Grouptest Headphones: $150-$210 - Phone Home (Part 1) - ATH-AD500

4/24/2013 11:44:42 AM

Can compact portable headphones rival the sound of larger hi-fi designs purposed for lounge listening?

Driven by the explosion in sales of smartphones and tablets, headphones have been a growth area of late and this has encouraged existing brands to introduce new products as well as encouraging new manufacturers to enter the fray. If you’re looking for a pair of cans under $225, then you have a wider choice of designs than there has ever been before…

The tablet market has driven a requirement for over-ear designs that are still portable enough to be suitable for use on the move. The result is a new type of headphone that promises good performance at home or when you’re out and about. But can these smaller designs really offer a performance that’s able to keep up with larger and more dedicated home headphones?

We’ve pitched two of these smaller ‘hybrid’ designs against four larger and more home-oriented models

We’ve pitched two of these smaller ‘hybrid’ designs against four larger and more home-oriented models

To find out, we’ve pitched two of these smaller ‘hybrid’ designs against four larger and more home-oriented models. These make use of features like open back earpads and considerably larger drives that make them less fun to walk around with, but rather better to kick back and listen to…

Of course, all to these designs are sensitive enough to run from a portable device and all of them are fitted with a 3.5mm jack to allow this (all are supplied with a quarter inch adaptor).

If you’re looking for a pair of cans for under $225, you have a wider choice than ever before…

For the purposes of the test, the Sextet were used in a decidedly 21st century testing setup. A laptop running Songbird audio playback software capable of playing lossless and high resolution audio was connected to Furutech’s sumptuous ADL Cruise headphone amplifier and all listening was carried out and level matched on this compact rig. So, can humble portables take the fight to the home headphone? Read to find out…

Audio Technica: ATH-AD500: $150

Big isn’t always beautiful with headphones, but this has sizeable strengths…


·         Origin: Jan/China

·         Type: open-back

·         Weight: 260g

·         Features: 53mm drives

·         ‘Wing Support’ headband

·         3.5mm adaptor

·         Distributor: Audio Technica

·         Website:

This is one of the more affordable members of the company’s open-backed range, but this won’t be immediately apparent when you unbox them. The silver finish on the back of the earpad is a bit sudden and hinge in a sort of spike is a little curious, but overall fit and finish is very good.

Another nice touch is the use of the company’s trademark ‘wing’ mount. Instead of a conventional headband, the ATH-AD500 has a pair of wire hoops that give the necessary structure with a pair of independently sprung pads that are fitted below. These form the contact point to your head and mean you could have a head like Sloth from The Goonies movie and still get a good fit.

The ATH-AD500 deploys a pair of 53mm drivers with neodymium magnets. This is a reasonably large driver by the standards of the test and should serve up reasonable bass extension. The large earpad means that the driver is set a good distance from the ear and in use I found the headphone easy to wear, although of all the designs here this is probably the one least suited to moving around with. As an open-backed design, noise leakage is understandably high.

ATH-AD500 has a pair of wire hoops that give the necessary structure with a pair of independently sprung pads

ATH-AD500 has a pair of wire hoops that give the necessary structure with a pair of independently sprung pads

Sound quality

The Audio Technica proved to be reasonably sensitive and didn’t require a huge amount of power to reach the listening test level. Having done so, the first impression was that the top end detail is extremely good, almost to point of being slightly bright with the rough and ready Kings of Leon recording, but the overall presentation is open and airy, aided by the open-back design and space between ear and driver.

The rather more artfully recorded Martha Tilston piece moved the Audio-Technica’s top end to a more refined setting. This is a very open and engaging performer that manages to make voices and instruments sound both real and extremely engaging. Tilston’s vocals are captured with a fantastic sense of energy and are clearly defined from the supporting instruments.

Of all the designs here, it has a great sense of the performance, and there’s an impressive feel for the soundstage that the recording has. The sculpted instrumentals of Stuart McCallum sound larger and more cohesive than they do on most of the other designs in the test. The sense of decay from instruments and their relationship to one another is also especially impressive.

Where the ATH-AD500 is undermined slightly is in the bass response. The low end is not necessarily limited – there is plenty of energy to the Hybrid recording, but it is never completely consistent and can seem a little languid in terms of timing. This never tips over to the ATH-AD500 sounding sluggish, but the Grado and Sennheiser in particular, are capable of providing more spark and attack with this piece.

Overall however, this is a very likeable headphone with a number of highly appealing features. It is comfortable, sensitive and easy to use for long periods of time, and if your musical choices tend toward acoustic or orchestral pieces, then it’s worth seeking out over many of the others here. A most impressive product at the price, then.

Where the ATH-AD500 is undermined slightly is in the bass response

Where the ATH-AD500 is undermined slightly is in the bass response

On test

As the second most sensitive headphone in this group, the Audio Technica ATH-AD500 gives plenty of output for modest signal voltage. It also provided good capsule matching for a headphone, with  5.5 dB error from 40Hz to 10 kHz. Bass extension is nothing to write home about, though, with -6dB ref 200Hz arriving at a high-ish 50Hz. Impedance variation of 63.1 to 86.3 ohms over the audible frequency range gives rise to just 0.33dB response error, although this will increase for source resistances higher than 10 ohms. At 342g, the AD500 is one of the heavier and larger models here. Diffuse-field corrected frequency response suggests that the perceived tonal balance with be flat below 1kHz before the bass roll-off, but that the presence band is suppressed, so the sound may appear to lack vibrancy and detail in comparison with others in the group.

Results at a glance

§  Sensitivity: +12% 

§  Impedance variation: +16%

§  Capsule matching: +5%

§  LF extension: -19%

§  Weight: +15%

Our verdict

§  Sound quality: 4/5

§  Value money: 4.5/5

§  Build quality: 4.5/5

§  Sensitivity: 4.5/5

§  Like: Comfortable, well built with excellent soundstage and tonality

§  Dislike: Bass response rather restrained

§  We say: A clever and well thought out design that has some excellent sonic traits, but can sound a tad relaxed

§  Overall: 4.5/5


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