Headphones and Earphones
- Written by Stephen Hornbrook
- Published on 19 August 2013
The Design of the Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X Headphones, In Use, and Rating
Audio-Technica's ATH-AD900X is an open-air design utilizing a 53 mm driver. Each driver is angled slightly to better face the listener's ear. The structure of the ATH-AD900X is based on two curved rods, but your head does not rest on these, rather, there are two spring-loaded, padded wings that prop out to take some of the weight. Fortunately, at 265 grams, the ATH-AD900X is very light for a full size headphone. My only complaint about comfort is due to the overall force that presses inward upon the bottom of the headphones. This force keeps the headphones snuggly in place, but for me, they caused a bit of an ache behind the ears. I have asked others to wear them for a bit and they did not experience any ache. My deduction is that it is my own weird oddity as I have always been sensitive to this with many headphones.
The ear pads are made of light foam and a soft black fabric. They have a little more padding for support behind the ears. Attached to the left side is a long 3 meter fixed cable with a gold-plated 1/8" connector that, sorry cable nuts, does not allow for swapping out to exotic cables. Like most open air designs, there is essentially no noise isolation and people around you will know when you are listening to Kenny G or Justin Bieber, so beware. Also, they are not small and do not fold down, so they are not an ideal headphone for traveling with.
The sound produced by the ATH-AD900X is open, clear, and engaging. I found the bass response to be conservative and a tad held back at times. They reminded me most of the AKG K701, both in look and feel, and sound quality. They both have excellent detail and clarity, but are lean in the lower octaves. One thing about the ATH-AD900X over the AKG is that they were easier to drive and more friendly with portable devices.
John Mayer's voice on "Gravity" felt a bit lean for my tastes. I wanted more mid range presence to give weight to his voice. More often than not, lower priced headphones have an over emphasized low end, leading to throaty, congested male vocals. The Audio-Technica's take a wise, conservative approach to the low end and opt for clarity and detail over body. Mayer's guitar solo sounded great though and the drums were tight and well defined.
"Digital Love" by Daft Punk had enough bass and quick response, keeping the beat moving whilst the guitar sounded like it lived outside of the headphones. With more synth-heavy music, this time from Kavinski, I thought the ATH-AD900X did a fantastic job of playing loudly, but without harshness. The powerful Burson Soloist headphone amp was able to coax some nice lower end response out of the Audio-Technica's and made for a smooth, non-fatiguing listening session. In general, whether on my iPhone, or a high quality amp, the ATH-AD900X were quite forgiving and devoid of the harshness often found in this price range.
I gave Yann Tiersen's "Good Bye Lenin" a listen and the acoustical instruments sounded full, open, and never constricted. Brass horns sounded accurate and passed the test of my trombonist's ear.
Thom Yorke's voice on Radiohead's Hail to the Thief album sounded full, but never bloated. Even with the sharpness in the upper registers, I never found the ATH-AD900X's to be fatiguing or harsh. I was able to crank the volume level without the slightest cringe. The bass line was solid and grounded the music well. "Last Flowers", a b-side from In Rainbows, features a piano that fills the space around you and the Audio-Technica's did a wonderful job of putting me right at that piano. It's an effect that you really only hear with open-back headphones.
There are so many headphones to choose from now that the decision can be overwhelming, but at this price range, Audio-Technica is making the decision much easier. Given that the ATH-AD900X can be found online for under $250, this makes them a great buy for those interested in getting into high-end audio. The ATH-AD900X's are not bass-heavy, nor overly warm, but instead favor a neutral, detailed, and airy sound with wonderful soundstaging. If those sound like the qualities you are looking for in a pair of headphones and you don't want to spend over $250, then you must put the Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X at the top of your list. It is an amazing value in the headphone market.