Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9 Sovereign Wood Headphones

General Information

Portable closed headphone

Latest reviews

Pros: IT'S BEAUTIFUL, Addictive Sound Signature (for specific genres)
Cons: Very little accessories, questionable durability, comfortability issues, very genre specific
I have typed up this review a few months back and I thought I should also put it here. 

First, I would like to apologize for my very vague description of the sound (and "flowery" language) and also please don't kill me with your potential comments of hate. Thanks! 

I guess I should also mention that this is my first review of a headphone product excluding the review I made for the IE800 knock offs I bought from Aliexpress. I clearly did not say that those sounded better than the Etymotic HF5, but hey if that's what the seller thought I said then so be it.

Also, I'll try to add some pictures later.

Also failed to mention that I got these from Best Buy. IN 2014! These were an open box pair that was in mint condition except for the box which was extremely beat up; almost didn't believe the headphones themselves were mint until I opened them up at home. All I know is that this is one of my better purchases. Maybe with a slight buyer's remorse but anywho.

Funny story about my ESW9 @ Best Buy:

I saw these hanging in a box that has probably been mauled by a honey badger on a little hanger thing around the corner of the headphones section and I had to walk back and forth past it to make sure I was actually seeing a pair of ESW9 in person. And at this time, I didn't have a smartphone to look up anything about them so I ran to their laptop section and looked up on some reviews on Head-Fi. I skimmed through maybe 2 or 3 reviews and made an internal "HNNNNNNNNNNNNG" hesitation noise but ended up with the ESW9 in a plastic Best Buy bag and my wallet 200 dollars lighter. Twas a very thought out researching process of purchasing headphones. Anywho, onto the intro.



I don't have much to say about myself except that I love headphones and am not an audiophile (which is pretty much a cliche now but I'll say it anyway), and so I'll get right to the review.


Very minimal, comes with just a soft pouch to protect scratches. I would've like to see at least a hard-shell case. especially the given price-point.


The wooden earcups are quite a beauty and along with the low profile, it is a winner in my book. Though I can't say the same about the build. I have used these for about 8 months now and though no major issues have occurred yet, there is a bit of creaking when twisting the earcups to fold flat. The cable also seems to very thin, which at first I thought them to be practical because almost no cable noise occurred, but after getting them caught on a few things, it worries me.

Head-Fi Additional Note: If you don't like how these wooden cups look, you're obviously lying behind your 300 dollar Beats 'cause let's face it: These are sexy.



More pictures in spoilers:


It fits my big head quite nicely. The top of the headband is very plush and easy on the head. The earpads however hurt my ears after about 30 minutes of listening; this can be easily fixed by twisting the earcups a bit outwards but also lets in more noise. Going onto isolation, the isolation is decent at higher volumes. These will not totally block out noise if you're in a busy commute, but for those who want to hear their surroundings just a bit might find this nice.


If I had to describe a picture for the sound, it would be like laying on a couch with a blanket and sitting by the fireplace in the winter. I don't know how someone else might take that but the sound was very unique and excellent to my ears.
The bass is warm with a nice body and punch to them (Head-Fi Edit: Maybe a few notches down from having bombastic bass; or to put it simply: DAYUM DAT BASS IS NICE).
The mids stand out a little more but rarely ever gets harsh. It's very addictive and lush. Some say that it sounds "creamy" though I don't really know what that means (Head-Fi Edit: DAYUM DEM MIDS THO). A bit too nasal for male vocals, but perfect for female vocals.
The treble is slightly behind all of the action, though it never sounded very congested or narrow in soundstage. So, the headphones are not harsh in the treble region. Perfect for those who are sensitive to sibilance (Head-Fi Edit: PURTY GOOD TREBLE, BRUH in the way how it's not harsh, but it does lose out on detail on cymbal crashes).


I really like these for its very addictive sound signature and for its low profile yet dashing looks. It gives off a very "gentleman" kind of look. I only wished it came with possibly extra earpads and maybe removable cables.


Head-Fi Additional Note: 

Source: Xperia Z3V, Fiio Andes E07K

Files: Flac, MP3s

Music Genres (Mainly of the following): Original Soundtracks, J-Rock, J-Pop, Pop, Hip-Hop


Songs I quickly listened for a quick impression:


I feel the best song played through my ESW9 is the track "Extraterrestrial Biological Entities" by EGOIST. It's a Japanese pop song (or at least I think it's pop), and it just sounds extremely emotional, especially when the singer hits the high notes @1:15 in the song in the spoilers below. Totally teared up on my first ever listen with that track.

Others songs:
Kendrick Lamar - King Kunta (320kbps mp3) (Hip-hop): Bass hits very low, his voice sounds a bit overshadowed by the bass and congested, micro-details are quite hard to hear unless if you really listen for them
Noisycell - Innocence (Flac) (J-Pop/Rpck): Definitely not the ESW9's strongsuit, male vocals sound very congested, micro-details almost non-existent, guitars could sound a little more crisp
Chiaki Ishikawa - Uninstall (Flac) (J-Pop): Female vocals sound beautiful, electric guitar (or some guitar that plays on the left side) doesn't sound very detailed but it's enough to make you go, "Oh hey, that's nice and smooth", love to just lay down and listen to this with eyes closed
Aimer - Starringchild (Flac) (J-Pop) (One of my all time favorite songs):  Could sound a little more spacious;  Again, female vocals are intimate and just amazing; details hard to make out as the vocals are really brought forward during the chorus; not my favorite track to listen with the ESW9; BUT FROM 2:45 TO 3:07 - VOCALS SOUND VERY INTIMATE AND JUST TEAR-JERKING WORTHY OR SOMETHING
ONE OK ROCK - Memories (Flac) (Rock): Once again, not open enough for my tastes, this time the male vocals sound a bit distant and nasal, and pushed back a bit by the low notes from the guitars, guitars sound a bit sloppy as in not detailed
ONE OK ROCK - Heartache (Flac) (Acoustic-rock-slow-something): Male vocals sound congested/nasal, but since this song is a lot slower than "Memories", high notes sound very nice and bare-able but only in those few seconds, micro-details hard to make out
Journey - Don't Stop Believing (Flac) (Pop?): I got the remastered version and so there is just enough spaciousness to get a feel for the stereo-ness.. thing, bass drums sound full, vocals sound nice - as the male singer's voice is higher-pitched than the usual male voice, electric guitars near the end sound nice - again it isn't amazing but it's like a plus or extra credit (horrible description :L)
Adele - Rolling in the Deep (Flac) (Pop; I think): Drums have a nice kick and almost like air resonating between each hit, Adele just sound amazing (NO OTHER WORDS), Head-bobbing initiates at high volumes (That's all I can say)
Kiyoura Natsumi - Tabi no Tochuu (Flac) (J-Pop) - Extremely sibilant track (could be because of horrible mastering but I have no idea) BUT the ESW9 saves this track, Her voice is something else - it's just something you have to hear to know what it sounds like - just fantastic, bass could be toned down a little though, didn't notice micro-details such as the sounds of climbing wooden steps when I could in other headphones
Masuda Toshio - Hihamu Kage (320kbps) (Soundtrack): Amazing mastering, Sounds very full when the meat of the song kicks in, the gong could sound more detailed, BUT STILL BOBBING MY HEAD
Take these impressions with a grain of salt 'cause who knows, maybe you'll like the ESW9 with fast paced rock with screaming guitars.
In conclusion: Great for slow female vocals, pop, certain soundtracks, and that one song: Extraterrestrial Biological Entities 
If these headphones were made for one song, they would be made for the song Extraterrestrial Biological Entities.

great review..lovely can...needs an amp to shine more.
Pros: Warm but still punchy tone, large soundstage, lightweight, subtle good looks, comfortable
Cons: No accessories, disappointing cable, delicate brackets, don't fold for travel
I purchased the Audio Technica ESW9a. These have African Paduak shells rather than the cherry of the Japanese release. The ESW9a is made in Japan.
        First, these are most definitely not circumaural headphones. The pads have a slope, the outside edge of which extends to the tops and bottoms of my ears (medium size) if positioned just so. The pads to press your ears down. I don't find the clamping intense or uncomfortable, but I became used to the vise-grip of the Senn HD280 Pro after a couple years of use. YMMV. I would call these on-ears and warn that they fit and feel like large on-ears. I usually despise on-ears but am pleased with these and wear them for hour+ stints over the course of my workday. Between the closed-back, the leather ear pads and being on-ears, they are warmer to wear than some over-ear but nothing like the sweat-boxes of the HD280 Pro's and overall comfortable.
        The wood shell is nice, but due to the smaller than expected diameter and very tame grain (on mine at least) not especially striking. They are definitely classier than a pair of silver HD 25's but the black plastic, subtle decals and lack of any garish garnishment they don't call attention to themselves.
        The construction quality could be a sticking point for many and is certainly the area that has me questioning the original MSRP. Most of the important bits are plastic and thin. The hinges and yoke feel delicate but not inherently weak. The z-axis swivel for each can is somewhat stiff. This may seem like a flaw, especially given the hardware's lack of robustness, but there is a very good reason for this. They hold the slant of your ears when removed. There's almost no 'settling in' necessary when an ear-cup is removed. The minimalistic use of material continues through the headband. The adjusters are thin sheet metal stamped with stops. The actual band is very soft leather & foam over a thin and very light solid band. From what I can tell there are two steel bands connecting the socket where the adjustable band slides. It should be somewhat easy to bend them different sizes of head. The whole of the headphones is very light given the actual size of the earcups. Another disapointment is the cable. It's thin and short and neither sturdy or attractive. It's also a Y cable, which would be less of an issue if the length of the Y wasn't fixed by a molded rubber strain relief. The cord is also short and would have been better if an extension was included in the box. I'd also gripe about the lack of a 1/4" adapter. I've come to expect one with headphones and was surprised to find such an inexpensive accessory missing. The strain reliefs on the earcups are sufficient but look cheap protruding from the otherwise pleasing Paduak cups. The pads are comfortable but not unnoticeable. The leather feels sturdy and I don't expect tears or flaking. The foam inside is somewhat soft and I've resolved to rotate the pads around from time to time to prevent them flattening too much.
General Sound:
        Warm. More emphasized bass than another staple of warm 'phones: the HD598. I was surprised to find they have a large sound stage (See comment on 311 - Great Divide below). The attenuation of outside sound is ok and somewhat even across frequency ranges. They are not isolating phones though, so you will have to boost the volume to drown out the world, especially crowds and noisy commutes. I used them at the DMV for an hour to stave off boredom and felt nither lost from or irritated by the crowd. I'm a bit confused by the DR on these cans. While all the sounds come through clearly, the levels sound slightly compressed (dynamically). This is not a bad thing but could explain my observations about certain groups below. Please understand this is subtle and it took me some time to conclude this is what I'm hearing.
        I played these from my home computer (with a nice onboard audio processor), my work machine (less than ideal signal flow) and through my phone (HTC One with Beats Audio OFF). Nothing fancy but my home machine and phone have surprisinly good playback quality.
Listening to Female vocals to get a sense of that AT magic:
        Bat for Lashes: Laura is one of my favorite songs hands-down. It almost elicits tears, but isn't a sad song so I can't bring myself to do so. This song was mixed somewhat 'warmly' to begin with and has plenty of reverberance to sustain subtler details. This comes across remarkably with the esw9a's. I can't go as far as claim that the results are 'magical' as some have claimed, but the result is quite good. Moon and Moon is a similar track to Laura, being keys and vocal. This too comes across well, with nothing missing, nothing emphasized but rather a whole unique color. Other tracks from this artist: Sarah, I saw a light, Glass, I'm on Fire, What's a Girl to do. Many of BFL's tracks have an ethereal sound and the strengths of these phones certainly play to the advantage of the songs.
        Cat Powers & Goldfrapp: similar to the above but adjusted for their variances. Many of Goldfrapp's track are so well produced and mastered it's nice to hear them shine through these cans.
        Sharon Von Etten: There's quite a range of production quality in the three albums currently out, but all sounded good. The later recordings from Tramp really popped. Because the bass is gently boosted it balances out the upper-mids of the vocals. This may be the trick across the whole female vocal genere: a balance of present bass, smooth mids, and just a little bite in the highs.
Listening to other styles:
        311 - Great Divide: I could clearly hear the placement of the crash and ride cymbals. Crash is 'high' right and ride is 'mid' (chest height) left. Good soundstage not far from, and perhaps occasionally exceeding my HD598s. (Stereolithic is a pretty good album).
        Band of Skulls came across nicely, with lush guitar riffs, bass lines and vocals.
        Foals: While the sound is pleasing, these phones loose the percussiveness present in almost every instrument and every song. I prefer the crispness of the HD598 for this group.
        Type O -: While I wouldn't describe these as 'metal' headphones, this group comes across well. There is plenty of punch in the bass drums, all the melodic instruments are balanced, and vocals well defined.
        Metallica: Just to test my perception above with a metal group of different style and production/mixing. They sound fine but lack the agressive character I prefer when listening to metal. The sounds get a rounded out and is more pleasant & listenable but not 'correct'.
        I found these very suitable for hard-rock style groups like: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Tame Impala, The Black Angels, Dead Weather and so on.
        Electronic/Electro-Pop: Really hits the bass and a little sub-bass nicely. These ranges almost take you by surprise because they seem far more relaxed with other styles. However these don't sound great with lo-fi recording like those of Sleigh Bells. The EQ of the ESW9a doesn't compliment their made-for-earbuds mixing either. Surprisingly this group sounds fine through my HD598s.
        James Blake - We Might Feel Unsound: Bass & sub-bass patterns are surprisingly well defined but don't come across as boomy.
Overall conclusion: These are nice headphones and definitely worthy of a head-fier. An on-ear enthusiast could certainly find a place for this in their collection. Someone looking for a practical on-ear headphone should consider this as well. Not truly 'portable' beacase it doesn't fold and may not be rugged enough for regular knocks. I picked these up from a deals thread post on Cowboom for ~$137 shipped and feel that was a great price. I can't justify paying over $200 for these which may explain the regular price hovering around that mark. To some they'd be worth a bit more.
Pros: Warm sound, very musical, striking looks
Cons: Not ruggedly durable, doesn't isolate well,
I got this on Amazon for $199 and can't believe it was initially released for over $500. Nevertheless, the headphones are decent and would satisfy most enthusiasts who prefer clarity and musicality at the same time.
Build Quality
The quality is good and the product is well made, however, it feels flimsy especially for its price range. Aside from the luxurious lambskin, protein leather and wood,the rest is mainly made of (cheap) plastic. The headphones overall doesn't inspire ruggedness and it's hard to see it surviving if you're gonna throw it to your bed like how you throw your other headphones. The cable is also very thin and double-sided.
Isolation is so so. You have to crank up the volume a bit since the cans doesn't isolate well. Comfort is average as it feels odd at the beginning. The cups are large enough (for some) to be a circumaural headphone but the pads are somewhat in the middle. It's a Grado-like bowl pads and for some, it might not be comfortable.
Sound quality
I like this headphone a lot! The overall signature is neutral, certainly not dark but has plenty of warmth to make the sound enjoyable. Overall the sound is colored but that makes ESW9 sound 'magical'. Bass and midrange are tubey sounding in a way and while treble is somewhat subdued, there's plenty of it.
Soundstage and instrument separation is the typical for this type of cans (which is average to say the least) but it helps that the headphones don’t sound too ‘closed’. I’m assuming this is the good tradeoff for it not isolating outside noise well.
Headphone plays plenty loud on portable players and I don't think an amp is really needed for it. I tried several portable amps like E11 and it really didn't alter the sound too much.
Overall it's a good headphone especially if you like classical, jazz, slow rock, female vocals, etc. Might be a bit slow for faster modern rock though.
Posted some pictures in my blog review of the ESW9 here.


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