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Review: Audio-Technica ATH-EM9d

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Another elusive Audio-Technica model that was never sold in the States - I picked these up in Taiwan during a visit back in 2008 (I think - a bit fuzzy on the year). Production had already ceased for this model by the time I bought it, with the new ATH-EMx00 series replacing the old product line.  I seem to have a knack for buying headphones that are freshly discontinued - my ATH-A9X was discontinued the year after I bought it as well. beyersmile.png

 

Comparison to ATH-EM700

Interestingly, even though the ATH-EM9d was being phased out and replaced by the ATH-EM700, the older model remained more expensive than the new (the EM9d was around $190, while the EM700 was $150 brand new). I asked the shop owner (who was a long-time audiophile himself, and participated actively on several headphone forums) what he thought, and he said quite simply: "The new ones are junk. AT cut corners in materials everywhere."

 

He claimed the the new cord uses lower grade copper - I couldn't tell, of course, but I did notice that the kind of plastic used on the EM700's cord is indeed the cheaper kind (harder, more shiny, tangles easily), while the kind of plastic used by the EM9d's cord is the same one used on the EW9 (soft to the touch, remains straight and doesn't tangle after being uncoiled). The craftsmanship also looks to be of significantly better quality on the EM9d.

 

ATH-EM700 VS ATH-EM9d

 

Sound quality-wise, the EM9d trashed the EM700. There's more bass, the mid-range is more neutral and more defined, and the treble has a lot more clarity and detail. The EM700 sounded very muddy in comparison.

 

Construction Quality & Presentation

The packaging of the EM9d is the same as the rest of the Audio-Technica's clip-on line - very understated but elegant and classy. I like it.

Like the other clip-on models, the EM9d comes with a carrying pouch and an extension cord. While neither of those are befitting of the ATH-EW9 in my opinion, they complement the EM9d perfectly.

 

As you can clearly see, the EM9d are some very sharp-looking headphones. Audio-Technica did not skimp on the craftsmanship for these little guys.  Their construction quality is on-par with the EW9. It uses the same kind of cord as well as the same kind of earclips (they changed earclip design on the EM700, and I personally didn't find them as comfortable, because the rubber part is fixed and can't wedge out to conform to the ears).

 

 

Sound Quality

Audio-Technica is the only headphone manufacturer that makes high-end clip-on type headphones, so I read up on both the ATH-EW9 and the ATH-EM9d extensively before I went down to the shop. The ATH-EW9 was popularly dubbed the "Queen of Female Vocal" in the clip-on arena, which was an appealing trait for me. The EM9d, on the other hand, was described as being the most neutral and balanced clip-on.

 

Owning both (I went with the EM9d for myself, but ended up buying EW9 for my wife 3 years later), I can confirm that the nicknames are well-deserved. The EM9d's sound presentation is very slightly warm, and fairly laid back. Everything is well-balanced (nothing bleeds into anything else), and sounds very natural. They are just pleasant to listen to.

 

It's worth mentioning that the drivers on the EM9d are titanium-plated. I had worried this would make them sound sharp and metallic (I owned an old pair of full-sized Koss that had titanium plating, and they were exactly that). Fortunately, this was not that case at all.

 

Treble: The treble has very good clarity but is not overly bright on the EM9d, which is great for me (because I hate sibilance). Everything that should be there is there - but the details are presented in a non-offensive manner. This was surprising, again, considering the titanium-plated drivers.

 

Mid-Range: I had feared that "neutral and balanced" meant the EM9d would sound cold and analytical, but this wasn't the case at all. Mid-range is not recessed - but not very pronounced either. I would say it's slightly warm, but not nearly as warm as my ATH-A9X, and much, much less warm than the EW9. Overall mids have good body and volume, without drowning out the treble (which is an issue for me on the EW9). Very naturally-balanced.

 

Bass: For clip-ons, the EM9d actually packs quite a bit of punch. The quality of the bass is good - nice and tight - quantity of the bass is similar to the EW9, perhaps just a tad stronger.  Once again, not for bass-heads - but achieving bass-head level output wouldn't really be possible on unsealed clip-ons.

 

Sound Stage: Sound stage is decently large, being non-sealed. Positioning is good.

 

Instrument Separation: Very good, thanks to detailed treble and mid-range. Orchestral pieces are wonderfully layered and pleasant.

 

Isolation: Oh why am I even bothering. rolleyes.gif They are okay in quiet settings....

 

Final Verdict

If for any reason you want to invest in a good pair of clip-ons, you should try very hard to find yourself a pair of ATH-EM9d. They are just so natural and pleasant to listen to, and the slightly warm presentation makes them "musical" rather than "analytical" - just a great all-arounder.  To me, these sound better than the ATH-EW9 - which is too specialized and unbalanced for my taste. Don't bother with the ATH-EM700 either - the EM9d will crush them.


Edited by Bagheera - 2/15/13 at 11:20pm
post #2 of 7

Good review. I seriously wish they're still in production; AT clip-ons are easily one of the most under-appreciated piece of audio equipments ever imo.

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Deadlovestory View Post

Good review. I seriously wish they're still in production; AT clip-ons are easily one of the most under-appreciated piece of audio equipments ever imo.

Indeed - lack of isolation aside, I find the accomplishment in the audio quality amazing (considering how far away the drivers sit from the ears, with zero seal).

 

Love these little guys - will probably take them to my grave. etysmile.gif

post #4 of 7

Thanks for taking the time to share your impressions for these. AT's clip-ons are vastly underrated in general, though I haven't had a chance to try the EM9d myself yet. I'm fond of the EW9 however, and I've always got my eyes out for the super-limted EW9-NR, which I believe is the rarest of the clip-ons (and maybe the second rarest after the L3000G?).

 

 

 

AT's metal headphones tend to be more monitor-types in tuning compared to their woodies, though their "Limited" wood models are an exception. I've always found they're tuned to be more linear (like the W10LTD, which is probably the most neutral of the woodies). Naturally I'm wondering how these compare to the balance of the EM9d.

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MuppetFace View Post

Thanks for taking the time to share your impressions for these. AT's clip-ons are vastly underrated in general, though I haven't had a chance to try the EM9d myself yet. I'm fond of the EW9 however, and I've always got my eyes out for the super-limted EW9-NR, which I believe is the rarest of the clip-ons (and maybe the second rarest after the L3000G?).

 

AT's metal headphones tend to be more monitor-types in tuning compared to their woodies, though their "Limited" wood models are an exception. I've always found they're tuned to be more linear (like the W10LTD, which is probably the most neutral of the woodies). Naturally I'm wondering how these compare to the balance of the EM9d.

I don't have a lot of experience with all the different models - but both of the AT's I own (actually... 3 now, not counting the EW9 since that's technically my wife's) are metal cans, and the A9X is fairly warm IMO. The EM9d is more neutral than the A9X.  I wasn't sure how neutral the high-end W-series are (full-sized woods) - but I actually thought they would be more neutral than the metal ones I have since I imagined people who are willing to spend that much probably want a more balanced presentation.

 

And whew, those are nice looking clip-ons. :) Thanks for posting them.

post #6 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bagheera View Post

I don't have a lot of experience with all the different models - but both of the AT's I own (actually... 3 now, not counting the EW9 since that's technically my wife's) are metal cans, and the A9X is fairly warm IMO. The EM9d is more neutral than the A9X.  I wasn't sure how neutral the high-end W-series are (full-sized woods) - but I actually thought they would be more neutral than the metal ones I have since I imagined people who are willing to spend that much probably want a more balanced presentation.

 

And whew, those are nice looking clip-ons. :) Thanks for posting them.

 

Aren't they lovely? Their limited models tend to use lighter woods with more natural finished, though the newest---the ESW11LTD--- has a finish very similar to the Sovereigns (EW9, ESW9, W1000) for some reason.

 

It can be really hard to generalize when it comes to AT since they make so many headphones. It's hard for me to keep track of them all TBH. In my experience however, their wooden models tend to have a very distinct coloration: a warm midrange that gives vocals a slightly nasal quality, not much bass emphasis, and a sparkly, somewhat bright treble. There are some exceptions like the W11JPN, W1000x and ESW11LTD which have more bass emphasis and the W10LTD which is more neutral, though in general I found their higher-end art monitors like the A1000x and A2000x to have a more linear sound.

 

The metal housing also gives them a slight ethereal quality I find.

post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MuppetFace View Post

 

Aren't they lovely? Their limited models tend to use lighter woods with more natural finished, though the newest---the ESW11LTD--- has a finish very similar to the Sovereigns (EW9, ESW9, W1000) for some reason.

 

It can be really hard to generalize when it comes to AT since they make so many headphones. It's hard for me to keep track of them all TBH. In my experience however, their wooden models tend to have a very distinct coloration: a warm midrange that gives vocals a slightly nasal quality, not much bass emphasis, and a sparkly, somewhat bright treble. There are some exceptions like the W11JPN, W1000x and ESW11LTD which have more bass emphasis and the W10LTD which is more neutral, though in general I found their higher-end art monitors like the A1000x and A2000x to have a more linear sound.

 

The metal housing also gives them a slight ethereal quality I find.

Haha, if we ever meet you have to check out the A9X - they are the most metal-looking cans you'll ever see (due to mirror-polish) but they sound like woodies (very warm mids, soft treble, light on bass). It's very, very weird.

 

When I have the budget, my current "dream headphones" are the W3000ANV. biggrin.gif Though by the time I am ready to buy them, they will probably have new models out already. tongue.gif

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