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Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z Headphones Review

Why don't you slip into something more comfortable?

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

2

Recommended
Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z Headphones Review
SRP: £530.00

What is the ATH-A2000Z?

The Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z is the flagship model in Audio Technica's 'ART Monitor' headphone range. It is a substantial revision of an earlier model and thanks to Audio Technica's complex model line-up, it is one of about three flagships that sit in slightly overlapping ranges of product. As one of a few companies that was heavily involved in headphone production before the arrival of the headphone boom, Audio Technica has been keen to move into the categories created by the influx of new manufacturers - we looked at the excellent MSR-7 hybrid last year. Equally, they have also been keen to stick to their strengths as well.

This means that the ATH-A2000Z is a full size home headphone - a category that Audio Technica has long been active in. By avoiding making the concessions that are demanded of more portable designs, the argument goes that a home headphone can deliver higher performance, greater comfort levels and a generally superior experience to a model that has compromises designed to make it easier to use on the move.

This is all fine as far as it goes but the ATH-A2000Z is more unorthodox than it first appears. Whereas most home headphones will take the opportunity that being used in a fixed location offers to become full open back designs, the ATH-A2000Z remains a closed back model. As you can also see, Audio Technica doesn't have much time for what you might recognise to be a conventional headband. As such, this is not a completely conventional design and it comes from a manufacturer with a long tradition of being somewhat quirky when left to their own devices. Is this a champion or another oddball to be admired but not invested in?

Specifications

Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z
A full size home headphone can take advantage of larger drivers and above everything else, this is where they can achieve performance advantages over more portable designs. The ATH-A2000Z is built around a pair of 53mm dynamic drivers which give a small but meaningful increase in radiating area over potable models which generally (if not exclusively) top out at about 40mm. Having tested the Sony MDR-Z7 which sports a pair of whopping 70mm drivers, the ATH-A2000Z is rather more mainstream than that but still has sufficient radiating area to hit 5Hz (albeit with nothing in the way of a roll-off figure quoted).

The drivers themselves are relatively unusual. They are hand finished and feature bobbin wound voice coils (not unheard of at this price point but relatively unusual nonetheless). The magnet in the drivers is also unusual. Unique to the ATH-A2000Z, the magnet itself is made from Permendur which is a cobalt-iron magnetic alloy and thanks to its man-made origins can be relied upon to produce a very consistent magnetic field allowing for much higher unit consistency. Each driver is then finished off with a rigid and lightweight magnesium baffle that is intended to ensure that the driver is stiff and light. This is a fairly exotic driver to find in a pair of headphones at the £500 point. The ATH-A2000Z also makes use of a four core cable for connection which is a neat touch and should reduce the susceptibility to outside sources of noise.
Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z
Neither is this technical wizardry confined to the drivers themselves. The drivers make use of a system called Double Air Damping System (DADS) that is intended to tune and control the bass response of the ATH-A2000Z in a manner competitive with open back designs. This takes the form of a pair of linked sealed chambers, one of which houses the driver and the other of which allows the controlled movement of displaced air from it. The housings for the driver and the chamber are made out of titanium. This ensures that they are extremely light and strong and by way of a small bonus, paramagnetic (titanium responds to an externally applied magnetic current but does not in itself gain any magnetic properties which ensures that the driver magnets are unaffected by their surroundings).

The result of these efforts is a headphone large enough to offer a full frequency response - even if we take the claim of 5Hz with a pinch of salt, the ATH-A2000Z is producing meaningful output to 20Hz or so when tested on frequency sweeps. At the same time, the overall weight is a reasonably low 294 grams and sensitivity is a useful 101dB/mV which should allow the ATH-A2000Z to be used with tablets and the like in a home setting.

Design

Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z
Having decided to break out the titanium for the housing material of the ATH-A2000Z, Audio Technica has decided that you deserve a bit of it visible as well. The outer housing has a titanium skin to differentiate the ATH-A2000Z from less expensive models and this is both a good and bad thing. On the plus side, the finish is attractive and gives a premium feel without being overly 'blingy' but it is a pretty impressive trap for smudgy fingerprints as well.

The padding on the housings though is very good. Audio Technica has generally always done a good job at balancing the necessary firmness and pressure needed with a good amount of give and reasonable comfort levels. The pads themselves are fixed though and this means that if you wear them out, damage them or simply get them a bit grotty using them while sweaty or the like, that changing them is not going to be a simple business. As they are patently unsuited for use while exercising, this should not be a huge issue but some rivals do offer removable pads.

Another Audio Technica speciality can be found in the way that the ATH-A2000Z sits on your head. In recent years, models that Audio Technica views as home headphones have dispensed with a conventional headband and instead used a system that Audio Technica calls '3D Wing Support.' This takes the form of two independently sprung and hinged pads that are the point of contact between the headphone and your head. The band that mounts the housings consists of two thin tubes that arc over your head and serve only to provide the mounting structure for the housings.

If you do a search for '3D Wing Support' online, you'll find that this system divides opinion somewhat. On a personal level, I like it. I find that Audio Technica models with it are comfortable to wear for extended periods and that the wings are a genuinely excellent way of dealing with the natural asymmetry that most of our skulls possess - I've said it before that you could be Sloth from The Goonies and still probably comfortably wear a pair. Detractors of the system point out that if you have a smaller head, the system isn't as effective and that with heavier models, the wings lack the resistance to help keep the pads in place and form an effective seal to the outside world. On the latter issue, they may have a point but the efforts to keep weight down in the design of the ATH-A2000Z has meant that this is much less affected than some other models I've tried in the past. Compared to the Beyerdynamic T70, the ATH-A2000Z doesn't have the same grip on the side of the head but equally, I know which model I'd rather wear for two hours.

In terms of accessories, Audio Technica has decided you don't get very much. Their generosity extends to a screw fitted quarter inch jack adapter and... that's it. No carry case or bag is supplied and the cable - while as already noted is quite a good one - is not detachable. How much this matters to you will largely depend on what you intend to do with the ATH-A2000Z. As a device for listening at home, it is fine but it might not be ideal for use in an office environment or the like.
Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z
Another Audio Technica speciality can be found in the way that the ATH-A2000Z sits on your head.

Testing

The ATH-A2000Z sample arrived brand new so was left running connected to a Cambridge Audio CXN and DacMagic Plus DAC for a few days. Having been run in, it was principally tested with a Naim Supernait 2 integrated amp connected to a Naim ND5XS Streamer and VPI Scout Junior turntable with Avid Pellar phono stage. Additional testing was carried out with a Chord Mojo connected to a Lenovo T530 ThinkPad and an Astell & Kern AK380 portable player with optional amplifier. Material used included lossless and high res FLAC and ALAC, Tidal and Spotify, YouTube, Sky Go and iPlayer and some vinyl for good measure.

Sound quality with music

Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z
Having run the samples in a for a bit before any critical listening took place, the first observation about the performance of the ATH-A2000Z is a very important one. While the Audio Technica is notionally a closed back design, it is not sealed in terms of noise leakage. This means that if you are trying to use the ATH-A2000Z in the same room as someone trying to do something else, they'll be less than keen on them. Compared to a pair of true open back models like Grado, noise is slightly abated but you'll still be able to hear exactly what someone using them is listening to.

This proviso aside though, the Audio Technica is a very capable new addition to the ranks of headphones at the price. Perhaps most importantly, the ATH-A2000Z has the Audio Technica sonic fingerprint. This is a fundamentally accurate headphone but one that has a definite character of its own. There is a small but noticeable midrange lift to the presentation and combined with a smoothness and refinement to the top end, it makes the Audio Technica enjoyable and very engaging to listen to for long periods.

As as a result, you can select something like Underworld's latest effort Barbara, Barbara, we face a shining future and the ATH-A2000Z delivers a performance that is punchy and refined but above both of these things, impressively exciting. The ATH-A2000Z is a headphone that trades off the last iota of neutrality for that slight upper lift that makes most music sound a little more involving. The really clever part of this is that thanks to the care and attention lavished on those drivers, even when you try and provoke the ATH-A2000Z, it stays smooth, controlled and refined.
Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z
Furthermore, it also possesses some tonal qualities that are truly exceptional. The midrange that the ATH-A2000Z possesses is a wonderfully open, consistently exciting and compellingly real affair that has an affinity with voices and instruments. Listening to the Audio Technica connected to the Naim Supernait and then the Chord Mojo - two products that are rather different from one another in presentation terms - does suggest that this probably isn't the headphone for you if you want to hear every behavioural nuance of your source equipment but equally, the ATH-A2000Z is capable of delivering much of what it does connected to tablets and other lower power devices so it has impressive real world ability - and there are of course any number of headphones on the market that will tell you what colour paint has been used on your output capacitors.

The final welcome aspect of the performance is that while notionally closed back - although as we've seen, not quite as closed back as it could be - is that the ATH-A2000Z sounds big and spacious. M83's wonderful score for Oblivion is given the room it needs to sound compelling and believable. Orchestral material is not always a happy hunting ground for headphones of this type but the Audio Technica does a fine job of sounding unconstrained by its design.

Sound quality with film and TV

The good news for people looking for an all-rounder is that few of the positive qualities that the ATH-A2000Z displays with music are an impediment to how it performs with film and TV material. Catching up on an episode of Masterchef on iPlayer saw the ATH-A2000Z produce a refined, detailed and coherent transcript of the programme with easy to follow dialogue and detail.

Switch to Mad Max: Fury Road on Sky Movies and the Audio Technica manages to keep the essence of big screen sound on a smaller scale. There is a sense that the tonal sweetness of the ATH-A2000Z slightly detracts from the sheer crunch of some of the effects on screen but not unduly so and once again, this forgiving presentation makes it extremely easy to listen to for long periods which is potentially more useful than something more dynamic but ultimately more fatiguing. Once again, the Audio Technica house sound is apparent. It would be wrong to say you'll either like it or your won't as the effects aren't that pronounced but I think it is fair to say that some people will like it more than others.
Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z
This is a fundamentally accurate headphone but one that has a definite character of its own.

Verdict

Pros

  • Sweet, refined and detailed sound
  • Comfortable
  • Well built

Cons

  • Can lack a little excitement
  • Rather large
  • Little in the way of supplied accessories

Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z Headphones Review

For many people, the idea of headphones that cost over £500 and have little feasible use beyond sitting at home wearing them will seem like a slightly pointless one and there is no shortage of competition for the ATH-A2000Z to face as well. I will make no apologies for the fact that on a personal and subjective level, this is a pair of headphones that appeals to me very much. The Audio Technica is comfortable, well built and manages to use the considerable technology in their construction to sound consistently entertaining even if some of this entertainment does come at the expense of absolute transparency. This is probably a try before your buy sort of product but if you like what the ATH-A2000Z does, this is an extremely accomplished home headphone.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sensitivity

.
.
8

Design and usability

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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