The headphone audio market has been rapidly growing and expanding over the last couple of years. Nonetheless, we are witnessing a big shift lately into a more objectivist side of audio, with most manufacturers aiming at a more “objectively better performance”, rather than experimenting with new and exciting ideas.
I’m not saying that the market is boring or going in the wrong direction, not at all. I just want to highlight the unique character of the product I’m reviewing today. There’s nothing like it on the market currently, and yes, it can give you the impression that it’s “looks above all”.
Honestly speaking, I’ve always seen the RAD-0 more like a bespoke-looking headphone that is going to be fine, but not extraordinary. The design choices and design of this model seem to be its selling points, and they never took off as much as some expected them to, even though this project is led by Legendary Alex Rosson (ex-Audeze).
Even though, I’ve always been largely interested in trying these but never had an opportunity. I’m pretty unyielding, and it paid off. Finally, after a few years, I’ve had the RAD-0 here at my desk for a couple of weeks now, and I’m finally ready to give you my impressions.
As I said previously, I never had my expectations set too high for the sound quality of these, not because I had any doubts about Alex Rosson though. And how wrong I was…
An Interview with Alex Rosson
The folks at Rosson Audio Design are super friendly and humble, and I was lucky to be able to send a couple of questions directly to the man himself – Alex Rosson, the founder of the company. Thank you Alex for your honest and intriguing answers, it was a pleasure!
Paweł: What exactly is the RAD-0? The physical aspect of the headphones is the first thing that draws attention, but what’s more to it?
Alex: I’ve always thought of it this way: There’s nothing more satisfying than a home cooked meal that’s made with quality ingredients and love. I believe the intention is just as important as the ingredients used. Music involves instruments like ingredients, but I think we can all say there is an unspoken magic behind the intention of recordings to which no measurement can be applied to quantify how things make us feel. Given how much attention, love, and care we put into each RAD-0, I’d like to think our intention behind it is something our customers can feel and recognize when you put them on. Every RAD-0 is hand made in Reseda CA…We build our planar transducers here, pour the resin here, cut, sand, polish, drill, polish, assemble, test, qc, photograph (with the least amount of post), personalize upon request, sell, package, ship, and support. We are by no means high volume, we are as boutique as it gets. Few places get to remain in control over their product in the that way we do. You are fully taken care of with us. Our ability to customize RAD-0s is only limited to your own intention and imagination, and desires.
Paweł: What was your goal creating the RAD-0?
Alex: Create a unique headphone that makes you proud to own, looks good, a tool for engineers, or to relax and listen to. I am a big believer in the philosophy of doing one thing well and keeping it simple. There is so much noise out there with new product releases, few things excite me anymore. I gravitate towards making and using products that are quality, accurate, reliable, modular, but eccentric enough to have a soul.
Paweł: Seeing that the RAD-0 has been on the market for a while now, what is planned for the future of Rosson Audio?
Alex: Other than the continued refinements and production:
- Closed back convertor kit
- Ring swaps/updates to existing customers
- Weight reduction kit via single sided driver
- Suspension Strap Mod
- Megalodon / MAPE-0
Alex: Rosson Audio is certainly not a side quest… I aim keep to keep it simple, stay small, do one thing extremely well. However, my desire to continue to surprise the audio world is only beginning. I have done a few amazing consulting jobs on the side, such as the Mont Blanc MB01 Wireless Headphone. I also have a record label, Play Me Records. My spare time is spent playing, making, and listening to music.
- The Rad-0 has such an effect on our customers that we frequently receive thank you messages speaking our praise.
- Mix translations using the Zero are sure to make you feel confident in your choices.
- The low-end accuracy and tightness is surprising.
- No exaggeration of tonal balance.
Let’s start this review with the unboxing experience as always. The presentation of the RAD-0 is absolutely marvelous. They come in a huge peli-style case, that feels extremely durable and it just looks like a piece of equipment that belongs to a recording studio.
Yes, it’s quite common for manufacturers to use this kind of case lately, but boy oh boy, this thing is just in a different league. We’ve had a hard case with the Audeze LCD-X 2021, a beautiful and elegant case with the Meze Elite, and classic, “luxury” style boxes with Hifiman flagships.
The case that comes with the RAD-0 is simply better than everything I’ve seen previously. It is a tank, literally, this feels insanely solid and protective, it’s quite big and bulky, but I don’t mind it at all. In the past, when I had to take one of my headphones anywhere outside, I used the carrying case that was included with the Final D8000 Pro. Well, not anymore, now I’m using this huge thing, and I’ll never have a second thought about whether my headphones survive the trip. I feel like I can take the RAD-0 in that case to Mount Everest and back, and the only “thing” that won’t survive that trip is me.
Now that we have the actual packaging out of the way, let’s have a look at what we’re getting apart from the headphones themselves. It’s not much, but there’s everything that you need. First of all, the cable is pretty okay, but definitely not amazing. It’s a little bit stiff and it’s not the softest to the touch. Not a big deal though, I still use it a lot and it doesn’t bother me too much. There’s definitely room for an upgrade, but I would never call it simply “bad” to the point where I would recommend getting a replacement right away.
Apart from the cable, you’re also getting a metal card that is a proof of authenticity and some Rosson Audio stickers. Not too much, but we have already gotten used to the fact that the audio manufacturers aren’t very generous when it comes to extras in the box.
Even though the unboxing experience is quite modest, I’m still going to call it fantastic, mainly because of that incredible carrying case. It is just so functional and secure, that I can easily see myself using it for years, and I’d rather have one great accessory in the box, than five mediocre ones that would go into the closet and be forgotten.
Design, Build and Comfort
Now onto something very interesting. You’ve all seen these, different-looking every single time. What’s the deal with them?
Well, these are the only custom-design high-end headphones in the market, and trust me…they look absolutely stunning.
So, when you’ll make the decision about getting the RAD-0, you don’t simply order these online and receive them the next day. The decision of buying them is just the beginning, as there’s an even bigger decision ahead of you…what design to go with?!
Well, you can actually order one of many in-stock versions that have been already built by Rosson and they are literally ready to go. There are many spectacular design versions every single time that the guys release a new batch onto their website. But, if you are really picky, or you just want a very specific color combination and looks, then the Custom fun begins.
So, the Rosson team is able to build a pair of RAD-0 to match your vision, and they are actually very good at it. You can go wild and give them the craziest ideas about your future audio babies, and they will deliver. There’s literally no other manufacturer that offers this kind of service, and this is a HUGE selling point for the Rosson team. Just look at the picture below, it’s a pair that belongs to a dear friend of mine, and a great reviewer – Ryan Soo (www.everydaylistening.net). Let this incredible photo (yeah, Ryan is THE king when it comes to audio photos) show you that every single unit looks really different.
Shoutout to my boy Ryan Soo for this exceptional photo.
Now onto the actual build and design. First of all, the custom earcups are made of a hard resin that lets the folks at Rosson Audio create a unique, one-of-a-kind design every single time. The material used is actually a very good choice for audio equipment, especially headphones, as resin is much more repeatable than wood when it comes to acoustics. Hence, not only does it serve a function in the overall look of the headphone, but it also ensures that every single unit is going to sound its best with limited variations from unit to unit.
We have the earcups all explained now, let’s dive into the rest of the RAD-0 now. The overall build quality is absolutely fantastic. The headphone feels incredibly sturdy in hand and on your head, and it is definitely built to last. Solid construction comes at a price of high mass of the entire construction, which may lead you to think that the RAD-0 is not going to be comfortable, but you’ll be highly mistaken.
And yes, while the comfort is highly subjective and will depend on the shape of your head, for me, the RAD-0 is a very comfortable pair of headphones, even though it’s one of the heaviest I’ve tried. The earpads used here are definitely the biggest aspect of why I like the ergonomics of the RAD-0, as these are one of the plushiest, comfiest earpads I’ve ever tried. They are like 2 soft pillows gently hugging your head from both sides, resulting in a welcoming, intimate type of wear.
The headband, when compared to the earcups looks rather simple, but I actually think that this was intentional. The custom earcups are the star of the show here, so the Rosson Audio team didn’t want to steal your attention from what’s most important. Nonetheless, the design of the headband is pretty clever. The slider mechanism doesn’t have any clicks to ensure the headband stays in one place, but once you put them on your head, the thing ain’t moving nowhere. This is a highly well-engineered type of mechanism that’s going to work flawlessly for many, many years.
Apart from the sliding mechanism, the overall headband construction is good, but I’d love to see Rosson Audio using a suspension strap design in the future. The latter proved to distribute the weight of the headphone in a better way, resulting in an even more comfortable experience. I don’t have any problems with the current headband cushioning on the RAD-0, but I’ve seen some people that did, and I can imagine why. One, narrow point of contact on top of your head is less ideal than a suspension strap, which allows distributing the weight onto a much larger surface, which helps with proper weight distribution on your head. Luckily, the RAD-0 is a very comfortable pair of heavy headphones in my subjective opinion, but it definitely can be improved.
The overall fit and finish of the RAD-0 are spot on. This is an artisan level of finishing, definitely up there with the best on the market. The combination of different textures, matte-black finish on the yokes and grills paired with a shiny and smooth surface of the earcups themselves, finished with insanely plushy and soft earpads. This is where function meets design and quality, and Rosson Audio executed it perfectly. Definitely one of the best-built headphones on the market, without even the slightest doubts.
Let’s finish this paragraph with my subjective take on the design and aesthetics of the RAD-0. This headphone looks absolutely stunning, it is quite a conversation starter actually, and you really think like you’re handling something truly unique, one of a kind. I’ve had my authors and friends coming over quite frequently over the last few weeks, and everyone was highly impressed with these. What’s most important – It is not just about the looks, but about carefully forging something beautiful into a tool that’s going to be used for years without any problems. Perfection.
I already covered the physical aspects of the technology used in the RAD-0, so I’ll limit this paragraph to what’s inside.
So, the Rosson RAD-0 is a Planar Magnetic, open-back headphone using a 66mm driver. The impedance is rated at a reasonable 29 Ohms, and the sensitivity is rated at 98dB, which together make for a fairly easy-to-drive planar. Again, I think this was more than intentional, as it lets professionals use the RAD-0 in a studio environment, without worrying that their headphone output might not be powerful enough to drive these – it will be.
Other than that, there’s nothing more to talk about. The strength in the RAD-0 performance is said to be up to Alex Rosson’s vast experience in the studio and audio environment, so let’s just get right into it.
Here comes the most important part of the review, at least for me. You see, I’ve seen the RAD-0 quite frequently for years now, and I always had a feeling that these are mainly about the design and looks, with the sound not being the biggest attraction. This might be quite harmful for the company, as releasing a product that unique and different can lead up to a specific approach from customers.
So, the first time I ever tried the RAD-0 was when I received them a couple of weeks back. I was extremely curious about them, but I didn’t let my emotions win, so I proceeded with my standard burn-in procedure, before having a listen.
But, the time has eventually come and I was ready to try these on. And oh my, this was quite a shocker.
For those of you less patient, I’m going to say it right here, right now – the Rosson RAD-0 is now one of my absolute favorite headphones of all time when it comes to sound, which should give you an idea about my impressions. Let’s dive in.
The overall type of sound that you’re getting with the RAD-0 is tight, punchy, dynamic, and vivid, with a wonderful, natural warmth to the midrange and excellent extension to the treble. This is by far one of the best (if not THE BEST) planar magnetic headphones for genres like metal, electronics, and hard-rock, because of its highly saturated, dynamic, and powerful sound. Planar headphones often lack punch, a sense of physicality to the low-end, and vividness of the bass response to sound truly great with these genres, as they require both technical excellence as well as a joyful, high-contrast tuning. This is totally not the case with the RAD-0, as it simply delivers a perfect blend of both technicality and musicality.
This is the most important aspect of the RAD-0. In the world where more and more headphones are tuned to Harman, aiming at the most neutral tonality, the hero of today’s review is just different, in a good way definitely. This headphone brings me back the memories of the headphone market around 10 years ago, when it was all about different flavors and subjectivity to the sound. Nowadays, while we still get different house sounds from different manufacturers, they’ve been all brought closer to each other, resulting in a somewhat similar sound between many different high-end, planar magnetic models.
Because of that, the RAD-0 has been getting the most head time ever since I got them, even though I have the absolute bangers within my hands reach, such as the Hifiman Susvara, Meze Elite, D8000 Pro by Final, etc. The RAD-0 just offers a different type of experience, which is just grabbing you by your clothes and making you headbang like crazy. Truth is – the more audiophile I become, the less metal I listen to, and it’s an absolute joy to rediscover all of that music that I used to kill on repeat in my youth.
If you’re reading my reviews regularly, you know that I do reviews in a highly emotional, subjective fashion, and this review is yet again going to be that way. I just cannot turn my emotions off and talk about the RAD-0, as it just brings those emotions to me every single time I listen to them. This is peak entertainment and an aspect that I value in this hobby the most – bringing memories, emotions, and making you forget about the whole audiophile stuff, and just enjoy your favorite music. If a headphone can do that, we’re experiencing something extremely good in my book.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the RAD-0 doesn’t take anything to the extreme. While it is undoubtedly fun oriented and entertaining, it still has a lot of qualities that are known from the best studio equipment when it comes to audio. We have a lot of fun-sounding headphones in the world that are not too good when it comes to being natural and accurate, and the RAD-0 is definitely not one of those. Alex put a lot of experience into tuning these to appeal to a wide variety of tastes while being suitable for professionals as well.
So, the bass is hard-hitting, dynamic, and saturated. It’s by no means bloated, uncontrolled, or overly thick sounding. The main aspect of the bass delivery is the raw power that this driver can output, making for a very punchy, vivid, and accurate note delivery. Planar Magnetic headphones often tend to lack the dynamics and punch in the low end, and the RAD-0 eliminates those aspects of your standard, planar headphones. The low-end performance is actually more reminiscent of good dynamic headphones, because of the energy and the power of the bass response.
At the same time, planars are known for their incredible texture and crunch in the low-end area, and the RAD-0 is no different. It has the ability to let you pick up all the individual notes with ease, because of its highly controlled, clean bass response. Because of all those perks, I’m quite confident about calling the bass response of the RAD-0 one of the best on the market, without a doubt.
The midrange actually reminds me of the classic Audeze house sound to some extent. It is slightly laid-back, thick, very natural, and engaging. Voices have a very natural warmth and weight to them, resulting in a highly enjoyable, yet an accurate type of presentation. The resolution is up there with the rest of the high-end planars, and so is the detail retrieval, which while not the best of the best, still provides a fantastic insight into the mix. This headphone has been tuned very cleverly, as it doesn’t sacrifice even a tiny bit of resolving capabilities for that beautiful, smooth tonality in the midrange. The overall vibe of the midrange is somewhat similar to Meze’s flagship Elite, which has that beautiful, rich tonality while still providing very good detail retrieval and resolution. In the world of more and more neutral headphones, that thick and lush presentation to vocals is something I absolutely strive for, as this is my absolute favorite aspect about audio – vocals that sound almost intimidating, intoxicating, and just simply beautiful.
The treble is not as laid-back as the midrange, but it still has many similarities. It is fantastically detailed and clean, but it never gets harsh or overly forward, and trust me, I tried to push them onto that. This is, once again, a very clever tuning that focuses on the best aspects of a good Planar driver, while dressing it up in a pleasant, natural tone that is just pleasant to listen to. Studio engineers should be happy as well, as the RAD-0 offers a brilliant extension in the treble region, and the overall treble output is quite linear and it doesn’t lean towards sounding too forward, nor too far away. Metal fans will be satisfied as well, as the RAD-0 will give you that aggressive, saturated hi-hat splash that is necessary for metal to sound good. The guitar overdrive sounds great as well, because of that highly textured, yet rich sound that works well with every genre.
Lastly, the soundstage. The RAD-0 is not an overly huge staging pair of headphones, but it rather focuses on realism when it comes to the size and accuracy of the soundstage. The imaging is brilliant, as you will be easily able to pinpoint the location of every instrument in the mix, while not feeling that it sounds too far away or too close to you. The vocals however have that ability to stand out in the mix, being rendered a step closer than in many competitors, which further extends that entertaining, fun character of the RAD-0. This is, once again, a very clever tactic, as a pair of high-end headphones that are made for both audiophiles and sound engineers should have the ability to please both, and with this kind of spatial presentation, they definitely will.
To summarise, the RAD-0 might look like an artisan pair of headphones where you’re just paying extra for the looks, but it is very far from the truth. This is an insanely good-sounding pair that is tuned so well, that it will appeal to most people. The RAD-0 is a perfect blend of technicalities, musicality, and a piece of art that will satisfy you while both listening to them and just looking at them and praising that striking build quality and design. This is literally a much better product than I expected it to be, and for that, I’m very grateful that I was finally able to try it, and now it became my go-to headphone for rock, metal, and electronic music, which I listen to a lot lately.
The first comparison is going to be between the RAD-0 and the LCD-X 2021, by Audeze. Knowing that Alex Rosson, the founder of Rosson Audio has been a CEO for Audeze in the past, this comparison is even more interesting.
So, the LCD-X 2021 is our “Headphone of the year 2021”, because of its fantastic ability to be a true chameleon – it’s great for audio professionals, as well as audiophiles.
And yes, reading this might give you a little Deja Vu, as the RAD-0 has the exact same ability. Honestly speaking, I somewhat feel that the RAD-0 is everything that the LCD-X 2021 is, but slightly better. The resolution and detail retrieval are both better, the built quality feels a bit more premium, and the design is just vastly different. With the LCD-X, you’re getting that beautiful, minimalist and industrial, raw design that is just beautiful to look at. On the other hand, the RAD-0 is much more “crazy” looking, and you can actually customize its design to suit your aesthetic needs just perfectly.
The carrying case of the RAD-0 is much, much better quality than the one found with the LCD-X, but as far as the cable is regarded, I’m going to give Audeze a point, as it is just a nicer quality and more comfortable.
To be completely honest, both are excellent and the choice between them should come down to your budget and needs. If you don’t care about a custom design and you’re not ready to pay as much as the RAD-0 costs, the LCD-X 2021 is a brilliant choice for a “does it all” pair of headphones. However, if you want that sweet design, and you want that extra sound quality, the RAD-0 is a significant upgrade over the LCD-X 2021.
XIAudio K-DAC + Feliks Envy
Yes, this setup is wildly expensive, but not everything that’s expensive is good, don’t you agree?
Well, this setup is just something different. The K-DAC and the Envy (reviews coming soon!) make the RAD-0 fly and sound absolutely stunning. The sound of this combination is incredibly rich, flavorful, powerful and refined. The detail retrieval and resolution are both exceptional, but the entire sound has that magic and realism to it.
This has been my favorite combo for the past couple of weeks, as the almighty Envy pairs beautifully with the RAD-0. This is peak headphone audio experience, providing an experience that’s hard to beat even for the best headphones in the world. What a setup.
EarMen Tradutto + Staccato + CH-AMP
Even though I’ve had the Tradutto for quite some time now, the CH-Amp amplifier is new for me. Still, I managed to spend some time with this combination and was wildly entertained.
This combo sounds very dynamic, fun and forward, this is the ultimate metalhead wet dream when it comes to headphone audio setups. Fast, snappy, dynamic and powerful to the limits, the CH-Amp proves that it’s a force to be reckon with within its price category. It drives the RAD-0 with absolute authority, and gives it that clean, powerful output that the RAD-0 uses to sound incredibly clean yet musical.
Burson Audio Playmate 2 (V6 Vivid OPamps)
The Burson Playmate 2 might not be a powerhouse that is worthy of ultra high-end headphones, but it once again proves that its performance is insanely good for its price.
While the overall sound character gets a bit warmer and softer, the Playmate 2 yet again has literally zero problems with driving the RAD-0. This results in a sound that is natural, engaging and rich, with beautiful vocals reproduction and that romantic approach to the midrange.
SMSL DO100 + HO100
The RAD-0 sounds fantastic even from a budget equipment as the DO100 + HO100 combo by SMSL. This SMSL stack offers a wildly neutral and clean sound that works well with the RAD-0, as it lets its beautiful tone shine.
Because of that, this setup is stellar when it comes to technical performance, and is the most neutral tuned from all the pairings I’m mentioning in this review. This lets you enjoy the RAD-0 the “OG WAY”, with its phenomenal tuning taking the best seat in the crowd. This is great news that you don’t have to spend thousands for your DAC and Amp for the RAD-0 to sound great.
The Rosson RAD-0 would have gotten a “Surprise Of the Year” award if I was to do one. While this product might be overlooked by some audiophiles, because of its high price tag and the custom design aspect (which may lead some to think that it is more about the looks than the sound itself), it proved to be an incredibly good performer, taking the position in my “3 most used pairs” by storm.
Very good technical performance meets incredibly fun tuning, wrapped up in a unique, beautiful, and one-of-a-kind design gives me no choice but to recommend the RAD-0 from the bottom of my heart. It has won my heart over in no time, maybe it’ll win yours as well. A truly spectacular pair of headphones.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Drop + Sennheiser HD8XX, HEDDphone, Hifiman Edition, Meze Elite, Audeze MM-500
- Sources– XI Audio K-DAC, Feliks Envy, SMSL SH-9, EarMen Tradutto + Staccato + CH-AMP, SMSL DO100 + HO100, Burson Playmate 2, Yulong Aurora, iBasso DX170
Big thanks to Rosson Audio Design and Alex Rosson for providing the RAD-0 for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion.
You can get your RAD-0 here.