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.

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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.

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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.

Audio Technica ESW11 LTD
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