Pros: Cheap ($30 on sale), Comfortable, Light, Good Sound Stage, Good Positioning
Cons: Bass Light, Foggy, Congested (benefits EQ big time)
So I received the AD500's today. Let me just say this now, I cannot stand FedEx. I didn't get to choose the courier. I always use UPS or USPS. I absolutely cannot stand FedEx. They're the only courier who leaves packages on door steps, knock and walk away. I wouldn't be completely devastated if a $30 pair of headphones were stolen. But what if that was one of my other headphone orders? Or my DAC? I would lose my mind. FedEx is not worth my business. I would never have even used them had I had the opportunity to choose the courier. Walmart used FedEx without an option. Gah! Ok, enough of that, let's get on to the headphones.
Audio Technica AD500 Open-Air Full Size Headphone Review First Impressions
First, let's open up the package and see what we have and talk about the headphone build, structure, mechanism, driver position, cord, pads, and their size. And let's do it with some little pictures to help get an idea of things with commentary. The package isn't anything special. There's no carrying case. No additional cords. No extras of any kind. No CD will free audio to test your headphones on. But I'm not expecting anything in the $30 range. And we're not here to judge the package, right? Right.
Physical Attributes of the AD500:
The headphones are huge. I was surprised how big they were. The cups are a bit bigger than all my other headphones. The construction of the headphone is plastic as expected in this price range ($30). They're actually pretty light weight. My first immediate impression was the total lack of the ability to tighten the headband. These things are one size and either grip you or they don't depending on your headsize. Now I don't have a huge head, but these do not grip me. I worried at first thinking that without at least a bit of grip that they wouldn't seal right and it would affect the sound. I've read about mods to keep the headband pads closer via bands and other methods and bending the tension levers into a "V" shape to produce more grip. I didn't bother. I want to know what they're like out of the box first. Mods come later. Pads are very soft, very smooth and plentiful. Putting them on, they are light, I don't feel a huge weight on my head, but they don't grip me like my other headphones, or at least don't sit in a manner that makes me feel like I can move my head around without them shifting. They are quite loose to me. So I moved around, they didn't shift. But I felt like they were going to if I did anything crazy. Point is, very light grip. The headphone swivels only slightly and they're on a simple bar mechanism that lets them turn as seen in the 4th image above. Right away I noticed when looking in the cups that the drivers are angled so that sound travels from your front to your back which represents the natural shape of your ear any ways. Nice detail. They're not just dead center and perpendicular out from there. The pads are pretty comfortable, and cloth. I will not own/keep headphones without cloth pads, so this is a plus and the only reason I even was willing to try these headphones for fun. The cord is very long, thick and is not detachable. Comes with both connections of course (mechanism of changing adapter is a simple plug in, doesn't screw in or anything, just plugs, I don't like that because you can pull it it out of your headphone jack and leave the adapter behind potentially which is annoying). The color is simple, they're black with silver grills. So crazy purple or anything silly. There's a little notch on the left headphone swivel to denote Left from Right if you can't see or if you don't remember the cord is attached to the Left cup. Overall, I can't decide if they feel cheap, or if they're just so big and loose that it's like wearing a hat too big for you so it feels awkward. I'm going to go with both, they feel cheap (and are, so that makes sense) and they are loose and and big. Someone with a huge wide hide would probably fit into these a lot better than me. I say this because if you attached a microphone to this headphone it would probably slide down on that side a bit which is annoying.
Comfort Impressions of the AD500:
When I first put them on, I felt like they were loose and didn't grip. Didn't know if this was normal compared to it's bigger brothers and sisters. End of the day, it's the same as the others. I wore them a while, while listening. I got used to the feel within a few minutes. Didn't really notice it any more. I'm attributing that initial feel because I was previously wearing my Beyers and Ultrasones already this morning, so going from a grip to something loose was different. I get the same feeling when I put on my Sennheisers which are 10 years old and very loose. But the headband sits, so you feel like you're wearing a comfy old shoe. The AD500 doesn't feel like that. Maybe it will in the future after some use. For now, I will say it's not the most comfortable headphone to me. I like to have a little more grip. And I like it to feel like it's not going to fall off. Again, maybe someone with a bigger wider head would like the feel more than me. And someone with a skinnier head may not like this at all. I didn't have any issues wearing glasses with them.
Sound Signature and Listening Experience, First Impressions, of the AD500:
I didn't let them burn in. I burn in while listening. I also don't like to think there's a huge change when burning in. But then I also noticed a change in my Ultrasones, so I always have an open mind about the concept of burning in. These are $30 headphones. I'm not terribly worried if the sound doesn't change. So what it's like out of the box is the first impression, with no secondary burn in. I'm playing it from several sources to get an idea of how the sound changes, volume, etc. These headphones do not require an amplifier at all. I simply pair it up with different ones to see how it sounds. I'm using my Sansa Fuze on it's own, then the Vivid V1 Amp, then output from my Little Dot MK III tube amp to see if there's a difference in sound stage, warmth, highs, lows, etc. Just an initial walk through the spectrum.
I'm using a variety of music. Ani DeFranco (acoustic, female vocals, indie folk), Opeth Damnation (acoustic, male vocals, synth, this is not like their other albums at all if you are familiar), The Cranberries (one of my passions, deal with it, her voice is haunting, has acoustic, bass, lots of mid range usage), Jazz at the Pawnshop (great sound stage representation, good ambiance test), Rush (let's here some guitar), Steely Dan (guitar, different percussion instruments, male vocals, lots of little details like chimes and stuff, great for testing), Norah Jones (female vocals, some bass, some airy jazzy country sound to it), Evanescence (female vocals, haunting, some metal aspect, heavy bass, lots of congestion for testing), Justice Cross (some electronica, punchy, in your face, good test of the driver's speed), Elton John (piano, guitar, male vocals, very revealing), Crystal Castles (electronica, lots of different tones, good test of speed of driver, good congestion for testing, punchy), DeadMau5 (house/dub, crunchy, test of bass, highs, and general use as a headphone for someone who likes bass and impact), BT These Imagined Machines (electronica, house, good test of use for the genre, lots of different vocals, punchy, bass presence), Ludovico Einaudi (classical, piano), Euge Groove (Jazz, heavy on bass, lots of instrumental, good test of extension of all ranges and clarity).
Treble: The highs are bright and breathy. They don't pierce. I noticed some sibilance during female vocals sometimes. Sometimes they felt congested and dry.
Mids: I felt like most of the headphone's sound was basically the mid-range. It was a very flat sound. Not dynamic sounding. It was a bit mellow and hazey. Very punchy, it had impact, it attacked very aggressively on mid-range-percussion and instruments.
Bass: Very little low end bass presence, punchy, but rolls off to non-existent low end bass, has some bass, it's not absent, it certainly doesn't take over anything, but it's not even remotely a basshead can, it's the least present in the spectrum compared to the mids/highs. Bass light.
Sound Stage: I tested with some binaural recordings and the music. The sound stage is wide when a recording takes advantage of it. You don't feel like you're cramped into a little box and the sound isn't just in your head. Good separation and good wide feel when listening. Positioning is very good, so it will function well as a gaming headphone and for listening to films with lots of positioning is the recording (even though it's bass light, but this is likely preferred for gaming as to not lose detail sounds like foot steps to big boomy bass or rumbles that would otherwise conceal the sound).
Impact: This headphone hits you in the face when a drum is tapped for example. If you're playing a game, the machine gun is almost too much it impacts so hard and fast, it's like a snap. Some love that. Some don't.
Clarity: Limited clarity. I felt like a lot of the mid/high was congested and so detail and clarity was sort of gone. I felt like there was an foggy overlap to everything and less distinction and separation of sounds.
Congestion: Definitely some congestion in the mids/highs. I felt like they were all the same thing at first.
Fatigue: The highs being bright with some sibilance sometimes in vocals and the fast impact of the driver (it hits hard and fast) had me in fatigue pretty fast at my listening volume. Granted, I listen at high volume. By high, I mean super high. Just to the point where any more would hurt. When I turned it down to what some would call a normal listening level, the fatigue was greatly reduced and the impact was less of a problem. At high volume, the impact is seriously fatiguing though.
Richness: This headphone is not rich. It's airy and light sounding. It's a mesh of the mids/highs and the bass is very light. It was a cold thin foggy sound. Even on my tube it wasn't very warm afterwards. Still sounded about the same.
EQ: I played around with EQ to see if I could make it sound more like what I wanted to hear. The mid-bass definitely can go up. But the lowest bass simply distorts if you try and raise it. I toned down the impact in the highs to reduce fatigue and raised mid-bass. The headphone sounds completely different like this and is more enjoyable to me.
First Impression Pro & Con for the Value ($30):
Quality of construction: 5/10
Great for rock, folk, vocals and classical. Everything sounded pretty good. They even did a good job on some of my jazz.
Not very good for electronica or anything where you want to hear and feel big bass.
Great for gaming.
*Equalizing made a big difference. The sound was massively improved when I lowered the highs a few Db to essentially raise the mid-lows. The headphone transformed into something more rich and bassy feeling. Still light by comparison to my other headphones (DT990, Pro 900's, DT700 Pro's, etc). But it had a much better presence. Impact from drum, etc was taken down a notch that way and the fatigue was less.
Overall first impression is that this headphone is worth every cent for $30. But not worth the retail price which is nearly triple that. If you want a gaming headphone and can equalize it, this headphone is amazing for $30 when I compare it to other cheap things.
Your biggest fear trying a cheap headphone and being objective with it is that it might sound too close, perform too well, and that you will start to feel the burn of all those expensive headphones you have or want. This little $30 is a performer if you tweak it. I didn't like the sound myself right out of the box, because I crave bass and clarity. With some EQ tweaks, the headphone came alive to me and I suddenly liked it a lot more. Rest assured, it definitely didn't come close to my other headphones even after tweaks. But I must say for $30 this headphone is worth it. If it were twice that cost, probably not. And definitely not at it's retail suggested price (ridiculous).
I would love to have some AD700's to test them against to see the difference.
Note that I was basically listening to them after having listened to my other mains (HD580, DT990, Pro900).
Anyone looking for a cheap headphone for themselves for casual use for gaming or listening to anything that has more emphasis on mids/highs, this is a decent headphone and great for $30. I don't feel like I wasted $30. I will keep listening and testing and tweaking and soon will mod them a bit to see if I can get more out of them and will share results as that comes along. For now, I need to listen more to get a better impression and see how things evolve.
If anyone was on the fence, I'd say go for it for $30. I'll probably keep them a while for now. If nothing else, it makes me go "OMG OMG" when I put on my other headphones... haha.