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[Review] Audio-Technica ATH-EM9d

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

The ATH-EM9d is an elusive model that was never sold in the United States - I picked these up in Taiwan during a trip to Taiwan in 2008. Production had already ceased at the time of purchase, with the new ATH-EMx00 series replacing the old line.

 

Comparison to ATH-EM700

Even though the ATH-EM9d was being replaced by the ATH-EM700, the older model remained more expensive than the new one (the old EM9d was $190, while the EM700 was $150 brand new). I asked the shop owner (who is 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 all over the place."

 

One thing that was easily noticeable was the difference in the plastic used on the cords. The EM9d has the same kind of high-quality tangle-free plastic used on expensive headphones, while the kind used on the EM700 feels like the ones used on budget earbuds. There's also a lot more metal on the housing of the EM9d, whereas the EM700 uses a lot more plastic. I would say the older model does indeed seem much higher quality in both the materials and construction.

 

ATH-EM700 (left) & ATH-EM9d (right)

 

I did some brief listening of both, and the conclusion was easily arrived at... The EM9d trashed the EM700. The EM9d has much better extension and clarity, and the tonality is much more balanced. The EM700 was mostly mid-centric with relatively poor extension and sounded very muddy in comparison.

 

Materials & Craftsmanship

The packaging of the EM9d is the same as the rest of the Audio-Technica's clip-on line - very understated but classy. They come with a carrying pouch and an extension cord.

As you can clearly see, the EM9d are very sharp-looking headphones. Construction quality is on-par with the EW9. It uses the same grade of cord and the same earclips (which were redesigned on the EM700, and were not as comfortable). Comfort level is nothing short of excellent - I've worn these to sleep many times; you simply forget they are even there.

The earclip design of the EM9d. Note the flexible rubber cushion and the height adjustment.

 

 

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 EW9 is popularly referred to as the "Queen of Female Vocals" for clip-ons in the Taiwanese audiophile circles, while the EM9d reportedly was the "King of Neutrality".

 

I now own both the EW9 and the EM9d, and can confirm that the reviews I read were accurate. The EM9d is indeed very neutral; tonal balance is nothing short of excellent. The EW9, while indeed great for vocals with its thick, sweet mid-range, is only suitable for some types of music and lends too much coloration to the music for my taste.

 

It's worth mentioning that the drivers on the EM9d are titanium-plated, which likely contributes to its excellent clarity and treble performance.

Also note that it's a fully open-backed headphone (you can actually see the driver through the holes on the back of the housing). As such, the EM9d offers absolutely no isolation - which makes it suitable for certain situations where awareness of one's surrounding is desired (such as walking around on foot), but not so much for others (riding in a noisy subway train).

 

Treble: The treble on the EM9d offers excellent clarity and extends very well, but is otherwise quite smooth and unoffensive. It's not very sparkly and it's not for trebleheads, but I personally really like it. Sibilance is never an issue with these.

 

Mid-Range: The mid-range is very clear and just slightly north of neutral, but still in balanced territory. This is not the signature AT house sound, but IMO it's for the best. Instruments have very natural timbre, and listening to classical pieces on these will put a smile on your face.

 

Bass: For fully open-backed clip-ons, the bass on the EM9d is actually quite ok. It extends decently well and packs just enough punch to lend classical instruments proper heft (and the bass is very controlled and tight). Quantitatively, though, it is definitely on the light side and will not play well with bass-heavy genres.

 

Sound Stage: The sound stage on the EM9d is very open and airy, which is not surprising given its open-backed nature. The out-of-head feel of the sound and the lack of isolation often lends the strange sensation that you are carrying around an invisible stereo system while walking about.

 

Conclusion

If for any reason you want to invest in a good pair of clip-ons, you should try hard to find yourself a pair of ATH-EM9d. These are my absolute favorite in the category. For $190 though, there are better-sounding headphones outside of the clip-on category to be had - many good IEM's or over-the-ear portables are in this price range or below. So I am knocking this one down in the value department a bit.


Edited by Bagheera - 12/5/15 at 8:25pm
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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