They are simply the best headphones I’ve ever heard. The end.
Well, I wish I could just say that (Maybe I can — It’s my blog after all) But, I think you want to hear more. In a nutshell, the above review is accurate, and sums it all up well. If you want specifics, read on…
When searching for a good set of headphones to replace my 10+ year old busted Koss ones, I went with the wisdom of crowds over my ears.
The Audio Technica ATH-AD900 headphones are awesome. But really, how do I actually know? I haven’t compared these headphones side by side with others, I simply did a lot of online research, even though “…go and give a pair a test run at the store” is a common argument online. I spent days reading online — reviews on both sponsored sites and non-sponsored sites, on audiophile sites, non-audiophile sites, and on gaming sites. Much information can be found online, enough, for me, to decide to spend ~$300 on a pair of headphones without hearing them. When doing intensive online research you often can’t do better than reading through comments and forums. More personal experiences can give you a real-world feel of how a product performs. More so than numbers and statistics. In comments and forums people discuss and argue on the things that most reviews don’t — or can’t — cover, such as long-term comfort, source hardware used (computer, iPod, amp, etc…), and build quality/wear potential. If someone takes the time to argue passionately about a product, they are speaking from experience, something a review site often cannot do.
Everyone prefers certain sound frequencies, even if they are not aware of them. Some people prefer a bassier sound or bass-reliant music such as hip-hop. Some people prefer a more even sound. I prefer an even sound for two reasons:
- I listen to a large variety of music. Years ago I’d listen almost exclusively to rock music of some kind, but as I grew older I began to pick up on different things in music. This was largely helped but Tool’s classic Ænima album, which for me, bridged the gap between rock and many other styles of music. Now, I listen to extreme math-metal through to indie guitar bands through to ambient electronica. A flat overall sound is best to suit all styles.
- I want to experience the sound of the music I listen to as it was designed by the engineers and band at the time of recording. I think this is important. It’s almost a respect thing. I want to hear the music as it was intended, without extra bass or reduced midtones. At the very least as a default setting, from which I can adjust the EQ if I prefer.
These headphones are designed to be even-sounding. Not too bassy, not too much high-end. I think, due to this design, they sound super clear. I used to think my old and busted Koss set sounded great, but I was wrong. Upon changing, my music sounded perfectly clear. It was extraordinary. The $250 difference in price obviously goes toward better components, and the results are impressive. It makes me wonder what an extra $500+ would do in a pair of headphones. Alas, I’m no musical professional, so I’ll probably never be able to justify that much quality in a set of headphones.
Open vs closed
The Audio Technica AD900 headphones are what they call ‘open’ headphones. That is, while they cover your ears they let outside sound in, and inside sound out. This was a prerequisite in my choice of headphone, as I was primarily using them in the office, and needed to hear the phone ring and co-workers getting my attention. Another reason I wanted an open headphone was because the sound from an open headphone is much bigger. Bigger, not in terms of volume, but in terms of imagined space. The headphones sound as if they are large, as if the music is coming from a few feet away. Closed headphones which isolate your ears from outside sound make it seem like the sound is coming from a few inches away. They don’t ‘breathe’ as much. The downside to open headphones is people can hear your music if you have it up loud. I don’t listen to music loudly, unless I’m trying to experience something specific. 99% of the time my headphones are at a reasonable level.
The AD900s have very large and round ear pieces. The insides have a soft, velvety cover instead of the common faux leather — or pleather as it’s known. This makes for an extremely comfortable feel against the side of your head. The headband is a unique design to Audio Technica headphones. Instead of a headband that reaches all the way over your head, they have two soft but sturdy arms with pads. This allows the actual earpieces to ‘float’ on your ears comfortably because the arms adjust to the shape of your head. This is a great design.
These headphones are one of the ugliest full headphones I’ve ever seen. The aforementioned unique head band design is mostly to blame here, as are the size of the ear pieces. The metal mesh that covers the outside of the ear piece is neither interesting nor pretty. Even the way the logo badges sit on the ear pieces is average-looking and reminiscent of cheaper ‘knock-off’ brands. But I didn’t buy the AD900s for their look, I bought them because I wanted a great sounding set of headphones to use in the office and at home — not on the bus.
The AD900s are easily driven. This means the amount of power needed to make them work well does can be small. They can sound great from your iPod or computer headphone jack, and don’t need a dedicated amp or sound card. This was also an important consideration for me. I listen to my music 100% of the time from my Mac Pro or Macbook while working. However, if I wanted to hear deeper bass, punchier mids, and clearer highs without distorting the sound, I can get an amp or sound card to drive the headphones. In short, I can make the already bullshit-sounding headphones more bullshit-sounding. Sometimes I wonder what that would be like, and if the difference is as significant as the audiophiles argue.
Maybe I’ll find out one day. See my post on the Apogee Duet.
Most times, I believe, It’s better to shell out a bit more and buy something better. The Audio Technica ATH-AD900 headphones is one such case. I’d be interested to know what a $1000+ set of headphones could sound like, but I have neither the money nor the need to do so. The AD900s are simply the best headphones I’ve ever experienced.