Pros: Great build/style, uniquely expansive sound with rich bass, engaging mids and potent treble.
Cons: Shortchanged by horrific stock pleather pads, potentially temperamental fit and comfort depending on pads
I am glad to finally see Audio Technica offerings with a decent retail presence in the United States, and with reasonable prices to boot. The W1000X was reviewed positively at an import price of $500-700 several years ago. Today, you can purchase a pair for $399 shipped via BuyDig (a subsidiary of Beach Camera, an authorized AT retailer). I consider it fully competitive with other offerings of a similar price range such as the HD 650 and HF-2 at stock, and a notch above either with aftermarket earpads. Like the two aforementioned competitors are to Sennheiser and Grado, I consider the ATH-W1000X to be a showcase of a distinct voice within the Audio Technica family that begs a listen.
The ATH-W1000X is a substantial headphone with a magnesium frame and American Cherry wood earcups. This was a build fitting of a $600+ headphone years ago, and it is even more impressive at its discounted price point today. The headphone feels very sturdily built, with the only detractor from its outstanding polish being noticeably cheap pleather earpads. These earpads are a marked step up from those on the likes of the ATH-A900X, but are a far cry from the genuine leather and lambskin you'll find on higher-end offerings. (The stock earpads also adversely reign in the sound, but I'll get to that.)
The wing system of Audio-Technica headphones is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, and the W1000X's is no different. I found the A900X's wings to have insufficient tension for their weight, but the W1000X is balanced in this regard and does not drag on my head at all. Unlike the "Art" series, the wooden cups only rotate on the yaw/horizontal axis (other models offer some rotation on the roll/vertical axis). This means that at stock the W1000X will be suited for a particular head threshold, which my head fortunately falls into. Larger or smaller heads may have to flex the metal headband to adjust the angle at which the cups rest on the ears. The stock earpads are underwhelming with regards to comfort, quickly heating up and offering a shallow fit that is impressive in neither isolation nor encapsulation of the ears.
Even with the poor stock pads, the sound of the W1000X compares favorably to that of the HD 650 and HF-2. The signature is closer to that of the latter with a solid kick around 100Hz, a forward midrange and strong but not particularly offensive treble. The W1000X seems to offer a significantly wider and more expansive sound presentation than either of the other offerings -- an astonishing feat considering its sealed design. Its biggest benefit against lower-end closed headphones like the A900X and DT 770 is a complete elimination of the nasal tonality and honky midrange coloration afflicting most closed-back designs; the W1000Xs sound fairly unlike a sealed headphone. While the midrange is prominent and richly stunning for vocal performances, it retains excellent clarity and resolution compared to the thick body of the HD 650's. As for cons, the bass has a fairly aggressive rolloff below ~80Hz, and there is some inconsistency in the smoothness of the upper midrange and lower treble. I find these flaws to be mostly a function of the abysmal stock pads.
I have read of positive results with the ATH-L3000, Stax O2, Audeze LCD-2 and J$ Beyerdynamic pads. For my purposes (and money) I simply went with the J-Money Beyer pads and called it a day. The J$ earpads are over twice as thick and deep as the stock pads and vastly increase comfort. They enhance the seal of the earcups, improving isolation (reducing leakage) and enhancing bass response. While the stock pads extend barely down to 40Hz from my cursory observation, the J$ pads enable very audible bass response down to 20Hz. The increased distance between the ear and the driver seems to improve stereo depth and imaging. Paradoxically, where I would expect increased distance to the driver to produce strident treble (a la Grado Jumbo bowls), the pad swap seemed to smooth out the upper midrange and lower treble response in my observations.
The end result is a full realization of the engagement that was merely teased with the stock pads, coupled with a subtle correction of potential harshness in the middle-upper registers. Additionally, the strengths of soundstage (and bass response) are brought to the fore. The aftermarket pads allow the W1000X's soundstaging capabilities to positively eclipse that of headphones such as the A900X, DT 770, HF-2 and HD 650. It does not match the precision/imaging specificity of the JH13s, but at this point we are picking nits. The biggest augmentation next to soundstage is in the low-end response -- with the J$ pads the W1000X again are capable of reaching down to 20Hz audibly. While its emphasis is still towards the 80-100Hz range, the W1000X offers a gloriously rich bass response that reaches as low as you need it and truly thumps. The J$ pads take the W1000X from "somewhat bassy" to "definitely basshead" (yes, this is every bit a viable alternative to blowing $500+ on second-hand Denons). While songs with a prominent bassline became bass-driven, this powerful bass never encroaches upon the still-lucid midrange. Altogether, these sonic enhancements make the W1000X an exciting performer top-to-bottom, with wide genre efficacy and astonishing performance in movies and gaming.
That said, even with the J$ pads the W1000X is not without some notable... quirks. The W1000X has a relatively slow decay, especially in the lower registers. While I find this woody resonance to be endearing, listeners who demand tight and precise bass may find themselves disappointed with the romanticism and rounded nature of the bass. The W1000X does no favors for the fastest metal, but I find it handles most other genres with an appreciably "fun" bass response. The emphasized signature of the W1000X is also occasionally prone to congestion in passages that are particularly busy, though thanks to the generous staging I find this threshold for congestion to be relatively high compared to most other headphones mentioned here (short of the JH13). Finally, the W1000X are very, very far from neutral and might not be suitable for the listener who desires anything short of vivacity.
In-all, I am enthralled with the W1000X and I think they are a fantastic buy at their current price point. They are not without weakness, but their uniquely romantic sound and fascinating strengths put them above the HD 650 and HF-2 for me. Their relative rarity (and high price) during introduction and relatively late entry into the US market means these missed FOTM status. I am relieved since I can qualify them as a "hidden gem", even without their outstanding present-day value. This is a keeper and will likely be the only headphone I'll retain alongside my JH13s.