John Pickford finds out whether these aerodynamically designed open-back headphones heighten the listening experience.
For many audiophiles, headphone listening is a serious business, and on test here is a serious set of headphones. Audio-Technica’s ATH-ADX5000 is the company’s new flagship model and when they claim they’re “a new reference in home listening”, they aren’t kidding; they haven’t been designed to plug into your phone. As you might expect from headphones priced just shy of two grand, the ADX5000s are built and finished beautifully and come housed in their own bespoke briefcase.
AT have developed new Core Mount Technology, improving airflow efficiency to ensure true full-range performance, while the honeycomb-punched housing further improves efficiency, with closed sides to avoid loss of air pressure. The 58mm driver is an integrated design, combining the tungsten-coated diaphragm, voice coil, PPS/glass-fibre baffle and permendur magnetic circuit. The earpads are covered with Alcantara, which is both luxuriously soft and durable. The frame and arms are constructed solidly from magnesium, ensuring rigidity while remaining lightweight.
The three-metre cable features an attractively sculpted gold-plated stereo jack plug (6.3mm), though the input connectors are specific to the headphones rather than standard mini-jacks. A balanced cable will soon be available, at £290. Although the ADX5000s have a large circumaural design, their super-light weight of 270g makes them extremely comfortable, with no sense of being closed in. Unlike many noise-cancelling designs, though, the ATs will not isolate you from extraneous noise – and their sound leakage is on the high side.
Plugging into my reference Naim HeadLine amplifier and listening to a handful of test tracks, I was struck immediately by the dizzying amount of detail on offer. With a light, spacious and open sound, it can seem at first as if they’re a little bass-shy; however, that’s because there’s an absence of the mid-bass hype common in many less accurate designs. As soon as real bass is presented on recordings, the ATs deliver it with authority.
While the low-end response of the ADX5000s is both deep and clean, it’s the broad midrange – where instruments and voices compete for space – that marks these headphones out as special. While some designs major on speed and timing at the expense of timbral accuracy, and others have superb tonal quality but can be a tad laid-back, the ATs are both tonally accurate and have excellent pace, rhythm and timing.
Playing Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side, the stereo acoustic guitars and brushed drums had real rhythmic alacrity, while Herbie Flowers’ double-tracked acoustic and electric bass underpinned the bass drum, each occupying its own distinct space in the lower registers. Reed’s lead vocal had a new-found intimacy, while the backing singers emerging from reverb were eerily present. This forensic detail can be distracting at times, however. The opening bass riff of So What from Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue was in danger of being obscured by the tape hiss on this ancient analogue recording.
Audio-Technica’s new flagship headphones are brilliant performers, up with the very best on the market today. Any criticism of their sound ultimately comes down to personal preference. Those who prefer a warm, cosy presentation may find the ADX5000s too explicit and unforgiving of poor recordings. Discerning listeners of well-recorded music replayed on a great turntable through a top-end headphone amp will delight in their sprightly clarity.