Hyland Headphones Saturn One Review

 

First, I want to thank Alex as well as Randy Reinheart from HeadFi for the opportunity to be a part of the North America tour. It was by sheer luck I got to the tour page in time, and it was an enjoyable experience.

First notes on unboxing: the other major companies could learn a valuable lesson here. The WOODEN box is lightweight and nestles the cans in sturdy and soft foam, and there is a felt carry bag included. The unit I got had the L-cush pads as well as G-cush, a 6.3mm adapter for the 3.5mm plug on the cable, and the cable was well made, albeit a bit stiff for my liking. The solid wood cable splitter had a really nice finish on it and I really appreciate the shrink tubing strain relief at all connection and termination points on the cable. One final note on cabling, related to the headphones themselves: if you look inside the ear cups through the grille, you can see that Alex wrapped the small wire inside the cup that connects to the driver. This kind of attention to detail is something I haven’t seen yet, even in more expensive products, and is a testament to the passion Alex has for his work.

The headphones themselves are deceptively light. I was genuinely nervous about handling them in the beginning because I felt like I would drop them. For reference, they’re lighter than my Sennheiser HD 58X, which is a very comfortable can. The clamping force is minimal, which is something I would have preferred more of as I wear glasses a fair amount and need the clamping to get a really good seal. The adjustments are all done via set screws, which even though its different and takes some getting used to, provides a very sturdy way of ensuring your adjustments don’t randomly change on you. The headband is moderately soft leather with enough texture to feel good, but not be irritating. The ear cups are solid wood and utterly gorgeous. The pads slip onto the cups and secure via a small lip on the ear cup and are very easy to change.

So first, I tried listening with the G-cush pads. NOPE. Despite the fact that it opened up the soundstage somewhat, the low end dropped out badly, and everything sounded more Left-Right than centered or properly imaged. Depth of the soundstage was good regardless of the pads I used. Since I really didn’t listen much with the G-cush pads, I’ll focus on my observations with the L-cush (on-ear) pads.

Holy freaking midrange detail! The Saturn One’s are very much like Grados in that they have a very fun and detailed midrange and highs, but without the sibilance that Grados are notorious for having. Detailed guitar riffs and solos were easy to analyze (as well as enjoy), vocals were a bit recessed into the soundstage, too much for my liking but they were still intelligible and detailed. One thing I’ll note about these headphones is their ability to render dynamic range (loud vs. soft sounds) really well without losing the softer sounds. Even with highly aggressive and forward double bass pedaling, guitar riffs, and screaming vocals, the tiny “tsk” of a cymbal or triangle being tapped off to the side was still perfectly clear.

                                 

Bass notes reminded me of my Grados the first time I heard them on a tube hybrid (Vali 2); they were clear, robust (they had feeling as well as the sound itself), and distinguishable from the rest of the music. I would not recommend these for EDM, they will not shake your face or your soul (like the Fostex Purplehearts do).

The Saturn Ones excel at a capella vocals. Ma fin est mon commencement, which consists of rounds sung by 4 male vocalists, is haunting and ethereal when you close your eyes. They kept up decently on Handel’s Messiah, which is arguably a challenging composition for any headphone or system.

The Piano Guys as well as The Brooklyn Duo shined, as the Saturn’s are best suited to more acoustic and classical music. Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass were well articulated and imaged but lacked the seductive low end their music is known and sought after for.

Now for gear pairings: my main solid-state amp is my Schiit Magni 3, which lately I’ve begun to believe is actually not neutral, but somewhat bright, which saddens me as it was a very poor pairing with Alex’s cans. I rolled through 5 tubes on my Vali 2 until I settled on an Aperex 6DJ8 A-Frame tube, which colored the sound signature, so it was more balanced and “lively,” reminiscent of my Focal + Pioneer stereo system (which is my reference sound overall). The tube brought the vocals a bit more forward, which is what I prefer. I didn’t notice any loss of detail overall with the tube hybrid, but the coloration will not be for everyone.

Surprisingly, my Fiio Q1Mk2 sounded freaking great with the Saturns. Unlike the Magni, there was no sibilance and the low end was better balanced with the mids and highs. I would definitely recommend the Fiio + Saturns as a go-to pairing, since the Q1Mk2 is also portable and has substantial juice for them. The DAC I used for my Vali 2 and Magni 3 was my Modi 3. My source files were either Spotify Premium downloads on iPhone or PC as well as ripped 16/44 FLAC files on both sources. I won’t get into details like frequency response and all that because frankly, I only use FR graphs as a very rough guide of how a headphone will sound. Ultimately, listening is the only way to truly know if you like something or not, IMO.

I can’t honestly say I would buy them, at least not right now (budget constraints plus they’re not quite my preferred sound signature) but I fully vouch for the quality of craftsmanship. You’re actually getting something that’s worth the price, in both construction and sound quality. Alex is also very quick to respond to messages, so post-purchase support will be good I anticipate (minus the whole shipping across oceans and that fun stuff!).

Personally, I would have preferred more clamping force (without having to bend the band, which I did NOT do), a softer and more flexible cable, and leather/memory foam ear pads. Just my preference, that’s all.

All in all, if you’re able to demo them at some point in the future, or you’re interested in gambling on some hand-made, truly original stuff, go for it. At the least, you’ll get some smiles and a good experience. At best, you’ll be mad happy.

Josh

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