Audio Technica W11R: Preliminary review
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Anders

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I will here present some preliminary impressions and thoughts about the Audio Technica W-11R headphone and compare it to Sennheiser HD600 with a Clou Red upgrade cable.
The W-11R belongs to the W family of headphones with the somewhat cheaper W100 and the W2002 at the double cost (price for W11-R was $459 at Audiocubes, Japanese list price 56 thousand Yen). All models have the same 53 mm driver and 8N pure copper in the coils. They are closed designs with wooden cups of cherry tree. The form of the cups differs between models as well as the quality of the headphone cable (6N copper in W11R, PCOCC in W100 and silver in W2002). W2002 also has an additional damping system.
W11R is a limited edition headphone with only a few samples in stock presently.

I burnt-in the W11R about 70 hours before the turntable tests and 90 hours before the CD tests. The turntable test was made with a Systemdek IIXE/900, a heavily modified Rega RB250 arm, an Ortofon Kontrapunkt a cartridge and a Musical Fidelity X-LPS + X-PSU phono preamp.
The CD testing was more problematic because my ordinary player is out for service of tracking alignment. I took my old Linn Karik instead (made in 1994). This was interesting because I now tested it with improved cabling and it was not as far as dull as I remembered. Especially an expensive power cable seemed to give it new life, although there should be a clear difference to newer high quality players.
I used the Headroom MOH (old model) as headphone amplifier connected with a Discovery Plus 4 interconnect for the turntable and a Straightwire Serenade for the CD.

I compared three tracks on vinyl, Weather Report, John Lee Hooker and Ravel. I made notes during the audition but choose not to present these extensively because I later in the testing experienced that the differences between these phones are very system dependent. I experienced the W11R to be better than HD600 on all these tracks. The Audio Technica has often been reported as bright and harsh. It was not so on the vinyl. I found it to have tighter and better defined bass and more natural and extended treble. There was often something that lacked in the treble of the HD600, it sounded a little recessed and the high treble polished off.

With CD the situation was much more complex. The AT often seemed to have higher resolution and more soundstage but at a price of harshness. Bass-lines could also be better defined with the W11R, although the HD600 had a little higher bass output. Here, it was very difficult to make a choice. The HD600 could be a better overall choice, it was never disturbing but lacked a little of the articulation of the AT (not overtly disturbing but the treble could sometimes be too recessed making some instruments sound a little dull or distorted in tonality).

Exchanging the Straightwire cable with the Discovery resulted in improved detail and soundstage, but even more brightness. Now, I formulated a hypothesis that the W11R demands a very high quality source, it is nothing wrong with the W11R but it is so good that your hear more of the distortion earlier in the chain. It worked well with the analogue system. This is not top-notch high-end but quite good and without the digital distortion. I should here need a really good SACD player, or at least my usual CD. I didn’t have this supply but found another way to test it. I downgraded the CD interconnect. First I tried a Purist Audio Elementa. This is a rather good cable but subtracts some treble. The harshness now decreased significantly. I also tried a Van den Hul Thunderline, with even more decrease of harshness. I would say that brightness and harshness fundamentally disappeared, but at the expense of detail and soundstage.

My present conclusions. The HD600/Clou combo is a very good headphone in most aspects, but a little laid-back and recessed in the treble, sometimes so much that the character of instruments becomes distorted. The HD600 seems to work well with most systems and is not demanding on the source and other components.
The W11R is a more direct and open headphone with more detail and better soundstage. It seems to be more system dependant and demands a very high quality source. It may work better with other amplifiers but I got no indication that this is the main problem. It seem to be possible to “tweak” it with reducing / filtering / overly warm components, but this has a price in reduced overall performance. My preliminary impression is that it should be connected to very high quality, neutral components.
Of course, it also possible that further burn-in reduces the brightness but I think partially rather than substantially.
 
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hiccup

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Thank you for sharing your preliminary impressions about the W11R. Be patient with your W11R, the harshness and brightness will be lessened and disappeared. The W11R is not just another "pretty-face". Looking forward to your full review.

-- hiccup
 
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andrzejpw

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I've heard AT headphones like burn in. . .
 
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Anders

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Hope you are right about the burn-in, I begun to doubt. There was a diminishing return of 12 hours additional burn-in, but there may be more to get.
 
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Tomcat

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Anders,
If the burn-in behaviour of my W100 is any indication, your W11R will improve for hundreds of hours. Any harshness ought to disappear in the process. I understand the Audio Technica people claim that burn-in will never end. Having used my W100 for something like 500 hours, I am starting to believe them.
Just make sure that you don't cause excessive strain. I have a feeling this might prolong the break-in process. I'd keep operating conditions close to normal usage.

Quote:

The HD600 seems to work well with most systems and is not demanding on the source and other components.


Anders,
this gets my vote for the Head-Fi quote of the month!
 
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Anders

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Tomcat, the construcitions of W11R and W100 are basically similar, so I don't think there should be any difference in burn-in time. Didn't you ever doubt about further improvement?
I also prefer a cautious burn-in on a normal or slightly higher volume. I use the classical radio channel over night.
 
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Tomcat

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Quote:

Didn't you ever doubt about further improvement?


Absolutely. The first 20 or 30 hours were bright, incoherent and pretty horrible. If I hadn't had solomon's review (and several babel-fished Asian online reviews) to guide me through the dark - uh - bright times, I would have sold the headphone after two or three days. It was clearly worse than any other headphone I own, including a big and closed Audio Technica ATH-A5 with enclosures made from plastics. Well, I prefer the A5 to Senns and AKGs, one reason for this is its very convincing and deep bass response. So I knew that AT was capable of building very enjoyable and musical headphones that suited my tastes, which was helpful as well.
 
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Vka

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The W100 I demoed took at least 300 hours before the treble became tolerable. Before that, the treble was bright and harsh. If I had not wait that long, I am sure, my impressions of W100 would have been horrendous.

And by the way, the spec sheet in Audiocubes are the same for W11r and W100s. Does that mean they have the same cable since they seem to have same cable specs in Audiocube's website.
 
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Anders

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Vka,
The phones sound a little better after 20 more hours of burn-in. Seems I have to be patient and burn-in regularly. I have previous burn-in experiences, but not of anything requiring this time.
Most in the specs (and also the construction) are the same for W100 and W11R. You must have missed this, they specify 6N pure copper (99.9999 % pure) for W11R and PCOCC with unspecified purity for W100. This is the same as the product specifications I found on ATs homepage. The text is in Japanese but they use latin letters for technical specifications.
 
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