long (1.5 meters), and it's fitted with a 3.5 mm stereo plug and a 6.3 mm adaptor. Or opt for the balanced headphone cable with a four-pin XLR or balanced 4.4 mm plug.

When you hold this headphone in your hands you'll feel its quality. From the impeccably machined aluminum ear cups that come finished in a choice of polymer-ceramic colors, to the headband and ear pads' fine leathers, Diana is the real deal. It comes with a well-designed canvas carry bag.


The AB-1266 PHI Reference headphones.


Diana reawakened my love affair with the Replacements, the 1980s rockers that never got their just rewards. Whatever, the band's raw and sloppy sound roused my inner teenage self. The Replacements play like they don't give a crap, and yet the music rings true. So the perversity of reveling in the Replacements raucous sound over a $3,000 headphone wasn't lost on me. I was just having fun.

You want bass? Diana delivers a full dose of the weight and ear massaging frequencies on A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory album. Bass texture and palpability are fully present; Diana can boogie with the best of them.

With more refined recordings, Diana's clarity comes to the fore and you feel a very direct connection to the music. The tonal balance is neutral, so it's neither rich or too lean -- the sound is uncolored. Ernst Reijseger's soundtrack for Werner Horzog's film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, with its ethereal choirs demonstrates Diana's ultra-low distortion sound. Each voice in the choir is easy to pick out individually, along with the sound of the acoustics of the church they're singing in. Diana invites you into the sound, so you hear deeper into it.

I next compared Diana with a set of Audeze LCD-MX4, a set of over-the-ear, planar magnetic headphones. They're the same price, but Diana is a lot smaller and more portable. The LCD-MX4's sound is more close up, with a warmer, more fleshed out tone, almost like I was listening with a tube amplifier. I wasn't: I used a Pass Labs HPA-1 solid-state headphone amp, with a Mytek Brooklyn digital converter for all of my listening tests.

Diana sounded "faster," there was more "jump" and higher energy to the sound. The LCD-MX4 was no slouch, and its more laid-back stance made poorly recorded or mixed music easier to listen to than Diana. I can't pick a decisive winner between these two 'phones, but they sure sound different.

Diana doesn't sound much like its bigger brother AB-1266 headphone. That one demonstrates what a talented headphone designer can accomplish when the compromises of size, weight and cost are put aside to achieve greatness. If you want the absolute best sounding headphones, the AB-1266 deserves serious consideration. It was revised last year and is now called the AB-1266 PHI Reference. Its prices start at $4,495, £4,950 and AU$6,999.

Diana is a couple of notches down in sound quality compared with the AB-1266 PHI, but it is a hugely more practical headphone, at least for well-heeled audiophiles that can splurge on $2,995 headphones!