To some, describing a headphone as “fun” is akin to the kiss of death. The calling for linearity occasionally spurs dynamic swings in opinions, and even greater judgments in the comment sections and forums. Whatever your preconceived notions of the term are, the Rosson Audio Design RAD-0 is a fun headphone to behold, to hold… and to hear.
If you take a look through the company website, the first thing you might notice is that there appears to be a wide array of customizations and one-offs associated with the single-model headphone brand. And why not? At an asking price of $2,600 a piece, there appears to be enough margin to squeeze out some really cool bespoke feelings for purchasers. Rosson Audio Design even goes as far as to individually number each piece. My review sample was labeled 39/100 on the outside case.
For those who haven’t been following the market trends of modern audiophile headphones for the past 20 years, founder Alex Rosson got his start in the personal audio industry with Audeze. The influence of those designs can be felt throughout the RAD-0, but in a way, some of the differences feel like an extension, rather than a facsimile of that company’s LCD audiophile line of headphones.
It appears that special attention was given to build and construct. The RAD-0 is perhaps the most well-built headphone ever to come across the lab desk here. My time with it wasn’t enough to speak to the longevity of said construction, but initial reactions interacting with the hinges, cups and earpads was extremely favorable. Overall weight at 677g on the kitchen scale is heavy for a mainstream consumer headphone, but perhaps just par for the course for a playback device designed for chair listening in a comfortable Eames Lounger. I was especially impressed with the headband extension piece, which moved smoothly and securely in and out. Many headphones (even in the audiophile world) tend to implement light, but thin architecture in the area.
Much can be said about the customized earcups rings. From videos to their construction to the ever evolving use of color and design, the variety of aesthetics to choose from is considerable. What’s more, the feel of the review sample almost gave off a vibe of stone, with a hearty feel and a gloss that very much resembles a high grade granite countertop. There is a heavy degree of craftsmanship that appears to take place with the production of each headphone.
The majority of listening impressions took place with the dCS Bartok pulling both source and amplifier duties. If you take a look at the review of that $15k+ piece, you will see that high praise is well earned from the custom ring DAC digital section as well as the class A optional headphone amplifier. For extra ear tickles and a little variety, we also connected the RAD-0 to our house reference Questyle CMA 800R amplifier via AudioQuest Earth cables from the Bartok. The total grand sum amounts to some extensively premium gear, with ultra grade sound to back up the heavy price tags. But let’s back this high-riding race horse up a bit first.
The website specs for the California-made-and-designed planar magnetic driver list it as 66mm in size with eleven N52 neodymium magnets. All of those magnets of course contribute to the overall weight, but at home listening is likely where a headphone like this finds most of its use in any case.
The tone of the Rosson Audio Design might be borrowed from some of the best parts of Audeze’s speed and slam, especially in the bass sections, however the low end is unique among the piles of planar headphones on the market. To my ears the bass has a very pleasing boost in the very lowest regions, not something that inflates the scale near the mids, but rather a nice rumble and support for the framework that makes up the rest of the spectrum. Now this, along with some pleasing texture throughout the mids, aligns to create the descriptor “fun” that I mentioned in the intro. But, it is the kiss of death?
Far from it, in the case of the Rosson Audio Design RAD-0. One could almost say the headphone is the most fun you could have while still maintaining a solid sense of linearity. The perception of this unique sonic translation is quite flat (enough to appease audiophiles) but enticing enough to have a wow factor to impress your friends. Truth be told, many “flat” systems used in monitoring and producing applications can sound somewhat unengaging. They are not meant to be. They are a simple tool used to pull data from the source and reproduce it the best they can. I see the RAD-0 to be a little better than that. A little more toe-tapping fun, a little more pull into the music. Juicy, tempting, and highly rewarding.
A recent survey I conducted on Twitter revealed that a significant portion of audiophiles (at least the ones that follow me) prefer to have things simplified or rationalized down to a ratings scale. So for those individuals, let me continue with these extended observations distilled down to a five star approval rating.
First (and by far my least favorite obscure parameter): soundstage width. I always take some issue with this observation because it is quite obscure and falls so heavily on the listener’s perception of space in a physically tiny and mostly simulated geographic region. Still, for the sake of science, it produced 4 out of 5 stars. The slightly darker signature of the Rosson Audio Design RAD-0 against Dan Clark Audio Ether 2 voicing was noticeable, but didn’t noticeably subtract from the perceived distance of objects placed on either side of the headphone’s projected sphere of sound. As for depth, with the expectation of Focal’s Utopia there doesn’t appear to be enough variance to merit comment. Most cans simulate roughly the same amount of space away from the user in front of the head (without the use of DSP).
If the overall timbre was rated in fun (these stars would have to be VERY sparkly, and way more fantastic than plain ol’ gold) – 5 stars. Transparency to source lands around a 4, I’ve heard a few more headphones with more purity, but not many. Build is 5 stars, absolutely. Wearability could be 5 stars, but those stars would have to be placed in the shape of a comfortable chair, because that is where you will be sitting when you don these heavy headphones. The grip, or caliper pressure of the headphones was more than the brand new pair of DCA Ether 2 in for review, but that headphone is also lighter and requires less to stay securely on the head.
Pad contact was also very nice with both the material choice and interior cushion resistance. The fit is similar to a pair of traditional Audeze LCD fare, but with a little more stability to the entire structure. Bass region might land in different places for different folks, but the added flavor I hear is never overdone, and doesn’t encroach on other space that it runs up next to – 4 stars. Mids are fairly rich, layered and engaging to listen to – 4 stars. Treble is smooth and totally non fatiguing. DCA Ether 2 offers perhaps a bit more reach, but that observation is undoubtedly blurred by the alternate frequency signature displayed by the subtle deviation in overall sound. Truth be told, it’s just where I like to see it in terms of playback with the RAD-0, but others may require more in the highs as their hearing gets worn out with age – 4 stars.
Dynamics would get 5 stars. There is tightness to the response that trickles into a well-tuned machine of stop and start. Total that all up and tabulate the weight for each category and we have a solid 4.5 star headphone overall. Pricey, but spicy if you are into the sound signature, which should appeal to many (if not all) audiophiles.
The bespoke nature of the Rosson Audio Design RAD-0 is a nice bonus at this price point. Surprisingly, it’s not common in the space outside of custom in ear monitors, which by their very nature have to be customized to fit the wearer’s ear. The colors are art in and of themselves, and the way the material is crafted pushes the quality to something above and beyond the average. It’s very original in that way, a slight escape from the black plastic or sanded wood options from the rest of the competition.
Sound quality is equally unique to the headphone. It’s artful and constructed with purpose. The low bass is tasty, while the vocals have weight and presence to them. One of the best constructed headphones I have ever reviewed. Sturdy, heavy and audiophile to the core. It’s surely one to add to your collection, the variation from the pack is just enough to add something (aka fun) without detracting. But if it’s your only top tier headphone, you probably wouldn’t need another to fill the space.
The truth is “fun” is not, and should not translate as “inferior”. In the case of the Rosson Audio Design RAD-0 the slight variations are not enough to pull the frequency response far enough off axis to disrupt the neutrality of the presentation. It is exciting and engaging in a way that brings something a little extra to the sonic impression, a nice touch to the otherwise linear Audeze-ish response. Bring on the tube amplification, explore any type of music to your heart’s delight. The resolution is enough to supply both audiophile and production engineer alike. Rosson delivers art while being a piece of one in and of itself. Nicely done.
More info: Rosson Audio Designs