Pros: Amazing upper mids & treble; nice soundstage with an 'upfront' slant; great detail without harshness
Cons: Steep bass rolloff; lower mids underpowered next to upper mid peak; shallow cups
Audio-Technica: Headphones for Weirdos. Unnecessarily complicated headbands; midrange skewed in favour of Japanese-schoolgirl sopraninos; bass left crying in a back alley somewhere. A model range whose tuning adheres or abandons these guiding precedents at random, further confused by special editions that disappear the same instant someone at head-fi.org notices them.
For fans of the brand, it’s exactly this unpredictability that keeps us addicted. When the dealer shows up on your block, you never know if you’re swapping your rent money for A-grade blow or laundry powder. But it doesn’t matter. Good trip, bad trip; it’s all part of the ride. Just gimme more and maybe I’ll see you in rehab at Christmas. Bring your own damn headamp.
Right now, I’m tripping balls. AD1000Xs levitate over bed hair, too-shallow earcups nipping at the corners of my dumbo wings, London Elektricity rolling hyper-languidly from the big 53mm drivers. Rain falls boredly outside. The low end rolloff leaves my drum ‘n’ bass as just drum, but oh Holy Lord, that manic percussion. And those vocals... This is twisted, but it’s so good.
Pause to listen closer and - dammit! that’s two overdubbed guitars right there, not one! - it’s the synth pads that get you right in the emotional nodes. So wide. So liquid. It’s low viscosity, maybe sometimes thin, running more like clean motor oil than mayonnaise, but that seems to leave transient details so much freedom to swim above it. Reverb tails swell almost to the point of obscenity. Anything in the upper mids (think finger noises on guitar strings, or the wet mechanical chuffs of a human larynx) that’s been treated to a touch too much compression in the studio become semi-distracting through the AD1kx.
It’s the strong emphasis on the upper vocal presence region that can make music selection an anxious ordeal. I fired up 2+2=5 from Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief, expecting Thom’s ecstatic caterwaul to be granted angel wings. Instead, Satan kicked me in the nuts and fondled my girlfriend. Thom’s keening was swallowed alive by a hungry, thin-sounding wall of distorted guitars. It was the midrange equivalent of peering through one’s mail slot at a nuclear explosion. Stay the goshdarn everloving ****** away from anything that’s mastered on the aggressive/dry/thin side.
On the other hand, cue up All That You Give from the Cinematic Orchestra and prepare to fire the water cannons. So much pain so simply put. A voice with such heft it cracks under its own weight, rendered with such tenderness and respect by the A-Ts. You will weep. The cat will notice and it won’t care.
Bass is a token inclusion. It’s there and you can discern pitch and rhythm with ease, but it’s a featherweight support act to the midrange’s heavyweight title. You don’t buy these cans if you want impact anywhere below 80Hz. If you must, a well-designed analogue bass boost, such as that you’ll find on the JDS Labs C5, will give you what you need, but your eardrums will never suffer a Denon-like inversion.
Treble is lovely, liquid. You’ll enjoy a mostly smooth extension into the upper octave without ever straying into sibilance, even with your knob wound past twelve o’clock. This, in concert with the twisted mids, is where these cans gather their much-advertised ‘air’. Details are detailed. Space is spacious. Glitches and artifacts are obvious and annoying. You can hear the room interactions change as the vocalist steps forward or backward in the booth. I am a tightarse with too many hobbies to afford many sets of headphones, but this is the best treble presentation I’ve ever heard.
Taken all at once, these things are a complicated but addictive proposition. All-rounders they are not. Some days will not be AD1000X days for you, no matter what you dig out of your library. But like any addiction, it can strike you down with a craving when you least expect it. You itchily wait out the remaining hours at your desk, rush home, bolt the door and sink into your listening chair. Those amazing, coloured mids and that shimmering, soap-bubble treble pour via your ears into your soul. If this is the fate of an AD1kx addict, you’re hooked.