True to its name, the Retro-Face looks like something right out of the pages of ’70s-era Stereo Review. The radial fake vents on the sides (it’s actually a sealed-back headphone) and the visible stitching on the leather band and ear pads make the Retro-Face an elegant headphone for a more civilized age — a time when men could wear bushy sideburns and listen to prog rock on 8-tracks.
The Retro-Face’s 40mm drivers sit in earpieces that slide up and down on the band and also swivel slightly in any direction for better fit. All of the panelists found this headphone easy to adjust for a great fit. The steel band has a just-right springiness that should be tight enough to keep the ’phones on your head even while you’re on the treadmill, but loose enough to make the Retro-Face comfortable for an hour or two.
In our listening tests, the Retro-Face’s sonic performance seemed gender-specific. Lauren liked it overall, ranking it #2 and commenting that the problems she noted in the other budget ’phones were much less noticeable in this one. She found the treble considerably smoother than with the others. She generally liked the mids, too, although she said that there seemed to be a dip in response in the upper midrange. And all of us thought the Retro-Face had perhaps the tightest, best-defined deep bass response of any of the headphones tested here.
To me, Howard, and Joe, though, the Retro-Face’s tonal balance seemed peculiar: midrange-heavy, but with an uneven response that accentuated some frequencies while downplaying others. Howard and Joe found the sound shrill and harsh. I noted that the koa-bodied ukulele featured in “’Ülili E,” from Dennis Kamakahi’s Ohana CD, sounded more like a steel-bodied National resonator uke.
Measurements: The frequency response measurements of the Retro-Face largely reflect what most of our panelists heard: a very midrange-heavy balance and a rather unusual response overall. There’s a big peak centered at 2 kHz, followed by a deep dip at 5 kHz and another strong peak at 7 kHz. Switching to 75 ohms output impedance at the source boosted bass by +1.8 dB at 100 Hz. Total harmonic distortion (THD) is just a tad high, nearing 4% at 20 Hz at 80 dBA and hitting 18% THD at 100 dBA. Impedance averages 43 ohms, but there’s an impedance peak of 62 ohms at 100 Hz (which explains that bass bump we saw with 75 ohms output impedance). Isolation is about average or a little below average, measuring -10 to -26 dB above 1.3 kHz. Average sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 1 mW signal at the rated 60 ohms impedance is 100.4 dB.
Bottom Line: While the Retro-Face has a groovy form factor and great bass, you’d best listen before you buy to see if its idiosyncratic tonal balance appeals to you.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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