Saturday, December 31, 2005

Audio-Technica ATH-ES7

The “Earsuit” range from Audio-Technica extends further with the ATH-ES7. Audio-Technica’s intention with the ES range is exactly what the name hints at… something smarter and more upmarket than the rest, offering refinement in design. The ATH-ES7 has mirror finish stainless steel earcups on a lightweight, low-profile design and was created to fold flat in your briefcase, Prada manbag or whatever it is you consider stylish work storage. The phone is available in black and white. The black is shown here.

If you search through this blog (which is a pain and one of the main reasons why I want to change now) you’ll see a somewhat lukewarm review for the ATH-ES5, it’s smaller, older sibling. While essentially a decent headphone, the ES5 offered no isolation and a very slow folding mechanism. The ES7 shares very little with the ES5 in terms of mechanical design and is a considerably larger headphone, but you can probably see that the two are related in terms of offering understated design uniqueness that seeks to stand out from the rest.

Although I complained about the mechanical properties of the design, there was no question that the ATH-ES5 was built to very high standards of quality. The same is true with the ATH-ES7. Build quality is top notch, and everything feels very "bespoke".

The pivot mechanism for the earcups feels very tightly put together with no wobble.

However the mirror finish, just like the iPods back is unfortunately a fingerprint and scratch magnet. No real scratches yet for this ES7, but it’s only a matter of time. It does ship with a cleaning cloth for the inevitable fingerprints.

The fantasy...

...And the reality after a day's worth of heavy use.

The headband adjusts on ratcheting twin steel heavy-gauge wires made of very tough steel, and there’s enough movement of the band as well as of the earcups for it to adjust to virtually any ear or head.

In terms of the overall look, it’s very smart and does justify it’s ‘Earsuit’ moniker. It’s comfy for a supra-aural design (on the ear) but it has a slightly ‘wide-shouldered’ look once on the head, which makes it look slightly goofier than it needed to, compared with some other more low-profile headphones.

The elastomer-covered, metre-long, compact 3.5mm plug-terminated cable is a carryover from the ES5, and they’re still as potentially delicate as the ES5’s cables were. There’s better strain relief at the earcups now, but I think if anything is going to break first on these phones it’ll definitely be the cable.

How’s the external noise isolation? Decent. Not anywhere near as good as the top performer in this range (the Sennheiser HD25-1), but on a par with or slightly inferior to most closed DJ phones. Sound leakage to the outside is minimal.

Quality earpads offer decent comfort for an 'on-ear' phone,
but not the greatest isolation.

The headphone is pretty easy to power from any portable. It's unlikely that you'll find much, apart from Sony's most heinously European-crippled machines perhaps, unable to drive these to a decent volume level. In terms of sound quality and treble / midrange response, the ATH-ES7 is quite similar to the more ubiquitous Sony MDR-V700DJ headphone. That means a relatively mild treble and a slightly prominent midrange. However the ATH-ES7 ups the bass ante from the MDR-V700DJ with much more ‘boom’, delivering real weight in the mid-bass (where the bass action normally occurs in pop/rock). I say ‘weight’ instead of ‘punch’ because the sonic response, rather like a low-cost subwoofer is a bit slow. The trebles in common with the Sony feels somewhat rough, lending some erroneous texture to the highs but the ES7 does offer a slight improvement in overall sound accuracy to the Sony. There is a noticeable case of ‘closed phone honk’, artificial-sounding sonic reflections caused by not overcoming design limitations in closed phones. To sum it up, the ES7 is basically a slightly more accurate Sony DJ-phone with added subwoofer.

Putting that in overall context, there are plenty of (even other closed) headphones around the $50~$100 mark which can get very close to or even beat these on a sound quality assessment, but perhaps no others which offer the sort of combination of an unfatiguing yet still relatively well defined sound plus the "wave o'bass". Am I impressed? Not as such. But the overall sound is actually quite pleasing for pop and rock use, and I can imagine many people being very happy with this sound.

The ATH-ES7 is a subtly blingtastic alternative for the more image-conscious who might be considering a higher-end portable headphone. Rather expensive for the level of performance offered as far as the full imported price goes, but nevertheless there are some definite plus points about these. If you love kicking out the beats and keeping it to yourself, then these might be just the phones for you with a powerful bass and usable, if not spectacular isolation. The image is distinctly cool and overall it’s not a bad headphone at all to spend your commutes with.

ATH-ES7 "Earsuit"
Manufacturer: Audio-Technica Japan
Impedance: 32 ohms
Efficiency: 100db/mw claimed (sounds higher, but that's perhaps because of the bass response)
Drivers: 42mm
Weight: 160g claimed
Freq. Response: 5 ~ 30,000hz claimed

Availability: Retail in selected Asian countries, import elsewhere using the shops below
Price: $150ish + shipping
Buy from Bluetin
Buy from Audiocubes

I was doing some idle searching in Bing, and came across this - apparently they're better at SEO than some. An interesting remix, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Hi guys, yes I'm still alive.

Still working on a replacement for this blog, but for now I'm trying to get some behind-the-scenes stuff sorted out.

Next Major Article
I and a fellow Head-Fi member are working on a comparison of unamped and amped configurations. Say you start with an Etymotic ER-6i and are looking to step up. You visit Head-Fi or other forums and they tell you that amping the ER-6i can work wonders. You get directed to Xin's website and learn about his new Supermini. Then someone else recommends the Ultimate Ears Super.Fi Pro as a step-up earphone. Which do you pick? Well that's exactly what we're about to establish. In the case of balanced-armature in-ear phones the choice of a more expensive earphone is not always as clear cut as it might be, since the drivers in use by all the main companies (Etymotic, Shure, Ultimate Ears, etc) are all pretty much the same in terms of capability. The difference is in the use of multiple drivers of differing size and the tuning of each driver. Amp or Upgrade? That's the question we'll be answering.

I've also got hold of a pair of the Audio-Technica ATH-ES7 headphones, which I'll be posting a short review soon.