As always, this is subjective in many ways, so please take no offense.
The Abyss Phi wasn’t always a Phi. When I first started prospecting this headphone it was 2016. At the time I owned an LCD-3 and LCD-X. I was still living in my university’s dorms as well. I talked to the folks at Headroom (which is sadly no longer there, nor does it appear to be operational) and asked them what they thought about it compared to everything else in the store. This is when they told me they did not like it, to which I responded asking if they were able to get the fit right. They kind of grumbled on about thinking they did due to being helped with it, but I was not ready to just take their words for it. It wasn’t until that summer that I finally pulled the trigger. By the time I pulled the trigger it was July and the headphones had arrived a day or two after the fireworks had ended. I remember rushing to the post office after getting back into town and waiting impatiently for the man at the counter to bring me back my package. The drive home from the post office was incredibly long. Don’t fret, I made sure to buckle that package in.
I got back and rushed to find my knife and sat down at my computer. At the time my computer was in a different location and my setup was a bit different in general. When I first got the Abyss (non-Phi) I was also still rocking my Moon Neo 430HAD without any other equipment in the path. Little did I know, between the Abyss and Abyss Phi I would pickup the Yggdrasil, Wyrd, a couple of Jitterbugs, and some other hardware to integrate into that path. After shredding the box apart and snatching the headphones out of their respective leather bag I plugged in all ends of the cable and queued up some tracks. Now, before I continue with what I thought, the fit I had when I first attempted to fit it was very wrong. It was not until I bought a different size headband from Joe and let another month of fiddling go by before I truly experienced what I have used to this day as my “correct” fit. My main memory was looking back at my roommate with my jaw on the floor as the bass shook my eardrums apart.
The original Abyss could be described as having a bit more of a “u” shaped sound signature. It was not neutral, but not terribly far off. The treble was a bit sparkly and the bass was overpowering at times. Even if the bass was awesome, the overall sound did leave a little bit to be desired for many, myself not included though. The original Abyss bested my LCD-4 at the time and that was all I needed to know to justify them. The multiple times I auditioned a Utopia did not seem to yield the best results for the Focal, but for some reason it kept grabbing my attention. I did end up buying one many months later and it did steal a lot of listening time from the Abyss. At one point I did put the Abyss up for sale, but that was the night I realized I had made a mistake. It was not long after that I removed the for sale status of the headphone and ended up selling my Utopia instead, all while putting myself on the many month wait list to upgrade to the Phi. Up until this point the Abyss was still my favorite headphone out of all of the top of the lines, but it was not my much of a margin. I would say it was within a couple percent between many of them.
The Abyss Phi upgrade process was easy and quick. The turnaround impressed me and they were at my doorstep before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I would not be home for a couple more days due to the Holiday. I would be lying if I said I was thinking about the Phi while eating stuffing and turkey. By the time I finally made the trip back home and opened my package, I was ready to give them a listen. I was incredibly impressed with Joe and team over at Abyss Headphones/JPS Labs. They looked brand new. A lot of cleaning had taken place and it was as if they sent me a brand new pair with the new driver instead of just upgrading. Kudos to them for that.
Well, how’d it sound? Spit it out!
It was different than I expected. The bass that once rumbled my jaws was seemingly not there anymore. Do not fret though, that was a first impression. Since listening, I have come to the realization that the bass is a more appropriate quantity and now extended a bit lower than before. This led me to the conclusion that the bass had not gone, but had rather evolved for the better. The midrange also became about as present as it was in the LCD-4 without sounding over pronounced as it does often sound with that headphone. The treble was less sparkly and less harsh which overall tied these new traits together into a box of Phi. This new Phi was a sound I was very open to adapting to and now if you asked me I would tell you it is the best headphone I have ever heard, or if anything came close it would be the $50,000 Sennheiser Orpheus.
How would I compare the Abyss Phi to many other headphones I have heard?
I would call it a more flat and less pronounced midrange from the LCD-4, the more accurate frequency response range from the upper end of the Utopia or 009 and the old Abyss bass in better faith. It really does feel like the best of all worlds rocking the Abyss Phi. Now, to be fair this is a bit of a stretch as no one headphone is perfect for everyone. That being said, for my taste and how I have learned frequency response should more or less encompass, the Phi nails a lot of my list down. I have zero plans to replace my current setup of the Abyss Phi and Chord Dave until they are upgraded, or a new flagship launches by their respective producers. Although I have been eyeballing a few newer headphones coming out (Mr. Speakers Voce, Hifiman Shangri La Jr. and Sennheiser HD 820) I have my doubts as to if these headphones will put up too much of a fight against the Phi. No offense meant to those loving their Susvara, HE-1000, or other Hifiman headphone right now, but the build quality is rather rubbish compared to the price tag. To be fair, Phi looks like Frankenstein, but at least it’s functional and would not snap if dropped, or ya know, used day to day. That being said, the Shangri La Jr. does look the best out of anything I have seen from their company thus far. I digress. My point is that I do not think I will be switching my primary headphone away from the Phi. If that does not give you confidence, I do not know what does. I have been switching through headphones like a madman for the past five to six years now. The Abyss is now my longest standing flagship. This is no surprise to many who have listened to it fitted properly. The coherence of this headphone is rivaled by very few.
The Utopia sounds boxed in compared to the Abyss Phi. The LCD-4 sounds unnatural when compared. The 009 sounds too bright to me when compared. The Susvara is fantastic, but it is a different headphone and although I admire the sound, it leaves some to be desired that the Phi brings to me. I feel as though Phi has the larger soundstage, more impressive bass, and overall more realistic tonality. Again, it comes down to competency, and the Phi gets that very right. Yeah, I know this is not the most detailed comparison ever, but that is because I personally feel the Phi belongs at a slightly higher level than the previously mentioned headphones. I am not a fanboy, I legitimately would love to hear something best the Abyss to my ears, but I am having trouble finding something that does. Here’s to hoping some of the headphones coming out soon do just that. If not, well, this is why my Abyss is the longest standing flagship I own.
The design of the Abyss Phi can only be compared to a medieval torture device. Although I personally find it very unique, interesting and functional, many cannot seem to get past the looks. I do not truly blame them, but I do request those folks get over it. If you are not here for the audio, what are you here in this price category for? Go out and buy yourself whatever you think looks best, or has the most interesting branding etched into it. The Abyss design allows countless tweaks to be performed to make for a different listening experience if your mood changes from day to day, or to also make room for the “perfect” fit for any head. If it does not fit you, Joe is always able to accomodate you. Sure, this leaves the issue of not being able to really easily try it out, or allow others to try it, as I honestly never know what my friends are hearing when they put it on. That being said, I know that technically I find this to be the best designed headphone from a functionality point of view, period. If that is not enough, the sound is unrivaled and even when I have to refit it, any fit is a different stroke of magic that flows from this fantastic one way planar design. As with many of my reviews, I will not get into the actual specifications or technical features of this headphone as you can find better explanations from those that produced the device. I do wish it was lighter, but I prefer sound to if something is light.
As one more note before moving into the per artist and song impressions, the cable I am using is a Lavricables Master Silver upgrade cable. Although I cannot say anything as to if it sounds different, I can tell you it is well made and that the actual design of the cable is just plain sweet. It has a very unique woven structure and look to it. I also chose the white to make a good “transformation” portal between the black background of the Chord Dave to the unlimited transparency of the Abyss Phi. I have heard three or four different cables with the Abyss, but will not comment as to if they change the sound at all as I do not personally partake in that discussion for the most part, just as I will not partake in 320Kbps vs. lossless digital tracks.
Today I am going to start with a bit of a different track. Maybe this will help you expand your musical tastes a little bit, or it will be a section you skip over. Midnight Swim by Wolf and Raven is a blast from a number of decades ago. The Phi is able to resolve the entirety of the sound, unlike the boombox I imagine myself listening to in a pizza joint downtown at midnight. I choose to use the Phi to interpret this piece as an adventure through a utopian society that mixes the feeling of Tron and dawn of human computer technology. The synths are absolutely haunting on the Abyss Phi. In no way do I feel they are being misrepresented from their true frequencies. The bass is not as present as it used to be with the original Abyss, but I find this to be a very good thing in terms of actual accuracy to the piece. On the Run is a faster piece by this group that only reminds me of games like Sega’s Outrun arcade experience. Driving fast through a quiet cityscape in a polished, red sports car. The midrange and treble are what seem most apparent in these two tracks, leaving the bass as the true next step in impressions for the Phi.
I swear that I only use this track for bass. When I was a kid, my dad used to have a good home theater setup. Every once in awhile we would have a night where my family would gather in the living room to enjoy different music together. Eventually in my later years before moving out I actually got to pick some of the tracks. Bass 305’s The Birth of Bass (Bomber’s Mix) was one of the tracks that was played almost every time we would have a night like this. I remember the haunting sounds as the sound would start, knowing that the entire house was about to start shaking. The Abyss and Abyss Phi are the only headphone that has made me look around for my dad’s old subwoofer and worry about my neighbors coming to knock on my front door to ask me to turn it down. With the addition of the Dave in my gear I have been able to hear the nuances of the track that were never apparent on this old speaker setup, or honestly any other setup I have listened to it on. Most of the time the bass is the only apparent positive to this song, but the Phi made me realize that if the bass was removed, it would actually be a pretty cool atmospheric chill beat of sorts. Another unorthodox test song to leave Phi impressions on, but this has helped me cover an extreme positive of the Phi that no other headphone seems to come close to. I am not going to give it a section or real review, but Bassgasm by Techmaster P.E.B. is another one of these tracks that used to shake my house. Quite simply, the Abyss Phi shakes my brain around with these two artists’ tracks.
Alright, time to bob my head and tap my foot for a little while. Boston was always a well recorded artist that I enjoyed growing up. Foreplay / Long Time has a fantastic build up and the eventual transition to vocals is much welcome. The Phi has one of the widest soundstages I have heard, if not the single widest soundstage. That being said, instruments sound like actual instruments and vocals sound like real people conveying their message to you in the form of music. Being able to pick out every single piece of this track was truly something special. This summer I will be bringing my setup with me on vacation to allow my dad to hear these songs in a better way than he ever has before. When I first told him how much my gear cost he thought I was crazy until he tried my first major setup (Sennheiser HD 800 and Schiit Valhalla 2 with a Dragonfly as a DAC) and I could not get him to give me back the headphones. Don’t Look Back is another fun track to listen to from Boston. Now, Boston is not the most impressive track set I have heard on this combo, but I wanted to include it as the Phi is able to make anything sound relatively good.
So, a lot of people have a vendetta against Styx, but my parents listened to a good amount of the group while I was growing up. Although I only like a handful of their songs, that handful is what I will be leaving impressions on. Secret secret, I’ve got a secret. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto. The start of the track shimmers across the faces of each driver until they twinkle into your ears. It is very whimsical sounding and is a fantastic technical display of the Phi’s treble ability. The drums and transition to the first verse is well delivered and the track generally sounds as it was recorded. It is not the most technically impressive digital track I have heard, but it is the song how it was meant to be heard. Owning the Phi has made me feel like a Renegade. Instead of staying on the Focal train, or driving the Audeze bus I get to hear the fantastic beat at 2:53. Again, when the recording permits, the Phi will always deliver. Even when it is not anything special it is still a great listening experience in general.
Strangely enough everyone seems to have a secret these days. Maroon 5’s Secret is a well recorded track that is a fantastic companion for any Abyss Phi owner. The beginning reminds me of bombs dropping in the distance of a faintly lit night. Eerie as that may be, it is something powerful that can be felt in the soul of every man, woman, and child. When the guitar kicks in, all I can say think is wow. My hair stood at the first stroke of the piano at 0:59 and I knew the song was about to truly begin. Adam Levine’s vocals sound fantastic through the Phi. It’s as if I was in the studio box listening to him record this masterpiece. The drums are well endowed, the guitar continues to play on my own strings in the foreground, and the vocals are very clear. No sibilance and no mud. Everything is coherent. These reviews are so hard to write because I have to play a song over and over again, but I generally get lost in the track itself. With Sunday Morning, I indeed get lost in a care free Sunday Morning back in middle school. Another strong suit of the Phi is the ability to dive as far into a track, or move as far to the side of the soundstage as you would like. It is a critical listening masterpiece as well as pure enjoyment. No matter how many times I listen, I feel as though I focus on something different than I usually do. With all of my tracks I feel a sense of remorse as to not making some of these purchases earlier. It is as if any time I spent previously listening to these tracks means very little. I just wasn’t listening to them right.
As with many of my reviews, it is a giant block of text and impressions. I write them for myself and people like me who read until they can’t help but audition or order whatever they are reading about. Feel free to take a break now if you have not already. The cat needs to be let out or back in. Maybe grab a snack, or pour yourself a drink of sorts.
It’s likely Daft Punk will make pretty big impressions for a vast majority of my reviews. This time I will not be starting the past, but I will be starting in the present. Giorgio by Moroder is one of my favorite tracks from their most recent album Random Access Memories. Between the awesome background and actual song development along with the peak, there is not a lot more to be desired with this piece. Honestly, I feel as though I know Giorgio a bit more personally now. Oh my gosh! Lose Yourself to Dance is pretty amazing with this headphone. From the start of the song there is an effect I have not really ever heard before with anything else. I don’t really have words to describe it easily, but it’s there and that’s pretty awesome. As with any track in this album, it is just incredibly amazing how well recorded every part of it is. The drums are drums, the vocals are focals, the guitar is a guiar. There is no interpretation made by the Dave and Phi combo, only what was recorded and mastered to the final consumer copy of the album. Need I say more? Rectifier from the Tron: Legacy album has never sounded so menacing to me before listening with the Phi. The opening long decay on the piano notes was enough to put me on edge. The orchestral progression only adds to the impending sense of utter doom. It was like experiencing the movie scene in an IMAX theater again for the first time. The track is short lived, but demonstrates the ability of the Phi to mold to the mood of any piece you throw at it.
Big Star is a fantastic group that it often left behind in the dust. Remember That 70’s Show? Yeah, that theme song originated by the group. Feel by Big Star was almost a scary piece to listen to because the Dave and Phi combo made it sound so realistic. Each strum at the beginning of the track was almost too realistic to fathom it being a recording being played through my gear. Unfortunately the recording itself seems to dwindle a bit by the middle, but that start is something special to experience without it being live. Watch The Sunrise is another one of their tracks I love to listen to critically. The guitar recording at the start is absolutely stunning on this setup. The Phi gives it justice and then some. As the track progresses, the voice is well balanced and does not leave anything to be desired. Although this recording is not the highest of quality once more, it’s still a great piece with a few stand out areas of the recording.
A group I commonly reference was forgotten in my Dave review, so this is both a testimonial to the Dave and the Abyss Phi in one paragraph. I never even know what to start with from Pink Floyd as their music is so timeless. The Great Gig in the Sky seems like a good place to start though. The pair paint a picture of the song’s own title. Although normally you would consider being high for this, the combo is able to paint the same exact illusion in one’s head. This is another track with a lot going on that needs something like the Dave and Phi to help lay everything out exactly where it belongs and not just as a big cloud of useless musical notes. Welcome to the Machine is a great track that starts out a bit abstract and a bit industrial. This is just the introduction to the machine itself. The lab welcomes me as I am engulfed in mechanical songs and the eventual beginning of the accompanying guitar. By the time the track truly feels like it begins you are already lost in a stage of machinery with an above balcony. The man above explains that you now in the age of machine. This age will not be going anywhere, so best get used to this tune. I really wish this level of fidelity could be shared with everyone. Whether they will fully understand the magnitude is a “lead a horse to water” situation, but the technology available in this form factor today is absolutely astounding. Listening to this on speakers will always seem larger, but it tends not to match the exact detail I get from the Phi. The same power is often captured by these cans, too. It is mood changing just like the massive sound of well placed and treated loudspeakers. Finally, a track I hope to be able to listen to while I pass onto the next phase of existence. Shine On You Crazy Diamond -- all parts included. Although I find myself turning the volume up for the beginning of the track, I am excited by the build up I have listened to countless times. If you are familiar with this track, you know what I mean. If you aren’t, what are you waiting for, Christmas? The height of the introduction is something that the Phi really gives justice. It is not just a deep compilation of effects and strumming. The height allows for the guitar to shine above the many minimoog synth sounds. This helps a lot with the eventual transition into what would be part two. The drop in volume to allow for the guitar to take a front and center stand makes the height of the track with the Phi more apparent. You are now in front of the player, instead of witnessing a landscape of endless sound. Soon, the band joins for that magic that will likely never be recreated again in human history. I’ll leave you with one more point from parts one through five. At 8:45 I got a bit startled by the laugh in the left channel. I don’t like to admit that, but it makes me proud to own a device that is able to product such realistic queues.
Although I could write for months about such a fantastic headphone, I will stop myself as I always try to do. Notice the “try” in that sentence as opposed to the actual length when this review is presented to you.
That all being said, what can I conclude? JPS Labs hit a homerun with the original Abyss. It gave them a very strong seat at the big boy table of headphones. The Phi only moved the seat to the head of the table for my personal tastes and the tastes of many others I have talked to, or read the reviews of. The Abyss is a well built (honestly, it’s a tank) headphone with a lot of good designs that seem to be passed over in favor of taking a shit on the rectangular form factor. Honestly, I love the look of it. I have come to appreciate it more and more with time. It keeps those who aren’t truly interested in the best sound away. Being able to adjust it to produce so many signatures is just another piece of the magic. The thing with my Phi is, it can be almost anything I want it to be. Of course, there is my default fit that sounds incredibly with everything, but if I ever want more intimacy, a more “live-like” sound, or anything in between, I can do that. The packaging and box it comes in is fantastic. The US leather is sweet. Simply put, it feels very premium in the hands. The lows are the lowest I have heard from an open design. The mids are silky and inviting without overpowering any other frequency range. The treble is very rarely what I can describe as sibilant. I would personally describe this headphone as having no sibilance, but I want to leave it as a 99.9% as recordings do have a chance to be sibilant themselves, thus I could be discredited by that statement. Sure, many of my other statements could likely also discredit me, but I am here to try not to sway you, but to inform you of how fantastic these headphones are. The soundstage is large, the timbre is realistic, the resolution is fantastic and the sonics leave nothing to be desired for me personally. I challenge any company to rip my away from this headphone. I want to hear better, but do not expect to for awhile, or until the Abyss is upgraded/replaced someday down the road. This is the same for my Dave, which only brings out the true nature of the Phi like no other device I have heard it with. Overall it is an amazing headphone and it is my current flagship of choice by a good rung or two on the hifi ladder.