JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Planar Magnetic Headphones

JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Planar Magnetic Headphones ($5495)
The very unusual looking JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 is an over-ear, open, planar-magnetic headphone. (Unusual looking? Let's not mince words, these headphones are butt-ugly.) But despite its odd looks and significant weight, they are surprisingly comfortable. Primary adjustment is accomplished at the top join of the two black anodized aluminum headband sides with a friction fitting that allows the space between the two earpieces headphones to be widened and narrowed, and which allows the ear-cups to be rotated a moderate amount forward and back. There is no tilt adjustment on the headband, but the large angled pads can be rotated to effectively change the tilt.

Looking at the headphones I was quite skeptical that this contraption would offer any degree of wearing comfort, but looks can be deceiving. Getting the headphones properly adjusted to my head took a little bit of fidgeting, but once I found the sweet spot they were surprisingly comfortable and relatively secure. I did find, however, that I could never quite get the headphones to seal with as much pressure at the bottom of the earpad as at the top. When I rotated the pads far enough to provide an even seal, the oval shape of the earpad opening was horizontal and my ear didn't fit properly in the cup. Fortunately, the aluminum headband is sturdy, and by firmly but carefully bending the vertical arms of the headband inward slightly the problem was solved. The AB-1266 uses a leather headband pad with internal padding suspended by what looks like rubber o-rings at either end; it nicely distributes the weight of the headphones over a good portion of the top of my noggin. At this point it's very easy to take the cans on and off my head, and long listening sessions are fairy comfortable.

This is probably a good time to mention that Joe Skubinski of JPS Labs recommends the headphones be adjusted to lightly seal against the head. During measurements of the headphones I spent quite a bit of time adjusting the headphones on the measurement head while watching a 30Hz square wave. It's quite easy to evaluate the performance of the seal in this way, and indeed I did find that the cans did perform best with a gentle but complete seal.

The build quality and materials apear to be top-notch. Black anodized aluminum and leather are used throughout. Two 8' long cables are terminated at each earpiece with mini-XLR connectors, and are specially made for the AB-1266 by JPS Labs using proprietary Alumiloy conductors. The amplifier end of the cables are terminated in full-size Neutrik 3-pin male XLRs. Accessories included with the Abyss headphones are plentiful and excellent. Included are: wood storage box; a very nice leather carry case with shoulder strap; an aluminum headphone stand; and two Y-adapters one with a 1/4" headphone plug and the other a 4-pin XLR. This may be the nicest set of accessories I've ever seen come with a headphone.

One-sided Planar Magnetic Drive
As unusual as these headphones are, the most unusual feature of these cans is their magnetic structure. Planar magnetic headphones typically have a magnetic structure that creates an iso-dynamic field in which the conductive elements are immersed. (You can read more about it here.) One of the drawbacks of this technique is the large magnetic structure needed on both sides of the diaphragm that create a significant acoustic impediment to radiated sound.

JPS Labs has taken a different approach with the AB-1266 using a magnetic structure that is on one side of the diaphragm only. I spent quite a bit of time exchanging emails and talking on the phone with Abyss designer Joe Skubinski to get an exact understanding of the AB-1266 driver design. Joe was very forthcoming with detailed information on the design, but considers it proprietary information, so I'll not describe the driver structure in detail. I can say that the magnet is a single large neodymium magnet with slots in it, and it's polarity is north on one face, south on the other. A very thin diaphragm with metal traces in a serpentine pattern are aligned very carefully behind the magnet—alignment is critical in this design.

JPS Labs does not claim the AB-1266 is an iso-dynamic design, and in my opinion it is not. As the diaphragm moves away from the magnet it will experience less magnetic field strength, when it moves closer to the magnet the field strength will increase. With iso-dynamic designs the field strength theoretically remains constant, at a minimum it will be symmetrical as the diaphragm moves forward and back. The asymmetrical magnetic field strength of the AB-1266 should mean that it has more second harmonic distortion than iso-dynamic designs.


Spectra of 500Hz tone at 100dBspl with the Abyss AB-1266 and Audeze LCD-3.(Vertical scale is not calibrated to dBspl.)

The above spectral plot shows a 500Hz tone being played at 100dBspl with the Audeze LCD-3 and Abyss AB-1266 and the resulting harmonic series. (I chose a fairly loud level to test so that distortion products were as significant as possible. As you can see, harmonic distortion overall is higher in the AB-1266, but second and fourth harmonic peaks at 1kHz and 2kHz are a significantly higher with the AB-1266. Even-order distortion plays a larger roll in the AB-1266 response than it does with the LCD-3.

It would be easy at this point to simply say more distortion is worse, but that's not necessarily true. If it were, tube amps would be universally worse sounding than solid-state amps, which is simply not the case for many listeners. I'll refer you to this article written by Nelson Pass where he discusses the issue. My motive for producing the plot above was to see if the AB-1266 had more even-order distortion possibly produced by the asymmetrical magnetic field...and it does. Though it's not certain the even-order distortion is being produced but the nature of the magnetic field, it's pretty good evidence.

The proof of the pudding however, is in the listening, which we'll get to on the next page.

JPS Labs
7601 Seneca St.
East Aurora, NY 14052

Audioaddict's picture

I havent listened to many high- end headphones, but from your review it sounds like these are great minus the treble issues! I'm a little surprised to see what the FR looks like considering how nicely they sound to you. Guess this proves that a chart can look ugly (for a world-class headphone) and still sound good. Same for the V-moda m-100 i guess too. 

Currawong's picture

I am so disappointed. 

John Grandberg's picture


joelha's picture

Great review, Tyll.

Is there a portable amp which could satisfactorily drive these headphones?


Tyll Hertsens's picture


Cami's picture

On the first pic you look like a king on the throne, reigning over those Amps and cans, I was kinda looking for that scepter to your right, lol.
I wish I could have the chance to audition that kind of gear with my favorite recordings, but because my enthusiasm is way bigger than my wallet, that is unlikely to happen. It is nevertheless fun to read about it and to see you there painstakingly sacrificing your valuable time for the curiosity of all us enthusiasts, lol.
What else can one say, fabulous gear, and fun to get a glimpse of it and your impressions. Regarding the HD800s and amplification, have you ever tried them on a Violectric V200?

Long live the King!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

And no I haven't heard the Violectric, sorry.

Cami's picture

If you can get your hands on those huge and exotic champ Amps, you can surely find a V200 out there to give it a try. I have a V100 and a pair of HD800s, and I recently heard my Senns with a V200 and liked it more than my V100 (Axel Grell's favorite Amp with the HD800s).

With all the mods and tweaks to improve the HD800s, interesting material for an article could be finding the right Amp for them. Maybe a couple of Amp pairing suggestions could be another interesting and valuable variable for the Resources section, especially considering difficult cans. Anyhow, just some loose thoughts.



John Grandberg's picture

Tyll knows where to find a V200 whenever he wants one.... wink

Cami's picture

Buying a pair of cans for $1500 is no minor spending, at least for to me; and to mod them with some ugly hack is not what I had in mind when I bought them. Finding the right Amp sounds a lot more reasonable, and with the general unavailabilty of good Amps to audition at your nearest hifi dealer, an Amp-can pairing section at Innerfidelity would be a useful resource, and it would make a lot of sense, since these blogs are primarily aimed at buying stuff and for people looking for more info to make an informed purchase.

It would of course also be a great stimulus for the tech talk that most enthusiasts like and a place for their further valuable contributions, as well as a space for practical application of many of the principles that are often discussed, such as impedance, gain, frequency response, damping, voltage, output power, etc., etc.


24bitbob's picture

I'm using Sennheiser HD800's with the Anaxilus mod.  I use (or used) a Violectric V200 amplifier.  I love these headphones, but agree with the shortcomings that Tyll and others have identified.  The Anaxilus mod took me closer to where I hoped to be, but I still tired of the sound after a while (still love the headphones though, the good/great outweighing the not so good for me).

I recently bought a Luxman DA-200 DAC/headphone amplifier, and oh boy does that pairing sound good.  I'm using the Luxman DAC fed with a Musical Fidelity 192 V-link, which has replaced the Chord QuteHD I had feeding the Violectric.  The improvement in sound I'm hearing being most significantly affected by the amplifier section of the Luxman I am sure.  It's way ahead of the V200 in my opinion.  Worth checking out for those looking to make their HD800's sing.

Thanks Tyll for the great work.


MacedonianHero's picture

Great write up Tyll! Can't say I'm surprised by your findings and agreed, these are the fugliest headphones I've ever seen!

I would expect better measurements (FR response, not having rolled off bass, better square wave plots, lower bass distortion and quicker impulse responses) from $1000 headphones.

jerg's picture

One particular thing I noted is that the measurements (especially FR and 300 Hz squarewaves) of the Abyss look strikingly similar to that of HE400s.


It's curious to say the least. Perhaps the HE400 and Abyss were both being tuned toward a similar sound signature, deviating from the neutral ideal, intentionally?


They also both exhibit a segment of nasty THD flares, but differ by the distortion residing in midrange of HE400, and treble for Abyss.

johnjen's picture

You forgot to mention the ukalele in your ensamble… yes

JJ smiley

flatmap's picture

Did treble performance improve when the AB-1266 was mated with any of your other amps?

Long time listener's picture

It strikes me (having seen only the photographs) that the only think that makes these butt-ugly is the square design of the frame. Jeez, what a design choice. Nothing like turning people off to your phones before they've even heard them, or giving them a reason to waffle if they like them but can't quite decide to buy.

Jazz Casual's picture

Another informative and easy to read review Tyll. I've got a feeling I'm going to like its sound. But OMG! the design of that thing. Did Ozzy Osbourne have a hand in it and does it come with a matching t-shirt?  

John Grandberg's picture

...and if so, does the shirt have this on the front?


ultrabike's picture

Gotta say I heard these and they are not bad at all. As Jerg, I also noticed that these exhibit similar response to the HE400. I'm an idiot and did not compared them during an audition... and they were right there! 

These are really good in the bass area, but do have some issues in the tremble. Not too bad though. These are more than listenable... actually quite nice!

Don't like the looks... But then again, there is the akg1000, the jeckling floats, and the entry level staxen (207 to 507)... all of which are an afterthought in style IMO, but are unique in their own way.

Don't like the price... 'cuz I can't afford them (and a crap load of other stuff anyway).

Jazz Casual's picture

Yes, but it has to be said that none of those headphones cost five and a half grand when they were released. I'd also expect a TOTL headphone at this price to garner high praise for its sound reproduction - "not bad at all" and "more than listenable... actually quite nice!" is hardly a ringing endorsement. ;) Putting sound quality to one side for a moment, at least the SR-009 looks like a superb piece of high-end kit. Everything about the Abyss right down to the logo design is inelegant.  

Cami's picture

spiderfan's picture

Thank you Tyll for a great review.

Just one question, why was the EF6 head recommended? There are soo many headphone amps out there that are much better, even solely for planar magnetics. In addition, it wouldnt be very fair to compare this with a Stax on the blue hawaii, I'd thought. The blue hawaii is in a completely different league.

I would have loved to have seen a cavalli amp used with the AB1266.


darrenyeats's picture

I heard the HD800, LCD3 and Abyss on the same day: the Abyss is the one I would consider purchasing despite its higher price. Please bear in mind this was a quick comparison and I am approaching it as a newcomer to high end headphones (though not high end hi-fi in general).

star's picture

according your review ,the hd 800 is your top edge headphone if well amped ,?
but the well amp you suggest is no longer available
the poster who suggest
didnt done comparison with the ecpaudio one ,while this is basicly more then less a dac not a amp ,he must got ecciting by it in first place ,but amp must alwayes bring more results then dac ,unless you dont deal with a sound dac in begin with "
now what relates to reality ,how does a good amp thats available moently like cavally gold ,masskobo 394 driver the hd 800 compare to those two above ?

martin's picture

Hi Tyll,

I was wondering what recording you use to evaluate the highs with the drummer alternating brush strokes?