I have occasional need for closed headphones. Normally when I need closed cans at home I’ve been listening to HD280s and at work, Sony V6s. The HD280s are good for what they are but they but they do have their drawbacks, including rolled-off treble and an overall kind of boxy sound.
The Audio-Technica Ax00 series gets a fair amount of coverage at head-fi, and so I decided to give them a whirl. I went with the A700s since most have either the A500s or the A900s and I just have to be contrarian. That, and my self-set limit for cans I know I won’t use all that much was $150. With the audiocubes sale, the A700s were just under that, including shipping.
Anyway, they came while I was out of town last week, and last night I hooked them up when I got home from work and let them break in for about six hours before I put them on.
So, first, physical characteristics. As everyone says about these things, they’re HUGE. They’re not heavy at all, but they are big. The 3D Wing deal for the headband feels odd at first, like it’s going to fall off, but it stays on pretty well. They’re surprisingly comfortable given their size, though they do cover a lot of the side of my head and they do get a bit warm on the old noggin after a while.
The color is funky. The picture on Audiocubes just doesn’t do them justice–at first, I thought the pic was totally off and my pair was just black. They’re not, they’re this really deep midnight blue, which is all sparkly if you look closely in good light. Subtle and very nice.
Build quality seems very solid. They’re terminated with a 1/8″ plug, which I don’t like, and the 1/4″ adapter is kind of cheesy–I like the screw-on style of the HD280s and V6s much better.
So, the big one: how do they sound? Well, remember that these are initial impressions–I haven’t had them long enough to do what I’d call a full review but I have run them through my Audio Test Mix and I have at least something of a feel for them. (Note that my main cans are HD595s and so most of these impressions are relative to those.)
Soundstage is very impressive, especially given that it’s a closed can. This is a common response to the Ax00 line and I expected it to be decent, but I wasn’t expecting this. I can see why gamers love these.
Detail is good, instrument separation is pretty clear. The sound is very energetic. Performance on string quartet was better than I expected, good job controlling shrillness of violins.
Again, everyone says “recessed mids.” Absolutely true. I’ve not seen a frequency response curve for these but I bet it’s almost exactly the inverse shape to the HD280 curve (see Headroom for that). It’s not as bad as I sort of expected, but it is noticeable, especially for male vocals. Female vocals sound slightly better than male vocals, I think because the higher end of the female vocals don’t sound as recessed.
Highs sound kind of unnatural in a way that’s hard to describe. Cymbals don’t sound exactly like cymbals. It’s just… off. It’ll probably take me more time with them to get a clear handle on this.
Bass is pretty good, certainly more prominent than with the HD280s, but extension is not as good. It’s not quite as tight as I would like. It’s not horribly flabby or anything, but I’m so used to the HD595s tight and clear bass that they sound a little muddled to me.
I know that was more bad than good, but overall for $150 closed cans, they are actually pretty good. They’re definitely more fun than the HD280s. I’m certainly not inclined to give up my HD595s but they might replace the 280s as my normal closed cans.