Audio-Technica recently released its latest flagship wooden headphone, the ATH-AWKT, which sells for $1899. At this price point, the AWKT is competing with the closed-back heavy hitters, such as the Fostex TH900 and Sennheiser HD 820. What can we expect in terms of sound and design? And does it live up to the price tag? Let’s find out in this Audio-Technica ATH-AWKT Review.
Testing the ATH-AWKT, Housed in Japanese Kokutan Wood
IN the BOX
Like the ATH-AWAS, the AWKT is a comfortable wear. It feels lighter on the head than it appears, and the weight is well distributed. Unlike the AWAS, which employs synthetic earpads, the AWKT has gone with sheep skin. The soft pads provide a snug fit around the ears, and larger ears will appreciate the roomy ear pad circumference. I also dig the wide dimensions of the leather padded headband, which I didn’t feel at all while wearing these cans. So, my friends with thinning hair should have no problems here either.
For its housing, the ATH-AWKT employs Kokutan, which is a dense Japanese hardwood (ebony), and it’s often used for woodwind instruments and pianos because of it’s minimal resonance and expressive sound characteristics. The cups are given a semi-gloss finish to highlight the grain and striped ebony pattern.
Like it’s little sister, the ATH-AWAS, the AWKT sports 53mm dynamic drivers. With an impedance of 48 Ohms sensitivity of 102 dB, it’s quite easy to drive. For this review, I paired it with my Astell&Kern SA700, which provided just enough juice to comfortably power it.
The ATH-AWKT comes with A2DC, fabric braided cables: One 3 meter with 1/4 inch plug, and one 3 meter balanced XLRM cable. Since, I was using the SA700, I went with the unbalanced 1/4 inch to 3.5 mm connection. Note that there is no 3.5 mm adapter included in the box.
In the low frequencies, these headphones are about texture and tightness. You won’t hear any resonance here. Listening to double basses and cellos, there’s zero bleed. All you’re left with is the natural essence of the timbre and bow contact. But what sets these cans apart from the rest is how highly emotional and musical they feel. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard classical music on a headphone presented with this much eloquence. I will even go so far as to say that if you mostly listen to classical music, you have to get these headphones. I don’t often make such statements. But these cans are just that good. That being said, the AWKT is light on the bass. If you like a lot of body and richness in the low end, this model isn’t for you. Pop tracks may not have enough punch for some. Hip-hop fans should keep looking. And don’t expect a warm rock track or a weighty, super majestic sounding string instrument.
A present and well-balanced midrange. You won’t get any meaty low mids. But do expect relatively fair play across the midrange spectrum. No grating upper mids to fatigue the ears. No artificially forward vocals. I could talk about the superb separation. I could mention that the level of transparency is so good that it’s scary. But the AWKT conveys attributes that transcend the basic skillset. A uniquely cool sound, if you could articulate this characteristic in an image, the image would have a light blue filter. I haven’t heard this kind of profile done well on too many headphones. But the AWKT manages to capture this haunting quality beautifully. And it gives folk artists such as Nick Drake, as well as jazz greats, like Coltrane, an almost spectral presence. Vocals in this range, though lacking in weight, have a delicate, glowing feel. Guitar plucks reveal fine-drawn precision, yet are gorgeously emotive at the same time. Again, the AWKT is a highly expressive headphone. And any kind of song that demands intimacy with the artist really shines on these cans. If you listened to a lot of unplugged recordings, the ATH-AWKT is for you. And though I’m usually a sucker for a warmer, richer and more full-bodied feel, I can’t help but be possessed by this sound signature.
Again, in the highs, that cool yet extremely melodic flavor makes any Miles Davis piece a highly affecting performance. Though you’ll hear plenty of detail without a hint of rolloff, the highs are never piercing or uncomfortably crisp. And as mentioned above, the AWKT presents a somewhat delicate feel, and instruments are conveyed with impeccable accuracy in this range. Female vocals also sound great here. Airy and smooth, you’ll hear plenty of breath and easy gliding across note progressions.
The soundstage is all I could ask for in a closed back headphone. Colorful and precise, the imaging offers a reasonably multidimensional listening experience. Decent sense of depth, plenty of height, but most impressive is the vast feeling of width that these cans deliver. No complaints here.
PROS and CONS
PROS: Incredible resolution; highly emotive and memorable sound signature; comfortable fit.
CONS: Not the most versatile sound signature; not for listeners who like a rich low end.
There are a lot of very skilled headphones on the market at this price point. But few have enough uniquely distinguishing characteristics to make a sound signature this memorable. Incredibly moving and musical, few cans can articulate a classical, jazz or folk piece with such nuanced artistry. The balance may not be for everyone, especially those with a taste for bass. But although the AWKT may not be the most versatile choice, it’s hard to beat if you mainly listen to acoustic genres. For character alone, this baby gets the MajorHifi Gold Award and then some.
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