Kennerton Thekk (planar magnetic headphones). Head-Fi.org
Pros: Neutral, accurate sound, superb resolution and treble refinement, tight bass with excellent texture, very comfy due to the light weight, wood cups look very nice, cable doesn’t annoy me like many stock cables
Cons: Cups don’t swivel, price is high, headband assembly is the same as some other Kennerton models costing 1/3 as much (it still looks and feels great though)
Kennerton Audio is the upscale division of Fischer Audio, which – although perhaps still not so well known in some circles – has been around for quite a while by now. I remember first using the Fischer FA-003 about a decade ago, and that same pair is still going strong after being gifted it to a friend who uses them daily. While I always felt Fischer made high-value gear, Kennerton is significantly more upscale – with pricing to match.
Kennerton is not just throwing together fancy looking headphones and charging a bundle for them. The company is known for their beautiful wood cups which come in a wide variety of finishes, but they also have their own custom-designed 80mm carbon fiber planar magnetic drivers. As far as I can tell, these same drivers are utilized in several headphones in their lineup, with each model using unique tuning, cup designs, and headband assemblies to achieve very different results. Kennerton also has some dynamic models using interesting designs (graphene drivers, horn loading) which fall beyond the scope of this writeup.
The focus of this writeup is their latest model, the Kennerton Thekk. I haven’t spent a ton of time with their other products such as the Odin, Magni, or Vali, and I’ve never heard the Thror or Gjallarhorn, so this review will mainly focus on the Thekk and its place among other headphone models from outside the Kennerton stable.
The Thekk sells for €2,680 which is roughly $3,000 at time of writing (but will fluctuate depending on the exchange rate), and can be purchased directly through their website. I’m told there is not currently a specific North American distributor at this moment, but readers in other countries may have more luck with local dealers.
$3000 is not an insignificant sum for a set of headphones. In terms of pricing alone, that puts Thekk in the same general ballpark as Audeze, Sennheiser, HiFiMAN, Focal, and others, all of whom would like to claim supremacy in the high-end headphone category. So what does Kennerton give us for that money?
Build and Presentation
Thekk’s packaging and cable both feel appropriate for the price. I’ve seen more luxurious packages but also far more sparse presentations for the money, and Kennerton’s leather storage bag is actually more useful than most headphone boxes. The stock cable is good enough to where I don’t immediately want to replace it, and feels reminiscent of the Fostex TH-900 cable which I’ve always appreciated. But thanks to their choice of mini-XLR connections, Thekk can accept the same cables as Audeze, ZMF, Meze Empyrean, and probably others that I’m forgetting at the moment. I love that, and frankly wish it would just become the standard at this point.
My Thekk has Bubinga cups which are simply gorgeous. There are plenty of other options, all of which look nice from the pictures I’ve seen, so you really can’t go wrong. Being an open design, I doubt the wood choice influences tonality much, but you never know.
The best part about Thekk is the comfort. The light weight (listed as 390g but I swear it feels like significantly less) plus the well-done self-adjusting headband system makes for an effortless feeling when worn. Clamping force is light enough for extreme comfort but not so light that it feels unsecure on the head. The (real leather) pads are excellent as well, making the whole experience nearly perfect.
My main issue is the fact that the cups do not swivel from front to back. As you can see from the pictures, the headband assembly holds them in place with no swivel mechanism in that direction. The design relies on angled pads to help conform to the human head, which is of course wider behind the ear. This mostly works for me but I could use another few degrees of angle for optimal fit. I’ve messed with trying to bend them slightly – they are somewhat flexible – but the design does not lend itself well to permanent bending in that particular direction. And frankly I don’t feel I should have to resort to that in a $3000 headphone. In the end I do achieve a good fit but I could see how it might be an issue for some people.
My other (very minor) quibble is the fact that this same headband assembly is used in several of Kennerton’s significantly less expensive models. That feels a bit weird when dealing with a headphone in this price class. I suppose Focal and Audeze do the same thing, but at least they throw in some carbon fiber bits to help differentiate the higher models. Again, I really like the self-adjusting design overall (apart from the non-swivel cup mounts) as it reminds me of one of my favorite old-school designs – the K1000. No, not AKG’s classic ear speaker, but the rare Kenwood KH-K1000 which had a conceptually similar headband design to Thekk (but it actually swiveled). If Kennerton could somehow make Thekk swivel it would be just about perfect for me.
The Kennerton Thekk is characterised by its lightning-fast, highly-detailed presentation, which manages to avoid feeling cold or clinical. Low-level detail is fantastic – in the right system, with a good enough recording, it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. While that aspect is what initially jumped out at me, I need to clarify that this is not an in-your-face bright headphone. The presentation is generally neutral overall which makes for a versatile experience without any significant flaws.
The treble approaches the most accurate and resolving I’ve heard regardless of driver technology (dynamic, planar, even electrostatic), which was actually something of a surprise for me. The entire Kennerton line, while very nice to look at, has a sort of steampunk vibe to it, in contrast to the more high-tech feel of a Focal Utopia or Sennheiser HD800. So I figured it might have a lovely tuning with only moderately strong technicalities (which is how I would describe some of the older Kennerton models such as the Vali). And yet, when it comes to digging out extreme detail from a great recording, Thekk is right up there with Stax, HE-6, Utopia, etc, all of which I feel outperform the HD800 in treble performance if we consider the total package and not just the initial “wow” factor. HD800 initially might feel superior in resolution but flaws are readily apparent after further listening. Meanwhile Thekk is not overly sharp or peaky, not sibilant (unless it’s in the recording), and does not feel bright when paired with neutral equipment. Seriously – if you love treble clarity, this is a headphone you really need to try out.
The great part about Thekk is that it isn’t a one-trick pony. That exceptional treble performance is accompanied by engaging midrange and very fast, well textured lows. Tonality is thick enough to keep from being shrill or losing timbral accuracy. Bass speed is phenomenal, and impactful enough to feel believable. There might not be enough slam to satisfy bassheads, but those who like a generally neutral presentation should be pleased. I personally wouldn’t mind a roughly 2dB bump below 80Hz but it’s not a big issue assuming I use the right amplification. Did I mention the bass is fast, tight, and really accurate?
Listening to double bass virtuoso Larry Grenadier’s recent release The Gleaners is thoroughly impressive, as is pretty much all jazz and folk. Metal is also fantastic – I very much enjoy using Thekk for highly technical metal from Obscura, Meshuggah, Revocation, Fleshgod Apocalypse, etc, as the speed and accuracy make for a nearly perfect match. Grimey underground hip-hop or rumbling drum n bass? Still quite good though perhaps not ideal for this sort of presentation – I tend to go with a warmer/more forgiving headphone in those cases. Still, I’d say Thekk is highly versatile overall, and never sounds completely out of touch with any genre.
Thekk is also very open and layered, which makes it beautiful for all sorts of classical music. While staging is slightly less wide than HD800, depth is clearly superior, which to me is the more impressive achievement. Utopia feels a lot more intimate, and HE-6 can be huge but imprecise, but Thekk feels “just right” to me.
A Few Comparisons
The last Kennerton I heard was the Vali and that was a fun, somewhat laid back headphone with very punchy bass. Thekk is something different entirely, playing in a significantly higher tier. Unfortunately I haven’t heard their Thror model so I don’t know how Thekk compares – Thror is priced slightly higher but Thekk is newer, and from speaking with the folks at Kennerton I get the impression it may be the more complete sonic package. I have heard Thror described as having lovely detail but lacking a bit in fullness – if that’s true, Thekk solves that issue, but I’m speculating here.
Since using Thekk for the past few months, I haven’t had any desire to reach for an HD800, HD800S, or Utopia. Thekk just scratches my itch for detail whilst retaining “musicality” – that dreaded generic word – more than any of those. HE-6 or Susvara, when driven by herculean amplification, can match or even exceed the Kennerton, but that’s easier said than done… only a select few amps can take us there.
I do hear some similarities to the HiFiMAN HE1000 family. Not necessarily in overall frequency response but rather with the lightness and speed of the sonic portrayal. Thekk fits somewhere in between my particular HE1000 v1, which sounds slightly richer, and HE1000SE which is lighter and more threadbare in tonality. But Thekk avoids the sense of “softness” in the transients that I hear from HE1K (both models, to some degree) so I think it may be the superior headphone in many cases.
Lastly, the Meze Empyrean is an interesting comparison. Both headphones sell for just about the same price, and both are attractive and well built – each in its own way. Empyrean has a beautifully organic, warm, smooth presentation which still does detail retrieval quite well. Conversely, Thekk has more of a focus on treble brilliance, but does not go so far as to become cold or clinical, and it offers very clean, tight bass response despite that aspect not being the focus. It really comes down to whether one prefers a top down (Thekk) or bottom up (Empyrean) approach. I tend to reach for one or the other based on what I’m listening to, as well as the system I have assembled at that moment.
The level of performance I’ve described does require a very nice system to achieve. When used with more modest gear, Thekk takes a few steps back in terms of clarity and fullness. And with a bright or thin setup it does become somewhat unbalanced to my ears. So despite being fairly easy to drive in terms of volume, it ends up being fairly demanding when it comes to system matching.
My reference amplifier for Thekk is the Niimbus US4+. That’s pretty much the ideal amp for getting neutral, fast, highly resolving results from this headphone. I then choose my DAC for a slight flavoring – Resonessence Mirus Pro Signature for supreme resolution, Exogal Comet Plus for a more reserved top end with added midrange oomph, or ModWright Oppo 205 for a focus on textural thickness. Thekk plus Niimbus US4+ very clearly highlights the signature of each source, and is great as a review tool.
Interestingly, the SparkoS Labs Aries comes very, very close to the Niimbus level of performance for significantly less money, so that’s definitely a solid recommendation as well. It’s single-ended only but so is the stock Thekk cable so that’s not a major drawback. Not a ton of info about the Aries around these parts but I highly recommend it – pretty ruthless in terms of demanding a great source, but it really rewards the listener.
The Cayin HA-6A SET amp brings out a bit of midrange bloom and opens up the soundstage even more than the Niimbus. Upper mids and treble still sparkle, but the focus shifts more towards the presence region. Again, an excellent combination, which could be tweaked even further with tube rolling.
Schiit’s Asgard 3 makes for a surprisingly good match considering how affordable it is. It takes a bit of emphasis off the treble but still allows for clarity with reasonable extension. Mids are rich, bass is tight, and the whole thing is really engaging. Apart from some refinement and resolution, the largest sacrifice I hear is soundstage, which feels restricted compared to the above amps.
All-in-one DAC/amp units offer a great value – assuming both aspects perform to a high enough level. Thekk doesn’t always pair well with these types as it tends to sound best with fairly stout amplification. A lot of the integrated units I tried (Mytek, Benchmark, Chord) left Thekk sounding threadbare, overly soft, or just plain boring.
Wyred4Sound’s intimo is a great match though, and actually proved to be one of the best ways to enjoy this headphone. It gives a large portion of the performance I hear from Wyred’s upscale Anniversary DAC paired with my Pass Labs HPA-1, but for a mere fraction of the cost. $1500 isn’t cheap, but this is among the best “value” propositions I’ve heard from Thekk.
Also sounding excellent is the Violectric V590, which takes the amp stage of their famous V281, upgrades it, and then packs an excellent AKM-based DAC in the same chassis. V590 is in the same sonic ballpark as intimo in terms of signature, but expands on it in both performance and price. I recently had a friend visit who is big into speaker-based audio but totally out of the loop with modern headphones. This is the combo I chose out of all my gear to show him how far the hobby has progressed since the old HeadRoom Desktop/AKG K701 days. He was absolutely floored – and that’s coming from someone who owns some crazy nice Rockport speakers.
Kennerton Audio has always felt a bit mysterious to me. Their wood-clad headphones are consistently beautiful yet have a wide range of sound signatures – I don’t really think they have any persistent “house sound”. That’s actually refreshing as plenty of headphone makers tend to churn out one incrementally different headphone after another.
With Thekk, the company has achieved something very close to my view of neutrality. The focus is squarely on detail and resolution, without compromising listening engagement across the rest of the spectrum, and the presentation is extremely open and layered. Feed it mediocre music on a bright system and you’ll likely find yourself unimpressed, yet Thekk handsomely rewards a quality chain – in that context it performs in an elite field with only a select few competitors.
I still wish the cups swivelled. And – like all high-end headphones these days – I wish it was less expensive. Apart from that I love this headphone. Despite my natural preference for the warmer Empyrean-style sound, I find myself choosing Thekk regularly for all genres of music. Anyone looking for an alternative to Utopia, HD800S, etc may find Thekk to be their ideal match.