TL; DR: Thanks to SBAF I was able to join the loaner tour and spend a week with these headphones. I must say these were overall a great portable closed back and really impressed me. I had some comfort issues (noted below) that would prohibit me from owning a pair, but otherwise if my head size/shape were different I could definitely enjoy owning one and I would recommend it to most people looking for an alternative to IEMs for portable use.
Build: The build is excellent and exactly what I would want in a portable closed back. Everything is metal and just feels very robust and you can tell it is built like a tank. It even folds up nicely and has a compact footprint. Ear pads are made of sheepskin and are quite plush and really soft against the ears. The connectors are a little bulky as they use the HD800 connectors so they protrude out of the cups longer than I would prefer, but I I know the connectors themselves were used because they are quite robust and secure. One of the coolest features is that the earpads are magnetically attached. I love this system. Since these headphones come with various tuning filters, it makes pulling the pads on and off a breeze and very satisfying as they just snap into place. I wish more companies would start using more magnetic earpad systems.
Comfort: This is actually one of the disappointments for me. And I think it mostly has to do with my head size and shape, so YMMV. The headband is very wide set and can’t be adjusted in width (only height). The ear pads do swivel up and down as well as rotate on its axis in order to compensate, but the problem is the angle that the pads sit at. When off the head, the bottom of the earpads smash tightly against each other (see photo below). Since I have a smaller head, when I wear this headphone the headband is too wide and the angle of the ear pads are too sharp that they start to apply too much pressure on the bottom of the pads compared to the top. And then because my head is just a bit pointy on top, all the pressure of the headband sits directly on top of my head and causes a hot spot as the headband is too wide to sit flush across the width of my head. The earpads are also more on-ear and than over-ear. But they are actually quite comfortable so even though they smash against my ears, I don’t mind the feel at all. It is really only a problem of the angle pressure un-eveness. So that combined with the headband hotspot make it so I can only wear Cascade for a little while before I need to take a break and adjust it. This is enough of a dealbreaker for me if I were actually considering buying it. But if you have a bigger/wider head I suspect this wouldn’t be a problem. Those with narrrow heads will most likely suffer the most.
Source Chain: Eitr -> Mimby -> Magni 3
Bass: Cascade is ALL about the bass. It is quite well extended and elevated in both sub and mid-bass above the rest of the frequency range. This is the first thing you will notice upon first listen. While the bass is quite big and thunderous it is still tight and controlled, without feeling one-note or wooly. This is a bassheads dream portable can. FR graphs show that the sub-bass to mid-bass elevation is a quite rounded bump that levels off right around 200 Hz so it actually manages to not bleed into the mids or overly warm male vocals. It sounds very full, but it doesn’t have that thick, warm body that is more common when headphones have a wide mid-bass hump (e.g. HD650). However, when trying to do any critical listening the bass is so forward and ever present that I find it to sometimes get distracting when trying to listen to the rest of the frequency range. I would even say at louder volumes, the bass can be almost overwhelming and fatiguing for me. On the flip side, due to the equal-loudness curves knowing that we perceive bass frequencies at lower levels than mids when using lower volumes, this actually makes Cascade sound like a tastefully bassy headphone at low volumes, instead of anemic like many more neutral headphones will sound at low volumes. Also being closed back and having decent isolation, this headphone is quite easy to enjoy at lower volume levels.
Mids: The mids are quite clean and pretty even across the board. I would say the upper mids are just a little soft, but that actually fits well with the overall tonal balance and it keeps Cascade from every getting shouty or harsh. But again, while the mids don’t feel pushed back or recessed, they just feel a bit overshadowed by the bass presence. Details are very apparent still and it never feels veiled.
Treble: There doesn’t appear to be any sharp peaks or harshness to my ears. Cascade is very good about controlling sibilance and even brighter recordings feel very relaxed in treble. I think it gently rolls off the upper treble though and loses a little bit of air. This is quite different than most bassy headphones that tend to have a V-shaped response by adding extra energy in treble to feel more lively and detailed. This also makes Cascade a very pleasing and easy listen as treble never gets sibilance, harshness, or ringing.
Staging: Being a closed back, the soundstage isn’t that wide and feels pretty similar to most closed backs I have heard. It does a great job though in never feeling congested, but it still sounds a like a closed back. Imaging is only okay, and there isn’t much depth as everything mostly feels slightly to the left or right. But again, for being a closed back I think it is at least as good or better than most in this department.
Tuning Mods: So I didn’t try any of the additional included tuning filters because all of them INCREASE the bass response beyond the normal, no filter, configuration. I definitely don’t want any more bass, but the true bassheads might actually like the filters. On the opposite side, cskippy (the guy that first discovered the vegan pad mod for M1060) figured out a simple, great mod for Cascade that helps reduce bass. If you place a thin ring of felt around the earside driver it helps break the pad seal slightly (see first photo below). This actually works really well because of the magnetic bond that holds the pads to the drivers. Since magnets lock so tightly into place, having this little bit of felt does a great job in pulling the magnets far enough apart that they won’t snap down tightly (but they aren’t falling off either). The second photo below shows that seal being broken slightly on the left pad compared to the right, unmodded pad. You can see a bit of airspace between the driver and pad on the left. Cskippy’s FR measurements (below) actually show that breaking the seal only affects the bass frequencies and doesn’t mess with the mids and treble (red stock, green modded). The bass is still elevated above neutral, but it is actually a really pleasing sound with just a slight bass boost, like you get when using a bass boost function in an amp. I found this to be my preferred sound signature. In stock form the bass was just overwhelming enough that it was a deal breaker even if my comfort issue was solved. But with this mod I would actually seriously consider buying Cascade if I didn’t have the comfort issues and I needed a portable closed back headphone.
ZMF Atticus: The most obvious comparison in my collection is Atticus (Cocobolo). Both are closed back and both compete in a similar price range. Both headphones can be classified as “bassy” and neither are trying to be neutral. The most apparent distinction between the two is function. Cascade is clearly meant for portable use. It is more on-ear than over-ear, and it is much more sensitive and can be driven easily from a phone or low gain from Magni 3. It doesn’t really scale much with source gear. It also folds nicely, has a very solid metal feel and feels like it could take a beating and survive okay. Even though Atticus is closed back, it is very much NOT meant to be portable. Even though it is a big and beefy headphone, due to the delicate nature of wood I would not want to drop it. It is transportable and can work well taking it back and forth to the office when needing isolation, but it really pairs better in a desktop setup and can change its sound quite a bit using different sources like tube amps. Sound-wise, their tonal balance isn’t all that different. Cascade is more sub-bass focused and really carries that weight and heft. But Atticus is more mid-bass focused and slams with a punch but it also bleeds more into the mids and has more bloom overall. Cascade bass is a little more focused and separated from the mids. Atticus is much more forward in the mids, particularly the upper mids compared to Cascade. This makes Atticus less forgiving of badly mastered tracks as it isn’t really laid back. Atticus is also more detailed and clear through the mids and treble. While both Cascade and Atticus gently roll the treble, Atticus has just a bit more energy and a little more of a 10 kHz peak that gives it more air, but that peak could be just a bit harsh depending on source gear, tracks, and even wood type. Atticus also has the unique quality of having a quite big soundstage in both width and depth, bigger than most open backs. But both Atticus and Cascade still have that closed back sound. Unfortunately, I don’t have the suede pads for Atticus as those are known to push the mid-bass bump back down toward sub-bass and shift its bass emphasis. I think that would actually put it even more in line with Cascade’s tonal balance. I could easily live with either headphone honestly if I was going for a bassy, fun secondary headphone to pair with a more reference set. The deciding factor would really come down to whether I needed a closed back for portable use or for desktop use. I tend to use IEMs when listening portably so Cascade doesn’t really fit into my use case.
TH-X00: This is another good comparison to Cascade since TH-X00 is semi-open but is a more reasonable portable option that I know some people do actually use portably. I still think Cascade is a much better portable option due to its design and build, and also isolates much better than TH-X00. But TH-X00 is half the price of Cascade and also has the wood appeal factor. In tonal balance, these headphones are quite similar. Both have plenty of sub-bass and weight, but I find TH-X00 to hit faster but with less weight than Cascade. Even though I find TH-X00’s bass to be powerful and punchy, it never gets to the point of overwhelming me. I suspect part of this might be due to the earpad design. Cascade being on ear sort of smashes and seals against my ears well (and still manages to be comfortable doing so). TH-X00 is mostly over-ear, but doesn’t quite seal in a tight lock like other bigger over-ear pads like those in Atticus or LCD2C. It is sort of a weird shape and doesn’t feel comfortable after a while either. So Cascade’s bass just feels a bit heavier and decay feels slower and resonates longer. Cascade also tilts darker as the bass is much more elevated over both mids and treble. TH-X00 is similar in mids as Cascade in that it doesn’t feel dulled or recessed, but rather a bit overshadowed in the mix. But TH-X00 picks up a lot more energy in the mid to upper treble. This pushes it much closer on the boundary of sibilance and any tracks that are sibiant prone will come out in TH-X00. However, this gives TH-X00 more liveliness and sparkle up top. Cymbals splash and sizzle a bit hot, but really sounds fast and crisp. Treble will definitely be more fatiguing with TH-X00 than Cascade and any treble sensitive people might not do well with TH-X00.
LCD2C: This is quite an unfair comparison in that LCD2C is fully open back and planar, but these two headphones fall in the same price category as well as both lean toward a darker signature. With LCD2C, the sub-bass to mid-bass response definitely feels more linear than Cascade. It isn’t as thunderous as Cascade, but instead it both attacks and decays faster which provides a more textured feel. While bass quality on LCD2C is superb, it isn’t elevated so it isn’t for bassheads in the way that Cascade is. Microdynamics on LCD2C bass is excellent and while Cascade doesn’t ever feel lacking, it can’t keep up with LCD2C’s speed and technicalities. LCD2C does a much better job in the cohesive transition from bass to mids as it manages to be a bass focused headphone, but the bass doesn’t overwhelm the mix like it does with Cascade. It is a much cleaner sound overall. Both Cascade and LCD2C feel similar in the mids to treble, though I think Cascade might be even darker than LCD2C as LCD2C has just a bit more shimmer in treble with cymbals ringing clearer and more pronounced, yet it is never harsh. LCD2C is overall a smoother and more refined sound that feels much more open even if it doesn’t have a particularly wide soundstage. But both headphones have a similar darker, laid-back presentation that is easy on the ears and not super detailed oriented.