As I lounge in my corner office at the MajorHiFi review headquarters, my eyes fall on my review desk, where a new headphone sits. The $99 Audio Technica ATH-WS550iS doesn’t feature a wireless connection or noise-cancelling technology. This simple headphone offers one impressive feature: bass, and lots of it. But how good can it actually sound? And how does it stack up to its competition?
Audio Technica ATH-WS550iS Review
The ATH-WS550iS arrives in a plain-Jane cardboard-and-plastic retail package. Inside the box, you’ll find the headphones, but no extra accessories.
Design-wise, this headphone looks surprisingly low-key as it uses a good deal of plastic in it’s build. However, the headband does feature aluminum reinforcement, imparting a solid feel to it. Large, fully-over-ear cups completely surround my gigantic ears, and provide excellent isolation from my surroundings.
Inside those large earcups is a 53 mm driver – the same size used in other, more expensive Solid Bass models from Audio Technica. The cups can rotate 90 degrees to lay flat.
In terms of cabling, the WS550iS sports a flat 4 ft (1.2 m) tangle-free cable with an in-line mic and remote. The cable, like the headphone, feels lightweight but incredibly durable, and I’m tempted to give it some rough treatment just to see how well it will hold up.
Frequency Range: 8-24,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 38 ohms
Sound Pressure Level: 106 dB
From these specs, we can see that the WS550iS offers a fairly standard frequency range with extra emphasis on the low end. The relatively low nominal impedance of just 38 ohms will work well with phones, tablets, and computers, but might also benefit from some amplification. Finally, the 106 dB sensitivity means this headphone shouldn’t have any issue playing at acceptable volume. Indeed, for my listening session, I was impressed at how loud this headphone actually got – a must for a headphone aimed at bassheads.
The WS550iS sports a seething, crawling low end with good detail and a lively sense of pacing. Here you will find only minimal bleed despite a deeper, more powerful bass dripping and oozing with luscious impact. The 53 mm drivers provide a godsend here, allowing the bass to get DEEP while retaining a natural, organic sound that never seems too boom-y or overstated.
Usually, bass-heavy headphones tend to have a recessed or downright shoddy midrange. If not simply overpowered by the bass, the mids may receive lackluster attention during tuning. However, the WS550iS manages to keep this part of the frequency range relatively intact. Here the sound seems full and articulate. If not so decidedly bass-heavy, I would say the WS550iS might actually be midrange-heavy.
The WS550iS exhibits only a glimmer of brightness in the high end. By and large, the sound appears relaxed and smooth, complimenting both the low end and the midrange. This buttery-smooth high end works wonders on female vocals, giving them a velvety edge, while muting the tiniest bit of detail in the highest highs. While this may be a detriment to some stringed instruments, it imparts an intoxicating warmth on the headphone’s sound signature.
Despite a sense of depth, there’s no real sense of placement here. More complicated arrangements (like symphonies) sound a bit confused and overlapping. However, for genres like rock, hip-hop, electronica, and pop, there’s still a great level of depth at play, leading to a mesmerizing, realistic listening experience.
That bass response. Yowza. Some headphones allow you to hear more bass. But the ATH-WS550iS actually allows you to feel the bass. I can feel the bass in my jawbone on some tracks. Of course, I also have the volume turned up quite loud, and some casual listeners may find that combination a bit too much. Simply dialing back the volume would remedy this situation for non-bassheads. For my bottom-loving brethren, though, jack the volume up and let your molars rattle.
Despite the emphasis on the low end, the mids remain impressively clean and articulate. As a result, this highly detailed sound puts the WH550iS a good ways ahead of its sloppy, less-detailed competitors.
If you want the best all-around headphone for every genre under the sun (especially classical), skip the WS550iS and opt instead for the $99 ATH-M40x (also made by Audio Technica).
For fans of bass, though – or for folks like me, who can’t seem to shake their addiction to spine-melting drums – the WS550iS has no competition.
Even more expensive headphones like the Beats Studio 3 or the Sony Bass models don’t compete with the WS550iS in terms of sound quality.
At a startlingly low $99, the Audio Technica ATH-WS550iS sounds nothing short of amazing. This headphone is the headphone that every aspiring audiophile should try and every avowed basshead should own. For casual consumers, or first-time listeners, too, this headphone offers unsurpassed value for money. Our take? This is one hearty slice of audio heaven.
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