The Closed-Back Headphone Thread (Plus Comparisons & Reviews)
Aug 18, 2020 at 5:11 PM Post #106 of 2,219

Malevolent

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Could be - I know I can never even remember the names of the different Audio-Technica models - AWAS, AWTK - whoops, AWKT - etc.... Same as with Sonys.
YES!

What's with all the letters and numbers? ATH-AWKT.. MDR-Z7M2.. AH-D9200.. TH900MK2.. All of the Japanese brands are guilty of that. It's as though no one in the marketing departments of these companies has the ability to conjure some fancy, catchy names. I wouldn't even mind a Japanese word/name, if they were so inclined.

I mean, they could have called the AWKT the Audio-Technica KOKUTAN instead. It has a mighty ring to it.

They really should hire me - I could think of some kick-ass names for their headphones. :joy:
 
Aug 18, 2020 at 7:12 PM Post #107 of 2,219

Xero the Banana

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Audio-Technica Closed Back Overview: WP900//AP200Ti//AWAS//AWKT

Here, then, is my fourfold overview of the latest and greatest Audio Technica closed backs. Couple of disclaimers at the outset, if I may. First, the music source for much of these tests was generally very well recorded albums either on SACD or FLAC/WAV. My music preference here is large scale symphonic works, old school metal [including every sub-genre of metal from glam to grindcore between 1983 to 1992], classic rock, and ambient/fusion/soundtracks works. I cannot comment too much on how these headphones perform on contemporary music, because it’s not my shtick (Ok, boomer). Apologies in advance to Billie Eilish fans. I would also say at the outset that my preferred sound signature is basically the house tuning of Audio Technica – I like a bright headphone, with strong upper mids, flat lower mids, and a detailed, deep reaching, but tight bass. Excellent detail retrieval and imaging are critical for me. I tend to stay clear of overly warm or “euphonic” headphones (Audeze, Audioquest, etc., all of which I’ve owned but find overly smooth and dark). I say this at the outset because my tolerance – or enjoyment – of brightness and hyper detail might be different to yours.

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Figure 1: The Four Horsemen under the vigilant watch of Uncle Dave and my Beloved Auntie Judith.
(*disclaimer*: I have no idea who these people are)


Build/Comfort

The build and comfort of each of these headphones is more or less divided into two aspects. The WP900 and 2000Ti share a similar level of comfort and build as do the AWAS and AWKT. I have no issues with the build on the WP900 and 2000Ti. The rotating cups feel secure, stitching on pads is flawless. The WP900 uses synthetic leather pads, whereas the 2000Ti uses leather pads. Both are excellent. Pad depth on 2000Ti is better, but WP900 also feels relatively spacious for a portable set of headphones. Comfort is excellent on both, with 2000Ti taking full marks across the board. My one issue with the 2000Ti is that they attract fingerprint smudges and so always look grubby. Minor, but still.

Regarding comfort and build of AWAS and AWKT, I have not found the creaking that some people mentioned on these headphones. The pads actually rotate more than I anticipated. The headband is not as comfortable as the 2000Ti, though does not create any hotspots. I have thick hair (Jewfro), so possibly that helps deter any pressure from forming on the top of the head. Weight, though, is not issue; distribution is managed well. I have not had the seal issue other people have spoken of. The interior of the pads are wide but flat. I don’t have any sense of the drivers touching my ears and probably wouldn’t be aware of the flat pads unless I visually saw them. That said, I am curious if ZMF pads will work on AWAS and AWKT. Clamping force on AWKT and AWAS is tighter than the other models, though not uncomfortable. Leather pads and headband on AWKT; synthetic leather on AWAS. Quality is indeed nicer on the AWKT, though I don’t really experience any difference in terms of comfort. Interestingly, the headband on the AWAS is held in by screws. So I guess in theory, you could replace both headband and pads on the AWAS to duplicate the leather details of the AWKT.

All of these headphones are easily driven. For these tests, I was either running them on my Chord Hugo 2 or on my Lotoo Paw 6000, at times aided with my Romi BX2 balanced amp (which has the advantage of being able to drive both SE and balanced headphones concurrently – in theory one could run, 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm at the same time). However, they all run very well from the 4.4mm input on my Lotoo. The WP900 also works very well from the Lotoo S1. All seem to benefit from being driven on balanced, but it’s not night and day, especially when using the Hugo 2. I didn’t use any EQ throughout these tests, though I did experiment with all headphones and found they respond well to EQ. None of these headphones are what I would call picky; they all play well with various sources, aside from the exception of the 2000Ti, which is more sensitive in this respect. To the headphones themselves, then.

WP900

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These headphones are exceptional for energetic music. For “classic” rock and metal, they are amazing. Mid bass (80Hz to 100Hz) is hard, fast, with minimal bleed into mids. They really reward music with an outstanding rhythm section (Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush, Sabbath, Maiden, etc.). The venerated/legendary snare from Metallica’s self-titled album is as good as I’ve ever heard it, and that album is essentially my test album (see especially the opening of “Wherever I May Roam”). There is indeed something “emotive” about the WP900. It conveys and reproduces the emotional thrust of fist pumping music in a way that reminds me of formative memories of discovering music as a child (142 years ago). This won’t appease the pseudo-measurement advocates in the house, but the best compliment I can say is that of all the headphones I use, these give me the goosebumps the most.

Guitar tone is crisp and satisfying. You will hear the nuances of different guitar tones; you will hear the dynamics of the entire guitar (listen to the opening of Skid Row’s “Monkey Business” for a good example). Thick crunchy tones — especially from the golden era of metal (Mustaine, Hetfield, Lynch, EVH, etc.) — are conveyed with transparency and clarity. More complex music – Dream Theatre, Fates Warning – is handled well. Dream Theatre’s “Awake” is another test album for me, because it is a complex album with a production that can sound thick and muddy on the wrong headphones; for example, bass details can be lost, vocals muffled, and instrumental passages can become blurry on poor headphones. The WP900 handles this album well, Portnoy’s double bass cuts through the mix and the 7 string guitar on "Mirror/Lie" is resonant and powerful without becoming mushy. Again, snare drums are beautifully executed on the WP900. Vocals are present and not recessed, but are not centre stage. The thick bottom end and sparkly top end tend to frame the overall musical picture.

These are not headphones, however, I would use to listen to Bruckner, Mahler, or Sibelius or any other complex symphonic work. They also fall short on highly technical progressive music. They lack the space required for this kind of music, though they do convey the drama. They are, I find, rather forgiving headphones without being smooth. Anaemic sounding albums (say, for example, the production of “…And Justice For All” or “Operation Mindcrime”) are given a renewed life because of the extended but tight bottom end. Imaging on the WP900 is very good, macro detail retrieval is good, surprisingly good, I’d say. Soundstage is also surprisingly good. Micro detail is where the WP900 falls behind, though. I have to point out; synergy with the Lotoo 6K is exceptional.

2000Ti

2000TI.jpg


Moving from the WP900 to the 2000Ti is always jarring, because next to the WP900, the 2000Ti sounds distanced and overly airy on first glance. This is probably why an A/B test is not accurate and also unfair. Better to breathe a little then come to the 2000Ti. The 2000Ti are characterised by neutrality and linearity, framed in part by the titanium cups. They are a much drier headphone than the WP900, lacking the romantic gusto of the latter. Thus, less forgiving. What you put in is what you get out. Moreover, they’re more sensitive to source, cable, gear, etc. But they’re also potentially more rewarding. They scale much better than the WP900. The Hugo 2 combo is exquisite, though might be too forensic for some listeners. They’re definitely not a relaxed listen. I was comparing these to the T1 2nd gen recently and the difference couldn’t be more notable. With their weird mid-centric accent, the T1 sounded sleepy in comparison to 2000Ti’s more engaging signature.

Strengths of the 2000Ti include excellent natural timbre with a bright and detailed top end, an extremely flat mid-range, and a slightly elevated low end that is energetic but very controlled. They are more capable of handling different genres than the WP900. Classical “audiophile” albums like Santana, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, Sade [guilty pleasure] all sound excellent with fantastic definition and clarity.

Check out the soundtrack to the film “Hot Spot” to see what these headphones are capable of, ideally in SACD format. Here, the vocals are outstanding. Articulate, natural, and textured. Soundstage is excellent, really impressive on the “Hot Spot” OST. Position of each instrument is placed with pinpoint accuracy, micro-textures like plectrums hitting strings, background ambience, body parts moving, natural reverb of the room, tiny mistakes in the playing, pauses and hesitations – it’s all there but presented in a coherent rather than analytical way. Intonation of female vocals is also excellent: Bjork, Gazelle Twin, etc.

Bass is not the focal point of this headphone, but it’s there when called for. They reproduce very deep and often “hot” sub-bass without any loss of control. I’m listening to “Morph the Cat” and the bass is tight, detailed, and punchy. True, this is a very well recorded track, but even on a hotter track like “Mombasa” from the Inception soundtrack, the 2000Ti maintains control. This is a track that can often reach the limit of a headphone’s tolerance of sub-bass (Focal Clear, for example, or even DT1990). The 2000Ti gets a good workout here, but it’s always in control and on pace; a testament to the quality of the drivers. Micro detail on bass is also impressive (especially in a track like “Hunter” by Bjork where there’s a number of different bass textures at work).

The 2000Ti is excellent for metal, though they don’t specialise in the massive and almost atmospheric thump you find in the WP900. To refer back to the opening of “Wherever I May Roam,” the dynamics are all there, the snare strike comes in with commanding force. But on the WP900, there is more of a sense of air being moved as Newsted’s bass enters the scene – it decays in this very pleasing manner and adds to the epic sense of scale. The 2000Ti is more subtle and less concerned with emotive structure of the music, though at the same time articulates more detail and more balanced presentation of the music.

Acoustic instruments and strings sound excellent. The last ten minutes of Mahler’s 2nd might be the most strenuous test any headphone can undergo both in terms of dynamics and detail. You ideally need a massive soundstage with outstanding detail retrieval, and an ability to convey the layers of each part in a convincing way, without also losing sight of the dramatic and emotive weight of the score. I think I have about 20 different recordings of this symphony. The 2000Ti was rather unforgiving when I was going through these. Some recordings sounded muffled and congested. Vocals were buried and brass was overwhelming. However, on an excellent recording – such as Claudio Abbado’s recording with the CSO on the Esoteric label, SACD format – the 2000Ti handled the massive complexity very well. Brass and timpani were refined, vocals shone through. That said, soundstage is at the limit here. I get the sense there’s not enough “air” in the 2000Ti to convey the scale at work. Otherwise, and in conclusion, I think the 2000Ti are an excellent (trans)portable and genuine audiophile set of headphones with an engaging natural timbre and excellent technical performance. Top notch.

AWAS

AWAS.JPG

I just received these, so any impressions I have are initial, rather freeform, and subject to change. I’ll get to the AWKT/AWAS relation in a moment, let me just address the WP900/2000Ti comparison. The AWAS is less punchy that the WP900. The WP900 are hard and aggressive. As I mentioned before, super energetic, but lacking spaciousness and subtlety. By comparison, the AWAS has a grander sense of space, is more balanced, and less fatiguing in the longterm. The comparison with the 2000Ti is harder to pinpoint, since the WP900 really occupies a discrete space of its own. The 2000Ti is flatter than the AWKT. Mid-range is more pronounced, I would say. Although the AWAS is smoother, I would actually say that it’s nevertheless more energetic than the 2000Ti (again, initial impression which could change). The AWAS is more upfront without being piercing. The sense of scale is smaller on the 2000Ti, though it’s hard to discern if that’s because the overall sound signature is flatter or if it’s because of a technical limitation. Initial impression is that the AWAS is the technically better headphone; detail retrieval is better, imaging is better, soundstage is wider. Bass on the AWAS feels more extended in a horizontal sense, i.e., it covers more space of the spectrum. Bass on the 2000Ti is tighter, but has more micro detail. I’m listening here to Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance,” and the bass on the AWAS is by far much bigger and more textured; the punch is more impactful. AWAS deals in “fun” bass though not at WP900 levels. With the 2000Ti you’re trading impact and fun for a grain more of detail. In addition, I feel the 2000Ti is pickier in terms of source; I also feel it is better tuned to being run balanced. Listening to the AWAS, I have unequivocal sense of its merits, but in comparison I’m now questioning my judgment on the 2000Ti. Given they are about the same price, on first impressions; I would say the AWAS is the better headphone in timbre and performance.

I’ve been listening to the AWKT fairly consistently for the last few days, so I feel I’m still occupying the large sense of scale and detail. The AWAS sounds to me more intimate, though still detailed. The timbre/signature between these headphones is not as divergent as one might expect. The AWAS is smoother all around without being rolled off in any sense. They seem to me the warmer of the four headphones, and thus potentially the least fatiguing. Where the AWKT and AWAS seem to mostly differ is in the top end. I am a treble head and a detail junkie, but I recognise that what I find appealing – the Beyer peaks, for example – is jarring for some people. The AWAS presents a more “acceptable” signature in this respect. The highs are much smoother, by which I mean integrated into the music as a whole. Arguably, you could say that the AWAS presents music in a more coherent way because there is less an emphasis on detail retrieval and more on the music as a “gestalt.”

Acoustic music is especially excellent on the AWAS. I was listening to Mazzy Star and the AWAS conveys the rich bottom end of the music in a more convincing way than the AWKT, Hope Sandoval’s beautiful voice articulated with a rich, seductive tonality. Switching between the AWAS/AWKT on Fleetwood Mac. Slight loss of lower mid warmth, but the AWKT fills in the space with much more detail and a far more resolving sense of musical reproduction. Back to Daft Punk, listening to “Fragments of Time.” AWKT: punchy, detail, excellent reproduction of plucked bass, and fingers moving across the fret board, vocals are breathy and crystal clear. AWAS: the bass is more thumping, though the details of fingers moving across the fret board are blurred. I feel the vocals are ever so more relaxed than on the AWKT. Let me go back to soundtrack for “The Hot Spot.” Sense of scale on AWKT – which I go into in the next section – is precise and lifelike. Best in class. Just outstanding. Bass guitar is articulated with excellent resolution. Timbre on guitar is incredibly organic; you really get a sense of the set-up; the amp, the strings, the attack, the reverb, etc. As close to being in the studio as is possible. AWAS turns down the sense of dazzling vividness, and presents the music in a more uniform way. Precision of soundstage and imaging is not on the same level as AWKT, but considered on its own terms, the AWAS has excellent technical merits – certainly better than WP900 and 2000Ti.

Let me move to the metal. I’m trying out Opeth’s “The Grand Conjuration” on the AWAS. Guitar tone is excellent; rich, full bodied, and detailed. Drums are powerful, vocals are clear, and the overall timbre is engaging and balanced. Switching to the AWKT, I smiled because the level of technical excellence just continues to awe me. The AWKT literally unveils aspects of the music that are buried in the other headphones – tiny little gurgling noises, complex layering on the guitars and vocals, whispering, micro drum fills, etc. I don’t feel the AWAS is deficient or suffers because it doesn’t have this sense of detail; that doesn’t seem to be the purpose of the AWAS. They focus on the bigger picture: the musical landscape as a whole. In this respect, my sense is that the AWAS works better on smoother music. On Pink Floyd, for example, the AWAS presents a more enveloping picture; on the AWKT, the scene is more vivid but there’s a risk of being lost in detail rather than in the music.

Out of interest, I searched for the most recent album I have on Roon to see how the AWAS deal with “modern” music. Beyond classical, I wanted something quite hotly produced to see how the AWAS would deal with peaky music and a less than ideal dynamic range. The album I came up with is Tool’s latest album. It’s definitely not a badly produced album by any means, but it does have the characteristics of modern production. I’m listening to the second track, “Pneuma.” Guitars are thick, almost a wall of noise, in the best sense – huge slabs of textured distortion. I find the AWAS rather forgiving in its reproduction of the music. The dynamically hot section of this album is the crescendo at the end, from about 9.35 onward. The AWAS has the ability to smooth over these sections without sacrificing too much detail. On the AWKT, the section is crunchier, with more bite, though potentially more aggressive. On the WP900, the whole section is given this massive emotional emphasis. It pounds away, though guitar texture is compromised. On the 2000Ti, guitar texture is the strong point, though again the soundstage feels a bit cramped. I was curious to see how the AWAS would drive this section on my Looto with a silver cable. So, I plugged in a Lavricables silver cable directly into my Lotoo and gave it a go. The results were impressive. There was more air and little more top end, and an overall sense of amplified punch.

Interlude: AWAS vs Eikon

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A note here on the AWAS/Eikon relation (I’m listening to the AWAS for the 2nd day with fresh ears). Comfort between these headphones is fairly similar. Eikon is heavier, though weight distribution is similar to AWAS thanks to large pads. I should say, I usually use Ortatory1990’s EQ settings with my Eikon, which I find generate more balanced signature, but for this test I’m removing all EQ. The two headphones are in front of me and I’m beginning the test. I begin with a straightforward track, “Girls Got Rhythm,” by AC/DC. The Eikon is punchy, with an articulated sub-bass, excellent reproduction of both lead and rhythm guitar – the interplay between Angus’s SG and Malcom’s Gretsch is really nice – and Bon’s vocals are at the centre in a clean but not overpowering way. Soundstage is small, but imaging is fairly accurate. Overall timbre is smooth, organic, and warm. I don’t experience any kind of peakiness in the top end. Rather, the timbre is warmth and very “musical.” I find the Eikon very picky about source, but when there’s a good synergy – as there is on the Hugo 2 – the results are superb.

Switching to AWAS, there is an immediate sense of heightened clarity. The AWAS is cleaner than the Eikons. Separation and imaging are much clearer. Detail retrieval is better – Cliff Williams is more audible, overall resolution is sharper. Vocals are more forwarded on the AWAS. The AWAS is less smooth as the Eikons. They’re brighter, but only in comparison to the Eikons. The highs on the AWAS – lead guitar – are sharper. On the Eikon, top end is much smoother. Not exactly rolled off, but not as extended. The AWAS is the more “aggressive” headphone here, though again only in comparison to the Eikons.

Let me move to another genre. I’m listening to the Japanese Master Sound pressing of “Thriller.” First track on AWAS: top end is smoother than on AC/DC, super engaging, not overly detailed, but instrumental layers are clearly and cleanly rendered. Switching to Eikon: mids on Eikon are very different than on AWAS. They’re more forward, which to my ears is not always welcome (and which is why I usually EQ them). Vocals are almost recessed in comparison to AWAS, MJ’s vocals lack the weight I find on the AWAS. Bass isn’t as clean, details on the background percussion are slightly diffused.

A genre both headphones excel in: acoustic music. A-ha “MTV Unplugged.” Great band, great album underrated. Not as lightweight as you might think. I’m listening to “Scoundrel Days,” with their collaboration with Ian McCulloch. First on Eikon. Guitars have natural timbre, the interplay of vocals is effective, entry of drums and bass is dynamic but a little busy, cellos are there but not foregrounded. There’s actually quite a lot going on in this track, both in terms of layers and dynamics. The music is accompanied by a small orchestral arrangement, the details of which are not always rendered clearly on the Eikon. Back to AWAS: immediate transparency in comparison. Strings on guitars, plucking, bass line much easier to follow, individual tones rendered with greater precision. The AWAS is without any doubt the more balanced and technically able headphone. The parts of the small orchestra are given more space with the AWAS; individual piano notes, cellos, woodwind, etc., are able to cut through the fairly dominant percussion on the album – a drum brush on the snare.

To end the test, I re-applied Ortatory1990’s EQ to the Eikon and tried some metal. Let’s kick back with Dokken’s “Dream Warriors.” On the AWAS, the guitars are meaty, the bass is pumping, and the vocals are nicely centred. I’m hearing a good sense of space, impactful macro detail, and an excellent timbre – especially in the guitars. Ride cymbals are smooth and non-fatiguing. Eikon with EQ: much better with EQ applied. Guitar is also nice and meaty, sub-bass is more impactful than AWAS. Still something a little off about upper mids on the Eikon. Something about vocals doesn’t quite hit the mark as it does on the AWAS. Don Dokken’s voice, which is already a bit hit or miss, at times gets a bit shouty. I have to turn it down a little on some sections, which I don’t have to do on the AWAS. Similar outcome with Ratt’s “Invasion Of Your Privacy.” Like Dokken, Stephen Pearcy’s voice can teeter on the fine line between rockin’ and grating. Loving the guitar tone on the AWAS, the beautifully palm muted solo by DeMartini, the open end light chugging at the beginning. Eikon: guitars retain their fine grain detail, though the bass line is deeper in the mix. Vocals are more agreeable. Hold the press: the Eikon seems to prefer Ratt over Dokken. But again, the upper mids aren’t as smooth as the AWAS. Absolutely not sibilant, but on the hot side.

In sum, the Eikon is probably the more forgiving of these headphones insofar as they’re less aggressive but on the other hand, without EQ the mids are more aggressive on the Eikon so potentially more fatiguing. It really depends on your preference. When there is a good synergy with the Eikon, then they prove themselves to be great headphones, but they require a certain amount of patience, testing, and experiment to get them “right.” The AWAS sound great out of the box, no burn-in, no EQ. The AWAS is technically better and to my ears, the timbre is also more agreeable and more natural. They’re both excellent headphones and I wouldn’t want to give any of them up.

AWKT

AWKT.jpg

Finally, then, to the big beasts, to the Granddaddy, to the Big Boss. The first thing I noticed when turning to the AWKT is the sense of scale, air, the immense detail, the micro imagining, and the transparent sense of layering. I feel the AWKT synthesizes all the best attributes of the other headphones and presents them in one singular vision. You have the visceral impact (though not on the same level) as the WP900, the midrange texture of the 2000Ti, and the musicality of the AWAS in one package. The overall timbre of the AWKT is neutral and exceptionally natural. It shares certain aspects with the 2000Ti – clarity, linearity, precision, but it does so in a far more “organic” and revealing way whereas the 2000Ti has a “colder” tonality. I can indeed imagine the AWKT working well with tubes, not to smooth any peaks, but to accent the overall timbre.

Let me begin here with the two overarching features of the AWKT – detail and space. Detail retrieval here means not only retrieving micro elements of a track that are hard/impossible to decipher on lesser headphones, it also means generating a much sharper picture of the music more generally. We’re talking about breathing, subtle body movements, decay of instruments, vocal intonations, the clinking of glasses, background talk, movement of string instruments, plucking of strings, layering of vocal harmonies, nose inhalation between notes (check out much of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album). Nothing appears to have been left out. We’re also talking about the specific textures of instruments that are rendered and reproduced in minute detail. Coupled with the Hugo 2 – itself excellent at detail retrieval – my sense is that the AWKT is able to reproduce details in a piece of music that were likely not intended for reproduction. This is a sort of hyper-detailed approach you rarely find on a closed back.

This sense of space and detail is organised in a very coherent way. Weather Report’s “Teen Town” is a good example. This is a track with a lot of multi-instrumental layering going on; its fast, complex, and technical, but is anchored at all times by a thunderous bass line. Likewise, check out “Where Dry Desert Ends” by Food. Again, this is a supremely well recorded track (ECM) with complex layering and a very resonant driving bass. It’s full of micro details – tiny effects – and subtle textures. On both of these tracks, the AWKT shines in terms of generating an airy space for complex music without losing the bottom end. The musical space is vast without being poorly defined. Micro bass texture especially on the Food track is outstanding. Bass reaches extremely low but is at the same time audible throughout. If you get to demo these headphones, I highly recommend this album (“This Is Not a Miracle”). Not a big fan of jazz, but “Waltz For Debby” by Bill Evans Trio is another showcase album on the AWKT. This is already a very detailed album, but the transparency and resolution here is amazing, especially the plucking of the double bass.

On this point, let me make a note on the bass register. I read in some reviews that the AWKT lacks bass impact. I don’t find this to be the case, but the bass is neither bloated nor exaggerated. Rather, I find it incredibly lifelike and deep reaching. I don’t listen to much electronica, but I do like Massive Attack, and ambient artists that border on electronica like Biosphere and Fennesz. Listening to Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” album, the AWKT’s reproduction of bass is detailed, texture, and without any distortion. Moving from the AWKT to the 2000Ti on the same track, the latter reproduces bass in a narrower way. There is a sense of it being more forward, but it lacks the sub-detail and nuance. Scale is lost; everything is a little more constricted. I also want to mention the dynamics of the bass on the AWKT. In short, it’s incredibly fast. This is evident in a lot of soundtracks the use sub-bass for dramatic effect. James Horner, Hans Zimmer, Alan Silvestri, Vangelis, etc. Indeed, I would say that the AWKT deals with bass in a rather cinematic way – rumbling and vast. Have a listen the opening of the “Blade Runner” soundtrack as an example. Again, I compared this section (esp. 1:08, track 1) with the 2000Ti and AWAS. The 2000Ti is not lacking in any sense, but it feels like it’s slightly rolled off at the deepest sub-bass levels in a way that the AWKT is not. The AWAS on the other hand excels at massive "bloom" of bass, but does not have the sub-textures going on that the AWKT demonstrates. Bass is without a doubt the cleanest on the AWKT.

Let me move to an album that has less than stellar production. I mentioned it before but “…And Justice For All” is an album that can sound extremely jarring on some set-ups. I’m not just talking about the absent bass, but also the scooped guitars, which can create a fatiguing tonal register on some headphones. On the AWKT, I’m hearing detailed tom-tom drums (the Ulrich fills), punchy double bass kicks, a more weighted though still scooped and super dry guitar tone, a meaty low end, with very precise imaging and layering, and at times, even Newsted’s bass is audible (see especially the famous double bass section on “One” and also much of the “Eye Of The Beholder”). The AWKT doesn’t cover the deficiencies of the production — doesn’t give it warmth, for example — but it makes it more palatable by revealing how it should sound. You’re hearing the album as a technical masterpiece, which is the nature of the album. The AWKT has no problems at all with speed and complexity. I tried out Death’s “Human” album, which has some similar production traits to “Justice” especially in guitar tone, and the AWKT maintains pace with fast, aggressive technical death metal (Strapping Young Lad also works surprisingly well).

Vocal reproduction is outstanding throughout. Bowie’s “Blackstar” and Nick Cave’s “Ghosteen” – albums dealing with death and mourning – are powerful experiences. Lower mids and deep baritone vocals have authority and weight. I never felt the AWKT lacks any sense of body. Rather, I find myself testing tracks and compelled to listen to the end. Technical excellence is married with an emotive musicality. Female vocals? Let’s get some Bush. The live performance of “Hello Earth” from “Before The Dawn” is searing. The older Bush on this album has acquired a kind of weight to her voice that is lacking on the earlier material, and it is reproduced beautifully on the AWKT. Rich and resonant without being mushy.

While the AWKT plays exceptionally well on rock and metal, they nevertheless thrive on complex music. I’ve read a few reports about these being especially suited to classical music, and it’s true. The opening of Sibelius’s majestically depressing 4th symphony is a good example. Check out the dense timbre of the cellos, the layering and decay. Soundstage? Check out the opening of Mahler’s 3rd symphony with Manfred Honeck’s SACD recording with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Without wishing to sound hyperbolic, if you’re a fan of Mahler and orchestral music more broadly, I guarantee hearing the first 30 seconds of Honeck’s recording of Mahler’s 3rd on the AWKT will convince you to buy them. The reverb on the timpani gives a sense of the acoustic space (Heinz Hall) with eerie precision.

Soundstage here isn’t simply stereophonic effects, as one finds in Pink Floyd; much more than this, you’re getting a sense of the scale of the room and of the instruments placed inside that room. I compared the opening of Mahler 3 on my Eikons just out of interest. Indeed, the sense of scale was much narrower, though not wholly constricted. I then did the same test with my 600ohm DT990s, a pair of headphones I love. While the soundstage on the Beyers was good – open back, of course – they fell apart in every other sense in comparison to the AWKT (I know the comparison is unfair, but again it’s out of curiosity). On the DT990, there’s no sense of dynamic interplay between background and foreground instrument placement. There is a sense of scale, but it’s flat – everything feels distant.

Soundstage is also powerful on more intimate stages. Alice in Chains’ “Unplugged” album is a good example of how the AWKT reproduces musical space in an incredibly lifelike and natural way. The interplay of instruments is presented in a truly three-dimensional fashion and you can easily imagine yourself seated in the front of the audience with the audience in the surrounding environment and the band upfront. At the opposite end, I tried some live metal albums to get a sense of scale. Maiden’s “Live After Death;” AC/DC’s “Live”; Queensryche’s “Operation: Livecrime;” Slayer’s “Decade Of Aggression;” Metallica’s “Live Sh&t” and so forth. They all had an excellent sense of spaciousness, with a sense of each band member occupying a specific place on the stage. The Metallica album is especially good here. I bought this album when it first came out in 1993 and I know it inside and out, but on the AWKT, the sense of detail, imaging, and sheer realism is vivid and brilliant.

By the way, the AWKT pairs very well with the Lotoo Paw 6000 both on its own and with the Romi BX2 combo. The BX2 has something like 5W at its disposal, so it’s massively overpowered for the AWKT, but it amplifies what is already outstanding about the Paw 6000. In some respects, the Paw 6000 and AWKT combo without the Romi is better, however. A little more intimate, but in an engaging way. It feels a little decadent to be lying in bed with the AWKT, but it works so well with the Lotoo that it encourages such decadence.

Conclusion (TLDR version)

P1070211.jpg


Here’s where I see each of these headphones fitting in within the current Audio-Technica ecosystem.

WP900: Outstanding portable headphones. Beautifully designed, super comfortable. Sound signature is coloured, punchy, energetic, with very good imaging. Soundstage is somewhat closed in and mids are not as detailed as on the other headphones. V-shaped, but in a non-fatiguing way. Highly recommended.

2000Ti. I think the 2000Ti’s now occupy an interesting place within the canon, not only because they’re the only non-wood headphones included here, but because of their relation to the other headphones in terms of value, function, and sound. For 1200 Euros (thereabouts), they are marketed as portable, which I think is just about doable. They certainly fit into the accompanying case and could easily be carried in a small bag. But I wouldn’t wear them outside. Transportable might be better. Their relation to the AWKT is interesting, because the sound signature is close. Both are linear and neutral. The 2000Ti is energetic, but also significantly less technical. Compared to AWAS, soundstage is compressed, imaging is slightly blurry, and detail retrieval is soft. But in reverse, 2000Ti is more upfront, more aggressive in the treble, with a tighter though less precise bass. Regarded as a portable audiophile headphone, I think they’re winners. As desktop cans, I would take the AWAS in the same price range.

AWAS: Musical but detailed, warm but not overly smooth. More energetic than 2000Ti and less picky, wider soundstage, better detail retrieval. Not in the same league as AWKT on a technical front, but potentially less fatiguing. Good multi-genre headphone. For those looking for a warm but detailed headphone, this is probably ideal.

AWKT: TOTL technical performance, TOTL timbre. Perfect for classical but more of an all-rounder than expected. Addictive. Compelling. Thrives on complex, exceptionally recorded music. I would not say “an acquired taste” in the slightest. I would be surprised if either a casual or experienced listener didn’t find the AWKT highly engaging, quite addictive, and very impressive. Technically brilliant but also profoundly musical. A privilege to own.

***​
That’s enough for now; happy to answer any questions. Cheers
Excellent review! I read this yesterday but didn't chime in with a response as I had only done a quick skim as I was busy. Before I had purchased the AP2000ti and even while I have my hands on the 2000ti, I had my doubts about whether or not I should have chosen the AWAS over it. Now, I still have slight doubts, but I am leaning more towards getting the AWAS as a complimentary closed back in the future (and first wood headphone). You have mentioned the Focal Clears before; where would you place the Clears compared to the 2000ti and AWAS in soundstage, imaging, resolution and tonality? And while you mentioned that the comfort is close on these headphones, are the pads swap-able between the four (or three higher priced)? And lastly, how is the clamp on the AWAS / AWKT compared to the WP900 and the AP2000ti?
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 4:23 AM Post #108 of 2,219

Nostoi

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Excellent review! I read this yesterday but didn't chime in with a response as I had only done a quick skim as I was busy. Before I had purchased the AP2000ti and even while I have my hands on the 2000ti, I had my doubts about whether or not I should have chosen the AWAS over it. Now, I still have slight doubts, but I am leaning more towards getting the AWAS as a complimentary closed back in the future (and first wood headphone). You have mentioned the Focal Clears before; where would you place the Clears compared to the 2000ti and AWAS in soundstage, imaging, resolution and tonality? And while you mentioned that the comfort is close on these headphones, are the pads swap-able between the four (or three higher priced)? And lastly, how is the clamp on the AWAS / AWKT compared to the WP900 and the AP2000ti?
AWAS and 2000Ti would make an excellent combo. The former is coloured but fun, the latter is neutral and more analytical. 2000Ti is closer to Focal Clear in terms of overall sound signature - flat with clear and textured mids. Technically, the Focal Clear is better in terms of imaging and soundstage, but they're open back, of course. I'm not sure on pad swapping yet, I would like to know myself. All the headphones I have look to be swap-able, and they all the ZMF style "fold over" method, which is easy to replace. I find the clamp pressure tighter on the AWAS/AWKT but the actual pad opening is larger than 2000Ti, so in terms of comfort on pads, the high end models probably win, but in terms of headband and weight, the 2000Ti have it.
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 4:29 AM Post #109 of 2,219

Nostoi

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BTW, slightly off-topic, but for those interested in the Audio-Technica BHA100 and DAC100 amp and dac, I heard back from AT and they told me: "The Product is still in development, there is no relevant information." So not soon, I guess... Few more pictures here. Evidently, they are demoing and presumably designing the system around the closed backs, which is encouraging.
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 5:06 AM Post #110 of 2,219

MATWIN94

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A major part of the big brands of the headphones market is being around for quite a while - SEN-ATH-SONY for exemple .. theses 3 may have had a more large scaled and « industrial » approach of the headphones and when you leaf trough theirs catalogues the offer is insane. namely the Ath one.
So many reference for all types of situations or requirements : office-sono-studio-stage -home studio -DJ
I may assume doing strictly TOTL was not the only goal but rather covering a large demand .. including of course audiophile but not exclusively. Hence hundreds of référence with « no name ».
May be the reason:thinking: may be.
TOTL concept in headphones Has really become a market on it’s own later allowing brands to market only a few products thus labeled.
Whatever the causes you are absolutely right about the under assessment of ATH..

3 weeks ago I did give an extensive try of AP2000ti - AD9200 - Hd 820 and the clear (0pen back) and for my taste the ATH Is far better .. the clear is a good all rounder but couldn’t match the details and technicals qualities of the Ath .. and the bass is too muddy for me. Deal breaker. My friend running the shop did get to the same conclusion.
Yet if your were not an ATH fan you couldn’t find much reviews or precise feedback on their flagship products as for a FOCAL a ZMF or HIFIMAN ..

seems like ATH was not perceived as an high end cans maker and new products did not steer the headphones community..

Any way nostoi feedback - and others : thank’s for your time sharing- is so talking to me that I’m pretty sure AWKT is the one I’m searching
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 5:16 AM Post #111 of 2,219

MATWIN94

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Nostoi i did try the clear on a HDV820 SEN DAC (along with AP 2000) and didn’t find the imaging better than AP2000ti but the soundstage a bit airier.. I should try It with something else.. I’ll give another shoot in September

but by the way in the open back register the overall SQ is not enough better than my AKG Q701 with my luxman amp
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 6:15 AM Post #112 of 2,219

Nostoi

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Nostoi i did try the clear on a HDV820 SEN DAC (along with AP 2000) and didn’t find the imaging better than AP2000ti but the soundstage a bit airier.. I should try It with something else.. I’ll give another shoot in September

but by the way in the open back register the overall SQ is not enough better than my AKG Q701 with my luxman amp
Thanks, the HDV820 was mentioned to me yesterday as a potentially good amp for AT. Probably next on my list is an excellent, super clean and neutral solid state amp with that will pair nicely with my Hugo 2 while retaining all the merits of the Hugo 2.

Incidentally, I was just cable rolling a little, and 2000Ti owners should note that the input casing on the A2DC jacks is different to the rest of the headphones. The inner ring - if you will - is tighter, which means it might be less friendly to cable rolling than the other 3. The official HDC114A/1.2 works without issue, but with the other cables it doesn't quite click into place and I don't want to force it.
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 6:47 AM Post #113 of 2,219

MATWIN94

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Thanks, the HDV820 was mentioned to me yesterday as a potentially good amp for AT. Probably next on my list is an excellent, super clean and neutral solid state amp with that will pair nicely with my Hugo 2 while retaining all the merits of the Hugo 2.

Incidentally, I was just cable rolling a little, and 2000Ti owners should note that the input casing on the A2DC jacks is different to the rest of the headphones. The inner ring - if you will - is tighter, which means it might be less friendly to cable rolling than the other 3. The official HDC114A/1.2 works without issue, but with the other cables it doesn't quite click into place and I don't want to force it.
To be precise I didn’t find the HD820 to be the best choice withATH.. the AP2000ti was way better with my burson or my luxman combos (L 509X or DA150)
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 6:51 AM Post #115 of 2,219

Nostoi

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To be precise I didn’t find the HD820 to be the best choice withATH.. the AP2000ti was way better with my burson or my luxman combos (L 509X or DA150)
The L-590X? Nice!
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 9:00 AM Post #116 of 2,219

elnero

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Audio-Technica Closed Back Overview: WP900//AP200Ti//AWAS//AWKT

Here, then, is my fourfold overview of the latest and greatest Audio Technica closed backs. Couple of disclaimers at the outset, if I may. First, the music source for much of these tests was generally very well recorded albums either on SACD or FLAC/WAV. My music preference here is large scale symphonic works, old school metal [including every sub-genre of metal from glam to grindcore between 1983 to 1992], classic rock, and ambient/fusion/soundtracks works. I cannot comment too much on how these headphones perform on contemporary music, because it’s not my shtick (Ok, boomer). Apologies in advance to Billie Eilish fans. I would also say at the outset that my preferred sound signature is basically the house tuning of Audio Technica – I like a bright headphone, with strong upper mids, flat lower mids, and a detailed, deep reaching, but tight bass. Excellent detail retrieval and imaging are critical for me. I tend to stay clear of overly warm or “euphonic” headphones (Audeze, Audioquest, etc., all of which I’ve owned but find overly smooth and dark). I say this at the outset because my tolerance – or enjoyment – of brightness and hyper detail might be different to yours.

All.JPG

Figure 1: The Four Horsemen under the vigilant watch of Uncle Dave and my Beloved Auntie Judith.
(*disclaimer*: I have no idea who these people are)


Build/Comfort

The build and comfort of each of these headphones is more or less divided into two aspects. The WP900 and 2000Ti share a similar level of comfort and build as do the AWAS and AWKT. I have no issues with the build on the WP900 and 2000Ti. The rotating cups feel secure, stitching on pads is flawless. The WP900 uses synthetic leather pads, whereas the 2000Ti uses leather pads. Both are excellent. Pad depth on 2000Ti is better, but WP900 also feels relatively spacious for a portable set of headphones. Comfort is excellent on both, with 2000Ti taking full marks across the board. My one issue with the 2000Ti is that they attract fingerprint smudges and so always look grubby. Minor, but still.

Regarding comfort and build of AWAS and AWKT, I have not found the creaking that some people mentioned on these headphones. The pads actually rotate more than I anticipated. The headband is not as comfortable as the 2000Ti, though does not create any hotspots. I have thick hair (Jewfro), so possibly that helps deter any pressure from forming on the top of the head. Weight, though, is not issue; distribution is managed well. I have not had the seal issue other people have spoken of. The interior of the pads are wide but flat. I don’t have any sense of the drivers touching my ears and probably wouldn’t be aware of the flat pads unless I visually saw them. That said, I am curious if ZMF pads will work on AWAS and AWKT. Clamping force on AWKT and AWAS is tighter than the other models, though not uncomfortable. Leather pads and headband on AWKT; synthetic leather on AWAS. Quality is indeed nicer on the AWKT, though I don’t really experience any difference in terms of comfort. Interestingly, the headband on the AWAS is held in by screws. So I guess in theory, you could replace both headband and pads on the AWAS to duplicate the leather details of the AWKT.

All of these headphones are easily driven. For these tests, I was either running them on my Chord Hugo 2 or on my Lotoo Paw 6000, at times aided with my Romi BX2 balanced amp (which has the advantage of being able to drive both SE and balanced headphones concurrently – in theory one could run, 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm at the same time). However, they all run very well from the 4.4mm input on my Lotoo. The WP900 also works very well from the Lotoo S1. All seem to benefit from being driven on balanced, but it’s not night and day, especially when using the Hugo 2. I didn’t use any EQ throughout these tests, though I did experiment with all headphones and found they respond well to EQ. None of these headphones are what I would call picky; they all play well with various sources, aside from the exception of the 2000Ti, which is more sensitive in this respect. To the headphones themselves, then.

WP900

WP900.jpg

These headphones are exceptional for energetic music. For “classic” rock and metal, they are amazing. Mid bass (80Hz to 100Hz) is hard, fast, with minimal bleed into mids. They really reward music with an outstanding rhythm section (Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush, Sabbath, Maiden, etc.). The venerated/legendary snare from Metallica’s self-titled album is as good as I’ve ever heard it, and that album is essentially my test album (see especially the opening of “Wherever I May Roam”). There is indeed something “emotive” about the WP900. It conveys and reproduces the emotional thrust of fist pumping music in a way that reminds me of formative memories of discovering music as a child (142 years ago). This won’t appease the pseudo-measurement advocates in the house, but the best compliment I can say is that of all the headphones I use, these give me the goosebumps the most.

Guitar tone is crisp and satisfying. You will hear the nuances of different guitar tones; you will hear the dynamics of the entire guitar (listen to the opening of Skid Row’s “Monkey Business” for a good example). Thick crunchy tones — especially from the golden era of metal (Mustaine, Hetfield, Lynch, EVH, etc.) — are conveyed with transparency and clarity. More complex music – Dream Theatre, Fates Warning – is handled well. Dream Theatre’s “Awake” is another test album for me, because it is a complex album with a production that can sound thick and muddy on the wrong headphones; for example, bass details can be lost, vocals muffled, and instrumental passages can become blurry on poor headphones. The WP900 handles this album well, Portnoy’s double bass cuts through the mix and the 7 string guitar on "Mirror/Lie" is resonant and powerful without becoming mushy. Again, snare drums are beautifully executed on the WP900. Vocals are present and not recessed, but are not centre stage. The thick bottom end and sparkly top end tend to frame the overall musical picture.

These are not headphones, however, I would use to listen to Bruckner, Mahler, or Sibelius or any other complex symphonic work. They also fall short on highly technical progressive music. They lack the space required for this kind of music, though they do convey the drama. They are, I find, rather forgiving headphones without being smooth. Anaemic sounding albums (say, for example, the production of “…And Justice For All” or “Operation Mindcrime”) are given a renewed life because of the extended but tight bottom end. Imaging on the WP900 is very good, macro detail retrieval is good, surprisingly good, I’d say. Soundstage is also surprisingly good. Micro detail is where the WP900 falls behind, though. I have to point out; synergy with the Lotoo 6K is exceptional.

2000Ti

2000TI.jpg


Moving from the WP900 to the 2000Ti is always jarring, because next to the WP900, the 2000Ti sounds distanced and overly airy on first glance. This is probably why an A/B test is not accurate and also unfair. Better to breathe a little then come to the 2000Ti. The 2000Ti are characterised by neutrality and linearity, framed in part by the titanium cups. They are a much drier headphone than the WP900, lacking the romantic gusto of the latter. Thus, less forgiving. What you put in is what you get out. Moreover, they’re more sensitive to source, cable, gear, etc. But they’re also potentially more rewarding. They scale much better than the WP900. The Hugo 2 combo is exquisite, though might be too forensic for some listeners. They’re definitely not a relaxed listen. I was comparing these to the T1 2nd gen recently and the difference couldn’t be more notable. With their weird mid-centric accent, the T1 sounded sleepy in comparison to 2000Ti’s more engaging signature.

Strengths of the 2000Ti include excellent natural timbre with a bright and detailed top end, an extremely flat mid-range, and a slightly elevated low end that is energetic but very controlled. They are more capable of handling different genres than the WP900. Classical “audiophile” albums like Santana, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, Sade [guilty pleasure] all sound excellent with fantastic definition and clarity.

Check out the soundtrack to the film “Hot Spot” to see what these headphones are capable of, ideally in SACD format. Here, the vocals are outstanding. Articulate, natural, and textured. Soundstage is excellent, really impressive on the “Hot Spot” OST. Position of each instrument is placed with pinpoint accuracy, micro-textures like plectrums hitting strings, background ambience, body parts moving, natural reverb of the room, tiny mistakes in the playing, pauses and hesitations – it’s all there but presented in a coherent rather than analytical way. Intonation of female vocals is also excellent: Bjork, Gazelle Twin, etc.

Bass is not the focal point of this headphone, but it’s there when called for. They reproduce very deep and often “hot” sub-bass without any loss of control. I’m listening to “Morph the Cat” and the bass is tight, detailed, and punchy. True, this is a very well recorded track, but even on a hotter track like “Mombasa” from the Inception soundtrack, the 2000Ti maintains control. This is a track that can often reach the limit of a headphone’s tolerance of sub-bass (Focal Clear, for example, or even DT1990). The 2000Ti gets a good workout here, but it’s always in control and on pace; a testament to the quality of the drivers. Micro detail on bass is also impressive (especially in a track like “Hunter” by Bjork where there’s a number of different bass textures at work).

The 2000Ti is excellent for metal, though they don’t specialise in the massive and almost atmospheric thump you find in the WP900. To refer back to the opening of “Wherever I May Roam,” the dynamics are all there, the snare strike comes in with commanding force. But on the WP900, there is more of a sense of air being moved as Newsted’s bass enters the scene – it decays in this very pleasing manner and adds to the epic sense of scale. The 2000Ti is more subtle and less concerned with emotive structure of the music, though at the same time articulates more detail and more balanced presentation of the music.

Acoustic instruments and strings sound excellent. The last ten minutes of Mahler’s 2nd might be the most strenuous test any headphone can undergo both in terms of dynamics and detail. You ideally need a massive soundstage with outstanding detail retrieval, and an ability to convey the layers of each part in a convincing way, without also losing sight of the dramatic and emotive weight of the score. I think I have about 20 different recordings of this symphony. The 2000Ti was rather unforgiving when I was going through these. Some recordings sounded muffled and congested. Vocals were buried and brass was overwhelming. However, on an excellent recording – such as Claudio Abbado’s recording with the CSO on the Esoteric label, SACD format – the 2000Ti handled the massive complexity very well. Brass and timpani were refined, vocals shone through. That said, soundstage is at the limit here. I get the sense there’s not enough “air” in the 2000Ti to convey the scale at work. Otherwise, and in conclusion, I think the 2000Ti are an excellent (trans)portable and genuine audiophile set of headphones with an engaging natural timbre and excellent technical performance. Top notch.

AWAS

AWAS.JPG

I just received these, so any impressions I have are initial, rather freeform, and subject to change. I’ll get to the AWKT/AWAS relation in a moment, let me just address the WP900/2000Ti comparison. The AWAS is less punchy that the WP900. The WP900 are hard and aggressive. As I mentioned before, super energetic, but lacking spaciousness and subtlety. By comparison, the AWAS has a grander sense of space, is more balanced, and less fatiguing in the longterm. The comparison with the 2000Ti is harder to pinpoint, since the WP900 really occupies a discrete space of its own. The 2000Ti is flatter than the AWKT. Mid-range is more pronounced, I would say. Although the AWAS is smoother, I would actually say that it’s nevertheless more energetic than the 2000Ti (again, initial impression which could change). The AWAS is more upfront without being piercing. The sense of scale is smaller on the 2000Ti, though it’s hard to discern if that’s because the overall sound signature is flatter or if it’s because of a technical limitation. Initial impression is that the AWAS is the technically better headphone; detail retrieval is better, imaging is better, soundstage is wider. Bass on the AWAS feels more extended in a horizontal sense, i.e., it covers more space of the spectrum. Bass on the 2000Ti is tighter, but has more micro detail. I’m listening here to Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance,” and the bass on the AWAS is by far much bigger and more textured; the punch is more impactful. AWAS deals in “fun” bass though not at WP900 levels. With the 2000Ti you’re trading impact and fun for a grain more of detail. In addition, I feel the 2000Ti is pickier in terms of source; I also feel it is better tuned to being run balanced. Listening to the AWAS, I have unequivocal sense of its merits, but in comparison I’m now questioning my judgment on the 2000Ti. Given they are about the same price, on first impressions; I would say the AWAS is the better headphone in timbre and performance.

I’ve been listening to the AWKT fairly consistently for the last few days, so I feel I’m still occupying the large sense of scale and detail. The AWAS sounds to me more intimate, though still detailed. The timbre/signature between these headphones is not as divergent as one might expect. The AWAS is smoother all around without being rolled off in any sense. They seem to me the warmer of the four headphones, and thus potentially the least fatiguing. Where the AWKT and AWAS seem to mostly differ is in the top end. I am a treble head and a detail junkie, but I recognise that what I find appealing – the Beyer peaks, for example – is jarring for some people. The AWAS presents a more “acceptable” signature in this respect. The highs are much smoother, by which I mean integrated into the music as a whole. Arguably, you could say that the AWAS presents music in a more coherent way because there is less an emphasis on detail retrieval and more on the music as a “gestalt.”

Acoustic music is especially excellent on the AWAS. I was listening to Mazzy Star and the AWAS conveys the rich bottom end of the music in a more convincing way than the AWKT, Hope Sandoval’s beautiful voice articulated with a rich, seductive tonality. Switching between the AWAS/AWKT on Fleetwood Mac. Slight loss of lower mid warmth, but the AWKT fills in the space with much more detail and a far more resolving sense of musical reproduction. Back to Daft Punk, listening to “Fragments of Time.” AWKT: punchy, detail, excellent reproduction of plucked bass, and fingers moving across the fret board, vocals are breathy and crystal clear. AWAS: the bass is more thumping, though the details of fingers moving across the fret board are blurred. I feel the vocals are ever so more relaxed than on the AWKT. Let me go back to soundtrack for “The Hot Spot.” Sense of scale on AWKT – which I go into in the next section – is precise and lifelike. Best in class. Just outstanding. Bass guitar is articulated with excellent resolution. Timbre on guitar is incredibly organic; you really get a sense of the set-up; the amp, the strings, the attack, the reverb, etc. As close to being in the studio as is possible. AWAS turns down the sense of dazzling vividness, and presents the music in a more uniform way. Precision of soundstage and imaging is not on the same level as AWKT, but considered on its own terms, the AWAS has excellent technical merits – certainly better than WP900 and 2000Ti.

Let me move to the metal. I’m trying out Opeth’s “The Grand Conjuration” on the AWAS. Guitar tone is excellent; rich, full bodied, and detailed. Drums are powerful, vocals are clear, and the overall timbre is engaging and balanced. Switching to the AWKT, I smiled because the level of technical excellence just continues to awe me. The AWKT literally unveils aspects of the music that are buried in the other headphones – tiny little gurgling noises, complex layering on the guitars and vocals, whispering, micro drum fills, etc. I don’t feel the AWAS is deficient or suffers because it doesn’t have this sense of detail; that doesn’t seem to be the purpose of the AWAS. They focus on the bigger picture: the musical landscape as a whole. In this respect, my sense is that the AWAS works better on smoother music. On Pink Floyd, for example, the AWAS presents a more enveloping picture; on the AWKT, the scene is more vivid but there’s a risk of being lost in detail rather than in the music.

Out of interest, I searched for the most recent album I have on Roon to see how the AWAS deal with “modern” music. Beyond classical, I wanted something quite hotly produced to see how the AWAS would deal with peaky music and a less than ideal dynamic range. The album I came up with is Tool’s latest album. It’s definitely not a badly produced album by any means, but it does have the characteristics of modern production. I’m listening to the second track, “Pneuma.” Guitars are thick, almost a wall of noise, in the best sense – huge slabs of textured distortion. I find the AWAS rather forgiving in its reproduction of the music. The dynamically hot section of this album is the crescendo at the end, from about 9.35 onward. The AWAS has the ability to smooth over these sections without sacrificing too much detail. On the AWKT, the section is crunchier, with more bite, though potentially more aggressive. On the WP900, the whole section is given this massive emotional emphasis. It pounds away, though guitar texture is compromised. On the 2000Ti, guitar texture is the strong point, though again the soundstage feels a bit cramped. I was curious to see how the AWAS would drive this section on my Looto with a silver cable. So, I plugged in a Lavricables silver cable directly into my Lotoo and gave it a go. The results were impressive. There was more air and little more top end, and an overall sense of amplified punch.

Interlude: AWAS vs Eikon

P1070229.JPG

A note here on the AWAS/Eikon relation (I’m listening to the AWAS for the 2nd day with fresh ears). Comfort between these headphones is fairly similar. Eikon is heavier, though weight distribution is similar to AWAS thanks to large pads. I should say, I usually use Ortatory1990’s EQ settings with my Eikon, which I find generate more balanced signature, but for this test I’m removing all EQ. The two headphones are in front of me and I’m beginning the test. I begin with a straightforward track, “Girls Got Rhythm,” by AC/DC. The Eikon is punchy, with an articulated sub-bass, excellent reproduction of both lead and rhythm guitar – the interplay between Angus’s SG and Malcom’s Gretsch is really nice – and Bon’s vocals are at the centre in a clean but not overpowering way. Soundstage is small, but imaging is fairly accurate. Overall timbre is smooth, organic, and warm. I don’t experience any kind of peakiness in the top end. Rather, the timbre is warmth and very “musical.” I find the Eikon very picky about source, but when there’s a good synergy – as there is on the Hugo 2 – the results are superb.

Switching to AWAS, there is an immediate sense of heightened clarity. The AWAS is cleaner than the Eikons. Separation and imaging are much clearer. Detail retrieval is better – Cliff Williams is more audible, overall resolution is sharper. Vocals are more forwarded on the AWAS. The AWAS is less smooth as the Eikons. They’re brighter, but only in comparison to the Eikons. The highs on the AWAS – lead guitar – are sharper. On the Eikon, top end is much smoother. Not exactly rolled off, but not as extended. The AWAS is the more “aggressive” headphone here, though again only in comparison to the Eikons.

Let me move to another genre. I’m listening to the Japanese Master Sound pressing of “Thriller.” First track on AWAS: top end is smoother than on AC/DC, super engaging, not overly detailed, but instrumental layers are clearly and cleanly rendered. Switching to Eikon: mids on Eikon are very different than on AWAS. They’re more forward, which to my ears is not always welcome (and which is why I usually EQ them). Vocals are almost recessed in comparison to AWAS, MJ’s vocals lack the weight I find on the AWAS. Bass isn’t as clean, details on the background percussion are slightly diffused.

A genre both headphones excel in: acoustic music. A-ha “MTV Unplugged.” Great band, great album underrated. Not as lightweight as you might think. I’m listening to “Scoundrel Days,” with their collaboration with Ian McCulloch. First on Eikon. Guitars have natural timbre, the interplay of vocals is effective, entry of drums and bass is dynamic but a little busy, cellos are there but not foregrounded. There’s actually quite a lot going on in this track, both in terms of layers and dynamics. The music is accompanied by a small orchestral arrangement, the details of which are not always rendered clearly on the Eikon. Back to AWAS: immediate transparency in comparison. Strings on guitars, plucking, bass line much easier to follow, individual tones rendered with greater precision. The AWAS is without any doubt the more balanced and technically able headphone. The parts of the small orchestra are given more space with the AWAS; individual piano notes, cellos, woodwind, etc., are able to cut through the fairly dominant percussion on the album – a drum brush on the snare.

To end the test, I re-applied Ortatory1990’s EQ to the Eikon and tried some metal. Let’s kick back with Dokken’s “Dream Warriors.” On the AWAS, the guitars are meaty, the bass is pumping, and the vocals are nicely centred. I’m hearing a good sense of space, impactful macro detail, and an excellent timbre – especially in the guitars. Ride cymbals are smooth and non-fatiguing. Eikon with EQ: much better with EQ applied. Guitar is also nice and meaty, sub-bass is more impactful than AWAS. Still something a little off about upper mids on the Eikon. Something about vocals doesn’t quite hit the mark as it does on the AWAS. Don Dokken’s voice, which is already a bit hit or miss, at times gets a bit shouty. I have to turn it down a little on some sections, which I don’t have to do on the AWAS. Similar outcome with Ratt’s “Invasion Of Your Privacy.” Like Dokken, Stephen Pearcy’s voice can teeter on the fine line between rockin’ and grating. Loving the guitar tone on the AWAS, the beautifully palm muted solo by DeMartini, the open end light chugging at the beginning. Eikon: guitars retain their fine grain detail, though the bass line is deeper in the mix. Vocals are more agreeable. Hold the press: the Eikon seems to prefer Ratt over Dokken. But again, the upper mids aren’t as smooth as the AWAS. Absolutely not sibilant, but on the hot side.

In sum, the Eikon is probably the more forgiving of these headphones insofar as they’re less aggressive but on the other hand, without EQ the mids are more aggressive on the Eikon so potentially more fatiguing. It really depends on your preference. When there is a good synergy with the Eikon, then they prove themselves to be great headphones, but they require a certain amount of patience, testing, and experiment to get them “right.” The AWAS sound great out of the box, no burn-in, no EQ. The AWAS is technically better and to my ears, the timbre is also more agreeable and more natural. They’re both excellent headphones and I wouldn’t want to give any of them up.

AWKT

AWKT.jpg

Finally, then, to the big beasts, to the Granddaddy, to the Big Boss. The first thing I noticed when turning to the AWKT is the sense of scale, air, the immense detail, the micro imagining, and the transparent sense of layering. I feel the AWKT synthesizes all the best attributes of the other headphones and presents them in one singular vision. You have the visceral impact (though not on the same level) as the WP900, the midrange texture of the 2000Ti, and the musicality of the AWAS in one package. The overall timbre of the AWKT is neutral and exceptionally natural. It shares certain aspects with the 2000Ti – clarity, linearity, precision, but it does so in a far more “organic” and revealing way whereas the 2000Ti has a “colder” tonality. I can indeed imagine the AWKT working well with tubes, not to smooth any peaks, but to accent the overall timbre.

Let me begin here with the two overarching features of the AWKT – detail and space. Detail retrieval here means not only retrieving micro elements of a track that are hard/impossible to decipher on lesser headphones, it also means generating a much sharper picture of the music more generally. We’re talking about breathing, subtle body movements, decay of instruments, vocal intonations, the clinking of glasses, background talk, movement of string instruments, plucking of strings, layering of vocal harmonies, nose inhalation between notes (check out much of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album). Nothing appears to have been left out. We’re also talking about the specific textures of instruments that are rendered and reproduced in minute detail. Coupled with the Hugo 2 – itself excellent at detail retrieval – my sense is that the AWKT is able to reproduce details in a piece of music that were likely not intended for reproduction. This is a sort of hyper-detailed approach you rarely find on a closed back.

This sense of space and detail is organised in a very coherent way. Weather Report’s “Teen Town” is a good example. This is a track with a lot of multi-instrumental layering going on; its fast, complex, and technical, but is anchored at all times by a thunderous bass line. Likewise, check out “Where Dry Desert Ends” by Food. Again, this is a supremely well recorded track (ECM) with complex layering and a very resonant driving bass. It’s full of micro details – tiny effects – and subtle textures. On both of these tracks, the AWKT shines in terms of generating an airy space for complex music without losing the bottom end. The musical space is vast without being poorly defined. Micro bass texture especially on the Food track is outstanding. Bass reaches extremely low but is at the same time audible throughout. If you get to demo these headphones, I highly recommend this album (“This Is Not a Miracle”). Not a big fan of jazz, but “Waltz For Debby” by Bill Evans Trio is another showcase album on the AWKT. This is already a very detailed album, but the transparency and resolution here is amazing, especially the plucking of the double bass.

On this point, let me make a note on the bass register. I read in some reviews that the AWKT lacks bass impact. I don’t find this to be the case, but the bass is neither bloated nor exaggerated. Rather, I find it incredibly lifelike and deep reaching. I don’t listen to much electronica, but I do like Massive Attack, and ambient artists that border on electronica like Biosphere and Fennesz. Listening to Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” album, the AWKT’s reproduction of bass is detailed, texture, and without any distortion. Moving from the AWKT to the 2000Ti on the same track, the latter reproduces bass in a narrower way. There is a sense of it being more forward, but it lacks the sub-detail and nuance. Scale is lost; everything is a little more constricted. I also want to mention the dynamics of the bass on the AWKT. In short, it’s incredibly fast. This is evident in a lot of soundtracks the use sub-bass for dramatic effect. James Horner, Hans Zimmer, Alan Silvestri, Vangelis, etc. Indeed, I would say that the AWKT deals with bass in a rather cinematic way – rumbling and vast. Have a listen the opening of the “Blade Runner” soundtrack as an example. Again, I compared this section (esp. 1:08, track 1) with the 2000Ti and AWAS. The 2000Ti is not lacking in any sense, but it feels like it’s slightly rolled off at the deepest sub-bass levels in a way that the AWKT is not. The AWAS on the other hand excels at massive "bloom" of bass, but does not have the sub-textures going on that the AWKT demonstrates. Bass is without a doubt the cleanest on the AWKT.

Let me move to an album that has less than stellar production. I mentioned it before but “…And Justice For All” is an album that can sound extremely jarring on some set-ups. I’m not just talking about the absent bass, but also the scooped guitars, which can create a fatiguing tonal register on some headphones. On the AWKT, I’m hearing detailed tom-tom drums (the Ulrich fills), punchy double bass kicks, a more weighted though still scooped and super dry guitar tone, a meaty low end, with very precise imaging and layering, and at times, even Newsted’s bass is audible (see especially the famous double bass section on “One” and also much of the “Eye Of The Beholder”). The AWKT doesn’t cover the deficiencies of the production — doesn’t give it warmth, for example — but it makes it more palatable by revealing how it should sound. You’re hearing the album as a technical masterpiece, which is the nature of the album. The AWKT has no problems at all with speed and complexity. I tried out Death’s “Human” album, which has some similar production traits to “Justice” especially in guitar tone, and the AWKT maintains pace with fast, aggressive technical death metal (Strapping Young Lad also works surprisingly well).

Vocal reproduction is outstanding throughout. Bowie’s “Blackstar” and Nick Cave’s “Ghosteen” – albums dealing with death and mourning – are powerful experiences. Lower mids and deep baritone vocals have authority and weight. I never felt the AWKT lacks any sense of body. Rather, I find myself testing tracks and compelled to listen to the end. Technical excellence is married with an emotive musicality. Female vocals? Let’s get some Bush. The live performance of “Hello Earth” from “Before The Dawn” is searing. The older Bush on this album has acquired a kind of weight to her voice that is lacking on the earlier material, and it is reproduced beautifully on the AWKT. Rich and resonant without being mushy.

While the AWKT plays exceptionally well on rock and metal, they nevertheless thrive on complex music. I’ve read a few reports about these being especially suited to classical music, and it’s true. The opening of Sibelius’s majestically depressing 4th symphony is a good example. Check out the dense timbre of the cellos, the layering and decay. Soundstage? Check out the opening of Mahler’s 3rd symphony with Manfred Honeck’s SACD recording with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Without wishing to sound hyperbolic, if you’re a fan of Mahler and orchestral music more broadly, I guarantee hearing the first 30 seconds of Honeck’s recording of Mahler’s 3rd on the AWKT will convince you to buy them. The reverb on the timpani gives a sense of the acoustic space (Heinz Hall) with eerie precision.

Soundstage here isn’t simply stereophonic effects, as one finds in Pink Floyd; much more than this, you’re getting a sense of the scale of the room and of the instruments placed inside that room. I compared the opening of Mahler 3 on my Eikons just out of interest. Indeed, the sense of scale was much narrower, though not wholly constricted. I then did the same test with my 600ohm DT990s, a pair of headphones I love. While the soundstage on the Beyers was good – open back, of course – they fell apart in every other sense in comparison to the AWKT (I know the comparison is unfair, but again it’s out of curiosity). On the DT990, there’s no sense of dynamic interplay between background and foreground instrument placement. There is a sense of scale, but it’s flat – everything feels distant.

Soundstage is also powerful on more intimate stages. Alice in Chains’ “Unplugged” album is a good example of how the AWKT reproduces musical space in an incredibly lifelike and natural way. The interplay of instruments is presented in a truly three-dimensional fashion and you can easily imagine yourself seated in the front of the audience with the audience in the surrounding environment and the band upfront. At the opposite end, I tried some live metal albums to get a sense of scale. Maiden’s “Live After Death;” AC/DC’s “Live”; Queensryche’s “Operation: Livecrime;” Slayer’s “Decade Of Aggression;” Metallica’s “Live Sh&t” and so forth. They all had an excellent sense of spaciousness, with a sense of each band member occupying a specific place on the stage. The Metallica album is especially good here. I bought this album when it first came out in 1993 and I know it inside and out, but on the AWKT, the sense of detail, imaging, and sheer realism is vivid and brilliant.

By the way, the AWKT pairs very well with the Lotoo Paw 6000 both on its own and with the Romi BX2 combo. The BX2 has something like 5W at its disposal, so it’s massively overpowered for the AWKT, but it amplifies what is already outstanding about the Paw 6000. In some respects, the Paw 6000 and AWKT combo without the Romi is better, however. A little more intimate, but in an engaging way. It feels a little decadent to be lying in bed with the AWKT, but it works so well with the Lotoo that it encourages such decadence.

Conclusion (TLDR version)

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Here’s where I see each of these headphones fitting in within the current Audio-Technica ecosystem.

WP900: Outstanding portable headphones. Beautifully designed, super comfortable. Sound signature is coloured, punchy, energetic, with very good imaging. Soundstage is somewhat closed in and mids are not as detailed as on the other headphones. V-shaped, but in a non-fatiguing way. Highly recommended.

2000Ti. I think the 2000Ti’s now occupy an interesting place within the canon, not only because they’re the only non-wood headphones included here, but because of their relation to the other headphones in terms of value, function, and sound. For 1200 Euros (thereabouts), they are marketed as portable, which I think is just about doable. They certainly fit into the accompanying case and could easily be carried in a small bag. But I wouldn’t wear them outside. Transportable might be better. Their relation to the AWKT is interesting, because the sound signature is close. Both are linear and neutral. The 2000Ti is energetic, but also significantly less technical. Compared to AWAS, soundstage is compressed, imaging is slightly blurry, and detail retrieval is soft. But in reverse, 2000Ti is more upfront, more aggressive in the treble, with a tighter though less precise bass. Regarded as a portable audiophile headphone, I think they’re winners. As desktop cans, I would take the AWAS in the same price range.

AWAS: Musical but detailed, warm but not overly smooth. More energetic than 2000Ti and less picky, wider soundstage, better detail retrieval. Not in the same league as AWKT on a technical front, but potentially less fatiguing. Good multi-genre headphone. For those looking for a warm but detailed headphone, this is probably ideal.

AWKT: TOTL technical performance, TOTL timbre. Perfect for classical but more of an all-rounder than expected. Addictive. Compelling. Thrives on complex, exceptionally recorded music. I would not say “an acquired taste” in the slightest. I would be surprised if either a casual or experienced listener didn’t find the AWKT highly engaging, quite addictive, and very impressive. Technically brilliant but also profoundly musical. A privilege to own.

***​
That’s enough for now; happy to answer any questions. Cheers
Awesome job on this! Very informative and helpful.
 
Aug 19, 2020 at 10:19 AM Post #117 of 2,219

MATWIN94

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The L-590X? Nice!
The L 509x is an integrated amp first granted with an additional headphones amp thus needing a separate Dac.. i don’t know the technical reason but it does something absolutely unique with the soundstage and notably in the Z axis depth.. the DA 150 has beautiful sound compared to HD820 but can’t match this beautiful soundstage the L 509x creates..
Note that : it is exactly as all the headphones you plug into get embedded with the kind of vast « in front of you » Soundstage you get with the HD800s ( for me the HD820 has lost noticeably this performance) .. but the imaging remains very good with depth.. I love it and I’m considering the dedicated 750 u ..
as you guess I really love the luxman/Ath combo..
back at the moment I was hesitant between HUGO 2 - very good also-and the DAC DA150 and the soundstage depth and timbre of the latter really got me impressed
 

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Aug 19, 2020 at 10:35 AM Post #120 of 2,219

Nostoi

Headphoneus Supremus
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The L 509x is an integrated amp first granted with an additional headphones amp thus needing a separate Dac.. i don’t know the technical reason but it does something absolutely unique with the soundstage and notably in the Z axis depth.. the DA 150 has beautiful sound compared to HD820 but can’t match this beautiful soundstage the L 509x creates..
Note that : it is exactly as all the headphones you plug into get embedded with the kind of vast « in front of you » Soundstage you get with the HD800s ( for me the HD820 has lost noticeably this performance) .. but the imaging remains very good with depth.. I love it and I’m considering the dedicated 750 u ..
as you guess I really love the luxman/Ath combo..
back at the moment I was hesitant between HUGO 2 - very good also-and the DAC DA150 and the soundstage depth and timbre of the latter really got me impressed
Beautiful amp, congrats. There is also Audio Technica's own HA5050H, which seems to occupy a similar place, albeit as a hybrid.

I can imagine the Luxman/AT combo is good. I wish they did a high end but compact dedicated headphone amp that sat neatly on my desk.
 

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