Apos Caspian Review – Smooth like Butter
I was expecting a reasonably warm and laid-back sound given the sound descriptors at play in addition to the initial graphs showcased in Apos’ blog posts. This is pretty much what has been delivered, a warm, bass-centric sound with mids and highs sitting in near equal proportion above. Vocals sound clear albeit laid-back whilst the top-end is crisp with some lower-treble sustain that tapers off into relative darkness above. I have found that headphones around this price range tend to excel in one particular area with more rounded performance coming in at a higher price or to the detriment of technical ability. This resonates on the Caspian with regards to its bass performance which is outstanding within this price range and a generally fun and engaging performer. If you enjoy a bassy sound that doesn’t neglect the remaining frequency ranges but retains them in a clean and non-fatiguing manner, the Caspian strikes me as a strong performer with a very focused and clear-cut character. It’s certainly not a groundbreaking style of tuning but one of thoughtful execution and with pleasing driver qualities to complement.
The highlight of the sound in terms of both quantity and quality, the low-end sits at the forefront of the Caspian’s sound but doesn’t overwhelm it. It’s a very progressive boost meaning the timbre comes across as quite honest despite sitting forward. There’s a medium deep-bass boost giving bass a bolder character, however, the mid and upper-bass showcase sound linearity resulting in minimal bloat and bloom. This produces a powerful sounding low-end with good structure and surprising separation given the level of emphasis. While I don’t want to paint the Caspian as a bass-head headphone, it is definitely bass-forward, especially evident on tracks with male vocals that tend to be quite laid-back.
Thankfully, the driver quality is an inspiring performer, especially considering their asking price. Extension is excellent, delivering a more palpable slam than competing planar models that gives the low-end a sense of dynamism and physicality. In addition, note definition performs at a high level and notes decay naturally contributing to the natural note timbre on display. While bass isn’t what I would consider pacey, it offers a very tight impact and never drones or smooths over fine details. Notes are highly textured and presented with a larger-than-life character imbuing a sense of scale and grandness. With minimal bloat or smear, the low-end is characterized by a fun, dynamic yet discerning nature.
If there’s one thing that is neglected in this price range, it would be the midrange and, unfortunately, the Caspian doesn’t go too far against the grain here. Many competitors simply suffer from wonkiness in their frequency response but the Caspian’s main issue is its vocal-recessed nature. The actual voicing is mostly natural through its lower and centre-midrange but with a sizeable dip in the 3kHz region, vocals have a notably dense and laid-back character. Some may enjoy the organic and coherent voicing this permits, and both clarity and vocal size remain ample on behalf of a small 4kHz rise. In addition, the headphones pick up somewhat in the lower-treble region retaining a good sense of articulation and extension. This is a headphone that has intentionally been tuned this way, but it is important to note that it still won’t be to many listeners’ preference. The headphones don’t strike me as veiled, especially after a brief adjustment period, but they won’t win any awards on vocal clarity either.
This is most evident on male vocals that are quite recessed with female vocals sounding slightly more transparent and present due to the upper-mid rise if still not especially immediate. The lack of bass to midrange contrast also gives the midrange a very full-bodied character meaning vocal definition is lacking. Still, I do keep coming back to the sense of grandness I enjoyed in the bass. The same character is maintained in the midrange which benefits from a rich and full-bodied portrayal of instruments. Though vocals rarely take the spotlight and just suffice in terms of quality and timbre, the midrange instrument portrayal is subjectively more enjoyable. The Caspian is ultimately a clearly coloured affair and does make some concession in midrange voicing in favour of a more vibrant bass performance. While the midrange doesn’t inspire, it has an easygoing quality that also lacks the glaring faults that plague many competing bass-centric headphones.
Typical to many bass-boosted headphones, treble has a small rise to help balance out the overall sound profile. However, I would say it is in very good taste here, neither sounding blunted or closed-off nor overbearing by comparison to the laid-back midrange. It sits roughly on par with the upper midrange and sustains linearly throughout the lower treble before rolling off progressively thereafter. The even nature of the treble response means the headphone has a good sense of foreground detail presentation in addition to the driver offering above-average resolving power. The leading edge of notes is crisp and not the slightest bit over-sharpened. Foreground treble instruments such as strings and cymbals benefit from a well-textured and clear expression. At the same time, they never overstep or fatigue due to their slightly laid-back positioning. If there’s one notable quirk of this headphone’s treble response it would be the middle treble. As emphasis falls off around 8kHz, air and openness are reduced.
Notes strike with accurate clarity and notes are well-bodied. However, the subsequent decay is truncated leading to an overly damped sounding treble. It does sap some liveliness and shimmer from the sound though as the lower treble upholds good clarity, I didn’t find this to hamper listening enjoyment. Just don’t expect an especially airy, open sound here. In addition, background and micro-detail retrieval are just average performers, not aided by recession through the responsible frequency ranges, and these qualities are easily bested by most similarly priced planar models. Unsurprisingly, this style of tuning rewards in the form of a dark, clean background with zero glare and fatigue over time. You can enjoy these headphones all day and even turn up the volume a little higher without issue. All the while, they maintain a clear and well-detailed lower-treble presentation.
The Caspian isn’t an especially spacious sounding headphone but provides sound expansion that prevents its warm and dense voicing from becoming claustrophobic or congested. Width is just enough, it never stands out as a strength but isn’t lacking either though you will find no shortage of open-back headphones that will best the Caspian in this regard. Where the Caspian does well is with regards to depth, achieved with its grand sound tuning combined with its laid-back yet well-centred vocals. Imaging performs at a decent level lacking both outstanding speed and balance. Layering is average but the stage is well organized and offers good stereo positioning. Separation leaves a similar impression and isn’t helped by the style of tuning. With that said, it is a respectable performance considering due to the well-controlled driver.
The Caspian was designed to be easy to drive with a high 115dB sensitivity and a low 33 Ohm impedance.
Testing the Caspian with and without a 20-Ohm adaptor produced a similar tonality suggesting that the Caspian has a flat impedance curve. This means it can be enjoyed from tube amplifiers or other high output impedance sources without huge tonal deviation.
The Caspian, true to its design, is not a difficult headphone to drive in terms of volume or current demands. Even portable sources do a fine job and deliver a similar tonality with minimal loss to bass power. There is a tighter slam on a good desktop amplifier in addition to a more physical sub-bass slam, however, besides this I found there was impressive parity.
Suggested Pair Ups
To me, the warm, smooth Caspian is best paired with a neutral-leaning amplifier that aids transparency. The THX789 was a fine choice in my testing, adding a bit of definition to the treble and further tightening up the bass, it also makes sense from a budgetary standpoint. If you lack the budget for a dedicated source, a strong advantage of the Caspian is that is is easily driven by integrated audio solutions, dongles and portable players which still isn’t completely common in the headphone scene.
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