It’s not very often that you can see and hear the development of a product in real time. Mostly it’s done behind closed doors and only revealed once fully done. ModHouse approached this a bit differently. Multiple versions of the Tungsten have been available at different shows around the country as he’s made progress. I was fortunate enough to be able to hear a couple of these versions and now the final product. Many might recognize the name behind this latest offering as the mastermind behind the ever-popular Argons. Ryan got his start by modifying and tuning Fostex T50rp and T60rp. Some other companies who originally started the same way have become quite popular, namely ZMF headphones and Dan Clark Audio. Rather than taking the easy way out and picking an off-the-shelf driver for his first venture into headphone building, he decided to create his own planar from the ground up.
Build and Comfort
While there are still some elements of that “DIY” look, the Tungsten looks decidedly more premium as a package than some of the other first offerings I have seen from others. The cups themselves as well as the yokes are made of ceramic coated nylon. It feels quite sturdy and contributes to the light weight of the unit. Attaching the headband to the cups is a threaded bolt which has enough adjustment points to be able to find a sweet spot. The headband itself is made of hand forged steel. This feels incredibly durable and creates a nice and even clamping force. Sitting just below that is the actual head strap. It’s made of Alcantara and wings out a bit at the top to help evenly distribute the weight. Inside seems to be a small bit of foam which helps with padding, and you can see the edges are nicely hand stitched.
For the pads, I know ModHouse worked with a few different manufacturers while building these headphones. Ultimately, he opted for a modified version of the Caldera Hybrid pads for the included pads. One neat thing about the pads is they use a magnetic system, so the pads can be easily swapped should they need replacement or for switching to different pads. This is something I wish more manufacturers did. It’s a nice quality of life feature that doesn’t make me feel like I’ll either destroy the pads taking them off or spend fifteen minutes struggling to get them back on. The stock hybrid pads are very comfortable and plush. You can see a lot of thought and effort went into the build for these, and it paid off. They are extremely comfortable, and I can wear them for hours without any issues.
Finally, the stock cable is a significant improvement over most companies. Included with Tungsten is a beautiful copper braided cable from Viking Weave designed specifically for this headphone. Most stock cables seem to be an after thought at best which most people in the higher end world probably replace with their favorite after market cable. In the past, I have even replaced other headphone cables with offerings from Viking Weave, so this is a sight for sore eyes. The cable makes the whole package feel a lot more premium and well thought out.
Like every other part of this headphone, the drivers seem to be made with extreme care and precision. After speaking with Ryan, the version offered to market is actually the 10th driver iteration. He said it took a lot of work and different factors to get the sound and performance level they were after. This final version uses 24k gold for the drivers with custom magnets on both sides of the driver. The one byproduct of this process is that the efficiency went down, and the impedance went up from what people might be used to with other planar headphones. While planars in the past have been higher efficiency and low impedance, we’ve seen a couple offerings that take a real amp to get going. Something like the HiFiMan Susvara or HE6 come to mind in terms of hard to drive headphones but rewarding you for your efforts. The Tungsten seem to be in that same category although with a couple of different caveats. They are a bit more gain limited than current limited. For example, Susvara seems to benefit from having as much current available to them as possible. On the opposite side, Tungsten seems to benefit from amps with more gain that don’t necessarily have a crazy amount of power. The other interesting thing is that they are around 150 ohms. For the more informed reader, this is a number typically seen with dynamic drivers. Most planars seem to hover around 20 – 65 ohms. This puts the Tungsten in a unique position of being a planar driver that works exceptionally well with tube amps. They actually seem to be easier to drive comparatively when being run off tube amps.
A note on amp pairings is that these seem to be more dependent on having enough voltage available to them to get them loud enough. On paper they seem hard to drive and that would be true, but the reality is probably a little different than what some might be used to with say something like a Susvara. Susvara in particular changes a ton with high current amps and there’s a lot to be said about powering them to get them to sound their best. Tungsten doesn’t demand nearly the same level of current. What I’ve found is that once you can get them loud enough, they sound at their best in terms of a drivability standpoint. That’s not to say they don’t benefit from high level source gear but in terms of atleast driving them properly it’s a bit of a different issue the Susvara.
Overall, Tungsten delivers an incredibly dynamic and immersive presentation. They present notes with a certain weight and body which are not often heard from planars let alone at this price. Tonally they are a bit on the warm side of neutral but not by much.
The bass is clean, detailed, and well defined while still carrying a lot of weight. They have very good extension well into the sub bass. I think the weight to the low end is probably the most surprising thing. They extend deep and provide great information all the way down to the rumble. You will not only hear great bass but feel it as well all while being well controlled.
Going back and forth between Tungsten and the original HE6, it’s interesting to see some similarities. They both at least present with very linear low ends on paper. A casual look at the graph would tell you that, but there’s something more going on. They both have that nice weighty, hard hitting low end that doesn’t seem to match the response. The HE6 seems a bit more forward and hits just a touch harder than the Tungsten. The Tungsten is certainly no slouch though. They keep up with HE6 in terms of low-end resolution and speed.
Mid-range is presented with a touch of warmth and very nice air. Theres a bit of a dip in the upper mid-range similar to some Hifiman offerings but a bit less pronounced. Theres a good bit of body that makes the vocal presentation very enjoyable. Vocals especially females never sound harsh without feeling like I’m losing any of the information available. Timbre and overall resolution are great. I wouldn’t call these intimate nor do they have over exaggerated staging. Vocals sit comfortably outside the head, but they have good layering capabilities and instruments are well placed within the stage.
Treble is one thing I have really enjoyed on these. It’s a very refined presentation that presents very smooth while still maintaining good energy and air. I played around with some different pads just to see how it changed things. I was able to add a bit more sparkle to the top end but leaned out the low end. I think overall the stock pads included are very balanced and still have good top end energy while maintaining the weight and presence to the low end.
Technicalities overall are quite amazing for a headphone at this price. I think it comfortably sits more in line with some recent TOTL offerings in this regard. Soundstage is quite expansive in terms of both height and depth without much compromise. It still possesses very good imagining capabilities and accurately sets instruments within the stage. I wish image clarity was a touch more but overall, not a huge issue. The stage is a bit wider to the front than the sides pulling in just slightly around the side of the head. Depth and layering are quite good. Resolution is great but never feels overly forced or in your face. Overall, when paired with a quality source and amp these will rival headphones priced much higher and provide an incredibly detailed and impactful sound.