The ATH-W3000ANV’s bass response is big, bodacious, and dynamic. Bass notes have so much weight and power that on certain cuts the ATH-W3000ANV delivers enough force to literally box your ears. To simulate the effect merely put your hands over your ears and push inward. Some listeners love this kind of bass response from headphones, but I’m not one of them. My preference is toward the kind of bass response typically found on open-back rather than closed-back ‘phones. With open-back headphones you don’t experience the same wall of pressurized air hitting your eardrum with every bass transient because it’s not a sealed environment. Stax Pro Lambdas can deliver as much bass as the ATH-W3000ANV, but without the air pressure.
Unlike many headphones that claim extended bass response, the ATH-W3000ANV actually delivers. And these extended low frequencies aren’t loose and flubby allusions to the real thing. I’ve experienced very few headphones with the bass definition of the ATH-W3000ANVs. On massed double basses I felt as if I could zero in on each individual player if I chose. If you doubt that a closed-back headphone can have extended bass with excellent definition, you need to hear the ATH-W3000ANVs.
The ATH-W3000ANV midrange was both smooth and seductive. Male and female vocals had a certain rightness that only comes from a fully fleshed-out harmonic presentation. I never got any sense of hollowness or edginess from the ATH-W3000ANV’s midrange. But the ATH-W3000ANV does deviate from ultimate neutrality, with lower midrange response that is slightly fuller than that of my most neutral-sounding references. Fortunately, although the lower midrange was bountiful, it wasn’t slow or lacking in detail and finesse. On the contrary, the ATH-W3000ANV’s seductive midrange draws you in.
Upper frequency presentation through the ATH-W3000ANV may not be quite as airy as a pair of Stax Pro Lambdas, but it was close, and every bit as detailed. Whether it was cymbal’s’ edge or a female vocalist’s top octave, the ATH-W3000ANV did a remarkable job of being kind to female vocalists but relentless when it came to revealing the subtlest of musical details.
And how well did the ATH-W3000ANV image? Whoa baby, are you ready for a party in your head? With a good headphone amplifier, such as the April Music Stello HP-100, the ATH-W3000ANV image specificity was almost scary. Every instrument occupied a precise location inside my head. “Headphone albums,” such as almost anything by the Beatles post-1965, are a treat through the ATH-W3000ANVs.
Fans of big orchestral pieces or rockers who like to listen at “stadium-approved” volume levels will love the ATH-W3000ANV’s unflappable dynamics. Big dynamic swings don’t cause changes in harmonic balance. My ears cried “mama” well before I detected any loss of control or finesse. And audiophiles who prefer listening at more subdued volume levels are equally well served; even at low levels the ATH-W3000ANV retained all its dynamic contrast.
Listening to the Beatles Abbey Road [EMI] through the ATH-W3000ANVs was a pure joy. Every part had its own clearly articulated spot inside the soundstage, which was inside my head. Trippy. I adore the guitar solos that begin at the 00:55 point of “The End” where Harrison and Clapton trade 4ths. Through the ATH-W3000ANVs the differences in the guitarists’ playing styles and attack were magnified. That lick Clapton does at 1:20 amazed me every time I heard it through the ATH-W3000ANVs, showcasing finger vibrato with a pull up—don’t try that at home kids (at that spot in time and space perhaps Clapton was God). And through the ATH-W3000ANVs you’re practically there.
Another album from the ‘60’s that was a treat through the ATH-W3000ANVs, an album that anybody with more than a passing interest in electric blues simply must have in their collection, was 1965’s Live at The Regal from B.B. King [MCA]. The soundstage may not be to a stereo purist’s liking since it features a “hole in the middle” ping-pong stereo mix as opposed to a realistic stereo soundstage, but the mix is so clear… B.B.’s guitar and the horn section are situated hard right, the piano and the drum kit are hard left, and B.B.’s vocals are dead center. The bass and adoring crowd are the only things besides B.B.’s voice that consistently share the right and left channels. During B.B.’s solos you can hear the natural reverberation of the hall through the piano and drum microphones. It’s a cool effect. And B.B.’s voice is so strong that through the ATH-W3000ANVs I could easily identify every time he clipped the mic preamps with his powerful vocal attack.