Have you noticed that a real revolution is taking place before our eyes in the personal High End segment? Planar magnetic headphones are increasingly capturing the minds and heads of audiophiles, pushing the previously dominant dynamic models into the past. But are the positions of headphones with dynamic drivers really that weak, or do they still have something to answer? Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z headphones were invited to our laboratory to defend their status as kings of personal High End.
For the price of a stereo pair
The Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z model is not the oldest in the line – there are several more modifications with the 5000 index, which cost twice as much. But the two-thousandth model cannot be called cheap. For this money you can buy planar headphones, older models of dynamic headphones from other manufacturers, and even a very decent-sounding pair of bookshelf speakers (if you suddenly decide to give up personal audio). By spending this amount, the user has the right to claim not only luxurious sound and exclusive technologies, but also the use of the most expensive and high-quality materials. I’ll say without further ado: the Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z has it all.
It makes sense to start the list of advantages of the model with the most obvious – closed ear cups. If someone suddenly thought it was aluminum, steel or even plastic, they guessed wrong, go higher! The cups are made of titanium. The material is extremely hard and light. And in order to reduce the weight of the main part of the cup body, while avoiding the resonances that ABS plastic and other inexpensive materials are capable of, magnesium alloy was used. The weight reduction is helped not only by aerospace materials, but also by the lightweight headband design, consisting of two narrow steel plates and several plastic parts.
As a result, large headphones with enveloping ear pads that will fit even the widest ears, weigh just under 300 g! Put any other closed-back headphones of the same size on the scale, even not necessarily planar magnetic ones, and you will get much more impressive numbers.
Solidly sized 53 mm speakers are installed inside the ear cups at such an angle that the radiation axis is directed coaxially to the user’s ear canal. The voice coil is wound with highly purified 7N oxygen-free copper wire. The magnetic system used a material with the dissonant name “permendur” for Russian ears. This is an alloy of iron with cobalt and a small addition of vanadium, providing high values of magnetic field induction. And most importantly, the speakers are assembled by hand in Japan.
A look from the inside
Removing the covers revealed a picture pleasing to the eye. You don’t need to be an acoustic engineer to appreciate the brevity and perfection of the design, the quality of the parts and the neatness of the assembly. Even the protective grille covering the back of the speaker is made as if it was intended to be displayed. Reflections and self-resonances of the titanium cup are dampened by a round insert made of dense non-woven material.
Most of the space between the speaker and the earcup is filled with a foam ring, and a ring of similar density is installed outside under the ear pad. Thus, the developers create the necessary conditions for the speaker to operate and expand the range of reproduced frequencies in favor of deep bass. This technology is called Double Air Damping System – double air damping system.
The headphone cable is made of 6N oxygen-free copper. It has a symmetrical Y-shaped connection pattern and is non-removable. On the one hand, this is good, since there are no extra solders, twists or detachable connections between the plug and the speaker. However, I see one big disadvantage in this: after all, the developers have deprived users of the opportunity to choose another cable, including a cable for a balanced connection, which high-end headphones deserve simply by default.
All of the older Audio-Technica models I’ve tested to date have had open acoustic designs, but the ear cup size and headband type, including the spring-loaded stops or “3D wings” that hold the headphones on the head, are absolutely identical to the Audio model -Technica ATH-A2000Z. I have accumulated complaints about the fit of the open series headphones: they barely stayed on my head and tended to slide somewhere under my chin at the slightest movement. Imagine my surprise when nothing like this happened with the 2000 model! The headphones sat absolutely comfortably and, no matter how I moved my head, they maintained the position that was originally chosen.
Another important comparative observation concerns the soundstage. Having a closed design, Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z is fundamentally not inferior to open versions in its ability to convey volume and a sense of space around. Without a doubt, in a direct comparison, the open ones will sound a little wider and freer, but this difference is not so significant, how important is the thorough noise insulation that the Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z model provides, as well as the fact that only you and nobody else. The genre and tempo of the content being played can only be determined by facial expression and head shaking. In a word, the headphones pleased us with their performance properties literally in all respects; all that remains is to figure out the sound.
High precision monitors
From the first notes, the Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z surprises you with the fact that absolutely all sounds are in their place. Nothing brightens, hums, whistles or sticks out. In the first moments there is a feeling of some distance of the upper frequencies from the listener, but this only adds a sense of realism and emphasizes the high resolution in the mid/low frequency range.
Sound images are natural to the point that they seem tangible, and do not have bright accents that attract attention. You could even say that the sound is nothing special, because the headphones literally do not show any character – they simply reproduce music as accurately and accurately as possible. You can notice the main advantages of the Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z by listening to a dozen test tracks and trying a couple of different signal sources.
The Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z reacts very quickly to changes in content, source and amplifier, showing the strengths and weaknesses of all participants in the process. And this is the first moment when the thought comes to mind that the name of the High-Fidelity Art Monitor series clearly did not appear by chance.
With a maximum input power of 2 W and an impedance of 44 Ohms, the headphones have a fairly high sensitivity of 101 dB, which allows them to work successfully not only with powerful stationary amplifiers, but also with ultra-compact USB DACs like the Cambridge Audio Dac Magic XS or Audioquest Dragonfly, and even with portable equipment. The headphones are not at all capricious and will not disdain an old iPod, extracting the maximum possible quality from it. And with each stage of improving the quality of the reproducing path and content, the sound quality increases accordingly. So, in terms of behavior, the Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z are real monitors in the broadest sense of the word.
Little audiophile happiness
In matters of genre (or rather, lack thereof), the Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z fully met expectations. Whatever music was offered to them, the task was always completed perfectly. All complaints that arose about the sound were ultimately redirected to the sound engineers of specific recordings, since the headphones reproduced everything without hiding flaws or embellishing them with additional reverberations.
If Halestorm were recorded piercingly, brightly and harshly – listen as it is, and do not abuse the volume, take care of your ears. There was a desire to relax your soul and ears – if you please turn on Dire Straits or the late Leonard Cohen, here you have both aesthetic pleasure and a little audiophile happiness included.
“Treading Water” – Alex Clare pleased us with an exceptionally groovy and peppy sound with a clear separation of instruments, a legible midrange and excellent elaboration of the low-frequency range. And to disassemble into details the fussy mess of sounds that Alex usually brews, without spoiling the overall impression of the composition, is not as easy as it seems at first glance! “No roots” – Alice Merton pleased with its excellent rhythm and clarity, the dynamics of the composition were very accurately conveyed, the abrupt sound of the guitar, the imprinting dense beats of the bass drum, the spectacular pauses at the beginning of the composition and the very lively, natural sound of the voice. On this track, the headphones especially stood out for their high resolution, allowing you to hear the smallest details of the recording, including microphone gating. And I liked no less the integrity and expressiveness with which the music was presented,
In the composition “Giorgio by Moroder” – Daft Punk, maestro Giorgio seemed to be telling his story to me personally, looking into my eyes. And what a juicy bass line that started after – it’s impossible to put into words! And they finally finished off the elastic, warm notes of analog synthesizers that enter in the second minute. You can listen endlessly!
The fact that the emotions conveyed by the headphones is a consequence of the excellent sound characteristics could be seen in familiar recordings of varying quality. The most interesting-sounding recordings were those with the best detail and greater dynamic range, especially classical music and a variety of large-scale musical acts, from Japanese drums to classic progressive rock.
When talking about the Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z, I would like to describe at length and in detail how they play bass. And not at all because they do everything else worse, it’s just that it’s not so common to find large, powerful headphones that can reproduce the entire low-frequency range, including the lower bass, so clearly and clearly. The lower limit of reproducible frequencies of 5 Hz stated in the passport data should not be considered as an exaggeration of the capabilities.
As someone who has first-hand knowledge of the process of tuning headphones, I can say that the work done by Japanese engineers is excellent. They were able to achieve almost perfect tonal balance and high resolution, while avoiding the effect of flat and dry sound, which often suffers from equipment that gives ideal readings on measuring instruments.
Compared to the most remarkable planar magnetic models of comparable cost, the classic dynamic Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z shows itself very worthy, and in a number of properties it completely surpasses its colleagues and competitors belonging to the major league.