I can’t remember a time actually that I have not had an ATH can in my house. Be it portable woodies, bass busting M50 or limited edition full size they keep popping up. ATH make a heck of a lot of headphones when you think about it.
Having checked their website recently it now seems they are going all out on a refresh of their ‘high fidelity’ range with their latest Z (closed) and X (open) versions of some of their long-standing headphones. We reviewed the woody ($649) W1000Z last year and now, in my hands, we have the closed A2000z which is priced at marginally lower MSRP of $649 making it one of their most expensive high-end headphones not including the W5000 and some one-off limited editions.
What Is The Pitch?
Art Monitor Refresh
The A2000Z is part of the overall Art Monitor series refresh started late last year and is the flagship of their new range of Z monikered headphones. The Z line now replaces the older X covering the 1000, 2000, 900 and 500 Art Monitor closed headphone range.
The A2000Z comes packed with a not-insubstantial 53mm driver similar to the older A2000X which ATH states are actually hand made rather than off the factory line and one of their best yet in terms of diaphragm control and response within a closed headphone design. Watch words such as ‘German Permendur’, ‘titanium’ and ‘OFC-7N bobbin-wound’ in terms of build materials all give off a certain premium vibe with the A2000z as well as build a measure of confidence that your $649 is going to be well-spent money for a closed headphone.
Pitching to the X Owners
For those who own the A2000X, the older version there are some physical improvements that may or may not be a persuading factor to upgrade. The ear pads on the A2000z are made of a material that is a bit more durable than the older X version. The A2000z also has a higher impedance of 44 ohms vs 42 ohms on the A2000x. Also, ATH has managed to reduce the weight of the new Z slightly from 298g down to 294g. The real tangible pitch for previous owners is whether or not the sound of the new Z is up to and beyond the original A2000X and does it do away with the piercing treble of the original. In a word, yes it does. Perhaps this will be temptation enough to upgrade.
The A2000Z is a full sized circumaural closed dynamic headphone and looks fairly similar in many respects to the older A2000X in terms of design and form factor. It is a fairly striking design with the deeply reflective titanium cups sporting a dash of brush stroked finishing and a subtle but noticeable contoured finish towards the edges and just underneath the headband. As with most ATH headphones, its subtle decal branding is dead central on the cups and finished in an off silver complimentary color. Interestingly ATH has dropped the Art Monitor logo from the decal that was previously on the A2000X cups and it now simply states A2000Z.
They feel remarkably light for their size also and it is likely one of the contributing factors in its generally lightweight design which comes in at almost 40g than similar sized designs such as the AKG K872 and almost 100g less than the DT1770.
Dual Entry, Non-Detachable
This is also a dual entry non-detachable cable form factor. It is increasingly rare for higher end headphones to have non-detachable cables so the A2000Z is becoming the exception rather than representing the norm. Even within ATH’s own line, at a premium and budget level, they do have detachable cable units such as the W3000ANV as well as the budget M50x.
At $649 I would have preferred to see a detachable build design given the 3m length of the cable and also to provide options for those that like to swap their cables at this level. It feels even more of a miss from ATH when you consider the A2000Z does not come with any sort of protective carrying pouch or case such as what Beyer provide with the DT1770. If you are going to carry this around with you will need to do so with some degree of care.
The rest of the A2000Z is made from a mix of lightweight metals and hard plastic including the very familiar 3-D wing system that has its fans and detractors alike. It is one of those enduring shapes that is so interwoven into ATH’s design philosophy and given the refresh has seen fit to hold onto this design it is unlikely that it will be consigned to the dustbin anytime soon. It is like marmite, you either love it or loathe it.
For those who enjoy the 3D wing system will remark on how comfortable it is, how lightweight the design is on the head and the pressure is just right. For others, it feels flimsy, lacking in well-distributed pressure and preventing the cups from getting a quality seal.
My experience has been a bit of both with ATH headphones. I found the W3000ANV, which was a heavier headphone to have so-so pressure retention on the top and too much downward pressure on the cups as a result. This resulted in a looser clamp than I would have liked and a lack of seal which took a little something away from its low-end response. With the A2000Z though the headphones are now much lighter and the 3D pressure feels well balanced. The cups have significantly more clamping sideways pressure than uncomfortable downwards pressure making this a more than comfortable and fairly secure fit.
The pads of the A2000Z are round rather than an oval shape so there is a touch of overlap on your ear but the foam inside is relatively pliant and easily forms a good seal around your ear. I believe the previous material from the A2000x was Clarino, which is a high-end man made leather made by Kuraray Co., Ltd in Japan.
From the briefing sheet, it is not clear to me if the A2000z has changed from Clarino or produced a higher grade quality of Clarino but in any event, the new pads are still very soft, very pliant and molds exceptionally well around your ear.
Passive isolation is good for such a large circumaural headphone. It is not quite on the same level as the Alpha Prime or LCD-XC which use much thicker lambskin leather pads but definitely on par with the DT1770. Sound leakage from the A2000z cups is next to zero also. The pads are also replaceable and not that cheap either but do take note that they are slightly angled pads due to the elevated baffle ridge to the rear of the cups.
You get a screw on matching quarter jack adapter to fit onto the gold-plated 3.5mm straight jack of the A2000z and, err, that is it. If you have never bought an ATH headphone before you might find that quite shocking actually for a $649 headphone but for ATH fans this is the norm.
An ATH retail headphone box amounts nothing more than clever origami induced fusion of plastic and cardboard regardless of premium or price. Budget pro headphones such as the M50x do get a soft synthetic leather pouch but it is only when you get to the $1200 W5000 do you get a rather lovely leather carrying case. The A2000x really could do with either a case or pouch given its lofty price point.
The A2000Z spits out a fantastically energetic yet spacious sound that stays resolutely clean, well controlled and with an excellent pace turn of pace. There is a definite mid-centric bias to the A2000z tuning that delivers a fun sounding emphasis on instrumental presence and clarity as well as a forward and engaging vocal presentation.
Right across the board though the A2000z doesn’t strike a particularly warm, or lush syrupy tone preferring instead to steer a natural to neutral (and in places somewhat bright) course yet somehow it still sounds musical and quite enjoyable, even on long listening sessions.
Any hint of awkward tuning on its upper-frequency response, the bane of the A2000X and a somewhat weird quirk of the W3000ANV is gone on the A2000z. It sparkles, perhaps conveying a more attacked minded focus that will give it a harder note than some other headphones but matched with a natural source or a tube amp it responds with a very dynamic and entertaining signature that does not lose control. It might lack just a little bit of liquid thickness that makes a perfect midrange but I can’t fault the energy and crunch it can produce with metal and hard rock.
Whilst the bass performance is somewhat more substantial sounding than the old AD2000 from a few years back it still would be classified as linear and full sounding rather than impactful and colored. It is probably at its most elevated around the 100Hz marker with a gentle roll off the further down you go though by no means could you classify the sub-bass extension as lacking, just not as dominant or as heavily textured as say the LCD-2 sub-bass response.
There is just enough elevation to give a nice sense of weight and authority to lower pitched instrumental notes from bass guitars, double bass strings, and electronica. Bass fundamentals are just on the right side of neutral in that respect. At the same time, the low-end performance feels tight, snappy and very well controlled with a very nice turn of pace for such as a big driver.
The calling card of the A2000z and the focal point of this headphones tonal presentation. It is lively, exciting and spacious sounding to boot. There is a definite onwards and upwards curve from circa 500Hz to around 2-3k on the A2000z midrange performance, pushing it forward and more in your face which gives it that energetic and vivid presentation.
Clarity & Separation
Despite this ‘verve’ instrumental separation is actually very good with very little detail lost when the pace picks up. Leading edge of the A2000z’s notes are though a touch harder and not quite as inviting sounding as the LCD-2 or the Alpha Prime nor do I find this a particularly rich or lush sounding midrange. Rather there is a clear emphasis on clarity and excitable pace than a relaxing or organic timbre. A such you won’t find any congestion or sluggishness in the midrange performance which makes this headphone ideal for some of my favorite hard hitting rock where rhythm and lead guitar work are fast and furious.
The Joy of Metal
A such you won’t find any congestion or sluggishness in the midrange performance which makes this headphone ideal for some of my favorite hard hitting rock where rhythm and lead guitar work are fast and furious. The faster it gets the more raucous and fun sounding the A2000z midrange seems to get.
Vocals on the A2000z are also suitably elevated in keeping with the rest of the midrange and despite their forward nature sibilance is kept well under control. However, male vocals have a slightly more natural and smoother presentation than higher pitched female vocals which tend to sound a touch brighter with a harder edge.
Treble on the A2000z is north of neutral, forward with plenty of sparkly but not as peaky and sharp sounding as the older A2000x which is clearly an area Audio Technica wanted to focus on as part of the product line refresh.
Extension & Air
Treble extension and air for a closed headphone are excellent, very impressed with this aspect of the A2000z and a major contributing factor to its tidy but spacious sound it is able to project overall.
Articulation is quite nimble, there is plenty of snap in the lower treble and upper midrange percussion performance and while the odd time I felt it get a little too hot on some already bright recordings overall it sounded controlled and impressively detailed.