Packaging, design, and comfort.
The packaging of the ATH-AWAS is only slightly less resplendent that its Ebony counterpart, trading the ATH-AWKT’s wooden box for a more ‘regular’-looking fabric display box which arrived sheathed within the dazzling white retail packaging, which sports a stylised ‘Asada Zakura’ design. Lifting the lid, there isn’t the same whiff of rich leather that wafted out of the ATH-AWKT’s packaging, but the sight of the big, wooden cups nestled in the soft satin-y fabric still creates an immediate feeling of ‘wow’. These headphones look special.
The ATH-AWAS weighs a mere 395 grams, but actually feels lighter than this in the hand. It’s a big, full-sized pair of over-ear headphones and they do look genuinely enormous when worn. Ok, perhaps not ZMF Eikon or Audeze LCD big, but they’re fairly substantial cans. Despite its featherweight construction, the ATH-AWAS feels every bit the result of hand-made Japanese craftsmanship. From the semi-matte polish on the Cherry wood to the lettering on the cable terminations, it feels like the result of meticulous and expert design – they’re a delight to regard displayed on your desktop, and also to have perched on your head. I must note that due to the incredibly light-weight nature wooden cups you don’t get the same sense of deep immersion and isolation as you might get from, say, a Beyerdynamic DT770 or a Focal Stellia.
The furniture on the ATH-AWAS is identical to the ATH-AWKT, using the same yoke, gimbal, and headband assembly. The twin-band alcantara headband design is the same used on the ATH-ADX5000, and despite having minimal padding it’s perfectly comfortable. Clamp-force is fairly light, but snug enough to evenly distribute the overall weight of the ATH-AWAS between both your ears and the top of your head without any discomfort.
One quibble I had with the ATH-AWKT was with its large, but pancake-flat sheepskin pads. They are fairly stiff and don’t tend to contour around your ears, rather resting against them akin to an on-ear headphone experience. The synthetic leather pads of the ATH-AWAS, on the other hand, are far more compliant and actually form much more of a seal, making for a more comfortable and better isolating experience. I still have some issues with the seal being less than ideal at the bottom of each earpad (they extend past my jaw), but it makes for a much better overall closed-back experience than the ATH-AWKT. I’d happily trade comfort and isolation over the smell of real leather any day.
Despite being well-built and premium to the touch, the supplied cables are frankly too noisy and microphonic for a headphone at this price-point. Their matte, rubberised sheathing rubs on clothing and transmits noise directly into the wooden earcups, which are also extremely sensitive to the touch. Audio Technica’s A2DC detachable cable system works extremely well in terms of simplicity when connecting/disconnecting, but being proprietary this means that after-market options will be limited.
Whereas the ATH-AWKT is a pair of headphones that I could appreciate in terms of its technical brilliance, its neutral/bright, classically ‘audiophile’ tuning makes it somewhat of an acquired taste – for my preferred sound signature, anyhow. The ATH-AWAS, however, is an altogether different kind of beast. Right out of the box it’s immediate that the cheaper of the two Audio Technica ‘woodies’ is tuned with a slightly warm take on neutral, revealing a more pronounced mid-bass focus that yields a greater sense of macro-dynamic impact.
Tonally, the ATH-AWAS has an extremely linear and balanced tuning that does a terrific job of balancing transparency and detail with a restrained, polished and overall silky signature. It’s a very easy pair of headphones to warm to, and I found myself diving into album after album with the ATH-AWAS, plowing through just about every conceivable genre in my Roon library. Such is the tuning of the ATH-AWAS, that you forget that you’re actually wearing headphones – they have a very pleasant voicing with no observable peaks or troughs that pull you out of the playback experience. Their comfort aids in this regard as well.
I absolutely love the way the ATH-AWAS handles bass – especially bass guitar. The electric bass in John Mayer’s ‘Vultures’ is dispatched with control, speed, and not a hint of bloat. Destroyer’s ‘Forces from Above’ shows-off not only a classy control of the lowest octave in the ATH-AWAS, but also a totally believable rendering of both male vocals and stringed instruments. What really impresses with the ATH-AWAS is the way it handles female vocals. I enjoyed a long Fleetwood Mac session on the ATH-AWAS, and I highly recommend listening to the entire album ‘Lush’ from Snail Mail on them, it’s terrific.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can give to the ATH-AWAS is that Audio Technica has managed to make them not sound like you’re listening to a closed pair of headphones. Whilst the soundstage isn’t overly vast, there’s no sense of compression nor feeling cramped with the ATH-AWAS, and neither is there any boominess nor unwanted resonance from closing in the drivers. Everyone’s Dad owned Eric Clapton ‘Unplugged’ on CD back in the day, right? Well not only is it an amazingly-recorded gig, but it’s also a great headphone test album and it happens to sound absolutely killer on the ATH-AWAS. You’re able to visualise each oh of the musicians laid out on stage in ‘Old Love’, and spatially you can pinpoint them both left/right as well as forwards/backward.
Head over to page 3 to read more.