Saturday, January 28, 2012

Audio Technica ATH-900X review -- Winners or Losers?

Pros: Comfortable similar to AD700s, great sound balance, bass extends well, sturdy.
Cons: Pads (pleather) don't feel that great. Barebone package, no extras and no detachable cable.


So a couple of years ago I started getting more into "audiophilia" by buying my first "real" headphones, the Shure 440s. From there on it has all gone downhill. My ears have taken a hit, my wallet has taken a hit, I no longer have a lot of space to store all my stuff and every time I see reviews or hear something about headphones I can't wait to try them...

Anyway, this new addiction has really hit me hard and although I wasn't really looking for new headphones I got the "itch"... so I ordered a COUPLE of them just for comparison purposes with the cans I already have. Ordered the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80s and these beauts....

Audio-Technica A900X
What can I say about these?

These headphones look great. They sport an all-black motif with white lettering and silver accents on the plastic outer casing. It seems to be a fingerprint magnet even though you might think that that matte finish should not be doing that. It's really similar to their previous A900 model so it has the Double Air Damping System (or DADS), 53mm drivers and sport, of course, their 3D Wing support which actually is what I loved from their AD700 (so comfy!!!). Given that, I find the earpads not that good. They are kind of stiff. Probably with time they will get better but not sure about that (they will definitely not be as good as the D5000 ones, and of course, I also prefer the velour pads from the SRH940). Clamping is actually quite good but I can see how some people might find it problematic given the stiffness of the earpads. Isolation seems to be good, though I haven't tested for sound leakage yet. (soon) All in all, headphone feels good NOT great.

* Transducer type: Closed Dynamic Neodymium magnet

* Driver size: 53mm, Bobbin winding OFC voice coil

* Sensitivity (1kHz): 100 dB/mW

* Impedance (1kHz): 42 Ω

* Max. input power (1kHz): 2000 mW

* Frequency range” 5 Hz - 40 kHz

* Type of cable: non-detachable

* Cord length: 3.0m (Wrapping / Hi-OFC) --> similar to the Denons, not as thick

* Net weight (without cord): 350g

* Plug: Gold-plated 1/8" (3.5 mm) stereo mini jack

Package Contents:
* 1/4th adapter

... that's it! :-(


And here we go... I tell you what I expected from these. I expected my Shure 940s but with more low-end. I mean looking at the stats they were pretty similar so I just took a chance and I'm glad to say that it's ALMOST what I expected! If you have read any of my comments or reviews, I don't REALLY believe in "burn-in". Even though internals MIGHT probably change with the cans getting a workout, I usually go the way of "your ears get used to the sound" rather than getting in any engineering talk or assumptions.
Anyway, left the cans playing for 10 hours straight at work (while I listened with my usual D5000s) and when I got home, plugged them in and played my usual "headphone testing" playlist. It consists of:

DJ Hero 2 Soundtrack - Twist Jamrock Out
Kaskade - One Heart
Shiny Toy Guns - Ricochet!
Jon Cleary - When you Get back
Skrillex - First of the Year (Equinox)
Mima - Oigo Voces
Ben Jorgensen - Changed my mind
Skrillex - Amplifire
Miguel Bose and Leonor Watling - Este Mundo Va
Killswitch Engage - Fixation on the Darkness
Thursday - Turnpike Divides
Emery - The Anchors
Esperanza Spalding - What a Friend
Sara Bareilles - Vegas

and a couple extras such from Salsa and Merengue singers such as

Karis - Bandolera
Marc Anthony, etc.

Connection: PC --> USB connection to Icon HDP Dac/Amp --> Headphones
Played CDs and MP3s

From the first track (Damian Marley --> Twist Jamrock Out) I knew I would like the headphones. The A900x exhibited a really full sound. I mean, Highs were mot ear-piercing, Bass wasn't so overpowering and I enjoyed the track from beginning to end. A quick comparison on the same track with my other cans:

SRH940: Definitely crisper highs. Bass extends really well even though overall these are "bass-light" but on some sections it's really lacking.

D5000: Bass KINGS!!! Highs are tamed compared to both ATs and Shures. Bass is the best of the three and personally I enjoy this track more with the Denons.

I went through the whole playlist a couple of times, pausing and exchanging headphones, making notes, etc. and I have to say, I AM IMPRESSED. Everything I threw at it from acoustic to Metal to Salsa was reproduced great! I noticed what the difference between these and the SRH940s rather quick. It actually made me sad that I enjoyed the SRH940s so much!! LOL. I still do, don't get me wrong, but for some genres, the 940s get their arses kicked so bad!! Take for instance a track like "Amplifire" by Skrillex, on the 940s it sounds so... bland! On the A900X it sounds powerful, it sounds full, it... it makes you want to dance! The D5000s of course, makes the ATs look bad on the same track but I was surprised that I enjoyed it equally on both!

Summary, Highs are Ok (not as great as the 940s and actually similar to the D5000s to my ears.).

Mids are great here! They actually reminded me of the HD600s but not as good (but it's "there...").

Bass definitely on another level when compared to the 940s. Compared to the D5000s, totally lacking.

Soundstage was a bit similar to that of the Shures so although it's not as constricted like, let's say, the famous AT M50s, they don't reach the levels of the D5000s nor HD600 (again, to my ears!)

If I were to order these closed cans by preference.

Comfort: D5000s --> SRH940 --> A900X

Build: A900X --> D5000s --> SRH940

Sound Quality: D5000s --> A900X --> SRH940s

Contents: SRH940 --> D5000 == A900x

Finally, these headphones seem easier to drive than the D5000s. I connected them to my laptop and my Archos PMP and they sounded great. Also used my JDSLabs c421 for a bit and it also sounded quite tasty! ;-)


Really a "tuff" choice! I love the sound produced by these headphones! They excel in most/every genre I threw at it (I did not test classical BTW...) and are fun sounding. Not once I felt the need to stop listening, or do adjustments, etc. BUT a couple of things bother me:

1) Earpads REAAAALLY suck. Maybe I'm used to the Denons, or the Shures but I expected more I guess...

2) PRICE! These guys are retailing for $270 (with shipping) straight from Japan. Seriously, I don't see it. Yes the headphones sound good, and seem to be built to last but lets compare the Shures (priced similarly) to the ATs:

Shure extras: Replaceable velour ear pads, Two included detachable cables (coiled & straight), Zippered hard travel case

AT extras: NOTHING.

I know sound is everything, but come on! I could recommend these with more enthusiasm if they were priced at $170 or something like that.

Anyway, like I just mentioned, it will all boil down to sound... if the cold, analytical nature of something like the SRH940s (or KRKs 8400) are not your bag, you could look into cans with similar signature as the ATs (Beyers have not arrived yet, so I will update this once I get them...)

If they break apart, would I buy them again?
Not sure (it will depend on whether the pads become softer with use).

Hope you liked this mini-review.

Some bonus pics…


Anonymous said...

Same level of detail and clarity, analytic sound of SRH940 ? or it's a bit of that but more fun ? mid fuller or thinner ?

Anonymous said...

Sound signature is not as "cold" as the Shure SRH940s. But they are forward and with more bass presence which makes it sound as if the headphones have warmer mids.

I liked them except for the crappy ear pads.