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Audio-Technica X5000 hands-on: audiophile headphones for real humans

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Humans with a big budget and a matching appreciation for good design

Like anything else in life, IFA is what you make of it. Yes, everyone will experience the big marquee events from Samsung, LG, Lenovo, and Sony, but after that, it’s really up to you to decide how you’re going to digest 22 cavernous halls of new gadgets and technology. My choice? Hall 1, where all the audio gear makes its home. I came to this cacophonous spot to experience Audio-Technica’s new flagship headphones, the ATH-ADX5000, which are priced at a mighty $1,999 and come in a handsome carrying case.

Audio-Technica is a familiar brand to most people, having proven its quality and enduring popularity with affordable in-ear headphones and the widely lauded M50 over-ear cans that are many people’s first taste of higher-quality audio equipment. I’m not a big fan of the M50s myself, but I can see how their more sharp and precise sound can be a major upgrade. The less well-known Audio-Technica, the one that I like very much more, is the brand that caters to audiophiles with headphones like the 2000Xs, 2000Zs, and the lovely and wireless DSR9BTs. Even so, we’re talking about gear whose price hits $1,000, at most, and stops. The X5000s I listened to for the first time today are essentially carving out a new price range for Audio-Technica: the everyday audio company is stepping up in price range.

Audio-Technica X5000

I delight in the fancy case that the X5000s come packaged in. It’s not as practical as the Pelican-style cases that Audeze wraps its highest-end headphones in, but it’s charming, and its satiny interior lends a sense of occasion and luxury to the headphones.

As to the X5000s themselves, I was very surprised by how compact and light they are. Most headphones in their price class, whether you’re thinking of Focal’s Elear, Sennheiser’s HD 800 S, or closed-back alternatives like the Sony Z1R, are huge, head-engulfing devices. The Audeze LCD-X, for instance, weighs more than half a kilogram, making it only functionally different from having an entire HTC Vive headset perched on your head. But the Audio-Technica X5000s are featherlight and extremely comfortable. I only had a brief time with them, though not too brief to be able to say that they’ll be among the easiest to wear high-end audiophile headphones.

Audio-Technica X5000

Alcantara is used to cover the X5000 pads and headband, making for a soft and breathable material on all contact points with the listener’s head. I’ve enjoyed alcantara on the Shure SRH1540, so I can speak with confidence about its long-lasting comfort. Beside the plush part, everything about the X5000s is built out of high-grade plastics and judiciously used metal. The driver diaphragm measures 58mm in diameter and is tungsten-coated for extra rigidity. As usual for a pair of flagship headphones coming out of Japan, there’s very little to fault about the Audio-Technica X5000s’ build and construction.

As to how these things sound, I can’t make any grand conclusions just yet. My first impression is that the X5000s exhibit an enthusiasm in the lower treble, one that sometimes overpowers the vocals in a song, but it’s not so much as to cause me discomfort or, as in the case of the Pioneer SE-Master1, distress. The bass is punchy and precise, though I would have liked to hear more from it. That being said, these are open-back headphones, which I tested in the loud environment of a trade show hall. Under the intended use circumstances of listening at quieter volumes at home, I imagine the X5000s will reveal more of their quality.

Audio-Technica X5000

Even under suboptimal conditions, the X5000s did expose some nice little details and transitions in my music that I usually miss when listening through cheaper and simpler headphones. So I’m encouraged and enticed to listen more. I have to say that, in recording our video of these headphones, I was reluctant to take them off, which is as good a sign as anyone can hope for. The sound felt full and rich, and most importantly, the music had emotional impact.

The Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000s go on sale globally in November, with a US price of $1,999, fancy carrying case included.