I don’t have a dog in this fight other than wanting to know I got the best sound for my money. On that pretense, I created that dreadfully long D5000 vs D2000 vs. D1100 thread a couple of weeks ago. As I said then, the A100’s would be mine as soon as they came out…and to be perfectly honest, I wanted them to be the best of them all. Why? Because I wanted just 1 set of cans that I could take anywhere and know I’m getting some of the best sound money can buy. I wanted to only have to keep up with 1 set of cans if at all possible. I found that the larger D5000 and D2000 provided better sound, but were not portable. So if the A100’s could deliver the best of both worlds, the $500 asking price would have been well worth it. So how did they pan out vs the other 3 Denons under $600 ?
For those interested, these cans are driven just fine directly out of an iPod, as you would expect. Just like the relationship between the D5000 and D2000, the A100 shares many of its components with the D1100.
- Same headband (all plastic and leatherette with metal adjusters)
- Same dB sensitivity
- Same Input Impedance
- Same frequency response range
- Same driver
As far as I can tell, the differences between the D1100 and A100 are:
- Enhanced ear pads (softness of D2000/D5000 pads)
- Higher quality cable
- Cooler box and Certificate of Authenticity
- 5 year warranty
- Wooden finish (mahogany)
The A100’s are more comfortable to wear over an extended period of time. Amping is unnecessary for either can, as they were both designed to be driven effectively directly out of your portable device...and they deliver on that promise.
Right to business: A100 vs D1100
No, I don't feel that the highs are better at all. In fact...I think the presence of the wooden cups somehow HURTS these cans. If that is even possible. I may be wrong here (please correct if so), but one of the effects of wooden cups is that they can reduce the sharpness of otherwise painful highs as it adds a touch of warmth. This is valuable in a D5000 vs D2000 situation where the D2000's can be sharp at in the highs/treble while the D5000's wood absorbs a bit of that, softening what would otherwise be uncomfortable moments in the listening experience. But in the case of the D1100 vs A100, the highs aren't sharp to begin with in the D1100’s, so the effect of the wood only serves to further soften off an already sufficiently smooth high. In other words, not only do I perceive no benefit there, but I would suggest that the situation is resulting in an overall reduction in treble presence. It creates an awkward sound to my ears.
The mids are more present than the D1100's without EQ adjustments. They come out noticeably more. Sort of...a little bit lifted from underneath the shroud of the bass.
Lows are more refined than that of the D1100. Where the D1100 can sound bloated or fat, overpowering the mids with gargantuan bass, the A100’s are much tighter. Bass feels more proportional (though still quite heavy) and does not hold the mids at gunpoint. Case in point: Where on the D1100’s, I need to turn on “Bass Reducer” on my iDevice in order to get good balance, I can generally leave the EQ alone and the bass is okay.
The A100’s allow for a bit more detail in the mid and...and what feels like a little less in the highs. Because the somewhat overpowering bass is reduced, the mid and low details can come out more. But considering the odd feel of the sound balance, it means little to me, ultimately.
The soundstage is unchanged between the 2 cans, in my opinion. After all, we’re talking about the same driver sitting the same general distance from the ear.
All things considered…
I find the sound to be...odd. I don't know how to describe it. It's like all the parts are there, but don't fit themselves together properly. As such, none of my music sounds great through them...just varying shades of "pretty good". I was speaking with one of my fellow posters about my findings and expressed to him that if I’m going to be asked to pay 2.5x the cost of the “little brother” version of the same headphones, I expect:
- Tighter bass control, speed and response
- Substantially wider sound stage
- Noticeably better detail throughout the sound range
- Sound coming close to the D5000, but in a small, portable can.
Or at least some combination of 3 of them. It only seems reasonable. These cans do not, in my opinion, meet the necessary criteria in that regard. Hell, if I were doing a blind listening study, I would have assumed they were probably equal in price because each have different problems. One has issues with the upper mids and mids (A100), the other issues with the lows and the effect it can have on the mids (D1100).
A100 vs. D5000 (or 2000, for that matter)
Compared to the D5000's...there really isn't a comparison without EQ adjustments. And quite frankly, if you're going to do EQ adjustments to get similar sound, why not just EQ the $300 less expensive D1100's and call it a day? Exactly.
If you read my commentary in my D5000 vs. D2000 vs. D1100 thread, take the same comments I left for the D1100, but without quite as much concern about the bass...and add new concern about the highs.
My personal overall order of all 4 Denon's:
Sound quality (no EQ): D5000 > > D2000 > > > > A100 > D1100
Sound quality (with EQ): D5000 ~= D2000 > > > D1100 ~= A100
Value: D2000 > > D1100 > > D5000 > A100
If you're listening directly out of a portable device, the A100's will sound better in many cases (but not every case!) than the D1100's. But even then I would again say only about $100 better, were I to put a pricetag on it given its challenges and idiosyncrasies. If you have any control over the EQ at all (eg, iPod "bass reducer" setting or through your computer/receiver), I can really find no reason to own the A100's other than perhaps out of appreciation for Denon’s 100 years of work.
Personally, I think a fair price for these is $299 or so. Based on my hours of listening, the "upgrades" were just not enough to justify the price raise over the D1100. It still has too many sound problems of its own.
I wrote most of this after day 2 and spent the last few days hoping that my opinion would change. It did not. As always, if you have them and like them, by all means love them. But this particular pair of ears was not impressed...and I go away disappointed because it means I’ll most likely be keeping the D5000’s AND D1100’s so that my portable (airports and planes) needs are addressed. The search for travel-friendly over-the-ear cans that produce exceedingly exceptional sound continues.
As for the A100's..
...back into the pretty box they went. After hearing them, there was no circumstance in which I would have kept the A100's. They have already been returned. For the price, I could damn near get the 1100's AND 5000's. I do appreciate that they handle the bass better than the D1100's, but not $300 better. And I really wanted them to be just that much better. For me, they were not.
These are only my thoughts on the matter using my ears and my expectations for sound and accuracy with the pair of A100's I received. These thoughts are objective, but not meant to represent a definitive word or judgement on them. The music used for the critiquing was the same list I used in the other thread. Because I only spent about a week with them, it's entirely possible that the the sound may improve over time and am happy to acknowledge that reality. As with anything, try them for yourselves if you're interested. In fact, try both of them and determine what is best for you and your ears. At the end of the day, only your ears matter. For me, selecting "bass reducer" on my iPhone and iPad give and keeping the extra $300 is a fair trade-off and provides me arguably better sound than a non EQ'd A100. But that's just my ears, perhaps.