Audio-Technica SonicFuel ATH-AX5iS Headphones Review
An entry level model that performs to its class
The Audio-Technica SonicFuel ATH-AX5iS over-ear headphones (MSRP $89.95) offer below-average sound in a stylish, affordable package. From the looks to the featherlight design, this is a tempting offer for value-seeking shoppers.
Before you jump at this product, though, a word of warning: These headphones clamp on rather firmly, and the soundscape is lacking in the midrange. If you're in search of a plush, premium listening experience, this isn't it.
Highly portable, but easier on the eyes than on the ears
I can't dress this up: Testing headphones involves wearing them for hours on end, and this was unpleasant with the ATH-AX5iS over-ears. The grip is tighter than usual, and the shape cannot be altered since the band is made of plastic. These headphones just aren't ideal for sensitive noggins.
Furthermore, the over-ear design isn't big enough to ensure that the cheap-looking ear cups will fit completely over top of your ears. In my case, pressure from the pads made my ears ache after a while. The point is, the AX5iS headphones do not offer an opulent or even particularly comfortable listening experience, especially with long-term use.
If your head isn't particularly sensitive, maybe you'll be A-okay with the fit. If that's the case, you'll also enjoy the AX5iS's attractive design. Red touches decorate little contours throughout the scheme, like around the bass of the ear cups, along the speaker backs, and up and down the cable. Audio-Technica also makes this product with a blue/black scheme.
Even better, the flat black-and-red cable effectively resists tangles, and moderately sturdy reinforcements guard both ends of the cord. To complete the look, a gunmetal finish gives the plastic body a more quality overall appearance—and a soft, portable carry case makes it even easier to transport these feather-light headphones.
Wanted: Details in the upper midrange
Like most entry level headphones, the AX5iS is pretty much exactly what you would expect: below average. While it might be palatable enough for some, the sound quality here is far from premium—so steer clear if that's what you're after.
The main trouble is that a bunch of treble notes fall sharply in emphasis. In particular, upper notes on strings and brass are more difficult to hear than they ought to be—and that means you just can't enjoy the full force of high notes on guitar, harp, trombone, and the like. This underemphasis also means that music sounds overly bass heavy and less detailed than on better performing headphones. Fans of bassy music probably won't mind this soundscape at all, but if you're a fan of jazz and classical you'll want to shop for something else.
The ATH-AX5iS are handy as isolators, though. Middle and high-pitched sounds like chit chat, beeping, and clattering are hushed pretty efficiently, making these a nice companion for on the street or in the office.
The Bottom Line
Shoppers with discerning ears won't settle for the AX5iS.
The Audio-Technica SonicFuel ATH-AX5iS (MSRP $89.95) over-ear headphones are geared towards bargain shoppers more than anyone else. Here's exactly what you'll get: portability, decent isolation, and a fairly attractive design. If you like big bass and you don't mind sacrificing some detail in the high midrange, maybe you'll enjoy the AX5iS.
If you're searching for high-quality, detailed sound, you won't find it here. Beautiful details from overtones on strings, brass, and percussion get lost in the mix, which is especially problematic for genres like jazz and classical. Over-ear design doesn't usually come with a price tag this delightfully small, but if you search hard enough, you may find better alternatives.
News and Features
These in-ears are small on size but big on style.
Technics, Sony and Audio-Technica come out with next-gen turntables.
An introduction to our newly refreshed headphone scoring methodology
These earbuds are a soundboard for your ears.
The Prizm Music Brain knows what to play in any situation.
Fashionable style and bluetooth headphones are a winning combination
Bluetooth "GPS" makes it impossible to misplace these wireless buds.
Old-school audiophiles rejoice, Panasonic is sticking with Technics.
From high-end studio cans to affordable earbuds, these are the best headphones of the year.