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    Josh Mound

    Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 Review



    We live in an age of audiophiledom where, thanks to a proliferation of online reviewers both professional and amateur, even modestly sized headphone companies can generate interest in the release of their newest top-of-the-line cans. (Witness the buzz around Dan Clark Audio’s Stealth.) When a major company puts out a fresh flagship headphone, the hype can become almost overwhelming. (Think Sennheiser’s debut of the HD820.)


    The above makes it all the more surprising when a worthy entrant from a major company flies under the radar.


    I can’t say exactly when or where I first heard about Audio-Technica’s ATH-ADX5000. Judging from the handful of reviews that exist on the world wide web, the ATH-ADX5000 was released sometime in 2017. But it only first made it onto my radar early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The few credible measurements and reviews I could find made me think they could be up my alley, sonically speaking.


    ath-adx5000_overview_top.pngFor those who haven’t read my headphone reviews on Audiophile Style, I tend towards headphones with neutral tonality and good detail retrieval. I can appreciate cans on the bright side of neutral (think the Sennheiser HD800S) or the warm side of neutral (think the ZMF Vérité), but they need to do a good job of resolving the intricacies of a recording without resulting to the hyped treble that’s prevented me from liking any of the various Beyerdynamic and Grado headphones I’ve auditioned. I also don’t need the bass boost embodied in the original Beats branding or the more recent iterations of the “Harman Curve.”


    But enough about how personal taste fits into evaluating headphones (a topic that I’ll dig into a little more later in this review). Let’s talk about the ATH-ADX5000.


    The ATH-ADX5000 is a full-sized, over-ear, open-back headphone with a 58 mm dynamic driver. It retails for $1,999 USD MSRP, but can be had for a few hundred less in “open box” deals. (My pair was bought from Bloom Audio “open box.”)


    Given these basic specs and price point, I imagine that the ATH-ADX5000 will interest audiophiles weighing the purchase of the Sennheiser HD800S or the Focal Clear. That said, with recent discounts to the Clear and the introduction of the HD800X, the ATH-ADX5000 comes in a bit above the other two’s price points.


    But before we get into comparisons, it’s worth unpacking the technology behind the ATH-ADX5000 and the accessories that accompany it.


    The ATH-ADX5000 assembled in Audio Technica’s Tokyo facility. For an CD-loving audiophile that’s grown up fawning over Japanese gear, I can’t help but smile at that, even if it doesn’t necessarily say much about the headphones by itself.


    Audio Technica touts the ATH-ADX5000’s technology thusly:


    The headphones utilize newly developed Core Mount Technology that optimally positions the driver unit within the housing to improve airflow efficiency. The efficient airflow helps the headphones reproduce highly transparent mid and high frequencies and rich, precise bass sound. The 58 mm integrated driver units combine a tungsten-coated diaphragm, baffle and Permendur magnetic circuit in a single unit to reduce unwanted vibration and, since no screw clamps are required, decrease the weight. The baffle is made of a highly-rigid polyphenylene sulfide (PPS)/glass fiber composite to provide stable diaphragm movement. The housings of the ATH-ADX5000 have a honeycomb-punched design that keeps the housing face open to ventilation, while closing off the sides. This design delivers an accurate, natural sound, but prevents air pressure loss that can negatively affect sound quality. The frame is constructed of strong, lightweight magnesium; the earpads and headband are fashioned from Alcantara, a material known for its extreme durability and comfort.


    The ATH-ADX5000’s construction is superb. Despite being incredibly light, the ATH-ADX5000 seems like it can take a beating. The aforementioned use of magnesium and PPS/glass fiber composite give the ATH-ADX5000 a solidity that’s lacking on high-end headphones — including the aforementioned HD800S and Clear — that lean on plastic for key parts. There’s absolutely zero creaking or flexing apparent in the ATH-ADX5000, even after months of use. The only noise that comes from the ATH-ADX5000 is a slight clack when adjusting the swivel and pivot mechanisms when the headphones aren’t being worn.


    Where the ATH-ADX5000 really excel is comfort. Weighing in at just 270 grams, they’re as close to invisible on the head as possible. The horizontal rotation of the gimbals and the vertical swivel of the cups on the gimbals is smooth and provide the combined range of motion necessary to get the pads to sit perfectly flush with my head. The height adjustment is likewise smooth, but sturdy. For my head size, the ATH-ADX5000 clamping force is almost perfect. Enough to stay in place without causing discomfort. Finally, as someone who switches between contacts and glasses, I appreciated that the ATH-ADX5000 didn’t put too much pressure on my temples while wearing glasses. The suede-like earpads conformed around my glasses without compromising bass response much, if at all.


    The ATH-ADX5000 has a published sensitivity of 100 dB/mW and impedance of 420 ohms, making it a bit harder to drive than the HD800S and quite a bit harder to drive than the Clear. In practice, I didn’t find them to be quite as hungry as the specs suggest, but they absolutely sound better with sufficient power.






    In terms of accessories, Audio Technica signals that it intends ATH-ADX5000 to go toe-to-toe with top-of-the-line cans. The included hard case is approximately 6 by 9 by 19 inches with a luggage-style handle. The outside is covered in an Army-green leather-like material, and the inside is draped in a silky fabric, with a molded cutout for the headphones. While perhaps not as functional as Focal’s smaller hardcase, it’s undeniably more luxurious. It provides superb protection and plenty of room for accessories. The cable included with the ATH-ADX5000 is three-meters. It attaches under each earcup using A2DC connectors and terminates in a 1/4-inch stereo plug. Perhaps my only criticism here is that I’d like to have had the choice of an XLR-terminated cable when ordering. However, while the A2DC connectors aren’t the most common thing, balanced cables that are compatible with ATH-ADX5000 can be found relatively cheaply on Amazon or from higher-end outlets like Moon Audio. In total, the ATH-ADX5000’s accessories place it near, if not necessarily ahead of, the Focal Clear’s package, which includes a hard case and both balanced and single-ended cables. On the other hand, the ATH-ADX5000 easily ranks ahead of the HD800S, given that it doesn’t include any form of case.


    Finally, the ATH-ADX5000 includes a two-year warranty, which is equal to the Sennheiser’s on the HD800S, but one year less than Focal’s for the Clear.


    So, we have a well-constructed, well-appointed Japanese-made entry into the $1,000-to-$2,000 range open-back market. But how does it sound?

    Before we get to my subjective impressions, let’s take a look at how the ATH-ADX5000 measures on my MiniDSP EARS rig, which has been calibrated with a slightly modified version of Marv from SBAF’s compensation curve, where a perceptually flat frequency response is represented by a flat line.


    Here’s how the ATH-ADX5000 (left and right) looks on its own:


    ATH-ADX5000 L-R.jpg




    We see a “W”-shaped tuning (sometimes referred to a as “Japanese tuning,” which is fitting given the ATH-ADX5000’s origins) with superb channel matching. It’s also notable that the ATH-ADX5000 was virtually impervious to positioning, meaning that you don’t need to get it situated precisely on your head to get it to sound its best.


    Now let’s bring in our standard comparison with the HD6XX, which I consider to be a (mostly) neutral-sounding sounding headphone that should be in every audiophile’s collection given its affordable price point:


    ATH-ADX5000 vs HD6XX.jpg




    The ATH-ADX5000 has a slight dip in the 500 Hz region and more of a dip in the 2 kHz area compared to the HD6XX (hence the W-shape). It also has more energy from 4.5 kHz and above, which is the territory where the HD6XX can sound a bit timid and veiled.


    How about the Focal Clear?


    ATH-ADX5000 vs Clear.jpg




    Broadly, the ATH-ADX5000’s “W”-tuning is still visible. Most significantly, the Clear has a lot more energy in the 1-3 kHz region, while the ATH-ADX5000 has more above 4.5 kHz.


    Finally, let’s take a look at the ATH-ADX5000 against what, for me, is its main competition, the HD800S:


    ATH-ADX5000 vs HD800S.jpg




    This comparison is a little more difficult. First, the HD800S is much, much more position and seal-dependent than the ATH-ADX5000, the HD6XX, or the Clear. Second, the HD800S I purchased don’t measure as well as the pair I reviewed earlier. Third, the right spot to anchor the graphs for comparison isn’t as obvious with the HD800S as for HD6XX or the Clear. Those issues aside, the ATH-ADX5000’s “W”-shape still predominates. However, the magnitude of the differences around 500 Hz and 2 kHz differ from both previous comparisons. Most notably, the HD800S’s downward slope from the lower-to-upper midrange minimizes the 2 kHz divergence seen with the other cans. While it’s not a large difference, the ATH-ADX5000’s low bass doesn’t roll off quite as fast as the HD800S’s — a characteristic of the latter that’s often bemoaned. In the treble region, the two cans seem to have a lot in common, except that the ATH-ADX5000 doesn’t fall above 12 kHz the way the HD800S does.


    Turning to the subjective portion of the review, the main comp for the ATH-ADX5000 will be the HD800S. There are two reasons for making this the comparison.


    The first is practical. I have the HD800S on hand, whereas I sold my Clear when moving up to the Utopia.


    The second is philosophical, though it builds on the first.


    I disagree with reviewers who insist that all gear reviews can be reduced to an exact science. That’s especially true for transducers, with headphones being the most extreme example. No headphones can provide a frequency response of the best-measuring speakers, let alone the ruler-flat response of DACs and amps. There are also real, practical limits to what can be done with headphones drivers, given size constraints.


    With headphones, it’s hard to determine a pure “neutral.” The most comprehensive attempt to do has been the aforementioned “Harman Curve.” Harman’s research is undeniably impressive. The flat, but gently downward sloping, frequency response for loudspeakers preferred by the trained listeners in Harman’s research comes fairly close to my ideal. However, much to the consternation of a sizeable portion of audiophiles, the Harman Curve for headphones has seen the low bass creep upward with each revision — the perhaps the inevitable result of averaging heterogenous consumer preferences that have, in part, been shaped by the cultural dominance of Beats-tuned cans.


    That said, many excellent headphones, such as the Focal Utopia and the ATH-ADX5000, score well when compared to the Harman curve. But EQ-ing those cans to get them closer to the Harman Curve tends to involve a substantial lift in the low bass. According to Harman’s Sean Olive, this boost is to make up for “the whole-body vibration/tactile experience of loudspeakers in a room [that] is missing from the headphone experience.”


    Personally, however, I tend to find that most equalization — especially bringing the low bass into line with the most recent iterations of the “Harman Curve” — makes good headphones sound worse. Maybe it’s the added processing, or maybe it’s because headphone tuning decisions come with tradeoffs. The “W”-shape, for example, is favored by some audiophiles because it can clean up some muddiness in the lower mids and provide greater separation across the frequency spectrum. This is part of the reason why Sennheiser’s Alex Grell tuned the HD820 the way he did, even if I felt that that “W” — especially in the low end — was too exaggerated.


    “Neutral” in the case of headphones is ultimately a matter of taste. The aforementioned Harman preference curve is just that — a tuning preferred by many consumers. Judging headphones against an external target works only insofar as readers understand and agree with that target. The compensation curve I use for my MiniDSP EARS is such a target. It makes sense to me. But it’s irrelevant for consumers who don’t know how headphones they know look when measured with that curve. That’s why I try to include a common, affordable comparison (the Sennheiser HD6XX) in all of my reviews as a baseline.


    I also try to take measurements and provide listening impressions at safe volumes. Putting headphones through torture tests in order to suss out distortion or driver clipping at ear-splitting levels? Such exercises don’t provide the consumer with much actionable information, at least in this reviewer’s opinion.


    Instead of insisting on one true, scientific impression, the best I can do is try to provide consumer advice based on personal tastes and the realities of the headphone marketplace. For most folks looking to get their first audiophile-worthy pair of cans, I suggest starting with the HD6XX, which I — like many headphone enthusiasts — consider to be close to neutral and a must-hear, especially given that they can often be had for around $200. From there, it usually takes a big jump in price, to the Focal Elex, to get clear improvement.


    When audiophiles want something more or something different — and they almost always do — recommendations get harder. Choosing a headphone in the $1,000 to $2,000 range is as much a matter of taste as clear-cut choice. That’s not because there are fewer good headphones in that range than below $1,000. Instead, it’s because there are more good choices. The relative dearth of great headphones below $1,000 and, especially, below $500 make recommendations like the HD6XX and Elex relatively easy.


    All of the above is a long way of saying that, insofar as any consumer is considering the ATH-ADX5000, they’re likely to be looking for a bright-leaning, detail-oriented set of headphones in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. With the Elex cannibalizing the Clear’s sales, the HD800S is the most realistic comparison for the ATH-ADX5000 at its price point. Moreover, the HD800S is a headphone that many people have heard, making it a nice reference for a somewhat-less-common pair of cans like the ATH-ADX5000.


    My own personal interest in the ATH-ADX5000 was precisely the above. I wanted to know if there was a bright-leaning, detail-oriented pair of open-back headphones that could outperform the HD800S. If the ATH-ADX5000 didn’t clear that bar, I planned to return or resell them. The fact that I still have them — and have sold the HD800S — gives away the ending. But the details (no pun intended) matter.


    The subjective impressions below came from listening to the ATH-ADX5000 and HD800S, level-matched, powered by the Benchmark HPA4, and fed by Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC 2.


    The first song I cued up was the title track from the 24/192 flat transfer of the original mix of Yes’s Close to the Edge included in the 2013 “Definitive Edition” of the album. The ATH-ADX5000 projects a great sense of space throughout the track. Bill Bruford’s snare is crisp. The ATH-ADX5000’s sound focuses on the skins of the drums a little more than the body. Electric guitars have bite and the cymbals have sizzle, but not to the exaggerated sense that I associate with treble-peaky headphones like Grados or Beyers. Switching to the HD800S, Bruford’s snare sounds slightly boxier, and drums now lean more towards the body than the skins. Overall, I find myself wanting to turn up the volume, even though I’ve level-matched the headphones. The HD800S’s sound is somewhat dull, with a mid-treble suckout, relative to the ATH-ADX5000. The HD800S presents a modestly wider soundstage than the ATH-ADX5000, but the latter is more open sounding. Overall, the ATH-ADX5000 seems to simply resolve better than the HD800S. It’s easier to make out small details like Steve Howe’s strange, brittle, arpeggiated guitar part that’s mixed low throughout the bulk of the track. Likewise, the beautiful string texture of Chris Squire’s treble-heavy bass is showcased much more effectively by the ATH-ADX5000 than by the HD800S. Simply put, the ATH-ADX5000 presents the track in a way that’s much closer to how it sounds on a flat speaker setup. The main thing missing — as might be expected — is the low-end meat that that comes from speakers with large woofers or a well-integration subwoofer. But I’ve yet to encounter headphones that fully capture this without an unacceptable tradeoff elsewhere (though I’d argue that the pricier ZMF Vérité come closer in this regard).


    Next I turned to “I.G.Y.” from the original CD mastering of recent TBVO subject The Nightfly. Starting with the HD800S this time, my immediate reaction is that this relatively bright, sometimes hard-sounding recording comes across as dull on the high end and anemic on the low end. The “sssshh” of the punishing snare is indistinct, and the hi-hat has no bite. To boot, the key interplay between the bass and the kick drum is hard to make out. Switching to the ATH-ADX5000 presents a dramatically different picture. The snare is much clearer, but without edging it into the discomfort range that this early all-digital recording can induce on over-bright gear. As with “Close to the Edge,” both the hi-hat and the horns have more bite through the ATH-ADX5000, and little details — like tambourine mixed far left or the interplay between the synth and the palm-muted electric guitar — are much easier to discern. Perhaps most importantly, the wash of keyboards that opens the track has a tonal balance that’s much truer to how “I.G.Y.” sounds through a well-balanced speaker setup. One of the many virtues of “I.G.Y.” as an audiophile test track is that its keyboards and synths can quickly reveal if something’s out of whack with a playback chain. To be sure, the ATH-ADX5000 is still lacking the low bass necessary to provide a fully accurate sonic accounting, but its frequency response does much less harm on that count than the HD800S’s does. That said, “I.G.Y.” does reveal that the ATH-ADX5000 perhaps can’t convey depth as well as the HD800S can. The synth and other instruments are pushed deeper on the HD800S, providing greater separation from Fagen’s voice. On the other hand, Fagen’s voice is drier on the HD800S, whereas the ATH-ADX5000 highlights every nuance of reverb coating his vocals, including how it splashes to the far on phrases like “perfect weather.”


    For my third track, I landed on Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” from the original CD release of her 1988 self-titled debut. Like “I.G.Y.,” “Fast Car” is an early digital recording that can be ruthlessly revealing of the flaws in a given piece of gear. Listening with the ATH-ADX5000 first, I’m struck by the resolution of the recording. I can hear every detail on Chapman’s double-tracked acoustic guitars, including a tasteful level of string noise. Likewise, the pebbles in the shaker placed deep in the center-right are clear and lifelike. Though the ATH-ADX5000 hasn’t previously excelled in soundstage depth, the rimshots by drummer Denny Fongheiser emerge from deep in the recording. Most importantly, the modest level of reverb around Chapman’s lead vocal has a smooth, natural decay on the ATH-ADX5000, helping to keep her incomparable voice front-and-center in the mix. Turning to the HD800S, the overall track comes across as boxier and tamer. Chapman’s guitars sound more homogenous but do have a bit more body. It’s harder to make out Fongheiser’s rimshots, which have less leading-edge clarity and are pushed even deeper into the soundstage. Chapman’s voice is drier, too, pulling it forward and causing it to blend into the overall mix more.


    Next up is the second track from 24/96 mastering Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert available on Qobuz. As a live solo piano recording, Köln reduces the headphones’ task to the essentials. Going back and forth between the ATH-ADX5000 and the HD800S, the differences between the two headphones are striking. Through the ATH-ADX5000, Jarrett’s right-hand flourishes that begin around the one-minute mark are present and punchy. The ATH-ADX5000 convey a great sense of spatial definition between the notes. Jarrett’s famous moans are easily audible, but given appropriate distance. Perhaps my only criticism of the ATH-ADX5000’s rendering is that this the first recording where the peak around 4.5 kHz seemed to meaningfully warp what I perceive as neutral. However, it’s a relatively inoffensive deviation — nothing compared, say, to the enormous 7 kHz peak of the Beyerdyanmic Amiron — and is overwhelmed by the ATH-ADX5000’s other technical virtues. Through the HD800S, in contrast, Köln sounds a bit muddled. The locations of the individual notes on are somewhat more amorphous and, while I can usually still make out Jarrett’s vocalizations, they’re more remote and softer. As with “Close to the Edge,” I continually wanted to turn up the volume.


    The final track in this review is “Kid Charlemagne” from the 1985 CD version of Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam. The HD800S again presented a wider soundstage, but one that was somewhat counteracted by a more “in-the-head” feel. For example, when I first played “Charlemagne” through the ATH-ADX5000, I had to double-check that the HPA4’s line outputs weren’t feeding my subwoofer, because the Chuck Rainey’s bass seemed to emanate from outside of the headphones. With the HD800S, that illusion was shattered. Like other tracks, cymbals had more sizzle and guitars had more bite through the ATH-ADX5000, while the reverb around Donald Fagen’s voice was more apparent. With the HD800S, the instruments were slightly muffled and Fagen’s voice was drier. But the most important detail-oriented discrepancy between the two cans was the presentation of Paul Griffin’s Clavinet, which is mixed far left and runs throughout the track. The Clav’s ineffably funky sound is hard to nail and depends on separating the initial attack of the note from its warbling decay. ATH-ADX5000 simply represents it better.


    I think it’s safe to say that, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, the ATH-ADX5000 trounces the venerable HD800S. Indeed, there wasn’t much of anything I could find to recommend the HD800S over the ATH-ADX5000 — a conclusion that I was not expecting when I ordered a pair of “open box” ATH-ADX5000 on a whim.


    The next question for me was whether it could compete with headphones higher up the food chain. In order to test that out, I decided to do a brief level-matched comparison of the ATH-ADX5000 and the Focal Utopia, with its $4,000 USD MSRP.


    To compare the ATH-ADX5000 with the Utopia, I returned to “I.G.Y.” To my surprise, the ATH-ADX5000 acquitted itself well against the more-than-twice-the-price Utopia. The ATH-ADX5000 projects a wider soundstage, but less depth than Utopia. Similarly, while the ATH-ADX5000 provides better separation of instruments and a somewhat less metallic timbre than the Utopia, the Utopia seemed to resolve micro-details and subtle nuances better than the somewhat more one-dimensional ATH-ADX5000. For example, both Fagen’s vocals and the swirling synth in left channel simply came across as more realistic and three-dimensional through the Utopia. The layered vocals on the chorus are slightly easier to separate on Utopia because of this added depth and micro-detail. That said, the ATH-ADX5000 is no slouch in that area. Whereas it was difficult to pull apart Fagen’s vocal overdubs at all on the HD800S, I could still easily discern them through the ATH-ADX5000. Indeed, on other details, the Utopia’s edge wasn’t quite as clear cut. The palm-muted electric guitar definitely sounds more true-to-life through the Utopia, but the ATH-ADX5000’s better separation made it easier to analyze that part individually. (It’s worth noting, though, that both the Utopia and the ATH-ADX5000 lag behind the ZMF Vérité on that characteristic.)


    All told, the Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 is a superb headphone that’s somewhat flown under the audiophile radar. It’s easy to recommend it over the HD800S for those in the market for a bright-leaning open-back headphone in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. As the Utopia comparison indicates, it also gives Focal’s superb line of cans some healthy competition. That said, the tonal tilt of both the Utopia and the ATH-ADX5000 don’t always make for a relaxing listen. They’re analytical in both positive and negative senses of the term. For those who want a slightly dark-tilted open-back audiophile headphone that doesn’t sacrifice detail, it’s best to stick with one of two previously reviewed cans, the aforementioned ZMF Vérité open, which remains my most used pair of headphones, and the Rosson RAD-0, which (as that review noted) provided stiff competition for the Vérité.


    Bottom line: If your tastes tend towards the treble and both comfort and resolution are paramount in your concerns, pick up the ATH-ADX5000 instead of the HD800S (and try them before you pony up for the Utopia).





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    Very interesting report, thanks.  I've also recently discovered the ADX5000, and I agree it's outstanding.  In fact, I think I'm even more enthusiastic about it than you! I listen to classical music, and so my reaction may be of limited interest to many.  But I think it surpasses everything else I've owned - and that includes the SR-009S, Utopia, HE1000SE and HD800/S.  Technically superb and musically beautiful.

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    On 3/2/2023 at 4:44 AM, jamesjames said:

    Very interesting report, thanks.  I've also recently discovered the ADX5000, and I agree it's outstanding.  In fact, I think I'm even more enthusiastic about it than you! I listen to classical music, and so my reaction may be of limited interest to many.  But I think it surpasses everything else I've owned - and that includes the SR-009S, Utopia, HE1000SE and HD800/S.  Technically superb and musically beautiful.

    While I don’t listen to much classical, my limited listening supports your conclusion. The ADX5000 takes all the things that made the HD800 superb for classical and surpasses them. 

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    I thought I would add a point or two, having owned the ADX5000 for a while now.  My feelings about it have changed slightly.  It remains one of the models I use from time to time - like the HD800S.  Both seem to me always good, and occasionally great.  I no longer use the HD800 because, as you say, the ADX5000 seems like a more highly evolved version of that kind of presentation.  I think the HD800S is quite different - more damped - probably more natural to my ear.  It also images better than the ADX5000 I think.  Having said all that, I thought I should also mention that I find the AKG K812 preferable to all of them.  It's no longer a current model - so perhaps not so relevant - but still available new.  To my ear, it's very convincing in re acoustic instruments and imaging.  (I've mentioned before that I don't really care for planars or electrostatics - relevant to whether you might share my tastes.)

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