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?


Anonymous said...

Hey, I see you have iPod 5G (aka Video). Can you compare it to other DAPs (Sony, iAudio X5?) in terms of sound quality?

Anonymous said...

ES7 - Thank you for another great review!

Lester said...

After reading your review, I bought the ES-7 and I pretty much felt the the same as what you found. However I find it difficult to use the ES-7 as portable headphones and therefore thinking of buying another ES-5 as my day in and day out on the road headphone, any advice?

bangraman said...

That's the ES5 review.

I probably didn't put enough emphasis on the sound quality aspect, which is definitely a step up from the likes of the Sennheiser PX200 - but the ES5 are effectively open. The properly closed PX200 gives a tiny, tiny bit less isolation than the ES7, but sound suffers in comparison to the ES5.

Personally, after all these years and many, many phones of roughly the same use the PX200 still gets top marks as the best compromise for a truly portable miniphone. It's lighter than many of its competition, it's more intelligently designed, it's actually closed and for the tradeoffs involved, sounds decent.

You could also look at the AKG K26P. Distinctly unruly phones in my view with a bloated bass and highly questionable technical ability, but is definitely closed/isolated as well. There seems to be opinions on Head-Fi that there are two different batches of these phones. Having sampled several K26Ps I very much doubt it. More likely is that people for whom the K26P does NOT fit properly get a better sound due to the lack of a seal, which creates a highly undesirable 'closed phone sound'. The PX200 is much better balanced when fitted properly, which means that those whose ears are too large for the PX200 will feel it is on the anaemic side.

Lester said...

Thank you for suggesting the K26P as an alternative to the PX200. Now that I have ES-7, PX200 and K26P on top of E2C, one that when wearing, is nothing but a punishment to me. For mobile application, I have the choices of PX200 and K26P and they are beautiful in their own right. I enjoy both of them absolutely for the money and the intended application.

I am also considering having another pair of AKG K81DJ or ATH-A900. For K81DJ, I am going to give it to my son, a collage kid, so that he does not have to listen to E2C only. If I have the A900, I am going to give him my ES-7. This time the application in mind is for home-use mainly for pop and jazz.

I doubt if this is the right place for me to seek your most valuable advice. However, since this is the place getting me to start the whole thing going so I write to you again from here.

Please tell me what to do?


Russ said...

Thanks for your review. This and others helped me narrow my search down for a portable closed headphone with acceptable sound quality. I recently moved to a huge metro area and take public transit daily. I've been using the px200 for the last year or so, but have found that it simply does not provide adequate fidelity with a large part of my music catalog. The px200's do fine with a lot of my simpler music pieces (a lot of folk, jazz) but for rock, r&b, and anything with complex passages I find that everything gets muddled together and even distorted.

I auditioned nearly the entire portable audio-technica line at AC gears (audiocubes' outlet in NYC) and found that the ES7's were an extremely significant upgrade to the px200's.

I feel that your end assessment is correct.. the audio quality is not groundbreaking, but given all the constraints I had (closed, flat folding, easily driven, and nice looking) I think these are quite exceptional. I'm very happy with this purchase so far.