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Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 headphones review: Made in Japan audio goodness

By Kenny Yeo - 6 May 2018

Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 - Pg 2

What accessories do I get?

The headphones come neatly packed in this fairly large carrying case.

You get a luxurious hard carrying case with a molded and satin-lined interior that perfectly fits the headphones and its cable. The provided cable is a 3 meters long and terminates in a 6.35mm gold-plated plug. The cable is soft and pliant, but quite heavy. The cable connects to the headphones via A2DC (Audio Designed Detachable Coaxial) connectors - a type of connector that is also used in many other Audio-Technica headphones.

The insides of the carrying case is lined with satin-like cloth.

Audio-Technica also offers a balanced cable that is sold separately. It is also 3 meters long and terminates in a standard 4-pin Neutrik XLR plug. It is well made, soft, and pliant, but like the provided 6.35mm cable, it is also heavy. This balanced cable is S$398. Ouch, I know.

 

Ok, since the balanced cable is so expensive, how much do these headphones cost?

The ATH-ADX5000 is not cheap. It is S$2,598. But, as you will see later, this headphone’s performance commensurates quite nicely with its price.

 

Can I use these in the office?

The ear cups and drivers are completely exposed and leaks a lot of sound, both in and out.

I won’t recommend it. The ATH-ADX5000 is possibly the most ‘open’ headphone that I have tried. They provide zero attenuation so you can hear everything around you even if you have them over your ears. Likewise, the headphones leak sound as if you were wearing mini-speakers on your head. The ATH-ADX5000 is best appreciated in a quiet environment.

 

What did you use to test the headphones with?

The ATH-ADX5000 has high impedance drivers and require amplification to sound their best. Amplification duties were performed by a Questyle CMA 600i amplifier and DAC combo.

 

How do they sound?

Each ATH-ADX5000 headphone is assembled by hand in Japan.

Pretty good. Open-back Audio Technica headphones have a reputation for sounding lean and bright but the ATH-ADX5000 has a very coherent and balanced sound.

Yes, the treble is slightly emphasized as compared to some other headphones in the same price range - Audezes immediately come to mind - but it's smooth, well tamed, and well extended. The treble also has an airy and sparkly quality to it. There’s only a slight suggestion of peakiness and harshness, and that’s only present on select electronica and trance tracks, like Haywyre’s Sculpted.

Since we are on the topic of electronica, let’s talk about bass. Contrary to popular belief, the ATH-ADX5000’s bass response is quite adequate, so the overall sound isn’t lean at all. The headphones aren’t bass shy and can deliver the goods when called for, but the quality of the bass could be better. Personally, I would like a little more extension, tightness, and oomph. The opening sequence of Massive Attack’s Angel didn’t rumble quite as ominously as some of the ATH-ADX5000’s rivals.

The mids, however, are easily one of the best attributes of this headset. The mid-range is intimate, clear, present, and again, very smooth. This makes the ATH-X5000 wonderful for vocals. Listening to Jacky Cheung’s live rendition of 遙遠的她, the ATH-X5000 was equal parts intimate, powerful, and delicate, brilliantly showcasing the vocal range and talents of ‘God of Songs.’

 

How does it compare to other headphones in its price range?

Like the Clear from Focal, the ATH-ADX5000 has a very balanced and coherent sound that doesn't overemphasize any spectrum of the frequency range.

The ATH-ADX5000’s primary rivals are as follows, in alphabetical order: Audeze LCD-3, Focal Clear, Sennheiser HD 800 S, and ZMF Auteur.

The ATH-ADX5000’s overall signature is most similar to the Focal Clear - both headphones have a wonderfully balanced sound, with no emphasis on any region of the audio spectrum. Of the two, the Clear has better bass but the ATH-ADX5000 has more intimate mids and alluring highs.

Compared to the HD 800 S, the ATH-ADX5000 has a stronger and cleaner bass response, and so it sounds more full-bodied. Its overall sound is also more balanced. On the other hand, the HD 800 S is considerably leaner in sound, more resolving, and has a greater tendency to sound cold. However, the HD 800 S is still king when it comes to soundstage.

The LCD-3 and Auteur are noticeably darker sounding headphones and have much more impressive bass response. They also sound more authoritative and full-bodied. The LCD-3 has lush mids that match the ATH-ADX5000, but is outdone by the ATH-ADX5000’s finesse and deftness in the treble. The LCD-3’s treble sounds significantly dull and rolled-off in comparison. Likewise, the Auteur’s treble response is not as refined as the ATH-ADX5000’s.

 

How’s the imaging and soundstage?

The ear pads are fairly shallow.

Imaging is excellent and one can easily pick out the location of instruments and sounds in tracks such as in Yosi Horikawa’s Letter. Horikawa is a Japanese composer who likes to overlay his music with binaural recordings of real-life sounds. The Horikawa’s music is fascinating, but more importantly, it’s a great test of a headphone’s staging abilities. That said, the ATH-ADX5000’s soundstage isn’t overly wide and that perhaps has to do with the fact that its ear pads are quite flat. Most flagship headphones have fairly thick ear pads and I can’t help but wonder if the soundstage of the ATH-ADX5000 would improve with thicker pads.

 

Are there any other things I should know?

One important thing to note is that the ATH-ADX5000 is unforgiving when it comes to poorly recorded tracks. On tracks that are badly recorded or mixed, the ATH-ADX5000 can reveal all of the track’s flaws and can sound tonally imbalanced or limp. This isn’t an issue for most folks, but if you happen to like some odd genre of music or some obscure band that may not have access to good recording studios or sound engineers, this might be something to take note of.
 
Oh, and because of the drivers’ high impedance of 420 ohms, the ATH-ADX5000 will also need an amplifier that can deliver high voltages to sound its best. Your smartphone or notebook headphone jack will not be able to deliver the voltage required to get these headphones to sing.

 

Any final thoughts?

The ATH-ADX5000 is a stellar and great-sounding headphone from Audio-Technica.

The ATH-ADX5000's greatest strength is its supremely balanced and coherent sound. And as far as flagship-class headphones go, its treble performance is unsurpassed. Insofar as audio performance is concerned, I think that its only chink in the armor is its bass, which doesn’t go quite as deep or hit quite as hard as some of its as-pricey peers.

Though the ATH-ADX5000 sounds great with almost everything I threw at it, I like it best with acoustic, instrumental, classical, jazz, live music, and anything that is heavy on vocals. With these material, the ATH-ADX5000 delivers an intimate listening experience that is matched by very few headphones.

Audio performance aside, the carrying case is a nice and welcomed touch. It looks and feels luxurious, but more importantly, makes it easy to transport the headphone. However, Audio-Technica could really have sweetened the deal by providing balanced cables as standard.

And since we are on the subject of things that could be better, I would have also preferred thicker and fuller ear pads. This will probably help with the soundstage and also make the headphone more comfortable to wear. As it is, I found the ear pads to be too shallow, which impinges slightly on comfort.

Nevertheless, because of its great sound, the ATH-ADX5000 should be seen as a commendable effort from Audio-Technica. It clearly shows that the company has what it takes to tango with the world's best.

  • Design 7.5
  • Performance 8.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Value 8
The Good
Balanced, coherent sound
Intimate mids and airy highs
Fantastic imaging
Very light
Comes with a nice carrying case
High impedance makes it suitable for tube amps
The Bad
Bass could be improved
No additional cables
Creaky headband
Shallow earpads
Ho-hum design