LSTN Fillmore On-ear stereo headphone review
Youtube review: http://youtu.be/ncDxtR6T4Mk
Sources: iPhone4; iPhone4 with FiiO E12 and v-moda verza amps; various computers using the HRT MicroStreamer USB mini-DAC and its headphone out.
First impressions of the $100 (USD) LSTN Fillmore: Good soundstage, very good overall detail including the bass, very smooth and balanced sound, slightly forward with emphasis in the upper midrange, and highs that (unusual in this price range) are neither recessed nor peaky. This was a dramatic change from what I'd been listening to recently - the new $270 ADL H118 and $200 Marshall Monitor headphones, and prior to those, the $700 ATH ESW11-Ltd. The Fillmore sounds very similar to the ESW11 actually (also a wooden-cup headphone), except that the Fillmore doesn't have a recessed treble. People who are interested in this headphone are going to have experience with headphone sounds that range from bass-heavy to bright and everything in between, so I'll try to reference some of the better known headphone signatures for comparison.
The Sennheiser Momentum is known for having a strong upper bass that gives it a warm "relaxed" sound on the low end, and an energetic "presence" range that adds liveliness on the top end. The Fillmore does not have the lower midrange to upper bass emphasis of the Momentum, and may sound much less warm by comparison, but I think the Fillmore has the more accurate signature there. On the top end the Momentum has a broad peak in the lower treble ("presence" area) and rolls off quite a bit above that, whereas the Fillmore has a more balanced treble. I suspect that most reviewers are going to play it safe with the Fillmore, being a $100 headphone whereas the Momentum sells for $350, but given Sennheiser's large corporate overhead compared to the small agile company turning out these little Fillmores with reclaimed wood parts etc., the real cost of each new unit is probably much closer than the numbers suggest.
The Bose AE2/AE2i has a fairly even response from high to low, aided perhaps by a little Bose electronic "magic", given that there seems to be little room for acoustical damping etc. in those lightweight plastic earcups. Still, I think it makes a fair target for headphones in the under-$150 range, where we don't have to be extremely critical about ultimate harmonic details and the like. The bass of the Fillmore is stronger (yet very smooth), and given that the Fillmore isn't a bassy headphone, the Fillmore wins on that count. Moving on to the midrange (and I think my opinions here may be less objective), the Fillmore sounds more natural and closer, while the Bose is more distant with a slightly nasal quality. Proceeding to the highs, the Fillmore has a better, more natural presence that blends smoothly into the upper treble, while the Bose presence suffers that distant perspective followed by peaks in the upper treble that can cause irritations with less-than-ideal recordings.
One caveat I'd offer with the Fillmore is that the upper midrange forwardness can make voices on some recordings sound harsh or grating if the recording isn't good enough quality, and since voices are often over-emphasized in modern recordings via the "loudness wars", it's something to consider. The only other major caveat I have with the Fillmore is the earpad seal - the earpads are covered in a high-quality plastic ("pleather" I think) that generally bonds well to the skin with no irritation for most people, but because of the soft rounded shape of those earpads and the headband's light clamping force, the earpads may not bond all that well in cool weather and/or with very dry skin, and thus the earcups may not stay put with small head movements, or may not get the necessary seal for full bass response.
My final summary of the sound: Outstanding at even twice the price. The Bose AE2i is the first headphone I've had since the Shure SRH-1800 that required no EQ to obtain its best possible performance, and the LSTN Fillmore is the second. But the Fillmore sounds much better than the AE2i, and has a much better bass than the Shure 1840. The Shure wins on overall clarity and soundstage, but not by a large margin.
Isolation for the Fillmore is modest (average or less for closed headphones), but leakage is low enough that you can probably play it at decent volume levels in a quiet office in a cubicle next to other cubicles, without attracting undue attention from other coworkers. My head is average sized or better, and I wear the Fillmore with the earcups extended half of the maximum amount, so I expect that this headphone will fit just about everyone. The portability is great because the Fillmore can be pulled down off of the head and around the neck, and with the earcups fully extended it can be carried around the neck all day if needed. The earcups rotate 90 degrees in and out, and nearly 180 degrees up and down. The supplied carrycase is just a thin cloth bag, which offers no impact protection to this headphone. I'd recommend against putting the Fillmore into that bag and throwing it into a backpack or luggage where it could be damaged.
The Fillmore cable is detachable, double-entry, about 4 feet long, and is terminated with a 45-degree Apple-style miniplug. The cable is a strong-looking fabric weave, and the detachable plugs are 2.5 mm mono plugs going to each earcup. The mic, about 4 inches from the left earcup, is also a control box that doesn't have any projections - you squeeze once to stop and start, and so far I've managed to skip a track by double-clicking two times, but I wasn't successful doing that most of the time.
In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the Fillmore compares with each individual track. Note that all of the following were played flat (EQ = OFF).
Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has very good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural, without favoring either. The Fillmore plays this perfectly.
Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz with a Bebop flavor): The piano that leads off sounds realistic and the saxophone sounds appropriately soft. Overall, the Fillmore plays this music very well.
Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Fillmore reproduces the space and detail convincingly.
Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine(?) sounds just right.
Crystal Castles - Wrath of God (Electro-Pop): The moderate level of bass in this track has good detail, and the ambient electronic effects are clear and distinct. The Fillmore makes this music sound just right.
DJ Shadow - Building Steam With a Grain of Salt (Electronic/DJ): This track opens with what sounds like very high and very low piano notes, and the Fillmore renders those notes well. The ambient voices are slightly indistinct though.
Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses (Pop-Rock): The moderate level of bass in this track is played with good detail by the Fillmore, and the percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced. This track has a huge amount of high-frequency energy, but it didn't become irritating for me.
Halie Loren - Sway (Jazz vocal): Bass instrument( here may sound boomy with some headphones, but the Fillmore handles this perfectly. The trumpet sounds natural but soft, and the voice is done just right.
Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion that hits hard here with some headphones has good impact with the Fillmore, but there are bass tones beginning around 0:45 into the track that have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that headphones with strong bass reproduce well, and while the Fillmore makes those tones clearly audible, they don't have as much weight as what I hear with some of the larger headphones.
Kaskade - 4am (Electro-House): The bass that kicks in around 1:01 into the track is subtle, but the Fillmore plays it fairly well. The percussion and female voice balance well with neither overwriting the other - the Fillmore gets this right.
Katy B - Perfect Stranger (R&B-House-Garage): The heavy bass that begins at 0:27 into this track is played very well by the Fillmore. The voice has a slightly hard or glassy sound, but it doesn't detract much from the rest of the music.
Machine Gun Kelly - All We Have (Rap/Hip-Hop): The heavy bass beats that begin at 0:23 into the track do sound like drum impacts, although they're not sharp impacts. The male and female voices have a reasonably good balance, and the Fillmore plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.
Massive Attack - Angel (Trip-Hop): This track begins with a steady low-frequency sound and some slightly soft deep-bass impacts. The voices blend well with the music and have just the right presence, although the recorded quality of the instruments isn't great. The Fillmore plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.
Morcheeba - Bullet Proof (Trip-Hop): Bright percussion and medium-strength bass impacts make up most of this, with some dance-club spoken intonations thrown in. The Fillmore plays the percussion pretty well, and the voices sound good too.
Peter Tosh - Get Up Stand Up (Reggae): The bass here has a decent but moderate impact, and the lead and backup voices have good separation that's not too narrow or wide. The Fillmore renders the bass with good detail and the voices sound very natural.
Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that may lack clarity and proper harmonic detail on some headphones, but the Fillmore reproduces those effects well.
Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op3 No2 (Classical, Piano): Grand piano played mechanically from an original recording by the master himself. The bass is unusually light here, but the Fillmore renders the notes as well as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.
Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the Fillmore renders the tones and transients pretty well.
Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The Fillmore delivers the impacts with proper weight and great detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 have appreciable detail, and the bass is fairly strong, adding a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.
---------- FILLMORE REVIEW PT.2; OLDER MUSIC TRACKS ----------
Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the Fillmore.
Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry. The Fillmore also reproduces the triangles and other high-frequency instrumental tones in this segment better than most headphones I've had.
Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled well by the Fillmore.
Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the Fillmore.
Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~196: A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the Fillmore.
Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds very good with the Fillmore.
Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Fillmore renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.
Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The Fillmore plays this pretty well.
J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The Fillmore plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 30-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking even a little in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the Fillmore delivers the full experience of this music.
Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the Fillmore.
Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in certain headphones. The Fillmore plays those notes with great impact and control. Having played this track many times now, I'm highly impressed with the Fillmore's bass reproduction and detail throughout the track.
Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The Fillmore's reproduction is clean and balanced. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the Fillmore plays them well.
Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds pretty good with the Fillmore.
Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the Fillmore plays it perfectly.
Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.
Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (196: Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy. Played well by the Fillmore.
Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not an issue with the Fillmore.