Our review today is a look back at the Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 launched in 2019 and still the company’s flagship open-back headphones priced at $1999.
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Audio-Technica is a company that is well known for its turntables, microphones, and headphones, which in turn has gained them a fanbase from the different corners of the audiophile world. This has earned them the respect of 2 channel speaker enthusiasts and headphone enthusiasts alike.
Positioned to compete in the flagship category, the release of the ATH-ADX5000 meant that the Japanese manufacturer decided that in 2019 it would raise the stakes and challenge the headphone market with its best open-back design.
Still available on their website for purchase, this might be the understated reference headphone to get.
Look towards either side of the ATH-ADX5000 and you will be greeted by its 58mm driver utilizing an integrated unit driver design combining into a single unit the diaphragm, voice coil, baffle, and magnet to reduce unwanted vibration.
The diaphragm has been Tungsten-coated increasing rigidity while also improving its transient response.
Introduced together with the ATH-ADX5000, their new Core Mount Technology (CMT) according to Audio-Technica makes for a more transparent mid to high frequency while delivering a rich and precise bass by allowing headphones to have improved airflow.
At first glance, you might be forgiven for mistaking the ATH-ADX5000 for some of the lower-priced open-back releases of Audio-Technica like the AD2000X or even the much cheaper R70X with only the 3D Wing Support Housing being the main difference.
However, the design philosophy has been incrementally refined and elevated to create a more premium experience with higher-tier items.
What separates the ATH-ADX5000 is its use of Alcantara material in the headband and earpads incorporating magnesium in the frame instead of plastic which contributes to a sturdier feel. The honeycomb-punched housing is also updated for improved airflow leaving the drivers more exposed revealing the laser-etched serial number.
The earcups incorporate their proprietary A2DC connector and are designed with a swivel in both axes with a limit to a few degrees. The extension mechanism has a satisfying 3mm increments of 11 clicks leaving room for adjustment to most head sizes.
Comfort & Isolation
While it is generally accepted in electronics that the more expensive an item gets also means a denser and weightier device, the same cannot be said about headphones which are typically designed to be worn over the head for a couple of hours at a time.
Coming in at just 270g, the ATH-ADX5000 has a lightweight and simple chassis to accommodate those who might be susceptible to neck pain.
Thanks to the headphone’s featherweight construction and firm clamping force, the headband has only a modest amount of dense padding with no specific pressure point worth noting. Although after several hours a hotspot may develop directly where the headband touches the head.
There won’t be any problem fitting these headphones even with the restricted swivel as the dimensions of the headband and earcup extension leaves generous room for most users.
The inside of the earpads has a large diameter but its shallower depth may cause your ears to slightly graze the mesh protecting the inside of the drivers.
It is worth mentioning that the earpads are user-replaceable but the stock pads should last a while as Alcantara is known for its durability, although it may cause some discomfort in hot weather.
The ATH-ADX5000 comes with a stock cable that is 3 meters long and made of 6NOFC cable terminated in a 6.3mm input plug and their proprietary A2DC pins for the headphone connection.
Sheathed in a black braided sleeve, the cable is quite easy to handle with zero memory retention once you unroll it, it does not tangle easily. The split of the left and right cables meets just above the waist allowing for greater capacity to move around without pulling the whole cable.
The housing of the 6.3mm SE plug is handsomely built and made from machined stainless steel marked with the company’s logo instead of using off-the-shelf materials.
Designed for audio, the A2DC pins used to connect the cable to the headphones are housed in a short barrel with knurling for grip. In contrast to the gentle snap when pushing in, pulling the cable out requires a firm hold to release.
Packaging & Accessories
The ATH-ADX5000 comes in a huge box wrapped with a bold print of the headphones giving you a taste of what’s inside. Opening the box, there is a specially designed hard carrying case containing the headphones and the 3m detachable cable terminated in a 6.3mm plug.
While not the usual attraction when purchasing headphones, Audio-Technica went the extra mile to provide a luxurious-looking hard carry case that looks like a small briefcase that takes its visual cues from classic ones from wall street.
Outside it is wrapped in faux leather with 4 feet and a solid feeling handle, with the inside lined in silk-like material.
At this price point, I would have wanted to see Audio-Technica send the ATH-ADX5000 over with a spare cable terminated with a balanced connection. With the A2DC connection, I believe it would be a bit difficult to find aftermarket cables for it.
Having a slight elevation in the bass compliments the brighter tuning of these cans giving the lower register its well-deserved attention. The driver is capable of revealing the character and edges in the rendering of the bass making full use of its wide frequency range.
Drums and bass notes are well placed hitting with authority and accurately dispersed without losing fidelity. Notably, slam is sufficiently behaved to bring emphasis when called for and coolness on calmer tracks.
With busier passages, the control and tightness of the bass never smears and remain composed.
Audio-Technica tuned the midrange of these cans well with life-like resemblance and uncolored quality making this ideal for live recordings.
An honest presentation of the vocals reveals the full characteristic of singers with raspy and distinct voices without sounding rough or artificial. Clarity is excellent making even the faintest of sounds easily audible and understandable giving a satisfying listen when playing vocal-heavy tracks.
Putting on fast-paced piano melodies, the driver stays composed and gives an organic and natural tone which is quite difficult to do even with other popular headphones today. The plucking of the guitar sounds a bit thin but delivers the notes intact.
Unapologetically bright sounding, the ATH-ADX5000 manages to push great amounts of high-frequency information while precisely coming short of sibilance. Trumpets and saxophones have a dispersed performance fully giving each note room to breathe instead of a localized attack which can cause harshness and fatigue.
Getting into live recordings, these cans reproduced the band and the audience’s claps with striking realism. Although the revealing quality of these cans makes the shortcomings of poor recordings obvious, which may turn off attentive listeners.
As a company well-known for its studio-grade products, Audio-Technica unsurprisingly did not engineer the ATH-ADX5000 to sound artificially wide or too intimate even if it was meant for audiophiles rather than professionals.
Instead, they veered towards the middle ground providing an airy and well-defined space when listening to a studio and live recorded song.
Instruments and vocals are carefully placed with intent and will never seem like inside your head. There is also evenness in the presentation helping with immersion when listening while focused on something else.
Full control of the drivers is obvious even with busy tracks. Layering is one of the key places where the ATH-ADX5000 excels, which means that it can be like a microscope for music when called to do so giving it an edge over similarly wide cans that tackle soundstage by simply pushing away the image.
High impedance headphones are usually rated at 300 or 600 ohms, making the ATH-ADX5000 an outlier having an impedance of 420Ω.
With Matrix Audio’s Mini-i Pro 3 comfortable listening level will be around -26dB making it a more power-hungry pair of headphones is recommended for those that have a dedicated amplifier as most planars will get loud at -28dB and efficient dynamic drivers already screaming at a comparatively low volume of -35dB to -30dB.
Switching over to the Cayin HA-1A MK2 these cans only use 20-30% of the volume knob setting the user-adjustable output impedance to 300 ohms. For more headroom, it is possible to adjust the output impedance down to 32Ω.
With transparency to reveal its source, jumping from the Mini-i Pro 3 to Chord Qutest translates to a more animated sound giving a stronger quality to the image. With the Qutest the perceived splash and sparkle of the ATH-ADX5000’s treble became less edgy while keeping the vibrance in the top end.
Treble sensitive or just curious listeners should experiment and pair these headphones with different amplifiers since it is sensitive to changes between solid-state and tubes.
Op-amp rolling with the Burson Funk is also available with the basic NE5532 tending to lose energy in the high frequency while upgrading to V6 Classic brings back the treble with slightly less shimmer than the mini-i Pro 3.
For a pure solid-state setup, I find the Qutest and Burson Funk with V6 Classic installed to be more elegant giving the ATH-ADX5000 all the power and detail it needs plus the additional flexibility in altering the sound using the Qutest filters.
Running the ATH-ADX5000 on tubes is a different ball game with its 420Ωdrivers reacting well to the Cayin HA-1A MK2. Here, one can forget the original intention of the ATH-ADX5000 and just start listening to the now more relaxed bass with fuller mids and smoother treble coming up with a pleasant signature of less attack.
Focal Clear MG
The Focal Clear MG is the direct upgrade and replacement of the original Clear. Similar to ATH-ADX5000 the Clear MG driver is coated with a rare metal but instead of tungsten, magnesium has been used to improve dynamics and detail retrieval.
At only 55Ω and with a sensitivity of 104dB/mW, it is technically possible to run the Clear MG with a smartphone making it easier to drive and pair as it does not require an amplifier.
These chestnut-colored headphones have a sturdier and more luxurious appearance incorporating the use of leather and microfiber plus a striking earcup design easily identifiable as Focal.
It also features a spring-loaded mechanism in its earcups so they always go back to their normal position though continuous wearing gives a slight pressure in the jaw area.
Both the earpads and headband of the Clear MG are padded helping distribute the 450g build albeit relying more on the headband to keep it in place. Overall, the ATH-ADX5000 is more comfortable with its lighter construction and firm clamp.
Clear MG owners get an additional 3m 4-pin XLR cable aside from the shorter 1.2m single-ended cable. Compared to the solitary cable supplied with the ATH-ADX5000, Focal’s cables feel bouncy and not as elegant.
Geared towards a more casual audiophile the warmer sounding bass and physicality, the Clear MG has more get up and go.
The midrange sounding fuller gives male vocals an excellent body. Although there is a noticeable recession of the mids making the overall presentation a bit uneven and unnatural.
High frequencies are darker and less airy although detail retrieval and resolution are comparable, only lacking a hint of microdetails that can be easily found with the ATH-ADX5000. Adding to this, horns and young female singers are less shouty making it more forgiving in poorly recorded tracks.
Leaning towards intimacy in staging, the Focals provide exacting placement of instruments compared to the more natural interpretation of the ATH-ADX5000.
Audeze LCD-X (2020 Creator Package)
Released in 2013 the LCD-X utilizes planar magnetic transducers using their proprietary magnet array and Fazor waveguides to come up with a reference headphone targeted to music producers and engineers.
Constructed differently than traditional dynamic drivers, the LCD line has been continuously improved thanks to Audeze’s iterative upgrades throughout the years hence the 2020 version.
With a frequency response of 10Hz-50kHz, LCD-X rivals the impressively wide 5Hz-50kHz frequency response of the ATH-ADX5000.
And typical of planar magnetics, its impedance is low at only 20 ohms but has been measured at a lower sensitivity of 103dB/mW which seems to be a trend in popular planar cans like the Hifiman Ananda putting them in the more efficient category.
Primarily designed for studio use, Audeze skipped the wood ring it typically uses with the earcups featured in other LCDs watering down the frills on first impressions. Aside from the beefier construction of LCD-X, there is no remarkable difference between the two.
Putting the headphones on, the steel extension rods in the LCD-X takes a more considerable amount of effort in adjusting to the right fit making it a conscious activity rather than something that can be set instantly.
The spring steel headband with a leather suspension strap graciously supports its 612g body but with a lighter clamp, slight movements can already shift it around and will soon introduce neck strain around the 2nd or 3rd hour of continuous listening.
Where the Audeze did not skimp is the quality of the cable even though only one is supplied with the Creator Package. The shiny 4-core braided cable more commonly seen in IEMs is very flexible and at a shorter 1.9m is also less intrusive in a desk setup.
Audeze claims these are their most popular headphones. Positioned in a much more attainable price category these seem to be the best middle ground in Audeze’s lineup.
Both having well-extended bass, the LCD-X has a weightier presentation with great placement accuracy. With metal drums, it maintains a thicker profile slightly touching the tonality compared to the more truthful twanging character in the ATH-ADX5000.
There is a slight emphasis on the mids which upon close comparison unveils a peculiar tonality mostly obvious with female singers. With a maintained vocal note, both headphones revealed the character and areas of shakiness from the singer.
Designed for pro use, the LCD-X has a more intimate soundstage for added control in imaging presentation. The detail retrieval is impressive in these fully unfolding difficult tracks, with less transparency versus the ATH-ADX5000.
Performing well in the sound department the only aspect where the ATH-ADX5000 didn’t shine is in design trailing behind most of its competitors
Paired with the right source these can be a great all-rounder offering flexibility in tuning allowing it to appeal to those who demand perfect objectivity, and those who may want to have a more engaging listen. This is mainly because of the more resolving and well-behaved nature of the treble, which is always a treat to listen to.
The engineering team of Audio-Technica was able to showcase its years of experience giving a tasteful balance of technical ability and enjoyability with its most premium offering, the ATH-ADX5000.
Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 Specifications
- Type: Open-Back Dynamic
- Driver Diameter: 58 mm
- Frequency Response: 5-50,000Hz
- Maximum Input Power: 1,000 mW
- Sensitivity: 100dB/mW
- Impedance: 420 ohms
- Weight: 270 g