A Mid-Priced Flagship Beater?
July 13th, 2011 -- by Chris Martens
Audio-Technica’s ATH-W1000X “Grandioso” headphone ($699.99) debuted at the CES 2011 show this past January, and from the moment I first heard it I felt that the firm was on to something special. Right off the bat, two things surprised me about the W1000X. First, I noted that it was priced significantly below Audio-Technica’s flagship ATH-W5000 “Raffinato” headphone (now priced at $1199.99), and second, my initial “snap” impression was that the Grandioso offered sound quality that rivaled, and in some respects, surpassed that of its more costly big brother. The big question, of course, is whether those first impressions would hold up over a longer term listening test, and the answer is that—for the most part—they have. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the appeal of an upper-tier product that offers flagship-like performance at a much lower price.
Before we delve deep into the sound of the W1000X, let me provide a bit of background. Let’s start by noting that the W1000X marks the 10th-generation evolution of Audio-Technica’s top-tier W-series headphones—headphones that, judging by Internet buzz, have developed something of a cult following worldwide. Next let’s note that the W1000X looks the business, complete with closed-back ear cups fashioned from solid hardwoods. Finally, let’s observe that, in terms of key features and construction details, the ATH-W1000X could easily pass for an even more expensive model.
- Closed-back design: The ATH-W1000X Grandioso is, much like the flagship ATH-W5000 Raffinato, a closed-back, circumaural headphone whose ear cups are made of “pure American Black Cherry Wood”—a material Audio-Technica believes helps to foster “magnificent natural playback.” Audio-Technica adds that the Grandioso also features a “floating mount system (that) enhances the natural qualities of the wooden housings.”
- Frame and damping system: Drawing a few more pages from the Raffinato’s design brief, the ATH-W1000X features a “lightweight magnesium alloy frame with integrated baffle,” and also provides a “special D.A.D.S. (double air damping system)” that “delivers more linear sound.”
- Driver technology: The ATH-W1000X features, as does the W5000, “large 53mm aperture drivers.” In the case of the ATH-W1000X, those drivers also incorporate “specially built 2-part magnetic circuits that produce high speed magnetic streams for improved sound quality.” The voice coils for the headphone’s drivers are wound from “OFC-6N” high-purity copper.
- High-quality signal cables/connectors: Audio-Technica has paid close attention to details involving wiring throughout the Grandioso. Thus, the signal cables feature PC-OCC (pure crystal, Ohno continuous cast) conductor wires housed in an “elastomer sheath.” The signal cable plug features gold-plated conductors and bushings, while the plug body is fashioned from wood, and finished to match the headphone’s Black Cherry ear cups.
- Comfort: As a signature design touch, the ATH-W1000X features Audio-Technica’s familiar “3D wing support” system, which provides, says A-T, “a great fit and long-wearing comfort.” In a nutshell, the 3D wing system foregoes a traditional padded, adjustable headband and provides instead a pair of articulated suspension pads that rest directly on top of the wearer’s head. The real genius of the system is that those pads are free to swivel and move freely, providing front-to-back, side-to-side, and up-and-down adjustments that enable the ‘phones to comfortably accommodate a very wide range of head sizes and shapes. In our experience, the 3D wing system really works, almost creating the illusion that the ‘phones are in a sense “floating” above your head, with only the ear cups and pads making contact with the sides of your head and ears. It’s a great system.
One the best ways to approach the sound of the ATH-W1000X Grandioso is to begin by understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of the ATH-W5000 Raffinato (click here to read Tom Martin’s review from Playback 28). In highly condensed form, Tom’s take on the Raffinato was that it offered “balanced transparency,” a very slightly midrange-forward sound, or what Tom would call an “n-shaped” response curve (as opposed to a “u-shaped” curve), a really striking degree of midrange vividness, and bass that, though adequate, could at times seem lacking in the Nth-degree of definition and very low-frequency extension. Using that description as a baseline, let’s now move forward to see how the ATH-W1000X Grandioso is both similar to yet also different from the Raffinato.