Rosson Audio - RAD-0 - Official Thread

In between being on, in, and under the water this weekend, I got to spend a little more time with the RAD-0. Uncharacteristically most of my listening with these has, so far, been from DAPs (A&K SP1000m and Cayin N8) or transportable sources (Chord Hugo 2).

All of them drive the RAD-0 without issue all the way into un-safe territory. This is a far cry from the early days of planar magnetic cans, and even today some of the best ones are a lot more demanding of power than is convenient.

From this point on, however, I’ll get to try them with the usual array of desktop/full-size sources and amplifiers. Usually it’s the other way around - which often led to disappointment with planar cans. No worries about that here, I think.

I’ve gotten used to the weight and clamp pressure of the RAD-0 and only notice it now if I’m coming straight off/switching to another headphone that isn’t the LCD-4.

I am also not noticing the “pressure” on my ear-drums when I first put them on anymore. I doubt anything has changed with the headphones/pads here (I’ve not had them on long enough for that, I don’t think), so I would put this down to a simple perceptual adjustment.

I remain impressed with the sound of these things. They’re a good bit less intimate (or maybe it’s better say, they’re “more expansive”) in their stage than the LCD-4, which is a good thing. I haven’t run into any more boominess in the bass, which is incredibly linear. The mids are luscious with as much detail as I’ve heard from any planar headphone, and the treble is smooth, extended and properly present.

And unlike too many of the mid-range-to-flagship planar cans I’ve heard in the last two years, I do not get any sense of “plasticity” in their timbral rendering (something that has put me off most of them until recently … and is the biggest part of the reason I’ve not bothered writing up reviews of any myself).

Right now, if I had to choose between these and an un-EQ’d LCD-4, I’d have to go with the RAD-0. I can use these anywhere, off any source I’m likely to bother with, as-is, with no fuss. With the LCD-4 I want the “Reveal” (or similar) EQ applied for most listening - and that requires a computer or fussing with EQ on portable devices (which rarely do it as well as a proper desktop EQ solution, and is only a facsimile of what “Reveal” or Roon pre-sets do).

I love the aesthetic (especially on this pair) and the build. I’m less in love with the cable/connector arrangement, but it’s not terminal.

A year ago I would have added these to my collection without a second thought. In fact on Friday night last, I had pretty much decided to do that.

This morning I am hesitating a little …

NOT because of the sound … its two other factors entirely!

The first, and biggest, is their customizability. I love the look of this particular pair. But it’s also the only pair I’ve seen in the flesh, and there are a ton of options both in the colors/materials within the cups and also with metal finishes for the hardware.

I am not convinced I can customize a pair that I’ll like as much as these, but at the same I am pretty sure that I’ll run across a set, at some point, that I like even better … and will want even more (it happened with my Verite!).

The solution to that, as @taronlissimore mentioned in another discussion, is perhaps just go customize a set and then NEVER look at another pair again!

The other point of hesitation is just down to my down-sizing my collection. Adding ANY headphone from here on out means getting rid of one (it’s a space/mobility issue). So, at this point I should probably compare the RAD-0 to the Meze Empyrean as I won’t be buying both, and I already know the RAD-0 are excellent, they’re similar in price, both are gorgeous and I can probably swing a back-to-back comparison (including with my two existing planar flagships) …

First world problems …

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I’m interested by this HP but concerned about cables. I can’t find any pictures on their website that show the cable or the entry jacks in the headphone. What are the odds that a good aftermarket balanced cable made to 3.5mm specs would actually insert properly in these earcups? And BTW, thanks for these priceless comments. Very few people are talking much about this most interesting new headphone design…right now this is basically it.

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For what its worth, neither of my two balanced into 3.5mm (Neutrik) connector cables worked with the RAD-0 unfortunately and the Focal cable doesn’t work either. The connector housing is too deeply set into the cup on the RAD-0 and the connectors are too wide. That’s probably the biggest issue I have with it (apart from the weight).

This comment is worth a lot to me, but
unfortunately it’s very bad news. Hard to get interested in a
big-buck HP if there’s no ready way to match my good aftermarket
cables w/it.

    I ran into this w/my HEX v2, an otherwise very

fine & enjoyable HP (IMHO), but one that uses not only 2.5mm
input jacks (bad) but jacks that leave ~1/3 of the shaft of
aftermarket 2.5mm cables standing proud of the earcup, not fully
inserted. Turns out that’s just a visual annoyance, because the
full electrical connection is there. I got a pair of silver 6"
pigtail/extenders from Trevor Norne (2.5mm on one end, female
3-pin mini-XLR on the other end). They work well w/the HP.

    I'd do the same again w/the Rosson, but only

IF those extenders actually worked.

So this is bad news…

I am not a fan of 3.5mm TRS connectors on the headphone/driver connection for any headphone. 2.5mm is worse. But neither is “good” in my opinion. Even when it’s properly supported, doesn’t limit your choice of connectors unduly, and has some kind of locking mechanism.

However, here’s what you need to know about the RAD-0 headphone connections.

First, yes, they’re 3.5mm TRS.

The outer barrel of that connector is 7.62mm (0.3") in diameter. The recess/hole in the driver cup that accepts it is 8.0mm (0.314")*. The full length of the TRS conductor piece is 15mm, and an additional 4mm of the connector’s barrel inserts into the socket before it is fully seated.

Standard 3.5mm TRS plugs from Furutech, Neutrik/Rean, Eidolic and so on have the same 15mm TRS plug, with up to a 2mm long base that fits into the socket on the RAD-0, but unfortunately this leaves them 1.5mm to 3mm shy of full engagements before the barrel of said connector blocks any deeper insertion.

The only connectors I have found, so far, that will engage properly are the extended sleeve 3.5mm TRS plugs from Eidolic, which are often sold on cables for certain HiFi-MAN headphones:

While these fully engaged, the extended sleeve is only 5.5mm in diameter, so leaves 2.5mm of space and isn’t supported by the recesss in the RAD-0’s socket. In addition, the extended sleeve extended beyond the socket by about 5mm:

Pinouts will follow - I have them, just not where I’m sitting while posting this.


Personally I’d have much preferred these were mini 4-pin XLR with the same pinout as Audeze and ZMF, or mini 3-pin XLR with the same pinout as JPS Labs. It’s not like the extra gram or so would have had any significant impact on the already prodigious weight of the things, and then locking mechanisms would be standard and there’s several excellent options for connectors, with the bonus that they’re much easier to solder and secure than TRS plugs.

I suppose if one wanted to debase ones warranty you could swap the connectors and/or, since the shell is a resin/acrylic, and fairly tough seeming, you could probably drill out the recess to be a littler wider without much problem (can’t say if the material used is prone to splitting, but just a 1mm increase in diameter would let you use the same cables/connectors that, say, all the Focal headphones (Utopia excepted) use …


*Interesting that 7.62mm is a NATO spec bullet caliber, and that 0.314" is π.

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Review unit provided on loan for evaluation by headphones.com and “The HEADPHONE CommunityPreview Program.

Introduction
I was aware of the RAD-0 for some time before I got to see it and try it out, with the knowledge that this was a new headphone from Alex Rosson, one of the original minds behind Audeze. He’s now started his own headphone company called Rosson Audio Design. I had seen photos of his first headphone under this new brand, which admittedly don’t do justice to how aesthetically interesting they look in person, but beyond that I didn’t know much. Given how I feel about Audeze’s design choices in general, I was cautiously optimistic. I’ve never liked the Audeze weight and bulk, regardless of their sonic qualities, some of which I’ve also been critical of in the past. Because of these assumptions and the common ancestry between the RAD-0 and the current line of top Audeze headphones, I went into this review attempting to answer three questions:

  1. Where does the RAD-0’s technical performance fit relative to the Audeze line-up?
  2. Were they able to solve the weight and comfort issues that have consistently been a problem for Audeze?
  3. Does the RAD-0 have a better tonal balance than the LCD-4, especially in the treble?

Specs:
Cable Connectors - 3.5mm
Cable Length - 2 Meters
Transducer Type - Planar Magnetic
Transducer Size - 66mm
THD - <0.1%
Impedance - 29 Ohms
Weight - Over 600g
Price - $2,600

Source:
FLAC Library, TIDAL (HiFi and Master) - iFi iDSD Micro Black Label -> Cayin IHA-6 -> RAD-0

Music
While I’m generally a huge jazz enthusiast, lately I’ve been getting more into heavier material from my younger days. For jazz I went with Sophie Milman, Studnitzky, Stacey Kent and my usual favorites of Holly Cole and Patricia Barber. For heavier material I’ve been enjoying Periphery a lot lately, but I do find the vocals on all of their albums to be a bit rough sounding, so it’s actually a decent test for sibilance and other consonant issues. I also sat down with Opeth’s Pale Communion and listened to the whole album in one session - truly an amazing album, and more dynamic than a lot of stuff coming out these days.


Design, Build & Comfort
The RAD-0 is simply incredible to look at, and at first contact with the ‘Graffiti’ model, it’s clear that this is one of the most interesting headphones aesthetically. Of course, I don’t generally care about how a headphone looks, but when something stands out in such a striking manner like the RAD-0 does, it’s worth mentioning. Moreover, there are a number of different visual designs to choose from when purchasing a RAD-0, each with their own unique look, and you can even customize your own on their website (although that costs a bit more at $2,999).

I was immediately able to answer one of my initial questions - whether this headphone fixes the weight and comfort issues I had with the LCD-4 and other Audeze headphones - with a hard “not really”. Unfortunately the RAD-0 is just as heavy as those other monstrous headphones, but on the plus side, it’s not as bulky. This is partially due to it using 66mm planar transducers rather than the whopping 106mm ones used in the LCD-4. Rosson Audio claims the RAD-0 uses “a proprietary array of 11 N52 magnets” - meaning high-grade Neodymium is being used - but beyond that it’s not entirely clear what’s responsible for the ‘magic’ here. The weight alone does indicate a double-sided array, and in my experience those do perform better than single-sided planars like in some of the previous generation of HiFiMAN products.

But in spite of the weight, I do find the RAD-0 to be more comfortable for long periods of listening. I’m not fond of the headband design and much prefer a strap system, or a wider piece that distributes weight along the top better, but the clamp force is also quite tight, which takes some of the pressure off the top. While it’s not that comfortable at first, I find it easier to wear for longer periods of time as the pads conform to the sides of my head. The yokes are also very satisfying to slide up and down and they’re actually angled outwards, so the further they’re extended the less the clamp force is. Overall the comfort is passable but still definitely too heavy, and while the clamp force helps with the top of my head, it’s still a bit tight for me.


Performance
Thankfully the RAD-0’s performance is excellent and the positive Audeze inheritance is obvious throughout as well. To answer another one of my initial questions of how it compares to the top Audeze headphones (specifically the LCD-4), it does extremely well.

Resolution & detail retrieval: Out of headphones around $2,600 that I’ve heard recently, namely the ZMF Verite, the Meze Empyrean, and the RAD-0, the Rosson Audio headphone comes the closest to the ultra top of the line headphones like the LCD-4 or the Utopia. While to me it doesn’t quite match the LCD-4, it gets seriously close, not just for instrument separation but for lifelike and accurate reproduction of individual instrument lines as well.

Speed & dynamics: Unsurprisingly the RAD-0 is also quite fast, likely aided by the N52 grade magnets. The speed is comparable to that of the top of the line Audeze headphones as well, however the RAD-0 doesn’t slam with quite as much intensity, perhaps due to the smaller transducer. Nonetheless it does still hit hard enough and is easily enjoyable.

Soundstage & imaging: The RAD-0 has a decently wide stage, and it’s not without decent depth as well. In fact there’s a substantial difference between the farthest and closest points (partially due to the frequency response). Vocals in particular sit very close in front of the listener, while the rest of the instrumentation is spread out more to the sides. In that sense it’s not as ‘speaker-like’ in its presentation as the image isn’t focused towards the front, but instead more to the left and right. I don’t consider this a bad thing though. Instrument separation is also superb, and this headphone does extremely well with vocal harmonies. There’s such careful and surgical precision to how voices come across, and as mentioned, they sit very close to you - which sets them apart from the accompaniment in the rest of the mix.

Timbre: This is another win for the RAD-0. The RAD-0 takes after Audeze’s timbre qualities more than anything else, and that’s a very good thing in my opinion. That means it has a bit more sweetness and richness to the tone, rather than the occasional dryness I find in some HiFiMAN headphones.

Tonality
Raw and HEQ compensated measurements taken with the MiniDSP EARS Rig. This is not an industry standard measurement system. The bass looks a bit jagged but unless the environment is ideal for measuring open-back headphones it can be difficult to get 40hz and below accurate.

To answer the last and perhaps most important question I had coming into this review, the RAD-0 does indeed fix the tonal balance issues of the LCD-4. My problem with the Audeze flagship is that it’s overly subdued in the lower treble, and then the region above 10khz is overemphasized. This creates an effect where instruments don’t sound realistic. For example, the tonal focus and presence for a cymbal hit is recessed, but the splash quality is elevated. Incidentally, Audeze have also fixed the tonality of their flagship with the use of their ‘Reveal’ DSP, however with the RAD-0, you don’t need to use any software to get it to sound good, and more importantly for instruments to sound ‘correct’.

In spite of the linearity shown in the top graph, this is a more mid-forward headphone relative to the typical consumer curve that adds bit of a bass boost. So the fact that the RAD-0 doesn’t have that means the midrange sits a bit higher relative to those targets (as shown by the HEQ compensation). If we assume that the shape of the EARS rig’s pinna and concha aren’t substantially different from the average human ear (they very well might be) the only real issues are that the rise at 4khz doesn’t show up early enough, and the elevation doesn’t continue on long enough afterwards. This may cause it to look like a bit of a peak at 4khz on some graphs (again, HEQ), but it really doesn’t sound like that, which again makes me want to point the finger at the EARS rig.

Nonetheless, if we compare the RAD-0’s tonality to that of the LCD-4, it’s clear that the former doesn’t have the same tonal balance issues found in the latter. The RAD-0’s treble is perhaps some of the best I’ve heard. It retains a reasonable amount of air, while at the same time refusing to be sibilant, even with some of my more unforgiving tracks. It does this without reducing that range either (like a lot of other headphones do), so it’s not afraid to have enough energy in the traditionally difficult to tune area between 7-10khz, hitting the sweet spot so it doesn’t come across as harsh or grainy. Ultimately this means they’ve managed to get the tonal balance just right for properly representing instruments, and that’s something the Audeze ‘house sound’ typically hasn’t been able to do.

With that said, the two gaps on either side of the primary elevation at 4khz (before and after the rise) do tend to subdue certain elements of the mix - to the effect that it’s not my favorite headphone for classical orchestral music, which often has that wall of sound that makes good use of treble frequencies. The dips cause certain pieces of orchestral music to sound just a touch closed in - but it’s only a little bit subdued, unlike the LCD-4, which dips for way longer, and for just about every other genre, the RAD-0 does an exceptional job.


Comparisons
Audeze LCD-4 - The LCD-4 is still technically very impressive, and it does win on detail retrieval capabilities and it slams a bit harder as well. This is especially noticeable in the bass, but it’s surprisingly close, and that’s very impressive for a headphone that costs quite a bit less. Moreover, the RAD-0 has better tonal balance out of the box, with exceptional treble that isn’t overly sharp or bright but still has enough presence and clarity for excellent resolution. Without EQ, I definitely prefer the RAD-0 over the LCD-4. The RAD-0 is also slightly more comfortable for long sessions.

ZMF Verite - The Verite is my daily driver, and it’s also a more mid-forward headphone. What I like about the Verite, I like about the RAD-0, and they’re both warm headphones that have a tonal balance that manages to properly represent instruments so that they come across in a lifelike manner. It’s a difficult comparison because the Verite is a dynamic driver headphone and the RAD-0 is a planar magnetic, but I actually think the RAD-0 gets ever so slightly closer in terms of detail capability to the LCD-4. The Verite wins in a few areas, namely it has a more spacious stage, is a more natural listen overall (better mids), and is much more comfortable. But I also find I prefer the treble of the RAD-0. Where the Verite has a hint of sharpness at 8.5khz (depending on the pads), the RAD-0 is perfectly smooth.

Mrspeakers Ether 2 - The Ether 2 weighs less than half of the RAD-0, and so unsurprisingly it’s much more comfortable. It’s also technically quite capable, however the RAD-0 does win in terms of strict detail capability. The Ether 2 does have a more spacious stage to the front and not just to the sides like the RAD-0, but the latter does have slightly better surgical precision imaging and ‘blackness of background’. The RAD-0 is also faster and slams harder.

Sennheiser HD800s - Beyond simply soundstage, the HD800s also does detail quite well, but the RAD-0 wins in just about all performant categories other than soundstage. This is especially noticeable in the bass, where the RAD-0 performs better by a mile. So while the HD800s may be more spacious and surgical, the RAD-0 is a lot more fun. Of course, the HD800s is also way lighter and more comfortable.

Conclusion
As much as the RAD-0 is a great looking headphone, it’s not just all about the looks. This is one of the better sounding planars out there, and it looks like Alex Rosson has been able to alleviate many of the issues I had (and likely other people have) with Audeze’s tonal balance. Moreover, the RAD-0 has extremely positive technical performance as well, especially in terms of detail retrieval and speed. It comes closer to that of the LCD-4 than just about anything I’ve yet heard at its price range. Nonetheless, my primary gripe with Audeze headphones is still my main complaint here: it’s just too heavy. Part of me worries that in making the RAD-0 truly a work of art, Rosson Audio Design has made a concession in terms of weight. Still, this is more my personal axe to grind against any headphone that weighs over 500g, and the RAD-0’s comfort is still a bit better for longer sessions. So for those who are used to the Audeze weight, the RAD-0 gets a thorough recommendation from me.

You can check out my video review here:

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Excellent review!

I’m still super-impressed with them … and have to say that, despite my whinging about the connectors - if that’s the biggest issue I have with a headphone, then things are looking pretty damn good!

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Superb review. I enjoy your reviews so much.

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@Resolve’s excellent review of the RAD-0 is now up on the main headphones.com site.


I told you you’d beat me to it! :wink:

Spending more time with the RAD-0 is on temporary hold for me as I only have a week with the demo set of MySphere, and I spent the first two days getting them setup and oriented properly!

That’s the only reason I’m not commenting more on these cans at the moment …

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Here is the pair that I made when we were at Alex’s lab last month. And by “made” I mean I chose and mixed the colours, everything else is Alex’s handiwork.

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Very cool!

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…needs more purple… slinks away

:grin::laughing::wink:

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Stunning blue is my favourite colour. What ever shade it is.

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Thanks for a very thorough reply. So I take it these Eidolic extended sleeve jacks actually work w/these headphones?

If I ever get these headphones, job #1 will be getting a couple of these 3.5mm eidolic jacks & buying Norne cable extenders that use them (w/female 3-pin mini-XLRs on the headphone end of each side of split cable) so I can use this HP w/my 2 very good quality aftermarket cables config’d for Audeze/ZMF headphones.

For what it’s worth, I went through something similar w/my HEX v2, which now has 2.5mm Norne cable extenders attached. That same odd-looking exposed part of the jack remains out of the jack, even when the plug is fully inserted and music is flowing. It annoys me to look at, but when the HEX v2 is on my head & I’m listening, this doesn’t matter at all…

They do, indeed.

I used them to build a headphone adapter end for the RAD-0 for my modular cable system.

I may add a couple of layers of transparent insulation around the extended sleeve so that it more completely fills the opening, and acts as a support/buffer against excessive movement/stress on the sockets. But so far it’s more of a theoretical issue than a practical one.

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Thank you for these technical details, which are reassuring.

With my cable concern allayed, I can commence obsessing over this headphone in the usual manner. I have a thing for open-back planars…recently owned, then sold an Empyrean. I’d be very interested whether the RAD-0 is equal to or better than that very fine headphone…

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I’m hoping to do a back-to-back comparison between the RAD-0 and the Empyrean very shortly. But so far I think the RAD-0 are excellent, and are very close to the LCD-4 technically, with a better natural tonality, for ~2/3rds the price.

That’s quite compelling.

I’d like an “easier to drive” (the RAD-0 are VERY easy to drive, even the DragonFly Cobalt rocks them) high-end planar headphone, as part of my stable - and the RAD-0 and Empyrean are really the only two current contenders.

I do know I’m only buying one of them (physical downsizing concerns … can only move so much stuff from one continent or country to another on a semi-regular basis).

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I actually have another relatively easy-to-drive planar, the HEX v2, and like it a lot. But many don’t regard that as being sonically on the level of LCD-3 or 4, Empyrean, etc.

As for me, I couldn’t care less about easy-to-drive; I only listen on a desktop system w/various strong amps. But I totally care about sound quality, generally preferring planar to dynamic driver sound. If the RAD-0 turns out to be the sonic over-achiever some of these posts suggest, I’ll have to seriously consider getting one ($$ permitting, of course).

If you don’t mind a question…why do you move from country to country on a semi-regular basis?

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At the moment, I don’t; though I do travel extensively - and often at short notice.

Since my wife loves travel and exploration as much as I do, we decided we wanted to see the “rest” of the world (we’ve done 80+ countries each so far, but not all the same ones) and do so “properly”. So, somewhere around the end of this year/early next, we’re off on our “world tour”. That will involve moving to a new continent/country, living there for some period (of a year or more) and using it as a base to spend extended periods in several nearby countries.

Just doing a week or two, here and there, doesn’t give you the proper flavor of a place.

And once we’re done going TO places (i.e. because we can’t do the travel ourselves anymore), we’ll be on “The World” (or something similar) for the remainder. Though we’re planning on at least 10, maybe 15, years of the former …

Personally, I’d put the RAD-0 above anything from HiFi-MAN short of the Susvara (and the build of the RAD-0 makes even the Susvara look like a Kinder-surprise toy). And it beats the LCD-3 for me, too, sonically at least. Hell, the LCD-4, while ahead on technicalities, needs EQ or the Audeze “Reveal” plug-in (or Roon DSP Preset) to sound as natural!

Definitely something to audition directly before making changes/purchase decisions though.

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I’m coming down to the wire on making a decision as to whether to buy these now (assuming I can keep the “Graffiti” version) or wait and do a fully custom version at some point.

If I didn’t already own the LCD-4 it would be a trivial decision; I’d get the RAD-0.

Comparing between the LCD-4, RAD-0 and Empyrean, the LCD-4 just take the cake on technicalities, but need “Reveal”, Roon/Audeze DSP or other EQ to sound as natural, and need much more power, and the Empyrean are a bit lacking in the mids in terms of presence and resolution.

Empyrean win on comfort, easily.

The weight of the RAD-0 and LCD-4 aren’t major factors as all three cans are either too big, or too heavy, to take anywhere, so they’ll always be “at home” cans, where drive-power is a non-factor, and using EQ/plug-ins (for the LCD-4 or Empyrean) is also easy to accommodate.

I can exploit the ease-of-drive of the RAD-0 … (or the Empyrean) …

But it’s a hard call between the hassle of selling the LCD-4 to make space for the RAD-0, and just keeping the LCD-4 and running them off the “big stuff with EQ”.

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