Pros: Outstanding soul-stirring midrange, open and airy presentation, tight and fast bass, easily driven
Cons: Light on bass, slight treble roll off, soundstaging problems with many instruments, might be uncomfortable
When a headphone manufacturer releases a flagship, one would expect uncompromising sound quality, exceptional design and extreme comfort. As Audio Technica's current open circumaural top of the range model, the AD2000 comes off as a mixed bag. But it does have a big redeeming feature that has earned it a number of fans, and for this owner, it has charmed him enough to keep it together with the HD800.
It is the midrange which strikes the listener the most, it is a lush, forward midrange that suits female vocals to a T. Whether alto or soprano, Diana Krall or Kiri Te Kanawa, the AD2000 presents female vocals in a very intimate, soul-stirring manner. Female vocalists are not relegated to the back of the stage, they are right in front of you, baring every single emotion with stunning clarity. When Jane Monheit sings the last few lines of Over The Rainbow, one cannot help but feel for her as she pleads to the heavens. This kind of midrange may not be for everyone, some might find it "peaky" or "shouty", but those who enjoy it would be hard-pressed to find a more emotional midrange.
As the midrange takes center stage, bass and treble fall behind somewhat. This is a bass-light headphone, it may be deep, fast and snappy but it does not have the punch and volume to satisfy with rap, hip hop and R&B. This is definitely not a basshead's headphone. Treble has some slight roll-off, and while it still renders cymbals with gusto, it sounds a little flat when compared against a K701. Detail retrieval is above average, not as good as a K701 or DT880 but it is enough for most genres.
The soundstaging is an odd area; on the one hand it has a very open, airy presentation that feels like an open-air concert with plenty of space around instruments, on the other hand instrument separation suffers when faced with many instruments. On complex passages like Holst's Jupiter, some instruments sound as if they are blending together in a slightly incoherent blob. This is not much of a problem with mainstream music and jazz, and the above-average soundstage width is quite pleasing, if one is not too particular about depth.
With a dark blue colour scheme, hex grilles, "wings" on top and dual headbands, the AD2000 looks quite futuristic. The mesh grilles provide no isolation whatsoever, and there is a lot of sound leakage. Particularly annoying is the hard clamping pressure exerted by the headbands; when combined with the fairly thin earpads, one might find his ears squashed uncomfortably. Fortunately, stretching the headband and/or stuffing the earpads with cotton or a rubber hose can alleviate the comfort problem.
The AD2000 pairs well with many amps, and even sounds decent when going ampless. A personal favourite is the Rudistor NX-03, which makes the AD2000 sound very musical. Many portable amps like the Govibe Petite and Qables iQube drive it pretty well too. But OTL tube amps should not be used due to the low 40 ohms impedence.
As a flagship, the AD2000 does not stand up to the others in technical terms. But its midrange is capable of charming many with its soul-stirring presentation of female vocals. And after hearing many other capable headphones and owning an HD800, the AD2000 is an absolute keeper to me.
Sources: Cambridge Audio 840C/Stello DA100
Amps: Stello HP100/Qables iQube
Genres listened: Pop, Jpop, classical, instrumentals, jazz, trance, techno
Compared against: HD800, K701, K240 Sextett, ED8, PS-1000