Let’s talk sound!
I have had some time with the full Lawton modded X00 now, and with a couple of different pads on them. I’ll get some thoughts on how the sound changed up here. I have a logjam of things to write about (first world problems, I know).
Let me first drop some big caveats to this sorta-review-but-more-of-a-long-musing: these thoughts apply specifically to the situation of going from a Massdrop-Fostex TH-X00 Purpleheart to a full Lawton mod with Lawton’s Bolivian Purpleheart chambers (the Lawton term for cups). Mark Lawton offers at least 2 dozen different types of woods for his chambers, each with different sonic properties, so the level of customization attainable here is large. But that also means the results I obtained with my mod are not necessarily generalizable. I can’t say “go buy a Sennheiser HD600 and it will sound like ____” types of statements with this Lawton configuration because there are just too many variables. Therefore, please consider this writeup as one anecdote toward helping you decide whether it’s worth doing a full Lawton mod on your Fostex biodyna-based headphone.
The full Lawton mod is a stunning transformation. I choose those words on purpose. The bottom line is pretty much everything improved. Soundstage width, imaging and separation, dynamics, punch, clarity, detail, all noticeable steps up from the stock X00. There are two staggering standouts to this transformation, though: extension and timbre. The timbre bests every other headphone I have on hand right now (HexV2, LCD-2.1PF, Elegia, T1.2, DT880 600) and any other headphone I’ve had significant listening time with in the past (includes HD6XX). Then the extension…OMG the extension! The treble reaches way up. The treble can be also be very forward - at times too much - but when it’s controlled it’s also very rich and sweet. And the bass. I’ve never heard bass like this from a headphone. The sub-bass is so deep and powerful it’s almost stupid. It’s hard to put into words just how ridiculous good the bass on this headphone is now. I will try. Read on if you want to know more about all this.
In emailing with Mark Lawton about what my goals for listening were for this mod, he recommended staying with the purpleheart wood. He said it would maintain the V-sig I liked about the stock X00PH. Once I got the right pads on there (ZMF Ori Lambskin/suede hybrids right now for me), I realized he was pretty accurate. The signature is still V although I would argue it’s sounds like a shallower V. The bass and treble are both extended and more forward than the mids, but the mids don’t sound as recessed as they can on the stock X00PH. The mids sound rich and natural. There’s a very organic quality to them. As mentioned above, the treble also extends but it very sensitive to pad-rolling. I’ll comment on that next.
On the Lawton pads the treble was way too hot for me. Everything was bright and sibilant with a metallic shimmer to everything. There was also a sharp edge to everything, not even just on specifically treble sounds like cymbals. I had to put 2 plies of toilet paper over the driver to calm down that treble peak. It helped quite a bit. I started getting hints of the natural, organic timbre I’ve mentioned, but ‘s’ sounds had a weird sibilant quality to them that was a little lower in frequency than the typical sharp ‘s’. Taming that treble did make the mid timbre improve significantly, though. So, this Lawton pad + TP solution worked decently well as I waited for ZMF Ori to arrive.
Stock X00 Pads
The stock X00 pads are not very comfortable, IMO. They also come with a very narrow soundstage. However, they rein in the treble the most and also have very good timbre. However, I personally cannot escape the sense of claustrophobia with these pads - and I don’t suffer from claustrophobia. Everything just felt closed in and tight, not initmate in the way that the Senn HD6?? series can.
ZMF Ori Lambskin-Suede Hybrid Pads
The comfort of these pads is off the chart. They have more control over the treble than the Lawton pads do by a mile, but it’s still a bit hot and sibilant at times. Right now I’m running with 1 ply of TP over the drivers on each side and a set of Dekoni attenuation rings. That seems to do a pretty good job of reducing sibilance and giving the treble the sweet, natural timbre I mentioned. The treble is still a bit forward, but that’s ok, I was after a V-sig. The mids are still very natural and organic sounding; more present than the stock X00 but not forward. And that bass is still killer. I don’t know how it’s happening, but it feels and sounds like I have subwoofers on my head. The extension is astounding. The bass impact…I can literally feel my head vibrate at times and that’s not a joke or hyperbole. And yet somehow the bass is not one-notey at all, it’s tight and tuneful, and nor is it bloated or bleeding into the mids.
Shiver Me Timbres
I bring up the timbre here a lot. I don’t know what to say other than voices sound more like voices, pianos sound more like pianos, drums sound more like drums, and on and on, than other headphones I’ve had the privilege of hearing. You saw my headphone list above, there are cans on there that are no slouches in the timbre department. These Lawtons just sound more real.
Let’s All Applaud Fostex for Their Driver Tech - But Ouch That Treble Sometimes
Yeah. These Fostex biodyna drivers are something special. Their speed, punch, and extension are bonkers. Mark Lawton must have realized this and then did a superb job of designing what is really a top-notch small speaker enclosure for a large driver. The results of the two together can be jaw-droppingly amazing at times. However, the biodyna extension can get in its own way in the treble, IMO. I’ve played a lot with finding the balance of letting the biodyna drivers be what they are up top but also not sending daggers down my ear canals. I’m trying not to let the fact that I have TOILET PAPER in my ~$1K total headphone kit bother me too much, but it does a little. However, if you’re Lawton modding a set of headphones, you’re a tweaker at heart and like putting the work in to chasing a sound. Still, I may investigate and try different foam damping material at some point too.
Any Other Downsides?
That depends on the listener. This is not a relaxed listening experience. The dynamics, detail, and punch are in-your-face all the time. It’s fun, engaging, and even for me can become a bit too much after awhile. Do I enjoy listening to them most of the time? Hell yes! There have been moments when they exhaust me, though. There are moments I still want to listen to music but they are too much. But that’s also partially why so many of us have multiple headphones.
Also they get physically heavy. They are pretty close in weight to the LCD 2. The weight did make the stock headband a bit uncomfortable for me. A ZMF Pilot Pad has cleared that up. However, if you are sensitive to the weight of a headphone these may be too heavy. Final potential flaw, these are still not a true closed-back. The Lawton chambers still maintain a semi-open/mostly-closed design that still leaks a fair amount of sound. In a sense they have to, there’s a lot of sonic energy coming from those drivers that has to go somewhere. But, it’s not office friendly and not super isolating if those are your goals.
This Lawton mod was a ton of fun to do and a thrill to listen to. I learned a lot about what physical changes do what kinds of things to the sound. In the end I have one of my favorite headphones. As I mentioned earlier, my collection also includes the HexV2 and I currently have the LCD-2.1 PF on hand. To my ears this Lawton is clearly their superior in overall timbre, dynamics, extension, and bass impact. That’s saying something because both those big planars have pretty prodigious bass extension in their own rights and the Hex V2 also comes with a healthy dose of slam.
So there are some of my thoughts about the sound of a Lawton mod. Unless you get exactly the same combo of thing I have, your mileage WILL vary, so keep that in mind. I know other Lawton users who are after neutrality more than fun and have been quite pleased with the results. The overall experience with Mark Lawton was top notch, though. He is very knowledgeable and helpful. He was also quite speedy and got my order to me in under a week.
OK, that’s enough of my ramblings for now. Enjoy the music everyone!