The Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt ($399) is a quality product born of meticulous engineering and audiophile sensibilities. It delivers a neutral, relatively transparent soundscape that lets the music shine through, with the added bonus of a spacious soundstage. While it has tough competition at its price point (primarily Hifiman’s own Edition XS), its musicality, solid build quality, and decent comfort make it a compelling closed-back option for discerning audiophiles and critical listeners.
- Carbon-coated dynamic driver: Delivers exceptional detail and transient response.
- Dekoni Elite earpads: Available in two options (fenestrated sheepskin or velour) for personalized comfort and sound signature.
- Closed-back design tuned in-house: Provides a wide soundstage and natural sonic presentation.
- Detachable cable: Offers flexibility and future-proofing.
Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt Review: Introduction
The Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt is the result of a potent collaboration between two specialists in the audiophile world. Dekoni Audio, known for its premium earpads and accessories, has partnered with Hifiman, a leader in planar magnetic headphones, to create a dynamic driver showpiece. This closed-back headphone promises an accurate and immersive listening experience, catering to audiophiles who crave sonic purity and detail. This is the second headphone collab from Dekoni, the first being the Dekoni Blue (read our review), a planar magnetic model developed in conjunction with Fostex.
Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt Review: Design
The Cobalt has a somewhat industrial design, much like the entry-level Hifiman headphones it was derived from. If you’re familiar with the Hifiman line, you will recognize the external components, starting with the plastic teardrop earcups, the metal yokes, and the thick memory foam headband cover, which is identical to the one on our house favorite Hifiman Edition XS. The included 3.5mm cable, which has a nice thickness and is fully compliant, also looks and feels just like the one from the Edition XS. Fit is also similar to the XS, with a good range of adjustability for the earcups, which can be locked into place, and nicely judged clamping force.
What sets the Cobalt apart are the earcups dressed out in Dekoni Blue, along with the Dekoni Fenestrated Sheepskin earpads that come pre-installed. By the way, Dekoni also includes a set of their Elite Velour pads which provide a different experience both sonically and comfort-wise (more on that later).
These elements add up to produce a pair of headphones that are lightweight and durable, and I found the protein leather-wrapped headband and memory foam earpads provided hours of moderately comfortable listening. I did experience a little bit of pressure on the top of my head, along with some pressure from the (Sheepskin) pads around my ears, but I got used to it after some time. I also have a very large head, so YMMV.
Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt Review: Features
At the heart of the Cobalt lies a Hifiman-designed carbon-coated dynamic driver, which utilizes precise placement of the carbon to tailor the sound. This innovative technology allows for precise control over the diaphragm’s movement, resulting in exceptional detail retrieval, fast transients, and minimal distortion.
As stated before, Dekoni’s expertise shines through in the earpad selection. The Cobalt comes with two options: Elite Fenestrated Sheepskin for a brighter and airier sound, and Elite Velour for a warmer and smoother presentation. This flexibility allows users to tailor the sound signature to their preferences. You also get Hifiman’s cable which is terminated on each end with a 3.5mm plug, which allows for easy cable swap (Amazon has a ton of options). Additionally, Dekoni says they have modified the earcups with damping material in order to control bass and enhance soundstage.
Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt Review: Sound Quality
The Cobalt’s true strength lies in its sonic accuracy. It presents a neutral and transparent soundscape, faithfully reproducing the music without any unnecessary embellishments. The carbon-coated driver delivers lightning-fast transients, allowing you to appreciate the subtle nuances and dynamic shifts in every track (especially with the Sheepskin pads). The soundstage is spacious and well-defined, creating an immersive listening experience that feels like you’re in the studio or concert venue with the musicians.
That said, because the Cobalt leans towards neutrality, I found it lacked a little excitement out of the box on rhythm-driven music. I thought the bass could’ve been a little more present and impactful, adding more weight and texture to the low end. I also thought there was a little bit too much emphasis on the upper mids, which added some hardness to the presentation on certain tracks.
When I switched to the velvet pads, aside from some added comfort, I felt they also smoothed out the sound a bit, making the headphones sound warmer and more forgiving of tracks with an upper-mid emphasis. It also emphasized the mid-bass a bit, adding a little more weight to the sound. I would say they gave the headphones a “tube” sound as opposed to the “solid-state” sound of the Fenestrated pads. On the other hand, with the auxiliary pads, I felt transparency was impacted, and the Bass dynamics were a little softer overall.
However with both sets of pads, the midrange was clear and articulate, allowing vocals and instruments to shine through with exceptional detail for the price. The treble was also crisp and airy, revealing the fine details of cymbals, strings, and other high-frequency instruments.
In addition, since the Cobalt has a neutral tuning and a quality driver, it took EQ extremely well. My favorite way to listen to the Cobalt was with the iFi Zen DAC V2’s Truebass feature engaged. It lifted the midbass up a bit without affecting the other frequencies, and it gave me just enough bass weight to make things a little more interesting.
Listening to Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me”, the Cobalt provided a nice organic and airy presentation. Jones’s vocals had a lot of nuance and emotion, and the backing piano sounded remarkably natural for such an affordable headphone. I felt like she was singing directly to me, which made these headphones quite enjoyable to listen to.
Listening to Beyonce’s “Virgo’s Groove”, the Cobalt was fast and liquid, keeping me bouncing in my seat. It was even better with the selective Bass EQ provided by the ZEN DAC V2, as it fleshed out the song a little bit better, and made the Dekoni product sound even more full range without muddying the low end or midrange. Beyonce’s vocal soared on this headphone, and the bass was super tight and articulate, which was nice for a closed-back headphone at this price.
Compared to the Meze 99 Classics, which was my favorite Closed-back headphone in this price range, I found the Cobalt to be much better balanced and more refined. It was also a lot more open-sounding, giving me an open-back feel that I didn’t get from the Meze. I now think the Cobalt is the best closed-back audiophile headphones for under $500.
Should you buy it?
The Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt is probably not for everyone. First of all, for two headphones at the same price point, I would always recommend an open-back model over a closed-back one. So, in this case, if I was recommending a headphone for around $400, I would tell them to buy the Hifiman Edition XS, which is an open-back planar. However, for discerning audiophiles who need a closed-back headphone for a particular purpose and prioritize neutrality, detail, and a spacious soundstage, the Cobalt is a worthy investment. Its comfort, quality materials, and exceptional sound quality make it a truly special listening experience.
The Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt is a testament to what can be achieved when two audiophile giants collaborate. It’s a headphone that doesn’t try to impress with artificial warmth or exaggerated bass. Instead, it focuses on delivering the music with the utmost accuracy and detail, allowing the listener to truly appreciate the artist’s intent. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced closed-back headphone that will redefine your listening experience and make you rediscover your favorite music, the Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt is a must-consider.
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