Final Audio Design Pandora VI Stereo Headphone with Balanced Armature feature

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: Final Audio Design Pandora VI Balanced Armature Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube

    Photo: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Panasonic_Gm1/Headphone_Final_Audio_Pandora6_01.jpg

    Sources: iPhone5 alone, iPhone5 with FiiO E07k using LOD, various computers using the Audioengine D3 and HRT Microstreamer DACs/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Pandora VI are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - in particular the Shure 1540, B&O H6, B&W P7, v-moda M100, Beyerdynamic T51p, and notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the Pandora VI (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 VI my immediate impression was of a warm and lush sound with incredible detail - something I've read about but have only gotten close to with other headphones. The sensation of being immersed in detail - not just the kind of detail that comes from a strong treble, as experienced with headphones ranging from the Shure SRH940 to the Sennheiser HD800, but detail from top to bottom - is highly unusual in a full-size headphone. To get some idea of the particulars beginning with the deep bass, I played a short track I found by searching for "Kellogg Auditorium Battle Creek Michigan USA", clicking on the result, and scrolling down to "Pedal 32' Resultant arpeggio". Although you won't hear the 16 hz musical tone on this track, you'll know when you have good 16 hz reproduction by the feel, and the Pandora VI delivers it perfectly. The remainder of the bass is as faithful as the deep end, and is best described in the music examples below.

    I never know quite how to describe a flawless midrange - the term 'flawless' might actually convey the meaning better than a 60-word paragraph, but I'll try anyway: The midrange has a 'liquid'-like quality that's free of any roughness, resonances, or other noticeable colorations. I have several test tracks listed below that are very revealing of midrange colorations - Bauhaus, Boz Scaggs, Cantus, Chris Isaak, Grieg - to name a few that will point up weaknesses in a lesser midrange. The Pandora VI plays these with full precision - tone quality, harmonics, and ambiance are reproduced with great fidelity.

    The treble is where it gets tricky. If you've ever seen the Frequency Response charts published by headphone testing labs, you'll see that the better headphones show a fairly flat line from the bass on up through the upper midrange. The line then gets very choppy in the treble area, and it's difficult or impossible to derive a meaning from all of the squiggles you see there. I'm mentioning this not because I can't describe how the Pandora VI treble sounds, but because different sets of ears experience treble differently - not nearly as different as what's seen in those charts, but somewhat differently in an analogy to the squiggly or choppy lines seen there. The bottom line for the Pandora VI is a full, rich treble without the obvious peaks and dips that are common to nearly all headphones, especially the non-premium variety.

    The average Pandora VI user is going to experience what I have - a warm, rich, lush sound top to bottom that works very well with most recordings, but truly dazzles with the better material, and especially when using a good-quality headphone amplifier. To appreciate the difference a good DAC and/or headphone amp can make, play music using the DAC/amp first, then switch to a cellphone or portable music player and hear the difference. That difference is usually subtle and more difficult to appreciate the other way around: If you listened with the portable music player etc. first and then switched to the DAC/amp. I believe that's because it's easier to hear what detail is lost in the former example than what's gained in the latter example, unless what's gained is dramatic as might be heard with some of the more expensive DACs and amps.

    The reason I mention portable music players is because of the extremely high efficiency of the Pandora VI - it's listed as having an 8-ohm impedance, which is the lowest I've seen outside of audiometry headphones. My immediate concern upon learning of this 8-ohm impedance was whether the headphone's frequency response, especially the bass response, would be skewed by interfacing with computers, amplifiers, and music players that have a relatively high output impedance. I can't claim the final word on this, but in using the Pandora VI with a Windows 7 PC, an iPhone5 and iPad, and the FiiO E07k, Decware Zen Head, and Audioengine D3 DACs and headphone amplifiers, I haven't experienced any significant changes from the headphone's basic signature.

    The Pandora VI 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 VI comes with a fairly large and fancy box for home storage, but does not include what I think of as a compact carry case for transporting while on the road. 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 VI'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 very quiet office next to other workers and playing music at audiophile volume levels, someone very near the headphone might hear that leakage, albeit faintly.

    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 VI 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 VI compares with each individual track.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Pandora VI review part 2 - music samples

    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 VI 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 very well by the Pandora VI.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for the Pandora VI 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 VI 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 very well by the Pandora VI.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Pandora VI 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 VI 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 VI renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Pandora VI 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 VI 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 VI 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 VI 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 well with the Pandora VI. 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 VI 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 VI 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.

    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 VI.

    Phaeleh - Afterglow (feat. Soundmouse) (Electronic/Vocal): The instrumental sounds that begin this track are played very nicely by the Pandora VI, 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 VI 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 VI 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 VI 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 VI 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 VI 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 VI 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. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Just a quick followup on the Pandora VI - after a month with this headphone, I no longer have an interest in getting an electrostatic headphone, since with the Pandora I get the bass impact, warmth, and richness that's usually associated with planars, along with the detail I attribute to electrostatics (my last electrostatic was a Stax). People who haven't heard this headphone might be surprised at the quality and detail on both ends of the spectrum.
     
  4. john-hifi

    john-hifi Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Great review Dale!

    We share your enthusiasm about these headphones - Final Audio keep impressing us with their headphones and earphones :)
     
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