Headphones have become more image-conscious in recent years. However, sets like the Audio Technica ATH-W1000X have resisted the change. With grain-embracing glossy wooden rears, you wouldn’t imagine a trendy young rapper wearing these headphones. And they provide the classy sound that matches both the mature image and the £500 price.
Serious headphones like the Audio Technica ATH-W1000X rarely include many extra features. If you want wireless audio transmission or noise cancelling, you can leave right now. Once you stray above £400 or so, most headphones start being all about the sound.
This effect is clear in the design of the Audio Technica ATH-W1000X. With wooden earcup rears and plenty of odd little design flourishes, they’re slightly eccentric cans.
For example, the “left” and “right” denominators on the headband are written in an italic font you’d expect to see on the menu of a fancy French restaurant rather than upon a pair of headphones. And the headband itself is really quite bizarre in itself. The structure that keeps the headphones together is standard enough – two bands of metal – but the two retracting pads that touchdown on your head like the feet of a moon landing craft are not.
Although the gigantic earpads suck-up most of the pressure these headphones exert on your head, the uneven load does take a little getting used to. Strange-fitting high-end headphones are nothing new, though. Just check out the crazy-heavy Grado PS1000 if you want an example.
After a bedding-in period each time you wear them, the Audio Technica ATH-W1000X are commendably comfy. Although large, they’re not particularly heavy, and while the synthetic leather of the pads is surprisingly not that soft for headphones of this grade, the sheer size of the pads mitigates this. Audio Technica has missed out on a few tricks, though, as the inner parts of the pads use the same synthetic material, where breathable fabric causes less heating up of your ears.
It is not a great problem for the Audio Technica ATH-W1000X, though, as they’re clearly intended for at-home use - generally houses are less hot and muggy than crowded trains.
If you embrace your own eccentricity or are wilfully difficult, you could indeed use these headphones out and about - they have closed cups, don’t leak much sound and do provide some isolation.
However, their grip on your head is deliberately light, so turn your head too quickly and you could end up with a cracked wooden earcup. They use a non-threaded 6.3mm jack too, which just about no portable devices accept. There’s no case included, either. In short - not portable.
In this world of increasingly style-obsessed headphones, the Audio Technica ATH-W1000X feels a bit of a throwback, but it’s a charming one. The high-gloss American black cherry wooden used offers its own blend of classiness that’s miles apart from the comparable Sennheiser HD 700.
Once you get to a certain point in headphones, you start talking about sonic personalities rather than success or failure. To make a £500 set of headphones like the Audio Technica ATH-W1000X sound bad would require massive mis-steps in the design process, or a radical pricing blunder.
We’re happy to report that these headphones offer the true high-end sound you’d expect at the price, but it excels in other areas than its open-backed and planar rivals.
The Audio Technica ATH-W1000X’s most notable success is in bass response – it’s powerful and deep, without detracting from the notion of a “high-end” sound. Low-end separation is superb, bass depth is excellent and its tone is simply great.
Focused bass is one of the benefits of using a closed design – open headphones often produce diffuse-sounding low-end. While the spaciousness of the bass is quite remarkable, the presentation of the higher registers is clearly influenced by the closed cups, when compared to open headphones of the same level.
The Audio Technica ATH-W1000X sound is quite wide, but there isn’t quite the airiness to the mid-range that you’d get in a top-notch open pair. Detailing and clarity are excellent, and vocals are beautifully rendered, but there’s a degree to which the sound remains contained – and that’s the sound of a closed headphone. And this constraint can stop music from sounding epic and, to the critical ear, uncompromised.
If you require the benefits of a closed set - for example if your home is not that quiet, this is one of the best sets you can get at any price. However, if not, and if bass performance is not your top priority, we sincerely recommend you try to audition an open pair like the Sennheiser HD 700 or AKG Q701 and, if possible, the planar magnetic HiFiMAN HE-400. The latter two in particular offer fidelity benefits in the mid-range and treble.
The Audio Technica ATH-W1000X are impressive closed-back headphones that offer unusual design and superb bass performance. For at-home use they’re just the ticket, but they sit at a difficult price, where rival planar and open-back headphones can supply airier mid-range.