Final Pandora Hope VI Headphone Review
What happens when you really push the boat out on headphones?
What is the Final Pandora Hope VI?The bulk of the headphones I review for AVForums (and there are a considerable number of them) are designed with a view to being portable or at least having a nod toward portability. There are a few exceptions- the Grado SR60i would probably have you lynched if you wore them in public and the Audio Technica A500X is sufficiently big that you’d get some funny looks if you chose to wear them out and about. Pricewise however, both of them are no more expensive than models with more portable properties.
This does raise two important questions though. If you aren’t interested in a pair of headphones for use on the move, either because you have no need of them or have a more portable solution already, what are the benefits of a dedicated home headphone over a hybrid? The second question is being asked by the nature of the pair of home headphones that have turned up for review. What happens if you increase the budget for your home headphones? AVForums headphone reviews have topped out at about £300. The pair you see here more than doubles that.
This would be the upper echelons for most brands but Final is not ‘most brands.’ Having moved on from being one of Japan’s most highly regarded manufacturers of high end electronics and into earphones and headphones, what you see here is the company actually moving downwards. The company’s first pair of headphones cost more than a Dacia Sandero so the amazingly named Pandora Hope VI at £700 is something of a step down. Nonetheless, £700 is a big chunk of change so how to they stack up?
Final Pandora Hope VI Design
The Hope VI is the only full sized headphone in the Final range and this shows itself in one very distinctive way. The company concentrates the bulk of its attention on in-ear designs which make use of balanced armature drivers. This experience is too good to pass up on and the Hope is unique as far as I am aware in that it is an over ear design that makes use of an armature in each enclosure to handle the high frequencies.
This is no small engineering challenge as the armature is considerably smaller than the 50mm driver than the Final uses for bass and midrange. Mounting this small armature in such a way as to work seamlessly with a large dynamic driver is something that I haven’t encountered before and doesn’t sound especially easy to do. Seen through the grill on the inside of the earpad, the armature is just visible in the centre of the driver assembly but otherwise there are no clues to this unique arrangement from the outside.
One area that this dual driver setup seems to have an effect on is the sensitivity of the Hope. Most full size home headphones will need a full size headphone socket and a dedicated headphone amp- either as a standalone unit or a separate circuit in a design. The current demands and general sensitivity precludes using this sort of headphones with portable devices or laptops. The Final is rather different in that although an absolute sensitivity figure is not quoted, the Hope is something that can be driven on smaller headphone amplifiers and Final fits a 3.5mm socket to the cable as a demonstration of this confidence.
The technical aspects of the Final do tend to take a back seat to their appearance. When they arrived and I unpacked them from the box (more of which later), the first impression was that I had been sent Ron Burgundy’s headphones. The Final is not something that is going to pass without provoking some sort of opinion. You could call them retro but even back in the seventies and eighties, they would still have stood out from the pack. The stainless steel and black (a combination of leather and plastics depending on the area they are being used in) is striking and the overall design is not for the shrinking violet. There are some neat touches too. The ‘Final’ script on the side is lovely and the locking connectors for the cable (and indeed the connectors on the cable itself) feel solid, beautifully implemented and in keeping with the asking price.
The build is also of a very high standard. The quality of the leather and the way that the Hope VI is bolted together is extremely substantial. Everything feels like it has been very well thought out and the Final manages to feel like a piece of high end equipment with a solidity that suggests it will last as long as you are prepared to listen to them. The solid materials and generally robust assembly do mean that the all up weight of the Final is a considerable 480 grammes which is heavier than most rival designs. It is here that the Hope VI pulls a real party piece.
Thanks to the process of mounting the earpads on a ball joint which is in turn mounted on a sliding outrigger, the Final is exceptionally comfortable to wear. The ball joint gives considerable axial rotation of the earpad on the head and this makes for a perfect fit when combined with the good quality padding fitted on the other side, the Final is tremendously easy to wear for long periods. The relatively high weight of the design is well handled because the distribution of the mass over a wide headband and spead out to the sides is well judged. Furthermore, because the Final is a home headphone with no concessions to use on the move, the pressure against the side of the head is fairly low which further helps comfort. The only limiting factor to the Final in terms of domestic use is the decision to only provide a 1.5 metre cable which is a little on the low side. As the terminations at the headphone end are bespoke, any attempt to run a longer length will require you to extend the original cable rather than simply swap it out.
Brief mention must be made of the box that the Final is supplied in. The first batch of the Hope VI will be supplied in a handmade piece of packaging that might be described as ‘Pandora’s box.’ Pictures are difficult as the box is extremely dark but think unusual shaped, pop out sections and fur lining and you would be on the right lines. After this first batch has sold through, the box will revert to a more conventional design although given that Final considers placing a pair of earphones in a cigarette tin as normal, it probably won’t be a conventional blister pack.
The Final is exceptionally comfortable to wear.
Final Pandora Hope VI SetupThe Final as a home headphone was not used on the move which meant that it wasn’t connected to a phone at any stage. It was used with my Lenovo ThinkPad, with and without a Furutech ADL Cruise headphone amp and also with an iPad 3. The bulk of listening was carried out with a Naim SUPERNAIT 2 and ND5 XS streamer as the amp has a very good quality headphone amp built into it. Material used included lossless and high res FLAC as well as compressed material such as Spotify and Grooveshark.
The Final slips effortlessly from excellent treble performance to a well proportioned and very well controlled midrange
Final Pandora Hope VI Sound Quality
Whenever a product has an element of design that differs considerably from rivals, there is a temptation to ascribe any aspect of its performance to this unique feature. This is especially true when you are dealing with a piece of design where you have no point of reference at all- in this case making use of an armature with a large dynamic driver. The practice of combining the two is not unusual- the Atomic Floyd SuperDarts are an example of a hybrid that has passed through the AVForums review process but in that case the driver was less an a centimetre across. When the driver is five times the size however, I have no idea what to expect.
What I will say is that the Final has a clean and extended top end of the Final is genuinely impressive. The detail retrieval is extremely all-encompassing but at the same time absolutely free from harshness or aggression. The way that the finals present the soaring top end of Max Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed is an impressive demonstration of what this headphone can do. The massed strings that give the piece its power and form are presented with a useful sense of there being multiple instruments that are in turn presented as a cohesive whole.
Pointing out exactly where the armature is at work is a task made harder by the impressively seamless handover between it and the dynamic driver. No crossover figure is given and I would not like to hazard a guess at what point this happens at. In practice, the Final slips effortlessly from excellent treble performance to a well proportioned and very well controlled midrange without any appreciable handover happening anywhere in between. What is more, for a design that is at least partly closed back, the performance is vast and airy. Even a full orchestral piece has a real sense of space to it which when combined with the comfort that the Final has as a result of the design makes it possible to forget you are listening to headphones- no mean feat.
The low end response of the Final is good but might be taken to be the least accomplished part of the performance but this is really only saying that it is very good rather than exceptional. The extension is considerable but the immense detail retrieval that is present in the upper registers is slightly less in evidence at the bottom of the frequency response. This means that the driving bass line of Carbon Based Lifeforms Photosynthesis doesn’t have the definition I know that the piece has. There is also a sense that the Final is a fairly relaxed performer- it doesn’t ever sound slow or bloated but asking it to play something ballistic like Birdy Nam Nam’s Trans Boulogne Express leaves you feeling that the Final would rather be playing something a little more civilised.
The sensitivity of the design is impressive though. Taking the Finals away from the burly output of the Naim and attaching them to an iPad shouldn’t work- most of its price competition will sound dreadful doing such a thing but the Final shrugs off the drop in voltage with commendable disdain and manages to do almost everything it did on the Naim with the iPad. The final genuinely excellent aspect of the Final is how it works with Netflix, iPlayer and other on demand services. That air and space to the top end makes broadcast material sound very convincing and extremely entertaining. As a final bonus, for a high end headphone, it is happy enough with services like Spotify too. In terms of size and weight, the Hope IV is too big to really be a travel headphone but it shares some of the basic abilities of a well sorted hybrid in this regard.
- Superb sound quality with a wide variety of music
- Fantastic build
- Very comfortable
- Supplied cord is fairly short
- Not always the most exciting
- Not cheap
Final Pandora Hope VI Headphone ReviewBefore reaching any judgement on the Final, we need to roll around the construct of paying £700 for a pair of headphones. There is no hiding that this is a substantial sum of money and with a pair designed around home use, you also cannot easily leverage the idea of using them during extended commutes or other times when a normal pair of speakers won’t cut it. Is a £700 pair of headphones going to be twice as good as a good £300 pair like the Focal Spirit Classic? No- the law of diminishing returns is a hard taskmaster and this is no exception. This is better but not twice as good.
With this taken into account, the Final Pandora Hope VI is a lot more than a crazy name. This is a beautifully made, handsome (or striking depending on your viewpoint) pair of headphones that match exceptional comfort with genuinely excellent sound quality. They are good enough with most music to make listening to them a choice over equivalent speakers rather than necessity. Furthermore, their excellent sensitivity means that they are happy on certain pieces of equipment that rival designs at the price can’t be used with. They are expensive and you might feel like an extra from Anchorman wearing them but the Final is a truly excellent headphone.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £700.00
Ease of Use9
Design and usability8
Value For Money7
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