Interestingly enough, the ATH-W5000s didn't perform particularly well on our audio tests. They had some issues with their high end, mostly.
Part of the problem likely lies with the ATH-W5000s' fit. Every head in our office found these headphones to be overly large with no way to fix it. Because of this, each user found the tops of the ear cups didn't sit against his or her head. This could be the root of the problems we saw with audio quality.
The ATH-W5000s are currently available for about $1000.
The Audio-Technica ATH-W5000s have an interesting mix of various design elements.
The ear cups themselves have lambskin-lined padding.
The ear cups are capped off with striped ebony wood, which looks incredibly snazzy.
One somewhat uncommon design feature is the band. The band is actually made up of two metallic ribbons that don't actually sit along your head. The paddles are what hold the headphones in place.
In the ATH-W5000s gigantic, opulent, velour-lined box you'll find the headphones and a soft bag.
The ATH-W5000s seem pretty sturdy. The ear cups are wood and a good quality plastic. The band is metal and doesn't seem like it'd break easily. The cord is thick and well insulated. The cord guards are excellent. The one area that's questionable is the neck split, which doesn't have cord guards. This area is not likely to incur stress, and even if it were, the cord is rugged enough to absorb the abuse.
The head paddles are moving parts that involve springs, which run the risk of wear and tear. Other than this one area, however, the ATH-W5000s are solid.
The ATH-W5000s seem simultaneously classy and silly. Looking at them by themselves, they're an impressive piece of hardware. They have wood on the outside of their ear cups, and certainly look well put together. Holding this in your hand, you'd be able to tell it was a nice set of headphones.
On your head is a different story. Since the paddles hold these things on your head, the two bands hover above you like overly blatant halos in religious paintings. Also, the headphones are large; larger than typical over-ears. The W5000s will appear to be devouring your head.
Now, since the first and second paragraphs deal with entirely different facets of aesthetic quality that sort of cancel each other out, we gave them a 5 and leave where they fall up to you. If you're planning on using them in private, rate these things an 8, because people will only be seeing them when they sit on your desk. If you plan on using these in public, consider them a 4. It's not that we don't like their look, it's just that the wooden ear cups say, 'I am classy,' and the head orbits say, 'I am a DJ in my spare time.' If you have a turntable in your study and put together beats while sipping brandy in a red smoking jacket, then the ATH-W5000s are the perfect look for you.
The ATH-W5000s had a bit of an issue with high-frequency sounds, which we thought was a bit odd since our initial impression was they focused too much on mid-to-high-end frequencies. We ran this test multiple times, but that downward spike towards 7kHz was always present. Other than this spike, the ATH-W5000s did a good job. We're guessing that hump in the middle is indicative of our initial impression, and bass isn't bumped up as much as you'd see on typical headphones.
Overall, it's a bit wonky of a frequency response, especially for a set of high-end headphones. We ran this test multiple times, and found the issues towards the high end varied a bit in their severity, but were constant in their appearance.
One theory we came up with is that a lot of this de-emphasis comes from sound leaking out of the headphones, due to the poor seal. If that is the case, then the ATH-W5000s would actually have done very well on this test.
The ATH-W5000s are somewhat annoying to maintain, simply because their cup padding is a pain to put back on. Here's a shot of the cups before you start randomly removing its pieces:
If you do decide to take off the pads (which we really don't recommend given how annoying they are to refit) you will see this:
Beautiful. From here, you'll need a thin Phillips-head screwdriver to get out all the screws. The big screws are really the only ones you need to worry about. These will remove the wooden backs, revealing this fuzzy scene:
And, while we're here, one more picture with the fuzz removed. From here you can keep unscrewing. We weren't able to, because they were screwed in really tightly and we didn't want to risk stripping them, since they probably cost $40 themselves.
The ATH-W5000s do not require batteries to operate. Just plug them in and listen. For this we awarded them some points.
Both of these headphones feature similar design elements, but they have vastly different looks. Despite their prices, we actually think the ATH-ESW9s do a better job of capturing the sophisticated look.
In terms of durability, the two sets are about the same.
These two headphones have very similar frequency responses. It isn't that unusual for different headphones by the same company to have similar sounds. The ATH-W5000s actually have a slightly worse response, but not by a significant amount. Given the range of uncertainty that can value from test to test, consider the two headphones equally matched on this battleground.
Here the ATH-ESW9 has a slight advantage because they don't have any weirdness towards the high end. Both have very low overall distortion levels, however, and the average listener wouldn't notice the difference.
The ATH-ESW9s again avoid wonkiness towards their high end, which hurts the ATH-W5000s here. Overall, however, they have very similar tracking.
Again, the differences below are likely due to a fit issue. The ATH-ESW9s form a much better seal with their user's head, which allows them to isolate users a bit better. If you're considering either, however, isolation shouldn't be a determining factor.
The ATH-W5000s win this match-up handily, because they're comfortable and the ATH-ESW9s are super tight. If one were to look only at this match-up, it might be easy to jump to the conclusion that Audio-Technica headphones often have fit issues. This is not the case, however, and these two are the only ones we've reviewed so far from Audio-Technica that have such issues.
With super-high-end headphones like the W-5000, the only thing we can recommend is to try them out for yourselves. When such a large sum of money comes into play, chances are you aren't going to leave your final decision to some internet review, even when that review is as highly scientific and rigorous and handsome as this one.
In terms of cash and quality, the ATH-ESW9s will give you more for each dollar spent. Really, however, if you're going for a bargain, neither are the best bet. Objectively, in the realm of this match-up, however, the ATH-ESW9s win.
Within this comparison is an interesting aesthetic conundrum. From the sides, the ATH-W5000s look significantly classier, thanks in part to their wooden ear cups. From the front, however, they make your head look like Saturn (we think this is silly; should you be reading this in the future, where halos have come into fashion, feel free to assert your own assessments over our own).
The DT 990 PROs had a significantly more even frequency response than the ATH-W5000s, although they too had some issues towards the high-end. Both have a relatively even response, but the DT 990 PROs manage to snag this category.
There really isn't much to say regarding distortion other than, 'Hey, guys, where'd you put that distortion? I can't seem to find it anywhere!' We really wouldn't recommend saying this, actually, because we tried saying this in the office once and no one really thought it was funny, not even the guy who is into headphones.
Look at these two tracking graphs. Knowing that tracking displays the relative volume levels of each channel, we feel it's easy to discern which had the most even playback. This being said, the ATH-W5000s weren't horrible-terrible, they just had that issue towards the high end.
Neither are good.
The DT 990 PROs are some of the most comfortable headphones we've tried on. The only issue we found with them is that, during very long listening sessions of over 6 hours, you might want to re-adjust the band slightly to avoid feeling pressure. They feel secure without feeling tight, and are just magically comfortable in general. The ATH-W5000s have a slight fit issue, which you can see in the pictures below: they don't really contour to the head well.
Both sets of headphones are comfortable. Sometimes the DT 990 PROs can cause some top-of-the-head pressure, sometimes the ATH-W5000s feel big. We recommend trying both on.
In this match-up, we really do like the DT 990 PROs more. Sure, they don't look nearly as expensive as the ATH-W5000s, but we're not you, so we feel haven't the foggiest how much such a thing will mean to you, personally.
In terms of audio quality, we side with the numbers, which side with the DT 990 PROs. The numbers continue to side with the DT 990 PROs across the board, including our value score. The DT 990 PROs are great and well-priced for what they offer. If you're looking for fancy, however, the ATH-W5000s win.
The Grado SR60s have a definite nostalgia to their design, and since the 80s are currently back in style, feel free to enjoy their aesthetic once again, either legitimately or ironically. The SR60s do not look high end at all, however.
The ATH-W5000s also feature a much sturdier design. They are made of wood from the (former) mightiest tree in all the land, while the SR60s seem to be made from the same plastic as pastel Easter eggs.
Both headphones have some issues with frequency response. Although the SR60s manage to stay within our limits for the most part, they have a dip towards the high end as well. Although neither are great, the SR60s gain the advantage here.
If you've read any other part of this review, you're well aware that the ATH-W5000s lose a bit of audio quality due to their poor fit (in our estimates at least). The SR60s laugh at this failing and do the same thing, but magnified significantly. Part of the reason that many headphones have abandoned the foam ear pads is because they create a horrible seal with the user's head. In fact, we'd go so far as to say it's the least commercially feasible padding that's currently available, at least to our knowledge. Granted, the sheer number of qualifiers in the previous sentence do a bit to undermine its impact, but our point stands regardless.
Again, while neither headphone had stellar performance here, the SR60s have a slight edge by not being quite as bad.
Again, neither set of cans is good at isolating. The SR60s block out about as much sound as a damp sponge that's only gently grazing the outside of your ear.
The ATH-W5000s win here. Even though they feel big, they aren't scratchy like the SR60s pads.
The ATH-W5000s are the better set of headphones by far. While the SR60s are generally looked upon favorably by audiophiles, they simply can't compete in any area except for price. With a $900 discrepancy between the two, it's hard to rag on them for being inferior.
The Sennheiser HD 555s look very plasticky and aren't put together particularly well. The ATH-W5000s look better, and feature better construction. Even with the whole double-arc weirdness that'll be hovering above your head they manage to look snazzier.
Both headphones have a bit of an issue with frequency response. One thing to notice: our HD 555 graph is from our older days when we started measuring at 20Hz. Please keep this in mind for accuracy's sake.
The HD 555 nets a small advantage here.
The same 'oh shucks, our HD 555 graph is old and shows junk data' speech goes for distortion as well: ignore everything before 100Hz, because it's not reliable data and we don't score on it.
Both headphones have similarly low distortion, only the ATH-W5000s have a bit of a blip towards the high end and the HD 555s have some rumblings of distortion towards their low end.
Both headphones did about the same on tracking, with the HD 555s being slightly less erratic.
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The ATH-W5000s feel a bit big, but the HD 555s felt a bit scratchy. Overall, we thought they were about the same comfort level.
While we've mentioned the price a dozens of times in this review, it really is the most significant feature about the ATH-W5000s (aside from their swank facade). The HD 555s aren't perfect, but they offer solid audio quality at an affordable price. If you want, you could always cut down a tree and whittle your own wooden backs.
Though we've mentioned it constantly throughout the review, we feel the need to do so one last time: these headphones cost $1000. One thousand US dollars. If you're the kind of audiophile that feels comfortable spending $1000 on a set of headphones, chances are you: a.) aren't going to care what an internet review says, or b.) are looking for some intangible sound quality that our testing is unable to consider. This puts us in an odd position as reviewers, given the emphasis we put on objectivity.
Really, the ATH-W5000s strengths are all subjective. They look classy. They have wooden backs, which both augments their classiness and affects audio quality slightly. They have a very unique dynamic response, which happened to do poorly on our tests. They also have a somewhat quirky fit, but depending on the shape of your head, they may actually slide onto your noggin like a lambskin glove.
What we can say is this: if you're just looking for a decent set of cans, the ATH-W5000s are not for you. If you're looking for a good set of cans, the ATH-W5000s are still probably not for you. These headphones are best enjoyed by an audiophile that's looking for something unique. If that sounds like it's up your alley, you should check these headphones out.
For everyone else, there are plenty of other options. If you want something with the same classy factor but is a bit more affordable (relatively), check out Audio-Technica's ATH-ESW9s. If you want a great set of headphones that won't bankrupt you, check out the Beyerdynamic 990 PROs. If you're an audiophile with a monocle and are looking to expand your stereophone menagerie, however, the ATH-W5000s might be a good pick.
Meet the tester
Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.
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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email