Final Audio Design Pandora IV(4) Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Apr 6, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube video: Final Audio Design Pandora IV Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Panasonic_Zs40/Headphone_Final_Audio_Pandora4_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Panasonic_Zs40/Headphone_Final_Audio_Pandora4_02.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Final_Audio_Pandora4.jpg

    Sources: iPhone5, iPhone5 with V-MODA Verza and Beyerdynamic A200p DAC/amps, various computers using the Microstreamer and FiiO E07k DAC/amps.

    Review notes:

    1) This is of necessity an EQ-based review, so if you're against the use of EQ, this review would not be for you.

    2) The Pandora IV is my favorite home-use headphone, replacing the much more expensive Pandora VI (explanation below).

    3) My first impressions of the sound of the Pandora IV are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - in particular the Pandora VI, and notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the Pandora IV (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    When I first heard the Pandora IV, my immediate impression was of an extremely bright treble - the kind of treble that can work only with music that doesn't contain bright treble sounds, which would combine with the headphone's sound to be so severely bright as to be unlistenable - i.e. problem number 1. I found out from the vendor that the Pandora VI earpads tame the Pandora IV treble very well, but since I don't have any of those earpads handy, and I can't report on a sound that users might not be able to achieve**, my only choice is to report two possibilities - i.e. problem number 2. The first possibility is to note as above that the Pandora IV is usable only on a very narrow range of music - none of which I have experience with, ergo there's nothing further I can say. The second possibility is to see whether my available EQ software can restore a reasonable hi-fi balance to the Pandora IV for enjoyable music playback.

    **Users would need to be offered the better earpads up front so they don't have to wait for a long time after receiving the headphone to make it listenable on a wide variety of music. As a general rule, people who buy the Pandora IV are on a budget that doesn't allow purchasing the ostensibly better and more expensive Pandora VI, and so those users won't likely be willing to pay an additional £40 for the Pandora VI earpads, in the hope (no pun intended) that the Pandora VI earpads will really dampen the treble peaks.

    So for now this is a provisional review, awaiting any notifications from vendor or manufacturer that might change the default configuration for the Pandora IV - i.e. different earpads installed, additional (Pandora VI?) earpads included, or other earpads as a purchased option. It turns out that with my Audioforge Parametric Equalizer for Apple iOS7, I'm able to EQ the Pandora IV to sound nearly identical to the Pandora VI, with the only possible difference being a slight lack of upper harmonic details with the Pandora IV. The bass is very close - enough that if a customer perceives a tiny difference between the IV and the VI, they might want to look at the Pandora VI instead. From this point on I'm going to describe the headphone physically, then go to the music samples to record how the Pandora IV sounds with my selections, which in turn can be compared to the same music selections in my Pandora VI review to see if the Pandora IV is better or worse than the Pandora VI with that music.

    The Pandora IV is efficient enough to work well with cellphones and other such portable music players, but using an external amp from a Line Out or digital output makes a big difference in sound quality. This is especially noticeable with the type of resolution that the Pandora IV provides - just like the more expensive Pandora VI. The impedance is listed as 8 ohms which is unusually low, and while I haven't experienced any anomalies in the response with any of my audio gear, there may be existing audio gear of some kind that would have a problem with such a low impedance.

    The Pandora IV is fairly large and heavy compared to the full-size headphones I've listed above, yet the soft and comfy earpads and headband along with the modest clamping force will not bother most experienced headphone users. I find it very comfortable, as I have used many headphones that aren't nearly as easy to wear for lengthy listening as this one. Despite the size and weight, I've pulled the earcups all the way down and worn the headphone around my neck for a period of time, demonstrating a certain portability factor that may be useful for commuters and other users who want the best sound outdoors or on public transport, who aren't greatly concerned about the size or weight. The Pandora IV does not come with any type of permanent box for home storage, nor does it come with any type of carry case for protection in transport, however such carry cases with customizable foam inserts are readily available online for a low price.

    The headphone cable is very well made, aesthetically beautiful, about 5.5 feet long, and is double-entry - affording a direct connection to each earcup - my favorite configuration for best sound. The earcup connectors are a proprietary design with locking pins, and the terminator is a standard 3.5 mm miniplug. Although a 1/4 inch adapter wasn't supplied, probably any such adapter will be compatible with the Pandora IV's standard miniplug. Isolation is average - about 10 db I'd guess, and less at the lower frequencies. Leakage is low, but if using in a quiet office next to other workers, playing music at audiophile volume levels, anyone near the headphone will likely hear that leakage.

    The music tracks below have been listed in a number of prior reviews, and are a selection of my most revealing tracks for headphone testing. Since these tracks cover a wide range of genres and were selected from my tests of very different headphones, there won't be a bias toward the FAD Pandora IV with this music. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to the prior reviews and see how the Pandora IV compares with each individual track.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Pandora IV review part 2 - music tracks.

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural, without favoring either. The Pandora IV plays this perfectly.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the Pandora IV.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for the Pandora IV are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't astound you since they're fairly soft and in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Excellent instrumental detail - the vocal sounds very natural and the opening drum strikes have more impact than with any of my other headphones. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The Pandora IV plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled superbly by the Pandora IV.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Pandora IV plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no exaggeration of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Pandora IV reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Pandora IV renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Pandora IV plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not sharp or edgy.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Pandora IV reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Pandora IV plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates an excellent deep-bass response. Overall, the Pandora IV plays this music extremely well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The strong deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce extremely well with the Pandora IV. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The Pandora IV provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the Pandora IV aces them.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Pandora IV plays this so clearly that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but appreciable with the Pandora IV.

    Phaeleh - Afterglow (feat. Soundmouse) (Electronic/Vocal): The instrumental sounds that begin this track are played very nicely by the Pandora IV, but the voice tends to overwhelm those background sounds - until the heavy bass impacts kick in. If there is any doubt about whether the Pandora IV will play heavy impactful bass with good detail (if such sounds are really in the recording), this track is the proof. If you were to begin your Pandora IV listening with this track, you might think you were listening to a headphone that has a very boosted but tight and detailed bass. Simply amazing.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that may lack clarity and proper harmonic detail on some headphones, but the Pandora IV makes those effects sound natural.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Pandora IV conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a more-or-less neutral headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the Pandora IV renders the tones and transients superbly.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The Pandora IV delivers the impacts with proper weight and great detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass isn't very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.
     
  3. marcusd

    marcusd Member

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    How does it perform with mainly vocal tracks Dale?
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Some vocals and acoustic music are not so bad. Most electronic is good, most classical not good. Forget metal. Music with a lot of energy around 3-4 khz suffers. I've started collecting worst-case examples, such as Jimmy Smith's Basin Street Blues (yikes!), Joe Cocker's Little Help From My Friends, etc. Try Turbo Goth's BBM Demo - it's scary how bad that is. Thompson Twins Hold Me Now is a vocal that suffers badly. Sugar Hiccup's Five Years is a fright. Annie by Elastica is a perfect example of setting one's teeth on edge.
     
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