Hands-on: Audio-Technica's ATH-AD1000X 'audiophile' open-back headphones
We're testing a variety of Mac- and iPhone-compatible open-back headphones, among them Audio-Technica's now more affordable ATH-AD1000X.
The AD1000X isn't new — in fact it dates back to 2012. At the time however it cost $599.95, putting it out of range for all but the professionals and diehard audiophiles it was aimed at. The product is still on sale in 2019, but now costs just $284.82 on Amazon, which makes it a realistic option versus other high-end headphones like the Beats Studio3 Wireless.
As a quick reminder, most headphones are closed-back. That means that their drivers and so forth are shielded, which can improve qualities like noise isolation at the expense of creating a narrower soundstage. Open-back headphones tend to have a "purer" sound with a wider stage, if at the cost of bass.
The first thing I noticed wasn't the sound, but Audio-Technica's design. The headphones are incredibly light, weighing a little over 9 ounces (265 grams). This stems not just from being open-back, but having a magnesium alloy frame — including the cup meshes — as well as a minimalist headrest system, in which two "wings" automatically adjust to your head.
I did have to position them just right to feel secure, but after that I could almost forget I was wearing them. That's aided by the use of suede ear pads.
Audio is pumped through 53-millimeter drivers and custom voice coils. The result is incredible frequency response between 5 hertz and 40 kilohertz, easily more than a human can discern.
Everything was incredibly clear, whether video, game audio, or music ranging from ambient and classical to metal and power electronics. Bass is less punchy than some closed-back headphones, but still tangible.
The open-back design does indeed create a wider soundstage, and the headphones have excellent stereo separation to boot. I can easily recommend these to gamers, editors, and others who demand immersion.
There are only three potential problems with the AD1000X, all of which depend on the buyer. The first is audio bleed — open-back headphones leak sound by default, so you're bound to call attention to yourself unless you're alone or in a busy environment.
By the same token they let outside noise in, such that I was able to have a conversation if music was low-key.
Lastly, the headphones' age shows in the use of a fixed 3.5-millimeter cable connection instead of Bluetooth. It's a thick, durable cable, but it measures nearly 10 feet and its metal connector won't work with some iPhone cases, so you're clearly meant to listen at home or in a studio. The package even ships with a quarter-inch adapter for musicians and other pros.
Accordingly, for Apple owners, I'd probably only suggest the AD1000X if you're pairing it with a Mac or iPad. It's certainly usable with an iPhone if you have an adapter, but practically speaking there are better choices.
Within these constraints the AD1000X gets a thumbs up — just remember to buy through third-party retailers if you want what it's worth in 2019.