Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z Sealed Around-Ear Headphones
Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z ($649)
I've got to admit I'm not a big fan of the Audio Technica line of headphones with the 3D Wing Support System headband. My previous experience is that they tend to be far too bright and lacking bass response for me, and the headband just never fits right; I've found it very difficult to get a seal. I've also had horrendous problems getting them to seal properly on my measurement head. Well, something must have changed because the A2000Z fit's my head, and my measurement head, quite well...and this headphone is one of the best sounding AT 3D Wing headphones I've heard to date.
Styling, Build Quality, and Comfort
The ATH-A2000Z is a sealed, around-ear headphone. It's most striking features are the large Titanium capsule covers and 3D Wing Support System headband. It's a rather odd combination to my eyes, I much prefer the wooden versions esthetically. The finish on the metal looks like they couldn't decide whether to polish it or grain it, resulting in something that looks half finished to me. It's also very easily scratched. Other than the Titanium covers and headband arches, the remaining materials are all synthetic.
The round pleather earpads have large round openings (52mm dia) with a soft grade of foam underneaththough it doesn't quite feel quite like memory foam to me. The combination of very light weight (294gr), light caliper pressure, and the 3D wings, that do indeed distribute weight over a fairly large portion of your head, make this a surprisingly comfortable wearing experience.
The 3 meter cable is permanently attached to the ear capsules and is terminated in a 3.5mm TRS plug with integrated, screw-on, 1/4" adapter. AT claims this is OFC 6-nines cable, which has separate ground connections on either side all the way to the plug. No carry case is included.
I think Audio Technica kind of missed the boat in a few places here. A headphone at this price should have connectorized cables so users can replace them at will. And I think some sort of protective carry case should be included. In the end, this just doesn't look or feel like a $650 headphone to me.
Here's the good news: I think the A2000Z is the best tonally balanced Audio Technica headphone I've heard to date. I experienced it as mildly U-shaped with slightly emphasized bass and treble. The lows are a 5dB mid-bass hump centered around 80Hz or so, which lacks some extension downward but blends nicely into the mids without intrusion at the top end of the range. The bass quality is quite good, giving good thump and texture, but has a slightly attention grabbing character that measurements hint is likely some distortion or phase shift.
Midrange balance and evenness seemed pretty good to me. Vocal balance was really good; the relationship with the bass was excellent. The only problem is the transition into the treble and the treble quality in general.
In terms of treble tonal balance I find them in relatively good shape, though a tad sharp at 4kHz. More problematically is the significantly grainy sound that is distracting and tends to draw my attention to the treble. Many will mistake this graininess for good detail because the tonal level remains correct and it's not inordinately fatiguing. But the detail isn't faithful. Cymbals loose some of their natural character with an overlay of artificial "tsst tsst" sounds. My guess is there's some undamped mechanical resonances in this headphone in the Titanium shell and magnesium driver assembly.
Dynamics are fairly good; imaging lacks depth and specificity and resides fully within the head.
If you've read me right so far, you'll understand I felt these fairly neutral in balance, but also said they are somewhat U-shaped with slightly exaggerated bass and treble. This exaggeration comes not from too much amplitude, but rather flaws that draw attention to themselvesthe treble problem is quite a bit more attention grabbing than the bass issue which is mild.
You might be wondering, "Why the heck is he writing this review if he's not going to recommend these headphones!?" It boils down to this: The ATH-A2000Z is the best sounding Audio Technica 3D wing series headphone I've heard to date. When I wrote my evaluation of headphone manufacturers, I said this in my thoughts on Audio Technica:
AT's high-end products always seem a bit bright to me, and frankly I'm getting a bit tired of their "3D Wing Support" headband system that has never delivered a truly comfortable and secure fit on my head.
Should Audio Technica continue in the direction they seem to be going with the ATH-A2000Z I may have to eat my words. If they can get a grip on what appears to be the mechanical resonances in this headphone (see measurement section), they just might breath new life into this line of headphones.
This is the best Audio Technica 3D Wing series headphone I've heard to date. Previous models I've tested always seem to be very bass light, and difficult to get a good fit on the head. The A2000Z seems to have quite good tonal balance and fits more comfortable than I remember with other models in the family.
Unfortunately, the treble is a bit sharp, but more problematically grainy sounding. Fortunately, the tonal level remains correct and it's not inordinately fatiguing. The bass draws a just a bit too much attention to itself, likely due to some distortion and/or phase shift, but is otherwise pretty dran good for an AT headphone.
At $649, with marginal sound quality, lacking replaceable cables, and no carry case, I really can't recommend this headphone. However, those who do like AT 3D-wing series cans should definitely give them a listen.