In this review, our “new guy” Matty takes a close look at the Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000! Let’s check out his first full-sized headphone review.
Disclaimer: The ATH-ADX5000 is a review sample and will be returned to Audio-Technica after the publication of the review
BACKGROUND / INTRODUCTION
Today we’re taking a look at Audio-Technica’s open-back flagship headphone – the ADX-5000. Until recently, the ADX-5000 (henceforth referred to as the ADX5K) sat at the top of Audio-Technica’s ‘High-Fidelity’ line-up, only having been recently surpassed by the limited-edition closed-back ATH-L5000. The leather-clad, wooden ATH-L5000’s are restricted to a production run of 500 units, and weigh-in at twice the ADX5K’s price-tag at an eye-watering $3,999. Still, at a buck’s change from two grand, the ADX5K still very much command a ‘flagship’ asking-price, and also face some pretty stiff competition at this level. It also means that they deserve some pretty careful scrutiny to decide if they represent ‘value’, and if they do sound and feel like flagship material.
So with that in mind, let’s jump in and see what the AD5K’s are all about. And, hopefully, I can give you a good steer as to whether they’re worth a place on your audition-list.
PACKAGING AND PRESENTATION
When you’re spending north of $1K on a pair of headphones, it’s often more than a simple case of function and audio reproduction. It’s also an emotional decision. The way a pair of high-end headphones are packaged and presented says a lot about the craftsmanship and intent of the manufacturer. It also makes the experience of playback more than a simple case of ‘plug-and-play’. It should by rights feel special, each and every time you take a pair of headphones out to listen to them. The ADX5K’s have perhaps the most unique, and luxurious presentation of any pair of headphones I’ve come across. Some manufacturers like Audeze opt for a more spartan and practical pelican-style case; whilst others like Grado and Klipsch present their higher-end models in more aesthetic wooden presentation boxes. Audio-Technica, however, has chosen what can only be described as a ‘briefcase’ for the ADX5K. The leather-like case wouldn’t look out of place as a piece of first-class carry-on luggage and opens to reveal the headphones nestled in a soft, satin-y bed. It’s a real 10/10 presentation, and adds a real sense of ‘drama’ to the initial opening experience.
BUILD, COMFORT, FEATURES
Picking-up the ADX5K for the first time is genuinely surprising – because they are so damn light. 270g in fact, which bests two other flagship models known for their lightweight construction: the 330g Sennheiser HD800s, and the 290g MrSpeakers Ether 2. Audio-Technica explains that each unit is hand-assembled in Tokyo, and features its own laser-etched individual serial number. Magnesium has been chosen for the frame and arm assembly to keep the ADX5K’s as light as possible, and it’s an overall very ‘minimal’ skeletonised approach. This is somewhat at odds with the direction that other high-end manufacturers have taken for their flagship models. Top-of-the-line models from ZMF and Audeze certainly make you feel like you have something substantial on your hands for what you’ve forked-out to buy into their higher-end models. Dense wood and metal materials can push the weight of a pair of headphones well-past the half-kilo mark, the obvious trade-off naturally being the potential for fatigue during long listening sessions.
My comfort benchmark for a pair of headphones is their ability to make themselves ‘disappear’ on your head, and the ADX5K certainly ticks this box. Light, plush alcantara has been employed for the wide, circular pads that leave plenty of room for my (admittedly smallish) ears. Adding to this, the ADX5K has a moderate clamping-force that strikes the right balance between comfort and forming a secure perch on your head. By contrast, the HD800/HD800s does tend to feel a little wobbly on my head and does give the feeling that it might slide off if you tilt your head forwards or backwards.
Thankfully, Audio-Technica has chosen to avoid the ‘winged’ headband design from previous models, opting for two thin alcantara-coated bands that extend right the way between the two ear cup assemblies. Padding is minimal, but the two generous alcantara ear-pads tend to do most of the work securing the ADX5K’s on your head. Without exaggeration, the ADX5K are probably the most comfortable pair of high-end headphones I’ve ever experienced, except for perhaps the MrSpeakers Ether 2 (but I’d be splitting hairs).
One of the most striking visual features of the AD5K is the ‘honeycomb’-style lightweight grilles that dominate the exterior of the (rather large) earcups. The extremely delicate and eye-catching design shows-off the rear of the driver and baffle assembly, and allows for maximum rearward airflow. On that note, I must point out that while the ADX5K is obviously an open-back design, it is very open. Expect to hear everything around you when listening at low levels, and conversely, expect those nearby to be able to clearly hear what you’re listening to. These are strictly for kicking-back in a quiet place, plugging into a high-quality source, and transporting yourself elsewhere.
I must point out one glaring concern with the review pair I’d been sent by Audio-Technica Australia, which really affected the overall sense of quality and playback enjoyment. This pair creaks. Loudly. Whenever I move my jaw or twist my neck, loud squeaks resonate through the gimbals holding the cups in place. Looking online, this does seem to be a quality-control issue that has affected many pre-production models worldwide, but when pressed about the matter, Audio-Technica has stated that this problem has since been addressed. I must stress that if you are auditioning a pair (be it brand new or second hand), that you do try them on first and give them some realistic ‘head time’ to check they’re creak-free. This quality-control ‘glitch’ isn’t acceptable at this price, and does immediately jerk you out of the otherwise stellar immersive experience. Thankfully it seems that Audio-Technica has listened to feedback and given this an appropriate quick and universal fix.
The ADX5K ships with a 6.3mm terminated 3-metre cable. On the plus side – it’s detachable (whereas their predecessor, the ATH-AD2000X has permanently attached ones). However somewhat disappointingly – the cable utilises proprietary connectors, so don’t expect to find an abundance of aftermarket cables for the ADX5K. Users hoping to pair their AD5K to a balanced amplifier via a 4-pin XLR connection will need to reach back into their pocket for an additional $499. This might be a tough pill to swallow seeing as many competitors such as the HD800s do ship with a balanced cable option. The stock cable and connectors are thankfully sturdy, lightweight, and the cloth-coated finish does tend to avoid kinks and microphonics – It’s far more manageable than the HD800s cable. You might have noticed by now more than a couple of comparisons to the Sennheiser HD800s – being another dynamic, open-back flagship model they are fairly logical competitors and do share more than a few similarities. More on this later.
So far, the ADX5K are stacking-up as an altogether impressive piece of engineering and craftsmanship, with sufficiently premium comfort, build, and presentation befitting their price-tag. They’re also starkly different compared to the rest of the market. A ‘zagger’ if you will. So, now onto where it really counts – the sonic department.
The part on sound continues on Page Two, CLICK HERE, or use the jump below