Get beyond what might seem like their anachronistic configuration, and the ATH-WP900 are an extremely accomplished pair of headphones.
- Even-handed, entertaining and revealing sound
- Great mid-range immediacy
- Convincing soundstaging
- Can be spooked by high volumes
- Don’t enjoy low-res content
- Bold pricing
- Drivers53mm dynamic drivers
- Frequency responseClaimed 5Hz-50kHz
Iconic, like legendary, is a word that’s become devalued lately – but iconic (or legendary, for that matter) is an entirely appropriate way of describing the Audio-Technica brand. The Japanese manufacturer celebrates its 60th birthday in 2022, and what it doesn’t know about headphones, turntables, microphones and so on, isn’t really worth knowing anyway.
Audio-Technica has been using wood in the construction of some of its headphones since the mid-90s – and the ATH-WP900 are just the latest example of the practice. Wood is a very credible acoustic material, after all. Mind you, the wood isn’t the only feature that harks back to the last century when you look at the ATH-WP900 – they’re wired headphones, but designed with portability in mind.
Retro is also a word that’s bandied about a lot. But it has to be better than old-fashioned, hasn’t it? Let’s find out which one of these words is more applicable to the Audio-Technica ATH-WP900.
The Audio-Technica ATH-WP900 are on sale now, and in the UK are priced at £599 or thereabouts. American customers are looking at around $649, while in Australia you should expect to part with AU$899 or so.
The headphones’ very specific configuration means there isn’t a huge amount of like-for-like competition to put this price into context. What is certain, though, is that any number of well-regarded brands – from Bose and Bowers & Wilkins to Sennheiser and Sony – will sell you great-sounding, equally portable over-ear headphones that manage perfectly well without wires, for a chunk less than the Ath-W900’s outlay.
- Maple housings
- Detachable cables
Fundamentally, there’s nothing unusual about the design of the ATH-W900. They’re over-ear headphones, and consequently they look – broadly speaking – like virtually every other pair of over-ear headphones.
You don’t have to get your magnifying glass out to see there are some points of difference, though. As it has been doing since the mid-1990s, Audio-Technica uses wood for the driver housings here – the ATH-WP900 housings are solid, machined maple with a thin slice of flame maple (provided by guitar manufacturer Fujigen) fused on top.
In my opinion, they look good – sporting a finish that’s halfway between that of a guitar and a violin – and Audio-Technica claims the unique grain will mellow and become more lustrous with age. The rest of the construction consists of matte plastics and smooth, nicely padded synthetic leather for the headband and the earpads.
The clamping force is well judged, too, and the ATH-WP900 are easy to get comfortable inside. They’re an extremely trim 243g without their cables, which – along with the soft carry-case to keep their maple housings looking spiffy, and the 90-degree swivel available for each earcup – makes them an ideal candidate for portable use. With the obvious caveat about their needing to be wired to a source player, of course.
- 53mm dynamic drivers with DLC coating
- 5Hz-50kHZ claimed frequency response
- 3.5mm or 4.4mm cable terminations
Inside each housing sits a 53mm full-range dynamic driver – Audio-Technica is claiming a frequency response of a remarkably deep 5Hz to an equally remarkable 50kHz top-end. The drivers themselves are coated with DLC (diamond-like carbon), which apparently helps achieve this dizzily high treble response, while an angled baffle regulates airflow between the front and the rear of the driver in an effort to regulate low-end and mid-range response.
Audio-Technica provides a choice of cables in the packaging, one with a gold-plated 3.5mm unbalanced termination and the other with a gold-plated, five-pole 4.4mm balanced alternative. Each is 1.2m long, and each has a couple of A2DC (audio-designed detachable coaxial) terminations at the other end, since both earcups require wiring.
- Detailed, quite forthright sound
- Excellent mid-range reproduction
- Don’t appreciate big volumes or little digital files
It goes without saying that £599-worth of wired headphones deserve a half-decent source of music. Equally, it goes without saying that a smartphone with a headphone socket is about as rare a sight as an affordable electricity bill.
So the ATH-WP900 are attached to both an Apple MacBook Pro and a Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone using the admirable iFi GO Bar USB DAC (which, handily, has both 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs). Music is provided by network-attached storage and the Tidal app on both devices.
With Each Moment Like the First by James Holden and The Animal Spirits playing via Tidal, it doesn’t take long for the Audio-Technica to set their stall out. And safe to say it’s a generously detailed, politely entertaining and thoroughly listenable stall.
Extension down to 5Hz remains a fanciful notion; nevertheless, the ATH-WP900 dig deep and hit respectably hard where low frequencies are concerned. Control is good where attack and decay are concerned, and so rhythmic expression is confident and convincing, too. The textural aspects aren’t overlooked, either. And although the lower mid-range directly above is just slightly recessed, the journey from the bottom of the frequency range to the top is pretty smooth.
In fact, the top-end is just as well realised as the bottom. Treble sounds sparkle and bite, but they never sound less than natural – and the amount of fine and/or transient detail these Audio-Technica headphones are capable of unearthing only adds to their sense of purpose.
But it’s in between that the ATH-WP900 are at their most straightforwardly impressive. A vocalist as idiosyncratic as Wanda Jackson during Funnel of Love sounds vividly alive, absolutely packed with fine detail of character, texture and attitude.
There’s a directness to the Audio-Technica delivery that has nothing to do with force, but plenty to do with dynamic headroom and rock-solid soundstaging. The airiness of the overall ATH-WP900 signature isn’t in any way diffuse or insubstantial; it’s simply spacious and properly organised.
Downsides are remarkably few. The ATH-WP900 can lose just a little of their rigour at higher volumes – big levels can put the squeeze on the soundstage just a little and make the slight “V” shape of the frequency response a little more obvious. And while they’re not raging snobs, the Audio-Technica aren’t fans of very low-bit-rate content (but then who’s spending this money on headphones in order to listen to Spotify’s free tier?). Otherwise, though, they’re an even-handed and spirited listen.
Should you buy it?
You like nice things A combination of deeply enjoyable sound quality and equally gratifying aesthetics make the ATH-WP900 a discerning choice.
You aren’t going to treat them right Want some headphones to plug directly into your laptop? Save yourself a lot of money and look elsewhere.
Everyone understands the theoretical benefits of wired headphones, but not everyone is convinced they’re worth the aggravation. And in some ways, it’s true – the ATH-WP900 are more of a faff than their wireless counterparts. But they’re also a more convincing and enjoyable listen than even the most capable mainstream wireless alternatives – so if you can live with the physical constraints, the audio benefits will reveal themselves immediately.
How we test
We test every headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry-standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Tested for more than a week
Tested with real world use
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No 6.3mm cable is provided with the WP900, just 3.5mm and 4.4mm terminated cables.
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Hi-Res audio is referred to as a standard as well as a marketing term that describes digital audio files of better-than-CD quality (16-bit/44.1kHz).