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The Battle of the Portables - A review of my headphones: Audio Technica ATH-ES10 vs. ESW9A vs....

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

Dear Fellow Head-Fiers,

 

I wanted to create a list of the various headphones I have to give you an idea of how they differ and chime in on my opinion of them. You may agree or disagree but this is my general view for anyone searching for headphones. This is kind of my way of giving back to the community for all the wonderful advice I have been given in the past.

 

Audio Technica ES10 (with the ESW11 leather pads)

 

These you could say were the headphones that I had always dreamed of in terms of a portable. The right balance and sound signature for me. Has that sparkly high end without being bright, a nice punchy low wihtout being bloated etc... It's the perfect overear, especially for EDM music. I use these everyday for my commute, mainly because they don’t creak or shutter around when I walk as the ESW9A’s and other headphones do and also because it has my favourite sound of any of them.

 

Sound (for a portable closed headphone) 5/5: Stax and some other open back headphones do sound a lot better but they are not portables and not closed at that so it cannot be compared. However, for closed/portable headphones these are the best I’ve heard yet. The stereo separation is amazing. The 53mm driver is the same as used on some of the highest end AT’s and really delivers a great sound. The bass and highs are just perfect. The soundstage is wide but they lack the openness of some other more full sized cans or open backed headphones. The most amazing factor of these headphones is the lack of sibilance!

 

Comfort - 3/5. The headphones even with the ESW11 pads are still rather uncomfortable after long listening hours. This is my only real grip about them, is that your ears could start to hurt (especially the lobes where it presses on to). I can't imagine how horrible they feel with the stock pleather ones. The clamping force is quite tight but not as tight as some others.

 

Isolation - 3.5/5 This actually surprised me quite a bit. Most of the Head-Fiers and others I had asked told me that they isolate no better than the ESW9As.. However, they isolate MUCH better due to the higher clamping force, bigger drivers fitting more over your ear, etc... These headphones are somewhere between a SupraAural and Circumaural.

 

Lack of Brightness Factor - 4/5 These headphones have been engineered in a way as to bring out the high end with hardly any harsh brightness. IE they are not bright at all, although they do have a nice emphasied high end, it doesn't hurt my ears like the Edition 8s or any of the Beyerdynamics I have listened to. 

 

Bass - 5/5 - These have the best and cleanest bass from any portable headphones I have ever heard. Whereas the bass on the Edition 8s is more subbass and boomy, this is more punchy and clean IMHO. 

 

Portability Factor - 5/5 - The ESW9A's are so much lighter and more portable but they really shine only with a good DAC/AMP combo. The ES10s on the other hand are the most versatile phones I have ever heard in this respect, they sound great from ANY source.

 

Build Quality/Materials - 3/5 - The quality is not bad considering the used titanium for the cups. The clicking on the adjuster head however, is quite rough. The use of pleather for the stock earpads and headband feels really cheap considering these retail around $600 new. The cord is nice enough and they bothered to goldplate the connector.

 

Conclusion: Although these headphones are not cheap new, they can be had on the used market for a bargain and are way worth the wait for that if you are on a budget. They are the best 100% portable SupraAurals I have ever heard. These are the most fun headphones I have ever owned.

 

Audio Technica ESW-9A

 

I got these headphones in a trade and they were my first experience in SupraAurals. These are the headphones that got me to join the Head-Fi community and become interested in this as a hobby.

 

Sound – 3/5: These headphones would be great if it wasn’t for the sibilance. I love these headphones to death and traded some speakers in for them, but I was never fully satisfied with the sound. The biggest problem for me is that they only sounded really good from a great DAC/Amplified source. This made them really shine, otherwise they were just OK. Another big problem for me was that the lack of isolation, perhaps partly due to the small drivers/lack of clamping force they lose a lot of bass and some of the high end. These would be perfect for long hours of listening, due to their warm sound signature, if it wasn’t for the fact that this sound signature reduces the sound stage and unfortunately there is just too much sibilance for me. These headphones are better suited for Jazz and slow music (as well as vocals), where as the ES10’s are suited for all music, but especially EDM. They are very revealing for a portable headphone.

 

Comfort – 4/5: These are a lot more comfortable than the ES10’s as they have much less clamping force. However, they are still supraaural and a lot of circumaural headphones will be more comfortable.

 

Isolation - 2/5: Probably the worst isolation of any of my headphones, which really bums me out since these are portables. Most of the places people listen to portables is on trains, planes, public places where they would hear a lot of outside noise…

 

Lack of Brightness Factor 4/5 – Although these are not bright at all, the sibilance is almost as annoying as having bright headphones.

 

Bass – 3/5: The bass is good, but it could use a bit more of it and this may have to do with lack of isolation.

 

Portability Factor 5/5 – These are the most portable headphones I own. They are nice and light and easy to handle and take on and off. However, as mentioned before, they don’t sound great straight from most portable sources without a portable DAC which is quite unfortunate and the lack of isolation doesn’t help either.

 

Build Quality/Material -3/5: The use of exotic and nice materials such as the wood and lambskin is definitely a huge plus and the build quality is on par with the ES10s, although the ES10s do feel a bit more secure.

 

Conclusion - If you don’t need good sound isolation and you don’t mind sibilance and are OK with a warm headphone that doesn’t have the biggest soundstage, then this is a great portable headphone. The headphones can be revealing for a warm headphone, and they are quite fun, but the ES10s do have an edge over these for most of the EDM music I listen to. However, these are still great headphones and I intend to keep them unless I upgrade to the ESW-10s or something similar in the future.

 

Beyerdynamic T770Pro 32Ohm Special Edition (with velour pads)

 

I got these after owning and being disappointed in the T70Ps. I thought these would be less bright and would be more like the DT880Pros (IE more open sounding). They were, but they are still way too bright, definitely the brightest headphones I currently own. However it makes up for it in other aspects.

 

Sound 4/5: The only reason I can’t give these headphones a 5/5 is because the brightness is so bad that it creates a sort of weird white noise that makes me sick. I’m not even kidding, but even when I listen to songs that don’t have that much high end, it still has that white noise. However, these headphones have the best soundstage and most open sound of any closed headphones I have ever heard. They truly sound the most like my ADS speakers. I think this all encompassing speaker like sound is due to the fact that the drivers are so far away from the ears in their huge cups. These are definitely the most revealing headphones I own and give you a feeling of being there. Only problem is that they are a bit grainy compared to others but it does give it more of a vintage sound, kind of like my ADS speakers… These are the most neutral/analytical but not as much as the T70P were.

 

Comfort 4/5 – These pro’s can clamp quite hard, I managed to reduce the clamping through putting them on some books overnight, however the cups are so big, they press on your jaw. The horrible pleather pads they come with produce better bass but are less enveloping/inviting/open sounding. They also stick to your face and make your ears/face sweat. I swapped these out for the Velour pads and they are A LOT more comfortable, especially for long listening hours, otherwise this would get closer to 2 or 3/5.

 

Isolation - 3.5/5: The reason this doesn’t get a 4 or higher is because even though the isolation from sound coming in is decent, the isolation from it leaking out is not great. Unlike with the other headphones, because the drivers are so far from your ears, you need to turn up the music louder, which in turn creates extreme loudness when taking them off (almost like suddenly plugging speakers in) and leaks a little sound through when you have them on.

 

Lack of Brightness Factor 1.5/5 – This is the weakest point in these headphones. They are not as bright as the T70Ps but those headphones would have gotten a 0…

 

Bass – 4.5/5 – The bass is really decent, especially compared to the T70Ps. Overall excellent bass and very realistic reproduction. I would say these have the best bass but only with the pleather pads which are horrible to wear, and the ES10s still sound a bit punchier.

 

Portability Factor 1/5 – These are not really portable at all since they are big cans. If these are portable then all cans are portable. This is why I went for the Edition 8s over the T5Ps as the T5Ps are huge in comparison and I didn’t like the T70Ps at all.

 

Build Quality/Materials 4/5  - Although the materials for the cups are disgustingly cheap, the headband and thing that connects the cups is all metal and quite nice. The overall build quality is excellent.

 

Conclusion: If you want monitoring headphones for your home buy the DT880s, if you want something you can sit around your office in to listen to music and don’t mind the brightness, get these instead!

 

Denon AH-D950

 

The previous pinnacle of the Denon line were also the last to be built in Japan. The D750’s which sound very similar but are a bit less bright/more warm were my first high end headphones back in the early 2000s. The price of these new were somewhere in the $200 range, compared to the $2000+ ones made in China these days. The newer range, does use better materials, but the build quality is still not on par with other companies, especially with the money they charge. Overall the sound is great of these D950s as is the rarity. Overall the best value for money of ANY headphones, period. These are the headphones I listen to in the office all day long and are also the cheapest headphones I have purchased at only $50 used but in excellent condition.

 

Sound: Unique to any portable headphones (and missing on the newer Denon’s) these are semi-open back without any leakage. They have these unique vents on the back of the headphones which create a more spacious sound. I don’t know how to describe the sound, but in some ways it sounds better or at least at the same level as other high end headphones that cost a lot more than these! Definitely in the $500-$1500 sound range more than the $50 sound range! They are a tad bit on the bright side but not as bright as the Beyers or Ultrasones, just perhaps a bit sibilant. These and the D750's sound quite muddy played directly from an iPod, or other low powered source. If you want to get really good sound out of these you will need a headphone amp or higher powered output source. However, you will not find a better deal than this in terms of value, period.

 

Comfort 2/5 – The headphones are comfortable for about 20-30 minutes after which your earlobes start to hurt. Why? The interior padding wears off in about 5 minutes and disintegrates. You are left with a very thick metal wire mesh that rubs off and irritates your ears. Since these sit like Circumaurals the pad goes around your ear. Other than that they are comfortable if there was a way to address this issue.

 

Isolation 3/5 – They isolate better than the ES10s and ESW9s but not as good as some other ones in this size.

 

Lack of brightness factor 3/5 – These don’t really have much brightness but sometimes when playing music with very bright highs, it can show through, moreso than on the D750s and other “warmer sounding” headphones. Overall they are fairly balanced.

 

Bass 4/5 – Although the bass does dominate a bit, it’s not totally overpowering and there is a decent amount. It’s not as punchy or nice as the ES10s bass or as clear as the DT 770 Pros but it’s pretty good.

 

Portability Factor 3/5  - Although they are light, they are not as easily stored as the ATs. The biggest problem is the long cord, which can be a pain when travelling with them. Plus they are quite fragile compared to other headphones and can break in your bag as my D750s did.

 

Build Quality/Materials: 2/5 – What were they thinking? Cheap nasty pleather everywhere, the plastic is decent but the connections come off easily from the cups and break off like my D750s did. This is the biggest drawback to these and is probably the reason they were so cheap to begin with since the sound is excellent. The cord is of decent quality but is not even gold plated.

 

Conclusion – If you want excellent sound on a budget and don’t mind the long cord and cheap build quality as well as the uncomfortable rubbing on your ears, then these headphones are for you. You won’t find a better deal out there, period.

 

Ultrasone Edition 8

 

These are perhaps the most versatile of all the headphones I own. They have the most surround sound type sound of all the headphones I own as well as the best isolation. For travel in some ways these are the best and most comfortable, but as you will see there are drawbacks in terms of….

 

Sound – 4/5: Why not 5/5? Well they are a tad bright for my taste, plus the sound is rather artificial in the senses that the sub bass is overemphasized whilst the bass is almost muted. They are a tad bright and missing the mids. However they do sparkle like no other headphones I have ever heard and with the S-Logic they do have a surround sound type of sound that is unique.

 

Comfort 4.5/5 – Although not perfect, these are the most comfortable of my headphones for long listening. The only gripes are the somewhat strong clamping force and your ears eventually sweating. However, I listened to these for 11 hours straight on a flight without my ears or face hurting. I even slept with them on for a few hours.

 

Isolation 5/5 – Handsdown the best isolation of ANY portable headphone in the world, don’t be fooled by the fact that these are Supraaural, they fit like Circumaural for most people by slightly lifting the earlobe up a bit. The thick luscious sheep leather pads isolate so well that you could go shooting on a gun range with them. Perfect for the plane, public transport, or any noise conditions, even without the music on! J

 

Lack of Brightness Factor: 2.5/5 – They are still a tad bright and have that nauseating white noise I get from the T770Ps although a lot less than any Beyerdynamics I have heard…

 

Bass 3.5/5 – Most people will argue that this has excellent bass. However, this has a lot of sub-bass, not mid-bass which is more of what I like to hear. It just feels like you have a tweeter with a subwoofer and no woofer/mid. The bass is more deep and less punchy, but again this is another nauseating factor for me. I prefer the bass of the ES10 over most other headphones including these.

 

Portability Factor 3.5/5 – Although they are fairly light and easy to carry, they are also very easy to get scratched. Considering they cost $1500 new and around $700-$900 on the used market, it’s not great to get the Ruthenium cups scratched. They also don’t fold away well like other portables. However, the shape is excellent and I prefer this shape that fit the ears so well over the round style shapes of the AT’s and Beyerdynamics which don’t fit the shape of the ear at all.

 

Build Quality/Materials 5/5 – The best build quality I have ever seen in a pair of headphones and definitely the best choice of materials. The Ethiopian Sheepskin pads, the ruthenium cups (I know they’re plated but still nice) and the full metal headband and connectors plus the amazingly chic and rich look they have. Why can’t others build to this standard, especially at this price range? I would say the fact that they are handmade in Germany from these materials alone is worth the price tag, regardless of what one thinks of the sound. The only gripe I have about the materials is the fact that they have the cheapest cord I've ever seen on a pair of headphones. Why and how could they use this horrible .99 cent store cord on such a beautiful thing is beyond my comprehension. This is equivalent to putting a cheap plastic buckle on a Hermes Birkin bag. They didn't even bother gold plating the plug or anything to make it in the least attractive. They stick out of the beautiful cups like a sore thumb. My old Denon' headphone cord looks like it's made of platinum in comparison, regardless of the Denon's other cheap use of materials.

 

Conclusion: the S-logic sound creates a wonderful 3d experience that may not be for everyone. Overall they sound great and are wonderful to behold and a joy to use. They are the only portable headphones that isolate so well and look so great and have this kind of build quality. However, their bright nature and lack of mid-bass takes away from the positive aspects. If the ES10 drivers were housed in the Edition 8s, they would truly be the best closed headphones out there.

 

Pictures to follow…


Edited by baronkatz - 2/7/14 at 5:49pm
post #2 of 13

Wow, nice read. Though you and I must have very different ears. I've owned the two audio-technicas and the ED8, and I found the ED8 unbearably sibilant, the ES10 very bright with some treble peaks, and ESW9 not sibilant at all, but warm and polite.

 

Maybe it's the different pads you used with the ES10's, but I also used the ESW9 pads on the ES10's and my experience was much the same.

post #3 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by viralcow View Post
 

Wow, nice read. Though you and I must have very different ears. I've owned the two audio-technicas and the ED8, and I found the ED8 unbearably sibilant, the ES10 very bright with some treble peaks, and ESW9 not sibilant at all, but warm and polite.

 

Maybe it's the different pads you used with the ES10's, but I also used the ESW9 pads on the ES10's and my experience was much the same.

 

Yes, I also fine the ESW-9 to be warm, polite and for me, also very musical.

They may not be the most resolving headphone, but they are extremely enjoyable and sound great via an iPod or iPad, in other words, they are not very fussy WRT to source (amp or DAC).

post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by viralcow View Post
 

Wow, nice read. Though you and I must have very different ears. I've owned the two audio-technicas and the ED8, and I found the ED8 unbearably sibilant, the ES10 very bright with some treble peaks, and ESW9 not sibilant at all, but warm and polite.

 

Maybe it's the different pads you used with the ES10's, but I also used the ESW9 pads on the ES10's and my experience was much the same.

 

From what I've heard, the ESW9 pads are supposed to make the ES10s more dark and warm sounding and bring out more bass, but I haven't tried switching the pads yet. I might try it at the meet, but It's kind of a pain, although a lot easier than switching pads on a pair of Beyers, those are a real headache...

 

As far as the ESW9's sibilance goes, phones can be warm and polite and at the same time have sibilance. The ESW9's are that in this case. They are probably some of the most revealing headphones I have seen that focused on mids, usually the really bright phones such as Beyerdynamics are the most revealing of closed headphones such as the T70P I used to have (I think STAX are the most, period, but they are open). The ESW9's are "fun" but not as Fun as the ES10 IMHO. The ES10 has just the right amount of bass, the ESW9 is very slightly recessed (partially due to the smaller driver size and less clamping force) and the brights are just bright enough not to be hurtful, like the Beyers, Ultrasones and to a lesser degree even the D950s are...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris J View Post
 

 

Yes, I also fine the ESW-9 to be warm, polite and for me, also very musical.

They may not be the most resolving headphone, but they are extremely enjoyable and sound great via an iPod or iPad, in other words, they are not very fussy WRT to source (amp or DAC).

They are very musical, polite and warm, but I feel they sound better with slower music and the ES10s are a bit faster and better for EDM. I find the ES10s to be much less fussy about the source than the ESW-9's. In my view, I think the ESW-9s sound A LOT better, almost like different headphones form a good DAC/AMP combo, where as the ES10s sound about the same or just marginally better. To be honest, I only REALLY started enjoying and still only REALLY enjoy the ESW9's when they are plugged into my computer with my HD Audio Soundcard and higher voltage output, or a good DAC/AMP combo, where as the ES10s I enjoy with everything.

 

The Denon D750s and D950s are definitely the MOST picky about source. They only really sound decent with a headphone amp. Otherwise they sound rather muddy from an iPod directly. 

post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 

I now find my ES10s to be on the bright side after long listening, especially from the DACPort amp... Maybe I need a warmer amp... :(

post #6 of 13

I had esw9 and i would agreed it sounds very warm but the sound signature just doesn't have enough bass for me and i find it boring. es10 though, I had one that i bought used on ebay, i loved it, i thought the bass was awesome and the highs were without the sibilant but that headphone was lost in my car that was stolen... So, i bought another one for 350 usd from a Japanese seller in japan... I am not sure if its not broken in enough or something but I find the highs too bright and the bass was not what I heard before from that used one that was stolen... it made me started thinking if I had purchased a fake one but... the finish of the headphone looked exactly like the one i had, its hard to believe a fake one can look exactly the same even with little details, i even compared the drivers to what ppl had online and they still looks the same... So I am not sure if this headphone is bright or not anymore... I am very sensitive to high as well.

post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 

Try listening to it with different sources. I completely agree with you on all your points. The ES10 is way better for EDM and the ESW9 is better for vocals, acoustic, symphonic, etc... The ESW9 sounds really good only with a headphone amp but the ES10 sounds good with any source. I have to say the ES10 is brighter on my Centerance Dacport than it does straight from my Nokia N9... Try playing it from a different source or get a warmer amp to get rid of some of that brightness.. If the drivers are blue when you take the earpads off, then it should be the right one. Also check if the pads are the same, I have the ESW11 pads and they are way more comfy but changing the pads will change the sound signature, the ESW9 pads sometimes give more bass but less clarity IMHO so I prefer the ESW11 pads...

post #8 of 13
That's odd, I find my ESW9 sound very good from either an iPod or an iPad.
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris J View Post

That's odd, I find my ESW9 sound very good from either an iPod or an iPad.

Good but not amazing. Try playing it out of the iQube V3 or a Schiit Lyr/Asgaard for example! :-) Totally a different headphones suddenly! The ES10 isn't as amp dependent I feel since it already sounds more open...

post #10 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by baronkatz View Post
 

Good but not amazing. Try playing it out of the iQube V3 or a Schiit Lyr/Asgaard for example! :-) Totally a different headphone suddenly! The ES10 isn't as amp dependent I feel since it already sounds more open...

 

I don't hear it.

I did some backing and forthing and didn't hear a massive leap forward between a few amps I had and an iPod.

post #11 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris J View Post
 

 

I don't hear it.

I did some backing and forthing and didn't hear a massive leap forward between a few amps I had and an iPod.

Depends on the amps and you have to use a good DAC as well!!!... I tried many amps and the only ones that jumped out at me from the ones I tested were the iQube V3, Sony (I forget which one but their top of the line portable AMP/DAC combo), and the Schiit Lyr and Valhalla with the Bifrost DAC. Again, try it with a very good DAC/AMP combo and make sure you bypass the internal dac...

post #12 of 13

You have to let it go, man.......

post #13 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris J View Post
 

You have to let it go, man.......

Let what go? If you haven't tried those AMP/DAC combo's I did with the ESW9s, how would you know if they change the sound or not? BTW, I love the Grado and Beyer headphones you have, they are much more revealing than the ESW9s, but they would be considering they are open back...


Edited by baronkatz - 3/14/14 at 5:20pm
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  • The Battle of the Portables - A review of my headphones: Audio Technica ATH-ES10 vs. ESW9A vs. Denon AH-D950 vs. Ultrasone Edition 8 vs. Beyerdynamic DT770Pro 32Ohm Limited Edition
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphones (full-size) › The Battle of the Portables - A review of my headphones: Audio Technica ATH-ES10 vs. ESW9A vs. Denon AH-D950 vs. Ultrasone Edition 8 vs. Beyerdynamic DT770Pro 32Ohm Limited Edition