Audio Technica’s HQ office is actually not that far away from my house; I’ve been there a few times in the past and have gawked at the facility innards. A good friend of mine recommended I try to invest time into reviewing the newly released ATH W1000z, due to the fact that I adore the rare ATH W3000ANV so very much. Fans of the older W-series should feel right at home with this new model.
Sources: Oppo HA-1, Red Wine AK120, Calyx M, Fiio X1, Sony A17, Alienware 13
Headphones: ATH W1000z/3000ANV/ESW9LTD, Fostex TH600, Focal Classic, JH16, Ultrasone Edition 8
Amps: Oppo HA-1, RSA SR71B, Pathos Aurium, Centrance Mini M8
The Fit and Finish
Eyebrows will be raised, ears will perk up and wallets will be drained. If you are wondering, those gorgeous wooden cups are made of a thick cut of Teak. I don’t know much about wood rarity, only to the extent the Internet tells me on a quick sweep of the topic, but it seems Teak is quite rare and highly sought after as a building material for ultra, high-end string instruments. As Audio Technica claims on their website, the W1000z does indeed offer a warm tilt to its sound signature. Having never heard a Teak woodie headphone before, I can only assume the warmth in coloration is to be expected when this type of wood is selected. This yummy tonal hues has never been a problem with this company in the past, they get musicality and have always been the go to “house sound” for those interested in tasty, gently colored sound signatures. Most, if not all of their higher end headphones offer the same general sound type and are wonderfully delicious in tone. Without going overboard and saturating the headphone with warmth, most wooden cup headphones tend to serve up this type of a presentation. To date, their W3000ANV and ESW911JPN are headphones that I consider the most musical, the most fun, most well-tuned and generally unforgettable in sound type in their respected price tiers. Thankfully, the W1000z fits snugly in between these models and offers really satisfying levels of warmth on the low end.
Like their newly released ATH ESW9LTD, their new portable woodie, Audio Technica has given their larger W1000z a hefty glaze job. The headphone is supremely reflective with a candy-like visual appeal, much more so than the previous models in the W-series. Much like Lawton’s custom woodies, Audio Technica’s woodies almost always force me to restrain myself from trying to nibble on them. Thank the audio deities that I am not a sleep walker, I could easily imagine myself waking up in the middle of the night and walking over to where I keep most of my headphones on display, picking up the W1000z and chewing on it for a bit. In all seriousness, the lacquer finish and heft of the cut of wood is very high end and I don’t have a problem stating that Fostex’s TH900 Japanese Birch cups are an inferior product compared to this cheaper ATH W1000z. Audio Technica always does a fine job with their wood working, they deserve commendation for always shelling out something lustrous and visually appealing. Audio Technica doesn’t produce an ugly woody headphone, every single one of them shout high class stylization to the utmost degrees.
There really is no getting around it…the W-series headphones have always been very large in design. Audio Technica sticks to their guns with design implementation and it is extremely rare for them to tangent to a design that is noticeably dissimilar to the previous models. I am not okay with this, there were serious fit issues with the last generation of W-series headphones and they’ve not listened to anyone’s complaints. It feels like it is just about time for the company to take a gander at the problems their W-series has and form a new design for the next generation. Sadly, Audio Technica has completely ignored the woes of their customers who have purchased or used the W3000ANV, W5000 and the original W1000 of old. They’ve opted for a rehash of the basic design with no improvement or alterations. A big problem with the W-series was that the headband is just not designed for a human head; it was designed with a very odd fit that almost nobody I am aware of was happy with.
This is a rare case where more clamping force is required if you want to continue to keep this type of a wire laden headband that also offers poor seal. This was always a severe problem. The angle of approach is too much of a classic half circle, not much else needs to be said about it. As a result of this type of an angle, the pads end up pinching the area just below your ears and on the top of your neck. Bestowing a large percent of the clamping force to these sensitive areas is just about the worst thing you can do when it comes to design. The area of the pads above your ears seals poorly, the bottom portion of the pads seal much better. The result is a mixed bag of results that leaves me extremely upset. It is impossible for me to achieve a satisfying, comfortable experience and I continually readjust the headphone in attempt to find a position I am okay with. So far, I’ve failed in that endeavor.
The headphone is plenty light at 320g and those pads are supremely comfortable, but offering so much plushness and give in those leather earpads only makes things worse with regard to improper seal and the need to keep the headphone in place. Moving your head even slightly causes the headphone to apply more pressure to that area just below your ears, yet also shakes around too much with a slight nod or sneeze. Summed up, the wiring in the headband not only makes you look like a satellite dish, but also causes some pain and discomfort due to improper angles that parallel actual human heads. I desperately want Audio Technica to stop using these designs. Instead, maybe rehash the ESW portable series headbands into these larger headphones. Scale up the size of the headband but keep them identical in visual styling, nobody has fit issues with the ESW-series…but pretty much everyone has gripes with the W-series that uses the Flying Wing and wiring rail system in the headband.
Those wooden cups are large enough; we don’t need the headband to be that large and cumbersome as well. Fostex and Denon did it right and their models are much more comfortable and form fitting than Audio Technica’s designs in their larger headphones. Time to get with the times; nobody wants to look like a satellite dish these days. I also found it odd that the designers opted to use velour fabric for the understand of the flying wing system that rests on your head, but the earpads are a supple leatherette…weird contrast happening there and it sure does feel yucky on my shaved head. People with hair up yonder will not feel it, but those who keep two day stubble should know that fabric hats, beanies and velour type materials in headbands or earpads don’t mesh with short hair. You get a constant grinding sensation that is extremely unappealing; let’s stick with all leather next time, shall we?
If you find yourself interested in buying the headphone and end up with a similar distaste for the W1000z’s fit issues, try using a large rubber band to force the wire headband closer together. It will help with seal and comfort, lessening the likelihood of the pads poking the upper part of your neck just under your ears and leaving marks over that area. Gently pushing the wire framing above the flying wing system results in a proper seal and increased sound quality. It turns the headphone into something unrecognizable by comparison to just letting the headphone sit on your head normally and listening to it without pressure applied. Audio Technica really did a great job with the W1000z, but it is absolutely bottlenecked by this horrid wire frame headband that is improperly setup. If it doesn’t conform to your head, you won’t get a good seal. If you don’t get a good seal, the headphone sounds wonky. The only way to fix this is to get creative and find a way to apply a little more pressure and cause the upper end of the earcups to press against your noggin’ a little harder. The lower end of the pads don’t have that problem, so making the upper half press a little closer to the side of your head results in actually being able to hear what the headphone is capable of.
Page 2: Sound Impressions