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Mike Piskor 2015

The ATH-W1000z by Audio Technica

Sound Impressions

The Bass

Totally reliant and ruined by the lack of earpad seal, due again to that headband just not having a proper angle of approach.  The low end is weak, thin and lackluster but plenty clean.  This is a deception caused by that damn headband, the headphone actually sounds really great on the low end when you push the earcups inward a bit.  With proper seal comes a really fantastic, yummy bass that is noticeably warmer than sets like my Fostex TH600 and Sony Z7.  True, it isn’t the cleanest of the trio, but it is the most musical and I don’t really find it lacking quality per-say.  For the price, I would expect better of course, however it is still pretty good quality all around.  It is a relatively soft bass with a solid center, relaxed edges and very similar to most other higher end ATH headphones.  If you have used ATH’s W-series or the portable ESW-series, you will know exactly what the tone and texture feels and sounds like in the W1000z. What is actually being produced by the headphone when you push the cups towards your ears is actually highly enjoyable, but the second you let go and the cups retract to their normal positioning….ugh.  Thin, watery and looseness are terms that I use lightly here.  This headphone has good bass, but it is just out of reach. Naturally, it pains me greatly to be unable to fully experience it without forcing the headband to conform more to the shape of my head.  This problem is solved with a rubber band, so I am not sure if I can truly be justified in complaining about it.

With regard to texture and quantity, the low end experience of the W1000z pales to the cleanliness of the now cheaper Fostex TH600 and boarders on the same level of my Sony Z7.  While not at all liquid or pure like an Audeze or the Fostex’s tend to be, this W1000z is more like the Hifiman type of a bass, more of that subwoofer type of a thick bass with a focal point in the center that is solid, but also one that loses firmness around the edges.  There are clear differences between the texture type of this headphone and my Fostex TH600: where the TH600 is very pure and fast on the draw, the W1000z is more relaxed and broad.

The Mids

No doubt, this headphone shells out some fantastically well-formed vocals that are prominent, forward and lush.  Soothing is the only proper term I can think of to accurately explain it, this should not at all surprised you if you are familiar with Audio Technica’s higher end headphones and what they tend to sound like.  If any company is known for excellent midrange and yummy vocals, it is certainly Audio Technica.

There is certainly a touch of coloration and warmth that revolves around the entire midrange of this headphone, almost as if you were always listening to an older, vintage stereo system.  Despite using a tonally clinical amplifier, such as my Pathos Aurium, the W1000z refuses to let go of that memorable deepened huge of sun dipped coloration and balance, something very akin to an Audeze LCD3 when used with a Burson amplifier.  Again, this should not be a shock to anyone who knows Audio Technica headphones and what they pipe out, this really sounds like “Classic ATH” with regard to house sound.  What I am really enjoying most inside the midrange is how shapely and well formed the vocal experience is.  Without being overly shouty, the headphone serves up a solid sense of authority.  As most of my readers should be aware, I really dislike thin sound signature ala HD800, so naturally my ears are never not engaged to the fullest when listening to classical or jazz tracks with a slower to moderate pacing.  It is immensely obvious that Audio Technica has purposely tuned the W1000z in a manner that is befitting of a vocalists dream headphone, much like their famed and rare W3000ANV.

W3000ANV Comparison

While on the subject of the roughly $1400 used W3000ANV, it really doesn’t outshine this much cheaper W1000z much at all.  In fact, I would think most people would utterly fail blind A/B comparisons.  I think ATH really wanted the flavor and striking musicality to be copy and pasted into a new, cheaper housing.  The rarity of the older W3000ANV is the cause of the exceptionally high price tag; I really didn’t find it to be that much better than my $500 Fostex TH600.  This W1000z follows suit and offers up pretty much the same experience as the W3000ANV, so those who aren’t collectors and want a highly engaging midrange and a beautiful looking closed back woody are really left with only Audio Technica headphones…specifically the older and supremely expensive W3000ANV that sells out almost instantly when a for sale ad goes live.  Hell, I think it took me about 4 months of daily and furious F5 key page refreshing to insure I was the first to see a used W3000ANV go up for sale.

Thankfully, ATH really did a wonderful job of retaining that W3000ANV’s exceptional musicality and tuning.  A problem here is that Sony’s newer-ish Z7 only costs $450 or so these days and is superior in every way.  Fostex’s TH600 now sells for roughly the same price and used sets go for over a hundred dollars less than list prices, so you are essentially paying less than half the price of the ATH W1000z and receiving a superior headphone all around in those other two models.  Midrange enthusiasts will cringe at the TH600, but will adore the Z7 from Sony and really only be left with one choice out there in the Hifi market if they were specifically on the prowl for a wooden closed back: The ATH W1000z.

The Treble

Treble is the W1000z’s downfall, without a doubt.  It is fairly reserved and lacking that shimmering appeal the W3000ANV has in abundance.  I consider it fairly boring, but plenty clear for the price.  In fact, side by side with my HD700 from Sennheiser, as well as my Fostex TH600, the W1000z’s upper end is noticeably less hissy and cleaner.  Quantity is the problem here, not cleanliness.  There just isn’t enough treble to make me happy and I always feel like I want more out of it when I listen to screaming guitar tracks and a few key favorite vocal tracks that I enjoy most.  Shimmering treble would make this headphone a lot more interesting and memorable, but it seems Audio Technica has taken the safe route and harbored a reserve quantity approach to the upper end, I’m not sure I am okay with this.  It lacks engaging qualities and is noticeably less appealing than their portable ESW11JPN in this area.  Violins, guitars and even bullet’s whizzing by in gaming really aren’t nearly as enjoyable as the less clear, but more prominent treble of the Sony 950BT, Focal Spirit line and even the Fostex TH600.  Hell, even the Sony Z7 has more brightness to it that allows a stronger sense of a top end.  This W1000z is also less interesting than the W3000ANV, which to my ears has a fair bit more treble and a potential for a shimmering, glittering and lustrous treble effect when the track calls for it.  This is really noticeable with cymbals and high hats, but especially annoying when someone hits a harmonic note on a guitar.  Lacking engaging qualities for sure, but still plenty clean.  Those sensitive to treble and want that more relaxed tonality will enjoy this headphone.

Staging

I enjoy the stage experience on the W1000z more than the TH600 from Fostex, which was annoyingly recessed in the midrange and lacking a good sense of width.   Those flaws are not present in the W1000z, you get a strong sense of width that is very similar to the HD700 from Sennheiser, the older ATH 3000ANV and similar headphones with more width presence than height.  Depth of field is just acceptable, as I’ve found that some sets from Focal and even the Sony Z7 have noticeably superior realism and stage depth prowess.  With that in mind, the W1000z retains a better sense of separation and effortlessness.  Congested sound might be felt in the other sets I’ve mentioned, but the W1000z is the least closed in feeling of the bunch that I was able to compare against.

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Final Thoughts

Overall, the headphone is in a state of disarray with regard to design.  Audio Technica just refuses to update their designs to reflect something most people would consider comfortable.  Why?  I have no idea.  You’d think they would sell more if everyone knew their products on the upper end of the market had great fit.  The angle of approach to the earcups and the headband is just awful beyond words and after 4 sets of headphones from their lineup in previous years that had so many complaints, they’ve still not learned their lesson.  This might make a lot of sense, since you don’t see Audio Technica reps on Head Fi, Reddit or similar websites with strong audio communities.  It appears like they just design the product and never read a single review of it afterwards.

Thankfully, Audio Technica gets musicality and offers a wonderfully yummy and satisfying experience top to bottom, but that design has to go.  Let’s scale up the ESW series headphones instead and discontinue the atrocious flying wing and huge headband brace in the W-series.  MrSpeakers made a thin wire frame over their new Ether, I hope ATH adopts something similar.  There is no need for such a bulky headphone that also has giant earcups like this, but thankfully they are indeed gorgeous beyond reason.

The W1000z is a headphone for people with a woody fetish, as well as someone who might want a lot more coloration and musicality over the Fostex TH600 and similar headphones.  Right now, I cannot think of a single other closed back headphone sub $800 that sounds this tasty other than the Focal Classic.  But, if Audio Technica wants to stay alive in the Hifi Market, they need to take a step back and rethink some things.  Right now, the cheaper Sony Z7 sounds superior everywhere but with regard to stage width, true it isn’t a woody, but the price cannot reflect such a high tag simply because it is a woody.  I realize that makes little sense, due to Lawton’s cups costing $500-700 a set, but consider the prices of the Sony Z7 and the used TH600 at $375 or so and it becomes hard to justify a price tag of $699 for this W1000z…a headphone with some serious design flaws as well.

Is it a good headphone?  Absolutely.  Is it worth that price tag?  No.  This headphone does not offer $700 quality.  That, combined with the idea that it is in serious need of a redesign only make it that much more painful to know that the headphone sounds so delicious.  Think cheaper Audeze LCD2 with a much better sound stage and a bass experience more like Hifiman’s, but run through a very warm tube amp.  Almost seems like a headphone everyone wants and I would consider it very unique in tone and texture setup.  If you are dead set on a warm and highly musical woody closed back, it is either this W1000z at $699, the rare W3000ANV at $1500 or the Fostex TH600 with custom woodies at around $1200 total.  Seems like a no brainer to me, the W1000z looks like the overall value winner here.  I’ve wanted a full size set that sounds like the ESW11JPN for years.  So far, this is the only really musical and fun closed back full size headphone I’ve ever heard above $500.  So with that, it might deserve respect at that price point for being so unique and offering such a memorable listening experience in tone and midrange appeal.

Big thank you to Frank over at ATH HQ here in Ohio for helping me obtain this W1000z for review!  I appreciate it, you rock!

Price: $699.99

Linkshttp://www.audio-technica.com/cms/headphones/6664e5258c491bd1/index.html

Technical Specifications

Type      Closed-back Dynamic

Driver Diameter              53 mm

Voice Coil            OFC-6N

Frequency Response     5 – 42,000 Hz

Maximum Input Power 2,000 mW

Sensitivity           101 dB/mW

Impedance         43 ohms

Weight 320 g

Cable     3.0 m (dual-sided), 4-core parallel cable/OFC6N + OFC/Elastomer sheath

Connector           6.3 mm (1/4″) gold-plated plug with wooden sleeve

 

 

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