Becoming an audiophile is simply a curse. It’s not even a hobby, and more of a lifestyle. After first tasting that rich bite of a fare you can’t ever eat at a fast-food or hodgepodge again. After experiencing a high quality sound you simply dismiss all of the past times as deafness and fog. But this journey does not necessarily have to be full of snobbery, nor must it rob you of your hard-earned cash. There is plenty of affordable equipment on the market that will simply change your aural experience and possibly even your life. Which is why I continue to explore and share with you my discoveries. My very first equipment review happened to be of a closed-back pair of headphones by Audio-Technica. At the time of my writing that particular model, ATH-A900, was already discontinued, but now the company has released a brand new pair, which in my mind is an upgrade.
The very first thing I noticed before even putting on this pair of headphones is how unbelievably lightweight they felt. Immediately I was looking forward to comfortable wear for hours at a time, and the ATH-A900 indeed delivered. The ear pads are nicely cushioned, the honeycomb aluminum casing feel robust yet light, and although the specially designed “3D Wing Support Housing” looks just a little bit flimsy, it perfectly serves its purpose, adding to the nice fit while balancing the total weight of the unit. The overall size is still rather bulky, and you will not find me walking around the block with this pair (but then again, why would you want to), yet the designer’s attention to comfort level allows the pair to seemingly disappear, and I have many a time fallen asleep on my couch, with the music being the only noticeable presence.
Which brings me to the sound. The first thing I have to point out is the difference between the previously covered ATH-A900 and this current ATH-AD900X model: and that is the closed versus the open-back design. In summary, the closed-back headphones provide a seal from the outside world, generally delivering better bass and a perception that the sound is emanating from within your head. While open-back headphones have the back of the ear cups open to provide for air-circulation, spacious soundscape perception of distance from the sound, and the more general mix with the ambient atmosphere all around you. The latter, of course, comes at a price, allowing the outside noise to leak in, and inevitably your music to leak out, disturbing the people around you, who claim that your music must sound like rodents scraping the back of the wall with their nails.
That being said, I always prefer to listen with an open-back pair of headphones in my studio (where there are no such previously mentioned people), unless I really need some more isolation or some serious bass, and ATH-AD900X is quickly becoming one of my favorite pairs. In modern classical pieces, the strings feel exceptionally bright but not overly crisp, while the mid-range of piano is perfectly balanced with vocals and brass. In ambient and drone the dynamic range feels very extensive, and I can almost dissect the individual production layers, at times focusing on sounds I haven’t heard before. Field recordings are especially grand, upgrading my hearing to that of a dog with a rather large distance. Electronic music is tight and precise, allowing each frequency to intensify in fidelity and attenuate in noise.
The ATH-AD900X features two large-aperture 53mm drivers, rare-earth magnets, and the company’s copper-clad aluminum-wire voice coil technology to cover the frequencies between 5 and 35,000 Hz. The overall frequency response is smooth and exact, and although I’ve mentioned the general lack of bass in the open-back models, this pair seems to deliver the punch without the overall sonic fatigue. The soundstage of the unit is wide, allowing me to discern the acoustics of natural recordings while being able to pickup tiny details near the instrument itself. Although at 38 ohms the pair can easily be driven by a laptop or portable player, I still use mine with a headphone amplifier. Overall, this model appears to be a step-up from the previous version, while still maintaining its very reasonable sticker price of only $299.95. And you know I recommend it!
Other models that I want to try: A900x, W1000x, and W5000
MSRP – $299.95 USD