Audio-Technica ATH-AD900 Review
Review by Nathan G. on 02/01/2012
I have owned these headphones for several months and have had no issues with build-quality, though they don't look like they're designed for rough handling.
The fit is quite comfortable, but not very secure. Obviously, these are not meant for aggressive head-bobbing or dancing around to your music. The "3D Wing" scheme works well for me and I prefer it to a headband.
I've found that placement of the (enormous) ear-cups is very important and means the difference between bliss and "bleh." I've found that somewhat lower and more forward on the head gives me the best results. If I place them in a way that seems more "intuitive," I end up with an irritating, lifeless sound. I think it's because the "intuitive" process wants to center my *whole* ears within the ear-cups, forgetting that the drivers end up aimed at some arbitrary and sub-optimal parts of my ears. The low-and-forward placement seems to center the drivers with respect to my ear canals, providing direct and engaging audio.
At 35 ohms of impedance and 100 dB/mW sensitivity, they're fairly easy to drive without external amplification, though they may not provide enough loudness for those who like a lot of it and/or have hearing loss; with particularly weak outputs; or with material mastered at a low level and/or with a wide dynamic range, like some classical music and some TV shows and movies. While they would work well enough on reasonably-powerful portable players, they're absolutely not for portable use as they're huge--though, they are very light. They're also very open by design and let sound travel in and out freely.
I would prefer a detachable cord, unfortunately, this model lacks that feature. I like that the plug is 1/8-inch with a screw-on 1/4-inch adapter.
These have had 100+ hours of combined "break-in" and use and I cannot report any differences in sound during that time with any certainty. I do find that I enjoy these more as I listen, but I still can't point to any changes in their sound. I'm fairly certain that my hearing is "breaking-in" more than these headphones are!
The overall sound-signature of the ATH-AD900 is on the forward and bright side. Their frequency response seems like a gradual upward climb from the lows, to the mids, to the highs. They are highly detailed and revealing of flaws in the source material. Here are some frequency response graphs I've found for the ATH-AD900:
http://www.soundandvisionmag.com/fil...%20l-and-r.jpg (Looks different due to lack of HRTF compensation.)
http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/...caATHAD900.pdf (PDF file. I suspect that this one is the most accurate.)
Their bass is of the lean and tight variety. It's sufficiently deep, detailed and textured for my taste, though the low-to-sub-bass rolls off slightly. It's not the slightest bit boomy or bloated, which I appreciate as I find the all-too-common mid-to-upper bass emphasis of many headphones fatiguing. Especially noticeable to me is how they render fast and deep bass attacks. Leo Kottke's "Standing In My Shoes" album has many such attacks and sounds awesome on the headphones. Some may find the bass quantity insufficient without boosting/equalization. I find that Windows 7's built-in bass booster set to 3 dB at around 60 Hz brings these headphones to where I like them most.
Their midrange and vocals are dry, crisp, perhaps a tad grainy at times, and seem fairly transparent and unaffected. Hearing Leo Kottke's voice for the first time with these was particularly striking. His roughness-around-the-edges showed through like I'd never heard before and his voice on "Corrina, Corrina" was stunning. In general, instrument attacks seem quick and clean and decays seem natural. I've had no sibilance issues. Clarity and detail are fantastic. In a Curt Kirkwood song, I noticed that a mandolin was being strummed in sync with a guitar strum. I've listened to the song many times and hadn't noticed the mandolin. I switched to some other headphones and could here it now that I knew it was there, but it still wasn't nearly as distinct from the guitar as with the ATH-AD900. Because both instruments are placed dead-center in the mix, I believe that this shows the drivers' natural clarity as opposed to the increased perceived clarity provided by this model's large soundstage (about which I'll get to later).
Their treble characteristics seem to transition from the lower treble, where it retains more of the midrange's dryness and grain, to the high treble, where it becomes more airy and smooth. This, to me, is where it derives much of its spaciousness and openness, along with the unusually wide soundstage. It reaches 17KHz with ease, which is enough for my tastes (I don't like when the treble dumps out much before that point).
The soundstage of the ATH-AD900 is very wide and can be quite enveloping and immersive. This (along with the already-excellent instrument separation) can be a blessing with dense and/or over-produced music as it provides more breathing room for the individual elements and makes them easier to distinguish from each other. It's also great for music that creates an intricate maze of instruments, such as some of Paul Simon's more eclectic works and "Nine Inch Nails." With more sparse music, however, things can be a bit too separated and/or a bit awkward when elements are panned far enough to the edges. Another thing that the increased separation and width brings is that instances of elements going slightly out of tune with each other--such as a slide-guitarist, fretless-bassist, or backup singer deviating slightly sharp or flat from the rest of the band--are easier to detect (in my case, I was noticing some of them for the first time). I like this as it brings more humanity to the music.
As I said earlier, The more I listen to the ATH-AD900, the more I like it and I already don't regret spending $220 on this thing.
By your review, I assume this would be awesome for games.
I'm not a gamer, but I've often seen the ATH-AD900 (as well as its lower-end sibling: the ATH-AD700) recommended for gaming, particularly due to the immersive soundstage and detail, though often with the reminder that there's not a lot of bass quantity (especially the ATH-AD700, which rolls off more steeply at the low end), so equalization/bass boosting may be necessary for games and movies, since they benefit more from emphasized lows, in my opinion.
Just to note: I haven't heard the ATH-AD700 myself, but, from what I've read, they have lesser build-quality and less refined sound, but they're also only half the price, so I guess it's a case of getting for what you pay.
Any comparison with their closed counterparts (A900)?
I've been updating this review over the months. Nothing major, I think. Just getting a bit more descriptive and specific about things.
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