ATH-EW9 Review
Mar 24, 2013 at 10:42 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 1

Bill-P

Headphoneus Supremus
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I bought these as a gift for my brother. A very kind Head-Fi'er let me have them for ~$100. However, that didn't stop me from sneaking a little audition...
 
And that "little audition" was enough to prompt this review.
 
First, the suspect:
 
AA battery included so that you can get a sense of scale. These things are small! In fact, they are so small and light that the extension cable seems heavier than they are. Despite that, the design and build is nothing short of classy. They look like they should be many times the asking price.

 
The ear pad is pretty soft and supple. It's made of a foam material of some sort.

 
It feels weird putting them on at first, since they were so light. I was thinking they would be comparable to my Koss KSC-75 in size, but I was wrong.
However, comfort is top notch. I literally don't feel anything when I have them on. They completely disappear on my ears, and the only thing I can actually feel is... the cable.
 
Anyway, those are just "accessories". The main point here should be sound. So how do they sound?
 
----
 
My test rig is as follow:
Source: MacBook Pro Retina Late-2012, iPhone 5, Galaxy S3, Sony PS Vita
Amps: Leckerton UHA-6S Mk.II w/ OPA209, C&C BH
DAC: Fiio D3 w/ Wolfson WM8805
 
And here's the general sound signature for those who don't want to read about the individual songs to follow:
 
Bass: not much extension, but what is there is very tight, articulate, and distinct from the rest of the spectrum. I didn't expect something this small to be able to do bass so well, but they obviously pull off bass very well. I think they have the best bass out of any clip-on I have ever tried on, but since I only have Koss KSC-75 here to compare, please take that with a grain of healthy salt.
 
Midrange: very colored, smooth, and clean. Midrange is typical Audio Technica style voicing here. I personally think that Audio Technica headphones have the exact kind of midrange that I like. Some people may disagree, saying that it's colored, etc... On that note, vocal surprisingly doesn't sound nasal or warm with these headphones. The wood housing is very misleading. The ATH-EW9 has a midrange that's more reminiscent of Audio Technica's metal cans. Think ATH-ES7 and ATH-ES10 here. It's funny, but every Audio Technica headphone I have access to now has about the same midrange voicing. The only difference between them is in imaging and soundstage.
 
Treble: surprisingly ample. These remind me of the DT880 immediately... although treble detail is probably not as good. They are not DT990 kind of ample, though, so they are still pretty easy to deal with. Just as with the DT880, sibilance is unavoidable for certain songs. Coupled with a slightly warm source like my MacBook Pro, or the Fiio D3 DAC, treble is tamed somewhat, but not completely subdued to the point where I can comfortably listen to these at high volume with some of my more peaky songs. As a result, I usually end up listening at just about half the volume I would normally if I had my Audio Technica ES10. By the way, same thing happened with the DT880, so it's not just a problem with these.
 
Imaging: well... the ATH-EW9 sounds small. I guess that's not so surprising given their size. They have better imaging capability than my Apple EarPods... if that's anything. Compared to the Koss KSC-75, they are just about as big, but instrument separation is obviously better.
 
Soundstage: this is a weird and curious one. They have very distinct left and right channel. And it's clear that Audio Technica is doing a sort of crossfeed technique with the cable in order to bring a bit of sound from the left channel to the right channel (I tested this by muting one channel, and sure enough, there's a bit of sound bleed into the other channel). But then... everything is laid out pretty flat in the center. There is almost no depth at all. Using the UHA-6S with Fiio D3 as the source, there is slightly more depth, but it's still not enough to boost these to the same depth as my other headphones. Not that it's a bother when I'm listening to pop songs with very few instruments, but I think I should point it out.
 
Amping: absolutely no improvement whatsoever, and may in fact make it worse. Different sources have stronger effect. Also, these get ear-splitting loud on just about anything. Even on my meager PS Vita... so that says something.
 
And that's how they sound like to me. Overall, I would say they are very bright, and very colored.
 
Here are some of the songs that I used to test them, and some impressions:
 
The Beatles - Here Comes The Sun: very strong left or right sound here, since that was how they were recorded. But the tonality is just right. A bit less sibilance, and I'd say this song sounds perfect with the ATH-EW9. Audio Technica midrange coloration works very well here. I can easily pick out each and every instrument plus George's and Paul's voice. It's not the usual congested mess that I usually hear with other headphones.
 
Jack Johnson - Middle Man: again... the midrange coloration is just perfect here. Jack's voice is so clear, so intimate, and the projection is just right here. I can hear the drums a bit off center to the left in the front, the percussions in the back a bit to my right side, there are two different guitars to the sides, and Jack sounds like he is directly in front.
 
Michael Buble - Everything: I have heard this song with many headphones and earphones around the $100 mark. In fact, I think I have heard it so much that I think I have heard... everything there is to hear in it. And... yeah, the ATH-EW9 does just about average here. What I can tell, though, is that I haven't heard this good an instrument separation in anything under $100. That's including the usual suspects like CAL!, Koss PortaPro, RE0, etc... I haven't heard the new RE-400, or anything else that's made in the past year, so maybe it's just me. I used to have a ATH-ES55 (until my brother borrowed it and broke the cable...), and I can tell that the ES55 is nowhere near this good.
 
John Mayer - Stop This Train: just one voice... and guitar (and maybe a piano during the chorus). This was an easy match. It wasn't much of a battle. I'd think pretty much any headphone would do good with this song. But I can tell there are 3 different guitars in this song. That's not easy to guess with some other headphones. And of course, John's vocal is colored just right here. But that's just me being a fanboy to Audio Technica's voicing. Ahem...
 
Nalepa - Monday (Glitch Mob Remix): yeah, I know I put on 5 pop songs in a row, so I made it look like the ATH-EW9 can't handle other genres. Well, they can, but that peaky treble is a curse here. I can barely listen to this song at less than half the volume of my MacBook Pro. Anymore and I suspect my ears would bleed. Bass hits pretty good here. Much better than something like an Apple earbud would be able to produce. Obviously the ATH-EW9 is no XB500, but I think it'd have been decent for EDM had Audio Technica toned the treble down a bit. Don't get me wrong, the treble is very smooth, and nicely detailed, but IMO sibilance is just unbearable no matter how smooth or detailed.
 
Ryo Sonoda - Nationalism: probably not the best song to test headphones with, because it's just piano. However, I enjoy this song very much when it's playing softly in the background on the ATH-EW9. In fact, I enjoy it moreso than on my ES10, which is so detailed that it picks apart any compression artifact and little nuances in this song. Anyway, you can check the song out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFLPw8P4ugo
 
Random Youtube cover video: whoa, I know this isn't the best quality. But that's precisely why I picked it. The EW9 seems to be very forgiving of bad recordings. In fact, it's the only headphone in my armory at this time that is forgiving enough for me to properly enjoy this song. It's unusual enough because most headphones I have heard with a treble boost tend to tear apart bad quality recordings and compressions. The EW9 seems to have a very enjoyable "filter" that eats up all of the bad artifacts in a song and then spits out a smooth, decently resolving version of the recording. Anyway, here's the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiq3_dEYbQ4
 
I have tested more songs, but I think that about covers everything that makes up the EW9. It's an excellent pair of miniaturized ear phones (or oversized earbuds if you prefer) for kicking back with a slow song at low volume.
 

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