Last year, we reviewed Audio-Technica’s ATH-MSR7 and loved its accurate and detailed presentation. (We also quite liked its noise-canceling brother, the ATH-MSR7NC.) Earlier this year, Audio-Technica announced some additions to its more expensive “High-Fidelity” line of headphones. Our anticipation level was high when among those new offerings was the ATH-A1000Z, a full-size closed-back “Art Monitor” headphone priced at $399. We couldn’t help but wonder — if the $250 portable MSR7 isn’t considered “high fidelity” by Audio-Technica, what could the A1000Z sound like?
The A1000Z is a beautiful over-ear headphone. Two matte red aluminum cups are mounted to a matte black magnesium alloy frame, and joined by two aluminum rods that arc over the head. Audio-Technica has done away with the usual headband mechanism for the A1000Z, instead using two padded “wings” that rest on the head independently. The A1000Z is surprisingly light — about 10 percent lighter than the MSR7 — but is by no means a portable headphone. These are intended for home or office use, so it comes as no surprise that the A1000Z ships with a 10-ft, non-detachable cable, and nothing more than a screw-on 6.3mm jack in its box.
Despite its light weight, we had a few comfort issues with the A1000Z.
We found that the A1000Z’s unique “3D Wing” headband pads articulate in all directions and rest softly on the head, eliminating the “pressure hotspot” issue that we had experienced with the MSR7’s traditional headband. The tradeoff, unfortunately, is that the A1000Z must now rely on clamping force alone to hold its place on the head. Since the two ear cups don’t rotate along their vertical axis, this can cause slightly more pressure to be applied below the ear than above. As a result, the A1000Z may creep downwards and require occasional repositioning.
The A1000Z’s stunning red cups house large 53mm drivers, angled towards the ear behind even larger ear pads that seal extremely well. As a true closed-back headphone, isolation is excellent, making the A1000Z a worthy accessory at work or at home. At 44ohms, the A1000Z’s impedance is a bit high for mobile devices, but we found that acceptable volumes could be reached with an iPhone. Despite the A1000Z’s versatility, we conducted most of our testing using a computer or higher-powered desktop amplifier to make sure the large drivers were driven properly.
The term “high fidelity” is used so much in audio marketing that it becomes almost meaningless. After many hours with the A1000Z, however, we have no problem using the term to describe its sound.
The A1000Z offers an extremely detailed presentation, with excellent instrument separation that invites you to close your eyes and find the instruments in space. The A1000Z is fast, clean, and engaging, with dynamics that can be surprising — big bass drops can seem to come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. Though we would not say that the A1000Z has a “narrow” sound, we did notice a smaller soundstage compared to more expensive open-back headphones.
The sound signature of the A1000Z is fairly neutral overall, which may be a great strength or serious limitation depending on your musical preference. Vocal and guitar tracks sound excellent on the A1000Z, with lots of crisp detail and an overall balance that was never fatiguing. We especially appreciated this sound on dense and fast-paced metal songs that might otherwise sound confused and muddy on a bassy headphone. The A1000Z handled almost everything we threw at it effortlessly, articulating the highs of Sia’s “Elastic Heart” without sibilance and the punishing pace of Gojira’s “L’enfant Sauvage” without confusion.
Electronic and rap music also sounds good on the A1000Z, with enough slam in each beat to keep your head nodding. There is, however, an undeniable lack of sub-bass presence in songs that dip into the lowest frequencies like Andrew Luce’s “Yours Truly” and Bassnectar’s “Reaching Out.