Audio Technica ATH-WP900 Impressions
Why did I add this to my journey? A couple of reasons: First, I wanted to see just how bad the leakage really is on the lcd-xc. Second, this particular headphone is one of audio technica’s few bass boosted models. Three, it is closed back, light and extremely portable.
Will it get added to the collection? Let’s find out.
First, Some Drama
This headphone made me think I found something wrong with my Qudelix 5k. It sounded bloated, it played static, it caused the qudelix to shutdown and there was a horrible imbalance primarily in the bass. Well, as it turned out, I bought an adapter of 3.5mm female to 2.5mm male on amazon so I could run it with the balanced jack. This adapter is doing something completely crazy. I bought it because of audio technica’s proprietary cable. Bad move.
With the adapter gone, the headphone and qudelix became sane again and life can move on. Which brings us to the cable.
AT (Audio Technica) done screwed this up. This is the most kink prone, memory forming cables I have ever seen. On top of that, their stupid connector system means I can’t get rid of it. I even tried to buy a cable from AT for a 2.5mm plug so I can use my qudelix 5k with more power. They don’t make one.
Listen here AT: If you are going to do something proprietary like this, you better be ready to back it up with options. Your proprietary connectors have effectively said to me “nope, no power for you.” Yeah, I can go get an adapter that works (update: actually, as it turns out, I can’t do that), but you know what I want? Hart Audio cables. You know what I don’t want? To spend $200+ on some colored dragon cable just to get rid of this stupid cable on one headphone. All to get the power I want on the WP900 while using the qudelix. And I’ll be honest, this is a returnable offense to me. Don’t do proprietary/walled garden unless you can pull it off. You failed. (and that is with a connector that is otherwise awesome).
UPDATE: They do sell a cable. The AT rep I was talking to “forgot about it”. I am leaving the above section. I am also a bit peeved that they charge me another $130 to get an “ok” cable to power the headphones the way I want.
Speaking of power.
Thankfully, this thing drives pretty well from the 3.5mm jack on my Qudelix. In the end, I decided to just use that. So, all sound impressions are from that combination. I did drive it from my laptop and my apple dongle just to diagnose the problems I was having.
These are easy to drive. Amping really isn’t strictly necessary. I could not detect any differences, but, as stated above, balanced jack with more power was not reliable, so I am hesitant to trust anything I heard there.
Build and Comfort
As I have said before, I find no comfort issues with any over ear I have heard. However, these are incredibly light. Almost to the point where they feel cheap. They are easily the smallest over ear headphones I have used. They look absolutely spectacular on my seven year old (it’s his birthday today. of course he said “can I have those?”). Really a very tasteful design and I am not a flamed wood fan.
On build quality, they are not concerning in any way. But the look belies something you expect to have some heft. The plastic even has an anodized aluminum look. The wood has a feeling of hand crafted (which it supposedly is). It’s very nice, but the appearance and the weight are divergent.
Do they sound as good as they look?
My ability to describe what is going on in the frequency response is non-existent. So, I think I will use tracks that illustrate what I am hearing instead. Now, I will be the first to say, take this with a truck load of salt. I am taking the time to highlight what will mostly be problems. It’s very easy to spot what sounds off. I don’t inherently notice the things it does right. This is a fundamental problem I see in reviews. We naturally focus too much on the negative. And, as usual, my own biases play into these interpretations. You may prefer what this does to songs. So consider this a series of things that stood out to me based on general listening.
The most important frequencies
The Bass. Of course. Does anything else matter? The correct answer is no. I have not seen a reliable frequency response graph for these yet. But, there is some part of the bass and lower mids that kick and kick hard.
The example for this is “Have it All” from Jason Mraz. The bass/kick drum, whatever it is, that starts around 12 seconds in is blown way out of proportion on this headset. Compared to the Zen, it almost drowns out everything else. It’s elevated as well as not nearly as articulate as the Zen. It went from being a part of the band on the Zen to the front line instrument. For me, it’s a step too far. But, that same effect will certainly be beneficial in songs that are heavily bass oriented (I am looking at Bad Guy by Billie Eilish). This also happened with an all time favorite song of mine “Sorry I am” by Ani DiFranco (I am listening to an Ani album as I write this to see if it makes me hate my favorite artist. Cause, you know, deal breaker).
I have mentioned on here about the harshness I found on the lcd-xc listening to “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. A touch of this harshness also exists on the Zen. Even the XC levels of it was not a deal breaker to me. Since paying attention to this aspect of this song, this is easily the first headset that exhibits zero harshness. None. What’s the catch? I think it’s partially due to the bass response mentioned above. All the lower end on this song is elevated and the vocals feel a touch recessed. On this specific song, it works. But, I think this vocal recession is a theme that will be seen on many songs. Honestly, a large portion of my music could due with some vocal intensity reduction.
Another great example: “Dream On” cover featuring Morgan James by Postmodern Jukebox. Morgan James is one crazy intense singer. When I first heard this cover of this song I had to turn it off (I believe I was on the Blessing 2 Dusk then). On the WP900, it takes her down a few notches, which puts her at ungodly intense, instead of ear bleeding levels. Overall, this headset, by a large margin, is the best I have ever heard this song.
I mentioned above that the Zen has more articulate bass in have it all. Let me preface what I am about to say with the list of single dynamic headphones I have heard: Sony XM4, ath-r70x, airpods max, ath-wp900 and the Dunu Zen (IEM). Everything else has been planar or hybrid IEM.
I read other reviewers talking about this being a quick tight headphone. I don’t hear it that way, but my measuring stick may not be realistic. The Zen achieves near planar speed while retaining impact characteristics of dynamic drivers. It compared well to both the audeze euclid and lcd-xc. That is not to say it beat them, it doesn’t, but its other attributes more than make up for the differences.
The wp900 doesn’t do that. The bass lingers and feels loosey goosey when comparing to the Zen. This attribute is easiest to hear in the bass, but I think it applies across the board. It is easier to hear in the busiest passages for other frequencies. Sabotage is a great song for it. But Metallica’s S&M version of master of puppets really highlights this.
I felt the same way about the ath-r70x vs sundara. The good news, is the difference comes across more like smoothing things out than leaving detail out. When I a/b tested sundara and ath-r70x, I literally laughed out loud about the r70x. It went back in the box to go home after a few more hours. Side Note: I can’t really understand people who take the r70x over sundara. What is it that you like more? The wp900 does much better than that. And I could certainly see this being a preference over planar speed.
The things I have to compare it to are the lcd-xc and the Mobius. It sits pretty firmly between the two. The mobius can feel a bit confining at times. The XC is vast by comparison. It should be noted, this particular comparison is based on memory for the XC. But it was airy and open. The wp900 seems cohesive and large enough to not feel like a problem. In fact, it has that nice cohesive surrounding feeling similar to the sundara or he6se just not as big. It’s a small bubble around you that’s nicely filled in. Every once in a while, I hear something in a song that is far away off in left field when it should be. Surprisingly nice balance here.
I have been letting the Apple Music machine learning algorithms drive my listening for this headphone. And there are tons of tracks that simply sound great. Feeling Good by Nina Simone (which I do not believe I have heard before) sounds spectacular. It’s like Apple Music wants me to keep these headphones.
I want to reiterate, lots of music works wonderfully. And it’s telling that songs I haven’t heard I generally like. This, of course, means that I may not be able to get over the way it presents some favorite music I have been listening to for years. But new music sounds great. To me, that may mean these are fantastic headphones.
Pentatonix is very very good on these. The bass is enhanced, but as the bass is all vocal, this enhancement helps hit a deeper tone without sounding weird. It’s a genuinely great listen. I put pentatonix on a lot as background music. And these handle them very well.
Why does Hugh Laurie have an album?
Is it practical?
There are a couple primary issues here. Let’s harp on the cable. That cable just makes me so angry… breathe. Deep breaths. Find your zen.
Leakage: With zero empirical testing, I believe it leaks less than the lcd-xc. But, does it pass the wife test? No. No it doesn’t. At least not at fun volumes.
I used an spl meter on my phone to get a rough idea what levels I am listening at. I set the headphone to the loudest I could tolerate to for any length of time (and this is very loud to my ears, not something that is likely) and the peak I saw was 95db with an average of 87. More common “loud” listening peaked at 85 with an average of 77 (this might be passable for my wife. Still testing).
The best part is not having something stuffed in my ears. It’s size and portability would make it an easy travel headphone. If one were ever to travel again. You know. Ever.
Does it fit my use case?
I honestly don’t know yet. I consider it to be a step below the Zen in most aspects. Not horribly so. And some of the differences are also strengths. But, if I am keeping a headphone primarily for office use during the day, I can’t help but think it should have been the lcd-xc.
The original intent of getting a closed back headphone was to give me an alternative to IEMs in the evening. This, currently, does not seem reality based. Right now, it feels like I should flip that. Maybe go all out during the day and use my trusty Zen in the evening.
That cable though. That cable. Ugh, that cable.
Clear MG for the day? Yes? No?
A solid headphone all around.
Bass may make or break your music choices.
Cable may break your purchase.