Abyss Headphones – Diana Phi

Abyss started out, as most of you know, with the AB-1266. Not the most conventional headphone, but a sonic wonder. However, it is a no compromises headphone. Its big, a bit unwieldy, and sounds awesome. Second up from Abyss was the Diana. The complete opposite from her big brother, the AB-1266. Very light, flexible, and much less expensive. However, Diana, whilst still retaining the Abyss sound signature, did make some concessions in terms of ultimate resolution and detail. She also has a bit of a friendlier sound signature, making rough recordings a bit easier to listen to. This is to be expected as Diana was built to a lower price point, as was also supposed to be a transportable Abyss. Diana was, and still is, a superb headphone, worthy of anyones consideration at the $3000USD price point. 

With all of that being said, the question that still hadn’t been answered was could the AB-1266 (now the AB-1266 Phi) be turned into a very comfortable and light headphone like the Diana, whilst retaining the detail, resolution, and overall greatness of the original Abyss. I wasn’t sure if it could, due to the originality and uniqueness of the AB-1266’s frame and adjustment capability. However, with the effort Abyss has put into the new Diana Phi’s pads, adjusted headband, and the transplant of the AB-1266 Phi’s driver technology and materials, Abyss Headphones has managed to get close. Damn close. 

I have owned both the AB-1266 and AB-1266 Phi (not with the CC pads however) but I don’t have a pair currently so I can’t do a direct comparison. I will do my best at the end of the review from memory, as well a quick comparison to the original Diana from memory. 

The sound of the Diana Phi is…palpable. Thats the best way to describe it.

pal·pa·ble

/ˈpalpəb(ə)l/

adjective

adjective: palpable

  1. 1.
    (of a feeling or atmosphere) so intense as to seem almost tangible.

Yup, that pretty much describes it. 

The tonal balance of the Diana Phi is pretty much exactly the same as the AB-1266 Phi, as one would expect as they use pretty much the same driver.

Bass

The bass is a bit elevated, but not overly so. It gives the music a sound that is closer to reality. I am a drummer, and pay close attention to how bass is portrayed as it is so important. Both kick drums, and bass lines. The interplay between the two, and how present it is in the recording is very important. The Diana Phi’s bass hits massively hard, and doesn’t have a hint of woolliness, or roundness to it. The attack and decay are crazy, it hits, and gets out of the way for the next punch. If you don’t like bass much, and prefer bass light headphones, these might not be the right choice for you. As I have said before, for me and my ears, Abyss does bass right. 

Mids

The mids are very similar to the AB-1266. A tiny bit pulled back, but not overly so. They don’t sound sucked out at any frequency, at least not to my ears. This tuning works especially well with electronica/rock/ and metal, which makes up most of my listening time. They don’t have the warm, smooth and musical sound you might find on an Audeze pair of headphones. They are, pretty much, the exact opposite of that. A colder, more exacting, and precise listen overall. Think of a butter knife vs. A surgeons scalpel, both great tools that have their uses, just different. 

Treble

The treble has detail on par with the best headphones on the market. In fact the detail of all areas of the sound signature are well…epic. I have owned most, and heard pretty much all of the top of the line headphones out there, and the Diana Phi presents detail with the best of them. The treble is very fast, perhaps not matching the speed of the SR-009, but damn close. I think there is a little peak in the treble somewhere, but I haven’t found it problematic thus far. The treble doesn’t drill into your eardrums, and I haven’t noticed any sibilance yet. This is the one difference I have noticed vs. The AB-1266 Phi, which would sometimes have a little bit sibilance at higher volumes. I wonder if there has been a tiny bit tuning done to the Diana Phi with regards to this? I’m not sure. There is a good sense of sparkle (for lack of a better term) and presence to the treble. It isn’t rolled off, and extends well. Two thumbs up.

Soundstage

Now, the one area I was really worried about with the Diana Phi was the soundstage, vs. The immense sound field the AB-1266 Phi projects. As expected, the Diana Phi’s soundstage is smaller, and is about on par with the Hifiman Susvara. However, likely due to the new larger pads, the Diana Phi has a larger soundstage than that of the original Diana, and is both wider and deeper. 

Technicalities

As mentioned above, the detail retrieval of the Diana Phi is top of the line. Both macro and micro detail are superb in my opinion. You can tell that the headphone is doing its best at extracting as much information from the recording as possible. Dynamics with the Diana Phi are very similar to the AB-1266 Phi. 

Build

The build quality of the Diana Phi is among the best I have experienced from any headphone manufacturer. It is very solid, and maintains Abyss Headphones goal of minimising moving parts and resonance from the frame of the headphone. The pads are made from real leather, and everything seems to have been thought about. The headband is covered with Alcantara, which should stand the test of time very well if my past experience is anything to go by. The size adjustment clicks are just tight enough, but not hard to move. The Diana Phi is manufactured from aluminium, and the frame is very thin. This is especially evident when you take the pads off and looks at the ear cups profile. 

The headphones weigh 350 grams, which is very light for a top of the line piece of gear. There are lighter headphones out there, but I think Abyss has managed to strike a nice balance between weight and durability (I hope.) The headphones connectors are 2.5mm TRS plugs, which is the same as my Hifiman Susvara. These are not my favourite connector as they are a little bit fragile, and don’t always have the best connection. However, Abyss has moulded a bit plastic at the bottom of the connector to make sure they sit securely and flush with the frame of the headphones. It is a really small detail, but much appreciated. The supplied cable could be a bit longer, but it is nice and supple and well made. I definitely prefer the Diana cable to the AB-1266 cable, I just wish it was half a metre longer, thats all. 

Comfort

The Diana Phi are a very comfortable headphone, due to their weight and the new ear pads. However, I know some struggle with the fit of the original Diana. I found the original Diana comfortable, so it might be best to try the Diana Phi prior to purchasing if you didn’t get on well with the fit of the original Diana. It took me a few hours to get used to the fit of the Diana Phi, as with all things Abyss, its a little bit unconventional. The headphones don’t clamp as hard as some others, and just feel a bit foreign on your head. However, once you get used to how they feel, its almost like wearing nothing at all. The one complaint I have in terms of fit is that they do seem to be comfier if I’m not wearing glasses. I think this is due to the edge of the pads being a bit stiffer than most other pads I’m used to, pressing against the glasses frame. With the Susvara for example, glasses are not a problem at all. I haven’t found it to be a problem in terms of creating a hot spot or pressure point that hurts after a long period of time, but it is something to note if you wear glasses. Again, best to try them if you can. 

Comparisons

I’ll do my best to compare the Diana Phi to the original Diana, and AB-1266 Phi as I suppose that is what most people are interested in. Please keep in mind these two comparisons are from memory, and to take them with a pinch of salt. I will also do a quick comparison to the Hifiman Susvara, as that is the other pair of headphones I have here. 

Original Diana: The original Diana sounds a bit less dynamic. It is also a little bit warmer. It doesn’t have the same level of detail retrieval of the Diana Phi. However, compared to other headphones in the $3000 range, it is perfectly acceptable in terms of detail, the Phi just takes it to that next level. The original Diana seemed to work better with poorer recordings, as it has a little bit less transparency. The original Diana is probably the better choice of headphone if you just want an all rounder, and the Diana Phi is the better choice if you want a dedicated hardcore top of the line headphone. A part from the extra bit warmth on the original Diana, the tonal signature is very similar. The original Diana was comfortable for me, but for some people I know it isn’t. The original Diana’s pads were over ear for me…just. However, for people with larger ears, they may be more on ear than over ear. The Diana Phi pads should solve that. The Diana Phi also has a tweaked headband that should provide a fit for more head shapes than the original Diana. 

AB-1266 Phi: The AB-1266 is, for me, and all or nothing headphone. Its big, brash, and makes no compromises. I have always found it comfortable, but again, I know some people don’t. The Diana Phi is much lighter and comfortable than the AB-1266. However, you do lose out on a bit sound stage and imaging precision with the Diana Phi. This is to be expected as you can’t manually manipulate the angle and width of the frame like you can with the AB-1266. Tonally the Diana Phi is pretty much the exact same, apart from the lack of slight sibilance that I mentioned earlier. If you want the full on Abyss experience, consider purchasing the AB-1266 Phi CC. There is nothing else like it on the market. If you don’t mind a little bit less soundstage, and want a lighter headphone that can be worn all day comfortably, consider at least trying the Diana Phi. You really aren’t missing out on much, in my humble opinion. Might I still purchase a pair of AB-1266 Phi CC? Perhaps. However, it is a lot of money to spend when I feel I am getting most of the experience with the Diana Phi. Time will tell I suppose.

Hifiman Susvara: If the AB-1266 Phi CC is the ultimate expression of the Abyss sound signature, then the Susvara is the ultimate expression of the Hifiman sound signature. I truly enjoy both of these headphones equally. They are such a stark contrast sonically. The Hifiman is a bit more laid back, a little bit warmer, and quite a bit easier to listen to. It has a little bit less bass, and is a bit more like a warm hug, than the punch of detail and music you get from the Diana Phi. The Hifiman weighs about 100 grams more than the Diana Phi, but it is well distributed, and is also a very comfortable headphone, albeit a more conventional wearing experience. In terms of detail an soundstage I would say these two headphones are pretty much equal. In terms of tonal signature, the Susvara has a little bit less treble energy, and as I said, a bit less bass quantity. At the prices the Susvara can be had for nowadays, especially on the used market, I would highly recommend trying both, as well the AB-1266 Phi CC, if you are in the market for a pair of headphones in this price range. It will really depends on your needs, and tonal preferences as to which will work best for you. To be honest, at this level, its pretty much hard to go wrong, its more about you, and what you personally enjoy from a pair of headphones. 

Conclusion

If you enjoy the sound signature Abyss Headphones provides, you owe it to yourself to give the Diana Phi a try. I realise that these are very expensive headphones, but even if you don’t want to spend this kind of money on a pair of transducers, give them a shot at your local dealer, or a local Can Jam if you can. They are a lot of fun to listen to. 

The Diana, Diana Phi, and AB-1266 Phi CC are a very impressive line up of headphones. Each offer something unique, and are worthy of consideration should you be looking for a pair of headphones in their price range. Abyss headphones aren’t for everyone, but if they work for you and your ears, they are hard to beat. The Diana Phi has taken the best of the Diana, and most of the best bits of the AB-1266 Phi CC, and put it together in a much more user friendly package. It sounds almost like a Phi CC….but is comfier than the original Diana. Whats not to like really? I don’t know what Abyss has planned for their next release, but I will follow along with great interest. Joe Skubinski and co. at Abyss Headphones have always been very helpful whenever I have contacted them with a question, and really do seem to be proud of their work. They stand behind it 100%. 

All in all, Abyss Headphones and their sound signature just work for me and my ears. I urge you to give them a shot, for all they may look a bit funny at first, they might work for you and your ears too 

:)

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