A big thanks to /u/Mad_Economist of Cascadia Audio for lending me a pair of his headphones for review.
T50RP mods have become quite common in the premium headphone market with contenders like ZMF headphones, MrSpeakers, who has recently discontinued their popular “Dog” line of headphones, and Luis of Enigmatic Audio, famed for his Paradox and Enigma products. One thing that all of these manufacturers have in common is they have taken a generally sub-$200 headphone and modified it in some way and priced it at the level of larger companies established headphone flagship prices. As a new entrant into this market, Cascadia Audio has arrived with what is probably the cheapest commercial T50RP mod yet, the Talos, selling his first 25 units at the low promotional price of $200 before going back to their MSRP of $250. One thing that makes the Talos unique is that it is currently one of two commercial T50RP mods based on the new T50RP MK3 model, while other mods from competitors are mostly based around the now-discontinued MK2.
Fit and Comfort
In similar style to other competing T50RP mods, on the Talos, Cascadia Audio has replaced the T50RP stock pads and made modifications to the internal damping to tune the headphone. The headphone uses Brainwavz HM5 hybrid pads which are quite plush and comfortable. They have also added a leather strap underneath the manufacturer headband to distribute the headphones weight more evenly on your head. The headphone does have a little bit of heft to it, but these modifications to the exterior have increased wearing comfort over a stock T50RP significantly, making it easy to wear for long listening sessions. Adjustment is done using the stock T50RP sliders, which are simple to adjust. The adjustability of the sliders can be tweaked by simply turning a screw, making it easier or harder to slide based on your preference.
The Talos has a very different tuning from other T50RP mods I’ve heard. I’ve posted impressions and reviews of some of ZMF’s headphones and have had a chance to sample some of the MrSpeakers and Enigmatic mods as well. The Enigmatic and MrSpeakers tunings share some characteristics, with a generally downward slope from the bass region to about the mid-treble where there is a large, focused emphasis in the mid-treble around 9k-10k. ZMF’s headphones seem to share a similar tuning style with some variations in quantity in the ranges, but generally speaking have an emphasized subbass response, with a dip in the lower midrange and pretty even response until coming to that same mid-treble emphasis as the LFF and MrSpeakers models. One thing that has consistently bothered me with other T50RP mods is a dip and/or a spike of distortion in the lower mids which can interfere with the weight of instruments and vocals, making them sound somewhat hollow, unnatural, and congested.
While the Talos doesn’t escape some of that congestion in that region that really carries into vocals, I feel that Cascadia Audio has done an excellent job of somehow compensating for that void that’s present in other headphones, providing a more coherent, weighty sounding midrange. One of the unique characteristics of this headphone is that Cascadia Audio has instead shifted that typical dip further up in the mids to low treble, and this is noticeable especially with female vocals, which can sound a bit distant, though they still maintain a very good timbre and tone. This dip can also be observed when listening to strings or other instruments that commonly have a lot of fundamentals in that frequency band. Overall, the mids are quite clean with detail that matches or exceeds even the flagships of some of the Talos’ competitors, but like other mods, it cannot overcome some of the congested sound that seems to be inherent to the T50RP driver.
Another unique feature of the tuning of the Talos is the midbass. While the midbass is usually flatter and tamer on other T50RP mods, Cascadia Audio has actually given the Talos a hump in the midbass region, something usually characteristic of dynamic driver based headphones. The Talos also still maintains a nice level of bass rumble and punch in the subbass. The bass on the Talos is quite engaging, however it is not the most detailed or clean bass. Drums and synthesized bass notes impact with a thud, but not with the definition to be able to really distinguish the individual impacts of a sustained bass note, presenting a sort of smeared, warmer kind of impact. While midbass is the star here, subbass is not forgotten, with the Talos delivering a good amount of rumble that doesn’t interfere with or take away from the rest of the music. Overall, the bass is well controlled, very good about not interfering with the rest of the music.
The treble, especially the mid-treble, seems to be a common problem area on all the different T50RP mods I’ve tried. Along with the other unique features of the tuning, this may be one of the most impressive ones. The mid-treble peak that has typically been harsh and overemphasized on other mods I’ve heard is quite well damped here. Cascadia Audio has struck an excellent balance of maintaining some sparkle and excitement in the headphone without making it sound overemphasized or grating and sibilant. Once the dip in the upper midrange levels off, the Talos maintains a very even, smooth low to mid treble transition. The mid treble has a slight emphasis, adding a touch of excitement and sparkle without being offensive and then dips and seems to level off, providing a little bit of “air” to lend a more open sounding sort of quality.
Like other mods, this headphone does a respectable job of staging, presenting a small, more “in your head” kind of soundstage and imaging that maintains a good sense of positions within that smaller stage. The headphone does well in separating harmonizing vocals and instruments; it doesn’t particularly excel in this regard, but certainly keeps up with its competitors. For a closed headphone, the Talos definitely presents a small, but accurate, soundstage that isn’t exaggerated in a particular way, which I prefer.
All in all, I find the Talos to be an extremely competitive entrant into the headphone market. Cascadia Audio has managed to address and improve on a lot of the characteristics of other T50RP mods that I haven’t enjoyed as much. The Talos provides a fun, punchy and engaging sound that’s easy to listen to. While not the most detailed headphone out there, it certainly holds its own, and in my opinion even surpasses the clarity and detail of some his direct competitors flagships, making the Talos a tremendous value in this market of T50RP mods which only seem to be escalating in price. I do sincerely believe that Cascadia Audio charges too little for this headphone considering its sound quality and how well they have tuned it to compensate for some of the less pleasing characteristics of the T50RP. As a fan of generally more neutral headphones myself, I’ve always disliked headphones with a “v-shaped” tuning, but the Talos has changed my mind a bit in this regard. Cascadia Audio’s tuning is a much milder v-shape, the “v” coming from that dip in the upper mids to low treble, and because of the placement of that dip, is much more pleasing to listen to for me than the majority of v-shaped tunings which seem to interfere more with the lower mids. Overall, I have to say that I think Cascadia Audio has done an excellent job with this headphone and I look forward to his success and being able to design and bring to market more headphones in the future. I definitely agree with their tuning sensibilities the most of any of the T50RP modders I’ve encountered.