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Taron & Andrew Lissimore
Review written by Andrew Park (@Resolve)
Review unit provided on loan for evaluation by headphones.com
When I started out in this hobby I always looked for headphones that were "warm yet detailed". At the time, many considered the Sennheiser HD800 and the Beyerdynamic T1 to be the go-to 'high end' audiophile headphones. And for anyone who has listened to those flagships at the time, you'll know that they were very treble focused. So the search began for that lush "warm yet detailed" sound. Since then I've always been cautious of brighter headphones because of that memory of peaky sibilant highs. Even these days, you find countless recommendations for headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT-1990 Pro, and while that's a good studio headphone, personally I had a hard time actually enjoying it for everyday listening.
I've since slid into the warm and lush downslope of the ZMF Verite as my primary headphone, but I've increasingly come across more and more headphones that have linear or even brighter tunings that don't exhibit the same fatiguing or sibilant nature as the ones I had been used to. And this has caused me to re-evaluate the merits of brighter sounding headphones.
Enter the Audio Technica ATH-ADX5000 Open Air flagship headphones - something that I've been aware of since its release but never actually got a chance to evaluate... until now. Knowing that this is a somewhat brighter sounding headphone, the big question I've tried to answer in this review is whether it's the kind of treble focused sound that worries me - the kind that I had been used to in the past - or the new kind of balanced treble that's still smooth and enjoyable to listen to for longer sessions.
- Headphone Type - Over-ear, open-back
- Driver - 58 mm dynamic driver
- Maximum Input Power - 1,000 mw
- Sensitivity - 100 dB/mW
- Impedance - 420 ohms
- Weight - 270g
- Cable - Detachable 3.0 m (9.8') cable with A2DC connectors
- Connector - 6.3 mm (1/4") gold-plated stereo plug
- Case - Hard protective case
- Price - $1999
Build, Design & Comfort
While the ADX5000 doesn't look and feel particularly premium, especially when you compare it to other similarly priced headphones like the Sennheiser HD800s, the materials feel sturdy and durable. The outside of the cup is a honeycomb grille that completely reveals the driver inside. The arms are made of metal but the yoke structure has a bit of plastic on it. The top headband piece feels like a felt-like material, and so all in all I have no significant complaints about durability and headphone build quality.
The ADX5000 is also extremely lightweight, coming in at a mere 270g, and with a headband design that causes it to just float on your head. I do feel that the clamp force for this headphone is a little bit tight, however this may lessen over time. I feel a bit of pressure at the top of the pads where they come into contact with my temples, and this is particularly noticeable while wearing glasses. But if you're able to get over the first 15 minutes, the cushions start to set in place a bit and it's wearable for long periods of time. I had no problems getting through a full day of work wearing the ADX5000.
The ADX5000 uses a tungsten coated dynamic driver, and this is meant to help with stiffness and rigidity to improve detail retrieval - especially for higher frequencies. We've seen all kinds of interesting driver designs in the past with the likes of Focal's aluminum magnesium drivers in the Clear and Elegia, or the pure Beryllium of the Utopia. Audio Technica's driver coating idea has also been done before. ZMF employs a Beryllium coated polyethylene naphthalate driver in the Verite, likely for similar benefits to performance. I've personally been very curious how the ADX5000 performs with this driver, especially in comparison to the HD800s and the Focal Clear - both highly resolving headphones that come in at a slightly lower price. In my mind, the ADX5000 needs to be at least as good as those two.
For detail retrieval, I'm reminded a lot of the HD800s. I think for bass and treble, the ADX5000 is about on par with its competition here, however the midrange (and upper mids in particular) may slightly outperform it. I find this to be particularly impressive for classical and orchestral music, where cellos, violas and violins create an orchestral swell. The ADX5000 is able to reproduce those instruments with excellent textural clarity and definition - perhaps better than its competition. If I were to consider the Focal Utopia the top dynamic driver headphone for detail, the ADX5000 doesn't quite reach that level, and instead I think it competes more comfortably with the Focal Clear and HD800s, trading blows in different areas. So while it's not one of the super flagships in this area, it's still excellent.
Speed & Dynamics
To me, 'speed' is most noticeable as the immediacy with which the initial leading edge of a tone is represented, and the ADX5000 has a very fast initial leading edge, perhaps even slightly better than that of the HD800s throughout the mids and treble. Bass speed isn't quite as good but this is also likely due to the bass shelf not being quite as abrupt as I would have liked. This did also change a bit depending on the source I was using, and I found it to be best on the Mytek Liberty DAC & Headphone Amp even though overall I preferred it using the iFi Pro iDSD in 'tube' mode.
For the dynamic slam or punch/impact, the ADX5000 is once again slightly better than that of the HD800s, but not on the same level as the Focal headphones. I think the Focal Clear and Utopia both punch with a bit more authority.
Stage & Imaging
For soundstage, the ADX5000 has a wide and spacious presentation that has good lateral definition. Center image presence is evenly distributed, but it does feel a bit closer to me than the rest of the presentation does. To put it another way, it feels like the center image is more of a two dimensional picture rather than the full range of depth that something like a HiFiMAN Arya can produce, or even the HD800s. But still, I think that soundstage and imaging is one of this headphone's strong points as well. It's not quite on the same level as the HD800s, but I don't think anyone would complain about the stage here.
The ADX5000 has a slight artificial edge to certain tones, and I hear this characteristic most prominently in the upper midrange and lower treble (between 3-6khz). Interestingly enough, this is also where I hear the most detail coming through. In a way the timbre reminds me of some high performance planar magnetic headphones, and so while it doesn't detract from the music or intrude on detail like what happens occasionally in the high end IEM world with BA drivers, the ADX5000 also isn't as natural sounding as a ZMF headphone throughout the whole frequency range.
Tonality & Frequency Response
These measurements were taken with the MiniDSP EARS rig, using both the HEQ and HPN compensations. This measurement system is not industry standard and should not be compared with other measurements that are. Note that there is a coupler artifact at 4.5khz that shows up on just about every headphone.
The following shows how this headphone measures relative to the HPN compensation, which is closer to a traditional diffuse field target and doesn't take the Harman bass elevation into consideration.
The following shows how this headphone measures relative to the HEQ compensation, which is based on the Harman target and does add a bass shelf. Headphones that show flat bass extension on this compensation will have more bass than headphones that show flat bass extension on the HPN compensation.
The Audio Technica ATH-ADX5000 has a very interesting tonality, and one that demonstrates something new. This headphone proves to me that it's possible to have a brighter tuned frequency response that doesn't sound shrill or fatiguing.
The ADX5000 is definitely a more counter clockwise tilted headphone - especially relative to the HEQ compensation. So for those of you wanting a more 'Harman-like sound' with a strong bass shelf, this may not be the headphone for you. But with that said, it does also have a decent bass elevation in the upper bass, I just wish that it dropped a bit more strongly around 150-200hz. But because it's only a subtle bass elevation, it doesn't intrude into the mids all that strongly, it just isn't as well defined in the bass as some of the more linear and fully extended planar magnetic headphones.
Midrange presence shows somewhat of an elevation around 1khz, but I don't quite hear it that way. To me there's nothing all that out of the ordinary until things reach 6khz into the treble - at which point the ADX5000 has a substantial elevation. But here's where things get interesting.
If it wasn't clear by now, this headphone has a substantial amount of treble energy, especially in the 'air' range above 10khz. This means the splash and sizzle qualities of cymbal hits comes through almost a bit too strongly for my taste. But with that said, because the rest of the tonality between 7-12khz is reasonably well balanced without any sharp peaks, the treble presentation doesn't come across as harsh or fatiguing. In some ways I'd say the ADX5000 sounds like a smoother HD800s, just with more air up top.
Importantly, 3-5khz still has enough presence to keep the overall balance with the crazy amount of treble air and extension in check. This doesn't have the tonal balance issues of something like the Audeze LCD-4 that dips in the upper mids and lower treble and then has a huge 'air' elevation, causing percussive instrument tones to be drowned out substantially by their resonant splash and sizzle character.
And so in my mind, while the ADX5000 is a bit too bright for my taste, I think for many listeners this well be an enjoyable sound. I think maybe in 10-20 years this tonality will be ideal for me, as we do lose sensitivity to higher frequencies as we age.
The primary competitor to the Audio Technica ATH-ADX5000 is the tried and tested Sennheiser HD800s. Coming in at a slightly slower price tag, the HD800s has a marginally bigger soundstage with slightly better instrument separation, but at the same time the HD800s has a tendency to sound a bit more shrill for certain genres. While I don't think the ADX5000 is the most appropriate headphone for all genres, I don't find it as shrill sounding or fatiguing for those occasional recordings that don't do so well on the HD800s. The 'S' version improved on its predecessor the HD800 by reducing the 6khz peak, but I still found it to be somewhat present on the HD800s, and with the ADX5000, it's not there. Moreover, the ADX5000 has even more discernible splash and 'air' up top, almost to the point where it's a bit too much for my taste. Overall, I think they trade blows, and I can see good reasons to prefer either one over the other.
The Focal Clear has a more agreeable tonality for a wider range of genres, and it also has better slam and impact. But at the same time, it's a bit more intimate and forward sounding, while both the ADX5000 and the HD800s have a more spacious presentation. I think the Focal Clear is the better 'all-rounder' headphone, but simultaneously for my preferences, I think I would gravitate more towards to the ADX5000.
The ZMF Verite is a very different headphone with a much warmer and slightly downsloped sound - depending on the pads being used. I find the Verite to have slightly better detail retrieval, even though the presentation might not seem that way when comparing side by side due to the ADX5000's extra treble energy and air above 10khz. The Verite also slams harder with better dynamic impact, has a more 'euphonic' and lush sounding midrange, and overall a more holographic presentation of stage.
I like to compare headphones that come in at similar prices, and the HEDD Audio HEDDphone is just slightly less expensive than the ADX5000, coming in at $1900. The HEDDphone uses a completely unique transducer technology called the AMT driver, so it's not exactly an apples to apples comparison. With that said, the HEDDphone is clearly better at detail retrieval and textural nuance representation. Stage depth for lateral presence is even more well defined as well. The key difference here is that the HEDDphone also weighs three times as much as the ADX5000. So for those of us willing to deal with the HEDDphone's significant weight, this is still the performance benchmark for anything around $2000.
There seems to be a common preference trend both for audiophiles and consequently headphone manufacturers that "warm yet detailed" is the ideal tuning. I typically put myself in this category as well, but I think part of the reason for this is that we're so used to getting treble fatigue from headphones with significant peak issues. While the Audio Technica ATH-ADX5000 has a noticeably bright sound with a counter-clockwise frequency response, it's able to do so without being as fatiguing or sibilant as many other treble-focused headphones tend to be. It's able to do this with an incredible amount of air that imparts an enhanced sense of openness as well. And so while this headphone might be a touch on the bright side for my taste (and likely many younger listeners), I think a lot of people will really enjoy the ATH-ADX5000. For a lightweight, brighter tuned headphone that sounds like a smoother and more airy HD800s, the ATH-ADX5000 gets my recommendation, I just wish it were priced a bit more aggressively to properly take on the HD800s.
Weighted Score: 8.3/10
-By Andrew Park (@resolve)
Check out the video review as well: