Audio Technica has two different line ups for their high end closed-back headphones. The W-series seems to be the more popular one, but we don’t quite hear about the A-series models that often. These closed headphones have always had that unique smooth and refined sound that you can’t get with the other brands. In some ways, it’s like the ESW-series, though the sound on the full size models are much more clearer, more refined, and obviously bigger sounding. You don’t quite get this sound with the open-back AD series either, as the closed headphones are still smoother and almost zero grain levels.
Along with the smooth sound, the sound signatures are also very relaxed, making them ideal for slow-paced music. The sound has that weightless quality to it, in one hand it adds an ethereal quality but on the other hand, bass impact is almost always nonexistent. So, it’s definitely a give and take. For the majority of people, the lack of bass impact would make the sound quite hard to get used to so this is not the headphone for everybody. However, I do know that there are people who would enjoy the weightless yet highly refined sound of these Audio Technicas simply because they offer a sound that you can’t get anywhere else.
Between the two models reviewed here, the W1000X has always been the more popular one, and I’ve actually done a review of this right after it came out some two years ago. One reason, undeniably, is the quality of the wood finish. I don’t think you can find a wood finish anywhere else as nice as what you get on the W1000X. The texture of the wood and the quality of the clear coat matches the best finish on expensive violins. It looks just as phenomenal in real life as it is on the photographs.
Another reason for the popularity of the W1000X is most probably on the frequency tuning, most notably on the bass but also the treble is. The W1000X bass has been said to be the best bass you can find on the Audio Technica W-series. And compared to the A-series, the W1000X likewise gives you more bass quantity, more bass body, and it does sound good on the ears. However I did make a comment about the signature of these Audio Technicas lacking bass impact, and the W1000X likewise fits in to that generalization. Although you get more bass with the W1000X, the impact is still fairly weak (probably due the same driver design), and even though the pads are thicker than the A1000X and isolates better, it’s still a fairly light clamp and the result is you don’t get a convincing presentation of the lower bass spectrum. It’s full bodied on the lower mids to the mid bass, but not enough impact and low bass. I think that while casual listeners would enjoy the rich sound of the W1000X, more discerning audiophile types would find the bass execution to be lacking substance.
In addition to the fuller bass, the W1000X also has an upper treble boost that help to push out instrument details. Again, I would expect the effect to work well with casual listeners, but not so much on the discerning ears. And in all, though the W1000X has a more likable “pop” tuning with its fuller bass and the more present treble, it’s probably not going to be popular for the critical listeners.
The A1000X receives a “monitor” label on its bronze colored aluminum cup, and that actually may hint at the sound signature that you’ll get out of this headphone. Clearly flatter and more linear than the W1000X, the A1000X would appeal to the listeners who wants a pure uncolored sound. In a way it reminds me of the linear sound of the Stax SR-202 lambda, as well as the cult Sony MDR-CD900ST monitoring headphone. Just pure flat and linear from top to bottom. The A1000X sounds very refined compared to the average monitoring headphones, and again it has that sound that you only get with Audio Technica’s full size, closed back headphones (and some of their flagship IEMs like the CK-100 and CKW-1000). Being closed back, it still sounds more closed than say a Stax Lambda, but that extra refinement I get with the Audio Technica keeps it competitive even next to the Stax. Besides, the A1000X is far smoother, is still more linear, and has a wider frequency extension than any headphones in the Stax Lambda line up. And just for the record, the A1000X sounds more spacious and more airy than the W1000X.
A high end monitoring sound is probably an appropriate label for the A1000X. It’s not quite flagship level, but if you’ve been a fan of the Beyer DT880 line up and the AKG K701, you should definitely check out the A1000X. It doesn’t push out details in the music as extreme as the DT880, but on the other hand is not as dry as the Beyer and is smoother on the ears. It’s also not as spacious as the K701, but the sound image is more coherent and the timbre more accurate than the AKG, despite being closed-back. The A1000X is a specialized closed-back headphone, but Audio Technica has executed this one pretty well, and if you’ve always been fan of a linear and airy sound, then you should check out the A1000X.
Music and Amplifier Pairings
Both Audio Technicas is not so friendly with bad recordings, however. And since the pace is quite slow, they’re the type of headphones you listen for relaxing, with relaxing music. Perhaps some moderately paced Jazz, Vocals, and Classical strings would still do, but definitely nothing faster.
With low impedance and high sensitivity, these headphones are very easy to drive. However they are pretty resolving, so I would try to pair them with mid-level amps at least. Something like the WooAudio WA6 or the Graham Slee Solo SRGII. With portables, only use the very best like the ALO Continental or the Triad Audio L3.
Both headphones are definitely special, but at the same time they are quite segmented. I would recommend them mostly for slow-paced music, but nothing aggressive like Rock or Electronica. Their genre compatibility is pretty limited, but they do sound more refined than the typical mid-fi dynamic headphones like the typical K701/DT880/HD650 trio.