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Hello readers, today we’re looking at an audio community favorite: Audio Technica’s ATH-AD700. For quite some time, this headphone represented an incredible value, and is noteworthy for the respect it commands in audiophile/gaming circles. Let’s take a look and see what I think about this product!
There are several ways that a headphone might be designed, but there are a couple of ways to generalize headphones: whether they are open, and what type of chassis and ear contact the headphones make. The ATH-AD700 is a dynamic open circumaural headphone.
- Dynamic: A type of transducer. See “moving coil” on Wikipedia for more. This is very common in production headphones. Odds are anything you’ve ever used is based on this technology.
- Open: the reverse of the driver is exposed to the world. Noise leaks and might disturb others around you. Consequentially, this design tends to improve head stage, and I’ve heard others say that it’s usually easier to get more sound for your buck with an open design.
- Circumaural: The cups, providing you’re not an elephant, will envelope your outer ear entirely.
These headphones are actually quite large, enveloping my entire ear, with the bottom of the cup resting at the top of my neck and the top about a half an inch above my ear. The cups are held to your ears by tension bars (think bow flex), that start at the top of one cup, extend several inches above your head, and come back down in a graceful arc to meet the opposite cup. Most of the headphone is golden in colour, which is contrasted by a purple grille covering the reverse of the driver. A golden badge on each of these grilles is placed directly in the center, and reads “Audio Technica”.
Just above the cups, extending inward on pivoting arms are two pads, called the wings. They are responsible for most of the loose but comfortable fit of the headphone; very relaxed and secure, but if you were to wiggle or shake your head violently they may not stay put.
The ear pads are made of plush velour, and initially might be itchy, but after breaking them in a bit, they are quite soft. They don’t have a great deal of contact area though. In fact, I’d say it makes a contact patch (along the edge of it’s circle) of about 1 mm.
This cable is a single entry cable, which means it runs into the left cup, and then splits off internally to the right cup. The cable, while built well is far too long. It is approximately 7 feet long, and unless you need to have some sort of mobility it will only get in your way. Prepare to find ways to organize the cable around the rest of your equipment, or modify it to suit your needs.
At the other end of the cable is the jack, or TRS (tip, ring, sleeve) connector. The jack can function both as a 1/4″ or 1/8″ thanks to the removable 1/4″ adapter (screw on). The design is very sturdy and looks nice. The contact area appears to be gold plated, and the body has a silver knurled portion that serves as a good grip for twisting the 1/4″ adapter off.
The build quality is quite good. Sadly there is not much metal, leather or anything else super sturdy, luxurious, or comfortable to be found on them, but they are made well enough to do their job; which is give great sound while not requiring a substantial investment. The headphones will creak and moan as you reposition them, but not during listening, they stay put well and will not get in their own way.
A note on amplification: These headphones have a nominal impedance of 32 ohms. This headphone sounds fine from most portable media players, or even straight from your computer. That isn’t to say that an amplifier won’t improve their sound, in fact they’re far more effortless and controlled with a well matched amplifier.
Prior to my review, I should discuss my listening setup so that it might provide some sort of reference for those familiar with such equipment:
- Source: Creative X-FI Titanium Champion Edition. Foobar v1.0, using WASAPI plug-in. Volume is set to 100, EQ is turned off so that it’s flat. In the windows sound control, bass and treble are at 50, which is a 0 decibel gain.
- Amplifier: Little Dot I+, with Sylvania Gold Brand 408A and Mullard M8161 (small shields) tubes, LT1364 op-amp, and Herbie PEEK Hal-o tube dampers (size 7). The amp is stock aside from the tubes and replaced op-amp.
- Cables: Belkin Pure AV cables. One of the cables is a mini to dual RCA, and the other is dual RCA. Between them is a MobileSpec ground loop isolator.
- Content: Flac, WMA, mp3. It’s a mixture when it comes to my collection, primarily because I’m too lazy to re-rip everything.
- The highs are strong and well pronounced, but not overpowering. Some suggest that the highs are a strong part of why they’re so good for gaming – the highs are a really good rough indication of where things are. They are not ear piercing, but are well defined.
- The mids are presented with a lot of space and warmth. They are creamy, smooth and beautiful. They bring a lot of body to the sound and give you a bit more of a precise grasp on where things are. They tend to make up for what the bass lacks.
- The lows have presence but are not overwhelming and they never overstay their welcome. It’s not big enough to get in the way of positioning, but not lacking enough to cause me to want too much. You can hear a deep pound, but you don’t feel it unless you have these really cranked up.
One of the reasons the AD-700 has been lauded over is its ability to accurately place things in space. This is called the “head-stage” by some, which is an aural illusion which simulates how we locate things by sound. For example, if we recorded the events in a room and you were there with the microphone, we’d hope that a sound that you heard to your far left in real life, would come from the same “place” when played back from the recording. Some headphones are really good at this type of aural imaging especially if the listener is trained well, and this is one of them.
The sound stage is huge, and of all my headphones it seems to have the most space. In fact, while gaming I’ll hear sounds that just absolutely fool me and make me think what I’m hearing is actually in the real world. I’ll look around, realize it was from the game, and go back to what I was doing. In spite of already experiencing it many times, it never fails to fool me.
The overall presentation is best described as laid back. They are just so relaxing and warm, because they are not very forward with their presentation; they’re not particularly great to listen to if you’re occupying yourself with other things, but when you dig in deep it’s all there.
One of the things I like most about this headphone is their low distortion. They won’t distort until well beyond tolerable volume levels. The other side of that coin is they seem to get better at the higher end of the listenable volume range, and often times, company sitting only 4 feet from me will complain about how loud they are. This means you’ll always be tempted to bring the volume up, and this makes them a poor choice for those who share a home, because undoubtedly they’ll enjoy the music less than you.
Play Test 1 – Unreal Tournament 3
Realizing that I hadn’t very much playtime in games that demanded strong presentation of audio positioning, I fired up Unreal Tournament 3 and played through several matches on the map Defiance, and played against bots. I wasn’t particularly looking for a challenge but I did learn a few new tricks for that map.
There were several times where I was able to figure out where the fighting was based on sound, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think the game is very good at handling sound. Sound appeared to come from “that way”, or “this way”, with almost a complete disregard for walls, and other obstacles. This means you know what direction things are, but you usually can’t tell where exactly. I wouldn’t say it was a high end audio system they were using in Unreal Tournament 3.
One of the most convincing and believable sound effects I heard was the Stinger fire, which appeared to have the best treble of all the weapons. Also, due to its constant firing, you could really lock onto it, as the sound never just went away. Once you grab a stinger and spool it up, you’re hesitant to relax the trigger. It’s just a fun gun to shoot, and keep shooting in game.
Another note, most people who played Unreal Tournament would place you on the map not because of positional audio, but from what they heard. If you hear the sound effect for a sniper rifle pickup you know they are at the sniper rifle rack. If you hear an elevator engage, the enemy is at an elevator. So from what I can see, if you’re playing Unreal Tournament 3 a lot, sound stage is far less important than sound separation.
As I said, I am pretty convinced that the game’s audio engine isn’t spectacular, so I’m moving on to another game, see you in the next section.
Play Test 2 – Counter Strike: Source
After knocking out the first test, I moved onto something that was far less familiar territory: something I was very bad at (was, and am). My first foray into Counter Strike: Source in a few years, and strictly to test these headphones. I have never gotten the tactical/strategic shooter genre. I’ve always been better or at least more at home in more hectic/speedy type games like Unreal and Quake.
I did find that the audio engine in CS:S was a lot better, as it heeded obstacles, and sounded a lot more realistic. The plinks as bullets hit the walls could be placed to a wall, and you could then locate where the bullet originated with some fast logic (not all weapons were perfectly audible, due to silencers). Placement was typically good, not super spot on like I’m sure some headphones can provide, but it was good. Gun shots were loud and reverberated into the air and could be heard from most places. You could place gunfights into specific rooms based on what you heard.
Unfortunately, there was always so much going on that it was hard to figure out where things were or what was going on. Gunfire was everywhere, and no matter where I turned I was sure to die. Audio placement was good, and I can’t complain about the headphones. I still hate Counter Strike though.
Here I will listen to a few of my favourite songs and simply comment on what I hear. I select songs that specifically appeal to me and seem to be noteworthy in some way. I will also include in brackets, the file type it was encoded to.
D’yer Mak’yer by Led Zeppelin, on Houses of the Holy [FLAC]
To my left and back is a guy making sounds with his mouth to the beat, the singer is near him, but more centered (to the beat boxer’s right, behind me). The drummer is back and left, and you can almost place his drums individually as you can tell they’re coming from different places; I could swear he has two snares, to his left and right and when striking them both it’s absolutely head filling. His drum set sounds huge. The guitarist is to the right, and is playing an electric. The whole song has a reggae sort of sound to it. This song places you on stage, and facing the crowd, with the band behind you.
Ready for Whatever by TI, on Paper Trail [FLAC]
The bass is warm and smooth but doesn’t extend as deeply as I’d like. I know from listening to other cans that this track has that sub punch that would make your car rattle. You can hear that same pound, but it just stops at a certain depth. You could say controlled, but it definitely hurts the emotion a bit. Tip’s voice is definitely post processed. The beat is pretty easy to follow wearing these, and not intrusive.
Behind by Flanders (Single) [mp3]
The vocals: beautiful, sublime, euphoric, just as they should be. After the intro, the beat comes in filled with powerful bass hits, mids beautifully carrying you into the nether, and highs chirping right along with it; they carry the beat, and the sub slam reinforces it. But that sub slam again just isn’t there. These cans let you know where it should be, but it just doesn’t extend deep enough at safe listening volumes. I think this is what people mean when they say the bass is lacking.
La Vie Est Belle by MC Solaar, on Mach 6 [mp3]
This is sung in French, but it’s beautiful without even knowing what it means. The mids are triumphant, and the vocals are sad and remorseful. The beat is upbeat, and catchy. Such a mix of emotion in one track, the female voice that comes in on occasion almost sounds sad and agonized, but beautiful and pure at the same time. Violins to my right only a few feet off, xylophone behind me and near. The beat is synthetic, and I’m unable to place it. You can hear rain off to your right at each refrain. This track actually benefits from the lack of bass, as there is so much subtlety that it might detract from it.
One thing I’ll bring up, is that this headphone is very forgiving of bad source material. You Tube videos have the capacity to sound almost as good as a flac file with these and are not super revealing of great or poor sources. The mp3’s I reviewed sounded as good as anything else I listen to with these, seeming to lack nothing (though, mathematically we know it’s lacking).
This can is actually quite wonderful for gaming, especially long sessions. The open nature and velour pads don’t stifle your ears, and can sit on your head for hours without problem. The bass is subdued, and allows for better analytical listening but this may not be what you’re wanting in a headphone. In spite of the lackluster bass, I’m very happy with these, and they are always a good resting point for me when I am tired of wearing less comfortable cans.
In regards to my grading, while I do favor these cans, they are not perfect, and I will do my best to point out any and all flaws I know of. I don’t want to be that guy who didn’t tell you about the lackluster bass, loose fit, or the obscenely long cable.
The ATH-AD700 has great performance per dollar, and will not disappoint those who haven’t heard even more amazing headphones. At 85 to 110 dollars (typical “good” pricing on this product), it will out sound stage anything in it’s class, and will sound better than most other headphones out there. They get really loud, and can sound good with just about anything, aside from music that requires the heavy hitting bass. At it’s price point, we can assume that the typical buyer of this product won’t be massively invested in high fidelity, and will be pleased by the forgiving nature of the headphone.
These headphones perform well where they are welcome, but they are very selective of what you listen to. Hip Hop will not sound good, and heavy metal will not sound right due to an imbalance in the bass (mids and highs will shriek). Comfortable relaxed music is where this thing shines, not to mention gaming.
The comfort is very good. I can wear these when other headphones have torn my ears to shreds (read: Grado), but unfortunately, it could use just a little bit more clamping force, and I have a big head as it is. Those with smaller heads than mine will find these overwhelming and a bit loose…
Being the biggest headphone I have, and inexplicably having the longest cable, it makes using these for anything other than at home too troublesome. While the construction is good, it is not good enough to withstand repeated packing and unpacking.These will be hard to store at home, I have thumb tacks in my wall and hang them off those. Also, they do not fold up so you’ll have to store them in all their girth.
Who should buy the Audio Technica ATH-AD700?
First off, as said countless times, gamers. The strong head stage, and subdued bass means that you’ll have no trouble at all figuring out where your foes are. This makes a wonderful gaming headset. Music wise, I’ve found softer smoother music to have a better presentation on these cans. For example: Lifehouse, Jose Gonzalez, Sneaker Pimps, Etc. If you don’t require deep bass, and prefer mid heavy music (anything with an acoustic guitar, piano, or synthesizers), then you’re going to be at home with these. For such applications, this headphone will always come very highly recommended by me.
Keep in mind though, there are better, but if you like what you’re seeing in this review and simply want more, then just climb up the product ladder at Audio Technica. I will say this, though: The ATH-AD700 is a great place to start.