"Loudspeakers are the only bargain in audio,” I claimed, in the The Best I've Ever Heard: Loudspeaker Round-Up. "They provide the most bang for the buck. Loudspeakers are the spokesmen, the voice of the audio chain.” Headphones are no exception. When you put two little speakers next to your ears, you get the most bang for your audio buck.Like motorcycles, you get half the cost, weight and wheels, but all of the horsepower of a full size automobile. Where else can you get a full size speaker system with an incredibly wide 5Hz to 35kHz frequency response and a high 102dB/W/m efficiency, for less than $150? Or even less than $150,000? You can't.
My current position holds me nine hours a day in a honeycomb of quiet, gray cubicles. I wanted the horsepower of full size speakers in a pair of over-the-ear, closed-back headphones. As a sometime reviewer for Enjoy the Music.com, I scour other magazines' monthly issues not only for scientific validation of my subjective findings but also because I hope there is some truly excellent piece of equipment that I can afford. From amplifiers to platforms, panels to speakers, so far the venerable magazine and I have no major disagreements.
Audio-Technica Corporation began making stereo phonograph
cartridges for audio equipment manufacturers in
First, Fit And Feel
Sounds complicated, but this is industrial design as smoothly elegant as architect Santiago Calatrava's wings and as classically solid as the cathedrals of Europe. Although missing the keystone at the pinnacle, the two half wings form a smaller arch inside the larger hoops. The wings buttress the hoops. The elegant and sturdy solution does not need any adjustment, ever. In fact, I did nothing to the A700s except to plug them into a Dell Dimension computer. The double-arched ATH-A700s are the most comfortable headphones I have tried. They are much more comfortable than headphones with a simple strap across your dome.
Second, Sound And
They are crisp, clear and can get very loud. The mid-range is very well balanced. Extending to an incredible 35kHz. The highs are extremely good, without seeming bright or harsh. The highs are not as sparklingly as my ancient but beloved Stax SR-40 Electret headphones. The Stax sound as quick and light as electrostatic speakers, especially when driven by tube amplifiers but they are clear, competent and charming nonetheless. The Stax come with a speaker switch box and require an amplifier to drive them, plus they are horribly uncomfortable after long periods of use. The pads and the strap press on your ears and scalp. The A700s are a Super-Guppy cargo jet compared to my classic Sony ear buds. I bought the ear buds because I thought they sounded better than other pocket change ear buds, presumably because of their wide frequency response and high efficiency.
The A700s cut outside noise better than ear buds, but not dramatically so. You will still hear the airplane engines, and possibly the pilot. They do a very good job of keeping internal sound in. Not only because of their half inch of soft, tufted padding, which would make a Lexus proud, but also because their high efficiency, even for headphones, makes loud listening such a pleasing experience. The left and right side of the headphones are clearly marked at the top of the speaker assembly. Inside the ATH-A700 cans, the large speaker drivers angle towards the front of your head. This means that wearing the right side of the headphone on the right side of your head makes a slight difference to the sound. Once you are used to wearing the ATH-A700s, wearing them the other way feels wrong. Music loses its uncrowded feel and instruments aren't as wide apart or as centered in the ear.
Worn properly, the winged wonders do indeed almost "pull off the impossible: they sound spacious.” The sounds seem to spread out, not in front of you like a soundstage, but out there nonetheless. While the notes don't feel as live as a full-size speaker does, they come a lot closer than the few headphones I have tried. Thus, ATH-A700 soundstage is excellent. It is like stepping up from a typical home stereo system into a jewel-box style music hall. You may not believe you are reading this from me, but even with 13 times higher price differential; the A700s are worth the extra investment. This is one of the few times I have ever said that!
The Final Grades
Big cans and hoops that make you look like Gazoo may not be even a tweaking audiophile's choice of headwear, but as their Web site says, the ATH-A700 do provide very high efficiency dynamics with "full, rich balanced bass” for "long hours of remarkably comfortable listening.” Their sophisticated design, sound and price are solid as a cathedral. The ATH-A700s are an excellent value for sound and quality. For tweaking audiophiles looking for over-the-ear, closed-back headphones, this is a winning model at a great price point. Audio-Technica calls the headphones ART monitors. Believe me; with the craft of these cans, you do enjoy the music.