It's not often you find a small portable headphone trying to be high-end in every way, and rarer still to find one that pulls it off, but the Audio Technica ATH-ESW9A is precisely such a thing. With a lush, warm and surprisingly well-balanced sound for a mobile 'earpad type' sealed headphone, these sweet-looking set of cans sound way better than they should for the size. Real African tonewood earpieces, elegant design and flat-folding for easy carry-on or briefcase transport, the ESW9A headphones are perfectly happy at home, at the office, or on the open road.
- Very impressive sound quality for a small sealed headphone, perhaps tops for category!
- Comfortable on-ear fit provides respectable isolation from ambient noise
- Superb styling constructed with real tonewood ear pieces from venerable Japanese headphone maker
- Efficient for portable use without headphone amps required
What's In The Box:
- Protective Pouch
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Form or function? Beauty or performance? The Audio Technica ATH-ESW9A eliminates the difference. Not only is this perhaps the best-looking small portable headphones on the market but, fortunately, its excellent sound matches the striking cosmetics. The ESW9A's overall tonal signature is velvety smooth and features a terrifically punchy low-end texture alongside cleanly measured upper treble extension. The sole minor detraction to our analytical HeadRoom ears is the mid-range focus, which may appear a bit overly-recessed with certain vocals, principally on unforgiving reference recordings. In this flagship ESW9A 'earpad'-sized model, AT has integrated their newly-engineered 42mm drivers within a high-rigidity glass fiber baffle system said to significantly improve the resolution of subtle, low-level sonic nuances. It's certainly a pleasingly lively and engaging soundscape for listeners seeking warm audio detail and musical coherence wrapped in a singularly swanky package. The ESW9A's extremely comfortable supra-aural real tonewood-back earcups provide a mild degree of ambient noise attenuation and also serve to prevent your headphone 'leakage' from potentially disturbing others nearby. Pair this headphone with a quality portable headphone amp & high-bitrate 'Lossless' or uncompressed iPod / iPad or laptop audio files and prepare thy noggin for one truly sumptuous mobile audiophile listening experience.
The Audio Technica ATH-ESW9A earpiece housings are made of a lovely (NON-endangered!) 100% African Paddock wood often used for keyboard percussion instruments such as the marimba or xylophone due to its excellent strength and wonderful acoustic characteristics. The mid-sized supra-aural ESW9A earcups will handily collapse down nearly flat, thus making them perfectly easy to store and schlep into a carry-on bag or backpack. Luxurious lambskin earpad coverings are durable and extra-gentle on the lobes while adding an upscale air to the opulent AT design. The headband padding is an equally nifty deep-glove leather...boy, did we say this is a very comfortable headphone?! The non-detachable headphone cord measures only about 4ft long, which is nice for avoiding dreaded cable tangling while on the move but some listeners may wish to consider adding a quality headphone extension cord if listening to a home/office audio source that's further than a few feet away. A storage/ travel soft pouch is included along with a 1-year Audio Technica manufacturers' warranty (WHEN PURCHASED VIA AUTHORIZED DEALERS LIKE HEADROOM!). 100% designed, engineered, & manufactured exclusively in Japan.
NOTE: Audio-Technica USA advises this is a heavily counterfeited, faked and 'grey-market' headphone due to its very intense 'in-demand' status. For product security and peace of mind, always buy your AT headphones from true authorized dealers -- like HeadRoom.
- Headphone Type: Earpad
- Connector Type: 1/8
- Weight: 170 g w/o Cord
- Isolation: -10dB ~ 14dB
- Impedance @ 1kHz: 42 Ohms
- Detachable Cable: No
- Cord Length: 3ft. (1.2 m)
- Cord Type: Straight Y
- Ear Coupler Type: Earpad
- Driver Type: Dynamic
- Acoustic Seal: Closed
- Manufacturer Warranty: 1 year
- Sensitivity: 103 dB/mW
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Posted by dale from Akron Ohio on 2012-10-31
Recommend Product: Yes
Pros: Bass, Mids, Treble outstanding
Cons: Possibly fragile, no protective case
First impression: Soft highs, like so many of the newer high-quality headphones these days. The treble is about 5 db lower than the Shure 1840 (a non-bright headphone) at 10 khz, and gradually rises to the same level around 2-3 khz. I used a slight boost in Foobar2000 to get close to the 1840's output, so I could compare the other qualities on a more or less equal basis. Larger amounts of EQ can introduce distortions as well as irregularities in the frequency balance, but my small test adjustment proved successful. Vocals and instruments with the ESW9A were very similar in presence and harmonic quality to the 1840, but seemed very subtly rougher, which may be an unavoidable result of trying to bring the two signatures closer for these tests. Other than that, the sound is very similar except that the ESW9A is somewhat darker and bassier. The bass is strong, yet doesn't have the kind of upper bass emphasis that colors or muddies the lower midrange.
I ran a series of tone sweeps with the ESW9A to confirm what I was hearing in these preliminary tests, and the only significant variances from flat or neutral (compared to my most neutral headphones) were a slight emphasis at 2 khz and 7 khz, and a gradual rolloff in the deep bass to approximately -3 db at 50 hz and -6 db at 30 hz. This bass response is similar to what I experienced with the new Sennheiser Momentum, except that the Momentum has looser, less well defined tones and impact at the same output level. I expected the ESW9A to have a dramatically smaller sense of space or soundstage than the Shure 1840, since the 1840 is an open model and the ESW9A is a small on-ear closed headphone. The difference was there, but not dramatic, which was quite a surprise. Compared to the Momentum, vocals seem clearer with the ESW9A, and not just because they're more forward (they are, somewhat), but it's probably the same effect as the ESW9A's tighter and better-defined bass.
My overall analysis of the ESW9A's sound: Treble: Soft, but near ideal for most users. Midrange: Excellent, should be near ideal for most users. Mid to upper bass: Excellent, but not for bassheads, not even marginally. Deep bass: Slightly less than ideal, but very good. My overall judgement of the ESW9A is that it's a headphone which can transition well between genres that like a strong yet detailed bass, such as rock or some of the house music, and also those genres that favor vocal and instrumental tone such as jazz, classical, folk, and acoustic. If you like a cooler, leaner sound like the Shure 1840, the ESW9A might not be a good match. If you like a really hard-hitting bass for gaming and other applications that benefit from a lot of physical sensation, also not a good match. For everything else I think the ESW9A is ready to play hard, because the overall sound is smooth and free of peaks and recesses, and the quality of that sound is excellent.
The new ESW9A seems slightly above average in weight for a small on-ear headphone, but due to the soft spongy earcups and the very spongy lining under the headband, the weight will not be noticeable. The moderate clamping force will get much more attention than the headphone's weight, but because the earcups have a wide range of rotation and those cushy earpads, the comfort level will be high. With the earcups folded flat and pulled all the way down, the ESW9A can be worn around the neck comfortably, but it's a tight fit, with the eacups less than an inch from my adam's apple. The outer face of the earcups is supposed to be some kind of exotic wood, yet it looks to me like it could easily be made of plastic, so if it really is wood I can't tell. The ESW9A does look very nice in an understated way - not a fashion/bling headphone in the modern sense, but more like the look of an old library with dark wood fixtures, with its patrons wearing cardigans and smoking tobacco pipes.
The ESW9A's cable is dual-sided, non-detachable, and terminated by a 3.5 mm plug. The wires going to the earcups are 2 mm thick, and the two sides become bonded together (but separable) about 15 inches below the earcups. Total cable length is about 4.5 feet. The ESW9A did not include a 6.35 mm adapter plug, but did include a flat plastic carry bag that I would not recommend using. Although the headphone does not look especially fragile for normal use (unless you yank the very thin cable frequently), any impacts on the thin plastic carry bag could easily damage it.
In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the ESW9A compares with each individual track.
Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the ESW9A.
Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Very good overall sound. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry.
Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled very well here.
Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the ESW9A.
Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the ESW9A.
Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds excellent on the ESW9A.
Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the ESW9A renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.
Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The ESW9A plays this perfectly.
J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The ESW9A plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 30-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking even a little in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the ESW9A delivers the full experience of this music.
Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the ESW9A.
Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in certain headphones. The ESW9A plays those notes with good impact and control. Having played this track a number of times now, I'm highly impressed with the ESW9A's bass reproduction and detail throughout the track.
Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The ESW9A provides very good reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the ESW9A aces them.
Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds great with the ESW9A.
Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the ESW9A plays it superbly.
Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.
Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.
Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but not with the ESW9A.
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Posted by Hammer from My cubicle on 2011-07-26
Recommend Product: Yes
Pros: Beautiful sound, looks to match
Cons: Often faked, somewhat uncomfortable
The Grados for all their wonderful sound - are even worse on the open cup noise front... this feature eventually lead me to closed phones only for the office. IEMs tend to be uncomfortable for me for all day use, and they also block out everything, including your boss who's trying to get your attention.
Then I went 'closed', to the Denons, and they were AWESOME, especially with a Total Bithead. But frankly, they're too big to wear all day in the office, they're hot on my head, and they are maybe over revealing - especially if you have a fondness for 80s pop.
So, finally, I settled on a closed earpad layout... and did a LOT of research - and here we are...
The Audio Technica ESW9s are a little warm, which I like. Before you dismiss that, consider the effect: they make everything sound pretty decent. Tracks that were unlistenable on the Denons, because frankly you just experienced too much analytical detail, sound clean and friendly through the ATs. The form factor is small-ish, with nice leather head band and earcups. The fit can be a bit pinchy until you get used to them - kind of like new glasses - but this is the only flaw I've found.
I can't really speak to durability, because I'm pretty careful with them. They're so pretty - how could anybody abuse them?
Overall, driven with a modest amp even off something like the Amazon cloud, the noise floor is really low, the sound is lively, full, and enjoyable. Coworkers who try them, referencing them to their iPod earbuds or Sony office-issue junk of course, are always WOW'd - literally. And more importantly, I am too. I'll never go back from here. If they ever break, I'll have to get them fixed or find another pair. In fact, they're so good, that I've stopped shopping for office headphones for the first time in 5 years.... now some nice custom IEMs for travel... that's another story.
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Posted by SkyKidFalken from Vancouver, Canada on 2010-10-24
Recommend Product: Yes
Pros: Great sound for a portable headphone
Cons: uncomfortable, seriously
only downside, uncomfortable.... seriously, and quite easy to be broken
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