Abyss 1266 Phi TC

Abyss 1266 Phi TC

The Abyss 1266 series has always interested me with its uniqueness. The first time I heard the original 1266 was at a meet, shortly after it was released. I was told the pads need to float but my initial reaction was, “Is this it?” I think the pads floated too much though, as there was next to no bass extension and a gigantic upper bass lift. Beyond the bass, the midrange sounded cavernous, and the treble gritty. This intensely negative impression contrasted by such wide praise on Head-Fi made me curious to try the newest version, the Abyss 1266 Phi TC. 

Build

Starting off with the positives, the 1266 Phi TC (TC, henceforth) does feel expensive. It’s very heavy, with a ceramic black paint. The pads have a convenient mounting system with an array of mounting points so that the user may adjust fit to their preference, as the actual frame of the TC is too rigid to allow for much adjusting beyond width. I do apologize in advance for how mediocre these pictures are. They don’t really want to stand on their own and the only lens I had on hand at the time of taking these images was a manual lens so all these images will be out of focus.

Comfort

Comfort is an area I don’t quite feel comfortable judging because I have a tolerance for headphones that people generally find to be uncomfortable. I am able to wear my Audeze LCD4 for an entire work day without any complaints and I’ve never found Grados to be uncomfortable, to list two examples. Unsurprisingly, I found the TC to also be rather comfortable in an unconventional way. I’ve owned three different Jecklin-designed headphones and their “crash helmet” fit was the first thing I recalled when I put the TC on my head. It’s enveloping and heavy in a way that feels comforting to me, but I can’t lean forward or backward too much, for fear of dropping the headphones. 

Fitment

The tilt system on the headband is the TC’s party trick—depending on the amount of air gap created by twisting the headband and changing the pad angle, the resonance frequency of the driver. More gap means a higher resonance frequency, which does increase loudness as you go up at the resonance frequency at the cost of extension. Resolve from headphone.com illustrates this effect in his measurements better than I can in words.

With no air gap, they measure like this: 

No air gap

With full air gap, they measure like this: 

Full air gap

These are roughly the two extremes of air gap behavior on the TC, but my actual use ended up somewhere in the middle, with some air gap but not a full air gap. This pushes the resonance frequency into the audible range, but no so much that there is no extension. My preferred use ended somewhere similar to Resolve’s on head measurement: 

Mild air gap

The resonant frequency moved up to around 30-40Hz in my use, which made for fun, elevated bass for most music, and what little music I listen to that does go down to 20Hz isn’t too negatively impacted by the bass roll off. I think that this design is a novel approach to mechanically allowing the user to tailor the kind of bass properties they want with the music they are listening to in a relatively quick manner, but this can make for an arduous learning curve to get exactly the sound one is looking for and also makes for inconsistent impressions between new users, which makes demoing these at a meet difficult to recommend unless someone is able to help adjust the headphone to that user’s taste. It took me roughly three days to land on my preferred combination of headband tilt and pad angle, but after finding the best fit for me, I was able to reliably put the TC on in just a second or two longer than a normal headphone.

Sound

So was it worth it?

Absolutely not.

I don’t understand this headphone.

The kindest way I can describe this headphone is, “Differing levels of high schooler’s home-brew speaker system in their 2003 Honda Civic.”

With as little air gap as possible, it sounds kind of like a bad stock car stereo with the bass set to flat

With full air gap, it sounds like someone only plugged in the sub in their car

With some air gap, it sounds like that person realized they forgot to plug in the rest of the wires.

I was so ready to buy this headphone from the owner that lent these to me. I wanted a headphone for EDM music that had some elevated bass and wasn’t as mid-deficient as my LCD4. But wow, I struggle to give this headphone any legitimate compliments. 

Bass

Bass is the thing this headphone is meant to do better than any other headphone. I’ve been through this song and dance. I’ve owned so many of these “bass king” headphones. Not only do I currently own an LCD4, I’ve also owned a Fostex TH900, JVC/Victor DX1000, Hifiman HE6 (4 screw and 6 screw), and Stax SR-007. I’ve spent significant time with the Focal Utopia and Hifiman Susvara with a variety of different amps, even big speaker amps. Hell, I’ve even owned a TakeT H2+, which some claimed to be bass kings and weren’t even close to that. The Utopia, HE6, and LCD4 are my benchmarks for bass. The TC does not live up to them. I’m not driving them out of a Magni either; I’m exclusively using them out of speaker amps: a Firstwatt F5 and darTZeel NHB108 clone, to be more specific. The bass, no matter the quantity of air gap, sounded just a little too one-note, lacking the utmost separation of notes that the aforementioned three headphones do just that little bit better. On the flip side, the mild air gapped bass is a little more fun, in a different way. It’s almost nostalgic, going back to my above analogy. It really does remind me of sitting in a school parking lot after school, listening to whatever top 40 was on the radio, not really caring about how something sounds but rather enjoying the moment. On some albums, I almost started to get it—they’re an experience rather than something “good.”

Midrange

Of course, that all went away the second anything that relied on midrange tone started playing. I used to be a big Hifiman fan. I’ve owned most of their older generation: HE5, HE5LE, HE6, HE500 all had their unique traits that I kind of understood in the context of the market. The one exception though was the original “cheap” option from the planar revival movement of the late 2000s/early 2010s: the HE400. It had elevated, muddy bass, middle midrange that sounded overly emphasized, upper midrange that sounded like a cave, and harsh, gritty treble. There were several versions, of which I’ve heard all but one, but they all had varying degrees of this terribleness. The TC feels like a revival of the HE400. There’s a rise centered around 1kHz that makes higher vocals sound unnaturally forward, but then an upper midrange that make their harmonics sound like they’re singing into a cave. It’s wildly confusing and I don’t think the TC is a good fit for a lot of music because of it. I think the TC is a fun headphone if you primarily listen to synthesized music without a midrange focus or are incredibly sensitive to upper mids, but even as an Audeze user, this is a little too weird. I did briefly try EQing the midrange to be more even, but this introduced (or made more obvious) a plastic, glary timbre to the mids that was just as unpleasant as the drastic dip.

Treble

Planars at this price range and even a couple price tiers below tend to reproduce treble at least competently, but the TC sounded grainy. Simple jazz ensembles were nigh-on uncomfortable because cymbals and horn decay sounded uneven and gritty. In college I lived in a jam house so every weekend, horns, guitars, basses, and drums filled the air at volumes that may have been too loud from 8PM to 2AM, so I’ve learned what to expect from a transducer in that sense. The TC never reproduced the decay I was expecting to hear in my music. To be totally frank, the treble reminded me of the Hifiman HE500’s bothersome treble, except grittier. The HE500 is a $375 headphone in the current used market and cost $699 new, so I can forgive it, but it’s disappointing that the TC, which costs so much more, fails to surpass the “mid-priced” headphones of yesteryear. The actual balance left much to be desired too, as I have a mid-treble sensitivity between 9-11kHz and the perceived low-treble unevenness into a rise in mid-treble made the TC fatiguing for long sessions. 

Soundstage and Imaging

Soundstage is normally not something I bother judging in most headphones because most headphones, even the HD800, sound too closed in to me so I don’t usually judge between the small shades of grey, but the TC does do something interesting enough to mention. They have a diffuse, almost floaty character to its imaging and soundstage that reminds me of electrostatic headphones, but in a less ethereal sense. I’d be very interested to learn how the TC’s driver was designed because it almost sounds like there’s some playing with phase going on, as I never found imaging and stage to be direct, but instead imparts a floaty character that works to increase the perceived size of the stage. Like the bass, it’s fun for synth-heavy music as it gives music a “trance-like” quality, but it makes most other music sound bizarre.

Detail Retrieval

A common complaint I have with most planar headphones is that they tend to sound like they compress dynamic range so that detail is more apparent, as the extremes are truncated and finer details are easier to hear as a result. Some planars do a better job at mitigating this than others, but I can’t say the TC is one of them. I am able to hear a good amount of detail with the TC, but it seems to be because of a combination of compression and a lift in mid-treble to make these things easier to hear, but fuzzes over finer detail in the process. I struggle to place this above a Sundara in this aspect.

Conclusion

Again, I don’t get it. I’m not taking price into account, as I’ve liked headphones that cost more and less than the TC. But if I knew nothing about this headphone prior to trying it, I would have assumed it was a prototype for a <$1000 competitor to the Hifiman Edition XS and Audeze LCD-2. It fails at every basic metric a “flagship” headphone should excel in. I’m not enamored with my LCD4, but comparing it back to back with the TC reveals so many flaws that unless you are really looking for that lo-fi, high school shitty car stereo experience and are willing to pay through the nose for that, this headphone makes no sense. This is a headphone whose hype I can only imagine still holds true because of how difficult it is to get a good demo of them and cost of entry forces purchase justification to fester into cognitive dissonance.

The emperor has no clothes.

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