Audio Technica ATH-AD900 Review

Audio Technica ATH-AD900 open style headphones

Audio Technica ATH-AD900 open style headphones

The ATH-AD900s are a well-known headphone made in Japan. They’re recognised as a clean, accurate and possibly under-priced headphone. I very recently purchased a pair and they’ve really opened my eyes in a number of ways.

On first listen, the AD900s sounded a bit “thin” for my liking. I’m definitely not a bass-head, but I was worried I would miss the presence of a solid kick in the bass. As I’ve listened to the AD900s more and more I’ve actually found that I’m loving the clean and possibly slightly understated bass from these phones.

In my article about compressed audio I discussed the phenomenon of “masking”. Masking is what happens when a loud sound prevents us from hearing a quiet sound. I’d never thought about it in relation to speakers or headphones before, but I’m starting to think it plays a part in the detail of any reproduction device. I am hearing details in music with the AD900s that I’ve never heard through other high quality speakers and phones I’ve used. That’s not to say the AD900s are the best phones on the planet, but they are definitely very, very good. What makes them so good is their balance. Because the different frequencies are so nicely balanced, the bass doesn’t overshadow the mids and treble and vice versa. There’s no harshness in the top end to get in the way of the rest of the music and the vocals don’t jump out over and above the instrumentation. Everything is exactly where it belongs.

It’s probably important to note that the AD900s are an open style headphone which means that even though they cover your whole ear, they don’t cut out any sound from the world around you. It also means that people around you can hear what you’re listening to pretty clearly so they’re not a good choice for open offices or situations where others don’t want to hear your music.

Let’s look at the individual characteristics of the headphones:

Quick Specs

Speaker Driver : 53mm
Frequency Range : 5 – 35,000Hz
Power Handling : 700mW
Impedance : 35 ohms

Bass

Attack: The attack from the AD900s is beautiful, but understated. They’re a very sensitive earphone with a relatively high impedance which makes them very responsive (a bit like a powerful sports car with excellent breaks). They go fast when needed and stop just as quickly. The result to your ears is accuracy and energy. The AD900s sound exciting and lively at all frequencies and this means a good attack in the bass. During Wayman Tisdale’s “Take the Lord Along with You”, the bass is crisp and sharp with plenty of detail. There’s no muddiness or lag in the bass – it’s agile. However, there will be a lack of punch for some people and this means you don’t feel as much of the attack as you might like. The AD900s are probably more accurate than some of the more exciting earphones around, but that does mean they lack the up-front excitement created by the feeling of some good, hard-hitting bass.

Rating: 7.5 / 10

Mass: As you’ve probably already gathered, this could be the one weak point of the AD900s if you like bass, but this is where audio becomes such a personal affair. I love the fact that the AD900s are so realistic. If a track was recorded with lots of bass, the AD900s reproduce it, but they also shine a very bright light on tracks recorded without much bass. The result can be a slightly thin-sounding experience. Even though that’s more a reflection of the recording and engineering of the track, many headphones will lend a little extra bass to music and cover these shortcomings.

I tried listening to “Halftime” by Nas and there’s plenty of bass, but it’s not thumping on my eardrums like an angry neighbour. It’s very present, but not overpowering and I know some people enjoy the hard-hitting thump.

Rating: 5 / 10

Vocals / Mids

It’s almost difficult to review the mids and vocals from the AD900s because they’re exactly what they should be and perfectly balanced with everything else. They don’t stick out as a flat spot or a highlight. The mids and vocals are smooth, realistic and perfectly placed within the overall musical picture. There’s really nothing to report (in a good way) – they’re perfect.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Detail

Wow. If only I could give them a 12 out of 10. Detail is the AD900’s party trick. Their accuracy and agility is simply awesome so you hear every tiny detail in all of your music. Even driven straight from an iPod (5th Generation), the accuracy is outstanding. The iPod has to run at nearly 100% volume, but there’s still a little headroom to turn it up if necessary and the quality is still excellent.

When listening to “Learn to Love” by Harry Connick, Jr. there are some minor riffs and fills from the backing orchestra and a Hammond organ. On other earphones I’ve used, these riffs tend to get lost in the mix, but on the AD900s you can hear even the subtlest textures and details within the backing instrumentation – it’s quite an experience.

One of the best things about the level of detail the AD900s provide is that the music is exciting and energetic. There are so many different sounds and textures going on that you can really explore the music’s twists and turns. Even tracks you used to find boring can surprise you with a new detail or texture you’ve never heard before. This is true in all music, but it’s particularly noticeable in classical music. Listening to “Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen, Op.20″ and “Capriccio Italien Op. 45″ is quite amazing as you hear every pluck and pop and squeak from every instrument in the orchestra. I’m not a classical fan as such, but I love hearing the odd orchestral track just to experience all the textures and details I can hear through the AD900s.

Rating: 8.9 / 10

Staging

Staging was what initially attracted me to the AD900s. Other reviews I’d read suggested that the AD900s offered a broad and detailed soundstage and they really do. If you close your eyes while listening to a well recorded piece of music, the sound seems to come from a space outside of the confines of your head and the headphones. All that space also means that it’s easy to separate where different sounds are coming from.

I use Capriccio Italien Op. 45 to test for staging and placement of sounds because there are lots of quiet moments with individual groups in the orchestra playing. The AD900s paint a perfect picture of the orchestra. You can hear exactly where the horn section is placed and you can hear that they’re further away from you than the strings. The french horns are slightly to the right while the oboes and clarinets are more centred, but still slightly to the left. The detail is beautifully clear. I have heard headphones with slightly better staging (like the Ultrasone Edition 8s), but the AD900s are still extremely good, especially for the price.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Overall

For around $300 you’ll have a very hard time finding a better pair of headphones in terms of accuracy, staging and comfort. I regularly wear these headphones all day (literally) and actually miss them when I take them off because they are SO comfortable. I have a shaved head so there’s no hair to add padding for headphones and most become uncomfortable in time, but the AD900s are hands-down the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn on my head (including hats and beanies)!

If you love bass from a variety of music, don’t jump at the AD900s until you’ve had a good listen to a range of tracks to see if the “realistic” bass is enough for you. If accuracy, detail and clarity is your thing, do yourself a favour and check these out. If you’re not sure what you like you should definitely give the AD900s a try, but make sure you listen to them for a little while on a range of tracks before making your mind up. Most of us aren’t used to the kind of unbiased sound they give and you may feel a little underwhelmed at first, but give them some time, close your eyes and explore the music a bit – you might be surprised.

All-in-all I just love these headphones and often find myself turning to these instead of high quality speaker setups. I love the accuracy, detail and intimacy of the sound. If you’re buying headphones and have around $300 to spend you should definitely check these out. Even if you’re spending significantly more than $300, take a listen to the ATH-AD900s because they will embarrass many more expensive models.

Overall Rating: 7 / 10

Additional Note: The model below the AD900s is the ATH-AD700 and although Audio Technica completely missed the mark on the colour scheme (purple and gold), they’re an excellent headphone. There is absolutely no doubt that the AD900s are significantly better and are worth the extra $$$. The build quality and sound quality are both upgraded on the AD900s, but check out the AD700s if the AD900s are more than you want to spend.

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13 comments on “Audio Technica ATH-AD900 Review

  1. very good review, i have a seenheiser hd 650 and recently purchased audio technica ath-ad900 and i was blown away with the quality of music it reproduce.hands down ath-ad900 are better phones than the hd650.

    • Thanks, Guy! The Ad900s really are amazing for the price. I’ve tried a lot of different headphones (some far more expensive) and have rarely found anything as good (at eveything – some are better in specific areas, but not overall). Those that are significantly better are generally in the $1000+ price bracket…. i.e. the “I’ll get them one day” bracket! :-)

  2. i just came across this review and i have to say it’s spot on. a lot of reviews i see always complain about the bass. the bass is there but its true and rich and placed in the background like it should be. it doesn’t overpower and mud up the song like headphones with a lot of bass do. the sound is so crystal clear and spacious its insane. i mix music for a living so i own about 8 other headphones but none of them are even close to as natural sounding as these cans are. very nice review!

    • Thanks, Mike. I’m glad you liked the review. If you like the AD900s and you need IEMs, the Re272s are a similar beast to the AD900s, just in an in-ear style. Neutral and natural, transparent and nicely detailed. Obviously not as spacious as an open headphone, but still a really nice soundstage. I’ll be writing my review of them soon.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Lachlan

  3. have you tried pyle headphone amp, i got mine for $12.95 at buy dig using my walkman 8gig ,wow my first impression ,that said it all.looking for another audio technica phones, any suggestion for an upgrade.thanks

  4. one last note i was reading your article on closed back headphones and was surprised you didn’t include audio technica ath-m50.to me for the price and sound after burnt in period of 100 hrs. sound better than the shure srh-840.just my opinion

    • Hi Guy,

      Thanks for all your comments. Sorry I haven’t responded sooner.

      I haven’t tried the pyle amp. I definitely agree with you about the M50s – brilliant headphone, but those and the AD900s are definitely the only Audio Technica headphones I would highly recommend (based on what I’ve heard). There are some others that are good, but not class leading like the AD900s/M50s. Have you tested any Ultrasones? I really enjoy their lively sound.

  5. I came across at a website called headphone info and scored the beyerdynamics dt990 a 10 ahead of some of the expensive headphones like the sennheiser hd 800.I was kind of perflexed and dumbfounded with this score.Do you know anything about this beyerdynamics dt990 and i found this phone to be mudded ,distant and veiled, do they know something that other website don’t or this assesment is accurate.THANKS

    • I’m not sure if I’ve tried the DT990s. I have tried various Beyers and so far haven’t been sold on their sound (based on brief listens only). That said, it can be valuable to spend some time getting used to a new sound signature and a lot of people seem to like the Beyer sound so there might be more to it, but I can’t answer definitively – sorry.

      For the Ultrasones, I’m not sure where you’re buying so it’s hard to know which models fall into which price bracket, but the HFI series are all great. The HFI-580s are really bassy, but still accurate. The HFI-780s are a bit less bassy and therefore more accurate. My favourites are the HFI-680s because their really accurate and clean, but still have great, energetic bass. Be warned though that the HFI-680s need amplification to sound special. The 580s/780s are much easier to drive so a better choice for mobile/non-amped use.

  6. Pingback: Sennheiser HD650 | Passion For Sound

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