Fresh from Audio Technica this year, the ATH-ESW990H has just graced my review desk with its presence. Featuring wood cups made from sycamore, these headphones supposedly offer extreme detail in the mids and highs. At $349, these headphones may seem a little steep in price for an on-ear headphone, but the overall sound quality may just be worth it.
Audio Technica ATH-ESW990H Review
The ESW990H comes packaged in a deceivingly-plain cardboard box. The headphones sit inside, along with a carrying case and the removable audio cable.
Thick and durable, the audio cable sports a one-button remote with an in-line mic. The cable utilizes a dual-entry MMCX connection. While relatively lightweight, the build still feels solid.
While it might be easy to write these headphones off as uncomfortable due to the fact that they are an on-ear model, the thick pleather padding goes a long way in letting them rest comfortable on your head. They might take a little adjusting, but once you’ve done that, you’re good to go.
|Driver Diameter||42 mm|
|Frequency Response||5 – 40,000 Hz|
|Maximum Input Power||1,000 mW|
|Weight||160 g (5.6 oz)|
|Cable||Detachable 1.2 m (3.9′) cable with in-line controls and microphone for smartphones|
|Connector||3.5 mm (1/8″) stereo mini-plug|
|Sensitivity (Microphone)||-42 dB (0 dB=1 V/Pa, 1 kHz)|
|Frequency Response (Microphone)||100 – 10,000 Hz|
|Polar Pattern (Microphone)||Omnidirectional|
As these specs show, the ESW990H sports a wide frequency range, decent volume levels, and a slightly-higher-than-normal impedance. While it will work just fine plugged straight into a phone, it might also benefit from a portable amplifier. For this review, I paired it with the FiiO A3 amp, though the difference without it is negligible.
Deep and resounding, the low end of the ESW990H exudes fine detail. Bass impact is STRONG, but this “oomph” is well-controlled, leading to a sound that doesn’t bleed.
Where the midrange is concerned, things remain remarkably tight. The sound is accurate, again with lots of detail, with my only complaint being the slightest amount of compression in the low mids. Is this a deal breaker? I have to say no, it’s not. Because the sound remains pretty fantastic all in all – almost perfect, really.
The high end may be the least bit bright but still delivers the goods nonetheless. This somewhat bright character can easily be missed, as the vibrant low end seems to overshadow the high end, making it appear underplayed or relaxed in comparison.
Ooooh eeee! The soundstage on this on-ear headphone is something else. While the depth and placement aren’t as immersive as those found on other high-end open-back and closed-back (but over-ear) models, the sense of realism and space is still top-of-the-line for a pair of on-ear headphones. If I had to boil this soundstage down into only a few words, I’d say it’s spacious but still intimate.
To be sure, the Audio Technica ATH-ESW990H is a unique headphone – from the sycamore wood cups to the on-ear design, to the comfortable listening experience, this headphone turns more than just a few heads. Sound-wise, it’s still as much of a surprise, with a rich, dynamic sound that cascades detail. Well worth the price, this headphone could easily sell for $399 or $449.
If you need tons of soundstage, you could opt for a larger, over-ear design. If you go open-back, you could get even more space and depth to that sound, but you’ll lose the portability factor.
For the most part, this is probably the only reason to eschew the 990H. Because the sound compliments pretty much any genre of music; you can blast some rock-rap, and then switch over to some Chopin when the mood strikes – and this headphone won’t miss a beat.
Of course, those of you who prefer a flatter sound may dislike the dynamic nature of these ‘phones. In which case I’d advise you to consider the over-ear Audio Technica ATH-M70X.
For a paltry $349, we’d own these headphones. Hell, we’d probably buy a second pair for the wife/dog/roommate. These headphones are that good – the rich, dynamic sound works well for all genres, and the comfortable on-ear design is a rare and beautiful thing. Bring on the Gold Star!