A fellow poster on Head-Fi pointed out that I hadn’t posted a review of my Abyss Headphones AB1266 Phi TC. I hadn’t realized, as I have written reviews of the original 1266, and the Phi version. However, both those reviews were written before starting this blog, so I thought why not do a review of my current pair, the TC’s.
There are 4 official versions of the AB1266. The AB1266, the AB1266 Phi, The AB1266 Phi CC, and finally, the AB1266 Phi TC. The 1266 Phi was a driver upgrade over the originals. The Phi CC was a upgrade of the finish to a ceramic coating, and new ear pads (not a driver change,) and the Phi TC is another fully new driver. I have personally owned the original AB1266, the AB1266 Phi, and the AB1266 Phi TC. I also owned the Diana Phi for a long period for good measure also. For the rest of this review, I’ll just refer to the Phi TC, as the TC’s, as the name is a bit long.
Abyss Headphones are made entirely in the USA, and are the best built headphones I have personally come across, perhaps tied with the Meze Empyrean in terms of build quality. The design of the AB1266 models is a bit polarizing, with some loving, and some hating it. Abyss has refined the design over the years it has been available, but it is largely the same as it was when it was originally released.
The look of the 1266 is entirely function driven. You can extend it width wise to customize the clamp force from no seal to a very regular feeling seal. You can change the o-rings on the newly released updated headband, which, depending on the size used, will change where the headphones sit vertically. The frame also allows forward and backward “toe in” movement of the cups, which allows further customization of comfort, and also sound. Going even further, the frame can be bent slightly at the upper corners to further customize fit. Although it sound a bit crazy to bend a headphones frame, it is designed to be able to do this, and I would highly recommend anyone who owns a pair to try this out, to further customize and dial in a “perfect” fit.
So, how do the TC’s sound? Essentially, they are the most refined AB1266 yet. They are still an AB1266, there is no doubt about it. If you liked the previous versions, you will like the TC’s. I actually personally feel some overstate the difference between the original version and the follow up Phi’s, but there is certainly a string of steady improvements across all versions of the 1266. In general, they have the best, most punchy, and concussive bass on the market. The impact the 1266 provides does happen across the entire frequency response spectrum, but in the low end in particular. Detail and transparency on the TC’s is class leading, equal with the very best of planar magnetic headphones, and headphones in general.
The bass of the 1266 has always been one of its most talked about features. It can be customized varying on the amount of seal the ear pads have on your ears (less seal=more bass.) I’ve always enjoyed a robust bass response, though my preferences have been shifting slowly to less, and less, over the years. The TC’s certainly provide the best bass out of all the 1266 models. It is the quickest, most tactile, and most detailed out of all the models. The impact, perhaps related to the speed of the driver, is also very impressive. I have yet to find a pair of headphones that does impact and so called slam, better than the TC’s. It really is very impressive, especially with certain kinds of music. Electronica, IDM, that sort of thing, is amazing with the TC’s. Given that makes up a lot of my listening time, perhaps its no wonder they are my favourite headphones.
The mids of the TC’s are again, pretty much in line with the older models. Slightly pulled back. I don’t personally feel this wanders into sounding “lean” but I know some people who do enjoy more in terms of mid range level. The mid range is typically where people will find the “warmth” that is so often talked about. The TC’s are not a warm headphone by any means. I actually prefer this, and think it lends itself to a more detailed sounding headphone, but I understand why others feel differently. The TC’s are fabulously detailed in the mid range, it just isn’t as present as some headphones (think Audeze LCD-3, Sennheiser HD650, that sort of thing.)
The highs of the TC’s again carry on a similar sound as past models. However, one thing I have noticed in particular, is the lack of sibilance in the TC’s response. The Phi’s absolutely did have sibilance at times, especially with female vocals. I noticed when I owned the Diana Phi prior to the TC’s, that this sibilance ha disappeared, regardless of the source equipment I was using. I wondered if the TC’s would continue on with that trend, and they certainly do. The very top end is accentuated, which gives a great feeling of space and air. Again, as with the rest of the frequency range, class leading detail is present. I think some who are used to, or prefer a darker headphone will find the TC’s treble response a bit much in terms of level. I don’t personally, but if you are treble sensitive, I would recommend trying the TC’s prior to purchasing if at all possible.
The technicalities of the TC, in my opinion, are up there with the best available. Detail, soundstage, transparency, dynamics, both micro and macro, are all class leading. The TC’s all new driver vs the older models has only improved on what was already extremely competent in this regard. Its one of those things that is hard to explain until you hear it for yourself, and really have time to get into it and understand what is going on. 5 minutes at a loud trade show, with a non personalized fit (which admittedly takes a while to figure out) just isn’t going to cut it with these headphones. You need to take a good amount of time to understand how the set up works, and get the best out of the headphones.
In terms of comfort, The TC’s are similar to the old models. The pads on the TC’s were introduced with the CC model, but I never ended up hearing them on that model, thus I have only experienced them on the TC’s. I find these pads do indeed improved upon the original pads that came with the 1266. The soundstage is a bit wider, and imaging is also improved. I also think they are a more comfortable pad than the originals.
That brings me to an interesting tidbit I have figured out. I had a bunch of pads around the house from ZMF headphones, and my time with their models that I reviewed. I ended up trying a bunch of them on the TC’s, simply out of sheer curiosity. I figured that they wouldn’t work, that the driver wouldn’t be dampened properly, or something. Much to my surprise, the results were actually excellent. All you have to do, as the pads don’t have magnets like the stock pads, is put a little bit double sided tape at the N,S,E,W, positions of the drivers baffle, and put the pads on. These ZMF pads of various kinds fit perfectly. I personally tried the Universe Leather Perforated, the Universe Suede Perforated, and the Verite Leather perforated. The most promising in terms of sound was the Universe Suede Perforated, so I then purchased a pair of Universe Hybrid Perforated. These ended up being my favourites out of all of the ones I tried. They largely keep the sound signature the same, perhaps being a smidge brighter and have a tiny bit less soundstage, which can be fixed with a wider position of the frame. The biggest reason I’m mentioning this is that I know some people struggle with comfort when it comes to the AB1266. These ZMF pads increased the comfort in such a way that was far beyond anything I expected. I highly recommend trying this out if you love the TC’s sound signature, but just can’t get on with it comfort wise. If you find the TC’s comfort acceptable, as I do, then I would likely recommend just sticking with the stock pads, but hey, if you are curious, give it a go. Its an entirely non destructive modification, and can be reversed in seconds 🙂
In comparison to the TC’s, I currently only own one other headphone. That is the Hifiman Susvara. At the pricing the Susvara is available at nowadays both used and from some dealers willing to give discounts, they largely cost about the same as the TC’s, maybe a little bit less. Now, I have to note again, the TC’s are my favourite headphones, there is no doubt about that. With that being said, the Susvara are perhaps the perfect foil to the TC’s sound signature. The Susvara are indeed more comfortable, to the point where you could forget you are wearing them. Their build quality compared to the TC’s is a bit of a joke, but it does allow them to weigh less, and achieve higher comfort levels. In terms of sound, the Susvara is a more even keeled sound signature, more balanced, perhaps. It also has class leading detail and technicalities equal to those of the TC’s, but it is a softer, more gentle sounding headphone. The Susvara also has more presence in the midrange, so for someone who highly values classical, especially orchestral works, it may be the better choice. The TC’s are a much more exciting listen, and excel with Electronica, Pop, Rock, Metal, and that sort of thing. In terms of driving the headphones, the Susvara are very hard to drive, and like lots of power. The TC do as well, but to a lesser extent. This is something to keep in mind when considering either headphone.
Due to the TC’s increased transparency and detail over the older models, pairing it with the right gear for your preferences is important. That doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive, but something with enough power, and a sound signature that suits you and your ears. The iFi Pro iCAN works really well with the TC’s, and has all sorts of customizable options for a more neutral sound signature, or a warmer signature. All of the Wells Audio headphone amps work well with the TC’s, from the more “romantic” and warm sounding Milo, to the more neutral sounding Headtrip. The best I have personally heard is my Boulder 866, which prioritizes a clean neutral response, with epic driver control. Ultimately, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get great sound out of the TC’s, but careful pairing, and in some cases, more expensive pairings, will indeed bring out the best in them.
All in all, Joe and the lads at Abyss Headphones have built upon the previous AB1266 offerings in a meaningful way. They are still my favourite headphones, and I reckon they will be until Abyss comes up with another flagship model. For whatever reason, they just “work” for my ears and preferences. I highly recommend trying these headphones out if you see them at a trade show or a local dealer. Do ask for some help and tips about setting them up if you can, as that will help give you the best experience possible. We really are spoiled for choice in terms of great headphones to choose from at the top end of the hobby’s offerings, but if you are like me, and want an exciting, detailed and transparent sound, I honestly don’t think there is better than the AB1266 Phi TC currently. They really are that good!