Solid construction, Appealing design, Class-leading bass slam and tightness, Non-fatiguing and natural voicing, Very easy to drive
Recessed vocals, Treble extension leaves to be desired, Pads could be deeper, No balanced cable, Headband could be wider
This headphone never once feigns balance but delivers excellent bass performance from a snappy driver that allows it to achieve surprising genre flexibility
Apos Audio is best known as a retailer renowned for their frequent sales and after-sale support. However, the company surprised many with the release of their own products in the form of the Flow headphone cables that were perhaps testing the waters for something much bigger. Such has finally been realized in the form of the Caspian, a fully-fledged Apos-original headphone designed and built in conjunction with highly-esteemed Kennerton and tuned by experienced reviewer Sandu Vitalie of Soundnews fame. The Caspian enjoyed a lengthy design process and is a clear passion project for all parties involved. It is of personal belief that the $500 price range is fairly sparse of all-rounder headphones albeit representing one of the most diverse range of offerings that isn’t seen either above nor below this price range. The Caspian joins the movement as a headphone that was designed to be coloured and stylized to the creator’s liking; something easy to drive with a timeless styling, forgiving and personable.
The Caspian just launched for $499 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a unit on Apos Audio!
I would like to thank John from Apos very much for his quick communication and for reaching out to organise a review of the Caspian. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Driver: 50mm Graphene-Coated Multi-layer Dynamic Driver
- Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 45 kHz
- Impedance: 33 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 115 dB
- Weight: 378g
Behind the Design –
Apos delves much deeper into the design process on their blog here. Apos eludes to the fact that the Caspian is a close relative of the Kennerton Vali in terms of design but mention little of the similarities between their respective 50mm drivers. They are of Kennerton origin and sport an extremely low-mass multi-layer composite diaphragm in addition to being mechanically de-coupled from the housing. The company claims this provides a more responsive, lower distortion sound. In addition, the diaphragm is fortified by a graphene layer that improves rigidity and with it, speed and decay. It was then custom-tuned for Sandu and Apos.
Easy to Drive
A large goal of the Caspian was to make a coloured headphone that would be easy to enjoy for the average audiophile in addition to being non-demanding on other parts of their setup. This means the headphone must be easy to drive and Apos posit that its high 115dB sensitivity mean it can even be enjoyed from the integrated audio solutions in phones and laptops.
The Caspian isn’t a cheap headphone but justifies its asking price with a premium BOM – Apos has a post all about the process here. This starts with handmade oak earcups sources from the Caucasus mountains that has excellent acoustic properties and a crack-resistant grain. The company spent additional effort balancing the two earcups for each headphone both acoustically and visually, and this shows in the final product. The earpads have an inch of acoustic memory foam and are wrapped in hand-stitched sheepskin leather. The headband shares a natural leather construction atop a tough stainless-steel frame.
The Caspian comes in a large box that flaunts Apos branding alongside model designation. Opening up the box reveals a small but quality set of accessories. The star of the show is undoubtedly the leather carrying case which offers protection during shipping but also excellent portability with the addition of a shoulder strap and hand hold. It has a lovely uninterrupted grain and a supple feel. There is plenty of space for the headphones which means the pads don’t get compressed nor do the sliders have to be retracted before storage, something that irks on many competitors. In addition, Apos includes a standard fabric-sheathed cable with a single-ended termination and an in-built albeit non-removable leather fastener.
The Caspian lacks the complex mechanisms and flourishes of some in favour of simple, solid fundamentals. Their streamlined styling gives them a timeless appeal, aided by lovely oak cups that are beautifully complemented by a matte black frame. This lends an almost murdered-out aesthetic that perfectly pairs with their darker sound tuning. I admire the effort put into matching the two sides with woodgrain running in similar directions and a distinct lack of imperfections or fillers. While I am not a huge fan of lacquered wood personally as I do prefer the texture of unfinished wood, finished woods do tend to wear better over time which was a goal of the design. They also don’t feel over-finished as some cheaper wooden headphones do. The alloy grills similarly inspire with nigh flawless machining and a tactile texture. The tolerances overall are very tight reinforcing the sense of quality despite its simplistic design relative to many competitors.
Speaking of which there are really no unique design features to note besides a good old-fashioned padded headband, slider and single-axis earcup adjustment. This headphone is surely a reminder that more isn’t better as they never left me wanting in terms of fit or feel. Mini-XLR connectors leave at an angle from both earcups, and the connectors feel tight and reliable. The included cable is a 6.3mm single-ended unit with a fabric sheath and uniform chromed connectors. I appreciate the rubber strain relief on the mini-XLR connectors and the cable is surprisingly supple and free of memory despite its thickness. Microphonic noise also isn’t an issue despite the tight fabric sheath as the cable above the Y-split is quite short, preventing rubbing. Still, given the Apos make their own balanced Flow cables, the inclusion of one for the asking price may have been justified.
Fit & Comfort –
Over the years I’ve tested a plethora of headphones some from experienced companies and many from aspiring ones. Of those, you do get a sense that it is extraordinarily difficult to produce a headphone that both feels solid during handling but also conforms comfortably to the head during wear. While it doesn’t balance these qualities to the extent of Meze’s pricier designs, for instance, the Caspian manages both with better success than many likely owing to the experience carried by the staff at Kennerton. This starts with the headband assembly that Apos boasts is derived from Beyerdynamic’s OEM. It’s a traditional padded design which was a little thin for my liking but more comfortable than most. I did notice the headphones would wear on the top of my head after several hours of listening but it wasn’t unbearable. The frame otherwise impresses with its solidity and smooth finish devoid of sharp edges. The joints and slider mechanism all offer even tension throughout the adjustment range and between the two sides, further enhancing the sense of quality on offer. That said, there is only a single axis of earcup adjustment, up and down, with no pivot.
This means they don’t perfectly conform to the head but this impression will vary based on individual head shape. In my case, I found that fitting the headphones so that my ears were as far back in the pads as possible produced the best comfort. This was especially so as the driver waveguide is slightly convex leaving a little more room on the edges than the centre – take note if you’re experiencing hotspots. On the flipside, the lack of wobble lends the headphone an even more solid feel. What leaves to be desired is the slider mechanism whose distinct lack of feedback makes reliable adjustment a little more difficult than most. In addition, the hanger hinges and slider covers are both plastic with a rubberized coating that will not wear as well as the remainder of the headphone. Even after just a few weeks, the coating was already pealing from one of the hangers.
I am more enamoured with the hand-stitched sheepskin earpads that offer a supple feel and an inviting scent. While they aren’t quite as soft as the lambskin used on many high-end headphones, they do appear more hard-wearing. In addition, the padding offers a great seal with thick, high-density memory foam stuffing. The dense nature means that, even when softened due to body heat, the foam never becomes overly compressed. This prevents the drivers from contacting the ears over longer listening sessions. I do think they could do with a little more width, as my average-sized ears were just barely accommodated. However, as above, I didn’t experience hotspot formation over time from the pads themselves.