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Meet the , a set of closed-back over-ear headphones.

HATS-Front Image
HATS-Side Image

The speaker element is protected by a fine cloth mesh and faux-leather ear cup, pictured on the right. Stripped (pictured left), you can see that the speaker is also ensconced in a plastic casing.

Speaker Image

The back of the 's cans are simply black plastic with some brushed aluminum accents.

Back Image

The band of the is adjustable and very comfortable, not to mention the fact where the ear cups meet the band, you can swivel them a total of 180 degrees, if you don't want to wear them, but still listen to one channel anyways.

Band Image

The cable of the s is as beefy and durable as they come. Not only does it have significant wire insulation, but it also even has a section of spiraled cable, allowing some give before it is pulled taut.

Cable Image

The plug of the is not your standard 1/8th inch jack. Included in the package is a 1/4th inch adapter screwed onto the threading of the plug to keep it secure. In addition, the entire assembly is constructed out of metal, which should withstand several gigs or shows.

Plug Image

The 's cord guards are thick rubber, and one metal spring, which should prevent a good amount of internal damage to your cans.

Cord Guards Image

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The comes packaged with your headphones, 1/4th inch plug adapter, carrying case, and some documentation.

In the Box Image

These seem to be very rugged over-ears, even if you can't actually re-cable them easily without damaging the casing. Their cord guards are extremely robust, and a few drops aren't going to destroy your cans. The closed backs mean that you won't have to worry too much about the humidity, and the removable ear cups will allow you to maximize your mileage from your s.

Even though these headphones aren't as flashy as the Monster Beats Pros, we still like their clean appearance. We especially like the brushed metal accents.

As you can see from the chart below, the frequency response of the was a little more dynamic than what we usually like to see, but for some people the overemphasized bass and subdued 5-10kHz ranges might be preferable to other headphones. Audio Technica seems to have frequency responses very similar to this one in other models they've fielded, but this one is somewhat improved over other models we've seen. Still, don't let the branding fool you, these are not headphone variants of studio monitors. Not even close.

What does this response mean for you? Well, in addition to feeling like you have a subwoofer inside your head, you'll also notice that sibilants (s, sh sounds), cymbal crashes and high-hats will all sound a little muffled in comparison to other instruments and voice sounds. Given that these specific sounds are typically pretty loud in comparison to others when their levels aren't toned down a bit in an unmixed track, it's not terribly surprising that Audio Technica would elect to downplay these sounds. We still believe that if the track is mixed correctly, this underemphasis is unnecessary (and leads to bad mixing if you use these headphones at home to create tracks). These are not ideal headphones for this purpose.

Frequency Response Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Frequency_Response) The had no troubles here, as it has only a negligible amount of distortion, well below the level at which it would become annoying to your average human being.
Distortion Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Distortion) Ideally with this type of headphone we look to see a flat response here, but the seemed to sway back and forth between which channel it preferred a bit. You probably won't notice this at all, as the channel shifts aren't horrendous, and usually only around 2 dB. If you're listening to music, chances are good that you won't hear these tiny shifts even if you're looking for them.
Tracking Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Tracking) Given that these headphones aren't really designed to keep all noise out, it's not surprising that they let a bunch of noise through, and don't isolate very well. Despite their closed-back design, over-ear headphones like the s will never be as good at isolation as in-ear headphones. It's just what we've come to expect. Still, if your tunes are bumping, don't expect to hear a bunch of noise anyways.
Isolation Graph
[Click here for more information on our isolation test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Isolation) Keep in mind, though, that these headphones do just as poorly keeping sound in as they do keeping sound out; if you have the volume cranked, you're likely to disturb those around you, as they leak sound like a sieve. [Click here for more information on our leakage test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Leakage) The s have a maximum usable volume of 115.83 dB, which is decently loud but not perfect. After this decibel level, the amount of distortion exceeds the 3% mark, which is the threshhold where distortion can get pretty annoying. Like always, we would like to mention that for no reason should you be listening to your headphones at 120dB or above, as this is the level at which permanent hearing loss can occur instantly. Even more troubling is the fact that prolonged exposure to decibel levels even lower than this can cause permanent hearing loss, so you should probably cap your volume output at 85dB. If you'd like to know more about Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), please visit the [Noise page](http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Noise/) of [ASHA.org](http://www.asha.org/). [Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Maximum Usable Volume) The s are extremely comfortable to wear when you first slide them on your head, as they firmly grip your skull, but are soft enough that there isn't much pressure. They are a bit heavy, but tolerable. Still, despite our assessment of the 's comfort level, you may have a different experience with them as you have different heads! Before buying any set of headphones, you may want to try them on before you buy so you can know exactly how they'll feel when you listen to music. Over time, the fit didn't change, and neither did the comfort level, so the gets the exact same score here. There really isn't a whole heck of a lot you can do to customize your s, save for the fact that you can screw on the 1/4th inch adapter. After that, you've pretty much exhausted the customization options for your over-ears. The 's cable is an average 3.93 feet, ending in the super-robust 1/8th inch jack, to which a 1/4 inch adapter can be affixed. There aren't any in-line accessories, so that's a plus when it comes to durability, as more solder points mean more places your cable can break.
Cable Connectivity Image

Included in the packaging with the is a bag to port around your headphones. Still, be aware that you're never going to fit these in your pocket, so you will have to plan around the bulk of these cans when you want to bring them out and about.

Portability Image

The faux-leather and cloth ear cups are removable to make for easier cleaning, but aside from this there isn't much else you can do with the s. The headphones don't offer anything in the way of cable maintenance.

In this matchup, we compare the s to a pair of over-ears that have a sound quality performance much closer to what we'd expect to see a pair of monitor headphones to sound like. Unfortunately for the s, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PROs absolutely blow them out of the water.
This comparison is a little apples and oranges, but the s are closed-backed, so they can go outside. In addition to this advantage, they are much more durable and rugged than the decidedly more delicate DT 990 PROs. Still, if you're like us in that you're usually chained to your desk, and your intended use for these headphones is in a rather low-humidity indoor environment, your headphones will not need the extra durability.
As you can see from the charts below, where the s have a fairly dynamic response, the DT 990 PROs do not; instead offering a nice, flat response over most of the range of tested frequencies. This is more what a pair of "monitor headphones" should sound like.
Neither the nor the DT 990 PROs had any appreciable amount of distortion, but the Beyerdynamics technically had less.
The DT 990 PROs have almost perfect tracking, whereas the s do not. Another no-brainer here.
Neither set of headphones did well in terms of isolation, but the s blocked more sound, probably by virtue of the fact that they're closed-back headphones, as the Beyerdynamics are open-backed.
Don't get us wrong, the s are comfortable. Still, we prefer the DT 990 PROs as their plush padding is much softer on your skin, and much more comfortable in our eyes.
If you're looking for studio quality headphones, get the DT 990 PROs. Not only do they outperform just about every pair of headphones we've ever had in terms of sound quality, but you can find them online for about the same price as the s at this point in their life cycle. If you do want to take your headphones outside, however, the s will not get damaged by the slightest bit of moisture, and are much more durable than the Beyerdynamics.
Up next is the battle of mis-branded "studio quality" headphones. Neither one of these headphones are truly "studio quality," but that didn't stop their marketing teams! Oh, no!

Here we'll compare the s versus the kings of deceptive branding, the Monster Beats Pros.
Both over-ears are very durable, and both are aesthetically pleasing, though very different. Really, this one depends on your tastes. The one objective advantage held by the Monster Beats Pros is the removable cable, allowing you easy replacement if you somehow manage to saw through the ridiculously thick wire insulation, and need a new cable.
While both headphones had issues with over-emphasized bass response, the Beats Pro stayed within our ideal limits for a wider range of frequencies, where the stifled some of the higher-pitched sounds. Technically, the response of the Beats Pros are better, but don't take that to mean that they're "studio quality" at all.
Neither set of over-ears had any trouble with distortion.
Where the had issues with tracking, the Beats Pros had less. A no-brainer here.
Neither set of headphones did a good job isolating sound, and the s have the added handicap of poorer leakage than the shiny Beats Pros.
Where the s hold a distinct advantage is comfort. Not only do they refrain from giving your skull a death grip, but they also have much softer padding, allowing for a much more comfortable listening experience than the Beats Pros.
Really, you have to decide what's more important to you in this comparison, as each set of headphones have their advantages. if you like very marginally better sound quality at a hugely inflated cost, go for the Beats Pros. If you want to pay less than half as much and not feel like you have a vice on your head, stick with the s.
To see how well the stacks up against other Audio Technica headphones, we dredged up our data from the ATH-A700s to see what kind of upgrade (if any) the s are. The results of this comparison are to follow:
Well, this one yet another case of "different strokes for different folks." While the seem more or less normal and bland in their design, the ATH-A700s look... goofy. Not only are they absolutely huge, but they have a bizarre band that has a tendency to make wearers look like the Great Gazoo.
Well, this one is a clear slam-dunk win for the . If you thought its frequency was poor in comparison to the other models listed in this review, take a look at the ATH-A700s: their frequency response is as dynamic as they come, with frequencies that are extremely muffled for no good reason, and a really bad problem with underemphasis over a wide range of frequencies.
Neither set of over-ears had any trouble with distortion.
Despite how erratic the tracking is for the s, it is not as bad as that of the ATH-A700s.
Neither set of headphones isolate well at all.
This one's tough. Both headphones are fairly comfortable, but the ATH-A700s are much heavier. If you have the neck muscles for it, by all means use them. However, us lab geeks prefer the lighter s.
In virtually no way are the ATH-A700s better than the s, unless "looking like a Martian" is a value of yours. In our humble opinion, stick with the s.
Taking a bit of a break from the over-ear comparisons, we will now look at another entry-ish level set of headphones, but this time we will look at a set of in-ears with disproportionately high audio performance, the Etymotic Research mc5s.
The ATH-M50s and the mc5s are obviously wildly different in terms of design, as one is a set of in-ears and the other is a set of largeish over-ears. Both are stylish and although the ATH-M50s are more durable, the mc5s have a little more character. We'll leave it up to you to decide what you want in headphone design.
Despite the hype of being "monitor headphones," the mc5s actually have the flatter response here, with only one peak in the mid range and slight general underemphasis. The ATH-M50s have a very dynamic response, with odd ranges of underemphasis that can be very distracting if you're looking for sibilant sounds, attack on drums and guitar or cymbals.
Neither set of headphones had much distortion.
The mc5s had a crazily-good tracking, whereas the ATH-M50s have a largely inconsistent tracking response.
Possibly one of the biggest advantages of the mc5s are their capacity for passive noise attenuation. They block out a almost the entire range of audible frequencies by a significant amount, and can make you feel dead to the world while listening to them. The ATH-M50s let in a bunch of sound.
We typically go with headphones that are "not in-ears" when discussing comfort, and the ATH-M50s are easily more comfortable. Despite their weight, they cradle the skull and distribute their weight very well, and they are soft on the outer ear, making for a decent comfort level.
These are two very different headphones designed for two very different uses. If you're looking for decent audio quality on the go, the mc5s are a better bet than the ATH-M50s if you care about isolation and frequency response. If you're looking for a set of on-ears that don't disappoint for the price and will withstand high amounts of abuse, the ATH-M50s are absolutely the better pick.

The s aren't a bad set of over-ears, although they aren't studio or monitor headphones by any stretch of the imagination (as their branding claims). Still, if you're using these at home or at a show, you shouldn't be disappointed with them for the amount of money they'll set you back. They have their ups and downs (specifically in frequency response) but they are about par for the course in their price range. They won't dazzle, but they won't disappoint either.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging

@cthomas8888

A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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