The previous flagship headphone from Kennerton was the Odin, an appropriate handle given that Kennerton is the luxury arm of Fischer Audio, with both Fischer and Kennerton based in St Petersburg in Russia… and that the original Rus’ people are believed to have been of Viking stock heading eastward from Scandinavia. Those Odin headphones were very well received, for their craftsmanship as well as their sound, though if they had a fault, it was weight — might the great Odins be a little heavy in longterm listening?

So for the new flagship model, Kennerton has somehow dropped the weight from 680g to a more bonce-friendly 480g. But not by using plastic — you won’t find any plastic parts in a Kennerton model. Unusual woods, yes; aerospace-grade aluminium and steel, yes. Plastic — no, sir. Much else is new, including a patented membrane for the new drivers used.

Meanwhile the name for this Odin successor may have caused Kennerton some strife. Odin is the most powerful and wisest god. You can’t really go higher than Odin. There’s Thor, son of Odin, but he is several ranks down the pantheon, and besides, there are a good too many Thor references in modern culture already, including our own Chris Hemsworth, and a subwoofer from equally Australian Richter Audio.

So Thror it is. It sounds Scandinavian, though Google presents Thror as being Tolkein’s Dwarven King Under The Mountain, the grandfather of Thorin II Oakenshield, the son of Dáin I, the grandson of Náin II… the one who re-found that troublesome Arkenstone, you remember?

Fictional and royal, then, rather than mythic and divine. A fall from grace in nomenclature, perhaps, but most certainly not for the headphones themselves, which do indeed deliver a new flagship performance for the brand.

These are not conventional cone headphones, but rather planar magnetic drivers — far lighter diaphragms, with conductors distributed through the surface rather than driving from a point behind. This more even driving of a lighter diaphragm is credited with lower distortion, better phase coherence, flatter impedance across the frequency range, and improved high frequency resolution; planar magnetic headphones are usually delicious in their detailing. The specs of the Thror quote frequency extension out to 55kHz.

But Kennerton makes the point of saying it sees the perfect headphone as having these planar magnetic qualities, yes, but also the power and impact that a more conventional dynamic transducer can bring. And that’s why the company has been making its own transducers from scratch. The new design for the Thror is an 80mm planar-magnetic driver, using a multi-layer 10µm polyimide film diaphragm (DuPont’s Kapton is one example of a polyimide film); these have high reliability and longevity in the most extreme environmental conditions, used, for example, to protect the European Space Agency’s Rosetta space probe and the Philae lander from the harshness of space, so we reckon they should hold up OK even under Australian climatic conditions.

Either side of the film sit magnet systems using 10 neodymium magnets in a symmetric push-pull configuration. Unusually these are semicircular bar magnets, which Kennerton claims to both create a more uniform field, which is crucial to its planar approach, thereby reducing resonances, while the semi-circular shape also enables smoother air-flow around the magnets than if they were rectangular parallelepipeds. The combination of neodymium’s high magnetism and the lightness of the film diaphragm makes the Thror impressively sensitive at a quoted 100dB, and were it not for the hulking great jack plug on the end of the cable, even capable of being driven by a mobile device.

As for visual styling, it’s not hard to spot a Kennerton design even among the profusion of high-end designs now in the market. They are uniquely styled, the headshells in particular, for which precision machine milling from a 3D CAD design is the first stage, followed by extensive labour — hand-sanding and polishing, oiling, microwaving, the application of hot bees-wax and drying first in a special chamber, then at room temperature, more grinding, waxing and polishing — you get the idea. One pair we reviewed (around a lustrum past) had headshells made of 1000-year-old bog wood, and it seems a bog-wood Thror is available, but our sample was a richer coffee-brown sapele mahogony, which glows pleasantly against the darker browns of the soft lambskin leather strap-design headband, and the soft but thick earpads. The yokes are engraved with ‘Kennerton Audio Equipment’ and the outer shells look closed but are in fact an aluminium grille over gauze; these are open headphones.

Kennerton doesn’t anywhere that we could find label the headphones as to left and right, but the two-metre cable splits and click-locks to connectors on each headshell, which we assumed faced forward, since the headphones felt very odd with them facing backwards.... and slightly odd forwards as well, until we slid the headband right forward above the forehead, which seemed the position of best comfort and sound. We had let them soak in for 50+ hours before listening, and first grabbed them in order to listen to the new Midnight Oil Blu-ray ‘Armistice Day’, one evening when the missus was sleeping and headphones were required. We think this may have been a mistake. Plugged into our big Classé amplifier, the Thrors delivered such a magical delivery of this well-recorded concert that we suspect we’re never going to enjoy it quite as much again. So crisp, so clear — you could focus on either Jim Moginie’s languid and rolling guitar parts or Martin Rosney’s more staccato chops and jerks, while the bass was both weighty and edgy, and the sheer slam of Hirst’s drums locked it all together in a riveting and expansive overall image.

Back up in the music room listening from two headphone amps (one Musical Fidelity, one Lehmannaudio), we were able to relish the Kennertons’ command of nuance and detail. Judie Tzuke’s vocal on Come Hell Or Waters High is always a delight, but her little touches and sibilances have never been more ear-meltingly portrayed as through the Thror’s highly detailed presentation. Another oldie given new life was Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, the strings kept sweet, the acoustic around the slightly distant drums clearly discernable, the brass building through the track.

Bowie’s Blackstar is a good tester for pace, rhythm and timing, and the incongruous kick and snare part snapped and popped under the vocal and the swirling key pads, including again real depth to the combination of synth and electric bass. We guess that those who want ‘pushed’ bass from their headphones need not apply, as it were, but anyone used to the planar/electrostatic light-but-true balance will appreciate that there’s nothing missing here whatsoever.

The hand-crafted artisanship and the bespoke high-end drivers of these Russian-made headphones go some significant way towards explaining the price; the performance speaks to the rest. The Thrors deliver their best from a good headphone output, yet still manage impressive delights with less current on hand. Classical fans will be entranced by their balance, but they pull the detail from every genre, and the longer you listen, the more they transport you with their effortless delivery. We were left feeling nothing but awe for the Thror.

Kennerton Thror headphones
Price: $5600

+ Tight and detailed planar magnetic sound
+ No shortage of bass
+ Usefully high sensitivity
- Only price

Driver: 800mm planar magnetic
Quoted frequency response: 10-55,000Hz
Sensitivity: 100dB
Impedance: 42 ohm
Included cable: 2m detachable copper cable with 6.3mm jack plug
Weight: 480g

Contact: Absolute Hi End
Telephone: 0488 777 999