Audio Technica for 2012 have come out with a whole new range of can, the “X” series as I call it. Hidden in this roll out is a new limited edition woody portable called the ESW11 LTD and comes out in the Earsuit collection and guys it’s not cheap but represents the top end of this collection.

First impressions of the ESW11LTD: Better than average soundstage, great bass detail, very smooth sound, slightly forward with emphasis in the upper midrange, and rather soft highs. This was a dramatic change from what I’d been listening to – the v-moda M100 and Sennheiser Momentum mostly. I ran some test tones after a short break-in period (~6 hours), and from the bass up through the mids the response was smooth and even, with just a gentle rolloff in the bass to minus 3 or 4 db at 30 hz. The treble has a peak of ~3 db at 2 khz, ~6 db at 4 khz, and ~5 db at 7 khz. Despite these emphasis areas, the ESW11 has significantly less output in the “presence” area from ~4 to ~7 khz than the Sennheiser Momentum, and also less output at 10 khz and above. Compared to the ESW9a, the ESW11 has the distinct “light” signature of upper midrange emphasis, while the ESW9a has little or no emphasis in the mids. The ESW9a has a slightly recessed upper treble, while the ESW11’s recess is more pronounced.

I find that the ESW11 sounds great with most music, although I’d recommend a darker sounding headphone if you listen mostly to techno/house/hip-hop and other similar music. The comments in the music tracks listed in this review can be compared to other headphone reviews** I’ve done, to get an idea of how the ESW11 plays the different types of music listed here compared to other headphones. While I consider the ESW11’s bass to be very good, I wouldn’t recommend it for bass-centric music, or for use when gaming or watching action movies on TV. For those applications you would probably want a headphone with a strong bass, and the ESW11’s bass is just average in strength, albeit very high in quality. This may apply to portable use as well for some people, since even though the ESW11 has pretty good isolation, the low frequencies occurring in traffic or on public transport may drown out the ESW11’s bass, making it sound lighter than what most people would like.

Headphone_Ath_Esw11_02

Isolation is good with the ESW11, and leakage is low, but just how much leakage you experience depends on how good of a seal you get with the earpads. Comfort is really good with the fine leather on-ear pads, but even though the initial comfort is good and the clamping force light, you may experience some pinching on the outer ear parts for a few days until the earpads get broken in. The outer part of the earcups is some kind of Japanese wood, which probably adds to the $700 USD price of this headphone. I don’t know how much wood is in those earcups though – they may have just a thin strip on the outside, or they might use the wood for sonic purposes to reduce resonances in the earcups. The ESW11 is an all matte-black color except for the reddish wood outer earcups and whatever small portion of the metal headband is showing. Fortunately, a darker color was chosen for the metal part of the headband, so that the metal that shows fits well with the overall appearance.

My head is average sized or better, and I wear the ESW11 with the earcups extended 6 click stops out of the maximum 10, so I expect that this headphone will fit just about everyone. The portability is good because the ESW11 can be pulled down off of the head and around the neck, and with the earcups fully extended it can be carried around the neck all day if needed. The earcups rotate 90 degrees one direction and about 35 degrees the other way. The 90 degree (flat) position adds to the portability, and the 35 degree rotation the other direction helps fit the earcups to ears that aren’t perfectly parallel to each other on opposite sides of the head. The supplied carrycase is just a thin plastic bag, which offers no impact protection to this headphone. I would think that anyone who spends $700 on this item would not dare put the ESW11 into that plastic bag and throw it into a backpack or luggage where it could be damaged. The cable is non-detachable, double-entry, and has no controls or microphone.

The music tracks listed in my older reviews were carried over from what I mostly listened to 5-10 years ago. As I added more headphone reviews, I’ve gravitated more toward “techno” music, from 1980’s New Wave to current house music, and even some hip-hop tracks. This new list began with the previous review (the v-moda M100 review), and continues here. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the ESW11 compares with each individual track. Note that the following comments are based on using the ESW11LTD with a moderate treble boost EQ, since the upper treble is recessed more than the ESW9a or Sennheiser Momentum, which are the most comparable headphones I have at this time.

Headphone_Ath_Esw11_03

Animotion – Obsession (1980’s New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has very good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural, although they lack some clarity with the ESW11.

Ben Heit Quartet – Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz with a Bebop flavor): The piano that leads off sounds realistic and the saxophone sounds appropriately soft. Overall, the ESW11 plays this music very well.

Cath Carroll – Moves Like You (1980’s New Wave/Techno): This track’s voice reproduction is good with the ESW11, but some of the percussion sounds have too much emphasis in the upper midrange to lower treble, making light drum hits sound more like claps using a solid material instead of drum skins.

Chromatics – I’m On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice sounds very good, but a certain high-frequency percussion (tambourine?) sounds slightly dulled, as though some upper harmonics are being cut off with the ESW11.

Crystal Castles – Wrath of God (Electro-Pop): The moderate level of bass in this track has good detail, and the ambient electronic effects are clear and distinct. The ESW11 makes this music sound just right.

DJ Shadow – Building Steam With a Grain of Salt (Electronic/DJ): This track opens with what sounds like very high and very low piano notes, and the ESW11 renders those notes well. The ambient voices are a little bit indistinct though.

Franz Ferdinand – Ulysses (Pop-Rock): The moderate level of bass in this track is played with good detail by the ESW11, and the voice is crisp and well-balanced. The percussion, when it’s a mass of several instruments or devices, has a slight hardness or glassy sound in the upper mids to lower treble.

Halie Loren – Sway (Jazz vocal): Bass instrument(s) here may sound boomy with some headphones, but the ESW11 handles this perfectly. The trumpet sounds natural but soft, and the voice is done just right.

Hans Zimmer – Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion that hits hard here with some headphones has less impact with the ESW11, but the bass tones beginning around 0:45 into the track have the ultra-deep “shuddery” kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response.

Kaskade – 4am (Electro-House): The bass that kicks in around 1:01 into the track is subtle, but the ESW11 plays it well. The percussion and female voice balance well with neither overwriting the other – the ESW11 gets this right.

Katy B – Perfect Stranger (R&B-House-Garage): The heavy bass that begins at 0:27 into this track is played very well by the ESW11. The voice has a slightly hard or glassy sound, but it doesn’t detract much from the rest of the music.

Machine Gun Kelly – All We Have (Rap/Hip-Hop): The heavy bass beats that begin at 0:23 into the track do sound like drum impacts, although they’re not sharp impacts. The male and female voices have a reasonably good balance, and the ESW11 plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

Massive Attack – Angel (Trip-Hop): This track begins with a steady low-frequency sound and some slightly soft deep-bass impacts. The voices blend well with the music and have just the right presence, although the recorded quality of the instruments isn’t great. The ESW11 plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

Morcheeba – Bullet Proof (Trip-Hop): Bright percussion and medium-strength bass impacts make up most of this, with some dance-club spoken intonations thrown in. The ESW11 plays the percussion fairly well, and the voices sound good too.

Peter Tosh – Get Up Stand Up (Reggae): The bass here has a decent but moderate impact, and the lead and backup voices have good separation that’s not too narrow or wide. The ESW11 renders the bass with good detail and the voices sound very natural.

Porcupine Tree – Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some string sounds that are lacking a bit of detail, and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are some “clip-clop” effects starting at 3:19 that sound (on other headphones) like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. With the ESW11, the ‘clip’ part of the sound effect is clearly audible, but the more subtle ‘clop’ part is pretty well missing.

Rachmaninoff – Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op3 No2 (Classical, Piano): Grand piano played mechanically from an original recording by the master himself. The bass is light here, but while the ESW11 renders the low notes fairly well, the upper notes have a touch of hardness to them.

Scarlatti-Kipnis – Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the ESW11 renders the tones and transients fairly well.

Trombone Shorty – Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The ESW11 delivers the impacts with proper weight, and makes the horns sound real.

William Orbit – Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string(?) tones beginning at 0:18 are subtle, and lack some detail with the ESW11. The bass isn’t very strong, but still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

About The Author

Computer programmer, audiophile.

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  • dalethorn

    Today I decided to make a direct comparison of the ESW11 and v-moda M100 – two headphones that have little in common. To make the comparison at least a little bit meaningful, I applied some simple iTunes EQ: Using “bass reducer” with the M100, the M100’s bass is still stronger than the ESW11, and using “treble booster” with the ESW11, the ESW11’s treble is still softer than the M100’s, which in turn is softer than average high fidelity. So these EQ’s brought the two headphones closer to each other (and the way I actually use them) without crossing the line to where I’d be listening to EQ rather than just compensating partially** for the most obvious deficiencies. The end result was the mids were well represented on each headphone, with the M100 properly balanced I thought, and the ESW11 tilted very much toward the high end, giving it a lighter, brighter color (but not treble bright). In this comparison I didn’t find any other features of the sound to show a significant difference between the two headphones – neither soundstage, forwardness, clarity or anything else. Mainly just the midrange tone.

    **Full EQ compensation would not only introduce audible distortion, it would make the corrected curves too ragged, unless high-tech parametric EQ were used.

  • headphone.ph

    Would you say the construction of the ESW11 is beefier than ESW9? Aside from the sound, its just hard to see why the cost of this headphones is 700 bucks. I mean the looks aren’t that much different than ESW9 (ESW10 is even more sophisticated with the lacquer finish) so I’m quite puzzled with why its so expensive. Of course I understand the price might go down but then this is a limited edition headphone.

    Its probably my desire to have it that made me sound a bit disappointed with the price tag. lol

    • dalethorn

      So far I haven’t found anything that looks much different from the ESW9a. The ESW9a cups were stiff and hard to rotate into position, but they are getting better – the ESW11 was better out of the box in that respect. I like the wider earpads of the ESW11. But the signature of the ESW11 has the mids emphasis way higher than the ESW9a, which is weird – not good I don’t think. The wood color is much better on the ESW11 – it still looks reddish, while the ESW9a is very dull. So even if the ESW11 price drops to half, to $350 USD on Amazon, customers who buy one will probably return it because the sound is so weird, unless they just play jazz, acoustic, classical etc.

      Edit: The cable is also the same – very thin, not detachable, very risky for special order from Japan.

      • headfonics

        ATH have a taste more than most for doing anniversary editions and with the 50th just gone by last year it’s no surprise they rolled out a few – my only worry is there are too many and a brand new “x” range that might make people think twice.

  • cdarcc

    good read you have here dale, I should say you have a varied music playlist.

    I still have the ESW10JPN with me and I would like to compare it with this ESW11, I don’ t think this is available already here in manila though, bummer.

    • dalethorn

      I got the inspiration for some of those tracks from Headphiles, and although I didn’t list certain local favorites like Turbo Goth, when they hit Amazon and iTunes I’ll add them. I get a lot of questions in email and on Youtube about how a headphone sounds with metal or black metal, and thanks to another headphiles member, I have a few examples of those on hand to compare also. The impression that really sticks in my mind about the ESW11 is the tone – it has a kind of warmth or roundness that I’m thinking might be similar to what valve/tube amps have, and it’s really musical. So this ESW11 and the ESW9a my wife uses are real keepers.

  • dalethorn

    Update March 3rd: The ESW11ltd is still my main listen, taking preference over the Soundmagic HP200, Beyer DT770LE, and v-moda M100. I’m thinking these wooden cups really make a difference, otherwise I can’t account for how satisfying it sounds. I’m playing with the Microstreamer amp this week, but I ordered an oldie-but-goodie I’ve never heard before – the Decware Zen Head, and I hope it works well with the ESW11.

    • asko

      It’s really cool. For now I have the ATH-ESW11LTD and the ATH-ES10 and I think that the ATH-ES10 have more clear and cool sound so I would recommend you to review it ;). I would like to say that the ATH-ES10 is a real technological masterpiece.

      It was interesting to me if the ATH-ESW11LTD sounds better than the Sennheiser Momentum or not, so thanks a lot for this review.

      Is it possible to write a comparative review with the ATH-ES10, the ATH-ES88 and the ATH-ES700 =)?

      • dalethorn

        The ESW11 is very different from the Momentum. The Momentum is very lively in the lower treble, but rolled off in upper treble. I do not have a simple EQ to fix the Momentum for portable use as I have for the ESW11. The ESW10 would cost me $500 (no free samples), so that is not likely unless I’m sure it would have as good a sound as the ESW11 gets from the wood earcups. The 88 and 700 I am still considering. One other thing is, the ESW11 is biased with emphasis toward the upper midrange, while the Momentum favors the lower midrange. I think the ESW9a makes a better comparison to the Momentum.

        • asko

          [it was my comment here]

  • dalethorn

    In the case of the ESW11Ltd, using iPod ‘Treble Booster’ or the computer equivalent in iTunes or Foobar, the end result with the boost still does not raise the treble to the level of the v-moda M100, and the M100’s treble is far less than the Senn HD800, Shure 1440 and 940, etc. So EQ with the ESW11 just brings the treble up to listenable, but it’s still far less than any hi-fi treble. The good news is that with that EQ, the sound is indeed listenable, and immensely satisfying, even for a critical listener like myself. Headphones like the HD800 and those Shures, plus the Soundmagic HP200 and Senn IE800, are just too bright for me, and even the esteemed Beyer DT770LE’s treble peak I have to reduce to be able to use it. So the ESW11 has been a big winner for me in spite of its quirky sound.

    • asko

      Haha. I’m not alone who enjoys the ATH-ESW11LTD more than the “super-duper” HD800. But… I had listened to the new album of my favorite artist using the ATH-ESW11LTD, backed to the quite bright and crystal clear ATH-W3000ANV and thought: “Wow! I heard nothing!” It was unexpected experience that told me how the ATH-ESW11LTD weak in the clarity. In this case the clarity gave much more joy.

      • dalethorn

        The ESW11-Ltd will do much better with a good amp and DAC. I use the vamp verza now as desktop DAC and also as DAC for Apple iPhone and iPod, and there is much improved clarity with the ESW11. I use other headphones like the Beyer DT770LE and v-moda M100, but I have long ago given up on the really bright headphones like the Shure 940 or Beyer DT1350.

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