The best of the best – crème de la crème – ATH-ADX5000 is the flagship headphone from one of the most storied headphone makers in the world: Audio-Technica. With a bold design and decades of experience behind it, how does this flagship headphone stack up to the rest of the fleet?
Build and Design
Having spent a good amount of time working with live sound and home studio setups, I’ve handled my fair share of Audio-Technica products, but it wasn’t until more recently that I had gotten my hands on any of their high-end audiophile products. The simple fact is that Audio-Technica’s build quality is some of the best in the game. The ATH-ADX5000 itself is a mix of aluminum and plastic with cloth earpads and cushioned cloth-lined headband. They don’t have any kind of incredible headband or earcup technology to make them super comfortable, they don’t need it by account of very light and following basic ergonomic principles. Despite being light, they don’t feel cheap or fragile.
Internally, the headphones are dynamic driver and open-back. They use Audio-Technica’s “Core Mount” technology to provide optimal positioning and airflow, along with Tungsten coated driver diaphragms with a permendur magnetic circuit designed to provide maximum efficiency and eliminate unwanted vibrations. The ATH-ADX5000 uses an A2DC connection, and a 6.3mm A2DC cable is included in the package.
In terms of quality, the packaging is right up there with the product itself. The ATH-ADX5000 comes in a series of nested cardboard boxes, which finally open to reveal a nice, practical travel case. Inside of the travel case (which is at least 3 layers of boxes at this point), you’ll find the headphones nestled in the plush interior.
The two key characteristics of the ATH-ADX5000 are its analytical tuning and its soundstage which is deep, wide, and very open. The tuning is overall neutral, with a bit of a treble peak, a rolloff in the subbass and a small bump in the mid-bass. The mid-bass bump adds a little more of a musical touch to the ATH-ADX5000’s sound signature. The treble peak is not so dramatic as to cause sibilance or harsh tones from instruments like trumpets or from high female vocals.
The soundstage is simply huge, and the accompanying imaging is quite solid. Listening to live performances in particular, I was struck by how well I could visualize the staging and camera angles of a live video. The ATH-ADX5000 typically feels like a front and center wide shot from just above stage level, but through the dynamics and changes you can feel the camera pull in for a close up on the singer for a quiet moment, or pan to the side for a solo.
This effect was particularly notable listening to Pineapple Thief’s Where We Stood live album. Throughout the album, the ATH-ADX5000 provided a crisp delivery of the intricate performance, with detailed and natural sounding vocals and instruments. The drumwork is particularly notable with each accent and nuance being perfectly highlighted by the ATH-ADX5000. When the band is weaving soundscapes you feel surrounded by a wall of sound, the louder and driven sections have energy and punch, and the quiet passages of just vocals and guitar feel personal and intimate.
Sebastian Bohm’s rendition of “Paint it Black” which features an orchestra accented by electronic instruments, sounds suitably massive and powerful. There’s an excellent dynamic quality to the builds from the quiet moments of softer violins to the swell of the full orchestra. While the bass doesn’t quite have the physical punch you might like, when the low synthesizers and brass hit with the now classic Hollywood style “BRAAAAAAAHHHHHHMMMMM” there’s a satisfying low rumble.
For something more pop oriented, BTS’s “Tomorrow” provided a test of the bass and a demonstration of how the treble peak and bass are balanced. While there’s a solid thump to the bass at the start of the song, it’s somewhat lost as the rest of the instrumentation and vocals enter. The emphasis in the percussion feels more on the snare than the bass drum, and vocals dominate the mix as a whole. While trying to strike a balance between its analytical nature and delivering a fun experience on a pop song, the ATH-ADX5000 tips a little bit toward the analytical end on this track, providing an excellent tool for analyzing the layers and production of the song rather than a good pair of cans to jam out with.
Moving from Seoul to Soul, on James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” the ATH-ADX5000 proves a bit more fun. The vocals are clear and right up front, and the mid-bass bump on the ATH-ADX5000 accentuates the bass nicely. Neither James Brown’s highest notes, nor the horns feel sharp or sibilant, and the whole affair is well balanced, with the ATH-ADX5000 showing us that it does have a bit of soul underneath it’s analytical exterior.
I tested the ATH-ADX5000 using the Burson Conductor 3XP, iFi NEO iDSD, and Astell&Kern KANN Alpha. The Conductor provided excellent headroom and an all around clean, neutral delivery, while the NEO iDSD adds a touch of warmth and smoothed out the treble peak a bit more. The KANN Alpha had the general neutral quality of the Burson, but with a less forward more, relaxed delivery. Overall, I found that the Burson provided the most honest all around combo for critical listening, while the NEO iDSD had a more musical delivery for more pop oriented music. The KANN Alpha was also a solid pairing for a more portable option.
Comparisons: Focal Clear, HIFIMAN Arya
The $1500-$2000 range is awash with excellent reference tuned headphones. The Focal Clear and HIFIMAN Arya are two standouts that definitely deserve a comparison. The ATH-ADX5000 and Clear have some strong similarities with both having a mesh covered open-back dynamic driver design, and very similar tunings. The Arya produces a similar end result but with planar magnetic drivers and its own unique look.
In terms of perceived quality of the build and materials, it’s a bit mixed, but the Clear is probably the winner. The ATH-ADX5000 is clearly very well constructed and looks great, but its look is a bit more functional than the sleeker Clear, which seems to have taken some cues from a luxury car interior. In terms of comfortability, the ATH-ADX5000 is the clear winner. It has probably the simplest design of the three, but it’s so lightweight that it doesn’t need much cushion or any kind of suspension system to distribute the weight.
When it comes to the sound, it’s going to be a bit more subjective. None of the three have particularly strong bass impact, but the Clear has probably the most physical impact of the three, while the Arya has the most subbass extension. The ATH-ADX5000 comes somewhere in between. On the other end, in the treble, the ATH-ADX5000 has the best sense of air and most natural delivery, where the Arya can hit a little bit harsh in the low treble, and the Clear can sound a touch metallic at times. The Arya and ADX5000 both have positively massive soundstages with a feeling of true three dimensional sound. The Clear creates a smaller, more intimate space.
Between the three, it’s really just a matter of what you’re looking for: do you need that huge soundstage? Or do you need just a little more impact? Or do you need top sound quality in something light and comfortable? Whichever way you slice it, you’re getting top of the line detail, clarity, and resolution in amazing sounding headphones.
The Bottom Line
The Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 provides a high resolution, analytical sound with a great sense of air and space. Audio-Technica’s legendary quality and craftsmanship are evident throughout its design, and its light weight provides comfort for long listening sessions. Put that all together and the ATH-ADX5000 is the perfect package for deep, thoughtful listening.