The 5000s also have excellent instrumental separation. You hear each instrument clearly, and bands with many instruments don’t devolve into a muddled wall of sound. Just as important, most instruments themselves sound natural—something that highly regarded headphones like the Sennheiser HD800 can’t always pull off.
A few areas of the 5000’s performance are question marks for me at this stage of testing. The most obvious of these is the A-T’s bass definition. Bass is there in ample quantities, but there may be some peaks, dips or resonances that make plucked bass instruments less clear than they are in reality. This is with the PS Audio GCHA amp. With the Grace m902, the sense of upper bass definition issues is significantly mitigated. Bass sounds pretty tight, though at times a little lightweight (you may wish to read my blog about amps and headphones for clarification of this). The latter may be because, with both amps, the low bass never seems as extended as it does on the Sennheiser HD800s (or the bass champ Denon 5000s).
I also sense that the mid treble isn’t as extended as it is with some other headphones (and real music). You notice this the most on cymbals, where a headphone like the Sennheiser HD800 has better definition and a more natural amount of energy. Fortunately, this is a subtractive error on the part of the 5000s, and so it doesn’t really annoy or grate.
Finally, I get the sense that the A-T’s have some kind of dynamic distortion. On loud passages, they simply sound like they have a little harmonic distortion somewhere in the upper frequencies. It could simply be that they are revealing things I hadn't heard before. Right now it seems to correlate with the upper-midrange strength I comment on above. I've noticed it most on female vocals and the right side of the piano keyboard. And in comparison with the AKG 702's the upper-mid/lower treble range doesn't seem quite as smooth. In further testing I want to check to be sure this isn’t an amplifier mis-match (as well as testing for amplifier sensitivity in general), but right now it is something to look at.
When a reviewer gets analytical about a product the reader can often come away with the sense of “damning with faint praise”. That certainly wouldn’t be the right summary of my feelings thus far about the Audio-Technica 5000s. These are very good headphones. In some important ways they show up underappreciated limitations of other headphones. Like every headphone we’ve tried, they have weaknesses, but I think a lot of people would come away from a comparison session choosing the A-Ts as their favorite all-around headphone.