Audio Technica ATH-ESW9 mini review.

OOoooo… i got mail today and its the ATH-ESW9! Finally i get to see first hand what all the fuss is about. This is my take on it.

Im not about to go on about the box and and packaging any more than to say it was a box and packaged it was, decently well. No hype and hoopla there. But AT really ought to get someone over there to maybe translate their specs. The “protein leather” thing.. well, it brings the presentation down a notch or two. No matter, it affects not how it wears or sounds.
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After getting it out of the box and giving it the once over, i realise that its not as large as i thought it was. its a very decent size for portable wearing. The build is nice, nothing to complain about. It feels sturdy and the weight is just about right. It sits well and doesnt feel loose or threaten to fall off with slightly forcefull head swiveling. Comfort wise, being a supra aural set of phones, its pretty good. It took about an hour plus before my pinna started to complain.. this is in contrast to my recently flogged off SR80s which would start to annoy me within 15 mins. Im pretty sure the comfort will increase as i wear this thing in and the pads conform to my ears. I would expect it to soften up some as well. Theres a very positive click when adjusting the headband – nice. As for the sound… (Cowon D2 + headsix + MP3 @ 192 – 320 + some FLAC) – well, I got these frankly to get away from my SR80’s which i realised i used less and less as they didnt bode well with me. The lack of bass and shelved up mids and highs had them hanging out in the box more than on my head.

Initial impressions: The ESW9 has a really warm, pleasant sound signature… thats the best way i can describe it.. it wasnt WOW. It didnt straight up impress me, there was no part of the sound spectrum that made itself overtly felt.. In fact that was i can say its best virtue, the lack of anything that offended! It was just all there and all in the right amounts. The treble is not shrilly, its clear and present but doesnt try to ingrain itself into your head. Bass is wholesome and defined. No Booming bottom end, but it at the same time doesnt extend quite that low. A non-issue as it gelled together quite well. Soundstage is fair, its not wide open nor does it sound very boxy. The mids are not as in your face ala sr80, more of a toned down Portapro but more forward than AH-D2000. It sits smack in the middle of the two very well.. like i said, pleasant. Its got manners this thing. Soundstage is wider and bass is deeper on the AH-D2000 compared to ESW9, thats to be expected. But, what i did notice is that the more pronounced mids favoured vocals quite nicely. Vocals come out smooth and sing to you instead of being rudely shouty. Dolly Partons “Jolene”, Alan Jacksons “Small Town Southern Man”, New Grass Revivals “Vamp in the middle” all sounded good and all there over the ESW9. Notably the fiddle in “Vamp in the middle” took on a different character that made me take notice.. it was more laid back, but still toe tapping. Attack on acoustic stringed instruments was played back with detail… Garcia & Grissman and Norman Blakes tracks all came across lively with nothing lacking. Its lack of bass extension (probably) also makes for no extraneous bass resonence or boominess that sometimes is noticeably present on the AH-D2000. (For noobies doing research into a new set of phones, trust me when i say that the SR80 will never ever sound boomy. Take it as a strenght.) As to appearence…. well i dont know if they will get you laid, but they are pleasing to the eye…. I have never listened to the ES7, but if they sound the same as the ESW9 (I cant frankly tell or am even sure if at all the wood on the ESW9 makes any difference) i would pick that over the ESW9 for value for the dollar.

In short, the sound signature is what i had hoped it would be when i chose it as a pair of portable supra aural phones. Its warm, polite and well mannered all around. (Like chocolate fudge or cozied up on a cold winters night – there is just no wrong and never enough right). Bass is authoratative (yeah, i like bass) but does not barge into the overall presentaition. Its comfortable enough, i get to wear it supine resonably well. It doesnt leak much sound at the levels i listen too. There are more detailed reviews here and many other users opinion regarding this pair of phones that are more in depth. There are some minor flaws that i could nit pick at, but i would rather give them some time to see if they simply become unnoticeable or are minor enough to be ignored. More playback material will probably disclose some flaws here and there, im not overly concerned with that as its overall personality is very easy to like. It would seem that i have chosen well.

WRT to the Cowon D2, Headsix and the ESW9. The D2 has some strong suits, it also has a couple of flaws, its biggest one is the bass roll off. Its very pronounced. the headsix fixes that. But as demonstrated by Head-Fier dfkt and easily discernable by ear, the high treble above 4Khz gets blunted. It varies by phone and impendance but its invariably there. This is where its strenght comes back to play. Its easily offset by a treble boost. My personal setting is +2 at 6.9Khz for it to sound right. (Its no excuse for building them right, this is simply a workaround). Another effect that i am fond of is BBE at +1, it gets the sound out of your head and gives it some sense of space. Its a personal choice as to mucking around with DSP vs original source, but over a little player with an amp thats decidedly warm, i dont think theres much of an original source left for me to take stock in. So, tweaking a little to taste imho is no bad thing especially when it can taste so gosh darned good. Your milage may vary, this is one persons opinion.

Note: I posted this over at HeadFi and just now transferred it here to consolidate my reviews from various places of the interweb.

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  1. […] further up the ladder, compared to Audio Technica’s ESW9 that  i reviewed  sometime back at just about three times the cost, well i’ll summarize […]



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