Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 headphones Page 2

Comfort is good. The large, soft, Alcantara-covered earpads are truly circumaural, with no pinching or rucking of the pinnae, head-clamping pressure is modest and, while only minimally padded, the wide headband rests easily on the scalp. No accessories are provided with the ADX5000 beyond an ‘exclusive hard carrying case’ which I’m not sure the more macho owner would like to be seen carrying in public. A no-nonsense, do-your-damnedest-to-me Peli case it isn’t.

sqnote.jpgTransparent Tunes
Listening was conducted, using unbalanced connection and A-T’s supplied cable, with a Teac HA-501 headphone amplifier [HFN Apr ’14] and Chord Electronics QuteHD DAC [HFN Sep ’12]. Some suggest that Audio-Technica headphones have a ‘house sound’ but that’s simply not true. The ADX5000’s tonal balance is pretty neutral and – hooray! – does not endorse the excess bass and lower-midrange (and/or denuded treble) that make so many modern ’phones a dull and uninformative listen.

If anything, A-T’s new flagship arguably takes its quest for transparency a step too far, sounding just a little cold and matter-of-fact in its delivery rather than effortlessly engaging. It sounds much more refined than the cheaper ATH-A2000Z, for instance, but there’s a slight sense of aloofness to its music-making which is unlikely to appeal to those who like a headphone sound that veers towards the warm and cozy. It also has, unusually for a neutrally balanced open-back headphone, a slightly narrowed stereo image that lacks the spaciousness of the best in the field.

The good and slightly less good facets of the ADX5000’s character were well illustrated by 2L’s free download of the Presto from Haydn’s Op.76:5 String Quartet in D (I used the 192kHz version). On the plus side, these A-Ts retained the energy of this committed performance, without the all-too-familiar fog of emphasised lower-midrange and bass, and clearly separated the instrumental contributions.

Sibilance Checks
There was – even for me, and I don’t like headphones that self-consciously sugar the pill – a tad less tonal warmth to the sound than I’d call ideal but that was a balance issue I could adjust to. Less positively, I was immediately aware of that slightly constricted soundstage. This isn’t something that familiarisation will brush under the carpet – it’s a characteristic of these ADX5000 ’phones that you just have to accept, or not.


I was a little concerned after post-processing the ADX5000’s frequency response measurements that it might have the sort of exposed upper treble that causes some headphones to be fierce on vocal sibilants. So I turned to three tracks I habitually use – progressively severe tests – when this question needs addressing: Frank Sinatra’s introduction to ‘I’ve Got A Crush On You’ [Reprise 8122 73777-9; 96kHz/24-bit rip], Diana Krall’s ‘The Girl In The Other Room’ [96kHz/24-bit rip from the Verve DualDisc B0003758-82]; and the 192kHz/24-bit download of Sabina Sciubba & Antonio Forcione’s ‘Take Five’ from Meet Me In London [Naim label].

Lithe Low End
The ADX5000 negotiated the first two well enough: Sinatra’s ‘Annabelles’ and ‘Lillians’ weren’t spitty, and the difficult audience applause on this recording was handled cleanly too. Likewise with Diana Krall, where sibilants verged on excess but didn’t overstep the mark. Only on the severe test of Sabina Sciubba’s otherwise mellifluous tones were sibilants a little too hot – albeit nothing like as bad as with some headphones I’ve experienced. If you are particularly sensitive to this problem the ADX5000 may be beyond the pale but most listeners, I suspect, will feel that the issue raises its head infrequently enough for it not to be a deal-breaker.

At the other end of the spectrum the ADX5000 – typically of the A-Ts we’ve reviewed – doesn’t have the most extended bass, particularly compared to planar magnetic competitors. But let’s keep this in perspective: the roll-off begins at around 100Hz, yes, but is very gentle. More importantly, the ADX5000’s low end sounds lithe, tuneful and bloat-free.

The deep bass of Jennifer Warnes’ ‘Somewhere, Somebody’ from The Hunter [Private Music 82089; 44.1kHz/16-bit rip] was weighty enough; the bowed and plucked double-bass was clean and clear in the Oscar Peterson Trio’s ‘You Look Good To Me’ [88.2kHz/24-bit rip from the Analogue Productions/Verve SACD We Get Requests]; and in ‘Walking In The Rain’ from Nightclubbing [96kHz/24-bit download] Grace Jones strutted the wet streets propelled by Sly & Robbie’s intoxicating rhythm.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
A-T’s finest is better than 90% of the headphones that come my way – but so it should be at its elevated price. It majors on neutrality and clarity, arguably to a fault, so is unlikely to curry favour if you prefer headphones that wear rose-tinted spectacles. It’s also not a first choice if you favour bass weight and extension over nimbleness. If only it imaged a little more expansively, my respect would surely turn to love.

Audio-Technica Corp
Tokyo, Japan
Supplied by: Audio-Technica Limited (UK), Leeds
0113 277 1441