My preferred setting…

As a reviewer, my system’s in constant flux. I frequently swap out gear as new discoveries are made. I only have a handful of pieces that have remained with me during this journey. The Abyss AB-1266 headphone is one of those pieces – and has been my reference headphone for the past 3+ years.

I reviewed the Abyss during my high-end shootout a few years back. This review ruffled a few feathers but hey, there’s a reason why you’ll see so many seasoned reviewers with this headphone. Provided you have a powerful headphone (or speaker) amplifier, it’s one of the most enveloping and tactile headphone listening experiences today.

I’ve since upgraded to the Abyss Phi and have heard them on some of the best headphone amplifiers available today. When I got word of the new CC replacement pads, I was intrigued. I figured it was primarily for comfort. I was wrong.

Old vs. New

Price: $395 per pair

The new magnetic AB-1266 CC ear pads are:

  • made with real lambskin and are much softer than the original. Super comfortable.
  • denser and deeper. It feels like almost double the cushion over the original and cups your ears tighter. The old pads have more gaps and feel looser.
  • perforated. I have a feeling this has to do with as much sound as it does comfort.
  • notched rather than slotted. This makes it much easier to visibly set the pads into place. As opposed to the old pads where you had to rotate and “get lucky.” Both pads have the same number of notches.
  • equipped with stronger/more magnets. The pads attach more firmly with a snappy “click.” It just feels more robust and firm.

Sound

Ceremony: Afternoon – Dave Liebman

The differences with the new pads are immediate and profound. The CC pads are much quieter. The soundstage is much wider and the sound is more out-of-your-head. The percussions in the first few seconds of the track sound much further to the right of the soundstage vs the old. The music is more in front laterally whereas the old pads curve around the sides of your head in a cozier atmosphere.

Resolution. It’s amazing how much details and nuances were buried with the old pads. With the CC pads, you hear the precise timing of the patting of the drums – and also visualize the movement of hands. With the old pads, there’s more rhythmic smearing and the articulation isn’t as clear. But it is a warmer sound. The CC pads are just more spacious and nuanced.

Most importantly, the CC pads are much better at imaging. I believe this reason alone is worth the investment. With the old pads, the brass and percussions are larger (more diffused) and closer together. Outlines aren’t clear. When the track gets more involved, it’s difficult to hear where certain sounds are being played.

The CC pads localize and separate the players with utmost clarity and precision. Not just on the horizontal plane, but in depth as well. The saxophone plays more smoothly while the gentle cymbal taps are more outlined and play further back. This isn’t as apparent with the old pads where it sounds a little slower, flatter, and fuzzier (but warmer).

Skipping – Wynton Marsalis

A very clean and clear presentation. The old pads sound a little veiled in comparison. The trumpet fades in from black and the cymbals, snare, and bass drums sound so well-textured and tangible. Carlos Henriquez’s bass plucks are also very well delineated with the CC pads. Leading edges and transients are also much quicker and more differentiated. The old pads don’t quite frame, layer, or articulate the lower level nuances as well as the CC pads.

As mentioned, the old pads sound more intimate and warmer – you’re sitting closer to the stage. Many will find this more “musical.” It has a denser but looser & softer bass definition but more warmblooded mids. There’s just more blending and “interference” of instruments with the old pads.

The CC pads give each bandmate a distinct presence and contrast on the soundstage. It’s a technically refined sound that provides enjoyable engagement with its energy. It’s never sharp or abrasive.

Who’s That Girl – Annie Lennox

With such an enthusiastic crowd, this emotional performance sounds very transparent with the CC pads. The benefits are numerous. From the tonal contrast of her angel-winged backup singers to moments where the Scottish singer throws her head back – you could visualize those moments. The amount of resolution gained from the CC pads is stunning.

The CC pads give you a holistic view of the performance – a few rows back. You hear the big picture. You could hear each part of the performance in a very coherent and controlled manner. Tight bass, cymbal shine, and even the independent notes of the piano. The audience always feels further in the back which provides a more realistically deeper presentation. The CC also reproduces pinpoint imaging of the performance.

The old pads made the performance sound more along the same plane. There’s also more bloom and grain in the sound space. I do enjoy the more organic tone of the old pads, however. Overall, the CC pads were able to reproduce much better shape and dimension in this recording. It always maintains composure and coherence, even for very busy recordings.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the old pads are warmer, less refined, and more intimate while the CC pads are more akin to augmented reality. The music is overlayed onto your listening space and the headphones just disappear.

Although I prefer the warmer tone of the old pads, the CC pads excel in everything else – including comfort over extended listening sessions. Along with a more insightful, focused, and spacious soundstage, the CC pad’s ability to image and layer out the music is a compelling enough reason to buy them. In fact, I’ve been using the CC pads to set up 2-channel speakers. It helps me “align” pieces of the recording to make sure I’m not missing anything from the recording.

In many ways, these pads unlock the full potential of the Abyss Phi headphones. More importantly, they also allow you to get to know your recordings better. In the end, I spend most of my time with the CC pads, although I’ll sometimes swap in the old pads from time to time. The option to have two different sonic experiences with the same headphone is a godsend. Just pull it off – and magnetically snap it on.

I’ve had these headphones for over three years. The fact I could still get so much value from my purchase speaks volumes about how much Abyss cares about providing value to their customers. They’ve apparently put a lot of TLC into the design of these ear pads. From the fine stitching, premium materials, notches, and extra cushion. To the better aural solidity, articulation, and resolution. It’s worth every damn penny.

Purchasing: Abyss Phi CC Pads

 

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