One of the things that we love about the Head-Fi community is the passion that runs through it. When you push aside the occasional online jerks who feel the need to take a dump on products they’ve clearly never heard — you come to the realization that there are a lot of really innovative people in the segment who have done an incredible job pushing headphones to the forefront of the high-end audio industry. Its products like the Apos Caspian headphones that make us proud to be headphone nerds.
No other segment has created a better opportunity for high-end audio to attract a younger audience and between CanJam events, and the dozens of innovative headphones, Dongle DACs, and headphone amplifiers that get introduced every single year — the personal audio category is the most interesting to explore.
The explosive growth of the category has allowed companies like Apos to create incredible headphone systems for music listeners all across the globe and we’re excited to see them launch their first headphone. The story behind it only proves that the headphone community is driving innovation.
In Their Own Words…
The Apos Caspian headphones began with an idea. Well, a bunch of ideas. We wanted to build a timeless, hand-made headphone that could be driven easily and listened to for hours. We wanted to use sustainable materials, like non-endangered wood. We wanted to make a headphone that didn’t ruin your favorite albums with merciless detail-retrieval.
We wanted to combine fun and formality, class and craziness. We wanted to create the Porsche of headphones: understated and stylish on the outside, yet fun-as-hell behind the wheel.
The Caspian was born out of a partnership between Apos; Sandu Vitalie, the founder and editor of SoundNews and its YouTube channel; and Valentin Kazanzhi, the CEO of Kennerton Audio, and the Kennerton Audio team. We first approached Sandu with our vision and asked him to be the headphone’s sound designer.
Without access to a CNC or leather and wood-carving machine of his own, Sandu knew that we needed a third partner to bring the Caspian project to life. He reached out to Valentin, who understood our vision from the get-go, and came on board as our manufacturer.
Although we have different mother tongues and live in different countries, the members of our team found more commonalities than differences. During our first call, Valentin asked Sandu a question in Sandu’s mother tongue.
Sandu replied in Valentin’s mother tongue. Without being able to see who was talking, we at Apos lost track of who was speaking. “Did you switch places?!” we asked. Valentin and Sandu laughed. “He just wanted to impress me,” Sandu said.
Creating this headphone posed a number of challenges. For one, we’re an international team. Apos is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sandu is based in Romania, and Kennerton is based in St. Petersburg.
The logistics of creating and testing a high number of prototypes was challenging enough, but throw in a global pandemic and a severely constrained global shipping network, and we had some real issues on our hands.
And those weren’t the only challenges we faced. We also dealt with the ongoing effects of climate change. The Kennerton manufacturing plant in St. Petersburg got so hot during a recent heat wave that the varnish used in the Caspian couldn’t cool off enough to set.
But with hard work, patience, and ingenuity, we overcame these challenges as much as possible and created a headphone that we’re all truly proud of.
The Caspian is part of the Apos Audiosystem, a collection of custom equipment that works as seamlessly together as a natural ecosystem does. Just as water flows from mountain to river to sea, sound flows from DAC to amp to headphone.
The Caspian features a 50mm dynamic driver, the largest size available. With this in mind, we named it after the largest inland body of water in the world, the Caspian Sea. This name is also a nod to Valentin’s home country of Russia, which borders the Caspian Sea.
Organic, graceful, refined. We had enough adjectives describing how we wanted the Caspian to look to fill a word cloud, but we needed a gifted designer to bring our ideas to life.
Valentin based the look of the Caspian on the Kennerton Vali ($995 at audio46), a high-end headphone with the right amount of class and sophistication. We started there and optimized it piece by piece.
The ear cups are made of all-natural oak sourced from the foothills of the Caucasus mountains. This is an non-endangered variety of wood that has excellent acoustic properties and doesn’t crack easily. Symmetry between ear cups is all-important when it comes to acoustical and visual balance, so we hand-milled each set of cups symmetrically from a single piece of wood rather than hand-match them after the fact.
The sheepskin ear pads are hand-stitched and wrapped around an inch-deep pad of memory foam. They look plush, elegant, and luxurious, like the upholstery of a high-end sports car. We made them oval-shaped to accommodate a variety of ear shapes and sizes.
The headband and yoke are made of anodized black stainless steel. The headphone pad is made of hand-stitched leather and filled with memory foam. We wanted a look that said style and durability. Something with strength that didn’t add unnecessary weight.
We made the grilles as wide as possible to accommodate the large 50mm dynamic drivers. The Apos “A” is the headphone’s only branding. The cloth within is acoustically transparent: it keeps out the dust without blocking the air or coloring the sound.
All in all, this is a headphone that looks as good worn as it does displayed.
50mm Kennerton Dynamic Driver
Capable of producing a vast range of bass frequencies with minimal power requirements, the 50mm driver is a real beast. But beasts have to be tamed or else, in this case, they bleed all of that bass energy into the mid-range, creating a muddled, awful experience.
We started with an extremely low-mass driver. Low-mass drivers respond quickly to signals and minimize decay time, resulting in a realistic sound. Then we mechanically decoupled the driver from the wooden housing, which decreased the total harmonic distortion. Then we added a lightweight graphene layer to the diaphragm to boost rigidity, lower distortion, and improve speed and decay. Finally, our engineers tuned the driver for an enveloping full-spectrum experience.
Low mass: Boosts response time, minimizes delay. Emotional, realistic sound.
High internal damping: Minimal resonances. Smooth, vivid presentation.
Excellent rigidity: Quick, non-bending cone. Reduced distortion.
The Caspian uses 3-pin mini-XLR connectors. We chose these because they’re the most secure connection: a headphone cable won’t detach unless you thumb the release. They also have the largest surface connection area, which plays a role in conductivity.
Easy to drive
We created the Caspian so that you can drive it without an amplifier. At 115dB per 1mW power, it plays from most phones and laptops. Of course, you can use an amplifier if you’d like. Just make sure to always start playing music with the volume at 0 and then turn it up until you find a comfortable volume.
We often think of fun things as being disposable or insincere. A cheap thrill. A little fling. The Caspian is fun, but not a fling. It’s thrilling, but not short-lived. We designed it to be your musical companion for years to come.
The first thing to know is that it’s fun-sounding, not linear or objective. We designed it to put a smile on your face, not to be used as a microscope for analyzing your favorite album for every last detail.
The bass is playful yet controlled. We added a 5dB rise between 20Hz and 200Hz that peaks at 48Hz. This delivers punchy, energetic, toe-tapping bass. The sub-bass is alive and extended, providing visceral rumble.
The midrange is compelling, with a focus on realism and immersion. We introduced a smooth valley of 5dB from 200Hz to 2.5kHz, but the midrange is anything but recessed. Vocals are forward and lively. Guitars and violins are enveloping.
We wanted all the airiness and sparkle of a quality treble experience without the fatigue of a bad one. To get there, we introduced a series of 7dB to 15dB valleys between 2K and 7kHz–gentle dips that protect sensitive parts of your hearing from fatigue–while keeping the upper treble sparkling and alive.
The Apos Caspian headphone is available for pre-order today (August 17, 2021) at 11am PT for $499 at apos.audio. Shipping expected by September 7, 2021.