Note [2014-09-28]: I had nice photos in this post, but I lost them in the website crash. The backup didn’t include them :(
I’ve been enjoying Audio-Technica’s ATH-W3000ANV since I picked them up 6 weeks or so ago. My good friend Jose had them for some months before I was able to give them a listen at his place. Needless to say, I was fond enough of them to bite.
The ATH-W3000ANV is a beautifully built and finished headphone that Audio-Technica has released to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Interestingly, these have the same wood style and (for me at least) very similar sonic characteristics to the ATH-ESW10JPN that I’ve written about before. I still use the ESW10 all the time at work, and recently the W3000 has given me more of the same but bigger (in size and sound) at home.
Audio-Technica’s high end, full-size headphones feature a unique wing system that allows them to rest gently on your head with the already low amount of clamping force nicely spread across the headphone. While some headphones grip your head and apply significant pressure on the top of the head with the headband and/or around the ears with the earpads, these manage to rest quite lightly by comparison. This makes for a fit that is in many ways the antitheses of a set like the Audeze LCD-2 which clamps quite well.
I have a fairly small gourd, so the sensation that I have when wearing the W3000 is that they “hang” on my head with the cups slightly sagging on my ears. It is something that took a little getting used to, but it generally doesn’t bother me. The fit for me is somewhat loose and not exactly conducive to proper head banging. I do, however, find these among the more comfortable of headphones.
From my first audition with these headphones, it is the midrange and highs that stand out. I am a lover of electronic music, so a thumping bass is often the centerpiece of music that I enjoy. What I found so refreshing about the W3000 is how it brings out the beautiful mids and highs in my music. The bass is still very much present and deep, but it is never in the foreground unless the music calls for it. No, the thing that strikes me when listening to the W3000 is the expansive and shiny upper end.
There is great micro detail all throughout the frequency range, but the tone is, no doubt, colored. Other headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800 get the nod for a more neutral presentation, but I’m here to enjoy my music and believe that a rose-colored frequency response is something that I prefer.
Jazz and acoustic music is really where the W3000 shows its true strengths. The level of detail and frequency response they provide really give the listener an impressive, big sound with quite a wide soundstage, especially for a closed headphone. Acoustic instruments and vocals sound amazing through these; all the nuances and fluctuations are revealed and you get a very intimate sensation like the singer is right in front of you.
I would say many of the same things of the ESW10JPN’s sound. They also have a beautiful and vibrant mid and high range that emphasizes the most interesting parts of the music. It’s just that, being a smaller, circumaural phone, you don’t get quite as much of it. The smaller drivers just don’t seem to achieve *quite* the same immersion or soundstage.
The other full-size headphone in my current stable is the Audeze LCD-2 (rev 2). I still truly enjoy this headphone as well. Being a cutting edge orthodynamic means the detail is very good. I actually feel that the tone of the W3000 makes it seem to have better detail, even if it isn’t the case, due to the shimmer and deeper contrast between the instruments. Whereas the W3000 bass is very neutral and sits nice and flush with the other frequencies most of the time, the LCD-2’s bass is definitely well-textured but also noticeably more obvious; it reaches deep, resonates broadly, and generally calls a bit more attention. The LCD-2 frequency response chart has bass that is flat as a ruler all the way down, indicating that it has a very true and neutral bass. This is a bass-lover’s dream headphone.
When I went to CanJam in 2010, I was toting the Edition 8. I really enjoyed the warm sound signature of this pair, but when I A/B’d with the LCD-2 (rev 1) out of the WA6 tube amp at the Audeze table, I noticed a very significant bump in punchiness, dynamics, and transparency. It was much closer to the auditory nirvana I was seeking, so this is why I’ve been enjoying the LCD-2 for the last couple years. :) The W3000, by comparison, seems a bit more polite as it doesn’t have the exaggerated bass, but I feel there is more space between instruments and more obvious micro-details. I’d say vocals stand forward, too, but I think in general that the vibrant contrasts between different sounds means most instruments do the same.
Both the W3000 and LCD-2 (rev 2) offer different perspectives on the sound. While they’re both technically advanced, I will sometimes prefer one or the other. The LCD-2 gives me a neutral sound with slamming bass while the W3000 seems to show me many details somehow more up close and personally, even if the effect is part of an artificial frequency tweak.
As for comfort, the somewhat heavy LCD-2 has very large pads that encompass the ears. No part touches the ears themselves, but the sides and top of the head get a good clamping. This can call for a little adjusting from time to time to move the pressure around; it’s definitely a headphone that you know is on your head. By contrast, the W3000 has soft, silky fabric on the inside that does actually touch your ears. I usually dislike when headphone cups touch my ears, but these feel like soft gloves that don’t apply any bothersome pressures. I actually feel that I can enjoy a longer session with the pleasantly light W3000 vs the LCD-2.
I Like It
The ATH-W3000ANV is a unique headphone with a handsomely lacquered wood finish and real leather that I find pleasantly sweat-resistant. The beauty of the tone and soundstage with a well-recorded piece of acoustic music is simply amazing, but it doesn’t exactly slouch with anything I’ve heard from it. As long as you’re not expecting a bass monster, the W3000’s reward the listener with big, immersive sound and lustrous instruments no matter your genre of choice.
As an added note, my primary rig for the comparison was my PS Audio Digital Link III DAC connected to my single ended, but dual mono RudiStor RPX-33 Mk2.
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