May 6, 2012 at 11:56 PM
In 2008, Audio Technica release a beautiful limited edition headphone. While this is not new for them, what was unusual is that the headphones were supra-aural. They didn't spare the exotic wood, however, resulting in a portable version of their best efforts at design.
A friend of mine still owns a pair, along with other limited edition AT headphones. While he purged most of his collection, he held on to these. It might be argued, in the face of the top-of-the-line headphones that have been released in the last few years that the Audio Technica limited edition "woodies" are more just for the Japanese fans, as, honestly, they don't compare either technologically or sonically to the best efforts from Sennheiser, Stax or Audeze. For a whlie I owned the most recent ones, the W3000s. Unfortunately the Stax SR-009s I also own were just too crushingly superior.
However, it was with curiosity I decided to borrow the ESW10JPNs again to see how I felt about them in the face of newer offerings.
Back when I first tried them, my main headphones were modified Denon D5000s. Their more recessed mids compared to the more forward mids of the ATs meant that the latter sounded unpleasant at first until I could get used to AT's particular "house sound". Having long passed on the Denons and moved to Grado and others, the more forward mids aren't an issue now, so I could look purely at sound quality and how resolving these headphones are, or aren't.
First re-impressions are as I remembered -- punchy mid-bass with forward mids, but the highs aren't excessively bright, though there is definitely a treble peak in there. Perceived soundstage is somewhat constricted due to the supra-aural design. There's a little harshness and ringing in the highs, but if I don't listen too loud, it rarely makes its presence felt. Typical of ATs, vocals are most pleasant, and cymbals the least clear, most likely due to the frequency response in the treble being a touch down from the typical. This, however, makes modern mastered music with its spikey highs more pleasant to listen to.
As for resolution, one feels they are quick cans, yet resolving the location of instruments is difficult, as the overall image is compressed. The full-size version of these headphones, the ESW11JPNs I recall as being pleasant-sounding, but not so highly resolving either, even after stuffing something under the pads to push the drivers further from my ears and reduce the congestion.
Despite that, they rate in my book as one of the most pleasant pairs of headphones to listen to music with, helped by the fact that they sound good out of everything from a DAP/iDevice through to high-end gear, if the latter is arguably wasted on them. Of all Audio Technica's efforts at making limited edition headphones, these stand out as my favourites by far.
The photos above and below I've borrowed from a classified posted years ago by 2deadeyes.