The Mr Speaker’s Mad Dogs headphones have been around for a while now and are currently produced as revision 3.2. To understand the reason for the revisions, let me explain the genesis of these ‘phones.
Mad Dogs begin their life as the very affordable and not particularly special (except for being very neutral and a little bass-light) Fostex T50RP. Over many years, Dan Clark (the founder of Mr Speakers) tested various mods to the T50RP which resulted in the product we have today. Currently (on the 3.2 version), the mods include everything from new ear pads, sealed vents, and internal damping to a leather “comfort strap” which sits directly below the stock Fostex headband. The result of all this modification is a similar looking headphone that is sturdy, robust, comfortable and a great performer at its very modest price ($300 USD).
The Mad Dogs use a planar magnetic driver – similar technology to the Audeze and HiFiMan headphones, but in this case it’s implemented in a sealed enclosure. Mr Speakers don’t publish specifications for the Mad Dogs, but based on the Fostex specs, the Mad Dogs have an impedance of 50 ohms and sensitivity around 98 db/mW so they’re pretty sensitive for a planar and have a good level of impedance for most devices to drive comfortably.
Design, Accessories & Comfort
I bought my Mad Dogs second hand so I am not completely clear on how they are originally packaged and delivered, but I do know that they come with one cable terminated to 6.3mm stereo headphone jack and another cable with a 3.5mm jack. The stock 6.3mm cable locks into the left earpiece of the Mad Dogs (see picture to the left) while the 3.5mm cable just plugs in, but is perfectly secure and serviceable. You could use any cable that ends in a slim 3.5mm jack at the headphone end so the options are pretty open for cable upgrades if you so desire.
I’ve spent very little time with the stock T50RPs, but can assure you that they are nowhere near as comfortable as the Mad Dogs. The thick strap of leather attached under the stock Fostex headband (it’s screwed into the headband assembly at the base of the arch on each side) is a perfect solution – simple, rugged and really comfortable. The earpads too are extremely soft and comfortable, reminiscent of the earpads on the Audeze LCD-2. The current 3.2 models (like mine) come with the “Alpha Pads” which are so named because they were designed for Mr Speakers’ top model Alpha Dogs which use the same driver, but replace the Fostex cups with a custom-made 3D printed cup.
All-in-all, the Mad Dogs are a perfect implementation of everything the T50RP is capable of. They are rugged, comfortable, and squeeze every last bit of performance from the T50RP package (without upgrading the whole housing of course).
Before I launch into the sound quality, it’s worth mentioning that I do find the Mad Dogs perform better with a desktop setup, but they’re no slouch from a decent portable setup with a nice portable amp. I used the FiiO E12DIY to listen while preparing for this review and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but there’s no denying the extra step the Mad Dogs can take simply with a little more juice behind them. With that said, I’m using the Bottlehead Mainline for this review to squeeze every last ounce of performance from the MDs.
The MDs offer bass that is smooth, full and clean. It’s not overly fast, but it’s also not bloated in any way. The bass from the MDs falls shy to the Beyerdynamic T1s in speed and texture, and that’s high praise for a headphone 1/3 of the price. Bass depth is also excellent and there’s a slight lift in the mid-bass of the Mad Dogs which helps them to sound punchy and dynamic (but may be masking the sub-bass slightly). The boost is tasteful and adds only a hint of bloom to the sound – just enough to make the Mad Dogs sound smooth overall, but not sluggish. To my ears the Mad Dogs are slightly slower in the bass than some of the alternatives, but it’s very slight and still extremely enjoyable because it’s in keeping with everything else they do as you’ll soon see.
The Mad Dogs’ mid-range is its strong point. Vocals and particularly instruments like guitars sound fabulous – textured, clean, and real. The Mad Dogs have a great weight to the notes and deliver everything in the mid-range band with a nice sense of realism and accuracy. I’ve never heard the MDs present anything that sounded artificial or canned. Listening to Diana Krall’s The Girl In The Other Room and similar great vocal recordings is a joy as the Mad Dogs deliver the vocals and instrumentation accurately and effortlessly. Drums have just the right texture and speed, guitars have that slight edge as the string is plucked followed by the warm glow as the notes resonate into the room (or your ears in this case).
If I had to find a weak spot in the Mad Dogs’ mids it would fall in the upper mids where the line blurs between mids and treble. I feel like the one thing missing from the Mad Dogs’ mid-range is a little bit or air or breath at the upper limits of the mid-range, but as I said, this is starting to blur the lines with treble so let’s discuss it there.
The treble of the Mad Dogs is smooth and clean, but there’s just a little something lacking for me and it’s both a blessing and a curse I think. There is a bit of a dip in energy at the upper limit of vocals where consonant sounds (“s”, “t”, “k”, etc.) live. This means that the Mad Dogs are never sibilant and that’s great. However, it also steals a tiny bit of energy from the overall presentation and makes the Mad Dogs a little too laid back for truly engaging auditory experiences.
Before it sounds like I’m panning these, let me clarify that the treble has great qualities too. Cymbals and percussion sound natural and realistic, and there’s a nice sense of air at the upper end of the sound spectrum so it’s not all bad. The treble isn’t muffled or veiled, it’s just smooth and polite. In the context of a $300 headphone, these are possibly one of the best you could hope to find, but the dip in the treble around 4-6kHz prevents them from being exceptional giant-killers.
Staging and Imaging
Being a closed headphone you may not expect a lot from the Mad Dogs, but they might surprise you. The imaging is very good and the staging is surprisingly wide for a closed headphone. The treble dip I discussed above prevents razor-sharp imaging, but they are still very very good with a nice clean sense of each instrument’s place in the auditory picture. The stage extends beyond the ears and has good depth and height.
Once again, for a $300 headphone these things are ridiculously good. In the context of overall sound performance, they are not quite as resolving and pin-point accurate as the flagship headphones on the market, but it’d be a worry if they were because no-one would buy T1s, HD800s, TH-900s, LCDs or any of the other great top-of-the-line cans out there.
I’ve reached the end of this review feeling like I’ve been too hard on the Mad Dogs – after all they’re a $300 headphone and I keep comparing them to $1000 headphones. What that tells me though is that they’re so very good that I’m wanting just that tiny step more performance to make them truly special (at any price). In truth they are truly special at $300 and would still be special-sounding headphones at $400-500. They do everything very well and are clean and neutral without getting analytical and harsh. Sure, I’d like a touch more sense of speed from them, but that might also be personal taste.
If you’re looking to spend up to $300 on a headphone be sure to check out the Mad Dogs. They’re so good at everything they do that they’d suit almost anybody working with a $300 budget and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better closed headphone without going up to their more expensive ($600) sibling, the Alpha Dogs. The only similarly-priced headphone I prefer sonically to the Mad Dogs is the Beyerdynamic DT1350, but the Mad Dogs win hands-down on comfort and isolation so I’d struggle to choose between the 2 and there are areas where the Mad Dogs out-perform the DT1350s sonically so it’s a tough, tough call and one that would come down to personal usage and preferences in basically every case.