This is the first whole line up comparison article that we’ve been wanting to do for a while on Headfonia. Well, I realize we are missing the AD400, AD500, and the AD1000. But for the sake of discussion, I think we have the popular models for the whole line up pretty much covered.
The AD700 was the first Audio Technica AD-series headphone that I’ve tried (and we wrote a review of it too, here), and at that time, I was really impressed at the big open sound that I was hearing from the AD700. It was a really, really large, open sound, and it was even comparable to the Stax Lambda headphones that is also known for its spacious and open sound. So, that became my lasting impression of the AD700 series, an easy to drive headphone that has a very spacious sound, even compared to the more expensive open headphones outside the AD line up.
Jumping to the other end of the spectrum there is the AD2000 which is the flagship model of the AD series. Before the era of the current $1,000 flagships, the AD2000 belonged to the the flagship line up which includes the Grado RS-1, the ATH W5000X, and the HD650/K701/DT880 headphones. When a few friends bought the AD1000PRM headphones and started to rave about them, everyone got interested on how the special AD1000PRM would compare to the flagship AD2000. The AD2000 was not a highly popular model, and none of our close friends happen to own an AD2000, so there were no way to compare the two. Finally an opportunity came up, and as I were talking to Siana at Audio Technica Indonesia, they agreed to loan me an AD2000. I quickly posted in our forum that an AD2000 is coming to me, and not soon after that, I also received an AD1000PRM from a Julius, a local forum member. Then I talked to my good friend Sem and he offered to throw in an AD900 to the mix. The rest was then the AD300 and the AD700, both of them I received from Audio Technica. Finally we have it, an AD300, AD700, AD900, AD1000PRM, and AD2000 comparison article that would give people a good idea of what you get when you decide to upgrade to the next one on the line up.
GENERAL SOUND IMPRESSIONS OF THE AD-SERIES
The general signature of the AD-series is that they give you a big, open, and spacious sound. I can’t think of another headphone that rivals them in this area, even including the famed AKG K501 and even the Sennheiser HD800. As I was talking earlier, the openness of the AD series easily rival the Stax Lambda (which is more open sounding than the Omega 2) headphones, though I may give a slight edge to the AD headphones as being ultimately more spacious. It’s even more impressive, considering that the headphones don’t need heavy amplification to accomplish that — something that can’t be said with the AKG K501 or the Stax Lambdas, which require a special electrostatic driver to work. The fit and the comfort is mostly excellent, both due to the very light weight of the headphones and the superbly designed headband and pads design by Audio Technica. The big frame may not be that ideal for small heads, but it seems to provide a good fit for most people.
The big and spacious sound is a fresh breathe of air for headphone users who’s been tired of having to live with the closed sound of their headphones. The comfort and the easy to drive factor also makes these headphones to be very likable. If you notice, however, I haven’t said one word about the bass, and that is where the achilles’ heel of the AD-series are. I am not asking for a basshead level bass here, far from it. But if you compare the AD-series headphones to just about any other headphones out there, you will find it to lack bass body, quantity, and punch. This makes the AD-series a highly specialized headphone for music that doesn’t have strong beats, and as we all know, such music are pretty rare today.
A big and spacious sound is one thing that people find to be missing when moving from speakers to headphones. With a few exception of headphones like the Grados, the Stax Lambdas, and the AD-series, most other headphones feel relatively closed and cramped. The spaciousness of the sound can be very good for orchestral music, but on the other hand, the energy of the sound does get dispersed and you can lose the focus and intensity when playing an intense piece of progressive rock. Small closed headphones tend to have a better focus of the energy, though you have to live with the claustrophobic sound when your music demands spaciousness.
In general, the AD series have a good forward sound with a relatively fast pace. The sound is more lively than the typical Sennheiser sound, and the midrange is fuller than the Beyerdynamics. Clearly they are tuned for music listening, and for people who feel the Sennheiser sound to be boring and slow, the AD series would be a good recommendation to try. In some ways they can be similar to Grados, except that the AD headphones are more refined, more spacious, and not as extremely forward as the Grados. They are less energetic than the Grados, that’s for sure, but they are also less harsh and piercing than the Grados. The lower AD-line tend to be less forward, but the AD1000PRM and the AD2000 is quite engaging in the midrange.
Despite their seemingly good traits for Rock (forward, fast-paced), the AD series is not quite the ideal Rock headphone. First and foremost is the spacious sound that disperses too much of the energy from the music, robbing them from the intensity that makes Rock works. The weak bass punch also makes the PRaT factor very low. The AD2000 the least faulty in this sense, as it has a relatively good amount of upper bass punch when compared to anything else in the line up. So, though they sound very impressive at first with their big spacious sound and relatively good clarity levels, they are actually quite a specialized headphones as most mainstream music today need a good PRaT factor to work. Julius, who loans me his AD1000PRM actually finds the AD1000PRM to lack the bass impact for his music, which is mainly jazz!
NOTES ABOUT THE AD-SERIES SOUNDSTAGE
Many said that the AD series have a very good soundstage. I would say yes and no. I think what happens is a slight confusion between a spacious and open sound, and what actually is a big soundstage. First and foremost, it is very important that you actually play a good live recording to be able to hear what a proper soundstage should be like. Good jazz recordings such as Jazz at the Pawnshop or the Buena Vista Social Club are good. Likewise classical recordings are mostly taken in a real hall with proper acoustics, and these are the type of recordings that is best used to evaluate soundstage. Remember that a real soundstage is one that is captured from the acoustics of the venue when the recording takes place, and mainstream recordings taken in sound-proof studios should not be used to evaluate soundstage.
So, back to the AD series. In the midst of the big and spacious soundscape, I actually find the soundstage performance to be mediocre. There is an improvement as you go up the line, but the improvements are very slight. If I make the comparison to a relatively mid-fi Sennheiser HD598, for instance, the HD598 would display a much more accurate sounding soundstage image with good depth, in comparison to even the AD2000. The AD series will remain to be more open sounding and more spacious, where the HD598 is significantly more closed and narrow, but the soundstage performance remains quite two dimensional and ambiguous on the AD headphones.
The entry level model to the AD line up looks better to my ears than the champagne-purple color of the AD700 (who thought of that color scheme anyway?). But not only that, the AD300 surprisingly has a more well-rounded tonal balance when compared to the AD700. It’s relatively warm (definitely warmer than the AD700), less treble centric, and fuller sounding overall. The sound is spacious, true to the AD-line up signature, but the slightly lesser treble levels (or even slightly rolled-off) of the AD300 somehow kept it from being as airy and spacious as the other models in the line up.
Being warmer and fuller on the mids and lows makes the AD300 a better choice for mainstream music than the bigger AD700, or even the AD1000PRM (overlooking the difference in detail levels). However, I think the way the AD-series is voiced requires it to have a good level of treble sparkle to work, and in this sense the AD300 sounds pretty dull in comparison to the bigger brothers. Yes, the fuller sound is good for mainstream music, but if you want to listen to mainstream music, I would say that getting the ATH-SJ33 or ATH-SJ55 would serve that purpose better than the AD300. So, yes, the AD300 has a good tonal balance, even compared to the higher line up models, but I don’t think you’re getting the AD-series sound fully with it.
The AD700 is a better representation of the AD line up signature. It has more treble presence than the AD300 and generally is leaner but clearer sounding than the AD300. The additional treble and the leaner sound doesn’t pair too well with mainstream music. However, I think the sound of the AD line up is all about a spacious sound and good clarity levels, and the AD700 does that better than the AD300. So, while the AD300 plays mainstream music better, I think it’s kind of ambiguous in that it doesn’t represent what the AD line up is all about the way the Grado SR60 represents the Grado sound, and the Sennheiser HD202 represents the Sennheiser sound. The AD700 makes a far better representation than the AD300, and should be the model you go for if you want to see what the AD line up is all about.
As I said earlier, the extra treble and the generally leaner sound are actually counter productive when we are talking about genre bandwith. But again, I don’t think the AD-line up is about a sound signature that plays well with different music genres. And to be frank, I truly think that the consumer grade ATH-SJ55 does that job much better. But one of the experience that Audio Technica tries to bring to the table with the AD series is the impression of clarity, and moving to the AD700 from the AD300, you will definitely feel that extra clarity in the music. The extra treble levels also help to make the sound more airy, adding to the already spacious sound of the AD line up. By these standards, the AD700 makes for a much better representation of the AD line up than the AD300 does. It’s not a perfect headphone, but if you want to see if the AD headphones are for you, it’s a good idea to get the AD700 as it is the least expensive model that gives you a good taste of the AD sound.
The AD900 may be my personal favorite in the line up. It takes the same basic spacious sound from the AD700, and adds a touch of warmth and a fuller body from the AD700 sound. What you get is a more musical headphone than the AD700 (in a way similar to the AD300), but without sacrificing the detail level or the airy sound that you get on the AD700. In short, it’s a fuller sounding AD700 headphone.
The AD900 is placed rightfully below the AD1000PRM and the AD2000 in the line up as it doesn’t offer the extra refinement you find on the AD1000PRM and AD2000. However, in terms of tonal balance, the AD900 is actually better than the two higher up model or the AD700 below it. It doesn’t have the upper mid coloration of the AD1000PRM or the lower mid coloration of the AD2000. This is probably the best buy model in the AD line up as it gives you the full flavor of what the AD series is all about, while being a better all rounder than the top two headphones in the line up.
The AD900 is very likable and would be the model I’d recommend out of the line up, provided that you have the budget for it. The higher end AD1000PRM and AD2000 are definitely more special, but they also come with their own colorations that may come off as unnatural on some recordings. The AD900, on the other hand, is more natural and should have a far better genre bandwith than the two higher up models.
One popular mods that people do with the AD900 is by removing the cloth behind the grill (as seen in the picture below). I’ve had the chance to compare a stock AD900 with a modded AD900 before and found the modded AD900 to be thinner in the mids, and I did prefer the stock sound over the modded one.
The special edition model of the AD1000 headphone supposedly boasts a better driver than the original AD1000, placing it closer to the level of the flagship AD2000. I don’t have a standard AD1000 to compare, but I think it’s safe to say that the AD1000PRM is a better model than the original.
The sound signature stands out as perhaps the most special in the AD line up. Very noticeable is the crystal clear upper midrange to lower treble that stands out to be more prominent from the rest of the frequency range. It has a good sparkle, grainless and crystal clear, and with no harshness like on the Grado headphones. The forward and crystal clear upper mid makes the AD1000PRM to have one of the most special instrument rendition among all the different headphones I’ve tried. It also puts the vocals at a forward positioning, giving you an intimate vocal sound amidst the spacious and open sound that’s signature of the AD-series. It’s still fairly weak on the lower mids and bass, and in that sense the AD1000PRM is still “true” to the AD line up signature.
I can probably say that the AD1000PRM has the most special treble rendition among all the different headphones I’ve tried. I think Audio Technica has really hit the jackpot with the AD1000PRM’s treble. General impressions at local meets also confirms the excellent treble of the AD1000PRM. The spacious and airy sound of the AD line up have always focused on a good and clear treble, and coupled with the AD1000PRM’s superb treble, this may be the best representation of what the AD sound is all about.
Moving up from the AD900, I also find that the AD1000PRM is free of any of the grain in the sound of the lower end models. While this is nice, the timbre is slightly off and not as accurate as the AD900 or the AD2000 models (the AD2000 being the most accurate in the line up).
While the AD1000PRM is certainly a special headphone, the light bottom tonality makes it limited to be quite a niche headphone. If you truly love the treble on the AD1000PRM, then you probably won’t be too impressed with the AD2000 which is less special on that treble section. I can see how the votes would be split equally, or even tilted to the AD1000PRM when comparing the two. However, the better refinement and depth on the AD2000 still makes it the right headphone to be positioned as the flagship model of the AD line up.
The flagship model on the AD line up is quite different than the rest as it has a thick and full midrange – upper bass section that I don’t hear on the other models. If the AD1000PRM puts an emphasis on the upper mid and lower treble, the AD2000 puts an emphasis on the lower mids. The AD1000PRM have a crystal clear treble quality that’s unrivaled by even the AD2000, but the AD2000 boasts a full and thick lush midrange that really draws me into the music. The treble section remains clearly detailed and smooth, but it doesn’t have the qualities that makes the AD1000PRM’s treble special. The treble is also laid back, and so you’re not as likely to notice it as being a prominent part of the AD2000 presentation, as the midrange section takes the spotlight.
Another factor that makes the AD2000 differentiates it from the rest of the AD line up is the much improved upper bass that delivers a moderately powerful punch needed for Rock music. Somewhat the upper bass reminds me of the Grado RS1, though with a better refinement level than the Grado.
Having a thicker midrange does rob the AD2000 a little from the impression of clarity that I hear from the lower end models. Though micro detail is best on the AD2000, but the impression of clarity on the midrange is just not as good as the lower end models, especially next to the AD1000PRM. The thicker midrange also robs the AD2000 a little in its apparent speed and pace, making the headphone slightly slower-paced than the rest of the group.
With the AD2000, it helps to have an amplifier with a forward sounding upper mid as I find the upper midrange to be too laid back, affecting the presence of the vocals. In this sense the Zana Deux amplifier fits that criteria very well, hence it becomes a very ideal pairing for the AD2000.
The added level of refinement and depth on the AD2000 may not be too noticeable, however, when listening on lesser systems. And during meet conditions, I heavily doubt that people will be able to pick that up, though the thicker and fuller midrange should be quite obvious. This makes the AD1000PRM more likely to sound like a better headphone than the AD2000 during meet conditions. And I think there is a good reason for that too, as I’ve said, the sound signature of the AD1000PRM is the most special, and the treble quality may be the best one I’ve heard on dynamic headphones so far.
Despite solid efforts by the AD1000PRM to replace the AD2000 from the flagship position, the AD2000 superior resolution and depth I hear from the AD2000 tells me that this model rightly belongs as the flagship of the line up. Ultimately, the fuller and more weighty sound, added with the lush and smooth midrange is able to evoke a deeper emotion from the music, when compared to the relatively thin and weightless AD1000PRM.
From what I’ve witnessed among the local crowd and meets, the AD line up remains to be a polarizing headphone. They have their special moments, and many who are looking for a big and spacious sound from headphones are normally very happy with the AD line up. The clarity level and their easy to drive factor are also part of their strong appeal. However, for the other crowd that thinks soundstage is overrated and that a good headphone should carry a good PRaT and attack, the AD line up is very unappealing for them.
Between the line up, the AD700 is the most affordable model that I’d recommend to get a taste of the AD sound. The AD900 is a very strong performer in the line up, and personally I prefer it to the AD1000PRM. The AD1000PRM, however is the most special model, though perhaps the most polarizing at the same time. The AD2000 is definitely worthy of the flagship status, and if you like flagship gears and have plenty of money in the bank, then the AD2000 is definitely the model to get from the AD line up.