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Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9 Sovereign Wood Headphones

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #11 in On-Ear

Posted

Pros: no sound leakage in office, great sound quality, portable

Cons: pads sit on ears so a little uncomfortable for long sessions.

I own many high quality headphone (Stax Lambda circa 1985, Stax SR303, AKG K1000, Sennheiser HD580, plus many other middle level phones) but I wanted a quality  headphone for my office that was close to the stax.  I needed something that was sealed so it would not disturb my colleagues.  I also really enjoy the Audio Technica sound (similar to stax "voicing" in many ways).  These fit my goal perfectly.  

 

The sound quality is extremely good, but not up to the level of the Stax or K1000s.  But for the office and a 20,000円 pair of headphones I am extremely happy.  Plus they are very stylish.  When shopping for these I checked out many sennheiser, AKG, denon and Audio Technica phones.  I seriously compared to the audio technica ATH-A700, A900, AD700 and AD900, AKG K601 K701, and several denons in the $200 range.The AKG are very nice, like a mix of sennheiser stax and AudioTechnica but not closed back but quite expensive in Japan (almost stax pricing). The Denons were very nice but seemed too bass heavy and warm sounding to my taste, but I can see why many love them.  The ATH-AD series had a nice, enjoyable sound but they leaked sound too much (open design) and just did not fit my head since they lack a vertical rotation joint. The A700 and A900 were also very nice. I almost bought the ATH-A900, but I really like the ESW9 sound a lot more.  The ESW9 seems more balanced (more stax like) while the A700/A900 seemed a bit bass heavy and a little "thicker" sounding to me.  When I first listened to the ESW9 I knew immediately that this was what I was looking for.  It really stood out in the comparison.  I run them with a Gilmore Lite headphone amp.

I highly recommend auditioning the ATH-ESW9 for anyone looking for a high quality sound in the $200 price range, especially if they want a closed-back headphone that sounds like an open design.  But there are many fakes out there so I highly recommend listening at a dealer and not buying used or from ebay.

Posted

Pros: Warm but still punchy tone, large soundstage, lightweight, subtle good looks, comfortable

Cons: No accessories, disappointing cable, delicate brackets, don't fold for travel

I purchased the Audio Technica ESW9a. These have African Paduak shells rather than the cherry of the Japanese release. The ESW9a is made in Japan.
    
Physical:
        First, these are most definitely not circumaural headphones. The pads have a slope, the outside edge of which extends to the tops and bottoms of my ears (medium size) if positioned just so. The pads to press your ears down. I don't find the clamping intense or uncomfortable, but I became used to the vise-grip of the Senn HD280 Pro after a couple years of use. YMMV. I would call these on-ears and warn that they fit and feel like large on-ears. I usually despise on-ears but am pleased with these and wear them for hour+ stints over the course of my workday. Between the closed-back, the leather ear pads and being on-ears, they are warmer to wear than some over-ear but nothing like the sweat-boxes of the HD280 Pro's and overall comfortable.
        
        The wood shell is nice, but due to the smaller than expected diameter and very tame grain (on mine at least) not especially striking. They are definitely classier than a pair of silver HD 25's but the black plastic, subtle decals and lack of any garish garnishment they don't call attention to themselves.
        
        The construction quality could be a sticking point for many and is certainly the area that has me questioning the original MSRP. Most of the important bits are plastic and thin. The hinges and yoke feel delicate but not inherently weak. The z-axis swivel for each can is somewhat stiff. This may seem like a flaw, especially given the hardware's lack of robustness, but there is a very good reason for this. They hold the slant of your ears when removed. There's almost no 'settling in' necessary when an ear-cup is removed. The minimalistic use of material continues through the headband. The adjusters are thin sheet metal stamped with stops. The actual band is very soft leather & foam over a thin and very light solid band. From what I can tell there are two steel bands connecting the socket where the adjustable band slides. It should be somewhat easy to bend them different sizes of head. The whole of the headphones is very light given the actual size of the earcups. Another disapointment is the cable. It's thin and short and neither sturdy or attractive. It's also a Y cable, which would be less of an issue if the length of the Y wasn't fixed by a molded rubber strain relief. The cord is also short and would have been better if an extension was included in the box. I'd also gripe about the lack of a 1/4" adapter. I've come to expect one with headphones and was surprised to find such an inexpensive accessory missing. The strain reliefs on the earcups are sufficient but look cheap protruding from the otherwise pleasing Paduak cups. The pads are comfortable but not unnoticeable. The leather feels sturdy and I don't expect tears or flaking. The foam inside is somewhat soft and I've resolved to rotate the pads around from time to time to prevent them flattening too much.
 
General Sound:
        Warm. More emphasized bass than another staple of warm 'phones: the HD598. I was surprised to find they have a large sound stage (See comment on 311 - Great Divide below). The attenuation of outside sound is ok and somewhat even across frequency ranges. They are not isolating phones though, so you will have to boost the volume to drown out the world, especially crowds and noisy commutes. I used them at the DMV for an hour to stave off boredom and felt nither lost from or irritated by the crowd. I'm a bit confused by the DR on these cans. While all the sounds come through clearly, the levels sound slightly compressed (dynamically). This is not a bad thing but could explain my observations about certain groups below. Please understand this is subtle and it took me some time to conclude this is what I'm hearing.
        
        I played these from my home computer (with a nice onboard audio processor), my work machine (less than ideal signal flow) and through my phone (HTC One with Beats Audio OFF). Nothing fancy but my home machine and phone have surprisinly good playback quality.
 
Listening to Female vocals to get a sense of that AT magic:
        Bat for Lashes: Laura is one of my favorite songs hands-down. It almost elicits tears, but isn't a sad song so I can't bring myself to do so. This song was mixed somewhat 'warmly' to begin with and has plenty of reverberance to sustain subtler details. This comes across remarkably with the esw9a's. I can't go as far as claim that the results are 'magical' as some have claimed, but the result is quite good. Moon and Moon is a similar track to Laura, being keys and vocal. This too comes across well, with nothing missing, nothing emphasized but rather a whole unique color. Other tracks from this artist: Sarah, I saw a light, Glass, I'm on Fire, What's a Girl to do. Many of BFL's tracks have an ethereal sound and the strengths of these phones certainly play to the advantage of the songs.
        Cat Powers & Goldfrapp: similar to the above but adjusted for their variances. Many of Goldfrapp's track are so well produced and mastered it's nice to hear them shine through these cans.
        Sharon Von Etten: There's quite a range of production quality in the three albums currently out, but all sounded good. The later recordings from Tramp really popped. Because the bass is gently boosted it balances out the upper-mids of the vocals. This may be the trick across the whole female vocal genere: a balance of present bass, smooth mids, and just a little bite in the highs.
        
Listening to other styles:
        311 - Great Divide: I could clearly hear the placement of the crash and ride cymbals. Crash is 'high' right and ride is 'mid' (chest height) left. Good soundstage not far from, and perhaps occasionally exceeding my HD598s. (Stereolithic is a pretty good album).
        Band of Skulls came across nicely, with lush guitar riffs, bass lines and vocals.
        Foals: While the sound is pleasing, these phones loose the percussiveness present in almost every instrument and every song. I prefer the crispness of the HD598 for this group.
        Type O -: While I wouldn't describe these as 'metal' headphones, this group comes across well. There is plenty of punch in the bass drums, all the melodic instruments are balanced, and vocals well defined.
        Metallica: Just to test my perception above with a metal group of different style and production/mixing. They sound fine but lack the agressive character I prefer when listening to metal. The sounds get a rounded out and is more pleasant & listenable but not 'correct'.
        I found these very suitable for hard-rock style groups like: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Tame Impala, The Black Angels, Dead Weather and so on.
        Electronic/Electro-Pop: Really hits the bass and a little sub-bass nicely. These ranges almost take you by surprise because they seem far more relaxed with other styles. However these don't sound great with lo-fi recording like those of Sleigh Bells. The EQ of the ESW9a doesn't compliment their made-for-earbuds mixing either. Surprisingly this group sounds fine through my HD598s.
        James Blake - We Might Feel Unsound: Bass & sub-bass patterns are surprisingly well defined but don't come across as boomy.
        
Overall conclusion: These are nice headphones and definitely worthy of a head-fier. An on-ear enthusiast could certainly find a place for this in their collection. Someone looking for a practical on-ear headphone should consider this as well. Not truly 'portable' beacase it doesn't fold and may not be rugged enough for regular knocks. I picked these up from a deals thread post on Cowboom for ~$137 shipped and feel that was a great price. I can't justify paying over $200 for these which may explain the regular price hovering around that mark. To some they'd be worth a bit more.

Posted

Pros: Warm sound, very musical, striking looks

Cons: Not ruggedly durable, doesn't isolate well,

I got this on Amazon for $199 and can't believe it was initially released for over $500. Nevertheless, the headphones are decent and would satisfy most enthusiasts who prefer clarity and musicality at the same time.

 

Build Quality

 

The quality is good and the product is well made, however, it feels flimsy especially for its price range. Aside from the luxurious lambskin, protein leather and wood,the rest is mainly made of (cheap) plastic. The headphones overall doesn't inspire ruggedness and it's hard to see it surviving if you're gonna throw it to your bed like how you throw your other headphones. The cable is also very thin and double-sided.

 

Isolation is so so. You have to crank up the volume a bit since the cans doesn't isolate well. Comfort is average as it feels odd at the beginning. The cups are large enough (for some) to be a circumaural headphone but the pads are somewhat in the middle. It's a Grado-like bowl pads and for some, it might not be comfortable.

 

Sound quality

 

I like this headphone a lot! The overall signature is neutral, certainly not dark but has plenty of warmth to make the sound enjoyable. Overall the sound is colored but that makes ESW9 sound 'magical'. Bass and midrange are tubey sounding in a way and while treble is somewhat subdued, there's plenty of it.

 

Soundstage and instrument separation is the typical for this type of cans (which is average to say the least) but it helps that the headphones don’t sound too ‘closed’. I’m assuming this is the good tradeoff for it not isolating outside noise well.

 

Headphone plays plenty loud on portable players and I don't think an amp is really needed for it. I tried several portable amps like E11 and it really didn't alter the sound too much.

 

Overall it's a good headphone especially if you like classical, jazz, slow rock, female vocals, etc. Might be a bit slow for faster modern rock though.

 

Posted some pictures in my blog review of the ESW9 here.

Posted

Pros: Great warmth of sound. Fabulous looks.

Cons: Very cheap, flimsy, and short cable.

So do you go with what you like or with what's best for you? I guess at the juncture at most points in my life I've gone with the former. In headphones too that has me going back to the ESW9s again and again. They are NOT my most accurate cans. Even while listening, I know I'm not hearing the whole story. But somehow, the sound of these headphones just grabs me like nothing has so far.

Posted

Pros: Nicely judged tonal balance

Cons: Needs some TLC, not a rugged portable

I might not have gotten these if I had'nt heard them. I was milling around the best buy and put on a few cans. I thought these were the best sounding cans Best Buy had on their wall- portable or otherwise. It was not even that close. Maybe not the ideal comparing circumstance but the ESW9's really impressed me. They had some other AT models, AKG, Pioneer, Bose and B&W for sampling- not sure the models. When they arrived I found The ESW9's work very well with a Sony Walkman. That is mainly the reason I got them. The sound is refined, maybe a touch warm but still nicely clear and detailed. If there's one thing these phones have it is tonal balance, to me the balance is very good for this type of headphone. There is no major exaggeration anywhere. Most importantly, natural instrument timbre is retained, everything is just scaled down a bit. I got a sense that while dynamics might be reigned in compared to a full size can, everything still felt right. That's quite a trick AT! This is now my headphone of choice for walkman. With an easy to drive nature and a 102 db sensitivity, they live up to their "portable" designation. Volume level and sound quality is superb on my portable device. They also do very well with a headphone amp, but usually I break out my full size cans for that, but I tell you I was'nt jumping up to get my other cans out- so the AT's are also up to scratch for dedicated home use. The ESW9's indicate there is something to be said for the acoustic properties of wood ear piece. Like my review says- I just about got these by coincidence- I was'nt really looking but fell for the sound of the ESW9's.

I could see people maybe having some comfort issues with these. Build is adequate but they may need some TLC, particularly the wood parts. Probably not for "field use". The build and sound are well in line with the street price but not the list price IMO. Great Isolation from outside noise was not really expected from an "on ear" can and I got about what I expected, the ESW9's are only fair in that area, you certainly won't get the isolation of a full size closed back. Wearing: They are average comfort for me, I notice a little discomfort after awhile, maybe 3 hours, but I rarely listen that long. The street price on these is worth it IMO. All in all a fine choice in the "portable" category. One final note: the box says "made in Japan". I know these days many cans including AT's own are China made, and in fact all the other models I pulled off the shelf were, but this one appears to be an exception. I mention that mainly for people who, perhaps like myself, might not ever get an image from back in the day out of their head- of Audio-Technica as a top Japanese company that was, and all these years later, sometimes still actually made there too. Recommended.

Posted

Pros: outstanding sound

Cons: none

I'm a newbie to high end who wishes to thank all the poster @ head-fi that steered me to creating a really amazing set up thatis  freakin' life changing:

 

DACport LX DAC $249 Amazon

Headstage Arrow 12HE 4G Headphone amplifier $299  headstage.com

Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9 Sovereign Wood Headphones $216  Amazon

Great start. Versatile, portable, and outstanding.

Posted

Pros: Amazing high and mid ranges. Female Vocals, Jazz and Orchestral Music is amazing.

Cons: Bass is not very heavy, but it is there (compared to a pair of ATH-M50s)

I got these as my first set and I couldn't be more satisfied.

 

I ordered them refurbished for $149.00 from an audiotechnica certified dealer on the internet (ironically, I ordered the ESW9As, but got a set of these instead--what serendipitous fortune!).

 

Seeing as I listen to Jazzy Beats (see songs such as 'The Strange Fruit Projects - Maintain' for reference) as well as soundtracks ('A Dark Knight,' etc.) or more chill electronica (see 'Ellie Goulding - Lights (Shook Remix)' for reference), these headphones were perfect for me.

 

The highs and mids shine on this pair of headphones. Even without a DAC/amp (I bought a FiiO E07K ANDES to complete this set-up), the headphones deliver amazing sound driven straight from my Macbook, iPhone 4S, Ipod, etc. The lows were also there, but definitely not as big as my friend's pair of ATH-M50s.

 

With a DAC/amp, however, everything changes. I have the ANDES set on +4 Treble and +6 Bass and these things even out perfectly. It just wakes everything up. Even the low rumbling in some of my soundtrack songs were unbelievably impressive.

 

My only qualm about this set of cans is that the connectors between the band and the cups are made of plastic--a high grade plastic, but plastic nonetheless--as opposed to being all metal and leather (like my other friend's B&W P5s). Also when I first got the headphones, the clamp hurt my ears after about 3-4 hours of solid listening. Since then, it has loosened up a bit to fit my head, so I'm hoping that with time it will fit my head just perfectly.

 

Overall, I highly recommend this pair of headphones for anyone looking for a portable set. They are aesthetically beautiful with their Hokkaido Sovereign Cherry wood cups and they sound beautiful as well, particularly with a decent DAC/amp (no clue what a straight AMP would do).

 

A definite 9 to 9.5/10

 

Posted

Pros: Outstanding midrange, Good for a variety of genres, Beautiful design (especially the wood housing)

Cons: Worst isolation for a portable, somewhat fragile construction (particularly the swivel joints)

When I was on a look out for my first serious headphones, I came across this beautiful 'Geisha' by the name of ESW9. 'Gorgeous' was the first word that I uttered upon gazing the headphone for the first time. But seeing a lot of stylish cans coming out as of late, I was wary; will it be another of those style over substance type of 'trash' I was hearing about? I did some more in depth research and decided that I pull the trigger on them. And all my doubts before were casted away completely when I started to listen to this grandiose work of art!

 

What's Inside

 

Opening the windowed black box reveals the headphones with the cups covered in a sticky plastic along with the synthetic leather pouch and the some papers. It could have been better if Audio-Technica come up with a ATH-HPP5 case instead as the poach, is not enough to shield the cups from scratches. (I was already over-protected on my pair and it still scratch) Though I guess adding the case would only add to the already hefty price tag on the ESW9.

 

Build, Ergonomics, Wearing experience

 

The headphones' construction (as far as the materials used) screams of luxury. The headband is padded with protein leather, seen in  most car seating. It's soft and comfy, and very easy to clean. I wish Audio-Technica could have use them on the ear pads as well instead of the lambskin which is more susceptible to dirt and grime. The driver housing is made up of wood (the 'a' version on this review is made of african paduak while the standard Japanese release were cherry), with a hand-made finish. Simply put, it's beautiful and sophisticated, probably one of the best (if not, the best) looking headphones out there. The biggest downer though is the swivels that connects the ear cups. It's made up of very light, somewhat cheap-ish plastic with a fake gold grain texture. It can tear off real bad if you are the type that's rough on his/her things. Comfort is pretty good on this one, but may not suit people with bigger head as the headband is somewhat small. (bending it a bit might help) The bowl-shaped pads are soft and comfy though produce more heat on the ears and may not suit those people living in a tropic country. Still, it would make a good ear warmer in winter though. Isolation is another concern on these headphones considering they were designed as portables. They let in too much passive noise and sometimes can be really annoying when on commute. Because of this, they're may be more suitable as a transportable type, ideal to those who occasionally listen to music while at the office. In there, the isolation is just about right. The cables are soft and thin and doesn't inspire durability, though perhaps it's fine as long as you don't use it while jogging or playing ball. 

 

 

Sound Quality

 

Before the review, I've already spent at least 100 hrs. or more head time from the date of purchase on these, and during those times I never noticed any improvement on the sound quality at all, so I guess it's safe to say that these doesn't burn in and already sound good out of the box. Or perhaps the sound was new for me, being my first high-end portable coming from entry level ones and all so my experience may vary. Just give her some more head time if the sound doesn't meet your initial expectations.

 

*Bass - Pretty good. Not the type that would make bass freaks happy though. The type that suits slow-paced music more like Jazz, or some various rock genres like synth-rock or pop-rock. A bit unrefined but still manageable, assuming you do not intend on using them as a 'banger' headphone. 

 

*Mid-range - If there's one main reason you would purchase a ESW9 then this is it. The midrange on this one is sublime, with superb clarity and timbre. Perfect if you love your vocals. Instrument separation is excellent as well. From woodwinds to percussion, nothing is smeared over. All is there, with a good touch of warmth. It's the specialty of the house for the ESW9.

 

*Treble - A bit distant, but it's still there, sparkly, with a 'sweet' rendition, providing a smooth, non-fatiguing listening experience. A perfect side-step to those who want to take a break from a more 'aggressive' sound signature.

 

*Stereo Imaging (Soundstage) - Pretty good as well. It's a naturally rendered soundscape with no fake  depth. I'm not too keen about describing the position of the instruments nor the positioning of them as oppose to the audience's (listener) perspective others are claiming, but to my ears it's just about right.

 

 

Conclusion

 

With that being said, I can never be more satisfied enough with how the ESW9 renders my music playlist. Surely, there are some shortcomings particularly concerning durability and ergonomics but that becomes easily negligible considering how well they perform, for my needs at least. Not to mention the sublime looks! 

Posted

Pros: Midrange, Vocal clarity, Mellow "Tube" sound, Appearance

Cons: Isolation (it leaks), The fact that it's supra-aural, Slight flimsy feeling to it

A little background:

This can be considered my first decent pair of "portable" headphones. I have a pair of HD650s at home and I usually use my customs or UE TF10 Pro's when I'm going out. I've stopped using in-ears for a while because I seem to get swollen canals after prolonged use and it hurts. God forbid I've actually picked up the iPod earbuds for portable listening. I've recently decided to buy a pair of portable headphones. I was actually considering the Sennheiser HD25-1 II but I've tried it at my local store and it doesn't seem to fit too well with my ears (I don't seem to get a seal but the SQ was decent, very forward sounding). I remember I've looked at the ESW9's a while ago and I saw them again in the shop so I decided to give those a try.

 

I usually have this sense of unwillingness straight after I buy a piece of audio equipment (like when I bought the Sennheiser HD650s, they are great phones, but still :/) because it is an expensive affair (I don't work yet..), so far I don't have this feeling with the AT ESW9's.

 

Initial Response:

I prefer not to dwell in the burn-in no burn-in debate. Personally I don't really know, and I definitely do not receive a Placebo, so below are just the comments I'd give after initial hearings with this headphones.

 

The ESW9's is a pair of very smooth sounding headphones. I really like the midrange clarity, the vocals are very smooth and clear, a much enjoyed experience. I really like the frequency response of the headphones, it's rather unique compared to most headphones out there. It's one of those headphones that one can keep in his/her inventory because there will always be a time when one craves for the type of sound that these headphones produce.

 

These headphones look really pretty, I'm really scared of scratching the wood because it is so varnished and lovely. Comfort-wise they are pretty comfortable, I'm not sure I've found the best placement on my ears yet but I'm getting there. However, these headphones do leak, I've not sure if it's because of the wood? but average listening levels for me (which should be pretty average) and everyone in a small room can listen clearly (given there isn't much talking).

 

Compared to my in-ears they are very mellow, with the in-ears being more technical-sounding and sharp/quick, however with the result of a grain-ier sound. These are very smooth (I tend to say that a lot). Bass is definitely there in the ESW9's but they aren't punchy and hard-hitting, even my open Sennheiser HD650's have punchier bass than my ESW9's.

 

I think these headphones are a keep for me, and I hope anyone who buys them will give them a lot of love. My only mission now is to make sure I don't scratch them, I'll probably hunt for a hard case for these headphones in the morning. Build quality looks decent, though I wouldn't go nuts on twisting the cups back and forth because though there are metal-bits and the general headphone seems to be of decent quality, it still gives me a slight flimsy feeling.

Posted

Pros: POP, R&B, especially on certain female voice..ect.

Cons: Poor on classical music which like Symphony

I own the ESW9 for just over a year with over 600+hrs run on it.

 

As an portable headphones, it doesnt do job well at the 1st 100hrs when i try to hook it wit my walkman up,i have to put my amp on.. but the sound become much more better after i had it run-in for 500hrs even i plug it to the sound card comes with my laptop direct.. 

 

Born to listen Japanese POP R&B female singers voice, not good on lots of Symphony.

 

However, you cant compare this thing with any other bigger headphone wit a decent system due to its size..

 

Since its better size with the great woody looking and $100 cheaper price dropped than the date it came out today, i would say go get one for yourself.

Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9 Sovereign Wood Headphones
Description:

Portable closed headphone

Details:
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Models:
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Troubleshooting/Known Issues:

Certain of these headphones have a manufacturing defect that causes the hinge where the earcup meets the arc assembly to fail.  This happened to me.  I sent my pair to AT USA and they fixed them free of charge even though I could not provide a proof of purchase.  Thumbs up, AT USA.

 

 

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