I’ve had the chance to listen to this headphone a while ago in one of our local meets. It attracted my attention because the headphone used a familar Audio Technica ESW-9 frame to house an orthodynamic driver. I know that the Orthodynamic crowd is one of the most creative group of people when it comes to headphone modifications, and they have come up with some of the most amazing performing headphones for minimal price.
iQEM, a local forum Administrator, is the founder of the local ortho team, is hugely responsible for the rise in orthodynamic popularity here in Indonesia, and this ESW-9 also started life in his hands. Earlier this month, our local woody artist, Calico, had created a full custom wood housing for a T20 Fostex. It was quite a creation, although it was shipped to its lucky owner before I had the chance to listen to it. Calico has been making woody housings for numerous Grados, while experimenting with different wood materials, and likewise the wood panel on this ESW-9 was crafted by him as well.
The ortho guys are very experienced with damping modifications, in addition to housing and cable mods. These mods give them so much freedom to tune the sound of the headphones, and the result has always been pretty spectacular, given the initial low investment cost on the original vintage headphones.
I’ve been listening a lot to the HE5 and the HE5LE lately, and when Arianugraha stopped by with his ESW-9 ortho, I was glad to compare it to the bigger and newer HE5s.
The first thing that struck me with the ESW-9 ortho is that the sound is very smooth. It certainly is smoother than the HE5s, and almost as smooth as the HD800. I always find the treble on the HE5s a little rough sounding, but the ESW-9 ortho is very pleasant in the treble. The frequency balance is also very good. There’s enough of everything, and I really cannot complain of it anything lacking. The upper midrange sound reminded me of the JH13’s brilliant upper midrange, although the JH13 is still faster and has more resolution, but the tone of the upper midrange is just as captivating in the ESW-9 ortho. Although the sound is fairly neutral, the sound signature is very musical. The speed is more or less similar to the HE5s, but somehow the ESW-9 ortho is cleaner sounding, and I never feel that one frequency range to get in the way of another.
Given the driver size, it’s hard to beat the bigger HE5s in bass impact. Either the HE5 and the HE5LE totally stomps the ESW-9 ortho in bass punch and impact. The ESW-9 ortho doesn’t feel lacking bass, but when you put it side by side to the HE5s, the bass punch does feel pretty puny. Another area that the ESW-9 ortho lacks is soundstage. It has a decent soundstage, but quite smaller than the HE5s.