For the casual user, bass head and perhaps even the odd audiophile or two the A5-Pro may sound surprisingly controlled and somewhat polite especially with the bass response. Granted a headphone labeled for DJs does invoke the stereotypical response that it should have killer bass chops and to some extent it does but the overall tonality is not biased in favor thumping bass. As a trance producer though, and something which Armin is known for, the A5-Pro actually seems to be in the right ballpark for studio work and mixing trance in a DJ booth.
I would not term the A5-Pro as accurate as in analytical, it has some specific points of emphasis that I believe make it excellent for mixing. Tonally it is relatively dark to neutral but it carries a very spacious and deep soundstage signature.
There is a slight roll-off in the sub-bass with a mid-bass hump sitting around 60-200hz, then a slight drop back that remains steady throughout the lower midrange before a slight emphasis on the vocal range then dropping sharply from around 2-4k.
The treble from there starts getting more than a little playful with a little jump from 4-7k and another peak from 8-10k. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a headphone tuned for balanced audiophile-level accuracy but neither is it a disjointed mess. The tuning is really designed to play to the strengths of trance and pick out specific areas that require a little more attention than others.
As in all DJ cans, people look to the bass to see what style or gain levels it will throw out. Unlike the M50 and the TMA-1, the bass on the A5-Pro doesn’t push as much air nor is it as impactful, especially in the sub-bass. It’s much more controlled but with a bit more drop off in the sub-bass that you might expect.
That’s just fine actually for trance and the rather rapid BPM sequencing required at production and mixing levels. You need to pick that tempo out very accurately and you need a very precise and tight bass response that will target that range.
I believe the A5-Pro actually does that very well indeed but those coming from a hip-hop or dub background looking for a fatter, thicker and deeper sub-bass response simply won’t get it with the A5-Pro. That kind of bass response might be better in the hands of the TMA-1 or the M100 which has a far more intense and deeper sub-bass response.
The A5-Pro is all about speed and the kick. You need to pick out that 16 note bassline and a slow heavy and deep bass response will make things harder as well as detract from the rest of the range. Trance needs a lot of room beyond the bass response, often much more than dub or rap. A deep wet bass or a sluggish bass is going to make mixing a nightmare for trance.
From a purely audiophile-level although the sub-bass is lacking the bass quality itself is excellent. Tight but polite, distortion-free with very good clarity and above-average detail. It’s got a hint of warmth to it but nothing overcooked.
What I most like is how it can handle super fast, tight and articulate basslines and instrumental layers such as the first 2 minutes of Neurotrance Adventures by Jam and Spoon. That is a heck of a fast mid bass line with a lot of atmospheric treble layering, snappy percussion and the now all too familiar ethereal female vocal riding a really long synth reverb. You can pick out just about every aspect of this track with the A5-Pro – that is what it was built for and blows the TMA-1 and M50 out of the water for me quality-wise.
Unlike the M50 and the TMA-1, the A5-pro delivers a very open and uncongested midrange with a slight emphasis on the vocal presence around 1-2k. There is nothing v-shaped about the A5-pro and once again Philips with Armin has wisely chosen to ensure that the vocal range remains free and slightly above the mix, which for trance and those sublime female ethereal vocals is a must.
There is a slight drop in the lower midrange but nothing that overly detracts and if anything it serves to focus a bit more on the slightly more forward vocal presence. Vocals are smooth, sibilant free with perhaps female vocals sounding a touch more engaging than male vocals. Female trance type vocal layers, those that are ethereal in nature, or simply heavy reverb vocals that move in and out sound focused and clear.
Lower treble on the A5-pro is dialed back ever so slightly in favor of a more forward and brighter upper treble response. There is enough emphasis though in the lower treble response to prevent it sounding flat, dull or disjointed and percussion work is distinguishable rather than veiled.
Treble resolution is excellent and airy, surprisingly so for a closed headphone and unlike the TMA-1 it is no way attenuated or rolled off. Articulation is above average on the A5-pro treble performance. Tracks like Jam & Spoon’s “I saw the Future” really are tailor-made for the A5-Pro with its delicate but precise percussion work, deep soundstage and demanding imaging. The A5-Pro missed nothing, displaying impressive clarity, speed, and detail.
Now switching hats to audiophilia and moving to more conventional rock that A5-Pro’s trance appropriate treble performance might actually come across as a little bright or hot. Alien’s AOR’s synth-laden “Unbroken” actually came across as a bit thin in many respects, so whilst the detail was just right it didn’t feel totally natural or flowing with that upper treble emphasis.
To be fair though I am not sure how much AOR Armin throws into his mixes these days but it does go to show where the tuning of the A5-Pro performs and where it may not. For everyday audiophile long listening sessions, it’s listenable and much cleaner and resolving than the TMA-1 but I personally would go with the Oppo PM-3 as the better all-rounder for rock.
Easy to Drive
This is a 16ohm headphone with a sensitivity rating of 106db, it’s an impressively easy headphone to drive out of just about any portable or small portable amping setup. From my trust BB Passport, to the DX90, Paw Gold and AK120 strapped onto the Glove A1 there were zero issues driving the A5-Pro.
I didn’t even need the max on the BB Passport volume-wise which surprised me greatly. I could get comfortably was 8 or 9/10 on the Passport. Neither did it sound recessed, tinny or thinned out on the Passport. If you have a decently powered Smartphone with a good software music player then you can plug that A5-Pro right in and play just fine.
Out of all the mid-range DAP’s perhaps my favorite out of the jack experience was with the FiiO X5 gen 2 even over the DX90. Just something about the mid-section when paired with the X5ii seemed more convincing than the DX90 which felt a touch more recessed and lacking in sparkle by comparison.
Amping bore fruit also with the masterful Bakoon HPA-01M voltage signal adding significant body and weight to the bass response and upping the dynamics significantly. However at 16oms there was still a bit of channel imbalance at low volume levels with the A5-Pro to be quite the perfect fit for casual listeners. The Bakoon really does not suit sensitive or low impedance setups at low levels but once cranked it’s a beastly combo.
A bit lower on the budget scale the A5-Pro sounded pretty good also out of the O2 though power wise I had a lot less to play with the pairing topping out at around 9am on the pot in terms of comfortable listening when paired with the FiiO X5ii on line out.
The X5ii paired with the HA-2 from Oppo and the A5-Pro was a notch up on the 02 with a superior treble performance, a touch more energy and a lot more play on the volume pot. The Bass boost option on the HA-2 was perhaps a bit of overkill using the A5-Pro, it had more of a thud but lost a little clarity in the process so I would advise keeping that switched off if pairing with the A5-Pro.
Comparisons (DJ/Studio Cans)
TMA-1 vs A5-Pro
The TMA-1 is a smaller, lighter on-ear headphone that is constructed from durable and highly pliant plastics and rubbers. It has a single socket left cup entry with a similar coiled cable though with smaller 40mm drivers than the A5-Pro’s larger 50 mm drivers.
The TMA-1 does not fold flat though like the A5-Pro which when folded is the smaller form factor though much heavier in comparison with its metal construct. The clamping on the A5-Pro is much tighter than the TMA-1 and more suited to DJ use whereas the TMA-1 is more casual user-friendly in that respect and could be considered slightly comfier in the long run. Both have detachable pads and Aiaiai also has a series of pads that can fit onto the TMA-1 that can change the sound signature significantly. My go-to pads on the TMA-1 are the protein leather on-ear pads for the mix of comfort and audio signature.
The TMA-1 tonally is far more intimate and darker than the A5-pro with a smaller soundstage and more of a dance club sound than the more spacious and arena-like A5-Pro soundstage. Bass is more forward, thicker and with more body than the A5-pro but a bit slower with a slightly longer decay than the A5-pro’s bass response. The TMA-1 is more suited to deeper harder hitting bass EDM with a slightly slower BPM and with less emphasis on vocal presence and top-end articulation. Resolution, speed and detail favor the A5-Pro which has superior layering, an airier and cleaner midrange and treble response that really trounces the TMA-1.
From an audiophile perspective the A5-Pro is the superior headphone, more balanced, detailed and cleaner. However, as DJ headphones, the TMA-1 is not a trance DJ headphones delight nor is it totally suitable for studio monitoring. Pair this in a DJ booth with say Chicago House, Deep House or French House and it’s a very suitable choice indeed for a slightly slower but impactful bass response.
TMA-1 Studio vs A5-Pro
The Studio Edition of the TMA-1 is an altogether different beast though it does look physically similar in many respects. It is made of the same rubber and plastics materials and is equally as pliant and light as the TMA-1 stock edition.
It also sports a similar coiled cable and cloth pouch as the TMA-1 but this time with a right-angled 3.5mm jack and a quarter jack converter. For decks with top sockets, the right angle might actually be a minor advantage over both the TMA-1 and A5-Pro; smaller height means less protrusion and obstacles when working those decks and mixing. That A5-pro jack is rather huge in comparison.
The other big physical feature of the Studio edition are the larger cups designed for over the ear instead of on-ear for studio monitoring. They do have a superior fit and isolation over the TMA-1, about par with the A5-Pro and a lot comfier for extended use than either.
The Studio got a little bit of unfair criticism when it first came out from those expecting a bigger and heavier TMA-1. This was not the case with the Studio instead going for much flatter and neutral reference like signature and moving away from the darker bass tuning of the TMA-1.
In contrast, the A5-Pro, though relatively neutral also, has a much more prominent midbass response, a cleaner vocal presence and a heck of lot more air and depth to the soundstage than the Studio. Imaging and separation on the Studio is definitely a step up on the TMA-1 with a cleaner midrange and much better treble clarity.
The resolution and detail of the A5-Pro though are on another level comparatively speaking. Vocals are more forward, smoother and with less grain and better texture. Treble is also more forward, articulate, sparkling. You simply get a much better sense of energy with the A5-Pro than the Studio.
The HD25-1 II and the ATH M50 are well known with regard to DJ’ing and both are now competitively priced with the HD25-1 II starting at around $199 and the M50 even cheaper at $100-150 with their X version with detachable cables coming in slightly more expensive but still sub $200.
The HD-25-1 II is still a very popular DJ’ing headphone with a very solid build quality, split positioning headbands to lock securely on just about any head and an on earpad design. Its sound signature for me though on an audiophile-level has always been a bit too strident and hot with the treble and the original steel cable is best overhauled with the HD650 cable mod and it sounds a bit rough for my liking.
Compared to the A5-Pro stock the soundstage is a bit smaller but it kicks like a mule compared to the A5-Pro. I preferred the treble of the A5-Pro to the tizzy HD25-1 II but I can see a lot of people preferring the old-timer over the newcomer for the bass kick alone.
The M50 is a neutral headphone that does bass really well, one of the best bass performers in that range bar none. It suffers from a congested midrange in comparison to the AS5-Pro though both treble performances have plenty of reach and sparkle. If you are after strong vocal work such as you would find in trance the M50 comes off second to the A5-Pro but again this is an excellent headphone, even more so now it has had the X overhaul and the detachable cable.
I have been quietly impressed with the A5-Pro as I progressed with this review. Understanding its nature and why Armin worked with it is vitally important in terms of how it is tuned. It is an out and out DJ headphone with enough sensibilities to make it more flexible with other genres outside of trance and more so than the Aiaiai incarnations and the ATH M50. B
ut more than that it is a headphone that really tries to play to the strengths of Trance; fast BPM and mid-bass bias, a big sound stage for a closed headphone, ethereal vocals and detailed treble resolution are just some of those strengths. Bass heads and those DJ’s looking to work with fatter deeper bass responses will not find the A5-Pro to their taste. It does not push a huge amount of air nor will it slam above all other frequencies. It is a controlled headphone in that respect.
As an audiophile, the clamping pressure and all-round weight of the headphones might be off-putting. I get that and I can’t say the A5-Pro would be my top choice for long term laid back listening pleasure. However, for the DJ the A5-Pro is built like a tank, folds up real nice for carrying around and has a good level of longevity at last for a Philips headphone with those replaceable pads.
The price will be an issue for some. The Aiaiai TMA-1 series, the Sennheiser HD-25-1 II and the ATH M50X all retail for significantly less in some areas of the world and Philips pricing is always more competitive closer to Europe than the US or abroad. However, I do think Philips are laying a lot more premium on the table than some of the competitors if the sound matches your tastes or pro needs so in that respect I actually think the A5-Pro is up there with the X series as one of my favorite incarnations yet of the recent quality Philips headphone push.