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Choosing Fostex T50-RP Headphones: Where Strength & Comfort Trump Accuracy

Whereas consumers often choose headphones for sound quality, I’ve chosen my studio’s headphones for durability, repair-ability and wear-ability for often-extended sessions. I’ve gone with Fostex T20-RP and T40-RP headphones — which are identical, except the T40 surrounds the ear — for almost 20 years now; they hold up bravely to musician abuse. However, their distortion and frequency response leaves something to be desired.

The ear-surrounding T50-RP’s earpads, cabling (conveniently 1/8-inch miniplug on the headphone side) and primary parts all look to be interchangeable with the durable T20/T40 models, making for some convenient quick repairs and minimal parts stocking. The main difference is Fostex’s new driver, which has a neodymium magnet and a copper foil etched, polyimide film diaphragm for better power handling and transient response. 

At a low impedance of 50 ohms, sensitivity at -98 dB/m and max peak power at 3000 mW, these will go loud — louder than you ought to — and should keep hearing-challenged performers happy all day long. Transients and midrange response are greatly improved over the similar-sounding T20/T40 models, with less distortion, less boxi-ness at 400Hz and more clarity and definition from 160 to 300Hz, with the same uncommonly smooth, completely un-hyped top end. The T50 compared favorably to my AKG K240, Sony MDR, Audio-Technica ATH-M50 and Sennheiser HD280 models, reproducing the deepest bass (except for the extremely extended A-T model), but with the darkest high-end of the group.

Despite all these positives, these still aren’t really flat enough for mixing, although helpful as a reference point. I do think that these areperfectfor tracking sessions, where the ear-surrounding design causes less earlobe fatigue; minimal leakage from the large earcups seals in click tracks from nearby mics; and the understated high-end response helps minimize monitoring levels and reduce ear fatigue. Happy performers equals a happy engineer, right?

The T50-RP is priced affordably enough to get the five or six pairs that even a small studio needs at $199 list, each, and available all over the web for way less than $100 street, each.

Rob Tavaglione is the owner of Charlotte’s Catalyst Recording.