Michael Piskor 2014

The ESW9-LTD Headphone by Audio Technica

The Sound

Before getting into the ESW9-LTDs sound, I have to address the presentation types of all the other former models prior:

The original ESW9 – Lush midrange with a thick, weighted sound, recessed treble, intermediate bass quality and quantity for the price range, a pure bass type that doesn’t extend deep or far and something those who enjoy bass will be reaching out to EQ as much as possible on the low end, but of course at the cost of sacrificing quality, average staging properties that are nothing to write home about.

The ESW10JPN – Thinner, but more clean midrange, no lushness, just pure sounding, improved treble but artificial and snappy, more bass but at the cost of quality control ( I felt the ESW9 had more bass quality ), generally the same in staging.

The ESW11JPN – Quite a step up from the ESW10JPN in clarity across the board, but most notably in sound staging which was very improved. Much nicer bass quantity and quality that fills out the lower end, again with a thicker and more lush appeal similar to the ESW9, only better, brighter treble that doesn’t seem as thin, but still not great.

The new ESW9-LTD is basically an improved ESW10JPN, they are near identical in setup but the overall clarity is actually a bit better than the ESW11JPN to my ears on the treble and upper midrange.
No doubt that the new 9-LTD is a vast improvement over the original in every way and it actually bests the 11JPN in staging qualities: separation, height and width are actually noticeably better.

ESW9-LTD Detailed

If you are into Vocals, this is a good on ear headphone but once again know that there are a few other portables ( all be it none are on ears ) that best the ESW9-LTD in clarity. That new, much cheaper Sony XB950BT is more clear everywhere except the bass, which is only a tiny bit superior to the Sony’s low end in raw purity…but far less responsive and adaptive than the Sony as well. The ESW9-LTD’s low end offers the very early stages of bass-moderate quantity and it is something I find myself forever wanting more of, but never able to acquire. This headphone is right out of the bass-light home field and one the first step into moderate quantity, yet it is also not at all responsive to EQ on the low end. A small +3dB boost on the low end threw this headphone off balance and there wasn’t much of a quantity difference that was audible from +3db all the way to +10dB (this means the headphone is unresponsiveness despite it’s boasts of a 5-40hz frequency response) and I would have expected much more quantity with low levels like this. From a clarity point of view, it is just fine and nothing is wrong with it at all. If you like that balanced sound between treble and the low end, this is a good pick for you because the midrange pops a lot, yet the upper and lower ends play ball on the same court so to speak and behind the midrange.


Mids and Treble

This headphone is the very opposite of U-shape, very forward and prominent midrange with a fantastic realism factor for this type of headphone, probably the most inviting and yummy vocal experience behind its big brother the ESW11JPN that I am aware of. Choose wisely though, because the 11JPN has a lush sound signature with a thick appeal, the ESW9-LTD and the ESW10JPN have a more pure, thin approach to the texture of their mids.

The upper midrange is the most impressive features of this 9-LTD and it performed in the most weird fashion that I’ve really ever come across. This is a spacious sounding headphone, perhaps much more so that I’d originally thought it would be and that factor of good staging properties is generated and fueled by the excellent and airy upper midrange. Uncommonly light and spacious, as well as uncharacteristically so with regard to how the rest of the series of ESW headphones portray the mids and lowest most reaches of the treble. Vocals have a tendency to come off effortlessly, almost too bright for comfort but in a good way. What bugs me terribly is that the treble is extremely artificial and lacking substance. The upper mids and entire treble experience carries very little weight and it feels thin, void of life. However, it is not unclear nor is it harsh in the mids, in fact quite the opposite. The appeal of the upper mids are brighter than the rest of the ESW series headphones, all be it with a lacking sense of that solidity I am so fond of in certain other headphones.

I find this lack of substance immensely irritating and something I am simply unable to listen to now. Sony spoiled me and opened my eyes to the fact that a $99 headphone can in fact have that solidity and type of tonality that more expensive headphones have. If you have heard the Sennheiser HD800 along with the Audeze LCD3, side by side you should be able to quickly realize that the Sennheiser HD800 is thinner sounding, lacking that solid feel and weight to the entire spectrum, where as the Audeze sounds more realistic in presentation weight factor and everything simply carries a more solid, dense appeal.

The ESW9-LTD is more like the texture of the Sennheiser’s, but with an Audeze flavor to the coloration. The texturing is in need of starch added to the ingredients to make the sound more vibrant, lush and wild. I consider the tone and texture of the 9-LTD immensely boring, overly pure and most importantly far too contrasting in that lack of solidity compared to the musical type of tone the headphone puts out as well. Musical and colored sound does not mix well with a thinner, lifeless physical body in the sound signature. This would have been an excellent headphone if Audio Technica replicated the ESW11JPN instead of the ESW10JPN, with a thicker and lush presentation I would think the headphone would go over much more with the audiophile community. Right now, I just don’t get how anyone can be satisfied with a $400 headphone that sounds less lush than its original counterpart from many years ago. The ESW10JPN became a collector’s item, hardly anyone I know of actually sought it out for its purist appeal in texture, so I am unsure how to rate this ESW9-LTD.

The headphone also performs poorly for pinpoint accuracy needs via gaming, lacking the oomph needed to really satisfy the gut when explosions are going off left and right, your friends body parts are flying apart and into your screen lack conviction and that physical slam effect needed when you lob a grenade into someone’s face is overly lacking. From a multimedia viewpoint, the headphone would be well suited for most applications and genres, but I have trouble using the headphone for more than a few minutes at a time due to the poor ear pad comfort I have, which is something that isn’t a universal thing, some have issues and some to do not.

Frankly, I’ve found the ESW9-LTD to be very useful once I got past the earlobe bruises, after that point things became fairly nice when it came to selection of certain tracks in my playlist’s. Due to the excellent forward midrange that combines a pure approach with a more musical appeal to tone, the headphone is certainly a very nicely well rounded headphone. Spaciousness plays nicely with the classical venues and movie experience, although the less than stellar treble has issues with engaging qualities.

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