Amplification and source pairing
Thankfully for us would-be desert-island goers, the WP900 is a breeze to drive at 38 ohms impedance and 100dB/mW sensitivity. It will happily get to very loud sound pressure levels from a low-powered single-ended source and actually acquits itself reasonably well from your garden-variety smartphone or laptop headphone jack. The WP900 will create fans playing averagely-recorded music from an average source, but feed it with some great music plus a dedicated source/amplifier and the WP900 is genuinely a revelation.
The newest of the Astell&Kern ‘A&norma’ range, the AK25 easily gets the WP900’s generous bass wide and truly awake at ‘75’ on the volume pot, or exactly halfway out of the AK25’s 3.5mm single-ended jack. By contrast, powering the WP900 using the balanced output of the AK25’s 2.5mm output via the Effect Audio 4.4mm Pentaconn adapter only requires ‘60’ volume increments to reach the same sound pressure level. The WP900 likes the switch over to balanced, with tighter, more structured electric bass notes in Ryan Adam’s ‘Doomsday’. The WP900’s already impressive diffuse soundstage widens up a fraction when fed from the AK25’s balanced output. Astell&Kern’s most affordable and most diminutive DAP is also their most portable offering, taking up a pocket-full of space at most. Seeing as it also makes for a terrific sonic pairing with the WP900, this combination gets my wholehearted ‘tick’ of approval for those looking for a practical and strong-performing portable pairing.
Stepping-up to the new SE200 from the ‘A&futura’ range with the WP900 is a pleasant upgrade in every regard. While the SE200 comes with a substantial price increase over the SR25 ($1,799 USD vs $699 USD), it rewards the listener by eking-out a silkier, more linear response right across the frequency band, and a more ethereal, better-separated soundstage with a more ‘analogue’ sense of note decay when using the SE200’s AK4499 output section. It’s certainly a whole heap more in terms of asking price when added to the WP900’s $650, but the desert island inhabitant with the SE200 + WP900 combo is in for an incredible listening experience indeed.
The venerable Mojo has pretty much been the portable DAC/amp reference since it hit the market five years ago, and with good reason – the bespoke FPGA-equipped Mojo sounds superb with everything from sensitive IEMs to high-impedance full-size headphones. The Mojo is single-ended only but easily gets the WP900 up to comfortable listening levels without breaking so much as a sweat. Coming off the back of listening to the WP900 with the SE200, Outkast’s ‘Roses’ immediately sounds more intimate, buttery and somewhat less incisive than the scalpel-like presentation of the Astell&Kern. It’s a terrifically enjoyable pairing, and anyone looking to add a fraction of warmth to the WP900’s voicing would be well-served here.
Questyle CMA Twelve
Despite the ‘P’ in WP900 standing for ‘Portable’, what’s impressed me most about the ATH-WP900 is just how versatile and competent it is using as a dedicated hifi pair of headphones in a desktop setting. Despite the rather short supplied cables, the WP900’s classy presentation and technical abilities mean that it can go toe-to-toe with some of the best close-backs in the business. With this being the case (and you know, due to the whole global pandemic thing) I did spend most of my listening time with the WP900 at my desk powered by Questyle’s flagship CMA Twelve DAC/amp, which I’m currently putting through its paces for review. Using the CMA Twelve’s 4.4mm output, the WP900 performed brilliantly, and then some. Hooking-up my Nakamichi MB-8 CD-player to the optical-input on the CMA Twelve, I fed the WP900 a little bit of Nine Inch Nails from their 2005 record, ‘With Teeth’. Guest drummer Dave Grohl’s tasty intro solo on track #8 ‘Only’ reveals just how quick the WP900 can sound when paired with the right source. There’s not a hint of sloppiness nor flab here – just some tight, hard-hitting industrial rock.
I won’t beat around the bush: Audio Technica has knocked it out of the park with the new ATH-WP900. It’s exciting and engaging enough to hook and reel-in casual listeners while providing a rewarding tone and technical abilities to tickle even the most rusted-on Audiophile’s fancy. The ATH-WP900’s smaller size and portable designation are far from a compromise – it’s a first-rate pair of closed-back hifi cans with far more use-cases than it’s bulkier and more expensive brethren. If I were to choose between the ATH-WP900 and the ATH-AWAS or ATH-AWKT, I’d take the WP900 in an absolute heartbeat. Form-factor and comfort-wise it’s far less fussy, and sonically it’s one of the most tastefully-implemented v-shape signatures I can recall hearing. The ATH-WP900 is an unreserved recommendation for desert island dwellers and urban castaways alike. To the recommended Buy list it goes!