I recently received the Hi-Fi+ review sample of the new Final Audio Design Pandora Hope VI headphone (£699.99) and have been exploring it with enthusiasm ever since. When the Pandora first arrived, the first surprise was its packaging.
The Pandora Hope VI, you see, came in a distinctive, matte black, hexagonal box with both the manufacturer and the product’s names embossed in silver on the top. Now I know what Pandora’s Box looks like. In my eyes, that box exuded mystery and intrigue, looking more like something I would expect to find in a shop on Diagon Alley rather than a carton containing audio gear. Faced with this mystery, I did what any audiophile would do: I threw caution (and the time-honoured warnings of ancient mythology) to the winds and opened the box.
Inside, things became even stranger (but in a good way). The box, which is precision-cut from thick panels of matte black pasteboard, has a dual pair of half-lids that flip open sideways to reveal an interior covered with a peculiar, long-fibre, faux fur padding material. Protruding from within the uppermost folds of the furry material was the just barely visible top of the Pandora Hope VI’s headband pad. By grasping the headband pad and gently spreading the left and right arms of the headphone frame, it was possible to lift the headphone from its exquisitely upholstered cradle. Also in the box were found a manual, warranty card, and a plastic bag containing the Pandora’s very well-made detachable, locking signal cables. All in all, it made for an impressive unboxing experience.
The Pandora Hope VI is a closed-back, hybrid dynamic driver/balanced armature-type driver-equipped headphone. Like many of you, I have seen and heard numerous universal-fit earphones and custom-fit in-ear monitors that use balanced armature-type drivers, but this is the first time in my recollection that I’ve seen balanced armature drivers used in a full-size headphone. Since conventional wisdom holds that balanced armature drivers offer relatively limited dynamic output, I could not help but wonder if the ones Final Audio had devised would have sufficient dynamic ‘oomph’ for use in a full-size headphone. As it turns out, though, Final addresses the issue by using the Pandora’s 50mm dynamic driver essentially as a wide-range mid/bass unit and then treating the balanced armature driver purely as a tweeter. Even so, I wondered about its possible dynamic limits—a question that was soon answered once I plugged the Pandoras in and gave them a listen.
I connected the Pandora’s to the superb Chord Hugo headphone amp/DAC I use as one of my primary references and turned up the volume to what I expected would be a very modest level (something easy to discern, thanks to the Hugo’s colour-coded volume control), only to discover that the Pandoras began to play at extremely high output levels. “Holy Mother of Klipschorn,” I exclaimed, “these things are quite sensitive, aren’t they?” Thus, my very first conclusion was that it should be possible to drive the Pandora quite nicely with (high-quality) amplifiers of only modest power output.
Indeed, as I write this blog I am listening to the Pandoras as they are driven by my Samsung Galaxy S5 mobile phone, and output levels seem quite reasonable. From the perspective of sound quality, of course, I would recommend using something much better than a mobile phone to drive these Final Audio headphones, but the mobile phone experiment does suggest they are quite easy to drive.
I spent the next several hours listening to the Pandora’s through the superb Chord Hugo as fed from my music server, and as I did so I also came to the conclusion that the Pandora is an unusually nuanced and expressive headphone. It does a wonderful job with textural subtleties and both large- and small-scale shifts in dynamic emphasis in the music. What I can’t report on just yet, however, is the headphone’s tonal balance or its ability to integrate the sounds of the two disparate driver types it employs. I say this because A) the distributor advised me that the Pandoras would require a good 50+ hours of run-in time before sounding their best, and B) thus far, during these early hours of listening, the sound of the Pandora has continued to evolve, changing in subtle yet significant ways. It also has continued to improve. So, I can tell you the Pandora is on what appears to be a good ‘trajectory’, but I can’t yet say where its sound will wind up when I reach the all-important 50-hours-of-run-in mark.
Since a full-review of the Pandora is planned for an upcoming issue of Hi-Fi+, I encourage you to stay tuned and watch for the (pardon the pun) final review where we will be able to discuss the Pandora’s sonic character in a more definitive way. Watch for the review to appear in issue 113, which can of course be found in subscribers’ mailboxes or on the shelves at your favourite newsstand or bookseller’s shop. If the Pandora Hope VI continues on its present evolutionary path, I think that it will become something very special once it is fully run-in.
Until then, happy listening.
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