Audio-Technica describes its mid-priced ATH-A700 headphones as a models designed to deliver “audiophile-quality acoustic performance with full, rich balanced bass.” At $299, the ATH-A700 is less expensive than many of the ’phones in this survey, and it is also—unlike most of the ’phones in the test group—a “closed-back” design, meaning that its earpieces are fully enclosed, not vented. Given these differences in price and technology, I wanted to see how the Audio-Technicas would compare and now that I’ve heard the ATH-A700 in action, I’m especially glad we invited it to the party; it acquitted itself very well—especially so in light of its price.
- Closed-back design with “Double Air Damping System” said to promote “deep bass.”
- Proprietary, large-aperture 53mm drive units with neodymium magnets and voice coils wound with copper clad aluminum wire.
- Oxygen free copper, cloth-sheathed connecting cord with gold-plated jacks.
- Self-adjusting “3D Wing Support Housing” promotes comfortable support.
- Gold-plated mini-jack-to-1/4-inch adapter.
Though a bit bright-sounding straight from the box, the ATH-A700 quickly loosened up and settled into a rich, engaging, and slightly warmer than neutral sound that complements most types of music. Bass is full-bodied without being overblown, while mids and highs are smooth, expressive and quite clear sounding—almost as open sounding as those of the top-tier $500 phones we sampled. Importantly, the ATH-A700 is exceptionally easy to drive, meaning it doesn’t demand a particularly powerful headphone amplifier.
One further point: the comfortable sound of the ATH-A700 combines with unusually good physical comfort and fit in a synergistic way, making you want to listen to these ’phones for hours at a stretch.
Producer Günther Pauler has made some spectacular sounding records for the German Stockfisch label, and one of my favorites is Sara K’s jazz-inflected folk album Hell or High Water [Stockfisch, SACD]. The album opens with the track “Stars,” which highlights Sara K’s airy-sounding yet also full-bodied voice backed by closely mic’d acoustic guitars, delicate South American flutes, chimes, percussion, and bedrock- solid fretless electric bass. The ATH-A700s hit this track out of the proverbial ballpark for two reasons. First, they are clear enough to capture the articulate, breathy quality in Sara K’s voice, yet they also offer sufficient warmth to reveal the deeper, richer body of the voice down below the breathy overtones (something not many headphones can do so well). Second, the Audio-Technica offers an across-the-board quality of richness that draws out the intense tonal colors and textures of the backing instruments—especially the growling bass, which sounds potent and positively subterranean at times.
Like all closed-back headphones, the ATH-A700s can sometimes pressurize your ears (especially on loud, low bass passages), and they will occasionally remind you that they enclose your ears in what is an essentially sealed chamber. But unlike some closed-back designs I’ve tried, the Audio-Technica never gave that oppressive, trapped-inside-adiving- helmet sensation. Instead, it rests lightly around your ears while gently but firmly blocking out most room noises.
Audio-Technica’s 3D Wing Support Housing makes the light ATH-A700s one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. The “Wings” are a set of two padded, articulated, flaps that can tilt in two directions to conform to the contours of your head, making the headphone seem to “float” in an optimally comfortable position. One small caveat: Audio-Technica’s earpads are covered in faux leather material that squeaks a bit as you move and that does not wick away perspiration the way fabric earpad covers do.
The oh-so-comfortable ATH-A700s are eminently likable headphones whose just slightly warmer-than-neutral tonal balance sounds fine on well-recorded material while making the ’phones at least somewhat forgiving of less-than-perfect records. The Audio-Technica offers surprisingly good clarity, too, while serving up bass that is robust and punchy. Though not the very last word in transparency, the ATH-A700 comes surprisingly close to the better $500 ’phones and for hundreds less. Note: the easy-to-drive ATH-A700 can even be driven by an iPod, though only to moderate levels.