Audio-Technica ATH-AD900x Review
These cans are comfortable and swank, but have a somewhat odd frequency response.
Clad in a very slick exterior, Audio-Technica's brand-new ATH-AD900x is making waves, as it was designed to do (yes, I realize that's a terrible pun). Although it carries a very similar name to its predecessor, the Audio-Technica ATH-AD900, its performance is quite a bit different in terms of frequency response. While it's more of a taste thing at its core, these cans look the part, but don't exactly deliver the same quality sound that the series is known for.
Oh, what a lovely set of headphones. Known for their honeycomb-grated open backs, the ATH-ADXXXx series of headphones is a lot more—ahem— revealing than their predecessors. One of my coworkers left a macro lens lying around, so I was able to take these headphones for a spin in a photo studio before sending them back.
Due to the open design, you can see right into the headphone itself, leaving a barely-covered driver. This makes sense, and is something that's present on a lot of high-end headphones: No sealed chamber means less pressure resisting the moving speaker element, allowing the headphones to more closely approach optimum performance. Sometimes manufacturers decide to add in foam or another porous material to protect the back of the speaker from foreign-object damage, but these don't seem to have that. Don't fret, though, as there don't seem to be exposed connections from the back, so there aren't any obvious shorting concerns.
If you're looking for a comfortable set of headphones, it's really hard to beat the type of band that Audio-Technica fits their high-end headphones with: The springloaded paddle system automatically adjusts itself to your head, and the huge ear cups spread the light load over a large surface area. If you have an exceptionally large head you may run into issues, but this design is geared towards hassle-free comfort—and it shows.
For those not used to the rather odd-looking ATH-AD900x, using these cans might be a bit of an adventure. However, all you need to do is just put them on—no adjustments, no futzing around with the band—nothing. Because these cans don't need much juice to run properly, you can also plug them into just about any source and get near-ideal performance—you don't need an amplifier or any special equipment for these.
Even though some over-ear headphones can trap in heat and make you uncomfortable, these do not—as long as you're listening at a comfortable volume you can go for hours and hours in one sitting. Unfortunately, because the cable is very long and unwieldy, these stay by the computer. That's really okay, as using these outside or around others would be a bad idea: Not only do they let in just about every sound around you, but open-backed cans typically leak a lot more sound than their closed-back brethren.
If you're worried about things getting inside these headphones, I would recommend finding a way to hang them or keep them off of the desk somehow—while dust can easily be blown out of the backs, accidentally spilling coffee on your desk could spell disaster if it reaches your headphones. That's not an inexpensive replacement, either. It's up to you, but its saved me on occasion with my own headphones at home.
Considering how well their predecessors scored in our tests, we had very high expectations for the ATH-AD900x, but they're a bit different than the ATH-AD900. While it's not uncommon for manufacturers to channel the image of their older headphones for newer models and change the performance somewhat (e.g. AKG's Q701s vs. the older K701s), the ATH-AD900x has a few more places where Audio-Technica took some liberties, but that's really fine, it's just notable that they sound a bit different than the older ATH-AD900.
For starters, where the ATH-AD900 reproduced most sounds at the same volume more or less, the ATH-AD900x does not—some of the more sibilant sounds like cymbals and the highest octave of a piano will be reduced in perceived loudness by about half. Some people enjoy that, especially when bass sounds are quieter too—it's not uncommon to see these frequencies reduced in volume. However, this does mean that the ATH-AD900x is not the best choice when mixing songs or other audio files because what you hear through the headphones will be noticeably different from what you'll end up with.
The rest of the performance points are notable in that there isn't much to talk about: It's a good thing when I'm not harping on problems like high distortion or tracking issues. If you own ATH-AD900x headphones, you know that you can listen loudly if you so choose without worrying about audible distortion, and there are no added echoes or buzzing. They may or may not have the frequency response you enjoy, but that's the limit of their possible mismatches with what you'd want in terms of audio performance.
If you're looking for an open-backed set of cans to adorn your skull at home, the ATH-AD900x will do so in style, clad in backs that are reminiscent of black metal fishnets. Just keep in mind that these headphones mark a slight departure from the previous iteration, as they do not have a completely even frequency response—they underemphasize some of the higher sounds, and that may or may not fit with what you're looking for.
With the change in performance, Audio-Technica appears to be moving to appeal to consumers with a different sound. However, this may not be a welcome change to some select demographics—if you're looking for a completely flat response so you can easily equalize your music, these are not the cans for you.
All that said, the ATH-AD900x is yet another fielding from Audio-Technica that is interesting in its own right, and definitely worth a look if you need a set of cans that are super-comfortable, attractive, and relatively affordable as an entry into the world of higher-end audio. They may not be exactly what you're looking for, but I'd definitely recommend giving them a listen if you're on the fence. They can be had for $299.95.
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