Audio-technica ATH-W5000 ‘Raffinato’
ATH-W5000 was released by audio-technica on the 2nd of December 2005. ‘Raffinato’ marks the release of the 9th generation of the W series, and the 4th non-limited production models since ATH-W1000 at the end of 2002.
At the same time, audio-technica also released a matching dedicated headphone amplifier, AT-HA5000. This is an interesting approach taken by audio-technica as similar treatment was only previously applied to limited production models, namely W2002/HA2002 and L3000/DHA3000.
The followings are specifications taken from audio-technica’s official W5000 webpage:
Type: Dynamic, Closed, Circumaural
Housing Material: Shima-kokutan
Driver Diameter: 53mm
Driver Coil Wire: OFC8N
Frequency Response: 5 - 45,000Hz
Weight: 340g (minus cable)
Impedance: 40 ohms
Sensitivity: 102 dB/mW
Raffinato’s housing is built with Shima-kokutan (ebony wood), instead of the previously used Hokkaido’s Asadazakura (with exception to W10VTG) Ebony wood is said to be heavier and denser than the cherry wood. It is safe to assume the change in acoustic properties would have a direct effect on the sound.
The W5000’s housings have a shallower, thinner, more rounded ‘saucer’ shape where as its predecessors’ bowl or half spherical shapes. The smaller profile of the housing keeps the headphone to be relatively lightweight (340g) despite heavier material.
W5000’s has similar Double Air Dampening System (D.A.D.S) built inside the housings: a feature was firstly used in ATH-W2002, and is subsequently present in W1000 and L3000.
Around the edge where the housing join on to the frame, it is shaped so there is hollowing exist between: an R10-easque feature. (Please refer to the photo below) It is said the design on Sony’s MDR-R10 were to minimise vibration to transmit between the housing and the frame, and I believe it is similar purpose audio-technica wants to achieve.
Finish of the housing is smooth with no apparent coloured paint applied to the main body; the natural dark brown/black wood grain is clearly visible with contrasting white logo, brand name, model number and name on each side. The styling is a departure from the red/gold/multicolour or natural/black combinations in the past.
The drivers used in the previously non-limited production W models were not specially mentioned on their respective website like their limited production relatives. However, audio-technica highlighted that Raffinato has ‘W5000 specific driver’ on its product page. (Diameter (? 53mm) and OFC8N voice coil)
When this review is written, there are three pairs of W5000 reported to have ‘rattling’ driver defect when 20 Hz test tone is played. Similar defect was also noted in the previous generation, ATH-L3000; although no clear cause of the phenomenon was identified for W5000.
[Frame & Pads]
Several features of the frame of W5000 are adapted from the current Air series, and abandoned traditional designs W series:
The wings support system is no longer only tilt on one axis (like the past W series have been), but like the Air and Art series: the patented 3D wings support system are used which tilts forward/backwards as well as sideways to provide comfort and stability.
The two support beams, which previously had plastic tubing for cover, become exposed flat tampered metal similar to the recent Air series (AD1000/2000). However some users reported of AD1000/2000 have excessive clamping force from the beams, audio-technica seems to have addressed the issue with Raffinato; appropriate pressure which could be overly loose fitting for some with smaller head.
The joint where the frame joins on to the housing is in a ‘T’ shape, rather than the past ‘Z’ shape (see photos below). The joint allows less rotation of the ear cup than the past W models.
W5000’s cabling design has taken a more unconventional step: It is the very first in the non-limit production W series to have dual cable entries to the housing. The cable is made of 6N-OFC+Hi-OFC, the same for W1000.
And instead of the traditional silk or cloth wrapping; Raffinato uses elastomer wrapping, a change that makes the cable easier to manage but more microphonic than the traditional materials.
The cable terminates in a 1/4” metal jack, which appears to be more rounded than L3000 and now a standard feature of the Air series. audio-technica seems to have abandoned old design using matching coloured wood to cover the jack, as it has done for the past W series.
W5000 comes with a chocolate coloured plastic flight case with model number/brand nameplate and logo on the lock. Red colour silking lines the inside with padding to protect the fragile wood for storage and transport. A small drawstring bag is included for cable management.
[Burn-in & Set up]
After acquiring all of my wood headphones via the used market, W5000 is the first pair of ATH-W that I have owned since new. Prior to writing this review, I attempted to burn-in the Raffinato with a week worth of continuous music playing. To me, the sound does change through the period, and stabilises after exceeds 100+ hour mark.
The review is based on listening to the following set-up, with music mainly in Jazz, R&B, Classical and Mandarin Pop/folk genre.
Meridian 506.16 > Ack! dAck! 1.2e > audio-technica AT-HA2002 > audio-technica ATH-W5000 ‘Raffinato’
W5000 inherits audio-technica’s house colouration: with slight emphasis on upper midrange, which in turn produces the sparkling female vocal W series is known of. However, the midrange lacks the more natural and the warmer tonality that dominates some of the ATH-Ws. Midrange is also placed further back, and deeper into the overall image and creates a gives a mild but noticeable hollowing sound.
The treble carry appropriate amount of extension and energy, no sibilance is heard during the review process. On poorly recorded material, treble becomes slightly etched and loses the smoothness.
Raffinato delivers deep, controlled and articulated bass. Although it lacks the impact and slam that is well known of in its direct predecessor, L3000; its bass resonance and presence remain satisfactory. Given the low end of frequency a more organic texture.
I was struck very initially by the clarity and resolution, which W5000 possesses. With further listening sessions, I feel this presentation is contributed by a few factors:
Speed is the most apparent and outstanding feature of W5000. audio-technica’s W series were infamous for its slow attack and long decays with discrepancies between each models, but not for Raffinato. W5000 possesses the PRaT that is previously unheard of in the W series, although not to the level of quickness in the likes of Sony’s MDR-SA5000 and Qualia 010.
Raffinato has fair instrument separation creates a sense of airiness and forms a coherent image. This feature combining with a improved soundstage, that is significantly more ‘expensive’ than most of the W series (excluding L3000) gives the W5000 the incredible clarity and lightness without being overloaded with details.
My first few sessions with the W5000 led me to believe it suffers some mild midrange smearing when the music passage becomes busy. However as the review went on, this phenomenon seems to have disappeared. Intriguingly, the instrument texture was vividly palpable at one stage during the first 100 hours, but somehow managed to resolve into a finer and softer variety gradually over time. [Overall]
Having auditioned the entire line of ATH-W series; to me, Raffinato inherits the analytic line of sound within the family. Rather than imposing euphonic characteristics and add warmth to the sound, it reproduces the music with more fidelity and has a better reflection to the front end and the source.
Comparing W5000 with its predecessors, I would place it with the likes of W1000, W2002, W10LTD and W11R, as all of them share similar characteristics in their overall signature.
ATH-W5000 extrudes elegance with its sound, aesthetics and packaging. To me, having owned and auditioned the entire line of audio-technica W, it represents a new concept product by audio-technica and maybe an early indication of what is to come in 2006 as audio-technica gears up for the release of their 45th anniversary statement product.