After being super-impressed by Audio Technica’s ATH-ADX5000 flagship open-back headphones, we’re excited to be giving Headfonia readers a first look at their new hybrid flagship IEM: the $1,200 ATH-IEX1.
Today’s post is part of our ‘First Look Sunday’ series, where we give Headfonia readers an early look at incoming gear that we have in the review pipeline as well as some initial impressions straight out of the box.
Audio Technica has taken an “in-your-face” approach to crafting both the sonic and visual appeal of their brand-new flagship IEM, the impressive and very un-subtle ATH-IEX1. To start with, they’ve opted to implement an unusual hybrid driver configuration, in order to achieve their goal of “…natural sound reproduction across the entire frequency range”. A pair of dynamic drivers have been chosen to work together in a push/pull configuration – the larger 9.8mm driver works in a full-range capacity, while its 8.8mm companion functions as a passive radiator to help boost low-end frequencies. And to round these out, two balanced armature drivers are positioned in the same coaxial configuration to act as “super tweeters” to deliver additional detail in the high frequencies.
It’s no easy feat to pack those drivers into a single coaxial structure, and as a result, we have a very large and blingy-looking pair of IEMs on our hands. Looking very much the part of a flagship product, the ATH-IEX1 are cut from solid titanium and hand-polished to their reach their dazzling anodized finish.
The ATH-IEX1’s packaging and presentation is first-rate, and everything you’d expect of a pair of $1,200 IEMs. Arriving in a (very nice) hinged display case, Audio-Technica provides no less than six sets of tips – three silicone, and three foam – to fit on the ATH-IEX1’s large-ish nozzles, which also have two fit positions to help with wearer comfort. Two 1.2m cables are provided – a 3.5mm single-ended cable as well as a 4.4mm pentacon balanced connection, both being terminated in a solid, polished right-angle connector. At the other end, the cables are joined to the IEMs themselves via Audio-Technica’s proprietary A2DC system. Lastly, a polishing cloth is included to keep those titanium shells clean…and you’re going to need it, as while those reflective shells look awesome, they’re also fingerprint magnets!
There’s no getting around the fact that these are big IEMs, and comfort has proven to be a fit finicky so far. There’s a lot of titanium that’s required to sit inside your ears, and it can be a squeeze at times for my admittedly small-ish ears. The cable they’ve chosen can be somewhat frustrating – rather than being pliable around the ears, the ATH-IEX1’s cable has a permanently-fixed loop that doesn’t fit snugly around your ears, meaning that the tips themselves have to do much of the ‘gripping’. As a result, I’m finding that I’m using the medium foam tips for the most part to ensure a good fit, but regular re-adjustment seems to be required.
At 5 ohms / 102 dB/mW, the ATH-IEX1’s are very sensitive and easy to drive. Sound-wise, they’re tuned rather uniquely, and at first, they sound genuinely strange coming from any other pair of IEMs as your reference point. That pair of dynamic drivers deliver considerable bass heft and there are spades of treble detail from the BA’s, but there’s an upper mid-range spike gives the ATH-IEX1’s a very forward, dramatic voicing that’s a bit disconcerting and unnatural at first. Interestingly, however, after spending a bit more time with them that signature forwardness does tend to relax and going back to any other IEM’s you do miss their ‘drama’ and overall exciting delivery. Let’s say that ‘brain burn-in’ might be required with these, but of course, your mileage may vary.
The ATH-IEX’s are proving to be a very interesting pair of flagship IEMs, with some interesting quirks as well as some impressive characteristics. We’re looking forward to sharing full impressions, comparisons and our final evaluation with Headfonia readers in the near future. Stay tuned!